Monday, January 31, 2011

Tonight's Movie: A Millionaire for Christy (1951)

A MILLIONAIRE FOR CHRISTY is a mildly diverting romantic comedy, but the bright cast can't overcome the so-so script.

Lovely Eleanor Parker plays Christy, a San Francisco legal secretary sent to Los Angeles to inform Peter Lockwood (Fred MacMurray) that he's inherited two million dollars.

Christy, who's just had her fur coat repossessed, would love to marry a millionaire, but Peter's about to marry June (Kay Buckley) -- much to the chagrin of Peter's best friend, Dr. Roland Culver (Richard Carlson), who loves June himself. And incidentally, Christy can never seem to quite convince Peter she's telling the truth about his inheritance!

Anyone who's seen just a few romantic comedies can guess where all this is going. The movie has some fun moments, particularly when Christy and Peter end up spending the night in a boxcar with a bunch of Mexican laborers. (It's a long story...) Eleanor Parker is quite a sight wrapped in a blanket learning to drink tequila shots! Unfortunately the movie lurches along in fits and starts, with some truly funny moments alternating with sluggish stretches.

Parker plays a giddy character somewhat akin to her role in THE VOICE OF THE TURTLE (1947), although not quite as appealing. I'm a MacMurray fan, but I actually thought Carlson milked more laughs out of his smaller role; however, MacMurray's thunderstruck reaction when Parker kisses him on a beach is priceless.

The movie's plus factors include the use of the standard "I Don't Stand a Ghost of a Chance With You" as the movie's theme song; I was fascinated to learn Bing Crosby cowrote the lyrics with Ned Washington. Victor Young, who composed the song's music in 1932, also scored the movie.

The film has a nice outdoorsy feel, shot at various locations around Southern California, although I couldn't place any of them; I'd especially love to know more about the restaurant where MacMurray and Parker stop for a few minutes. The La Jolla hotel near the end of the movie is never shown in its entirety, but perhaps it was meant to be the famous Hotel del Coronado.

Parker has a lovely wardrobe by Elois Jenssen -- although I was struck that Christy must hurry in order to catch a 12:00 plane in San Francisco, yet when she gets off the plane in Los Angeles that afternoon, she's wearing a completely different dress and hat! Did she stop off at home to change on the way to the airport?!

Una Merkel is woefully underutilized, appearing only in the opening sequence as Christy's coworker. Their boss is played by Douglass Dumbrille. The cast also includes Chris-Pin Martin, Nestor Paiva, and Raymond Greenleaf.

The movie was directed by George Marshall. The black and white photography was by Harry Stradling Sr. It runs 91 minutes.

A MILLIONAIRE FOR CHRISTY isn't on DVD or video, but it will be shown again on Turner Classic Movies on March 28, 2011.

Update: This film is now available on DVD-R from the Warner Archive.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Four Men and a Prayer (1938)

FOUR MEN AND A PRAYER has a grand cast and was directed by the legendary John Ford, but while it's quite entertaining, it's also not an entirely successful movie.

Colonel Loring Leigh (Sir C. Aubrey Smith) is dishonorably discharged from the army. He calls his four sons home so they can help prove his innocence -- barrister Wyatt (George Sanders), pilot Christopher (David Niven), diplomat Geoffrey (Richard Greene), and Oxford student Rodney (William Henry).

Before the colonel can share his evidence with his sons, he is murdered and his papers stolen. The four men embark on a multi-nation quest to discover the truth about their father's court-martial and death, with Geoffrey's remarkably persistent lady love Lynn (Loretta Young) hot on their heels.

The film has a wildly uneven tone, light and funny one minute, shockingly violent the next, and at times downright silly. There's an extended revolution sequence that left me slack-jawed due to its brutality...which was all the more jarring as some of it was handled with humor, and all while lovely Loretta manages to dodge bullets without so much as a scratch. The sons, meanwhile, are quite amateurish in their efforts at times; perhaps that should be expected, as none of them are professional detectives, but the quick capitulation of a villain at the end was a bit hard to buy, given what was at stake.

The story had great potential and there are some lovely moments, but one can't help wishing that the movie had been taken to the next level of quality and that the story had been handled with greater seriousness and believability. The only hint that this is a John Ford movie is the presence of Barry Fitzgerald and John Carradine in the cast, and perhaps there's a glimpse in the touching camaraderie when the sons welcome their father home.

I thought David Niven came off the best of the four brothers, offering welcome comic relief -- I loved his double takes, although I confess I'm still mystified by his exchanges with a ship's steward in the voices of Disney characters; that bit comes out of absolutely nowhere.

Sanders doesn't have his fair share of screen time, more's the pity, but he does have a couple of touching moments near the beginning and end of the movie.

Greene is all right as the romantic leading man, but not a standout; I thought he was much better in YELLOW CANARY (1943). The same year FOUR MEN AND A PRAYER was released, Greene also appeared in Ford's SUBMARINE PATROL and costarred with Loretta Young in KENTUCKY.

William Henry, who plays the hotheaded youngest son, had a very long but not particularly memorable career; however, he will certainly be recognized by devoted fans of THE THIN MAN (1934).

Loretta Young is fun in a series of dazzling (if sometimes strange) wardrobe changes, mainly serving as comic relief.

The supporting cast includes Reginald Denny, Alan Hale, J. Edward Bromberg, Berton Churchill, and John Sutton. The film was shot in black and white and runs 85 minutes.

This movie is on DVD in a beautiful print as part of the mammoth Ford at Fox Collection. The DVD is available at Netflix.

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

FOUR MEN AND A PRAYER is a fast-paced and entertaining film which should be seen by those who enjoy the film's creative talents, but given those said talents, it must be said that the movie falls short of the mark it should have reached.

Tonight's Movie: Flight to Tangier (1953)

I was intrigued by the brief description of FLIGHT TO TANGIER which I read last month at Olivia and Joan: Sisters of the Silver Screen, so I added it to my Netflix streaming queue, and I had the chance to catch up with it today. FLIGHT TO TANGIER stars Joan Fontaine, Jack Palance, and Corinne Calvet.

As the movie begins, several people await the arrival of a private plane at the Tangier airport, including lovely Susan Lane (Fontaine), pilot Gil Walker (Palance), and the flashy Nicki (Calvet). The plane crash lands near the airport...but mysteriously, no bodies are found at the crash site.

The chase is on as a number of people, including Susan, Gil, and Nicki, are interested in the plane's pilot and cargo. The trio are chased by the police, who erroneously believe Gil killed a fellow officer, and they're also followed by some very bad men. The plot gets a bit murky at times, keeping track of all the characters and their motivations, but I found it an entertaining movie for a lazy Sunday afternoon.

The film is somewhat hampered by poor sets and location choices. The actors occasionally walk from a location shot filmed outdoors into an obviously fake soundstage set meant to be at the same location, which is a little distracting. The fields where many scenes were filmed look like somewhere in rural Southern California, rather than some place exotic like Morocco. I'd love to know where the field and airport sequences were shot; we were carefully studying the screen for clues but didn't figure it out, and thus far Google has provided no answers.

Fortunately the film's weaknesses are offset by the fast-paced story and attractive cast. Fontaine and Calvet have only one costume change for the entire movie, but never look less than lovely. (I loved Fontaine's pink and white ensemble.) Some of the supporting acting is a bit creaky at times, but fans of the lead actors should find the film worthwhile.

The movie was originally filmed in 3-D, but I didn't notice any shots calling attention to that fact. As it happens, in 1953 Palance starred in another chase movie filmed in 3-D, which is somewhat reminiscent of FLIGHT TO TANGIER: SECOND CHANCE, which starred Robert Mitchum and Linda Darnell. In that case, however, the film's 3-D origins were much more apparent.

The film was written and directed by Charles Marquis Warren and filmed by Ray Rennahan, one of the great Technicolor photographers.

The cast also includes Robert Douglas, Marcel Dalio, Jeff Morrow, and John Pickard.

Gotta love the odd tagline on the FLIGHT TO TANGIER poster: "That 'Shane' Killer Excites Again!" There's something a little disturbing about that slogan...

This movie has not had a DVD or VHS release, but you can see it on Netflix via their "Watch Instantly" service. The Netflix print I watched via our Roku was excellent, with vivid colors.

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...Here's a tribute to one of my favorite movies, LAURA (1944), at Greenbriar Picture Shows, filled -- as usual at Greenbriar -- with marvelous photos. I love what John writes about Dana Andrews: "Andrews, in fact, might be the show's best performance, never mind his being less showy than Clifton Webb and others. The man's a whiz with props. Notice what he does with keys --- doesn't twirl, sort of jiggles, and never a same way twice. When DA shows Tierney a newspaper, meant to startle, he jerks the front page for emphasis as he puts it before her face. What Andrews does with his baseball game-toy is Best Actor worthy in itself --- was a prop ever before or since put to such clever use?" This post drew lots of comments which are worth reading too.

...THE TOURIST (2010), which I enjoyed a lot more than most critics, comes to DVD on March 22nd. Since I saw it, I've spoken with a couple other people who also enjoyed it very much. The gulf between critics and at least some of the paying public in regards to this film is interesting.

...I've been enjoying becoming acquainted with the movie blog Happy Thoughts, Darling, including posts on PRETTY BABY (1950), which I recently recorded, and Gary Cooper. Cooper's PETER IBBETSON (1935) sounds very interesting.

...NASCAR has tweaked its rules again. I don't know if the changes will solve what I see as NASCAR's chief problem, that it's become The Jimmie Johnson Show, with Johnson winning the last five titles in a row. That's just plain boring.

...At Out of the Past, Raquelle reviewed the recent biography WARREN WILLIAM: MAGNIFICENT SCOUNDREL OF PRE-CODE HOLLYWOOD and conducted an interesting interview with author John Stangeland. You can also read a review by Cliff. Sounds like a book I need to read!

...Thoughts on director Fritz Lang from the New York Times and Videodrone.

...Service at Deep Discount has been poor in recent months, to the point where I'm uncertain about the wisdom of placing future orders. Turns out the company was sold in November. Based on what I've read, I suspect that some of my purchases from last fall's Deep Discount sale being shipped to me "direct from the manufacturer" were a result of a cash flow/inventory problem. I've also noticed it's hard to find titles which are due out within the next month. In addition, they recently started charging California residents tax; when a shipping charge also popped onto the screen for my last order, bringing the total to within pennies of Amazon's price, I switched my order to Amazon, since they not only arrive more quickly, they make returns of defective products a breeze.

...Time for the next installment of the 100 Greatest Posters of Film Noir at Where Danger Lives. Among Nos. 11 through 20, I especially like THE STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS and THE LAS VEGAS STORY. CRY VENGEANCE is really nice too. Mark concludes with this note: "I'm pulling lever on the top ten next Friday (Feb. 4) at 5 PM eastern standard time. Be here, the lights are gonna flicker." (February 4th Update: I'll be linking to it this weekend, but in the meantime, here's the link for the Top 10!)

...Here are more beautiful noir posters, for the movies shown at this month's Noir City festival in San Francisco. I'm anxiously awaiting details on the Noir City festival coming to the Egyptian in Hollywood at the end of March and will post info here when it's available.

...Disney artist Kevin Kidney takes us on a fascinating photo tour of the history of Disneyland's Chicken of the Sea pirate ship restaurant in Parts One and Two. I had the opportunity to briefly meet Kevin and receive his autograph at last fall's Destination D: Disneyland '55 event.

...Java writes about Deanna Durbin's I'LL BE YOURS (1947) at The Amazing Deanna Durbin. This remake of THE GOOD FAIRY (1935) is one of the Durbin films remaining on my "to watch" list. (The photo at the left is thanks to the online LIFE photo archive.)

...This week's political links: Dr. Milton Wolf, cousin of the President, on the hundreds of Obamacare waivers passed out on the whim of the Health and Human Services director ("If Obamacare is such a great law, why does the White House keep protecting its best friends from it?"), Byron York on "Rethinking Obama's Political Performance in Tucson," and Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street Journal on "A Presidency to Nowhere."

...Rick29 reviews A SUMMER PLACE (1959) at the Classic Film and TV Cafe. It's been a long time since I saw that one.

...Glenn Erickson just reviewed the Warner Archive release HOTEL (1967), another Rod Taylor movie I'd like to see. I saw a little bit of the '80s TV series when I was in college -- unfortunately it quickly turned into a dull landlocked LOVE BOAT -- but have never seen the movie.

...The For the Love of Film (Noir) Blogathon is just a couple weeks away! It begins on Valentine's Day.

Have a great week!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Bell Book and Candle (1958)

Tonight's movie was BELL BOOK AND CANDLE, one of two films James Stewart and Kim Novak made back to back, the other film being Hitchcock's VERTIGO. To date I'd never seen either movie, so now that I've seen BELL BOOK AND CANDLE, can VERTIGO be far behind?

BELL BOOK AND CANDLE is whimsical entertainment about a publisher (Stewart) who falls in love with a woman (Novak) who happens to be a witch. Or did she put him under a spell?

This enjoyable film is distinguished by its cast -- you know you're in good hands when the supporting cast is headed by Jack Lemmon -- as well as an evocative score by George Duning and a distinctive "look" filmed in Technicolor by James Wong Howe. The movie features Oscar-nominated costumes by Jean Louis; the Art Direction and Set Decoration also received a nomination. I especially loved an unusual metallic Christmas tree featured in the opening scenes.

Stewart and Novak are perfectly cast as the befuddled publisher and the elegant, mysterious woman he loves. The evolution of both characters was very well done, building to a most satisfactory ending.

Ernie Kovacs costars as a forever-tippling writer, while Elsa Lanchester and Hermione Gingold are perfectly cast as witches. Lanchester and Gingold made me think a bit of Aunt Clara and Aunt Hagatha on the '60s TV series BEWITCHED, while Lemmon's mischievous Nicky might have been a calmer version of Uncle Arthur. One wonders if the series was at least partially inspired by BELL BOOK AND CANDLE.

This film was directed by Richard Quine, based on a 1950 John Van Druten play which starred Rex Harrison and Lilli Palmer.

The cast also includes Janice Rule and Bek Nelson. The movie runs 106 minutes.

BELL BOOK AND CANDLE has been shown on Turner Classic Movies, which has the trailer available here.

It's available on DVD as part of the Kim Novak Collection in a lovely print.

The movie was previously released as a single-title DVD, as well as on VHS.

Quick Preview of TCM in April

Turner Classic Movies has posted the April schedule today, and Ivan was kind enough to pass on the good word.

I'm very happy that Ray Milland is going to be Star of the Month! The Oscar-winning Milland has never been Star of the Month, doubtless because a signficant part of his career was spent at Paramount. Over two dozen Milland films will be shown in April.

I'm most excited about the Paramount film THE CRYSTAL BALL (1943) costarring Paulette Goddard.

There will also be an opportunity for fans to see the relatively rarely shown SO EVIL MY LOVE (1948), which I saw on the big screen at last year's Noir City Film Festival.

Fritz Lang's MINISTRY OF FEAR (1944), which aired earlier today, will be reshown in April.

I have to admit I wish TCM had been able to obtain more of Milland's Paramount rareties of the '30s and '40s -- for instance, I'd love to see ALIAS NICK BEAL (1949) -- or the excellent Western he starred in and directed, A MAN ALONE (1955).

That said, April will be a great month for the many fans of Ray Milland.

April will feature tributes to Jane Powell, Debbie Reynolds, Shirley Temple, Ann Miller, and Melvyn Douglas, among others. A nice programming touch was scheduling several "royalty" films, including ROYAL WEDDING (1951), THE GLASS SLIPPER (1955), and THE SWAN (1956), on April 29th, the date Prince William of Wales marries Catherine "Kate" Middleton.

As always, I'll be taking a closer look at April on TCM as April 1st nears. In the meantime, 31 Days of Oscar is coming in February, and the March Star of the Month will be Jean Harlow.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Flaxy Martin (1949)

FLAXY MARTIN is a minor but enjoyable film noir which is worth catching thanks to its three lead actors.

Virginia Mayo plays the oddly named title character, a scheming wench who frames Walter Colby, the lawyer (Zachary Scott) who loves her, for a murder rap in order to protect her mobster boyfriend (Douglas Kennedy).

Walter escapes from the police and is aided by librarian Nora Carson (Dorothy Malone) as he attempts to clear his name.

The movie is fairly derivative, but that's part of its charm. The couple on the run needing to clear the hero's name seems inspired by Hitchcock's THE 39 STEPS (1935) and SABOTEUR (1942), but certain aspects of the film are also curiously reminiscent of IMPACT (1949), which was released just a month after FLAXY MARTIN. (Perhaps it would thus be more accurate to say that IMPACT is reminiscent of FLAXY MARTIN.) As in IMPACT, the hero is betrayed by the glamorous, two-timing love of his life; at one point he has to deal with being charged with a murder he didn't commit, and he has hope restored by the love and assistance of a small-town girl.

Of course, any movie with Elisha Cook Jr. calls to mind the classic crime titles THE MALTESE FALCON (1941) and THE BIG SLEEP (1946).

It's a nice touch that Malone's character works in a library, given that she appeared in THE BIG SLEEP herself, in a small but notable breakout role as a bookstore clerk who flirts with Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart). Malone and Scott are sympathetic as a couple with big problems who quickly recognize each other as kindred spirits. Mayo is striking as the amoral Flaxy, who's willing to do pretty much anything for an easy meal ticket. A little more background to understand the motivations of both Mayo and Malone's characters would have been nice, but the actresses do what they can with the roles as written.

Helen Westcott, who plays Peggy, starred with Gregory Peck in THE GUNFIGHTER (1950) the year after FLAXY MARTIN. Other roles in the early '50s included TAKE CARE OF MY LITTLE GIRL (1951) and THE SECRET OF CONVICT LAKE (1951); the latter film costarred Zachary Scott.

FLAXY MARTIN was directed by Richard L. Bare, billed here simply as Richard Bare. Bare, who directed the long-running SO YOU WANT TO... series of short subjects, later directed episodes of several Warner Bros. TV shows of the late '50s, including MAVERICK. Bare last directed in 1973 and is now 97.

This black and white Warner Bros. movie runs 86 minutes. It isn't available on VHS or DVD, but it can be seen on Turner Classic Movies, which has the trailer available here.

Some parts of FLAXY MARTIN are a little hard to buy, such as the speed with which Walter decides to plead guilty to a murder he didn't commit, but all in all it's a diverting movie which builds to a satisfying conclusion.

Laura's Miscellaneous Musings at MovieFanFare

My December post on TAMMY AND THE BACHELOR (1957) has been adapted and posted today at Movies Unlimited's MovieFanFare blog.

They found a terrific still of Debbie Reynolds and Leslie Nielsen to run along with the review. There's also a wonderful trailer linked at the bottom of the post -- it made me want to watch the movie all over again.

My thanks to MovieFanFare!

Previously: Guest Post at MovieFanFare.

25 Years Ago Today

This post at Holy Coast looking back at the Challenger disaster could have been written by me in some respects. It really is difficult to believe that 25 years have passed.

25 years ago today I was a young receptionist at a law firm in Long Beach, California. One of the senior partners came in the front door looking rather ashen-faced, and he told me he'd heard on the radio that the Challenger had exploded.

As described at Holy Coast, no one even dreamed of the existence of the Internet back then, nor did we have TV or radio in the office. (I would bring in a transistor radio when the Dodgers had daytime playoff games, with the blessing of the attorney I worked for, but reception was spotty even then.) I spent my lunch hour driving around Downtown Long Beach in order to listen to the car radio and try to get a handle on exactly what had happened.

As is the case for many people, the other thing I really remember about that day was this historic meeting of man and moment:

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Happy Birthday, Joan Leslie!

Charming Joan Leslie turns 86 today.

I posted a birthday tribute a year ago which discusses her career, her appearances in DVD extras, and also links to my reviews of some of her films.

This year I'd like to celebrate her birthday by pointing readers in the direction of a very nice tribute at Screen Snapshots, as well as an interview transcribed at Classic Images.

Also, any Leslie fans who missed last weekend's roundup will want to check out this Leslie interview which I originally discovered via 50 Westerns From the 50s.

Wishing one of classic Hollywood's loveliest, nicest movie stars a very happy birthday!

In Disney News...

...The Spring 2011 issue of the Disney Twenty-Three magazine arrived in my mailbox today, with a beautiful cover featuring the new Disney Dream cruise ship, which just left today on its maiden voyage. Besides a photo tour of the new ship, topics include an interview with Imagineer Bob Gurr, a tour of Disney collector Richard Craft's home (love the Submarine Voyage sign by the swimming pool!), and a story on changes to the Living Seas at Epcot.

...Speaking of the Disney Cruise Line, the Disney Wonder has been forced to cut Mazatlan from the cruise schedule for safety reasons. Cruises to the "Mexican Riviera" could be problematic for all cruise lines in the years ahead. It's disturbing to read stats such as 31 people murdered in the coastal resort city of Acapulco in a four-day period earlier this month.

...There are beautiful new attraction posters for Paradise Pier at Disney's California Adventure. The upcoming book THE POSTER ART OF DISNEY PARKS, by Danny Handke and Vanessa Hunt, will be a "must" purchase for me.

...The official Disney Parks Blog has a short video story on the scuba divers who maintain the Submarine Voyage as well as other water rides at Disneyland.

...Here's another video from the Disney Parks blog, a preview of Ariel's Undersea Adventure, which opens at California Adventure this spring.

...Disneyland's Splash Mountain and the surrounding Critter Country are both closed at the moment. Critter Country reopens in March and Splash Mountain in late May.

...Nooooo! Splash Mountain at Disney World is having lap bars installed. I guess it's no surprise given what's going to happen to Disneyland's Matterhorn. The new safety restraints are expected to have a negative impact on hourly ride capacity.

...Storybook Land Canal at Disneyland Paris has had a Rapunzel tower inspired by TANGLED (2010) added to the ride. Nice idea!

...Disney World has announced revised plans for its Fantasyland makeover, geared to be a little less "princessy" and more boy friendly. The most surprising announcement was that Disney World will be removing its Snow White ride, replacing it with a new mine train ride based on the same movie.

...I've only had time to watch a few minutes so far, but Dear Old Hollywood links to what looks like an interesting 1956 video documentary about a trip to Disneyland and other Southern California sites.

Changing The King's Speech?

There's an interesting story in the Los Angeles Times today that producer Harvey Weinstein is seriously considering editing language from THE KING'S SPEECH (2010) in order to achieve a more family-friendly rating.

The movie is currently rated R for language. I covered the issue at some length in my review.

The movie is rated for ages 12 and up in England, where it's leading at the box office. Weinstein apparently sees a large missed market in the United States, especially with the positive publicity from the film's 12 Oscar nominations.

Whether or not the movie could excise the language and accomplish the same dramatic points in the main scene in which it's used is an open question. I suspect the language repeated in whispers near the end of the film could be edited out without any impact.

Weinstein is discussing possible changes with director Tom Hooper: "Tom and I are trying to find a unique way to do this that keeps his vision of the movie."

The TV-movie BERTIE AND ELIZABETH (2002) addressed the stammering at some length, though not as extensively as in THE KING'S SPEECH, without any language issues.

I do suspect Weinstein is correct that some who might otherwise watch the movie are missing out. My 15-year-old, for instance, is unwilling to watch R-rated films, and she would otherwise be interested in trying the movie.

The DVD is currently listed available for preorder at Amazon, but no date is given. I tend to think it might not be released for a while in order to cash in at the box office on Oscar nominations, not to mention potential wins next month.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Bertie and Elizabeth: The Reluctant Royals (2002)

Years before THE KING'S SPEECH (2010), there was the British TV-movie BERTIE AND ELIZABETH: THE RELUCTANT ROYALS.

BERTIE AND ELIZABETH covers very much the same ground as the later film, portraying the relationship of Britain's Prince Albert, Duke of York (later King George VI) and his wife Elizabeth, and "Bertie's" struggle to come to grips with both his lifelong stammering and unexpectedly being thrust into leading a nation on the brink of war. The older film even includes scenes with speech therapist Lionel Logue (Michael Elwyn), a major character portrayed by Geoffrey Rush in THE KING'S SPEECH. BERTIE AND ELIZABETH spends more time on World War II, something I wished had been depicted more extensively in THE KING'S SPEECH.

Both films suffer from a somewhat elliptical storytelling approach which doesn't allow as much character development as one would like. For instance, BERTIE AND ELIZABETH never really shows us why the title characters fell in love, but proceeds from dance to shoot to proposal in the space of a few minutes. Both films also noticeably "cheat" at times to prevent the need to shoot expensive crowd scenes; BERTIE AND ELIZABETH's wedding is conveyed simply with the taking of the post-wedding photograph.

BERTIE AND ELIZABETH is watchable and entertaining, especially for those familiar with and interested in British history, but THE KING'S SPEECH has the advantage of performances which are much richer and more layered.

The title characters of BERTIE AND ELIZABETH are played by James Wilby and Juliet Aubrey. Wilby is the better actor of the two, while Aubrey seems to have two expressions: supportive or pained. Curiously, a bit of a Scottish accent seems to sneak out of Wilby from time to time, although according to IMDb he was born in Burma. The two leads are pleasant but not particularly memorable, and they tend to pale in comparison to the recent Oscar-nominated turns by Colin Firth and Helena Bonham-Carter.

Alan Bates is rather cartoonishly gruff as King George V, while Eileen Atkins plays Queen Mary. It's hard to say whether Atkins gives a stiff performance or is trying to portray a stiff woman with suppressed emotions; perhaps it's a combination of the two. Charles Edwards is quite good as David, aka King Edward VIII, while Amber Sealey portrays Wallis Simpson.

Favorite British actor Robert Hardy (Prince Albert in EDWARD THE KING) turns up as American President Roosevelt. Helen Ryan, who played Queen Alexandra in EDWARD THE KING, plays the Queen of the Netherlands this time around. The cast also includes Corin Redgrave as Gen. Montgomery, Dennis Lill as Clement Attlee, Paul Brooke as Tommy Lascelles, and David Ryall as Winston Churchill.

BERTIE AND ELIZABETH was directed by Giles Foster. It runs for 105 minutes.

This movie is available on DVD, as well as VHS.

Local Tribute to a Fallen Hero

Spc. Jose A. Torre, Jr., who died in action in Iraq on January 15th, was a graduate of our local high school.

At 21, he was just a year behind our oldest daughter.

We received an automated message from the principal last night advising that after his body arrived at Los Alamitos Naval Air Station, the family had requested that the funeral procession pass by the high school on the way to the mortuary.

As both a parent and an alumni of the same high school, I wanted to pay tribute to this young man and help let his family know how much their son's service was and is appreciated.

The stirring sight which greeted me when I arrived caused the tears to flow almost instantly. The entire school had turned out and quietly lined the block, with the school's flag at half mast. Uniformed ROTC students lined the sidewalk in front of the administration building. Uniformed athletes and cheerleaders also stood in line to pay tribute.


Parents such as myself lined the opposite side of the street, along with a number of veterans. Police and fire units from all over Orange County were part of the ceremony.

This particular officer came from Placentia:


A motorcycle unit alerted us when the procession was two minutes out. I did not take any photos as the hearse and the family drove by, preferring to stand respectfully with my hand over my heart.

There were dozens of Patriot Riders following the hearse, along with Red Cross vans and more police units, including several from neighboring Anaheim. This is the beginning of the motorcycle escort:




It was an extremely moving experience. Some of those in the cars in the procession could be seen wiping away tears. It's quite sobering to think that just a couple of years ago this young man was another student at the school.

I'm so grateful for fine men like him, and so very sorry for his family's loss.

Update: Good coverage from the Orange County Register. There are 39 photos, including some taken at the field memorial service in Iraq.

My younger daughter was one of the members of the marching band playing the Alma Mater when the hearse paused in front of the high school.

A quote from the article: "(Torre's) mother told me that this wonderful community support has made it possible for them to deal with this tremendous loss."

Update: Thanks so much to Holy Coast and 50 Westerns From the 50s for sharing this story with their readers and helping to pay tribute to Pfc. Torre.

January 30th Update: A local TV news story posted on YouTube includes brief footage of the procession past the high school.

This is a beautiful video tribute.

The Orange County Register published a brief story with photographs of the burial service at Riverside National Cemetery.

83rd Annual Academy Award Nominations

The 83rd annual Academy Award nominations were announced this morning.

I've seen three of this year's Best Picture nominees: THE KING'S SPEECH, THE SOCIAL NETWORK, and TOY STORY 3.

THE KING'S SPEECH received a whopping 12 nominations, followed by TRUE GRIT with 10.

I'm delighted both THE KING'S SPEECH and TOY STORY 3 were nominated, as they would both be deserving of the honor even if there were only five nominees, rather than ten. As there is virtually no hope of an animated film winning Best Picture, I'll be rooting for THE KING'S SPEECH and, in particular, Colin Firth for Best Actor.

I found THE SOCIAL NETWORK enjoyable, but as I commented in my review, I'm a bit baffled by the strength of the critical praise heaped on the movie. I found it on the level of a high-quality TV-movie, interesting and well made but nothing particularly special.

The awards ceremony will take place on February 27th.

Previously: 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2010. 2009 was such a bad year I didn't bother to comment!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Green Hell (1940)

GREEN HELL is a crackerjack jungle adventure film in the tradition of the TARZAN series or KING SOLOMON'S MINES (1950).

There's nothing particularly original about the movie, but it features an outstanding cast in a fast-paced, entertaining story. It's hard to beat the combination of Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Joan Bennett, and George Sanders, with an excellent supporting cast including Alan Hale, Vincent Price, John Howard, and George Bancroft.

Keith "Brandy" Brandon (Fairbanks) leads a group of explorers into the jungle on a search for Incan treasure. Weeks later, native bearers arrive unexpectedly with Stephanie Richardson (Bennett), the wife of one of the men; Stephanie is ill with jungle fever, and when she is lucid, she has to be told that her husband has died.

Stephanie's not in mourning for long; she learns her husband was two-timing her (he must have been crazy), and she's soon got both Brandy and Forrester (Sanders) in love with her. How lucky can a girl get?

Well, as it turns out she'll need a lot of luck, because murderous natives are closing in, and once the explorers' ammunition runs out, it's not going to be a pretty situation.

If one looks too closely, there's probably all sorts of things wrong with the movie, including sometimes silly depictions of the natives or how miraculously cool and lovely Stephanie looks in the humid jungle. But why look for problems when the movie's such fun? I found myself thoroughly entertained for the movie's 87-minute run time.

As Stephen H. Scheuer wrote in his 3-star review, "Fairly standard idea given bite by a fine cast and director."

The director was James Whale, who directed the first sound versions of WATERLOO BRIDGE (1931) and SHOW BOAT (1936). In 1939 he had directed Bennett in THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK.

Fairbanks, Bennett, and Sanders are all one would expect or want in a story such as this -- romantic, beautiful, dashing, and brave. Alan Hale, who sometimes wears out his welcome in blustery performances, is quite fine here in a restrained performance.

The movie was filmed in black and white by Karl Freund. Bennett's lovely jungle wardrobe was provided by Bernard Newman and Irene.

GREEN HELL isn't available on video or DVD, but it can be tracked down various places via the internet, including YouTube.

Coming to DVD: Murder, He Says (1945)

The wacky Paramount comedy MURDER, HE SAYS (1945) is coming to DVD as a TCM exclusive release on January 31, 2011.

The movie, which is a cult favorite in some circles, stars Fred MacMurray, Helen Walker, Marjorie Main, and Jean Heather.

The film will be released as part of a double feature DVD along with FEUDIN', FUSSIN' AND A-FIGHTIN' (1948), a Universal title which stars Donald O'Connor, Marjorie Main, and Percy Kilbride.

TCM showed MURDER, HE SAYS last October. As I mentioned at the time, I saw the film at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art when I was young but I didn't really "get" the humor. I'm looking forward to taking a fresh look at the movie, especially as I've become a fan of Fred MacMurray over the past couple years.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Tonight's Movie: The Trouble With Women (1947)

THE TROUBLE WITH WOMEN has a rather silly plot yet is quite entertaining, thanks to a fine cast headed by Ray Milland.

Milland is charming as Gilbert Sedley, an innocent professor -- he's apparently been isolated working in the Orient too long -- who is baffled by his strong reactions to a young newspaper reporter, Kate Farrell (Teresa Wright). Why does he think of Niagara Falls whenever he's around her? Gilbert's determined to figure it out, which naturally means he should be with her whenever possible...jotting down notes about all his mysterious reactions to being in Kate's company.

The plot is some silliness about Gilbert having written psychology textbooks with controversial views on women. Gilbert is forced to file a lawsuit against a newspaper, there's an attempt to blackmail Gilbert into dropping the suit, and eventually Gilbert's job is on the line. It's all just an excuse for the cast to have a good time in two favorite comedy settings, a newspaper office and a college campus. It's an enjoyable 80 minutes.

Wright is appealing as the leading lady, and Brian Donlevy is roguishly delightful as her perenially broke newspaper editor boss, who'd like to marry Kate himself.

The supporting cast is filled with familiar faces, starting with Lloyd Bridges in a small role as a newspaper employee. Other character actors in the film include Rose Hobart, Iris Adrian, Norma Varden, Frank Ferguson, Dorothy Adams, Mary Field, Rhys Williams, Byron Foulger, Edward Gargan, Robert Middlemass, and Nestor Paiva. The little boy on the train in the opening sequence is played by Jimmy Hawkins, who was one of the Bailey children in IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946).

THE TROUBLE WITH WOMEN was directed by Sidney Lanfield, whose other comedies included the very enjoyable STANDING ROOM ONLY (1944).

This Paramount film may be hard to track down, but fans of the three leads will find it worth the effort.

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