Thursday, June 30, 2011

Disney Quietly Launches MOD DVD Program

Thanks to a tip from Twitter, I just learned that this week Disney has very quietly launched their own manufactured-on-demand DVD-R program, the Disney Generations Collection.

The launch was so quiet that it's hard to find more than a couple references to the program via Google as yet.

The first three titles are AMY (1981), GOLDRUSH (1998), and STUDENT EXCHANGE (1987).

I'm very excited about AMY, a film about a teacher of deaf children which I've not seen since its original theatrical release. The movie stars Jenny Agutter in the title role, with a supporting cast including Margaret O'Brien (who was then in her early 40s), Barry Newman, and Nanette Fabray; the casting of Fabray was particularly interesting as she is hearing-impaired in real life. I've been looking for this film to come to DVD for a long, long time.

GOLDRUSH is a TV-movie starring Alyssa Milano, and STUDENT EXCHANGE is another TV-movie with a cast including a young Maura Tierney and Heather Graham, plus Lisa Hartman, Gavin McLeod, Lindsay Wagner, and O.J. Simpson, back when everyone thought he was a nice guy.

At the Disney site buyers can click to buy direct from Disney or at Amazon, where one can find pages for AMY, GOLDRUSH, and STUDENT EXCHANGE.

Many of us have been watching for rumored MOD programs coming from Disney and Fox, and in the case of Disney, it's now here!

Child Actress Edith Fellows, 1923-2011

Edith Fellows, a prominent child actress throughout the '30s and early '40s, has passed away at the age of 88.

Fellows' films included playing Melvyn Douglas's spoiled daughter in SHE MARRIED HER BOSS (1935) and Mary Astor's calculating daughter in AND SO THEY WERE MARRIED (1936).

She also appeared as Adele in the 1934 version of JANE EYRE, with Colin Clive and Virginia Bruce; as Australia in MRS. WIGGS OF THE CABBAGE PATCH (1934); with Bing Crosby in PENNIES FROM HEAVEN (1936); and as Polly Pepper in four FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS movies in the years 1939-1940.

Her final films as a teenager included two Gene Autry titles, HEART OF THE RIO GRANDE (1942) and STARDUST ON THE SAGE (1942).

In later years she appeared on television in shows such as CAGNEY AND LACEY and E.R.

Fellows' survivors include her daughter Kathy and son-in-law David Lander of LAVERNE AND SHIRLEY.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Actress Elaine Stewart Dies at 81

Beautiful actress Elaine Stewart, seen in numerous small but noticeable roles at MGM throughout the early '50s, has passed away at the age of 81.

One of Stewart's first screen appearances was in SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952), in which she had a bit part as a lady-in-waiting in a movie sequence.

From there Stewart's parts included a small role as the kind but ill-fated stewardess in DESPERATE SEARCH (1952) and in the final train scene of YOU FOR ME (1952), attracting the notice of Peter Lawford.

Her more substantial parts at MGM included a scene-stealing role as Lila, a young actress in THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL (1952), pictured here with Gilbert Roland; the "B" movie CODE TWO (1953), in which she's in love with motorcycle cop Jeff Richards; and Gene Kelly's New York fiancee in BRIGADOON (1954). She had a cameo as herself in MEET ME IN LAS VEGAS (1956).

Other roles included the female lead in THE ADVENTURES OF HAJJI BABA (1954), in which she's completely stunning, and playing the good sister to Faith Domergue's not-so-good sibling in the Victor Mature Western ESCORT WEST (1958).

Stewart was long married to game show producer Merrill Heatter, and she appeared on the game shows LAS VEGAS GAMBIT and THE NEW HIGH ROLLERS.

She's survived by Heatter and their two children.

Wednesday Update: A nice obituary was published by the New York Times.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Coming to DVD: The Killer is Loose (1956)

THE KILLER IS LOOSE, a very creepy crime drama directed by Budd Boetticher, will be released in the MGM DVD-R program on July 1st.

The movie stars Joseph Cotten, Rhonda Fleming, and Wendell Corey. I reviewed the film in the fall of 2009.

There's more on this film at 50 Westerns From the 50s. Incidentally, it can currently be watched via Netflix streaming.

THE KILLER IS LOOSE is listed at TCM and Screen Archives Entertainment, but as of this writing it does not yet have an Amazon listing.

Other titles due soon from MGM: GUN DUEL IN DURANGO (1957) with George Montgomery and Ann Robinson; QUINCANNON, FRONTIER SCOUT (1956) with Tony Martin and Peggie Castle; THE HALLIDAY BRAND (1957) with Joseph Cotten; and DOWN THREE DARK STREETS (1954) with Broderick Crawford and Ruth Roman.

Most of these films are currently available to watch via Netflix "Watch Instantly."

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Tonight's Movie: The Story of Vickie (1954)

Just about a year ago I became acquainted for the first time with the SISSI films, a delightful set of German-language films produced in Austria in the mid '50s, starring young Romy Schneider as Empress Elisabeth of Austria. To date I've seen SISSI (1955) and SISSI - THE YOUNG EMPRESS (1956), with SISSI - THE FATEFUL YEARS OF AN EMPRESS (1957) still waiting in the wings for a future viewing.

THE STORY OF VICKIE, also known as VICTORIA IN DOVER, was a film Schneider made with writer and director Ernst Marischka just prior to the SISSI films. In this first Schneider-Marischka collaboration, which was the charming 16-year-old Schneider's third film, Schneider plays the young Queen Victoria.

THE STORY OF VICKIE follows familiar historical ground, most recently seen in THE YOUNG VICTORIA (2009), as we see sheltered Victoria living under the thumb of her domineering mother, the Duchess of Kent (Christl Mardayn), and the Duchess's close advisor, Sir John Conroy (Stefan Skodler). Victoria's main support comes from Baroness Lehzen (Magda Schneider), her former governess and companion.

The film sticks close to history for its first hour, as Victoria becomes queen and is closely advised by Prime Minister Melbourne (Karl Ludwig Diehl). An hour into the movie, the story takes a flight of fancy, and Victoria, frustrated with the matchmaking attempts of those around her, travels incognito to an inn in Dover -- properly chaperoned by the Baroness, of course!

While at the inn, Victoria meets a young German student (Adrian Hoven). They waltz together and are mightily attracted to one another, but alas, a future together cannot be, because the young man is actually Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg (Adrian Hoven), who is on his way to London to meet Queen Victoria. Much as in the film SISSI, this sets up a delightful fairy tale moment when the young lovers meet again and realize they can be together after all.

The movie is completely enjoyable, thanks especially to the performances of the Schneiders. Romy Schneider is natural and spirited as the beautiful young queen, and Magda Schneider is warmth personified as the caring mother figure in Victoria's life. Hoven plays Prince Albert in a rather cocky manner, but he's also appealing, especially when quoting ROMEO AND JULIET. (Although what was with one of his eyes squinting in the final sequence?) Diehl is touching as Victoria's loyal mentor, Lord Melbourne.

At times the movie verges on the edge of being hokey, but it always reels itself back in, and the story is told with such humor and charm that it's simply a lovely piece of entertainment. The brief fictional section works quite well, especially as the film promptly returns to the historical record and the pieces all fit together quite nicely.

The film runs 108 minutes.

For those new to these movies, the well-known tale of THE STORY OF VICKIE provides a nice entry point into the later SISSI films. As enjoyable as VICKIE is, I do feel that SISSI is even stronger, as SISSI has richer production values, including stunning location photography in Austria. VICKIE is mostly set-bound, but it does have gorgeous costumes by Leo Bei and Gerdago.

THE STORY OF VICKIE is available on DVD as part of the Sissi Collection. It's in the original German, with English subtitles. As with the SISSI movies, the films are so well acted and engrossing that I gradually forgot I was reading subtitles. The other films in the DVD set are the trilogy SISSI, SISSI - THE YOUNG EMPRESS, and SISSI - THE FATEFUL YEARS OF AN EMPRESS, along with FOREVER, MY LOVE (1962), a condensed version of the films dubbed in English. The set is quite expensive; I would dearly love to own it one day if I can ever find it for a more reasonable price! These colorful films are worth watching, and then watching again in the future.

The DVD is available from Netflix.

It's been a terrific experience getting to know these beautifully made family films, created in Austria over half a century ago. They deserve to be more widely seen.

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...Coming to DVD from the Twilight Time limited edition label: THE EGYPTIAN (1954) is now ready for pre-order. Extras include a commentary track by Alain Silver and James Ursini, as well as the trailer and an isolated musical score. This Michael Curtiz film stars Jean Simmons, Victor Mature, Gene Tierney, Michael Wilding, and Peter Ustinov. I've never seen this one and am considering ordering it.

...Check out Shadows and Satin, a new blog on film noir and pre-Codes from Karen Burroughs Hannsberry, editor of The Dark Pages film noir newsletter and author of FEMME NOIR: BAD GIRLS OF FILM.

...In late May I shared links concerning modern-day projection issues related to 3-D projectors, chiefly 3-D bulbs being set to burn too dimly, in order to prolong bulb life and save money, as well as dimly projected 2-D films being shown on 3-D projectors. My daughter passed on an interesting follow-up from SlashFilm about ultra-bright 3-D prints of the upcoming TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON (2011). It's hoped the special "bright" prints can help combat the projector issues.

...I loved Jacqueline's essay on CONFLICT (1945), a very enjoyable film starring Humphrey Bogart and Alexis Smith -- and I also appreciate her link to the post I wrote on the film last month.

...I printed this recipe for Snickerdoodle Muffins from Melissa Bakes. (Via TasteSpotting.)

...Raquelle recently had the opportunity to see Spencer Tracy in CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS (1937) on the big screen in Somerville, MA. Very nice!

...I love new technology, but at this point am inclined to agree that "Kindles Don't Compare to Books."

...Toby reviews the upcoming ROY ROGERS: THE COLLECTED DAILIES AND SUNDAYS at 50 Westerns From the 50s. I had no idea there was a Roy Rogers comic strip!

...Fans of Roy Rogers, as well as those who collect classic films on DVD, should be sure to read Barrie Maxwell's latest Classic Coming Attractions column, which is chock full of information. Barrie's reviews include FATE IS THE HUNTER (1964), THE WAY TO THE STARS (1945), TOWARD THE UNKNOWN (1956), and NIGHT FLIGHT (1933).

...At the TCM Movie Morlocks blog, Suzidoll pays tribute to Joan Blondell.

...Kristina's review of THE QUITTER (1934), a Poverty Row film, is quite interesting. It's wonderful to discover relatively little-known films such as this one.

...Kevin's Movie Corner shares thoughts on Cary Grant and Joan Bennett in BIG BROWN EYES (1936).

...A new HBO miniseries from Aaron Sorkin will focus on the history of Hollywood's Chateau Marmont hotel. It will be based on the book LIFE AT THE MARMONT by Raymond Sarlot.

...Millie plans a series on Deanna Durbin at her blog, Classic Forever.

...Some of the latest reviews from Glenn Erickson at DVD Savant: Steve McQueen in THE HONEYMOON MACHINE (1961), which has been remastered by Warner Archive, and Susan Hayward in WOMAN OBSESSED (1959), from Twilight Time.

...Season 2 of THE GOOD WIFE comes to DVD on September 13th, the same day as Season 1 of Tom Selleck's BLUE BLOODS.

...MacGuffin Movies reviews Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell in FAST AND LOOSE (1939), one of MGM's three Joel and Garda Sloan mysteries -- a unique series in that each title was filmed with different lead actors!

...Lou Lumenick's latest column focuses on the Sony Screen Classics By Request series. He also discusses some of the latest Warner Archive releases, such as IN NAME ONLY (1939), a wonderful soaper starring Cary Grant and Carole Lombard.

..."Classic Hollywood: Notable Films That Aren't on DVD" has an interesting list from Susan King of the Los Angeles Times. One of the movies she mentions, HOLD BACK THE DAWN (1941), especially deserves DVD release, thanks to its luminous performance by Olivia deHavilland.

...In last weekend's review of HOUSE OF STRANGERS (1949), I mentioned what a nice man Efrem Zimbalist Jr. is. That comes across well in this new interview celebrating the Warner Archive release of Zimbalist's TV series, THE FBI.

...Notable Passings: Composer Fred Steiner has passed away at the age of 88. Steiner, a prolific TV composer, created the theme for PERRY MASON...and as has been well chronicled elsewhere by now, COLUMBO star Peter Falk has died at 83. My younger son discovered COLUMBO via Netflix in the past year -- Falk's work will live on and entertain future generations.

Have a great week!

In Disney News...

...Disney-Pixar's CARS 2 (2011) certainly received mixed reviews -- the first Pixar film not to receive unqualified raves. The Los Angeles Times was very enthused, while Disney expert Leonard Maltin was terribly disappointed.

My daughters were the first ones in the family to see it, and they liked it very much; they felt harsh reviews were the result of Pixar having set the bar so very high, and opined that even an imperfect Pixar film is vastly better than most new films in the marketplace.

They were absolutely delighted with accompanying TOY STORY short, HAWAIIAN VACATION (2011), with voices by Michael Keaton and Jodi Benson as Ken and Barbie, plus the entire TOY STORY gang.

...The latest big update by Al Lutz at MiceAge has all sorts of interesting information, including the pending closure of Disneyland's Blue Ribbon Bakery -- it will be replaced by a larger MARY POPPINS themed bakery in the current site of the Plaza Pavilion -- and the Princess Fantasy Faire exiting the Fantasyland Theater, which will have a new stage production. Sounds wonderful all the way around.

...Last week I shared the news that Jack and Bonita Granville Wrather have been named Disney Legends. Werner Weiss of Yesterland has an excellent tribute to the Wrathers and their role in Disney history.

...Leonard Maltin has an informative post titled "A Disney Book You Don't Know About...and Others You Should." PICTURING THE WALT DISNEY FAMILY MUSEUM sounds like a must-have for Disney fans.

...Al Weiss, President of Worldwide Operations for Disney theme parks, has announced his retirement. Weiss has been with the company nearly 39 years.

...I love Shag's Disney art. He's got a beautiful new map to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Disney World.

Today's Dessert: Froggy-in-the-Water Cupcakes

For my 16-year-old's last birthday, one of her friends gave her THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG: TIANA'S COOKBOOK. It's written for younger children, but it was part of a "purple"-themed collection of goodies she received, and since my daughter loves Disney and loves to bake, it was perfect!

As it turns out, it's quite a nice little cookbook, with a variety of appealing recipes, and it inspired said daughter and a friend to spend the afternoon decorating these fun "Froggy-in-the-Water" Cupcakes:




Previous Dessert Posts: Fudgy Brownies; Lemon Jello Cake; Grammy's Chocolate Cookies; Super-Sized Ginger Chewies.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Tonight's Movie: The Scarlet Coat (1955)

It's been an extremely busy few days without much time for either movies or blogging, but I finally had time to sit down and relax with a movie tonight, THE SCARLET COAT.

THE SCARLET COAT is a Revolutionary War saga with American spy John Boulton (Cornel Wilde) helping General Robert Howe (John McIntire) unravel the spy ring headed by Benedict Arnold (Robert Douglas).

The British spies include Major John Andre (Michael Wilding) and Dr. Jonathan Odell (George Sanders). Then there's Sally Cameron (Anne Francis), a woman of questionable loyalties who finds herself caught between Andre and Boulton.

Despite being an American History major with a particular love for Colonial and Revolutionary history, I found this film slow going. The "spy" plot requires very close attention, with constantly shifting false names and loyalties, and the film relies heavily on shots of large groups, rather than more intimate framing, which at times makes it a bit harder to track who's who under all the white wigs and identical uniforms. I'm a detail-oriented viewer with better than average knowledge of the era, but I found it a bit of a chore following the storyline in this one, especially as what should have been a compelling tale plodded along in ho-hum fashion for much of its 101 minutes.

Another issue for the film is that Wilde's character remains a colorless cipher who moves from one crisis to the next. Wilding, as his British counterpart, is more sympathetic, and consequently the ending of the film is a downer, even if military justice was served.

Francis provides some brief flashes of color, but her character's main function seems to be to illuminate the relationship of Boulton and Andre, and her screen time is relatively limited.

On the plus side, there are some lovely CinemaScope long shots filmed on location in New York by Paul Vogel. The costumes are by the great Walter Plunkett.

The narration is provided by Paul Frees. The supporting cast includes Bobby Driscoll (SONG OF THE SOUTH), Dabbs Greer, John Dehner, Rhys Williams, James Westerfield, and Paul Cavanagh.

The film was directed by John Sturges, whose best-known films are THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960) and THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963). Sturges films previously reviewed here: THE WALKING HILLS (1949), RIGHT CROSS (1950), MYSTERY STREET (1950), ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO (1953), BACKLASH (1956), SADDLE THE WIND (1958), and ICE STATION ZEBRA (1968).

THE SCARLET COAT has not had a VHS or DVD release in the U.S. It's been released on a Region 2 DVD in Italy.

THE SCARLET COAT will be shown on Turner Classic Movies this July 4, 2011.

The trailer is here.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Today at Disneyland: Celebration at Club 33

This evening my husband and I were very happy to pay our fourth visit to Disneyland's legendary Club 33. We took our son and his girlfriend in celebration of their graduation from high school last night.

For those who may not be aware of it, Club 33 is a very special restaurant hidden away behind a plain green door in New Orleans Square. The only clue that it's there is the numbered sign to the right of the door:


If you're fortunate enough to have reservations, there's a small buzzer to the left of the door. I have to admit it's rather fun puzzling guests strolling by who don't know about it, or seeing those who've heard of Club 33 peeking in the door while it's open!

The food and service at Club 33 is simply, well, magical, as is the setting, which includes furniture from Disney films such as MARY POPPINS and THE HAPPIEST MILLIONAIRE.

For the foodies who might enjoy seeing it, here's a shot of the chateaubriand:


The "Chocolate Trio" dessert plate...I loved the ice cream pop in the middle!


When we checked in, the graduates were given Happy Graduation buttons...and at the end of the meal the staff surprised all of us by presenting each of them with this complimentary, very special dessert plate:


Inside Mickey's head was chocolate cake!

This August both graduates head off to Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, where our son plans to major in computer science.

Photos from previous visits: June 4, 2006 and August 26, 2007.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Full of Life (1956)

FULL OF LIFE is a warm "feel good" film which is one of the movies I've enjoyed most this year.

Nick and Emily Rocco (Richard Conte and Judy Holliday) are a happily married couple expecting their first child. When repairs to a rotten kitchen floor will cost more than they can afford, Nick and Emily pay a visit to Nick's parents in Northern California, hoping that Nick's father (Salvatore Baccaloni) will come stay with them and fix the floor himself.

"Papa" comes to visit, and while he takes his sweet time repairing the floor, he and Nick slowly repair their relationship. Nick also begins to find his way back to church, which he realizes he'd stopped attending simply to thwart his father.

It's a gentle movie about nothing and everything: family, faith, and relationships. Nick and Emily's highly functional marriage is a delight to watch; Holliday in particular plays a sunny, smart woman who admirably combines frank honesty and warm-hearted affection. It's a wonderfully written role and a terrific performance. Since I'm mostly familiar with Conte from his film noir credits, I enjoyed seeing him in an atypical role as an introspective writer and loving, supportive husband.

The film also presents an unusually realistic depiction of pregnancy for the era, although I thought Emily was just a wee bit too spry at times for a woman due to give birth soon. (There's also the typical '50s moment which is somewhat shocking to the modern viewer, as Emily lights up a cigarette.) I loved the scenes where Emily feels like a beached whale and bemoans how long pregnancy takes; any woman who's waited through those final endless weeks can relate!

Esther Minciotti plays Conte's mother, reprising the same familial relationship she had with him in HOUSE OF STRANGERS (1949). This time around, happily, their characters have a much better relationship.

It's interesting to contemplate a time when even a couple not very well off can afford to have hired help. (Delia, the maid, is played by Amanda Randolph.) A doctor who makes house calls and home delivery of groceries makes the lifestyle look quite idyllic.

The film has some nice shots of mid-'50s Southern California suburbia. The church seen near the end of the movie is identified by IMDb as St. Monica's, a large, well-known church in Santa Monica. In fact, I think the priest (Joe De Santis) says he's from St. Monica's at one point.

This 91-minute film was directed by Richard Quine, whose credits also include BELL BOOK AND CANDLE (1958) and IT HAPPENED TO JANE (1959). John Fante wrote the screenplay, adapting it from his own novel. The black and white cinematography was by Charles Lawton Jr.

FULL OF LIFE has been released on VHS. It does not appear to have ever had a DVD release. Hopefully at some point this Columbia film will turn up in the Columbia Classics manufactured-on-demand program.

It's been shown on Turner Classic Movies.

Highly recommended.

Monday, June 20, 2011

In Disney News...

...Disney has announced the 2011 list of honorees as Disney Legends.

The group will include the late actor Guy Williams, who was Disney's ZORRO, and Jack and Bonita Granville Wrather, who built the Disneyland Hotel. The hotel's now-defunct Bonita Tower and Granville's Steakhouse were both named for actress Granville.

The actresses who voiced several relatively recent Disney princesses will also be honored, including Jodi Benson (THE LITTLE MERMAID) and Paige O'Hara (BEAUTY AND THE BEAST).

The induction ceremony will be held at the D23 Expo in Anaheim on Friday, August 19th.

...Matt Ouimet, the beloved Disneyland President who left the company in 2006, has been named President of Cedar Fair, which owns a number of amusement parks including Knott's Berry Farm.

This move is seen by some as potentially great news for Knott's Berry Farm, which could use an infusion of both cash and enthusiasm to help it maintain its unique identity as the other important Orange County theme park founded by a man named Walter.

...The official Disney Parks Blog has a feature on the mural at the new Little Mermaid ride.

The mural, which immediately calls to mind other classic Disney dark rides such as Peter Pan's Flight and Snow White's Scary Adventure, is one of my favorite things about the ride.

...The D23 website recently published an interesting article on THE PARENT TRAP (1961). It was written by Jim Fanning, who does excellent pieces on the history behind Disney movies.

...Last weekend the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica hosted a 50th Anniversary double bill of THE PARENT TRAP (1961) and THE ABSENT MINDED PROFESSOR (1961), with Fred MacMurray and June Haver's daughter Laurie there to introduce the movies. I would have loved to be able to attend!

...Just over a week ago Disneyland raised its prices for tickets and annual passes. Not unexpected but never pleasant news to hear...

...There were cast member previews yesterday for Goofy's Sky School, which is scheduled to open at Disney's California Adventure on July 1st.

...CARS 2 (2011) will be released next Friday, June 24th.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Johnny Apollo (1940)

Tyrone Power is JOHNNY APOLLO, a young man from a wealthy background who joins forces with a mobster after his father is convicted of embezzlement.

Johnny's real name is Robert Cain Jr., and when Bob's father (Edward Arnold) goes to jail, the disillusioned younger Cain discovers he can't get a job because of the infamous family name.

Bob changes his name to Johnny Apollo and goes to work for mobster Mickey Dwyer (Lloyd Nolan), starting down the path to a life of crime. Only Mickey's girl Lucky (Dorothy Lamour), who's sweet on Johnny, and an alcoholic lawyer (Charley Grapewin) might be able to save him.

This is a solid film which has an interesting but fairly dismal storyline. The plot is also a bit muddled, as the elder Cain's reactions towards his son don't always make dramatic sense. That said, the cast is what makes this one worth seeing. Power, Arnold, and Nolan were among the very best in the film business, and they are all excellent, as are Lamour and Grapewin. Nolan in particular livens up his scenes as the hood who isn't as nice a guy as he might seem at first meeting.

The film also has typically classy Fox production values, including beautiful black and white cinematography by Arthur Miller. Some of the shots made me consider whether this film might be considered early film noir, a genre which some say began the next year with Fox's I WAKE UP SCREAMING.

The movie runs 94 minutes. The supporting cast includes Lionel Atwill, Charles Lane, Charles Trowbridge, Marc Lawrence, Russell Hicks, Bess Flowers, and Louis Jean Heydt.

Johnny Apollo was directed by Henry Hathaway from a script by Philip Dunne and Rowland Brown.

This film is part of the Tyrone Power Matinee Idol Collection, which might just be my all-time favorite boxed set.

Reviews of other films in this set: GIRLS' DORMITORY (1936), LOVE IS NEWS (1937), SECOND HONEYMOON (1937), CAFE METROPOLE (1937), DAY-TIME WIFE (1939), THAT WONDERFUL URGE (1948), THE LUCK OF THE IRISH (1948), and I'LL NEVER FORGET YOU (1951). I have just one film in the set left to see, THIS ABOVE ALL (1942).

JOHNNY APOLLO has also been released on VHS.

Tonight's Movie: House of Strangers (1949)

HOUSE OF STRANGERS is an excellent drama about a dysfunctional Italian-American family, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz.

Gino Monetti (Edward G. Robinson) is a New York banker who only seems to respect one of his four sons: Max (Richard Conte), a self-confident attorney. Gino treats his other sons (Luther Adler, Paul Valentine, and Efrem Zimbalist Jr.), who all work for him and are timid "yes" men, with varying degrees of contempt.

Max is engaged to a sweet Italian girl, Maria (Debra Paget), while simultaneously carrying on a torrid affair with Irene Bennett (Susan Hayward). Irene wants to marry Max herself, but the entire family is upended when federal officials shut down Gino's bank and he goes on trial for mismanagement.

This is a well-made and absorbing film directed with Mankiewicz's usual polish; it immediately followed A LETTER TO THREE WIVES (1949) and preceded NO WAY OUT (1950) with Richard Widmark. The entire cast is good, with particular kudos going to Robinson, Conte, and Hayward. Robinson is always interesting, though his character here is far from sympathetic, and I found him quite believable as an Italian immigrant.

Richard Conte had previously appeared in one of Mankiewicz's first directorial efforts, SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT (1946), and he's terrific. Both Conte and Susan Hayward have charisma to spare, and the film is at its most interesting when they're on screen together. It bears noting that a couple of their scenes are highly suggestive for the Code era -- yet at the same time the implications would sail right over the heads of younger viewers. It's a great example of how a film could have both steam and class.

I also particularly enjoyed pretty young Debra Paget as a girl with spunk underneath her demure exterior. I would have enjoyed seeing another scene or two between Paget and Efrem Zimbalist Jr., developing the relationship hinted at in a terrific dinner sequence with the entire family. Maria's mother is played by Hope Emerson, who looks the part of a formidable Italian mama but sure doesn't sound like one.

HOUSE OF STRANGERS was Efrem Zimbalist Jr.'s first film role. He's now 92. A couple of years ago his daughter Stephanie's site posted some wonderful photos of his 90th birthday celebration, with attendees including James Garner, Jane Russell, and Rhonda Fleming, among others; in a 2008 Films of the Golden Age interview, Fleming called Zimbalist a "beautiful man." I've experienced Zimbalist's courtesy myself, both meeting him in person and receiving a personal handwritten response to a fan letter a number of years ago. A few years ago Zimbalist published an autobiography, MY DINNER OF HERBS.

Diana Douglas, who plays the petulant wife of Joe (Adler), was the first wife of Kirk Douglas and is the mother of Michael. She's acted as recently as a 2008 episode of E.R.

The Philip Yordan screenplay for HOUSE OF STRANGERS is based on a novel by Jerome Weidman, I'LL NEVER GO THERE ANYMORE. Director Mankiewicz is said to have done some uncredited work on the script.

BROKEN LANCE (1954), starring Spencer Tracy and Richard Widmark, is said to be a loose remake of HOUSE OF STRANGERS, but I couldn't really see much similarity, other than the theme of a somewhat nasty patriarch and squabbling sons.

The black and white cinematography was by Milton Krasner. The film runs 101 minutes.

HOUSE OF STRANGERS has been released on DVD as No. 17 in the Fox Film Noir Series. (I found this film one of the less "noirish" titles in the series; it's more of a family drama.) Extras include a commentary track by Foster Hirsch.

It's also had a release on video.

This film can be rented from Netflix and is available via Netflix streaming.

HOUSE OF STRANGERS can also be seen regularly on Fox Movie Channel. It will be shown several times this summer, including on July 14th.

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...I really enjoyed Toby's write-up on Roger Corman's FIVE GUNS WEST (1955) at 50 Westerns From the 50s. It stars John Lund (too often underrated) and Dorothy Malone. The post was part of a Roger Corman Blogathon.

...A perfect review for Father's Day: at Out of the Past, Raquelle shares her thoughts on Jennifer Grant's memoir of her father Cary, Good Stuff.

...Raquelle also recently shared her experience seeing Dana Andrews and Joan Fontaine in BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT (1956) at Boston's Paramount Theatre.

...Speaking of Dana Andrews, Lou Lumenick's latest DVD Extra column includes information on a film Andrews made for director Jacques Tourneur, THE FEARMAKERS (1957). It just came out on DVD-R from MGM. The supporting cast includes Dick Foran and Mel Torme. I'm completely unfamiliar with this title -- have to see it!

...Mark has interesting information about changes at Netflix at his blog Where Danger Lives. The changes include making all viewer reviews anonymous.

...The troubled film program at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art will now be curated by Elvis Mitchell. I hope this works out better than a couple of his other recent jobs.

...New book: WHATEVER HAPPENED TO PUDDING POPS? THE LOST TOYS, TASTES AND TRENDS OF THE '70S AND '80S was just released. One of the authors, Gail Fashingbauer Cooper, is on a "kidlit" mailing list I've subscribed to for many years.

...Over at Motion Picture Gems, Tom has started a new multipart photo series, Movie Theaters of Los Angeles. The first installment is on the fabled Chinese Theatre.

...This Warner Archive review page at DVD Beaver is a handy way to get quick feedback on the quality of an Archive print.

...I enjoyed the Siren's thoughts on Susanna Foster and Claude Rains in PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1943), which I saw for the first time earlier this year.

...Jacqueline reviews Lawrence Tierney in DILLINGER (1945) at Another Old Movie Blog.

...Leonard Maltin shares his experience visiting Atlanta's World of Coca-Cola store, including photos of vintage advertisements with Hollywood stars. Last year I was able to visit the smaller version in Las Vegas.

...PRIVATE WORLDS (1935) sounds fascinating -- for one thing, it stars Claudette Colbert and Joel McCrea, several years before they teamed for the classic THE PALM BEACH STORY (1942), along with Charles Boyer and Joan Bennett. Mark's reviewed it at Cin-Eater.

...Caftan Woman recently paid tribute to Pauline Moore, the actress I best remember as Ann Rutledge in John Ford's YOUNG MR. LINCOLN (1939). Moore's other films included LOVE IS NEWS (1937) and THREE BLIND MICE (1938), both with Loretta Young.

...Glenn Erickson has interesting thoughts on TOWARD THE UNKNOWN (1956) at DVD Savant. This is a film I'd really like to check out, inasmuch as it stars William Holden, Lloyd Nolan, Charles McGraw, and James Garner (in his film debut).

...The Film Experience has a lovely tribute to Howard Hill, the remarkable archer who made a unique contribution to THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938). P.S. Did you know you can purchase a Robin Hood Limited Edition Bow from Howard Hill Archery?

..."Let There Be 100-Watt Incandescent Light." 'Nuff said.

...Last year my mother had a neat experience when Conan O'Brien bought her lunch at a cafe in Philadelphia. O'Brien is in the news just about exactly a year later for an acclaimed commencement speech he made at Dartmouth University. London's Daily Mail has the story and a video.

...WAY OF A GAUCHO (1952) is on my Gene Tierney wish list. I enjoyed seeing a YouTube clips and reading Clara's comments at Via Margutta 51. The movie was filmed in Argentina.

...The trailer for MONEYBALL (2011) looks interesting. This baseball film stars Brad Pitt and will have a mid-September release. Last fall my oldest daughter spent a fun evening at Dodger Stadium doing background extra work on the movie; she's in crowd scenes behind home plate.

...At Kristina's Kinema, Kristina has begun doing "Quick Reviews." Her first two entries are THE DARK HOUR (1936) and GREEN EYES (1934).

...Notable Passing: Jeremy Paul, who wrote episodes of many of the all-time great British TV shows, has passed on at the age of 71. Paul's credits include episodes of UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS, DANGER: UXB, THE DUCHESS OF DUKE STREET, SHERLOCK HOLMES, and CAMPION.

...Alert for Southern Californians: The film WEST SIDE STORY (1961) will be shown at the Hollywood Bowl with a live orchestra on July 8th and 9th.

Enjoy a wonderful Father's Day and a blessed Trinity Sunday, and have a great week!

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