Sunday, July 31, 2011

TCM in August: Summer Under the Stars

It's time for Summer Under the Stars on Turner Classic Movies! There are countless interesting films on the August schedule.

Be sure to check out the creative TCM micro site with a nostalgic "road trip" theme celebrating this month's stars. I especially loved the page for Linda Darnell (August 27th), with "Stella's Diner"; Claudette Colbert's page (August 12th) is also special, featuring -- what else? -- "Jericho Motor Court."

A complete list of this month's stars was also posted by me last April.

Here's a preview of just a handful of this month's interesting films:

...Smart, lively Paulette Goddard has become a real favorite of mine over the past couple years, and TCM devotes the day to her on August 2nd. The films include the delightful THE CRYSTAL BALL (1943) with Ray Milland, SECOND CHORUS (1940) with Fred Astaire, MODERN TIMES (1936) and THE GREAT DICTATOR (1940) with Charlie Chaplin, and THE WOMEN (1939), where Goddard is part of an all-female all-star cast. Here's hoping for another day of Goddard films next year; wouldn't it be wonderful if TCM could license rarities such as HOLD BACK THE DAWN (1941), THE FOREST RANGERS (1942), and STANDING ROOM ONLY (1944)?

...On August 4th, Ronald Colman Day, I'm intrigued by MY LIFE WITH CAROLINE (1941), costarring Anna Lee. The day is filled with treats; those who've never seen THE PRISONER OF ZENDA (1937), RANDOM HARVEST (1942), or LOST HORIZON (1937) should be sure to check them out!

...One of John Garfield's best performances is in PRIDE OF THE MARINES (1945), airing on August 5th. It costars Eleanor Parker, Dane Clark, and Rosemary DeCamp and was directed by Delmer Daves.

...STAGE DOOR (1937) is a terrific movie with an all-star cast including Ginger Rogers, Katharine Hepburn, Eve Arden, Ann Miller, and Lucille Ball. It's being shown on Ball's day on TCM on August 6th. For a completely different Lucy, check out the excellent Douglas Sirk thriller LURED (1947), costarring George Sanders.

...August 8th is Orson Welles Day, and I'm excited about being able to see a new-to-me Margaret Lockwood film, TRENT'S LAST CASE (1952). It also stars Michael Wilding. The short thriller JOURNEY INTO FEAR (1943), which I saw at this year's Noir City Film Festival, is also on the day's schedule.

...There are a bunch of interesting movies on Ann Dvorak Day on August 9th, including a number of pre-Codes. My advice is to set the DVR and let it run all day!

...I love Ben Johnson having his own day on August 11th. WAGON MASTER (1950) is one of my all-time favorite movies, and I also love SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON (1949). The day's films include Johnson's Oscar-winning performance in THE LAST PICTURE SHOW (1971).

...I've never seen Claudette Colbert in OUTPOST IN MALAYA (1952), which airs on August 12th. I've seen 2/3 of the dozen Colbert films airing on the 12th, and I highly recommend tuning in. If I had to choose just one film to recommend, I guess I'd suggest MIDNIGHT (1939), a near-perfect '30s romantic comedy. I also hope to catch Colbert and Jimmy Stewart in IT'S A WONDERFUL WORLD (1939) soon, as I've not seen it for many years.

...There's a terrific day of Ralph Bellamy films on August 14th. The day leads off with one of my favorite Fred and Ginger films, CAREFREE (1938). The titles also include HEADLINE SHOOTER (1933), a pre-Code starring Frances Dee, and THE NARROW CORNER (1933), a pre-Code starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr. GIRLS' SCHOOL (1938) is an interesting RKO programmer starring Anne Shirley.

...On Humphrey Bogart Day, August 17th, the lineup includes the highly entertaining THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT (1941), which is Warner Bros. style at its best. George Raft, Ann Sheridan, and a brilliant Ida Lupino costar.

...I've seen all but the first two films on Cary Grant's Day, August 21st, and as far as I'm concerned the TV could run all day that Sunday. There's one good movie after another, including GUNGA DIN (1939), ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS (1939), THE BISHOP'S WIFE (1947), BRINGING UP BABY (1938), and many more.

...Joan Crawford's Day includes FORSAKING ALL OTHERS (1934) with Clark Gable and Robert Montgomery. There are a number of other good films that day, August 22nd.

...Crawford is also in the fun ABOVE SUSPICION (1943) on Conrad Veidt Day, August 23rd. It's a WWII espionage story which costars Fred MacMurray.

...I think the most interesting day on the schedule is August 27th, Linda Darnell Day. All but three of the films showing that day are TCM premieres! Darnell's greatest success was at 20th Century-Fox, and TCM has to specially license Fox films. While I'm disappointed that a Darnell film originally advertised on the back of the July Now Playing guide, the hard-to-find HOTEL FOR WOMEN (1939), was pulled from the schedule, there's still lots to enjoy that day. I'm especially looking forward to TWO FLAGS WEST (1950), a Western also starring Joseph Cotten and Jeff Chandler, directed by Robert Wise. Other Darnell films showing that day include ZERO HOUR! (1957), BRIGHAM YOUNG (1940), SECOND CHANCE (1953), FALLEN ANGEL (1945), HANGOVER SQUARE (1945), and DAY-TIME WIFE (1939). What might be Darnell's best performance, in A LETTER TO THREE WIVES (1949), airs that day as well.

...TCM pays tribute to the late Anne Francis on August 29th. The day starts with her small role in the musical SUMMER HOLIDAY (1948) and continues with films including SO YOUNG, SO BAD (1950), BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (1955), SUSAN SLEPT HERE (1954), and BLACKBOARD JUNGLE (1955).

...Howard Keel Day on the 30th includes all his best-known MGM musicals, as well as lesser-known titles like DESPERATE SEARCH (1952), costarring Jane Greer; FLOODS OF FEAR (1958); and THE SMALL VOICE (1948).

The above represent just some of the highlights of an excellent month on TCM. Enjoy the festival!

Tonight's Movie: Variety Girl (1947)

The real-life history of the founding of the show business children's charity, Variety Clubs International, provides the springboard for a lively all-star tribute from Paramount Pictures.

Variety Clubs was founded when a group of show business executives decided to sponsor an infant abandoned in a theater. The club grew into a worldwide charity, aiding countless children. That much is true.

The story then takes a flight of fancy with a plot in which the original abandoned infant, Catherine (Mary Hatcher), is now a young woman seeking a film career. The fictional head of Paramount, R.J. O'Connell (Frank Ferguson), who was one of the executives who had sponsored the infant Catherine, agrees to give her an audition. However, her identity is confused with an overly vivacious starlet with the stage name Amber La Vonne (Olga San Juan), leading to all sorts of problems.

The wafer-thin plot is merely the excuse for a lot of fun as the audience to accompanies the characters around the Paramount lot, bumping into all sorts of movie stars. If we believe the movie, Paramount was a leisurely place to work, what with Bing Crosby golfing, Bob Hope throwing darts, and Robert Preston and Barry Fitzgerald simply enjoying sitting outside on a sunny day.

Some of the actors seen on the lot, such as Gary Cooper, were clearly filmed separately and don't actually interact with the lesser-known actors, while on the other hand Bing Crosby shares an extended scene with Hatcher.

Between the introduction, the studio scenes, and the gala show at the end of the film, the viewer can enjoy spotting William Holden, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Caulfield, Ray Milland, Paulette Goddard, Gail Russell, Alan Ladd (he sings?!), Dorothy Lamour, Veronica Lake, Diana Lynn, Mona Freeman, John Lund, Burt Lancaster, Lizabeth Scott, and more.

Cecil B. DeMille has some of the biggest laughs in the picture, particularly for a line about him when he's no longer on camera.

The musical numbers in the final show are nothing special, but it's quite a novelty just seeing so many stars on screen all at once. Fans of classic films in general, and Paramount in particular, should enjoy this sequence simply as a fascinating slice of cinema history. Indeed, it's all the more reason why this hard-to-find film needs to be more easily accessible to the modern viewing audience.

Mary Hatcher was a new name to me. She appeared in just eight films before leaving the screen, and she's now 82. Hatcher's costar, Olga San Juan, was only in 15 films, the best-known of which may be BLUE SKIES (1946) with Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby. San Juan was married to actor Edmond O'Brien for close to three decades. She passed on in 2009.

STAR TREK fans will enjoy the chance to see a very young DeForest Kelley, in his fourth screen appearance, as a studio talent scout. I was quite startled when I first recognized him, as I'd never seen him on screen at such a young age.

Another interesting aspect to the film is a curious sequence featuring a George Pal Puppetoon, which seems rather like an early version of "claymation."

The film was directed by George Marshall, who also plays himself during a screen test sequence featuring Olga San Juan and William Bendix. Marshall also directed the studio's 1942 all-star extravaganza, STAR SPANGLED RHYTHM. The movie runs 93 minutes.

This Paramount film is only available on VHS. I very much appreciate my friend Carrie letting me view her copy.

January 2013 Update: This movie is now available in Europe on Region 2 DVD.

Tonight's Movie: Boys' Ranch (1946)

BOYS' RANCH is a well-done MGM family film about a retired baseball player who founds a ranch providing wayward or orphaned boys with a safe home. The movie was inspired by a real ranch which is still operating today.

James Craig plays the ball player turned rancher, with Dorothy Patrick as his wife and Sharon McManus as their daughter. McManus is best known as the little Mexican girl dancing with Gene Kelly in ANCHORS AWEIGH.

The boys include Darryl Hickman as a young man who quickly turns his life around in the ranch environment, while Skip Homeier plays a nasty piece of work who just can't stop stealing and beating the other kids up. Jackie "Butch" Jenkins is a little boy whose grandfather has been struggling to raise him and brings him to the ranch, believing it will provide a better environment than he is able to provide.

It's a simple, straightforward, and fairly predictable tale which has similarities to MGM's BOYS TOWN (1938). That said, it's also a well-made and engrossing film with appealing characters. The storytelling is bolstered by a fine supporting cast including pros such as Ray Collins, Arthur Space, Minor Watson, Geraldine Wall, Moroni Olsen, Ray Walker, and Robert Emmet O'Connor.

Butch Jenkins gave some of the finest child performances of the '40s, in films such as THE HUMAN COMEDY (1943), NATIONAL VELVET (1944), and OUR VINES HAVE TENDER GRAPES (1945). His performance in BOY'S RANCH is not as natural as some of his other work, as his character is meant to be a serious, unsmiling little man, but his yearning for a pair of spurs is touching.

Jenkins worked with James Craig in both THE HUMAN COMEDY and OUR VINES HAVE TENDER GRAPES, two of the finest examples of "MGM Americana," and they would later appear together in the touching LITTLE MR. JIM (1947). Craig had a deft touch working opposite children; along with the aforementioned films, he also appeared opposite Margaret O'Brien in one of her earliest big roles, LOST ANGEL (1943).

This was pretty Dorothy Patrick's first leading role after a couple of bit parts. She next played Jerome Kern's wife in TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY (1946), and during her brief stint at MGM she also played Robert Taylor's murdered wife in HIGH WALL (1947), a brief but showy role.

After leaving MGM Patrick was seen to good effect in COME TO THE STABLE (1949) and FOLLOW ME QUIETLY (1949). In the '50s Patrick's career was all over the place, ranging from playing the leading lady in Westerns such as UNDER MEXICALI STARS (1950) or THE OUTLAW STALLION (1954), to bit parts and supporting roles in "A" pictures, along with TV appearances. Her last screen appearance was in 1966, and she passed away in 1987, at the age of 64.

The movie was directed by Roy Rowland. It runs 97 minutes.

This film is not available on DVD or video, but it was shown by Turner Classic Movies just this past Friday. The trailer is also available at TCM.

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...There will be an Ida Lupino Blogathon on August 1st and 2nd, sponsored by the blog Miss Ida Lupino. Click the link for details and a list of participating classic film blogs.

...My husband came across a great reminiscence about the London Symphony Orchestra recording John Williams' landmark score for STAR WARS (1977): "At one point, George Lucas got so excited, he called his pal Spielberg in Hollywood, to let him hear the opening fanfare through the telephone."

...Here's an interesting trailer for George Clooney's THE IDES OF MARCH (2011), due out in October. Clooney directs and stars, and he also cowrote the screenplay.

...Karen reflects on Robert Montgomery and Norma Shearer in PRIVATE LIVES (1931) at Shadows and Satin. Her comments made me want to watch it again. :)

...At The Second Sentence, Elisabeth lists three of her favorite WALTONS episodes dealing with John-Boy's writing career. As longtime readers may recall, THE WALTONS is one of my all-time favorite shows. Highly recommended.

...Breakfast coffee at the Original Pantry in Los Angeles is no longer free. The restaurant is coping with higher prices by charge 50 cents for coffee, the first time the restaurant has charged for breakfast coffee in its 87 years. I described a trip to the Pantry in 2008.

...Moira has a very interesting post on RUTHLESS (1948) at Skeins of Thought. It's got a terrific cast, including Zachary Scott, Diana Lynn, Lucille Bremer, Louis Hayward, and Sydney Greenstreet. I've had it in my Netflix Instant queue and am delighted to learn from Moira that Netflix is showing an excellent print.

...Susan King reports in the L.A. Times that the papers of director Nicholas Ray will be archived at the University of Texas at Austin.

...Royal Watch: The BBC has video of Queen Elizabeth's granddaughter, Zara Phillips, leaving the church after her wedding yesterday. For those who enjoy perusing the photos and fashions, here's the royal family attending a wedding eve cocktail party on the Royal Yacht Britannia, and here's photos from the wedding day. (The Duchess of Cambridge looked great, as always.) Having been there, I loved the photo in Holyrood Abbey at Holyroodhouse.

...Jessica muses on the sad, somewhat mysterious end of actress Carole Landis at Comet Over Hollywood. I really enjoyed Landis in films such as MOON OVER MIAMI (1941) and I WAKE UP SCREAMING (1941). I found Eric Gans' book CAROLE LANDIS: A MOST BEAUTIFUL GIRL, from University of Mississippi Press, an informative read.

...From the Hollywood Reporter: "Hollywood's First Digital Christmas to Cause Pain." (Via Kristina.) I just don't see the appeal in "owning" nebulous films stored in a "cloud," which could disappear due to who knows what. Streaming is fun for some titles, but I like to own my own DVDs and know they're accessible at any time.

...And here's another issue of the times, E-Books vs. paper.

...At Where Danger Lives, the Greatest Sci-Fi Poster Countdown lists Nos. 11 through 20.

...And the Calamity Jane series has concluded at Another Old Movie Blog with Parts 3 and 4.

...TV Shows on DVD reports that Season 3 of FALCON CREST is on the way to DVD in early 2012.

...If you haven't yet visited Tom's series on the Movie Theaters of Los Angeles -- first linked to here in June -- be sure to stop by. He's got four photo posts up so far, with several more installments to come.

...Glenn Erickson reviews the Warner Archive release DARK OF THE SUN (1968), starring Rod Taylor, at DVD Savant.

...I like the titles chosen by Audrey for a dream Ginger Rogers boxed DVD set, guest posted at Waitin' on a Sunny Day.

...Notable Passing: Character actor G.D. Spradlin has passed on a month short of his 91st birthday. Spradlin, a successful oilman, didn't start his acting career until he was in his 40s.

Have a great week!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Tonight's Movie: The Perfect Marriage (1947)

THE PERFECT MARRIAGE is a '40s divorce comedy starring David Niven and Loretta Young. It follows in the footsteps of films such as MR. AND MRS. SMITH (1941), THE PALM BEACH STORY (1942), THE BRIDE WORE BOOTS (1946), and Young's own BEDTIME STORY (1941), telling the tale of a long-married couple who contemplate divorce, then realize they really don't want to live without one another.

THE PERFECT MARRIAGE is a solid, well-done film hampered only by the problem that the audience never wants to see Niven and Young's characters contemplating divorce in the first place. The plot premise accepted, the film is fairly well scripted and makes good use of its large cast, particularly Jerome Cowan as their sympathetic friend and attorney, Charlie Ruggles as Niven's wily father, and Zasu Pitts as the wide-eyed, perenially baffled maid. Nina Griffith does a very nice job as Cookie, Niven and Young's daughter; this was her only film.

Also in the supporting cast are Rita Johnson, Eddie Albert, Virginia Field, Nana Bryant, Luella Gear, Howard Freeman, and Catherine Craig. Although he's never seen in full view, the voice of Frank Ferguson is unmistakable as a man having his shoes shined in a nightclub men's room.

Young is staggeringly beautiful at times, particularly in her final scene, wearing a negligee designed by Edith Head. Young and Niven are both charming and appealing, although -- other than happening to say some thoughtless things early on -- Niven has the more sympathetic character; just as in MR. AND MRS. SMITH or THE PALM BEACH STORY, the wife starts to look rather petulant and silly for holding out so long when it's clear her husband really loves her.

A sad side note is that this film on love and marriage was released in January 1947, shortly after a tragic event in David Niven's life; his wife had passed away suddenly in May 1946, following a fall down a flight of stairs at Tyrone Power's home.

The movie was directed by Lewis Allen, whose credits included THE UNINVITED (1944), THE UNSEEN (1945), and SO EVIL MY LOVE (1948).

The screenplay by Leonard Spigelgass was based on a play by Samson Raphaelson. Russell Metty was responsible for the gleaming black and white cinematography. The film runs 88 minutes.

A real plus for the film is the use of Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust" melody as the film's theme; it plays during the opening credits and is heard from time to time as background music.

THE PERFECT MARRIAGE is a Paramount film which is only available on VHS. The print is quite lovely except for a couple of faded scenes and a few seconds of end-of-reel roughness. Fans of Niven and Young will likely find it worth the effort to obtain a video of this film, as it's a pleasant hour and a half spent in fine company.

In Disney News...

It's been a little over a month since the last round of Disney news, and there's lots to catch up on!

...The Fall issue of the Disney Twenty-Three magazine will be out next week, dedicated entirely to celebrating the 40th anniversary of Walt Disney World.

...The schedule for next month's D23 Expo is beginning to take shape. I do think Disney made a poor tactical move by rolling out their extensive Disney Channel events early on, as those programs may be the most limited in their appeal to Expo guests. It might have been better to borrow a page from Comic-Con and release the schedule announcements one complete day at a time. I found the other main announcement to date, from Parks and Resorts, of far greater interest.

...The next MouseAdventure game, MouseAdventure Zone, will take place at Disneyland on September 25th. The Basic Division sold out within a few hours. We'll be there! Since our team won the Family Division in April, my children decided to retire our Practically Perfect team name after three events and swap the MARY POPPINS theme for a Jungle Cruise team name, Skippers in De Nile. We'll be in the Family Division one more time, as we learned signing up we still qualify for it this fall. (Inquiring minds want to know: No special "Zone" logo for the fall event?)

...For those who missed my post at the end of June, Disney has very quietly launched a "manufactured on demand" (MOD) DVD-R program, the Disney Generations Collection. I've ordered AMY (1981), a film I have fond memories of seeing during its original theatrical release. Unfortunately a detailed review at Home Theater Forum makes clear it's a less-than-optimum print. Nonetheless, I'm glad to have the opportunity to at least see the film again. Here's hoping the program is a success and Disney follows in the footsteps of Warner Archive and later begins remastering many of its MOD releases.

...Dear Old Hollywood has a couple interesting photo posts on a former Walt Disney home in the Los Feliz area which is for sale. It can be yours for $3,650,000.

...Susan King of the L.A. Times has interesting background on Disney's recent WINNIE THE POOH (2011) film. I'd like to catch up with it at some point.

...The new Jasmine's Flying Carpets ride at Tokyo DisneySea is beautiful!

...Let's hope a rumor that Disney might turn Tomorrowland in their theme parks over to the Marvel Comics characters they now own is just that: a rumor. I can't think of a worse idea, guaranteed to upset thousands (millions?) of loyal Disney guests.

...Getting the other bad news out of the way, the announcement that Meg Crofton has been appointed head of all Disney U.S. and Paris theme parks was not greeted with joy by many Disney fans. There is a perception in some quarters that under her leadership Walt Disney World has declined, including poor maintenance, much as Disneyland did under the terrible Paul Pressler/Cynthia Harris era of the late '90s to early 2000's. We'll see what happens.

...The new Art Deco entrance to Disney's California Adventure is beautiful! And the Golden Gate Bridge is now gone. I'm looking forward to seeing all the changes in the near future! This photo, seen at the right, is by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix, posted at MousePlanet. Be sure to check the site out for lots more news and photos.

...MiceChat has lots of great photos of the new Paradise Garden area of California Adventure, including restaurant interiors and menu items. There are also "ride-through" videos of the remodeled Goofy's Sky School, formerly Mulholland Madness.

...Here's a quick peek at how one of my favorite Disneyland rides, the Casey Jr. Circus Train, looked on its first day of operation, July 31, 1955.

...This coming Thursday I'll be seeing the touring stage production of Disney's MARY POPPINS. I'm really curious to see how the musical will translate to stage.

...Speaking of MARY POPPINS, it was just announced that Dick Van Dyke will be performing on the first evening of the D23 Expo. Van Dyke will be backed by a trio called the Vantastix: "Songs from Van Dyke’s varied entertainment career in addition to many well-known Disney hits and timeless pop standards will be performed by Van Dyke and The Vantastix in a show rich in humor, pure entertainment and sing-along favorites." Given the importance of MARY POPPINS in my life -- it was the first film I ever saw in a theater -- as well as my love for THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, I'm very excited about this opportunity to see him perform in person!

Friday, July 29, 2011

It's Coming...Downton Abbey Series 2

The second season -- or "series," as they say in England -- of DOWNTON ABBEY will be airing in the UK this September, with the United States airdates beginning January 8, 2012.

A press kit was released today which is available online. (Via Missy.) It contains beautiful color photos (be sure to scroll to the end), hints about plot developments, and previews of the DVD and soundtrack CD.

There will also be a book, THE WORLD OF DOWNTON ABBEY, which is currently available for preorder from Amazon UK (September release) or Amazon in the U.S. (December release).

The DVD will be released in the UK within days of the final airdate. There will also be a boxed set released of Series 1 and 2.

Hmmmm...for Series 1 I've been debating between the Region 1 DVD set or the Region 2 DVD which contains deleted scenes and two commentary tracks not included in the U.S. release. (*Why* did the U.S. not receive the full set of extras?!)

Perhaps I should order the complete series on Region 2 this fall...which would mean I could watch it before it airs here. I wonder if there are any restrictions on shipping Season 2 to the U.S. before it airs here?

This reminds me of early HARRY POTTER days when the books were released in the UK prior to the United States; when my oldest daughter was 10 I had to order HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN direct from England so she wouldn't have to wait to read it!

It's rather tempting to see if four months can be cut from the wait to watch the next part of the DOWNTON saga unfold. (Update: Missy points out in the comments that by the time the show finishes airing in the UK and the DVDs are out, it will be closer to the time the show begins airing in the U.S. than I'd calculated!)

Postscript: As I was wondering last weekend, it appears that the rumor Angela Lansbury was in the new series did not come to pass, unless she's a surprise guest star!

Update: Missy is linking to UK news coverage of today's media blitz.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

From My Collection: Eve Arden

Is there anyone who doesn't love Eve Arden? It's hard for me to imagine.

I'm always glad when I see her name in movie credits. There have been many Hollywood comediennes, but Eve Arden is truly one of a kind. Her presence in a movie guarantees intelligently delivered lines and witty wisecracks.

Around 1980 (give or take a year) I had the chance to see her on stage in the comedy CRITIC'S CHOICE, which incidentally had been filmed with Bob Hope and Lucille Ball for release in 1963.

It was a small theater, and Miss Arden came out after the show and graciously signed autographs:


The show had a nice cast:


I love Eve Arden in so many films, including STAGE DOOR (1937), COVER GIRL (1944), THE DOUGHGIRLS (1944), MILDRED PIERCE (1945), MY REPUTATION (1946), and THE VOICE OF THE TURTLE (1947). I'm very glad I had the opportunity to watch her perform in person!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Air Cadet (1951)

AIR CADET isn't exactly a classic, but it's the kind of movie I love: a semi-documentary procedural about the training of Air Force pilots, packed with a most enjoyable cast including Richard Long, Gail Russell, Rock Hudson, and Peggie Castle.

Long, Alex Nicol, and Robert Arthur play cadets who begin training together in Texas, where they're harassed by upperclassman Rock Hudson on a regular basis. After making it through that phase of training, the men are stationed in Arizona for further training.

Charles Drake plays the supportive training captain in Arizona, while Stephen McNally plays the disturbed jerk who's Drake's superior. (I felt his character's accumulated behavior was let off far too easily at the conclusion.) Long having a crush on McNally's estranged wife, Russell, provides a little soap opera on the side. Nicol and Arthur, meanwhile, flirt with pretty flight nurse Castle.

I love aviation films, in general, and although this movie isn't the most polished ever made, I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Indeed, I found something rather appealing about its rough, low-budget look, and the extensive location filming at Randolph Air Force Base in Texas and Williams Air Force Base in Arizona is a definite plus. The film utilizes actual Air Force personnel in supporting roles, which adds to the documentary style of many scenes. (Astronaut Gus Grissom is said to be one of the pilots.) Besides showing the nuts and bolts of the pilots' training, the film also has plenty of stirring renditions of "The Wild Blue Yonder" and a patriotic finale.

One reviewer classified the film as "routine" in a two-star review, but while it may certainly have been routine years ago, there's real value and interest in watching this little piece of Korean War era history from six decades ago. I think enjoyment of the film depends in part on how one approaches the movie. A reviewer at IMDb said "...it's a B movie, it's unashamed propaganda for the USAF - and I loved it. This movie is... a real piece of history." I agree.

I found this film to be the most interesting of a trio of '50s Air Force movies I've seen over the last couple years, the other titles being SABRE JET (1953) and BOMBERS B-52 (1957).

The performances are all adequate, with Long, Hudson, and Drake coming off best. Hudson has a relatively small role, but the man had screen presence and it's easy to see why he became a star. There's currently a montage of sharp-looking AIR CADET stills featuring Hudson on YouTube.

AIR CADET was directed by Joseph Pevney, who also directed the aviation film THE CROWDED SKY (1960). It runs 94 minutes. The cast also includes James Best and Parley Baer.

This Universal film is not available on DVD or video.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Where the Boys Are (1960)

It may be set during spring break, but WHERE THE BOYS ARE is perfect summer entertainment, a light, diverting piece of fluff filled with beaches, boats, and swimming pools.

Four girls from a midwestern college head for spring break in Fort Lauderdale. Along the drive the tall, strangely named Tuggle (Paula Prentiss) pairs up with the equally tall, strangely named TV (Jim Hutton), who hitchhikes with them to Florida.

Merritt (Dolores Hart) hits the jackpot when she meets Brown senior -- and millionaire! -- Ryder (George Hamilton) on the beach. And bubbly Angie (Connie Francis) finds she has things in common with Basil (Frank Gorshin), a musician who's blind without his glasses.

Melanie (Yvette Mimieux), on the other hand, looks for love in all the wrong places, demonstrating the perils of going "all the way," apparently with multiple partners, without first securing a commitment from a nice guy. Some will consider the message old-fashioned and heavy-handed -- indeed, the modern viewer wonders why the police aren't making an arrest near the end of the movie -- yet there's a valuable message in there about self-respect and holding out for a meaningful relationship.

Of course, this was an era when some women went to college as a way to meet eligible candidates for marriage, rather than to establish their own careers. Tuggle (Prentiss), in particular, is very frank about this with her friends; she wants to get married and "be a walking, talking baby machine." While some viewers of half a century later will find her distressingly unliberated (grin), from today's perspective there's also something refreshing about her happy, honestly expressed desire to focus on creating a family. Wherever the viewer comes down on these issues, the movie provides a fascinating peek back at the culture as it was, or as filmmakers imagined it was, circa 1960.

For the most part, the film is simply consistently entertaining, well-paced fun against a colorful backdrop. The acting won't win any awards, but Prentiss, Hutton, and Hart in particular are appealing; Prentiss and Hutton are bubbly and engaging, and Hart comes across as direct and honest, someone a millionaire won't have to worry is marrying him for his money.

On the other hand, it's never really explained why someone with an I.Q. as high as Hart's character is in danger of flunking out of college, and it doesn't really factor into the plot much, other than her being seen with books from time to time during spring break. Perhaps the lack of seriousness about her studies also implies that she's really more interested in marriage than good grades.

There are some pleasant musical numbers, and of course the classic title tune sung by Connie Francis. I was musing once again how nice modern technology is, inasmuch as I could immediately download the song for my iTunes account. Back when I was the age of the characters in the movie, finding this song would have required driving around to record stores in search of an album which included the song; here in 2011, I click, pay 99 cents, and I can play the song immediately.

There's a hilarious sequence near the end of the film featuring Barbara Nichols as an Esther Williams style mermaid entertaining in a nightclub. Sharp-eyed viewers will spot perennial bit player and extra Bess Flowers as one of the patrons in the same nightclub. The cast also includes Chill Wills, John Brennan, Percy Helton, and Rory Harrity. The narrator is Paul Frees.

It's pretty obvious that the motel exterior and the closeups in the beach scenes are filmed on a soundstage, but they're mixed fairly skillfully with actual Florida exteriors. The film has attractive colors, with lots of cool greens, and the motel pool looks nice, even if it's in a soundstage.

Leading lady Dolores Hart is a fascinating story. She starred with Elvis in LOVING YOU (1957) and KING CREOLE (1958), appeared in LONELYHEARTS (1958) with Montgomery Clift, and one of her films following WHERE THE BOYS ARE was the very entertaining COME FLY WITH ME (1963). After concluding publicity for that movie, Dolores Hart retired from the screen, cancelled wedding plans, and became a nun; she has lived at the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Connecticut for nearly half a century.

Entertainment Weekly published a fascinating interview with Mother Dolores Hart in February of this year; it includes interviews with her friend Paula Prentiss Benjamin and her ex-fiance, who has remained a lifelong friend. Those who have enjoyed Hart's work should be sure to read this detailed article.

This was the first of five films teaming Jim Hutton and Paula Prentiss, seen here in a beach photo from the LIFE archive. They also appeared in BACHELOR IN PARADISE (1961), THE HONEYMOON MACHINE (1961), THE HORIZONTAL LIEUTENANT (1962), and LOOKING FOR LOVE (1964). LOOKING FOR LOVE was just released by Warner Archive last week in a remastered widescreen print; it joins THE HONEYMOON MACHINE, THE HORIZONAL LIEUTENANT, and BACHELOR IN PARADISE which have all previously had remastered widescreen releases from the Archive.

WHERE THE BOYS ARE was released on DVD a number of years ago, but that release has since gone out of print. Happily, the movie was just reissued in widescreen by the Warner Archive. Even better news is that the Archive release will include the extras from the original DVD, including a commentary track by Paula Prentiss and Connie Francis. As far as I know, this is the first Archive release with a commentary track; even if it was recorded for another release, I think that's an exciting development, as the Archive continues to evolve.

I watched the movie in a print recorded from Turner Classic Movies, but I enjoyed the film so much I immediately ordered the Archive DVD -- I know I'll be watching the movie again, and I'm looking forward to the extras!

This film has also had a VHS release, back in 1993.

Recommended as enjoyable summer entertainment.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Tonight's Movie: The Makioka Sisters (1983)

Tonight's Netflix film was THE MAKIOKA SISTERS, a 1983 Japanese film I became interested in after reading reviews by Glenn Erickson and Mike Clark. The movie was recently released on DVD by Criterion.

One reviewer I came across referred to THE MAKIOKA SISTERS as "an Eastern Jane Austen story," and the description is not far wrong. The film is much concerned with making a proper marriage, and there's even a headstrong younger sister who causes a minor scandal when she runs off with a boyfriend (shades of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE). The film may be slightly racier than Austen, but in a tasteful, restrained way.

Michael Wilmington, on the other hand, compares the film to THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS (1942), because it depicts a once-great family which is declining economically in changing times, as its members scatter to new lives.

The film is the story of four upper-class sisters in 1930s Japan. Tsuruko (Keiko Kishi) and Sachiko (Yoshiko Sakuma) are the married older sisters whose husbands (Juzo Itami and Koji Ishizaka) even took the prestigious Makioka name.

The sisters, whose parents are long deceased, are endlessly concerned with marrying off beautiful but shy Yukiko (Sayuri Yoshinaga). Yukiko loves deeply and yearns to be a mother, as evidenced by her loving care of Sachiko's sickly daughter, but she is holding out for true love and refuses to settle for various proposed matches.

The sisters are expected to marry in order of age, a source of frustration for Westernized Taeko (Yuko Kotegawa). Taeko, who wants a career, causes her sisters endless headaches; it was her attempt to elope as a teenager that has created problems ever since.

The film is slow paced but completely absorbing, between the rich performances of the actors and the fascination, as an American, of watching the depiction of an upper-class lifestyle in 1930s Japan. The rituals and customs, the manner in which the characters interact, and the bits of Westernization creeping into the culture are all extremely interesting. The movie is also exquisitely beautiful, with gorgeous depictions of the four seasons in Japan, as well as stunning, colorful kimonos.

The movie was directed by Kon Ichikawa. It's based on a novel by Junichiro Tanizaki. The film runs 2 hours and 20 minutes.

As a side note, I'm completely baffled by Leonard Maltin's 2-star review of this excellent film. I hope he re-evaluates it at some point. I highly recommend the movie as a rich and broadening viewing experience.

Another review has been posted at j.b. spins.

This film is available in the Criterion Barnes and Noble sale which is taking place until August 1st. It's also available from Amazon.

The trailer can be seen on YouTube.

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...Vince of the blog Carole & Co. is planning a "Carole-tennial + 3" blogathon to celebrate the 103rd anniversary of Carole Lombard's birth on October 6th. I plan to participate! Visit Carole & Co. for more details.

...My 13-year-old son loves the film 12 ANGRY MEN (1957) so much he's asked us to order him a lobby card he can hang in his bedroom. :) The Self-Styled Siren, inspired by the current NY heat wave, shares some thoughts on the film in her inimitable style.

...Writer Linda Alexander Tweets that her biography of MAVERICK's Jack Kelly should be published by Bear Manor Media before the end of the year! This is great news for his many fans.

...Also thanks to Twitter, I discovered that Jessica of Comet Over Hollywood shares my admiration for the late, great singer-actress Lina Romay. Here's the tribute to Romay which was posted at Comet Over Hollywood early last January. The post inspired me to go hunting for Rhino's CD compilation Maracas, Marimbas, and Mambos: Latin Classics at MGM; I found a "Used - Very Good" copy at Amazon and it should be here tomorrow!

...CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY (1944) is one of a relatively small number of Deanna Durbin titles I have yet to watch -- I have a Region 2 DVD here which will move to the top of the mile-high viewing stack at some point! I always enjoy reading more about it as it was such an unusual film for both Durbin and her costar Gene Kelly. Rupert has posted about the film today at Classic Movies Digest.

...Over at Immortal Ephemera, Cliff's written an interesting review of SYMPHONY OF SIX MILLION (1932), a pre-Code starring Ricardo Cortez and Irene Dunne.

...At Another Old Movie Blog, Jacqueline had a great idea for a series of posts: Calamity Jane in the movies. Her intro and a post on Jean Arthur as Calamity Jane in THE PLAINSMAN (1936) are available now, with entries on CALAMITY JANE AND SAM BASS (1949), THE TEXAN MEETS CALAMITY JANE (1950), THE PALEFACE (1948), and CALAMITY JANE (1953) still to come. Calamity Jane was played in those films by Yvonne DeCarlo, Evelyn Ankers, Jane Russell, and Doris Day, respectively. I just recorded THE TEXAN MEETS CALAMITY JANE yesterday; the heavily green Trucolor look is rather eye-poppingly garish! As for CALAMITY JANE, it's in the competition for the top position among my favorite Doris Day films.

...Thanks to Missy for Tweeting the news that Nigel Havers, a favorite British actor (CHARIOTS OF FIRE, the 1986 A LITTLE PRINCESS), has joined the cast of Series 2 of DOWNTON ABBEY. Speaking of which, was Angela Lansbury joining the cast just a rumor?

...The Hawaiian estate where some of SOUTH PACIFIC (1958) was filmed is for sale; photos are here. (Via HaroldItz.) And while you're at it, don't miss the photos of Katharine Hepburn's Connecticut estate, on the market for $28 million.

...Reviews, reviews, and more reviews: Before taking his summer break, Colin posted about PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET (1953) at Riding the High Country...Jenny the Nipper reviews SHE MARRIED HER BOSS (1935) at Cinema OCD; it's a comedy with Claudette Colbert, Melvyn Douglas, and the late Edith Fellows...Adam Lounsbery posts on the Steve Brodie-Audrey Long-Raymond Burr film noir DESPERATE (1947) at Film Noir of the Week...here's a good 2009 review of BLOOD ON THE MOON (1948), a film I revisited at UCLA earlier this month, from Octopus Cinema...and here's five fun minireviews from late June, posted at Via Margutta 51.

...Matthew of Movietone News muses on being a film buff "across the pond," where Netflix and Robert Osborne remain mysteries, but he definitely knows what Warner Archive is!

...Congrats to Toby at 50 Westerns from the 50s, who recently reached the 150,000 hits mark! Toby recently wrote about Julie Adams and BEND OF THE RIVER (1952), a most enjoyable James Stewart-Anthony Mann collaboration -- don't miss the excellent comments at Toby's site, too.

...Back in May, Rachel of MacGuffin Movies posted about her admiration of Robert Montgomery, which is certainly shared by myself and many of my readers. She's working her way through his movies, a most enjoyable project.

...My friend Jill passed on this Netflix Analyzer, which utilizes your rental history to help you determine what you're paying per DVD...Netflix subscribers may also enjoy this Chicago Tribune column: "Netflix Status: It's Complicated."

...My friend Kristina's latest column for The Landmark Report is on the marvelous Hitchcock film THE LADY VANISHES. (There's more on this film in my recent tribute to the late Googie Withers.) Kristina also has info on recent Warner Archive releases, including the film noir FOLLOW ME QUIETLY (1949), which I recently reviewed.

...The latest Glenn Erickson reviews at DVD Savant include John Mills and James Mason in VCI's TIARA TAHITI (1962), Criterion's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1946), and the new Twilight Time release of THE EGYPTIAN (1954). THE EGYPTIAN rescues a commentary by James Ursini and Alain Silver that was recorded back in 2005 but never used prior to this date. Since Twilight Time releases Fox films, I wonder if they can similarly rescue extras Drew Casper of USC recorded for an unreleased second DVD set of Betty Grable films?

...From "highhurdler" at TCM's Movie Morlock's blog, a "Classic Movie Gratitude List."

...Notable Passing: Elliot Handler, the cofounder of Mattel -- he's the "-el" in the company name -- has passed away at the age of 95. Millions of little boys owe Handler their thanks, as he was the inventor of Hot Wheels.

Have a great week!

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