Saturday, December 31, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Earthquake (1974)

Our family's tradition of the last several years is to watch a disaster movie on New Year's Eve. Whether it's an aviation calamity or a natural disaster, more often than not either Dana Andrews or Charlton Heston is involved!

Tonight it was Heston's turn, starring in the 1974 Irwin Allen flick EARTHQUAKE. Other than Heston, this film is really, really bad; at times the sheer awfulness provides amusement, while at other times it's yawn-inducing.

How bad is it? Let me count the ways...

...A haggard Ava Gardner is supposed to be Lorne Greene's daughter. In real life he was just seven years her senior, and at this stage of her film career, Gardner looks older than Greene. A nutty scene where a foreshock interrupts her faking a drug overdose sets the tone for the rest of the movie.

...The editing at times is nothing short of bizarre. One moment Genevieve Bujold is talking to Heston; the next minute, without a fadeout or any other logical transition, we're suddenly watching a completely different scene and the characters have just made love. There is no logic to some of the film's cuts whatsoever, leading to a jumpy, confusing story.

...Victoria Principal, a few years before DALLAS, inexplicably sports a huge Afro-style hairdo; it's so big several birds could build a nest in it.

...Walter Matthau has a strange multi-scene cameo as a drunk. Apparently he didn't want much credit, as his billing is under the name Walter Matuschanskayasky.

...Even in 1974, surely Southern Californians knew not to crowd into an elevator after a massive earthquake which is in the process of destroying buildings? The in-your-face gore which accompanies this scene clearly served no purpose other than shock value.

...Marjoe Gortner plays a National Guardsman who's a psycho who thinks nothing of machine-gunning three people to death. In fact, not many of the police or military are admirable in this film. Curiously, the most heroic policeman is a rebel who's been suspended from the force! He's played by George Kennedy, who, like Heston, was imported from the AIRPORT movies.

...After all the stress, the film has a pretty crummy ending with the pointless death of a principal actor.

On the plus side, there's Heston, Kennedy, the always-dependable Lloyd Nolan, and a cute little dog.

The cast also includes Barry Sullivan, Richard Roundtree, Monica Lewis, Kip Niven, John Randolph, and Pedro Armendariz Jr., who recently passed away.

EARTHQUAKE may be worth sitting through once if one enjoys cheesy disaster films, but all in all this was a low point in the careers of all involved. It's not really even successful as a "good bad movie"!

EARTHQUAKE was directed by Mark Robson. Robson's earlier credits included directing Dana Andrews in MY FOOLISH HEART (1949) and I WANT YOU (1951).

John Williams composed the score, but it's unmemorable. The next year he would hit it big with JAWS (1975).

The running time was 123 minutes.

EARTHQUAKE has had multiple DVD releases as well as a VHS edition. A DVD can be rented from Netflix. It's also available for streaming from Amazon Instant Video.

Previous New Year's Eve films: CRACK IN THE WORLD (1965) with Dana Andrews, THE CROWDED SKY (1960) with Dana Andrews, ZERO HOUR! (1957) with Dana Andrews, SKYJACKED (1972) with Charlton Heston, and TWISTER (1996).

TCM in January: Highlights

Happy New Year, and Best Wishes for 2012!

It's hard to believe that it's time to look at the January schedule for Turner Classic Movies. Didn't December get underway only yesterday? On we go!

As I previewed a couple of months ago, TCM's January schedule has some real treats in store. Let's take a look:

...I'm intrigued by THE BEGINNING OR THE END (1947), a film about the Manhattan Project starring Brian Donlevy, Tom Drake, and Robert Walker. The excellent cast also includes Audrey Totter, Beverly Tyler, Joseph Calleia, Hume Cronyn, John Litel, and Henry O'Neill. A must-see for me on January 2nd.

...Later on the 2nd I'm curious about THE STEEL TRAP (1952), with Joseph Cotten as an embezzler who has a change of heart. Teresa Wright, Cotten's SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943) costar, plays his wife. It's part of a five-film tribute to Cotten which features some excellent films including PORTRAIT OF JENNIE (1948) with Jennifer Jones, the Oscar-winning THE FARMER'S DAUGHTER (1947) with Loretta Young, the colorful suspense film NIAGARA (1953), and LYDIA (1941), costarring Merle Oberon.

...A six-film lineup celebrating "Women of the West" includes my favorite Robert Taylor film, WESTWARD THE WOMEN (1951), directed by William Wellman. I try not to miss any opportunity to recommend this tough, gritty, and unusual Western; I'd love to see more film fans discover it. It airs January 3rd.

...Jane Wyman's birthday will be celebrated on January 5th with half a dozen films, some of them fairly obscure, such as PRIVATE DETECTIVE (1939) with Dick Foran and GAMBLING ON THE HIGH SEAS (1940) with Wayne Morris. THE DOUGHGIRLS (1944) is a diverting bit of silliness about the Washington, D.C. housing shortage, and CHEYENNE (1947) is a Raoul Walsh Western with Dennis Morgan that I enjoyed very much.

...I love that TCM pays tribute to Loretta Young every year on her January 6th birthday. This year seven films will be shown: HEROES FOR SALE (1933), the must-see pre-Code SHE HAD TO SAY YES (1933), THE UNGUARDED HOUR (1936), THE BISHOP'S WIFE (1947), the excellent thriller THE STRANGER (1946), RACHEL AND THE STRANGER (1948), and KEY TO THE CITY (1950). I've seen all but one of these films, and it's an excellent lineup.

...A tribute to Betty Grable on January 6th features two 20th Century-Fox films making their TCM premieres, PIGSKIN PARADE (1936) and A YANK IN THE R.A.F. (1941), followed by MY BLUE HEAVEN (1950).

...Western fans will love the lineup on January 9th. It starts off with George Montgomery in BADMAN'S COUNTRY (1958) and is followed by a Gordon Douglas film I'm curious about, GOLD OF THE SEVEN SAINTS (1961), starring then-Warner Bros. TV stars Roger Moore and Clint Walker. That's followed by Walker and Virginia Mayo in another Douglas film, FORT DOBBS (1958); Alan Ladd in Delmer Daves' DRUM BEAT (1954); and Dane Clark and Ruth Roman in BARRICADE (1950). Two films I'll definitely be recording are Sterling Hayden and Coleen Gray in ARROW IN THE DUST (1954) and Eddie Albert and Gale Storm in THE DUDE GOES WEST (1948). I've enjoyed Storm in a couple recent films, and this is another opportunity to see her work. The day is capped by Gary Cooper in SPRINGFIELD RIFLE (1952).

...June Haver doesn't turn up on TCM very often, as so many of her films were for 20th Century-Fox, but she can be seen with Gordon MacRae in the Warner Bros. musical LOOK FOR THE SILVER LINING (1949) on January 10th.

...It's coincidentally odd timing given his recent health scare, but THE LIQUIDATOR (1966), about a plot of assassinate Britain's Prince Philip, sounds interesting. It was directed by Jack Cardiff and stars Rod Taylor and Trevor Howard. It airs January 11th.

...Robert Osborne's picks on January 17th include a couple of particularly interesting titles, Merle Oberon in A NIGHT IN PARADISE (1946) and Paulette Goddard in Jean Renoir's THE DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID (1946). I'll have my DVR running! Goddard's onetime husband, Burgess Meredith, is also in THE DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID, and that film is followed by two more Goddard-Meredith titles, SECOND CHORUS (1940), which stars Fred Astaire, and ON OUR MERRY WAY (1948), starring James Stewart.

...There's another great day of 10, count 'em, 10 Westerns on January 23rd. I'll be recording Sterling Hayden and Karin Booth in TOP GUN (1955). The other films have stars including William Holden, Glenn Ford, Randolph Scott, Bob Steele, Rock Hudson, and George Montgomery. It's great to see multiple Montgomery Westerns turn up on TCM this month.

...Later on January 23rd there's a great evening of films titled "Max Ophuls in Hollywood." The superb Joan Bennett-James Mason film THE RECKLESS MOMENT (1949) leads off the evening; it's only available on Region 2 DVD, and this story of a Balboa Island housewife caught up in a blackmail plot is "must" viewing. That's followed by more excellent films: CAUGHT (1949) with Mason, Robert Ryan, and Barbara Bel Geddes; LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN (1948) starring Joan Fontaine; and THE EXILE (1947) which stars Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and sounds very interesting. Two of Ophuls' European films, LA RONDE (195) and THE EARRINGS OF MADAME DE... (1954) will air in the wee hours.

...Betty Grable and Dan Dailey star in the 20th Century-Fox film MOTHER WORE TIGHTS (1947) on Sunday morning, January 29th.

...Later on the 29th there's a Jack Webb double feature, THE D.I. (1957) and -30-. I just bought the latter film, about a day in the life of a newspaper, in a pre-Christmas sale from the Warner Archive.

...TALK ABOUT A STRANGER (1952) is one of those little movies I love to discover. This 65-minute film stars George Murphy, Nancy Davis (Reagan), and Lewis Stone and runs just 65 minutes. It's on January 30th.

...THE CONSTANT NYMPH (1943) will have its second airing on TCM on January 30th. This film was long unavailable due to legal issues, so for those who missed it when TCM showed it several weeks ago, this is a great opportunity to see it.

...THE CONSTANT NYMPH is part of a five-film tribute to Joan Fontaine on the evening of the 30th. The other films showing that night include the TCM premiere of the excellent 20th Century-Fox film JANE EYRE (1944), also starring Orson Welles and a trio of exceptionally fine child actresses, Peggy Ann Garner, Elizabeth Taylor, and Margaret O'Brien. The delightfully soapy Nicholas Ray film BORN TO BE BAD (1950), Hitchcock's SUSPICION (1941), and IVANHOE (1952) with Robert Taylor and Elizabeth Taylor round out the list.

...The month ends with a birthday tribute to Jean Simmons on January 31st. On the schedule are ELMER GANTRY (1960), BLACK NARCISSUS (1947), and YOUNG BESS (1953).

...Mario Lanza and Peggie Castle in the same movie? What an unusual pairing. The film is SEVEN HILLS OF ROME (1958) and it's on January 31st.

TCM's January Star of the Month is Angela Lansbury. I'll be taking a look at the Lansbury films on the schedule in a future post. (Update: Please visit my post TCM Star of the Month: Angela Lansbury.)

Visit the online schedule for a complete listing of all the films showing on Turner Classic Movies in January.

Again, sincere good wishes to all for a very happy New Year!

Tonight's Movie: The Descendants (2011)

THE DESCENDANTS is an absorbing drama about a family in crisis. It's also a tribute to the human ability to keep putting one foot in front of the other despite being repeatedly smacked in the face by difficult situations. The film's strong points include an outstanding performance by George Clooney, who should be nominated for the Oscar in a few weeks, and a distinctive Hawaiian setting.

Clooney plays Matt King, a wealthy lawyer descended from Hawaiian royalty. Matt's wife Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie) has been comatose since a boating accident. Just as Matt learns that the coma is irreversible, he's also hit with the news that Elizabeth had been having an affair with a local realtor (Matthew Lillard).

As Matt struggles to reconnect with his troubled daughters Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) and Scottie (Amara Miller), he's also faced with a decision about selling land which has been in his family for generations.

This is a rich film with a lot of layers to consider and analyze, starting with the meaning of the title. Along the way there are many interesting things to observe and consider; for instance, I was struck that Elizabeth was consistently described as "strong." There was a sense that that was the nicest thing some people could say about her, and as the audience gets to see her cantankerous father (Robert Forster) in action, one also has the sense the apple didn't fall far from the tree. Yet it's clear that she also had at least one devoted friend (played by Mary Birdsong).

Elizabeth is a significant presence in the film, though she's never seen speaking; figuring out who she was is one of the things which makes the film interesting. As it turns out, Matt is trying to figure out who she was along with the audience, as he comes to terms with startling information about her behavior.

Elizabeth clearly made some poor life choices, most significantly, it seems, not being a particularly engaged parent; as the film begins, the children aren't a credit to either of their parents. One of the things which makes the film rewarding is watching Matt realize he needs to make changes in his life and then seeing him follow through, especially in his relationships with his daughters. The film's last shot is believably warm and hopeful.

Although the film deals with the death of a wife and mother, it's not maudlin or tear-jerking. I found myself interested yet emotionally distant; I'm not sure if that's a good or bad thing, but that distance made it easier to watch. Some of this reaction may also be because, while the characters have had their world rocked, the reactions wash over them in phases; they have moments where they break down in tears, but often they're simply numb or trying to keep on going as normally as possible, in a matter-of-fact way. There's also considerable humor found in unexpected moments. All of this feels very real, and it's frankly easier for an audience to watch than if it were an out-and-out tear-jerker, though the film does have its moments of pathos.

I've been mulling over whether THE DESCENDANTS is a movie I'll want to see again. While I'll definitely be watching Clooney's very entertaining THE IDES OF MARCH (2011) again, THE DESCENDANTS is perhaps less "entertainment" and more about accompanying the characters on a difficult though rewarding journey. It will be interesting to see, as time goes on, whether the film's many strong points induce me to relive that journey.

One of the things I especially liked about the film was its somewhat unusual-for-film depiction of "everyday" Hawaii. (SOUL SURFER, released earlier this year, also depicted life in Hawaii, although it was more scenic.) We see the freeways, office buildings, middle-class homes, and a pool badly in need of cleaning. Much of the time the atmosphere is damp and overcast. Combined with the Hawaiian music permeating the soundtrack, it gave the film an authentic feel and made it visually interesting.

I did feel that this 115-minute film was five or ten minutes too long. The sequence I think I might have been tempted to excise was the unlikely hospital visit of Julie (Judy Greer), the wife of the man with whom Elizabeth had the affair. It was the rare moment in the film where I didn't completely believe in a character and what was happening.

There are a couple of interesting faces among Matt's many cousins. Cousin Hugh, who is something of a character, is played by Beau Bridges. I was trying to figure out where I'd seen Cousin Milo before, then realized during the end credits that it was Michael Ontkean of the '70s TV series THE ROOKIES.

THE DESCENDANTS was directed and co-written by Alexander Payne. It's based on a novel by Kauai Hart Hemmings.

Parental advisory: THE DESCENDANTS is rated R for language, including sexual references. Children would be unlikely to enjoy the film's mature themes, in any event.

For more on this film, Leonard Maltin, Betsy Sharkey of the Los Angeles Times, and Lou Lumenick of the New York Post are among those who have given the film their strong endorsement.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Vertigo (1958) at the Egyptian Theatre

I enjoyed a wonderful evening at the Egyptian Theatre tonight seeing Alfred Hitchcock's VERTIGO for the very first time. The movie was fascinating, the 70 mm print was gorgeous, and the company, which included my fellow classic film blogger Deborah of Sidewalk Crossings, was most congenial. All in all, a perfect Friday night in Hollywood!

There probably isn't a whole lot new I can offer about VERTIGO, as so many classic film fans have already seen it. (That said, I'm still going to be as vague as possible about the plot, for the benefit of those who haven't seen it yet.) I found the film mesmerizing, with great mood, thanks to the acting, the beautiful shots of San Francisco, the color palette (lots of greens and yellows!), and the evocative score by the great Bernard Herrmann.

The story is somehow simultaneously simple and very complicated, leaving behind more questions than it answers.

And questions, I have lots of questions:

1) How did Scottie get out of his seemingly impossible predicament in the first minutes of the movie?

2) Midge is obviously hung up on Scottie, so why did she break their long-ago engagement? Did she think he wasn't serious enough about her? And why is he simultaneously a single loner yet always dropping in to hang out with Midge? There are seemingly as many mysteries in the characters' back stories as there are in the film's present-day storyline.

3) Wasn't there anything physical about Judy -- perhaps even the way she kissed -- that told Scottie her true identity?

4) So what exactly was Gavin Elster's motive? He wanted control of the money? His motivations and feelings of animosity are never clearly spelled out.

5) What was Judy's motive for the deception? If she loved Gavin, it's still not clear why she would love him that much.

6) Why did Judy back up to the table in the hotel? She looked as though she were either hiding something or perhaps going to grab the phone to dial for help, but knowing what she knew, why would she consider making the call?

7) What was the nun doing up there, anyway?

8) And the unanswerable question, what happened to Scottie next? Wow, talk about an abrupt ending!

Perhaps some of these questions will be answered in the Month of Vertigo blogathon taking place all next month, hosted by The Lady Eve's Reel Life. In her introduction Eve quotes critic David Thomason as saying the film is both "a masterpiece and an endless mystery," so perhaps I'm not alone in my questions!

An interesting point to consider: I felt that VERTIGO's use of colors and flashbacks seemed to set the stage for the later MARNIE (1964), another film about a chameleon-like woman of disturbed or questionable character.

Novak and Stewart made VERTIGO back to back with BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE (1958). Stewart is superb as the obsessed detective; when it comes right down to it, he's not always a very nice man, yet the audience is completely caught up in his emotions and what he experiences. The fact that it's an actor who has so much audience goodwill at the outset helps prevent him from being perceived negatively, particularly in the closing scenes dealing with Scottie's total obsession. Novak excelled in a role that's difficult on many levels; like Stewart, she engages audience sympathy despite her character's actions.

I especially liked Barbara Bel Geddes as Scottie's friend and old flame, Midge, whose appearances serve to jolt the film out of its melancholy mood.

I smiled when I recognized Bess Flowers, the perennial extra, dining in the first sequence in Ernie's. I was amused by what Jacqueline wrote about her in a recent post on MY REPUTATION (1946): "The inevitable Bess Flowers also plays one of the society friends at the party, but then she always shows up everywhere... I think I ran into her at the grocery store the other day." That gave me a big chuckle.

The highly stylized opening credits sequence, which foreshadows the story to come, was created by Saul Bass. There's a new coffee table book out on his work which I'd really like to get.

VERTIGO is available on DVD in a 2003 Collector's Edition and a 2008 edition in the Universal Legacy Series. It's also been released on VHS, including a widescreen edition I've been told is quite nice.

This film can be rented for streaming from Amazon Instant Video; the DVD can be rented from Netflix.

VERTIGO was Movie No. 9 on my list of 10 "unseen classics" to finally catch up with in 2011. The other films on the list seen to date were SHANE (1953), DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944), SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS (1941), BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (1955), STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951), THE LADY EVE (1941), BALL OF FIRE (1941), and THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955).

I'm pushing the final film on my 2011 list, SUNSET BLVD. (1950), to the very first day of 2012, when I hope to see it on the big screen at the Bay Theatre in Seal Beach, California.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

New on DVD: The Magnetic Monster (1953)

THE MAGNETIC MONSTER (1953), a nifty little Cold War era thriller, was released on DVD yesterday.

This "manufactured on demand" DVD-R is from the MGM Limited Edition Collection. It's available from Amazon and Deep Discount.

I reviewed this film a few weeks ago and found it quite entertaining. Richard Carlson plays a government "A-man" who must find a way to defeat a fast-growing radioactive element which has such a strong magnetic force that it threatens to throw the world off its axis.

THE MAGNETIC MONSTER is hokey at times, but in the best kind of way. It's a great melding of Cold War anxieties with '50s monster movies, as well as a must for fans of Richard Carlson (CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON). I found it quite enjoyable and am glad to see it become available to a wider audience.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Tonight's Movie: The Lemon Drop Kid (1951)

"Silver Bells," composed by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, is perhaps my favorite Christmas song of all time, and it originated in the Bob Hope film THE LEMON DROP KID.

I saw the movie for the first time this evening. Unfortunately, I found most of it tedious going, but it does have some bright spots, including Lloyd Nolan, Marilyn Maxwell, and most of all, that beautiful song.

The plot, such as it is, is a bunch of Damon Runyon nonsense about the Lemon Drop Kid (Hope), who owes mobster Moose Moran (Fred Clark) a lot of money. The Kid goes to New York and comes up with a money-making scam involving a home for old ladies. Hope hides money in a statue, Hope dresses as Santa Claus, Hope dresses as an old lady, and so on. Yawn. The plot lumbers around without going much of anywhere. Maybe I was having an off viewing night, but this movie just didn't click with me.

It's interesting that both the Christmas films I've watched this week involved leading characters who are scammers or moochers. However, Victor Moore makes his character in IT HAPPENED ON FIFTH AVENUE (1947) likeable and sympathetic -- quite a feat since, as I wrote in my post on it, I've never cared for Moore -- but Hope's character is just a deadbeat who preys on others endlessly. There is absolutely zero explanation for why his girlfriend (Maxwell) finds him so irresistible, when he takes advantage of her good nature time after time. He's just an unpleasant person looking out for No. 1.

Though I can't say any of the story engaged me, I enjoyed the performances by Lloyd Nolan and Marilyn Maxwell, who bring the dull goings-on to life whenever they're on screen. I also thought Andrea King was quite funny as Moose Moran's Southern belle lady friend.

The highlight of the film is the introduction of the song "Silver Bells." According to an article on the Turner Classic Movies site, Hope was dissatisfied with director Sidney Lanfield's static original staging of "Silver Bells." Frank Tashlin rethought the scene as a stroll through the city streets and directed what appears in the final film. The evocative, nostalgic sequence is beautifully done. (Perhaps I should note, for those who care about such things, that there's a very brief bit with Chinese children which is politically incorrect by modern standards.) When the song swells to its lovely conclusion, it feels as though it should be the end of the movie. Alas, there's still half an hour of the film's 91-minute running time left to go.

Frank Tashlin would go on to direct another Christmastime film, SUSAN SLEPT HERE (1954), a stylish and colorful movie which I just enjoyed again on Christmas Eve.

The supporting cast of THE LEMON DROP KID includes William Frawley, Jane Darwell, Jay C. Flippen, and Ida Moore.

THE LEMON DROP KID has had several DVD releases. I watched a DVD released in 2000. It was released again in 2010 as both a single title and as part of the Bob Hope Collection.

It's also come out multiple times on VHS.

THE LEMON DROP KID can be streamed by Amazon Prime members at no additional charge.

The movie was just shown for the first time on Turner Classic Movies.

Bob Hope films previously reviewed at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings: THE GHOST BREAKERS (1940), MY FAVORITE BLONDE (1942), STAR SPANGLED RHYTHM (1942), VARIETY GIRL (1947), MY FAVORITE SPY (1951), and BACHELOR IN PARADISE (1961).

Around the Blogosphere This Week

Miscellaneous bits of news and fun stuff from around the Internet...a Boxing Day Edition!

...Happy birthday to fabulous film noir leading lady Audrey Totter, who turned 93 on December 20th. Totter's excellent films include HIGH WALL (1947), LADY IN THE LAKE (1947), THE UNSUSPECTED (1947), THE SAXON CHARM (1948), THE SET-UP (1949), and TENSION (1949). I've linked in the past to an interview she gave about her career; it's delightful.

...There's a very nice new blog celebrating the career of Ricardo Montalban. I especially enjoyed looking at photos of Montalban and his lovely wife, Georgiana Young, in this slide show and an old issue of Life magazine.

...Donna Reed's TV children, Shelley Fabares and Paul Peterson, reminisce about her and Carl Betz in the Los Angeles Times. I was both touched and impressed by Peterson's comment, "Donna and Carl were very much aware of the difficulties on other family shows. They made a commitment to Shelley and me as surrogate parents to be on our side and be with us for the long haul. They kept that commitment up to their deaths. Donna's last few words [were] to make sure Shelley's birthday present was wrapped and ready for delivery. That is true!"

...Coming to DVD on May 1st: Season 6 of THE VIRGINIAN. So far I own Season 1, and it's a real pleasure that this series is receiving such beautiful DVD releases. I hope to buy more!

...WE BOUGHT A ZOO (2011), starring Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson, has received some excellent reviews. It's gone onto my list of movies I'd like to see.

...Kristina has a wonderful piece up on Ella Raines and PHANTOM LADY (1944) at Speakeasy. Raines is a relatively unappreciated talent who deserves to be better known.

...JavaBeanRush recently posted a link for a short but sweet video interview with dancer Marge Champion. She seems to exemplify thinking positive!

...Mark has reviewed THE HOUSE OF THE SEVEN GABLES (1940), starring Vincent Price, George Sanders, and Margaret Lindsay, at Cin-Eater.

...The 1962 TV series GOING MY WAY, starring Gene Kelly and Leo G. Carroll, is now out on DVD.

...Dorian has a most enjoyable post up on Bogart and Bacall in THE BIG SLEEP (1946) at Tales of the Easily Distracted. It was part of a Humphrey Bogart blogathon; lots more Bogart links are posted at Forever Classics.

...Leonard Maltin recently gave an interesting interview describing the process of updating his annual MOVIE GUIDE.

...Glenn Erickson shares his picks for The Most Impressive Discs of 2011 at DVD Savant. His choices include Warner Archive's THE CONSTANT NYMPH (1943) (which he just reviewed) and Criterion's SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (1957).

...Over at 50 Westerns from the 50s, Toby recently posted a review of Victor Mature in ESCORT WEST (1958). It's a nice, cozy little Western which I enjoyed last summer.

...The Girl With the White Parasol recently reviewed the Gainsborough Pictures costume melodrama THE WICKED LADY (1945), starring Margaret Lockwood, James Mason, and Patricia Roc: "This movie is pure fun from start to finish."

...Karen profiles John Payne at Shadows and Satin. Musicals, Westerns, film noir -- Payne could do it all.

...Notable Passing: Pedro Armendariz Jr. has passed away at the age of 71. Armendariz Jr. was an actor, following in the footsteps of his namesake father; his credits included ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO (2003) and THE LEGEND OF ZORRO (2005). The senior Armendariz, who died in 1963, appeared in John Ford's THE FUGITIVE (1947), FORT APACHE (1948), and 3 GODFATHERS (1948).

...Coming next week at Another Old Movie Blog: THE LAS VEGAS STORY (1952) with Victor Mature and Jane Russell, and MEET ME IN LAS VEGAS (1956).

...Screen Snapshots shares thoughts on a visit to the Hollywood Heritage Museum and the Lasky-DeMille Barn.

...For another big batch of recent links, please visit last Saturday's post, A Christmas Eve Roundup.

Have a great week, and Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Tonight's Movie: It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947)

This was the Christmas I finally caught up with IT HAPPENED ON FIFTH AVENUE, and I enjoyed it very much. Like REMEMBER THE NIGHT (1940) and BEYOND TOMORROW (1940), it's a Christmas film being rediscovered in recent years thanks to Turner Classic Movies.

The Oscar-nominated original story for IT HAPPENED ON FIFTH AVENUE started out as a property bought by Frank Capra. Capra passed the story on to producer-director Roy Del Ruth and Allied Artists when he became busy with a project that turned into IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946). IT HAPPENED ON FIFTH AVENUE was the first film released by Allied Artists, a new "high end" division of the Poverty Row studio Monogram.

Aloysius "Mac" McKeever is a hobo who slips into the O'Connor mansion on Fifth Avenue each year when the owner heads to Virginia for the winter months. Mac lives there quite comfortably during the coldest part of the year, then moves out each spring just before the owner returns home.

Mac meets Jim Bullock (Don DeFore), a veteran who's just lost his apartment in a condemned building, and invites him to spend the night. Jim accepts, not realizing at first that McKeever isn't exactly an "invited" guest. Mac and Jim are soon joined in the mansion by Trudy O'Connor (Gale Storm); Trudy is actually the daughter of the mansion's owner, but Mac and Jim assume she's homeless too. Trudy is attracted to Jim and plays along; she wants to find out if Jim can like her for herself and not her family's fortune.

Before you know it, a couple more veterans (Alan Hale Jr. and Edward Ryan) have moved in with their families, followed by Trudy's father Mike (Charlie Ruggles), who poses as yet another homeless person so he can size up Jim. Then Mike's former wife (Ann Harding), Trudy's mother, moves in and cooks for everyone...well, it all gets very crazy and complicated, but it's a lot of fun, too. (And some of the storyline, focusing on Evil Big Business, seemed to have been ripped from modern headlines!) Watching Mac boss around Mike in Mike's own home is rather amusing, and at the same time Mac seems to have a knack for helping the mansion's residents solve their problems. The film builds to a moving climax with a tear-inducing, absolutely perfect closing line.

It's a well-written film with everyone in the large cast having a moment to shine in the 116-minute running time. There's just one thing I wondered -- the film completely skips over Jim learning that Trudy (Storm) is the daughter of the fabulously wealthy Michael O'Connor. It's just inferred at the end that now he knows! I wonder if the scene was left on the cutting-room floor?

I recently saw Gale Storm in BETWEEN MIDNIGHT AND DAWN (1950), which I think was the first sizeable role I'd seen her in. I enjoyed her in that and liked her even better in this; she's both spunky and sweetly charming. And she really looks like she could be Ann Harding's daughter! I naturally assumed Storm did her own singing and was surprised to read that she was completely frustrated by director Roy Del Ruth, who refused to let her sing.

The film has a pleasant score by Harry Revel, with the Christmas Eve song "That's What Christmas Means to Me" particularly noteworthy. TCM has the song available in a video clip. I've played that song a couple of times while writing this post; I really enjoy it!

Don DeFore is someone I've been reevaluating in light of seeing more of his '40s work. Like Fred MacMurray, I thought of him for years as a '50s/'60s "TV dad," and was thus rather startled by his charismatic performance in the Western noir RAMROD (1947), which came out the same year as IT HAPPENED ON FIFTH AVENUE. DeFore a very credible leading man in IT HAPPENED ON FIFTH AVENUE; I'm gaining new appreciation for his talent and look forward to seeing him in more movies. One of his sons has a Don DeFore Fan Club.

In all honesty, Victor Moore is someone I generally don't enjoy. He's the one thing that keeps Astaire and Rogers' SWING TIME (1936) from being a perfect film in my eyes. But I must say I thought he was quite good in this, in a low-key performance which is more appealing than I generally find him. One of my daughters likened his character to Mary Poppins, someone who's a bit mysterious swooping in to work his magic on those around him before he leaves again.

When a patrolman played by Edward Brophy enters the mansion on Christmas Eve, that same daughter said, "He sounds like Timothy Mouse!" And she was absolutely correct, Brophy provided that voice in Disney's classic DUMBO (1941). Brophy had over 140 credits in his four-decade career.

Another policeman in the film was played by Edward Gargan, who had over 300 screen credits, and an apartment building landlord is played by Charles Lane, who had over 350 credits. Eddie Marr, the tour bus spieler, also had a long career which included many appearances on Lux Radio Theater.

IT HAPPENED ON FIFTH AVENUE has been released on DVD in several different editions, including a TCM collection of Christmas movies and a different Christmas collection. (Unfortunately the DVD has gone into the no man's land of the "saved" section at Netflix, which means they no longer carry it.) It also had a release on VHS.

The movie can be rented for streaming from Amazon Instant Video.

Finally, for the past few years IT HAPPENED ON FIFTH AVENUE has been a December staple on Turner Classic Movies.

IT HAPPENED ON FIFTH AVENUE is recommended as a quite enjoyable change of pace from the usual Christmas classics.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas to All!

Best wishes for a very happy Christmas!

A Christmas Eve Roundup

'Twas the night before Christmas...

Here's a bunch of fun Christmas-related links to read amidst the last-minute baking and wrapping!

...As I write this, I'm listening to the Ames Bros. album There'll Always Be a Christmas. This CD was an excellent find a couple years ago.

...The Lady Eve shares her picks for favorite Christmas movies at her blog, The Lady Eve's Reel Life. It's a great list! Eve also has some great Christmasy video links to share.

...Classic Movie Man has some interesting choices on his list of favorite Christmas movies, including Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper in Capra's MEET JOHN DOE (1941), the Cary Grant-Irene Dunne weeper PENNY SERENADE (1941), and IT HAPPENED ON FIFTH AVENUE (1947) with Don DeFore and Gale Storm.

...Brandie shares thoughts on IT HAPPENED ON FIFTH AVENUE (1947) at True Classics. I started watching this last night and should be writing about it later in the weekend.

...Thanks to Al Lutz's annually updated column on the Disneyland Main Street Christmas Music Loop, I added The David Rose Christmas Album to my collection this year. It's fun when a track starts playing that I know well from years of walking down Main Street at Christmastime!

...Continuing in a Disney theme, D23 shares info about the history of the Disneyland Candlelight Procession, which was narrated this year by Gary Sinise. There's more info in a 2009 column by Wade Sampson at MousePlanet -- though there's an error for the 1977 listing. Ross Martin of THE WILD, WILD WEST narrated that year, I believe in place of Buddy Ebsen. I know this because I was there. :)

...Jerry Frebowitz, the President of Movies Unlimited, shares thoughts on Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray in REMEMBER THE NIGHT (1940) at MovieFanFare. He says it's "too good to show only at Christmas." It's definitely a special movie.

...Jacqueline Lynch is another fan of REMEMBER THE NIGHT. She describes it in an evocative post at Another Old Movie Blog. And don't miss Jacqueline's post on Stanwyck in MY REPUTATION (1946), a wonderful film I recently revisited. MY REPUTATION is perfect viewing for the last part of December, as the last third of the film is set between Christmas Eve and New Year's Day.

...REMEMBER THE NIGHT happily received a great deal of attention from classic film fans this year, and each post is worth reading. John Greco analyzes it at Twenty Four Frames.

...Caftan Woman shares her pick for December: A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1951) with Alastair Sim. My son watched that the other day, but I still haven't seen that version! It's definitely on my "to do" list.

...The Self-Styled Siren shares a really marvelous anecdote from Rosalind Russell's autobiography, LIFE IS A BANQUET, about the five months' pregnant star throwing a Christmas party for two armored tank divisions in the middle of the California desert in 1942. It's both delightful and touching; don't miss it.

...One might say Christmas came early for USC Trojan fans, as earlier this week quarterback Matt Barkley stood in front of a tree decked in cardinal and gold to announce he's remaining at USC for his senior year. Bill Dwyre of the Los Angeles Times has a thoughtful column on Barkley's announcement. I'm delighted the Times' Bill Plaschke has had to eat his words this week, as he had previously shared his firm opinion that Barkley would turn pro. Plaschke is happy too!

...John of Greenbriar Picture Shows spotlights Deanna Durbin's LADY ON A TRAIN (1945) as his "Christmas Pick." I love this movie, costarring Dan Duryea, Ralph Bellamy, Allen Jenkins, and more great faces. It's on DVD in a Deanna Durbin set which is a steal pricewise at Amazon.

...You just never know where you'll find classic film fans or who's reading your blog! In a nice bit of serendipity, I have Greenbriar Picture Shows to thank for leading a classic film fan to my blog...who also happens to be in the cast of the marvelous theatrical production I saw this week of WHITE CHRISTMAS. What fun!

...Toby and Company ponder movies to watch over the holidays at 50 Westerns From the 50s.

...Visit my post TCM in December: Christmas Movies for a rundown on the films shown on Turner Classic Movies on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. And don't forget to set your recorder for MARGIE (1946) on TCM tonight!

...For more Christmas-related reading which remains relevant today, please visit my Christmas week link roundups of 2010 and 2009.

Merry Christmas!

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