Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Foxfire (1955)

FOXFIRE, starring Jane Russell and Jeff Chandler, has been sitting near the top of my Netflix Instant queue for some time now. When I noticed earlier this week that FOXFIRE would be leaving Netflix at month's end due to the expiration of Netflix's contract with Starz, I squeezed it into my schedule. I'm glad I made the time, as I enjoyed it very much.

FOXFIRE is based on a novel by Anya Seton (DRAGONWYCK). It has a number of cool things going for it: 1) Jane Russell, sassy as ever; 2) Jeff Chandler, one of the notable hunks of the '50s (what can I say?); 3) Dan Duryea, who always adds an interesting dimension to a troubled character; 4) a title song by Henry Mancini and Jeff Chandler, sung by Chandler; and 5) terrific Technicolor location filming at the Apple Valley Inn in Apple Valley, California. There's more info on the beautiful, windswept inn in my post on HIGHWAY DRAGNET (1954).

Jane plays Amanda Lawrence, an Eastern socialite who accompanies her mother (Frieda Inescort) to an Arizona resort. Amanda meets half-Apache mining engineer Jonathan "Dart" Dartland (Chandler) and they fall in love -- or maybe lust -- at first sight, followed by a whirlwind wedding ceremony.

Amanda is crazy about Jonathan and eager to adapt to life in the little mining town where he lives, but she struggles with her moody, insecure husband's dark moods. She doesn't understand the emotional walls Jonathan frequently seems to put up between them until she visits an Apache reservation and meets his mother (Celia Lovsky).

This is a very enjoyable film with the great Universal Technicolor look of the '50s. It has a unique story and setting, as well as a sympathetic heroine who is coping with a new lifestyle and racially prejudiced locals along with trying to figure out her new husband. The viewer roots for the tenacious Amanda and hopes she and Jonathan will make a success of their marriage.

Russell and Chandler were both perfectly cast and have excellent chemistry. As a side note, I do wish Russell's hair wasn't quite so short; I've never understood the '50s trend for actresses to wear "helmet hair," which appears matronly to the modern viewer.

Dan Duryea plays the alcoholic town doctor who quickly starts to carry an unrequited torch for Amanda. The doctor is charming when he's sober, but it's a bit hard to understand what his nurse Maria (Mara Corday) sees in him -- or why he ignores the beautiful Maria, especially when it's clear that Amanda is only interested in her own husband.

The early part of this 87-minute film feels truncated. One minute Amanda's mother is booking a flight trying to separate her daughter from her new love, and the next minute Amanda is racing to Jonathan's home and they discuss a problem with a telephone. It felt like there was a scene or two left on the cutting-room floor that should have been left in. For that matter, although I tend to be a fan of shorter films, I would have welcomed a somewhat longer film which delved even more deeply into the characters and their story.

The supporting cast includes Barton MacLane, Arthur Space, Robert F. Simon, Charlotte Wynters, Eddy Waller, and Beulah Archuletta (THE SEARCHERS).

FOXFIRE was directed by Joseph Pevney. Pevney directed several films I've enjoyed, including Jeff Chandler's next film, FEMALE ON THE BEACH (1955). He also directed AIR CADET (1951), TAMMY AND THE BACHELOR (1957), and THE CROWDED SKY (1960).

This film isn't available on DVD or VHS, and in a matter of hours it will no longer be available from Netflix streaming. It seems as though this film would be a good candidate to be released in the Universal Vault DVD-R series sold through Amazon.

Cable subscribers who have the Encore Westerns Channel are in luck, as FOXFIRE will air on that channel on March 9, 2012.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Tonight's Movie: The Horizontal Lieutenant (1962)

THE HORIZONTAL LIEUTENANT is a military comedy starring Jim Hutton and Paula Prentiss. Although the film is set in the waning days of WWII, the movie's sensibilities -- not to mention the women's hairstyles -- seem firmly stuck in the early '60s.

Hutton plays Lt. Merle Wye, a lieutenant stationed on an island in the South Pacific circa 1944. Merle is tasked with finding a Japanese soldier who's been hiding out on the island, repeatedly stealing rations from the U.S. army outpost.

Merle is a klutz -- hence the title -- who doesn't have much success in his mission. But he does gradually make some headway romancing nurse Molly Blue (Prentiss).

This was the fourth film teaming Hutton and Prentiss, who were first paired in WHERE THE BOYS ARE (1960), followed by THE HONEYMOON MACHINE (1961) and BACHELOR IN PARADISE (1961). They also both appeared in LOOKING FOR LOVE (1964), although Prentiss just had a cameo in that film.

Unfortunately THE HORIZONTAL LIEUTENANT is the weakest of the four main Hutton-Prentiss entries. WHERE THE BOYS ARE, THE HONEYMOON MACHINE, and BACHELOR IN PARADISE are all fine, funny entertainment, but for most of its running time THE HORIZONTAL LIEUTENANT just feels silly. The comedy is excessively juvenile, and there's not enough of Paula Prentiss. The film definitely picks up some energy whenever she's on screen.

Speaking of Prentiss, she and the other nurses in the film didn't look very much like women from films of the '40s. The hairstyles weren't as bad as Susannah York's very 1960s mop top in BATTLE OF BRITAIN (1969), but the film had such little '40s atmosphere that I periodically forgot when the story was supposed to be taking place. It's a very generic, bland "service comedy" in that regard.

In fact, the film's attitude is in many ways so post-WWII that the treatment of Japanese characters seems oddly incongruous at times; thus, some bits may make the modern viewer wince slightly.

The supporting cast includes Charles McGraw, Jack Carter, Jim Backus, Miyoshi Umeki, Lloyd King, Marty Ingels, and Yoshio Yoda.

This MGM film was produced by Joe Pasternak and directed by Richard Thorpe. It runs 90 minutes.

All five Hutton-Prentiss films have been released in remastered widescreen prints by the Warner Archive, including THE HORIZONTAL LIEUTENANT. I've seen all of the Hutton-Prentiss Archive releases except  LOOKING FOR LOVE, and they look terrific. A trailer is included on the HORIZONTAL LIEUTENANT DVD.

The trailer can be seen online at TCM.

THE HORIZONTAL LIEUTENANT has also had a release on VHS.

Hutton-Prentiss fans will want to check out THE HORIZONTAL LIEUTENANT, but alas, it's a disappointment compared to their very enjoyable earlier films.

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...Here's a really interesting new book that's just out: THE ASTAIRES: FRED AND ADELE by Kathleen Riley. Looking forward to learning more about it.

...And here's a neat children's picture book from last year which my dad called to my attention: JUST BEING AUDREY, about the life of Audrey Hepburn. It's by Margaret Cardillo, illustrated by Julia Denos.

...While on the subject of Audrey, I recommend a book I mentioned here a couple of years ago, AUDREY HEPBURN: INTERNATIONAL COVER GIRL by Scott Brizel.

...For anyone who missed it, the cover art has been revealed for the upcoming release of Season 1 of MAVERICK. Here it is, posted at the right.

...Part 3 of a series on THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS (1942) has now been posted at Jim Lane's Cinedrome. I linked Parts 1 and 2 in my recent review of the film.

...I admire all that Gary Sinise does on behalf of the military and our nation's veterans.

...LOVE IS A BALL (1963) has a fun cast, including Glenn Ford, Ricardo Montalban, and Charles Boyer. After reading Raquelle's review at Out of the Past I'll be sure to see it!

...I really liked Stewart Granger in GUN GLORY a few years ago and was glad to see that Deb of Sidewalk Crossings enjoyed watching it also. One of those relatively unheralded Westerns that's well made and entertaining; it's available from the Warner Archive. Deb's been watching a lot of Stewart Granger films lately, including ALL THE BROTHERS WERE VALIANT (1953) and MOONFLEET (1955).

...The Self-Styled Siren shared thoughts last week on Linda Darnell, an actress I've always very much enjoyed. Darnell was equally effective as the sweet innocent of THE MARK OF ZORRO (1940) or as more hard-edged characters in FALLEN ANGEL (1945) and A LETTER TO THREE WIVES (1949).

...Glenn Erickson has recently reviewed THE MAGNETIC MONSTER (1953) and TCM's new Film Noir Classics collection. I thought THE MAGNETIC MONSTER was quite fun. It stars one of my faves, Richard Carlson.

...I always enjoy the classic film DVD reviews by Barrie Maxwell, which can be found at The Digital Bits.

...New from Warner Archive: UNTAMED (1929) starring Joan Crawford and Robert Montgomery. It's remastered, too. This is a Montgomery film I haven't seen yet, and it's definitely going on my wish list.

...Kristina's got more of the latest releases in her Shopping List at Speakeasy.

...The Hollywood Revue recently posted an account of "An Evening with Kerry Kelly Novick." Kerry is the daughter of Gene Kelly and Betsy Blair. It sounds like it was a very special evening.

...Speaking of Gene Kelly, my friend Moira has posted an introduction to his non-musical films at Skeins of Thought. I'm looking forward to more of Moira's thoughts on these films. And her post includes video of a navy short he made on combat fatigue, be sure to check it out.

...Here's a list of the upcoming guest programmers at Turner Classic Movies. (Via KC at Classic Movies.)

...ClassicFlix tipped me off on a TV series coming to DVD next month: Bob Cummings and Julie Newmar in MY LIVING DOLL, VOLUME 1. It sounds like a crazy premise; Julie plays a robot?!

...John Nolte has written an appreciation of the film THE HUMAN COMEDY (1943) at Big Hollywood. It's available from Warner Archive. The Saroyan novel used to be on the reading list for high school freshmen in California; it's a shame it's no longer used, especially as it's an uplifting title, and so much of the required reading focuses on "downer" material.

...A pair of the fabled ruby slippers from THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) will be going to the Academy thanks to Steven Spielberg, Leonardo DiCaprio, and others.

...Royal Watch: Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden gave birth to a daughter a few days ago. The future queen's daughter, also a future queen, was named Estelle Silvia Eva Mary.

...At Comet Hollywood, Jessica wrote a lovely post on SINCE YOU WENT AWAY (1944), focusing on the role Soda the Bulldog plays in the family's life. It was part of the recent Classic Movie Dogathon.

...Dennis Quaid, one of the actors I like most from the last couple decades, is filming a pilot about 1960s Las Vegas for CBS. Quaid plays a sheriff cleaning up the city. Michael Chiklis costars as a mobster.

...Leonard Maltin shares photos of a Cecil B. DeMille display at the USC School of Cinematic Arts. There's more info in the L.A. Times and at the USC website. Last fall USC established a Cecil B. DeMille Chair for the Study of Silent Film.

...And here's the no-holds-barred thoughts of esteemed USC professor Drew Casper about this year's Oscar nominees.

Have a great week!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Today at Disneyland: Sunny Saturday

It's been about a month since our last visit to Disneyland, so we headed out to the park for a few hours this morning. It's nice that our passes aren't blocked out on Saturdays at this time of the year!

We could actually use some more rain here this winter -- looks like we may get some next Monday -- but I was happy to enjoy a beautiful sunny February day in the park! The temp was in the high 60s today.

Here's the view from Town Square this morning:



After breakfast at the new Jolly Holiday Bakery Cafe, we headed over to New Orleans Square for the New Orleans Bayou Bash:


We enjoyed a jazz band...


...and then a vocal performance by Princess Tiana and Prince Naveen:



I really like Randy Newman's songs "Almost There" and "Down in New Orleans" from the PRINCESS AND THE FROG score.

There's another month or so to go, but it's starting to look like spring in the Market House:


I was sorry to learn of the recent passing of longtime New Orleans Square performer Ernie McLean. For over 30 years, he added a lot to the atmosphere of one of my favorite areas of the park, and he'll be missed.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Tonight's Movie: The Beginning or the End (1947)

THE BEGINNING OR THE END is MGM's telling of the Manhattan Project and the dropping of the first atomic bomb. Given the historic scope of the story, it's somewhat surprising that this film -- made just a year after the war ended -- is today relatively little known.

This movie, which was released in February 1947, traces how scientists from the U.S., Britain, and Canada joined together in atomic testing and the development of the atomic bomb. Brian Donlevy portrays Maj. General Leslie R. Groves, who had the challenge of managing the massive, multi-state project which had to be kept top secret. Documentary footage is briefly incorporated showing the construction of production facilities in Oak Ridge and Los Alamos. The final part of the film depicts the flight of the Enola Gay, a story which MGM would focus on more extensively half a decade later in ABOVE AND BEYOND (1952).

The large cast includes Hume Cronyn as Robert Oppenheimer; his fellow scientists are portrayed by Richard Haydn, Joseph Calleia, Hurd Hatfield, Norman Lloyd, Frank Ferguson, and several other fine character actors. Henry O'Neill is General Farrell, in charge of the mission to drop the bomb, with Barry Nelson as the pilot of the Enola Gay, Col. Paul Tibbetts Jr.

Robert Walker portrays General Groves' aide, with Audrey Totter adding a dash of spice as his girlfriend, who is also General Groves' secretary. The brief scenes depicting their flirtatious relationship provide a welcome lightening of the mood in a very serious story.

The film was somewhat less successful inserting a more detailed personal story with Tom Drake as a civilian scientist who has ongoing doubts about what the bomb will mean for mankind. Drake has a perennially worried expression; he does play well opposite Beverly Tyler as his cute, bubbly bride. (Drake and Tyler had been teamed the previous year in THE GREEN YEARS.) I wondered if the film might have been more effective if it had focused on being a straight docudrama; the story is dramatic enough in and of itself, and the Drake-Tyler storyline adds a bit of unneeded melodrama, culminating in an awkward extended scene which ends the film.

The film is an interesting melding of cinema and history, and I was particularly intrigued to see how the subject matter was treated so soon after the use of the atomic bomb and the end of the war. The story is framed in an unusual manner, beginning with a "newsreel" of a time capsule about the atomic bomb being made for people of the 25th Century, and the movie itself is included in the time capsule. (That's a bit strange to try to follow -- the movie depicting itself being put into a time capsule?) The pros and cons of the atomic bomb are discussed at some length, including a scene where President Truman (Al Baker) lays out his reasons for using the bomb to his press secretary.

At the time of the film's release, Bosley Crowther wrote in the New York Times: "Metro has made a motion picture which fairly re-enacts the main events in this almost incredible story and which gravely points the fearfulness thereof... For the most part, the re-enactments are commendably graphic and tense, and they are competently strung together in an impressive dramatic line... The result is a creditable concept of the energy expended and involved." I also smiled at his comment "Brian Donlevy makes a pretty snappy spark-plug out of dynamic General Groves"; the film could have used a few more scenes with Donlevy. I read Crowther's review after writing most of this post, and it was interesting to see that we had similar reservations about certain aspects of the film. Concerns aside, for the most part it's an absorbing film which is well worth seeing.

Aside from the actors previously mentioned, the extensive cast also includes Moroni Olsen, John Litel, Victor Francen, Jonathan Hale, Nella Walker, and Warner Anderson. Ludwig Stossel plays Einstein and Godfrey Tearle plays FDR. Patricia Medina is listed by IMDb as portraying the wife of Hurd Hatfield, but I don't believe she appeared in the final film.

A fun bit of trivia: There's a scene in the Pentagon where the characters played by Donlevy and Walker meet in front of a long hallway. I immediately recognized that hallway, which also appears in a scene in an office building in THE HUCKSTERS, released the same year. Five years later, Donald O'Connor danced up that "hallway" -- which is actually a large painted backdrop -- while performing "Make 'Em Laugh" in SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952). Anyone who's seen SINGIN' IN THE RAIN a number of times shouldn't have any trouble picking out the fake hallway in this film. I wonder if MGM used it in more than three movies?

THE BEGINNING OR THE END was directed by Norman Taurog. The script of this 112-minute film was by Frank Wead, from a story by Robert Considine. The black and white cinematography was by Ray June.

This film is not available on DVD or VHS. It's been shown on Turner Classic Movies, which has the trailer available online. The trailer is rather unusual, interviewing "audience members" (including actor Clinton Sundberg) and a theater manager (played by Morris Ankrum) about their reactions. One of the taglines is "Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer daringly presents the most timely production in motion picture history." The trailer is a bit over the top but it's also quite interesting to see how the film was marketed.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Laura's Miscellaneous Musings at MovieFanFare

My recently reposted review of ANGEL AND THE BADMAN (1947) has been adapted slightly and posted at MovieFanFare.

MovieFanFare is part of the Movies Unlimited website and is blogrolled here at the left under DVD News and Reviews. I've found MovieFanFare a great way to become acquainted with the work of other classic film bloggers, and I appreciate MovieFanFare sharing my post with their readers.

It would be wonderful if more film fans try out ANGEL AND THE BADMAN, an extra-special movie!

Previous MovieFanFare posts: WESTBOUND (1959), TAMMY AND THE BACHELOR (1957), A YANK IN THE R.A.F. (1941), and a movie still From My Collection.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tonight's Movie: The Forest Rangers (1942)

THE FOREST RANGERS is a colorful, entertaining Paramount film, although the plotline at times stretches credulity.

Handsome forest ranger Don Stuart (Fred MacMurray) marries Celia Huston (Paulette Goddard) after a whirlwind courtship. Don and Celia are ecstatically happy, but when they return to the ranger station, local gal Tana "Butch" Davis (Susan Hayward) is green-eyed with jealousy. Tana is in love with Don, but he just sees her as "one of the guys." Pilot Frank Hatfield (Regis Toomey) carries a torch for Tana, to no avail.

Don and Celia struggle through various awkward incidents, sometimes instigated by Tana; most notably she deliberately strands the three of them alone together in the forest overnight, thwarting a honeymoon.

At the same time Don is coping with a series of forest fires set by an arsonist, and he's dismayed when Celia tries to have her daddy (Eugene Pallette) pull strings to transfer Don; Celia just wants a fresh start away from Tana's interference. Does Celia have what it takes to be a forest ranger's wife, or will Tana succeed in driving Celia back to the big city?

It's not much of a hardship watching good-looking folks like MacMurray, Goddard, Hayward, and Rod Cameron (as MacMurray's righthand man) in a beautiful Technicolor forest. (Location shooting took place in Boulder Creek, California.) The actors are personable -- although Hayward's character needs a good kick in the rear at times -- and MacMurray displays a beautiful singing voice on the Hollander-Loesser tune "Tall Grows the Timber." Paulette is sometimes made to look like a clueless idiot, but her innate spunk can't be kept down for long.

Goddard and Hayward had just made Cecil B. DeMille's REAP THE WILD WIND (1942), in which Goddard was a headstrong, tomboyish beauty and Hayward her sweet cousin; in THE FOREST RANGERS their roles were basically reversed, with Paulette the stand-by-her-man gal hit by love's thunderbolt, and Hayward the bratty tomboy who runs a logging operation.

The movie seemed to lose much attempt at realism in the fire sequences. The way the rangers approached the fires didn't seem to be professional know-how, but devil-may-care idiocy. Note, for example, the burning timbers falling to the ground around MacMurray in an early scene. There was no apparent reason for him to have tempted fate by standing so close to the fire while talking on a radio. That said, I can understand why these fiery scenes made a big impression on my husband as a child!

Likewise, the climax of the film, in which -- among other things -- the identity of the arsonist is disclosed, rated a big "Riiiigggght!" from me. The entire sequence, including the big reveal of the bad guy and also the gals trapped by a fire, struck me as on the silly side. Complaints aside, I found THE FOREST RANGERS enjoyable thanks to the cast and the film's great color look.

The supporting cast includes Lynne Overman, Clem Bevans, and Albert Dekker. The blonde friend looking for Paulette Goddard in the hotel early in the film is Karin Booth, who starred in MGM's THE UNFINISHED DANCE (1947) and was later the leading lady in numerous Westerns, such as CRIPPLE CREEK (1952).

THE FOREST RANGERS was directed by George Marshall. Marshall later directed MacMurray in AND THE ANGELS SING (1944), MURDER, HE SAYS (1945), and NEVER A DULL MOMENT (1950). He directed Goddard in THE GHOST BREAKERS (1940) and HAZARD (1948).

IMDb lists the film's running time as 87 minutes. The print I watched was 83 minutes long.

This film does not appear to have ever had a DVD or VHS release. It's yet one more Paramount movie which needs to be made more accessible to the viewing public.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Tonight's Movie: The Reluctant Dragon (1941)

Earlier today I enjoyed Dorian's post on the Alan Ladd-Veronica Lake film THE GLASS KEY (1942) at Tales of the Easily Distracted. She drew some interesting cast connections with, of all things, Disney's THE RELUCTANT DRAGON! (Be sure to check out her post.) And thus I found myself inspired to pull out my Disney Treasures DVD set, Behind the Scenes at the Walt Disney Studio, so I could watch THE RELUCTANT DRAGON.

THE RELUCTANT DRAGON is a fascinating Disney film in which Disney mixes live action and animation, Technicolor and black and white, fact and fantasy. He chose the format, with relatively brief animated sequences, so that he could quickly release a film and improve the studio finances when the lucrative European markets for his expensive, time-consuming animated films were suddenly cut off by the advent of World War II.

The film begins in black and white, with Robert Benchley swimming as his "wife" (played by Nana Bryant) reads aloud the storybook THE RELUCTANT DRAGON. What she was doing reading him a child's storybook is never clear, but given that he's shooting plastic ducks as she reads it, it fits!

I'd love to know where the "Benchley pool" was located as I had a feeling I'd probably seen it in a film before. In any event, Mrs. Benchley decides her husband must take THE RELUCTANT DRAGON to Walt Disney right away because it would make a marvelous animated movie.

Once on the lot, Benchley escapes his guide and begins wandering through the different studio departments. And midway through the film, he walks through a door and the film switches to Technicolor! Benchley even acknowledges the change when he comments to an actress that she looks great in Technicolor. A sequence in the color mixing department at this point is absolutely dazzling visually. These color sequences were filmed by the great Oscar-winning cinematographer Winton C. Hoch.

The blending of fact and fantasy occurs, in part, as actors play some of the studio employees, while other Disney staffers appear as themselves. Frances Gifford plays an artist who also works on sound effects, and Frank Faylen is the conductor during a rehearsal for a recording session. The cute young Technicolor Alan Ladd -- yes, Alan Ladd! -- is a Disney animator who narrates the story of Baby Weems as he shows Benchley the storyboard. It's kind of hard to wrap one's mind around the idea of film noir icon Alan Ladd as a smiling Disney animator, but there he is. This was the year before Ladd hit it big with Veronica Lake in THE GLASS KEY and THIS GUN FOR HIRE.

What's perhaps even more curious is that actor John Dehner appears alongside Ladd as a Disney animator -- but guess what, unlike Ladd, Dehner wasn't just acting. Dehner really was a Disney animator before the war! He switched to acting as his profession -- and amassed 278 more credits -- in 1944.

Alongside the actors, we see real Disney staff members at work, including Clarence Nash voicing Donald Duck and Ward Kimball animating a Goofy cartoon. There's a tour of Disney's fabled multiplane camera and shots of small statues of Disney cartoon characters -- including Captain Hook, a dozen years before the release of PETER PAN (1953). And at the end of the film, Benchley finally talks to Walt Disney himself.

Aside from the Baby Weems sequence, which isn't a regular cartoon, but illustrations presented with narration and sound effects, there's a delightful Goofy cartoon and then the RELUCTANT DRAGON cartoon itself closes out the film.

THE RELUCTANT DRAGON was released in June 1941, coincidentally the very same month as the film I watched earlier today, POWER DIVE. Child actor Billy Lee, who appeared in a number of scenes in POWER DIVE, voices the the little boy in THE RELUCTANT DRAGON cartoon.

The live action sequences were directed by Alfred L. Werker. The movie runs 74 minutes.

The Disney Treasures DVD which contains THE RELUCTANT DRAGON also has other terrific material such as a "behind the scenes at the studio" film shot to enthuse distributors of SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS (1937). There's an excellent short documentary created for the set a decade ago, in which Leonard Maltin conducts a tour of the studio, intercut with footage from old Disney programs filmed on the lot; it runs about 25 minutes.

I've been privileged to visit the lot a few times over the past couple of years and see many of the places featured in Maltin's tour, such as Pluto's Corner, seen here in a photo I took a year ago. Robert Benchley walks past this same intersection in THE RELUCTANT DRAGON.

THE RELUCTANT DRAGON is available to rent on DVD from Netflix. It can be rented for streaming from Amazon Instant Video. It's also had a release on VHS.

THE RELUCTANT DRAGON is a unique film which is "must" viewing for Disney fans -- not to mention fans of Alan Ladd!

August 2014 Update: THE RELUCTANT DRAGON is included as an "extra" in the new Blu-ray/DVD combination set with THE ADVENTURES OF ICHABOD AND MR. TOAD (1949) and FUN AND FANCY FREE (1947).

Tonight's Movie: Power Dive (1941)

POWER DIVE is a fast-paced 68-minute film which should be of particular interest to fans of aviation movies and admirers of the great cinematographer John Alton, who shot the film.

Brad Farrell (Richard Arlen) and Johnny Coles (Louis Jean Heydt) are test pilots. Brad's kid brother Doug (Don Castle) wants to fly too, but Brad wants Doug to stick to engineering, where he won't be at risk of cracking up in an airplane.

Both brothers fall for Carol Blake (Jean Parker) whose blind father (Thomas W. Ross) has designed a new kind of airplane Brad plans to test for the Army.

The movie is nothing particularly special, but I found it pleasant company, especially as I enjoy movies with an aviation setting. The cast is competent -- although the antics of Cliff Edwards as a mechanic become a bit tiresome -- and the story speeds along at a brisk pace. I'd much rather watch an atmospheric little "B" movie like this than most current TV shows!

I also enjoy films which utilize location shooting in the L.A. area; according to IMDb, the airport seen in the film is Los Angeles Metropolitan Airport in Van Nuys.

I was taken with Helen Mack, who plays Heydt's wife; she looks a bit like Frances Dee. Billy Lee, Roger Pryor, and Tom Dugan are also in the cast. The movie was directed by James P. Hogan.

POWER DIVE was the first film from Pine-Thomas Productions, then called Picture Corporation of America. There's more information about Pine-Thomas Productions in my recent post on NO HANDS ON THE CLOCK (1941), which incidentally also starred Jean Parker.

POWER DIVE is available on DVD-R from Sinister Cinema.

In Disney News...

...Disney has added some new titles to its Disney Generations Collection, a manufactured-on-demand DVD program which continues to operate very quietly. Recent additions include JUSTIN MORGAN HAD A HORSE (1972) with Don Murray and Lana Wood, the TV-movie BEYOND WITCH MOUNTAIN (1982) with Eddie Albert, and the cartoon BEN AND ME (1953), which has previously been released on VHS and in a Disney Treasures DVD set. All of the Disney Generations DVDs can be purchased from Amazon.

...Disney is said to be looking at acquiring the script for SAVING MR. BANKS, about the relationship between Walt Disney and MARY POPPINS author P.L. Travers. The script was on the 2011 Black List, an industry list of the best unproduced scripts circulating around Hollywood.

...Forgotten Films takes a look at the 1943 Disney film VICTORY THROUGH AIR POWER, which is available in the Disney Treasures DVD set WALT DISNEY - ON THE FRONT LINES.

...A battle is shaping up between Disney and Warner Bros. over WIZARD OF OZ rights. Disney plans an OZ film based on the Baum books, which are in the public domain, but Warner Bros. holds the rights to the characters from the 1939 MGM film. Stay tuned.

...Don't miss this pristine 1957 home movie of Disneyland! It's remarkable that some places haven't changed a bit and other areas have been completely transformed over the years.

...Disney is considering a 28-day window before they will sell new DVDs to rental services such as Netflix.

...Disneyland Imagineering Legend Rolly Crump is looking for vintage photos for his memoirs. Crump was the designer of Disney's Tower of the Four Winds and It's a Small World for the New York World's Fair. A surviving model of the Tower of the Four Winds is seen at the left.

...Slashfilm recently interviewed Diane Disney Miller.

...WDW News Today has lots of photos of the new Art of Animation Resort at Disney World.

...Through March 31st, annual passholders at Disneyland and Walt Disney World can receive a $15 discount for new D23 memberships.

...In late March Disneyland passholders can attend a preview of some of the new merchandise, entertainment, and other fun stuff coming to California Adventure this summer.

...The World of Color show at Disney's California Adventure is expected to add a scene from the upcoming Pixar film BRAVE (2012) later this year.

...Disneyland has a great new idea -- charging lockers. For $2 per hour guests can leave their phone, camera battery, or other electronic device securely locked up and charging. Scroll down at MiceChat's Dateline Disney for a peek, as well as great photos of the Jolly Holiday Bakery Cafe and the New Orleans Bayou Bash Mardi Gras celebrations. We hope to visit the Mardi Gras fun next weekend; Lent starts this week, but apparently Mardi Gras won't come to an end at Disneyland till March 11th!

...The very latest Dateline Disneyland has photos of the brand-new Minnie's Fly Girls show performed in California Adventure. Looks like a fun time.

...For more recent links, please check out the January 30th Disney News roundup!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Shipmates Forever (1935)

One year after the release of FLIRTATION WALK (1934), a musical set at West Point, stars Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler, and Ross Alexander reteamed with screenwriter Delmer Daves and director Frank Borzage for SHIPMATES FOREVER, a musical set at the Annapolis Naval Academy.

SHIPMATES FOREVER proved to be an even better military service film than FLIRTATION WALK, with a dramatic story arc which provided Powell with perhaps his best performance of the '30s.

Powell plays Dick Melville, a nightclub and radio singer who has resisted the family legacy of naval service. Goaded by his father (Lewis Stone), an admiral, Dick takes the Annapolis entrance exams just to prove he's able to pass; upon hearing the news that he's made it, he ruefully admits that he's actually going to go. Dick doesn't plan to accept a commission upon graduation, but he wants to prove to the old man he has what it takes.

Dick patiently struggles through hazing and is reluctant to form friendships, since he doesn't plan on a career in the navy. His solace is his relationship with June (Ruby Keeler), an Annapolis dance teacher who lost her father and brother in navy service.

As time goes on, Dick begins to take the navy more seriously, and a three-month cruise during his final year at the academy provides a significant turning point in Dick's life.

I thought this was an excellent, underrated picture which does a great job combining a strong storyline, navy traditions, musical numbers, and location shooting. Dick's experiences and gradual changes are very believably done. I sympathized with his desire to room alone and concentrate on his studies. He was a good sport suffering through the hazing of older classmates, but his unspoken annoyance with the immaturity of such practices was understandable and partly helped to explain his withdrawal, along with his conflicted feelings about the navy.

Similarly, the accumulation of the experiences which draw Dick ever closer to the navy were very well done. The most beautiful scene in the film takes place on board a ship late a night, when Dick's classmates are singing and he slowly pulls on his class ring. It's a very touching moment. The final scenes in the film are very emotional, with Powell giving a deeply affecting performance.

The Warren-Dubin songs "Don't Give Up the Ship," "I'd Love to Take Orders From You," and "I'd Rather Listen to Your Eyes" are all worked in very naturally. The movie unfolds like a drama which happens to have music, as opposed to a musical comedy.

Ruby Keeler is sweet, as always; it's very believable that Dick and June would fall for each other immediately and that her love would help him keep going when the going gets rough. She has two short dances.

The supporting cast includes Dick Foran, Eddie Acuff, John Arledge, and Robert Light. Dennis O'Keefe is said to have had one of his many bit parts, but I didn't spot him.

The movie runs 109 minutes.

SHIPMATES FOREVER is available from the Warner Archive. It can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies, which has the movie trailer available on the TCM website.

I've now seen all seven of Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler's movies together. Their titles previously reviewed here at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings are GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 (1933), FOOTLIGHT PARADE (1933), 42ND STREET (1933), FLIRTATION WALK (1934), DAMES (1934), and COLLEEN (1936).

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