Monday, April 30, 2012

TCM in May: Highlights

May is a month many of us have been eagerly anticipating on Turner Classic Movies, since TCM will be celebrating Joel McCrea as Star of the Month!

Over 40 McCrea films will be shown on Wednesdays, beginning May 2nd.  I'll be posting more on the Month of McCrea in the near future. (Update: Here's my post on Joel McCrea.) In this post I'll focus on some of the other great films on the May schedule.

...I thoroughly enjoyed Clark Gable and Gene Tierney in the "behind the Iron Curtain" romance NEVER LET ME GO (1953). It's on May 2nd.

...THE POWER AND THE PRIZE (1956) is an absorbing business drama starring Robert Taylor. Viewers who liked EXECUTIVE SUITE (1954) and WOMAN'S WORLD (1954) will probably like this one too. It will be shown on May 3rd. Incidentally, this is one of a number of films airing this month which was directed by Henry Koster.

...Jack Klugman turned 90 just a couple of days ago. Celebrate his birthday by watching him as Juror No. 5 in 12 ANGRY MEN (1957) on May 4th.

...TCM is showing a significant number of films from 20th Century-Fox and Universal this month. One of the Universal films is Douglas Sirk's deliciously soapy WRITTEN ON THE WIND (1956), starring Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall, Robert Stack, and Dorothy Malone. I love the opening credits sequence, with the title song sung by the Four Aces. It will be shown May 5th.

...It's hard to believe I haven't yet caught up with UNDERCURRENT (1946), given that it was directed by Vincente Minnelli and stars two favorite actors, Robert Taylor and Robert Mitchum. Katharine Hepburn costars; it airs on May 7th.

...May 9th is Robin Hood Day on TCM, and in addition to the 1938 classic starring Errol Flynn and Olivia deHavilland, there are a number of variations on the Robin Hood theme. My dad liked THE ROBIN HOOD OF EL DORADO (1936), a William Wellman film starring Warner Baxter. I'm also intrigued by THE BANDIT OF SHERWOOD FOREST (1946) with Cornel Wilde and Anita Louise, and ROGUES OF SHERWOOD FOREST (1950) with John Derek and Diana Lynn. Somehow I have trouble envisioning Diana Lynn in a Robin Hood film; she seems like a more "modern" actress.  It will be fun to take a look.

...I read my way through most of Edna Ferber when I was around junior high age, and I recently bought several of her books for my daughters. On May 14th TCM is showing a series of films based on Ferber's books: SARATOGA TRUNK (1945), SHOW BOAT (1951), GIANT (1956), and CIMARRON (1960). Additionally, the 1936 version of SHOW BOAT airs May 6th; the 1932 version of SO BIG is on May 29th, with the 1953 version airing May 13th. (For the record, GIANT was my favorite Ferber novel to read, followed by SHOW BOAT.)

...TCM shows two Fox films on May 14th, leading off with STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER (1952) followed by MY BLUE HEAVEN (1950). STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER stars Clifton Webb, Robert Wagner, Debra Paget, and Ruth Hussey, while MY BLUE HEAVEN stars Betty Grable and Dan Dailey.

...It's great news that TCM plans to show the Deanna Durbin film ONE HUNDRED MEN AND A GIRL (1937). TCM rarely shows Deanna's movies, since they have to make special arrangements to show Universal films, but every once in a while one shows up on the schedule. This title isn't one of my very favorite Deanna films, but any film starring Deanna Durbin is worth watching. It will be shown May 14th.

...A couple of weeks ago I enjoyed the classic noir GUN CRAZY (195) at the TCM Classic Film Festival. GUN CRAZY will be shown on TCM on Tuesday, May 15th.

...Later on the 15th, I'm quite intrigued by THE MOONLIGHTER (1953), which stars Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray.

...And those who've never seen one of my very favorite pre-Codes, MIDNIGHT MARY (1933), have the opportunity to catch it in the early morning hours on May 16th.

...BOOMERANG! (1947) and CALL NORTHSIDE 777 (1948) are two classic noir titles from 20th Century-Fox which will be shown on May 17th. Lee J. Cobb appears in both films, with Dana Andrews playing the lead role in BOOMERANG! and Jimmy Stewart starring in CALL NORTHSIDE 777.

...Last month I had planned to record Jack Benny and Kay Francis in CHARLEY'S AUNT (1941) but TCM showed an earlier version. The 1941 edition is back on the schedule May 19th; I wonder which version will be shown?

...I've been catching up with Ruth Roman's career in recent months, most recently in THE WINDOW (1949). On May 20th TCM is showing Anthony Mann's THE FAR COUNTRY (1954), in which Roman starred with James Stewart. I'll be recording it.

...I'm quite happy that TCM faithfully celebrates Robert Montgomery's birthday each year on May 21st. This year it's a five-film tribute, and I particularly recommend the unique TROUBLE FOR TWO (1936), with Montgomery and his frequent costar Rosalind Russell playing a European prince and princess caught up in a mystery. It's based on a Robert Louis Stevenson story.

...I've recently seen several mid-'50s science fiction films, so I'm going to add to that list by recording IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955) on May 22nd. Faith Domergue stars in this story of a giant octopus attacking San Francisco. Who could resist that storyline?

...NEPTUNE'S DAUGHTER (1949) is a great example of '40s Technicolor MGM entertainment, starring Esther Williams, Ricardo Montalban, Betty Garrett, Red Skelton -- and the Oscar-winning tune "Baby, It's Cold Outside." Catch it on May 23rd.

...I'll be recording WYOMING (1940) on May 25th. The TCM guide lists the stars as Marjorie Main and Wallace Beery, but I'll be recording it in order to enjoy Ann Rutherford, Lee Bowman, and Paul Kelly.

...I recently reposted my review of John Wayne and Gail Russell in the very special ANGEL AND THE BADMAN (1947). It airs on May 26th. I hope anyone who hasn't seen it yet will take the opportunity to watch it this month.

...TCM will spend May 27th and 28th commemorating Memorial Day with an extensive list of war films. This year I'm particularly interested in BREAKTHROUGH (1950), starring Frank Lovejoy and John Agar.

...May 29th is Barbara Stanwyck Day on TCM. 10 movies! The titles which I've previously reviewed are THE SECRET BRIDE (1934), THE BRIDE WALKS OUT (1936), and BREAKFAST FOR TWO (1937).

...And on May 31st, there's a seven-film marathon of Warner Baxter's CRIME DOCTOR series. Looks like a good day to relax with TCM!

For more on TCM in May, please visit the complete schedule.

I also recommend Cliff's post at Immortal Ephemera. Cliff shares his recommendations and has also tallied the films to be shown on TCM in May by decade, and he also has a tally for the year to date. I appreciate the effort Cliff makes to put together and share that data!

Update: TCM Star of the Month: Joel McCrea.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Johnny Allegro (1949) at the Noir City Film Festival

A nice Sunday evening crowd turned out tonight at the Noir City Film Festival for a double bill of "Johnny" films from Columbia Pictures.

First up was JOHNNY O'CLOCK (1947), which I reviewed in the summer of 2010. This film, which stars Dick Powell, Evelyn Keyes, Lee J. Cobb, and several other excellent actors, is simply beautiful noir. It was a great pleasure to watch this absolutely gorgeous print. I love this film and highly recommend it.

The second film, JOHNNY ALLEGRO, was just 81 minutes, but proved to be a bit of a yawner at the end of a busy weekend of movie viewing. He has his devoted fans, but I'm afraid the charms of George Raft continue to elude me; he's rather wooden and lacking in charisma, and he looks quite a bit older than the 47 years old IMDb indicates he was at the time of filming. (Comments at IMDb peg him as actually being in his mid '50s in this film.) All in all, I wasn't really buying him as the dashing action hero he's supposed to be in this.

Raft plays the title character, a convict escaped from Sing Sing who served with valor during the war and now works as a mild-mannered florist (?!) in a swank Los Angeles hotel. He's enamored of mysterious Glenda (Nina Foch). And then one day Johnny is visited by a federal agent (Will Geer) who's fully aware of Johnny's past, and he wants Johnny to spy on Glenda in return for help dealing with his long-ago prison record...

Though I didn't find the film especially interesting, it did have its compensations. The print was superb, and Nina Foch, always a compelling actress, never looked lovelier. The film also features an appealing performance by folksy Will Geer (THE WALTONS) as a cagey Treasury agent.

I wasn't so wild about sequences on an island owned by sinister Morgan Vallin (George Macready), who -- as Alan Rode pointed out in his introduction -- seems to be straight out of THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (1932). His walls are filled with stuffed animal heads and weaponry, and towards the end he's thrilled by the idea of giving Johnny a head start and chasing him. Sound familiar? Those elements also inspired RUN FOR THE SUN (1956), which more closely hews to the MOST DANGEROUS GAME plot.

I know Macready also has a lot of fans, but I frankly found his sinister routine a little boring in this one.  Maybe I was tired, but my reaction was "Yeah, whatever, so you're a bad guy who hates guns and loves archery."  There's no motivation for him whatsoever, he's simply a creepy crook.

That said, as a fan of Nina Foch I was glad to see the film.  JOHNNY ALLEGRO is worth a look for Foch and Geer; and perhaps those who are Raft and Macready fans, or like the story elements, will find it a little more interesting than I did.

JOHNNY ALLEGRO was directed by Ted Tetzlaff. Tetzlaff's very next picture would be THE WINDOW (1949), seen last Sunday at the festival. In addition to directing, Tetzlaff was also the cinematographer of fine films such as YOU WERE NEVER LOVELIER (1942), I MARRIED A WITCH (1942), THE MORE THE MERRIER (1944) and THE ENCHANTED COTTAGE (1945).

Joseph Biroc served as the cinematographer on JOHNNY ALLEGRO. The script by Karen DeWolf and Guy Endore was based on a story by James Edward Grant (ANGEL AND THE BADMAN).

JOHNNY ALLEGRO is available on DVD-R in the Columbia Classics/Sony Pictures Choice line sold via the Warner Archive.

Around the Blogosphere This Week...

...is taking the weekend off due to the Noir City Film Festival. It will return next weekend.

In the meantime, be sure to check out this past week's link roundup, and links for all of the Noir City Festival film reviews can be found at the end of this post.

One more weekend of noir to go!

Have a great week!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Slaughter on Tenth Avenue (1957) at the Noir City Film Festival

It was another fantastic evening at the Noir City Film Festival. Each and every night has been special, and tonight was no exception. On the schedule: "waterfront noir" and a personal appearance by the lovely Julie Adams.

I started off the evening stopping by Larry Edmunds Bookshop and hearing part of a talk by Alain Silver and James Ursini, who then signed my copy of a new book they edited, FILM NOIR: THE DIRECTORS. I'm particularly looking forward to reading a chapter on Anthony Mann, which includes quite a bit on the film I saw last night, REIGN OF TERROR (1949).

My very nicest experience this evening came once I was at the Egyptian, where I had the opportunity to meet Blake Lucas and his wife Linda. Regular readers of this blog will recognize Blake's name, as I am fortunate that he shares his vast knowledge and insights here in the comments. It was a treat to meet in person and put a face with a name, and I look forward to seeing both of them again at future screenings.

Then it was time for the movie, and SLAUGHTER ON TENTH AVENUE proved to be a terrific film, shown in a beautiful new 35mm print from Universal. As I mentioned the other evening, I'm very appreciative of the Noir City Festival exposing me to so many relatively little-known films which pack a lot of entertainment value.

SLAUGHTER ON TENTH AVENUE has it all: an all-star cast, a gripping storyline, crisp black and white cinematography, and the effective use of Richard Rodgers' classic music as the background score.

SLAUGHTER ON TENTH AVENUE, which is loosely based on the facts of a real-life case, calls to mind the much better known ON THE WATERFRONT (1954), another tale of the fight against corruption on the docks. New Assistant D.A. Bill Keating (Richard Egan) battles the waterfront code of silence when dock worker Solly Pitts (Mickey Shaughnessy) is gunned down in the hallway of his apartment building.

Keating struggles to build a case against Eddie "Cockeye" Cook (Joe Downing) and his accomplices, slowly convincing the dying Solly to finger his killers and Solly's wife (Jan Sterling) and best friend (Harry Bellaver) to testify. It's not easy, with ruthless waterfront boss Al Dahlke (Walter Matthau) alternately attempting to bribe and threaten witnesses. However, Assistant D.A. Keating is himself the son of a coal miner, and while he's a fairly green attorney with quite a bit to learn, he's also a tough man who won't back down easily.

All of the performances are good, but for me the best part of the film was watching three real greats in action: Dan Duryea, Sam Levene, and Charles McGraw.  As I'm sure other classic film fans can imagine, it was a great pleasure seeing them all on screen together in the very well-done courtroom scenes. Duryea plays the defense attorney, who certainly earns his pay planting seeds of doubt in the jurors' minds; Levene plays Keating's boss at the district attorney's office, who sits second chair prosecuting the murder trial; and the gravel-voiced McGraw is the investigating detective on the case. You just don't get any better than the trial scene where Duryea grills McGraw. Talk about watching two pros in action!

One of the things I liked was that the film didn't always do the expected. For instance, when her husband is threatened or involved in violence, Julie Adams' character doesn't threaten to leave, as Arlene Dahl did in SCENE OF THE CRIME (1949) or Rhonda Fleming did in THE KILLER IS LOOSE (1956). Instead she steadfastly encourages her husband and reminds him of the people who are counting on his help. It was a refreshingly uncliched approach.

Similarly, when Bill and his boss (Levene) have a difference of opinion on whether they have enough evidence to prosecute a murder charge, Levene gets over Bill's uncalled-for insult and then unexpectedly goes the extra mile to help Bill. The script avoids easy theatrics, such as having someone on the prosecution team turn out to be on the mob payroll or having a nasty fate befall Jan Sterling's cute little dog. (I was worried about that, as it happens in too many movies; REAR WINDOW, anyone?) The story is plenty interesting as it is without adding in unneeded extra twists and drama.

I'm not particularly fond of Jan Sterling, but I thought she was excellent in this as the devoted, tough wife of the shooting victim. I recall Mickey Shaughnessy well for his role as a leprechaun in an episode of MAVERICK, and he was also quite good as her husband, Solly.

The actor playing Father Paul seemed very familiar, but I didn't place him until I got home and read it was Jack LaRue, the star of pre-Codes such as BLESSED EVENT (1932) and HEADLINE SHOOTER (1933). Father Paul is a fairly small role, especially compared to the similar type of part Karl Malden played in ON THE WATERFRONT, but he does have an excellent scene near the film's conclusion which also gets the best laugh in the film.

Nick Dennis, John McNamara, and Mickey Hargitay (father of actress Mariska Hargitay) are also in the cast. I'd like to know who played Rose, the secretary in the D.A.'s office; she was quite a looker, but is not listed in the extended cast credits at IMDb.

This 103-minute film was directed by Arnold Laven. Lawrence Roman's screenplay was based on the nonfiction book THE MAN WHO ROCKED THE BOAT by William Keating and Richard Carter. The cinematography was by Fred Jackman Jr., who coincidentally filmed a "B" movie I saw a few days ago, DOUBLE EXPOSURE (1944). Alan Rode shared that the New York waterfront scenes were filmed in California, at the Port of Long Beach.

This movie is not available on VHS or DVD, but it should be.

After the film Julie Adams was interviewed by the Film Noir Foundation's Alan Rode. I feel very fortunate that this was my second opportunity to see Alan interview Julie in the last six months; she was also at a screening of CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) and BEND OF THE RIVER (1952) last October.


This was Julie's first time to see SLAUGHTER ON TENTH AVENUE since it came out, and she said she was pleasantly surprised to realize what a good film it was. She was impressed by the storyline and the depth of the ensemble cast.

She also shared stories of some of her experiences working for Universal, such as the challenge of turning out half a dozen Westerns costarring James Ellison and Russell Hayden in a very short time frame, circa 1950; at the same time, she very much appreciated the training she received at Universal.

She spoke highly of William Powell, saying how charming and nice he was when they worked together early in her career, and she also shared some of the praise of Jimmy Stewart and Arthur Kennedy which she had likewise expressed before we saw BEND OF THE RIVER last fall.

I didn't stay for the second film on the double bill, EDGE OF THE CITY (1957), as I needed a relatively early evening after a late night last night. Coming Sunday: Dick Powell in JOHNNY O'CLOCK (1947) and George Raft in JOHNNY ALLEGRO (1949).

Friday, April 27, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Reign of Terror (1949) at the Noir City Film Festival

It was time to return to the Noir City Film Festival again tonight to celebrate the career of actor Norman Lloyd.

The night led off with SCENE OF THE CRIME (1949), a very good MGM police procedural I first reviewed three years ago. Hopefully it will be released before too long by the Warner Archive.

SCENE OF THE CRIME has an excellent cast including Van Johnson, Arlene Dahl, Tom Drake, Gloria DeHaven, John McIntire, and Leon Ames. Norman Lloyd plays "Sleeper," a police informant fond of giggling "Yuck, yuck!"


Mr. Lloyd was present to watch the film, which he hadn't seen since the time it came out, and then was interviewed by the Film Noir Foundation's Alan Rode. He said that while he sometimes looks back at his performances and isn't happy with them, he really liked his performance in SCENE OF THE CRIME. He was also impressed by the quality of the acting ensemble. He shared an anecdote that producer Dore Schary had tried to give him some line readings, but though he loved Schary and played tennis with him, he ignored Schary's acting tips and stuck to his own interpretation.


Lloyd's career began a remarkable 80 years ago; he's now 97. He continues to have a rich theatrical voice and presence, regaling the audience at the Egyptian with tales of Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock. Lloyd played the poet in Welles' renowned production of JULIUS CAESAR (he was played by Leo Bill in ME AND ORSON WELLES); he famously fell off the Statue of Liberty in Hitckcock's SABOTEUR (1942) and also appeared in SPELLBOUND (1945). A multitalented actor-producer-director, Lloyd served as a producer and occasional director on Hitchcock's TV series.

Lloyd described Welles as an amazing genius who also had a self-destructive streak, not finishing projects or lacking the discipline to remain on a budget; Lloyd said the mere fact he had worked with Welles prevented him from getting a producing job at RKO because Welles was "too rich for our blood" and they obviously feared Lloyd would imitate his famous colleague in that regard. Lloyd also defended Robert Wise's work completing THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS (1942).

Lloyd had the greatest regard and fondness for Hitchcock, whom he said knew more about art direction than any of the famous art directors who worked on his films, and he spoke of both Alma Hitchcock and longtime Hitchcock associate Joan Harrison with the very highest praise. He said Harrison taught him everything he ever knew about producing, and said that Alma was the one person who noticed Janet Leigh swallowed as she lay on the shower floor in PSYCHO, necessitating the removal of a frame of film before it could be shipped.

He said that REIGN OF TERROR was a way to reuse sets originally built for the unsuccessful JOAN OF ARC (1948); since the sets were still standing, a story was then found in order to get additional mileage from them.

REIGN OF TERROR is perhaps equally well known by its alternate title, THE BLACK BOOK; indeed, the print shown tonight was titled THE BLACK BOOK, with the end card reading "The End of the Reign of Terror."

REIGN OF TERROR is often, and very aptly, described as a "French Revolution noir." It was directed by Anthony Mann, photographed by John Alton, and produced by famed set designer and art director William Cameron Menzies (GONE WITH THE WIND).

I thoroughly enjoyed REIGN OF TERROR, which was visually stunning. At times the images made me think of paintings, they were so evocative and beautifully composed. It might seem a bit odd to lead off comments about how a film looked, but while the story was well acted and quite engrossing, it's the black and white pictures which linger in the mind. There's a dazzling array of shadows, low ceilings, startling close-ups, ominous clouds, long shots featuring a silhouetted rider on horseback -- one could almost watch this film with the sound off and just enjoy looking at it.

A couple aspects of REIGN OF TERROR'S visual look seemed as though they could have inspired later films. The stunning long shots of a farmhouse and rider on horseback instantly made me think of the design and Stanley Cortez's cinematography of THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955). The creepy crowds which seemed to be back-projected in the council scenes called to mind the projected faces of the elders voting guilty early in SUPERMAN (1978).

The story concerns Charles D'Aubigny (Robert Cummings), who -- with the blessing of Lafayette (Wilton Graff) -- joins a small band resisting the attempt of the ruthless Robespierre (Richard Basehart) to become dictator of France. D'Aubigny infiltrates Robespierre's circle, and Robespierre charges him with the task of locating a stolen "black book." The book lists Robespierre's targets for execution, and if the names become public, his dreams of ruling France will come to an end.

This film reunited Cummings and Lloyd, who played adversaries in SABOTEUR but are wary co-conspirators this time around. Also in the cast was one of Lloyd's costars from SCENE OF THE CRIME, Arlene Dahl, who is extremely effective as Cummings' one-time love and fellow spy. Dahl is, of course, a beauty, but she also has great screen presence in this film.

Arnold Moss is quite memorable as the wryly humorous Chief of Police, a villain the audience is always glad to see appear on the screen. The excellent cast also includes Charles McGraw, Richard Hart, and Beulah Bondi.

Russ Tamblyn has one of his first film roles playing Bondi's oldest grandchild. The following year he had a significant part in GUN CRAZY, which I saw just a couple of weeks ago at the TCM Classic Film Festival.

REIGN OF TERROR runs a very well-paced 89 minutes. It's surprisingly violent for its era, what with torture and the guillotine being major plot points, yet at the same time the filmmakers manage to avoid directly showing much of the gore. It's a great example of less being more; the imagination is quite sufficient to fill in the blanks. The violence is offset by the film's dark sense of humor, eliciting chuckles when the viewer least expects it.

REIGN OF TERROR has been in the public domain and had multiple DVD releases. The best edition to buy is probably VCI's Forgotten Noir Volume 3 set, which also includes THE AMAZING MR. X (1948). REIGN OF TERROR features a commentary by Alan Rode, the host of tonight's screening. I haven't heard the commentary yet myself, but my father felt it was one of the best commentary track's he's heard.

The film was also recently released on DVD-R in the Columbia Classics/Sony Pictures Choice line, sold at the Warner Archive site. The listing says it is newly remastered.

REIGN OF TERROR is highly recommended.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Double Exposure (1944)

DOUBLE EXPOSURE is a fast-paced, amusing little "B" movie starring Chester Morris and Nancy Kelly.

Morris plays Larry Burke, the editor of "Flick" magazine. He hires small-town photographer Pat Marvin (Kelly) after seeing some of her work. When Larry meets Pat he's initially surprised to realize his new employee is a woman -- which underscores that times were different in 1944! -- but he's happy because Pat is both talented and attractive. He even arranges a job for Pat's "brother" Ben (Phillip Terry), who is actually her boyfriend from back home. (It's a long story.)

Through an odd series of circumstances, Pat is charged with murder and Larry has to find a way to crack the case before it's too late...

This 63-minute film is no classic, but it's amiable fun, with an unexpected goofy side which includes the lead characters occasionally "breaking the fourth wall" and rolling their eyes or talking to the camera. There are other funny touches, such as Larry and Pat's boss, Mr. Tarlock (Richard Gaines), being a health nut fond of handing out carrots and turnips to his employees. Viewers who appreciate the cast or "B" crime movies will probably find it an entertaining hour.

The film comes from the Pine-Thomas "B" unit at Paramount, which also produced the recently reviewed NO HANDS ON THE CLOCK (1941) and POWER DIVE (1941). Many of the early '40s Pine-Thomas films starred mix-and-match combinations of Morris, Kelly, Richard Arlen, and Jean Parker.

DOUBLE EXPOSURE was directed by William Berke. It was photographed in black and white by Fred Jackman Jr., who married leading lady Nancy Kelly in 1946.

DOUBLE EXPOSURE is available on DVD from the public domain company Alpha, which can be purchased at Oldies.com. The print is soft and fuzzy, as is typical for Alpha DVDs, but I didn't notice any skips or particularly bad problems.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Around the Blogosphere This Week

Miscellaneous bits of news and fun stuff from around the Internet...slightly delayed due to a weekend of movie bliss at the Noir City Film Festival!

...A couple of years ago there was an ill-advised pilot for a ROCKFORD FILES remake which fortunately never made it on the air. Now there's even worse news: a proposed movie with Vince Vaughn as Jim Rockford. Vince Vaughn? Ugh. Please, make it stop...!

...The Sheila Variations has a detailed analysis of one of my favorite movies, THE MORE THE MERRIER (1943). I certainly agree that the scene with Joel McCrea and Jean Arthur on the front steps is one of the hottest in all American film. As Sheila writes, "There is so much to say about how elegantly it is done, and how beautifully it is played, but there is still something about it that shocks, even in today’s world..." Which just goes to show you don't have to show anything in order to show everything. Or something like that.

...Beginning on July 6, 2012, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library will host the exhibit D23 Presents Treasures From the Walt Disney Archives. Reagan and Disney were friends, and Reagan was one of the hosts of the live coverage of Disneyland's opening day on July 17, 1955.

...The Los Angeles Times posted a short but sweet interview with Julie Andrews a few days ago.

...Classic Film Freak reviews THE STRANGE WOMAN (1946), a Hedy Lamarr film I've not yet seen.

...Here's a nice tribute to the World's Greatest Sportscaster of All Time. I'll assume I don't need to actually identify said sportcaster by name.

...Glenn Erickson of DVD Savant on the new Warner Archive DVD release of WESTWARD THE WOMEN (1951): "William Wellman's fine wagon train movie should be recognized as a classic... a superior show -- exciting, well written, intelligent."

...Jennifer Garlen, writing for Examiner.com, likes the movie too. I share her appreciation for Lenore Lonergan as the sharpshooting Maggie, a great character.

...Cliff's got a review up at Immortal Ephemera of THE DOORWAY TO HELL (1930), starring James Cagney and Lew Ayres. I'm unfamiliar with this film, a Warner Archive release... I also recently enjoyed Cliff's well-researched post on Jean Harlow's stand-in, Mary Dees.

...After reading Glenn Erickson's review of the Warner Archive "film noir double feature" disc with HOMICIDE (1949) and THE HOUSE ACROSS THE STREET (1949), it went on my wish list. I really like when the Archive gives "value added" with "twofer" discs or extras.

...The Self-Styled Siren recently reviewed BLANCHE FURY (1948), starring Stewart Granger and Valerie Hobson. Deb wrote a post on the same film at Sidewalk Crossings earlier this year. Another movie I need to catch up with!

...TCM now has a Hollywood Tour app. When I have time I'll be looking into it further.

...The BBC has cancelled the UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS sequel series after two seasons. To date only Season 1 has been shown in the U.S.

...Attention Southern Californians: This Saturday night at 5:00 p.m., film noir experts Alain Silver and James Ursini will be signing their new book, FILM NOIR: THE DIRECTORS, at Larry Edmunds Bookshop.  Then walk down the street to the Egyptian Theatre, where Julie Adams will be appearing at SLAUGHTER ON TENTH AVENUE (1956) as part of the Noir City Film Festival.

...Don't forget: Thursday night, April 26th, is the encore presentation of CASABLANCA (1942), playing in theaters nationwide.

...Notable Passing: Dora Saint, who wrote under the pen name Miss Read, has passed away at the age of 98.

Have a great week!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Tonight's Movie: The Window (1949) at the Noir City Film Festival

Today was a terrific day of programming at the Noir City Film Festival: a triple bill of films based on stories by Cornell Woolrich. With short running times of 73, 81, and 87 minutes, seeing all three films was very doable...and in fact, as I explained in my review of SUDDENLY (1954), film fest viewers were unexpectedly treated to a quadruple bill!

First up was PHANTOM LADY (1944), which I first saw in 2009. I really enjoy Ella Raines, the film's leading lady. The movie has some great set pieces; I especially love Raines stalking a lying bartender. It was interesting that some of Franchot Tone's facial grimaces and reactions played more humorously, seen with a crowd, than when I'd watched it previously at home. The 35mm print had a somewhat dark "smudged" look, but on the whole was acceptable.

The second film on the schedule was BLACK ANGEL (1946), which I first saw about a year ago. It was a treat to see it in an especially gorgeous 35mm print. There are so many things I love about this film, including the performances by Dan Duryea and June Vincent, the music, and the stylish telling of a story with an unexpected resolution. Very highly recommended.

The final film in the Woolrich trio was new to me: THE WINDOW, a real nail-biter of a movie which seemed like a childhood nightmare come to life.

Tommy Woodry (Bobby Driscoll) and his parents (Barbara Hale and Arthur Kennedy) live in a dilapidated tenement building in New York. Tommy is sleeping on the fire escape on a hot summer night when he looks through a window and witnesses his neighbors (Ruth Roman and Paul Stewart) commit a murder. Since Tommy has a reputation for telling tall tales, his exasperated parents don't believe him, nor do the police. But the murderous neighbors learn what Tommy saw, and one night he's left at home alone...

THE WINDOW very effectively mixes a realistic, gritty setting with the stuff of nightmares. (There's a scene where Ruth Roman is peering into the little boy's bedroom window with a flashlight that will unnerve anyone who ever had a childhood bad dream about something scary being outside the window.) The movie was shot on location in New York, and the shabbiness of Tommy's apartment and neighborhood makes his experiences all the more believable; this is no glossy "Hollywood" film, but a very real, rather unpleasant world.

The performances are uniformly excellent, with Bobby Driscoll awarded a special juvenile Oscar for his work. I especially appreciated the performances of Arthur Kennedy and Barbara Hale as Tommy's worn down but loving parents, who are scraping by with the father working the night shift, while also doing their best to manage a somewhat difficult little boy. Paul Stewart and Ruth Roman are appropriately disturbing as the creepy neighbors.

THE WINDOW was directed by Ted Tetzlaff, from a screenplay by Mel Dinelli. The black and white cinematography was by Robert De Grasse and William Steiner.

In his introduction, the Film Noir Foundation's Eddie Muller added the interesting tidbit that while the film is set during the sweltering summer months, the movie was actually filmed in very cold temperatures.

There's a little more information on films based on Cornell Woolrich stories in my review of NO MAN OF HER OWN (1950).

THE WINDOW is available in a remastered DVD-R from the Warner Archive.

Highly recommended. And watch it with the curtains shut tight!

Tonight's Movie: Suddenly (1954) at the Noir City Film Festival

SUDDENLY, a suspense film starring Sterling Hayden and Frank Sinatra, ended up being an unusual experience at the Noir City Film Festival -- I saw it twice! My experiences seeing SUDDENLY, the only digitally presented film of the festival, encapsulate both the problems and the promise of the digital film revolution.

The film was initially shown following NAKED ALIBI (1954), as the second half of Saturday night's tribute to Sterling Hayden.

In their talks preceding the Saturday screening, the Film Noir Foundation's Eddie Muller and Alan Rode discussed the inescapable tidal wave forcing the change from film to digital projection. The Film Noir Foundation will probably be able to hang on to 35-millimeter film projection longer than anyone else, due to its longtime positive relationships with studios -- case in point, the brand-new prints Universal recently struck of both THE GREAT GATSBY (1949) and NAKED ALIBI.

However, the future will be digital, which along with its potential benefits will lead to all sorts of new problems. Muller and Rode particularly urged audiences not to settle for second-rate digital prints.

It was thus rather ironic that the problems of the digital age were unexpectedly and vividly illustrated by that night's screening of SUDDENLY. SUDDENLY is a public domain film which was digitally restored by Serge Bromberg of Lobster Films. Although the black and white picture itself was crisp and beautiful, there were fields of shimmering gold or yellow digital pixilation that jumped around the picture throughout the screening. After realizing the problem wasn't going to go away, I mentally shrugged and just settled in to enjoy the film, as did most of the audience. The compelling story and excellence of most of the print helped distract me from the ever-moving blob of gold.

I had the opportunity to speak to Eddie and Alan after the screening, and they were dismayed by what had occurred, to say the least.

When I arrived this afternoon for the day's Cornell Woolrich triple bill, Eddie announced while we were in line that the projection problems which had afflicted SUDDENLY had been corrected; apparently something as simple as turning off the projector between an initial test run and that night's screening led to the problems. One can only imagine how common issues like this could become in an all-digital age.

It was announced that SUDDENLY would be shown again tonight, properly projected, for anyone willing to sit through a quadruple bill! Since I had enjoyed the film and was on what I call a "movie vacation" for the first weekend of the festival, I took advantage of the opportunity to see SUDDENLY as it was meant to be seen, and I was very glad I did. It's quite a good movie and, other than one tiny skip, it looked terrific.

SUDDENLY fell into the public domain many years ago; there are numerous DVD and VHS prints available of varying quality, and it's also available via streaming, but no one has properly cared for the film until Lobster Films undertook its restoration. The murky, fuzzy print which can be streamed on Netflix looks absolutely nothing like the pristine, sharp picture I saw tonight.

Sterling Hayden plays Tod Shaw, the sheriff of the little town of Suddenly, California. (The film was shot in Saugus and Newhall, California.) One afternoon Tod receives a telegram advising that the President's train will be stopping in Suddenly later that day, and the President will be transferring to a limousine. Tod is immediately busy coordinating security with the Secret Service and state troopers.

Meanwhile, three would-be assassins (Frank Sinatra, Paul Frees, and Christopher Dark) take over a hilltop home which has perfect access to shoot the President. As circumstances unfold, Tod is imprisoned in the home along with Ellen (Nancy Gates), a young widow he loves; Ellen's little boy Pidge (Kim Charney); and Ellen's father-in-law "Pop," a former Secret Service man (James Gleason).

Although the film makes good use of its smalltown location filming, much of the film, written by Richard Sale, is effectively a one-room drama. There are a couple of too-convenient coincidences, such as Pop being a former Secret Service man, but for the most part it's quite a riveting film, with Sinatra's electric, creepy killer ("I was awarded a Silver Star") contrasting effectively with Hayden's low-key demeanor. There were a couple of over-the-top shots where Sinatra seems to be addressing the camera directly, but he's excellent, gradually peeling back the layers of his character's warped psyche. In the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination, Frank Sinatra deeply regretted he had played a would-be Presidential killer.

I did wonder exactly why Tod is so hung up on Ellen at the outset of the film, given how strongly she discourages him -- and although there is sympathy for Ellen having lost her husband in the Korean War a few years previously, it's also difficult to understand her attitude toward Tod, a handsome, upright, churchgoing sheriff who would also be an excellent father for her young son. The story stretched credulity just a bit there for the sake of the evolving story.

I especially liked the plan Pop and a young TV repairman (James Lilburn) devise to deal with the assassins. Lilburn was the brother of Maureen O'Hara; his film roles also included playing young Father Paul in THE QUIET MAN (1952).

A couple random asides: advance Presidential security being just a matter of hours seems rather quaint by modern standards; was it ever really that simple?  (Of course, given recent stories about the Secret Service, maybe a lack of advance teams isn't a bad thing...) I was also amused that the war movie which Ellen wouldn't let her little boy see was BEACHHEAD (1954), which I saw just a few days ago.

SUDDENLY is a fast-paced 75-minute film directed by Lewis Allen (THE UNINVITED). It was shot by Charles G. Clarke. The musical score was by David Raksin. The cast also includes Willis Bouchey, Paul Wexler, Kem Dibbs, Clark Howat, Roy Engel, and John Beradino.

Although I had some minor quibbles with the film, as described above, it was obviously interesting enough for me to want to watch it twice in 24 hours!  I definitely recommend seeing it -- preferably in as nice a print as I saw  tonight.

Around the Blogosphere This Week...

...will be delayed by a day or two this week due to my having spent much of the weekend at the Noir City Film Festival.

I hope to have this week's link roundup posted by Monday night or Tuesday, once I've completed my posts on this weekend's movies.

The festival has been a great experience, seeing eight films in a little over 48 hours -- one of the films was shown twice. More on that coming soon!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Naked Alibi (1954) at the Noir City Film Festival

NAKED ALIBI is a great example of why I love the Noir City Film Festival -- the opportunity to enjoy little-known films in gorgeous 35-millimeter prints. NAKED ALIBI was a fun, actioned-packed noir treat from start to finish.

The second night of the Noir City Festival celebrated actor Sterling Hayden and two of the films he made in 1954, with SUDDENLY following NAKED ALIBI. Judging by the size of the crowd, Hayden is popular with noir fans; as an actor, Hayden might not have always demonstrated the greatest range, but he has tremendous screen presence, a big man with attitude to spare. I've grown to like him a lot.

Hayden played a cop in both of the evening's films. While he plays a genial small-town sheriff in SUDDENLY, his police chief in NAKED ALIBI, Joe Conroy, has more of an edge. Joe is convinced that Al Willis (Gene Barry), a seemingly average guy who owns a small bakery, has killed three cops. Thanks to political pressure and sensational press coverage, Joe ends up losing his job as police chief, but he's not giving up on his attempt to prove that Al is a murderer.

Al, seemingly on the verge of cracking up under the pressure of constantly being tailed by Joe, tells his wife (Marcia Henderson) he needs to get away and clear his head, and he takes off for Border City, Mexico. The viewer isn't clear for quite a while whether it's Joe or Al who's got serious problems. Throw in Marianna (Gloria Grahame), a chanteuse in a Border City cantina who seems to know the married Al extremely well, and you've got the makings of an interesting movie.

Hayden and Barry are both good as adversaries fighting an increasingly violent battle. Hayden's very enjoyable to watch, whether he's bemused by Marianna's mixed messages or grimly determined as he tails Al. Barry's Al is a character which isn't completely explained, but what's there on screen is sure fun.

Gloria Grahame is someone I can generally take or leave -- I know, noir fans, that's heresy! -- I like her in some films and find her annoying in others. I liked her a lot in NAKED ALIBI, where she gives a low-key, appealing performance, including putting over the song "Ace in the Hole," dubbed by Jo Ann Greer. Marianna has some interesting shades, finding Al's dangerous edge exciting but losing interest when he goes too far and there's a nicer hunk of man (Hayden) in town. Grahame is sympathetic and interesting; it's ironic that this film came out the same year as HUMAN DESIRE, where I found her performance quite tiresome.

Chuck Connors got a nice round of applause when he first appeared onscreen as a cop working for Hayden. The cast also includes Casey Adams (aka Max Showalter), Billy Chapin, Don Haggerty, and Tol Avery.

The director of this 86-minute film was Jerry Hopper. The attractive black and white cinematography was by Russell Metty, with location shooting in Tijuana, standing in for "Border City," foreshadowing Metty's later work filming TOUCH OF EVIL (1957).

Here's video of the Film Noir Foundation's Eddie Muller introducing this movie in Seattle earlier this year; his talk focuses on Gloria Grahame and Sterling Hayden, and it also includes a discussion about some of the problems related to the "digital revolution." (More on that issue coming in my review of SUDDENLY.)  Eddie's enthusiasm is contagious, and this video helps to illustrate why it's such fun to attend the films he hosts.

This Universal film is not available on VHS or DVD. Universal recently struck a beautiful brand-new print at the request of the Film Noir Foundation.

Anyone who has the chance to see this great-looking, entertaining movie at a future film festival should definitely take advantage of the opportunity.

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