Monday, July 30, 2012

TCM in August: Summer Under the Stars

July has flown by way too fast, but there's a silver lining to my favorite month of the year coming to a close: it's time for Summer Under the Stars on Turner Classic Movies! For a classic film fan, nothing says summer quite like the annual Summer Under the Stars Festival.

TCM has a special SUTS microsite which will go live on Wednesday, August 1st. They've also made this month's schedule available in .pdf format.

For a quick overview of the stars being celebrated this month, please visit the complete list I posted in May.

Here are just some of this month's TCM highlights:

...The celebration gets underway on August 1st with a day of John Wayne films. They're all good, but this time around I'll recommend a relatively lesser-known Wayne film, TALL IN THE SADDLE (1944). It's got a good script and a terrific leading lady in Ella Raines.

...On Myrna Loy's day, August 2nd, I'll be recording two Loy films I've never seen, THE GREAT DIVIDE (1929) and THE BARBARIAN (1933). I've seen the majority of the day's films and recommend them all. I was fortunate to see one of my favorite Loy comedies, LIBELED LADY (1936), at UCLA last January.

...Claude Rains Day on August 5th includes all three films in the FOUR DAUGHTERS (1938) series, perfect viewing for a Sunday. These films are not to be missed. Priscilla, Rosemary, and Lola Lane, Gale Page, Jeffrey Lynn, John Garfield, Frank McHugh, Eddie Albert, Dick Foran, and May Robson costar in the movies.

...I'm really looking forward to THE OUTCASTS OF POKER FLAT (1937), which has an appealing cast including Preston Foster, Jean Muir, Virginia Weidler, and Star of the Month honoree Van Heflin. The air date is August 6th.

...I've always loved Rita Hayworth, and my two favorite Hayworth films air on August 8th: TONIGHT AND EVERY NIGHT (1945), a Technicolor musical set during the London Blitz, and YOU WERE NEVER LOVELIER (1942), a black and white fairytale costarring Fred Astaire and a gorgeous Jerome Kern score.

...There's an appealing cross-section of movies being shown on Lionel Barrymore Day on August 10th, everything from GRAND HOTEL (1932) to A YANK AT OXFORD (1938) to YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU (1938) to KEY LARGO (1948). And of course a Dr. Kildare movie!

...Ginger Rogers is one of my favorite actresses, and I've seen all but two of the films airing on August 12th, PRIMROSE PATH (1940) and WEEKEND AT THE WALDORF (1945). Given that the first film costars Joel McCrea and the latter film has an all-star MGM cast, I really need to catch up with those! Several of my very favorite Ginger movies air on this date, including BACHELOR MOTHER (1939), CAREFREE (1938), and STAGE DOOR (1937). I can easily say, however, that all 13 of the films shown that day are worth watching.

...Deborah Kerr Day on August 13th starts with VACATION FROM MARRIAGE (1945), an interesting, rather different film in which Kerr and Robert Donat play a couple who are radically changed by their wartime service. I also like THE HUCKSTERS (1947), costarring Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, Sydney Greenstreet, Edward Arnold, and more.

...When I recently saw Billy Wilder's THE APARTMENT (1960), it didn't do anything for me, but I feel quite differently about a film Wilder made the following year, ONE, TWO, THREE (1961). I always remember my daughter telling me that one of her college roommates walked in when the movie was on, and after a couple minutes she gasped "This is brilliant!" and sat down to watch the rest. It's on James Cagney Day, August 14th.

...LITTLE WOMEN (1933) is pretty much a perfect movie, and I highly recommend it to anyone who hasn't seen it. It's beautifully filmed with a cast including Frances Dee, Joan Bennett, Jean Parker, and the day's Star, Katharine Hepburn; it airs August 17th.

...August 20th is Anthony Quinn Day. I'm intrigued by BLACK GOLD (1947), in which Quinn costars with his wife, Katherine DeMille. I hadn't realized Quinn was Cecil B. DeMille's son-in-law until a couple of years ago.

...As far as I'm concerned, one of the best days on the August schedule is August 21st, Kay Francis Day, which starts in fine style with one of my favorite pre-Codes, DR. MONICA (1934). The next film, MARY STEVENS, M.D. (1933), is fun too. And there are 15 more Francis films lined up after that!

...August 23rd is the centennial of the birth of Gene Kelly, and TCM will be showing a dozen Kelly films. I've seen all of them but BLACK HAND (1950), which I really need to catch up with! Although it's not as highly regarded as some of his other films, I'm especially partial to ANCHORS AWEIGH (1945) which is overlong but set in a Technicolor fantasy Los Angeles which I fell in love with as a child...and I still love it. Frank Sinatra, Kathryn Grayson, Dean Stockwell, and Jose Iturbi costar.

...Irene Dunne, like Ginger Rogers, is one of my all-time favorites; like Ginger, she was a musical performer equally adept at comedy and drama. This is a wonderful lineup including the superb comedy MY FAVORITE WIFE (1940) -- costarring Cary Grant, Randolph Scott, and Gail Patrick -- and the musical SHOW BOAT (1936), in which she sings the role of Magnolia. You can't go wrong recording any and everything on August 24th.

...August 25th celebrates another huge favorite, Tyrone Power. It's a bit of an odd lineup, given that the majority of his films were for 20th Century-Fox and aren't as easily available to be shown on TCM. Although TCM does have some Fox films to show on the 25th, there isn't a single one of the many films he made with Loretta Young, Linda Darnell, or Alice Faye; to my mind, the single most important Power film is THE MARK OF ZORRO (1940), costarring Darnell. It's a shame it's not being shown! Putting that complaint aside, there are some excellent movies in the lineup, including John Ford's THE LONG GRAY LINE (1955), the adventure film CAPTAIN FROM CASTILE (1947), the Oscar-winning THE RAZOR'S EDGE (1948), Billy Wilder's WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION (1957), and the well-done Western JESSE JAMES (1938), costarring Henry Fonda and Nancy Kelly.

...And the next day is Gary Cooper! I find his goofier Westerns, like ALONG CAME JONES (1945) and DALLAS (1950), very appealing. The Oscar-winning SERGEANT YORK (1941) is in the lineup too.

...Jeanette MacDonald was a great talent, a wonderful singer, a beauty, and a very good actress especially adept at comedy. Among her movies with Nelson Eddy, I'm partial to NEW MOON (1940), with a score including "Lover, Come Back to Me." The date is August 27th.

...And then there's Ava Gardner Day on August 28th. I really like the film noir THE BRIBE (1949), costarring Robert Taylor, Charles Laughton, Vincent Price, and John Hodiak, plus a wonderfully shot fireworks finale which might have been done by Vincente Minnelli.

...ADAM HAD FOUR SONS (1941) has a plot that's a bit syrupy at times, but it also has a great cast which makes it extremely watchable: Warner Baxter, Susan Hayward, Fay Wray, June Lockhart, and Ingrid Bergman, whose films are being celebrated August 29th.

...I suspect many in the classic film blogging community would name August 30th as their favorite day on the August schedule, as it celebrates Warren William, a pre-Code star who also played movie detectives Philo Vance, Perry Mason, and the Lone Wolf. I'm looking forward to recording new-to-me William films such as BEDSIDE (1934) and THE MOUTHPIECE (1932). There are a whopping 16 William films being shown, including classics such as one of the best Busby Berkeley musicals, GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 (1933); Frank Capra's LADY FOR A DAY (1933); and DeMille's CLEOPATRA (1934). Pre-Code classics airing that day include THREE ON A MATCH (1932), SKYSCRAPER SOULS (1932), and the infamous EMPLOYEES' ENTRANCE (1933), in which his character is so amoral and predatory I found it difficult to watch!

This is a good-sized list, yet it's just a glimpse of the many interesting titles airing on TCM this month. Be sure to visit Immortal Ephemera and Thrilling Days of Yesteryear for additional tips from Cliff and Ivan!

Happy movie viewing!

Tony Martin Dies at 98

This has been a tough month for classic film fans, with the passing of several beloved actors from the scene.

Today comes word of the death of singer-actor Tony Martin. Martin lived a grand life, performing into his mid 90s, before passing away last Friday at the age of 98.

Martin was briefly married to singer-actress Alice Faye before they divorced in 1940; she later found long-term happiness with musician-comedian Phil Harris, and Martin was married to the amazing Cyd Charisse for six decades before she passed away in June 2008.

Martin was in over three dozen films and TV shows, in addition to a busy career as a recording artist and performer in live venues. In the '30s he appeared with Alice Faye in Fox musicals such as YOU CAN'T HAVE EVERYTHING (1937) and SALLY, IRENE AND MARY (1938).

He appeared sporadically in MGM musicals over the years, including singing the role of Gaylord Ravenal in the SHOW BOAT segment of TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY (1946).  He also appeared in EASY TO LOVE (1953) with Esther Williams and Van Johnson, and he starred with Debbie Reynolds, Jane Powell, Ann Miller, Walter Pidgeon, and Vic Damone in HIT THE DECK (1955).

Without a doubt, one of his most memorable movie scenes was singing "You Stepped Out of a Dream" in the 1941 MGM film ZIEGFELD GIRL:



Tony Martin is survived by his stepson, Nico Charisse. His son with Cyd Charisse, Tony Martin Jr., passed away last year at the age of 60. Additionally, Martin and Charisse's daughter-in-law, Sheila Charisse, died in a major American Airlines crash in Chicago in 1979.

Here's to another of the wonderful Golden Era performers whose work has enriched all our lives.

Update: The Los Angeles Times has now posted a story.

Last Weekend at Disney California Adventure: Radiator Springs Museum

Last Saturday morning was a beautiful sunny day in Anaheim, which was also a great excuse to get out and spend a few hours strolling around Disney California Adventure.

One of the attractions we enjoyed was the latest -- and apparently last -- exhibit at the park's Blue Sky Cellar, the Museum of the History of Radiator Springs:


We actually saw much of the exhibit in May, before it had received its new "Museum" name.

Below is the view of Radiator Springs from the Blue Sky Cellar patio. From this vantage point we used to have just a peek of Cars Land over a fence. It's wonderful to see the area so busy after the years of construction.


There's a fun plaque in the Museum from the Radiator Springs Historical Society:


Hmmm, these geysers didn't make it into the final version of Radiator Springs Racers:


The exhibit includes samples of everything from the faces on the tractors at Tow Mater's Junkyard Jamboree...


...to the record and jukebox artwork for Flo's Motorama Girls at Flo's V8 Cafe...



...to a model of Radiator Springs Racers:


In addition to rides on Radiator Spring Racers, Mater's, and the Little Mermaid, we spent a couple of hours simply walking around Cars Land and Buena Vista Street, carefully taking in all the interesting signs, windows, and tile work in anticipation of next month's MouseAdventure Road Trip game.

We ended the morning with our first-ever meal at the Paradise Garden Grill, where we tried the chicken and steak Mediterranean skewers.


The Moroccan Chili and Chimichurri sauces were good, as was the rice pilaf. The cucumber salad was refreshing on a warm day. I did think the pita bread was bland and would prefer a bread that's less spongy, with more flavor.

The meal provided more food than we could eat at lunchtime; a slightly smaller, less expensive meal would have been perfect. That said, I'd definitely eat there again, though I'd probably skip lunch that day and eat it at dinnertime!

Finally, one of my favorite colorful signs along Paradise Pier:


As always, I'm looking forward to visiting again soon! I'm hoping to see Disneyland's new Crowning Achievements exhibit on Disney Castles in the near future.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...I'm happy to say I once again have a computer up and running, so blogging should get back to a more normal pace this week.

...I was glad I could contribute to a great Dana Andrews blogathon with a post on WING AND A PRAYER (1944) last night. I highly recommend checking out the other very interesting blogathon posts. Carl Rollyson, the author of a brand-new biography on Andrews, has added some very interesting bits of biographical info in the comments of each post. Thanks to Carl and also to Stephen of Classic Movie Man, our blogathon host, who was very accommodating about including me at the last minute due to my computer issues!

...Congratulations to Raquelle of Out of the Past on her recent wedding! Her reception featured a Classic Hollywood theme and beautiful Art Deco cake.

...Toby reviews a new DVD release of a restored Roy Rogers Trucolor film, SPRINGTIME IN THE SIERRAS (1947), at 50 Westerns From the 50s.

...I'm looking forward to watching EASY LIVING (1949), a Warner Archive release with Victor Mature, Lucille Ball, Lizabeth Scott, and Lloyd Nolan. Glenn Erickson reviewed it last week at DVD Savant. He also recently reviewed some of the movies in the new Fox Classics line.

...Susan King of the L.A. Times recently interviewed Margaret O'Brien.

...Five early Frank Capra films are coming to DVD via TCM and Sony. I'm pretty sure I remember such a set being in the works before the DVD market changed a few years ago, which may explain why this set has significant extras, including introductions and commentaries.

...I've got to see THIS IS MY LOVE (1954), starring Linda Darnell and Dan Duryea. The Self-Styled Siren has a very entertaining post on the film.

...Will recently enjoyed Henry Fonda and Gene Tierney in RINGS ON HER FINGERS (1942), which he discusses at Cinema Sentries. And don't miss his photo-filled post on the same film at Cinematically Insane.

...And Caftan Woman's post on "Better Parenting Through Movies" is fun! Top favorites of my kids when they were little included WINNIE THE POOH AND THE HONEY TREE (1966) -- the only thing that would calm down my oldest daughter when she was a toddler and had ear infections! -- SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952) and pretty much any MGM musical, THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938), THE THIN MAN (1934), SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF! (1969), RIO BRAVO (1959) and a bunch more John Wayne films...and I could go on and on!

...I recently won a drawing for a wonderful set of CDs of a radio show starring Dick Powell as RICHARD DIAMOND, PRIVATE DETECTIVE. Virginia Gregg and Ed Begley Sr. costar as his girlfriend and his friend on the police force, with Blake Edwards writing the scripts. You get the best of both sides of Dick Powell, his hard-boiled sarcastic private eye persona and the crooner, as he closes each show singing a tune for his girlfriend! The sound quality of this set from Radio Spirits is excellent, and I've enjoyed listening to several episodes on my recent drives to Los Angeles. The informative liner notes are by my friend Ivan of Thrilling Days of Yesteryear. Recommended.

...Notable Passings: TV star Chad Everett of MEDICAL CENTER passed on last week at the age of 75. One year ago I noted the passing of his wife, actress Shelby Grant. As a young man Everett worked with one of my favorite actors, Robert Taylor, and became a great admirer of Taylor's, as discussed in this recorded interview...British actress Mary Tamm, known as Time Lady Romana on DR. WHO in the late '70s Tom Baker era, has died at 62...TV producer-director William Asher has died at 90. He produced one of my all-time favorite shows, BEWITCHED, starring his then wife, Elizabeth Montgomery...and character actor R.G. Armstrong passed away at 95. I particularly remember him from a couple episodes of my favorite show of all, MAVERICK; he was in over 180 movies and TV shows...Update: Thanks to commenter Barrylane for mentioning that British actor Simon Ward has passed on. Ward is perhaps best known for an early role, YOUNG WINSTON (1972), as well as a TV-movie version of ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL (1975), playing James Herriott opposite Anthony Hopkins' Siegfried Farnon.

...On Monday, July 30th, The Digital Bits site will be paying tribute to their late reviewer, the wonderful Barrie Maxwell. Be sure to check out this special day honoring a man it was my great pleasure to read for the past decade.

Have a great week!

2013 D23 Expo Tickets On Sale August 9th

Last week D23 announced that tickets for next year's Expo will go on sale August 9th, 2012, exactly one year before the Expo's opening day.

The prices have gone up somewhat from the 2011 Expo; an advance three-day pass for a D23 member was $85 for the 2011 Expo and will cost $115 for next year's event. That still strikes me as an excellent value for three days.

I'm glad to note that Disney appears to have plans in place to help address the problems I described in 2011, with too few events and not enough seating, as well as not enough to experience on the show floor.

Per the D23 site, there will be an overflow theater for the D23 Arena providing live streaming for an additional 2000 guests; Stage 23 will double its seating capacity from 1000 to 2000; and the show floor will be expanded.

Even with last year's issues, we had a wonderful time and were able to attend many interesting panels, so I'm excited about attending next year and highly recommend the experience for Disney fans.

Meanwhile, in just a couple of weeks I'll be attending Destination D: 75 Years of Disney Animation, which is due to include appearances by Marge Champion (the live-action model for Snow White), Kathryn Beaumont (the voice of Alice and Wendy), Dickie Jones (the voice of Pinnochio) and Chris Sanders (the voice of Stitch), as well as concerts by Dick Van Dyke and Alan Menken...and much, much more.

I'm looking forward to sharing more about Destination D here after it takes place August 11th and 12th.!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Wing and a Prayer (1944)

Note: This review of WING AND A PRAYER is my contribution to today's Dana Andrews Blogathon, being sponsored by Stephen at Classic Movie Man. Be sure to check out all the other great blogathon posts celebrating this very special actor.

WING AND A PRAYER, subtitled THE STORY OF CARRIER X, is a well-made World War II film from 20th Century-Fox, directed by Henry Hathaway.

The film, which is set in the months between Pearl Harbor and the Battle of Midway, tells the story of a carrier on a mission to trick the Japanese into thinking the United States fleet is scattered and unwilling to fight. Ultimately the Japanese Navy will head to Midway, where the United States will win a great victory.

Don Ameche gives a strong, uncharacteristically tough performance as the stern flight commander aboard the carrier, who must continually make decisions which will lead to the loss of his men in combat. Dana Andrews plays a pilot who heads a flight squadron, with Charles Bickford playing the captain of the carrier.

Various crew members are played by a large, interesting cast including William Eythe, Reed Hadley, Glenn Langan, Richard Jaeckel, and Harry Morgan. The bit players among the crew members include Ray Teal, Blake Edwards, Jimmie Dodd, Irving Bacon, and Arthur Space.

Little information is given about the personal lives of any of the men, save for the sketchiest details: one is a Hollywood actor, one is just 16, one has an idea to grow vegetables on board ship. For the most part the film is strictly focused on the operations of an aircraft carrier.

As Lt. Commander Moulton, Andrews' character must straddle a line between being an authority figure, responsible for leading his men and answering to his superiors, along with being one of the "gang," sharing camaraderie with his fellow pilots.  When one of his men (Harry Morgan) is frustrated and disobeys orders from the flight commander, Moulton is forced to ground the pilot, though he clearly sympathizes with him and later seeks him out to socialize.

Despite having virtually no back story, Andrews is highly effective as a serious, confident pilot who grapples with tough situations on a daily basis, and the rest of the cast is likewise excellent.  It's an engrossing film which is a solid contribution to the catalogue of war movies made by Hollywood in the early '40s.

Over the course of WWII, Andrews appeared in a variety of war films, including the title role in the "B" film BERLIN CORRESPONDENT (1941) and playing a Russian in THE NORTH STAR (1943). Andrews played members of the military in CRASH DIVE (1943), THE PURPLE HEART (1944), and A WALK IN THE SUN (1945), and he famously played a WWII veteran newly returned from service in William Wyler's classic THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (1946).

Additionally, in the early '50s Andrews appeared in another film set during WWII, THE FROGMEN (1951), and then played a WWII veteran considering signing up to serve in the Korean conflict in I WANT YOU (1951).

The story and screenplay of WING AND A PRAYER were by Jerome Cady. The film runs 97 minutes. It was filmed in black and white by Glen MacWilliams.

WING AND A PRAYER is available on DVD in the Fox War Classics series. The DVD can be rented from Netflix, and it's currently also available via Netflix streaming.

It was also released on VHS, and it's shown periodically on Fox Movie Channel.

Admirers of Dana Andrews will be glad to know there is a brand-new biography, DANA ANDREWS: HOLLYWOOD ENIGMA, written by Carl Rollyson. Originally due out this fall, it's now available for purchase. The book is from University Press of Mississippi, which has a track record of publishing excellent biographies of Hollywood actors. I'm looking forward to ordering it soon.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tonight's Movie: The Apartment (1960)

Tonight it was time to check another film off my list of 10 Classics which I'm making it my goal to see for the first time this year. Tonight's movie was THE APARTMENT, directed by Billy Wilder from a script by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, with a cast including Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, and Fred MacMurray.

The storyline concerns C.C. Baxter (Lemmon), an insurance company drone who hopes to get ahead by allowing company executives to borrow his apartment for extramarital trysts. All seems to go well for C.C. -- other than catching cold as, semi-homeless, he wanders the streets of New York -- until the head of personnel (MacMurray) uses the apartment for a fling with the elevator girl (MacLaine) C.C. admires.

I have to say I have a contrarian take on this film, as I found it slow-moving and dull. I've heard so many good things about this film over the years, I kept thinking that perhaps the sharp dialogue and interesting characters would show up in the next scene, but as it turned out this movie just didn't work for me, and I was relieved when it crawled to a close after two hours and five minutes. Now I'm trying to figure out exactly why I felt that way.

THE APARTMENT's black and white look prompted me to compare it to another dark film set in New York, SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (1957). SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS, like THE APARTMENT, was filled with disreputable, manipulative characters, yet it blew me away with its gleaming black and white beauty, gripping storyline, crackling dialogue, and jazzy musical score. It was one of my favorite viewing experiences last year. So where did THE APARTMENT, a Best Picture winner with surface similarities to the earlier film, go wrong?

I suppose the bottom line is simply that I never became involved in the story or cared about the characters, nor did I find the environments in which they operated compelling. I love Fred MacMurray, but of course he famously plays an utter sleaze in this one, so while he's somewhat interesting, he's never sympathetic.

I like Jack Lemmon quite well, but I couldn't relate to a character so willing to be used by others -- to the point of being put out of his home and roaming the streets overnight! -- as well as to use them in turn. He eventually wakes up and smells the coffee (a line that is particularly apt for this film!), but it takes over two hours to get there.

Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis weren't any more sympathetic in SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS than MacMurray and Lemmon, yet I found the Lancaster-Curtis film mesmerizing. Perhaps sometimes it simply comes down to personal taste and an indefinable "It works or it doesn't." While I didn't care for it, I know THE APARTMENT is highly regarded by a number of film fans whose taste I respect.

It's interesting that while I have loved numerous Wilder films, including those he wrote before becoming a director, I wasn't wildly enthused about his dark SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950), either. I could theorize I like sunnier fare, but I'm the same viewer who saw 19 movies at the Noir City Festival this spring!

I confess I've never done more than tolerate Shirley MacLaine, so that was another strike against the film; she's simply not an actress I enjoy, although she does the cute and perky thing well in the film's opening scenes. But again, it was hard to muster up sympathy for a woman willing to return to a married man who's clearly a user, and when she tried to take her own life over him, I just rolled my eyes. Whatever.

The film has its nice moments here and there -- the spaghetti strained through the tennis racket, the neighboring doctor (Jack Kruschen) who tries to convince Lemmon to grow up, the line "We'll send him a fruitcake every Christmas" -- but, all in all, I found this one a yawner, not to mention rather sad.

The black and white photography by Joseph LaShelle is at its best in the gleaming office building, with its rows of desks and elevators, but the apartment where much of the film is set is, once again, boring. It's supposed to be an inexpensive dump -- why a doctor lives in this building is beyond me -- but there's not anything of interest to look at in it, other than the TV set and the fridge. And I think maybe he had an Ella Fitzgerald LP in his collection, but I couldn't quite make it out...

The supporting cast includes several well-known TV actors, including Ray Walston of MY FAVORITE MARTIAN, David White of BEWITCHED, and David Lewis of GENERAL HOSPITAL. Edie Adams also stars.

THE APARTMENT won Oscars for Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Editing, and Set Decoration. Lemmon, MacLaine, and Kruschen were all nominated for their acting but didn't win; the film was also nominated for Cinematography and Sound.

THE APARTMENT is available on DVD and can be rented from Netflix. Additionally, it's available to rent for streaming from Amazon, and it's had a release on VHS.

THE APARTMENT can be seen from time to time on Turner Classic Movies, where it will next air on August 22, 2012.

The trailer is available to view on the TCM website.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Something New (2006)

Every so often I take a break from the older films I love and see a "new" movie -- meaning something released in the last few years! -- and tonight it was SOMETHING NEW, an interesting interracial romance.

Sanaa Lathan plays Kenya McQueen, a lovely young Los Angeles professional woman who seems to have it all, including a successful career and a new home. The only thing missing is a man.

Enter Brian Kelly (Simon Baker, THE MENTALIST), Kenya's charming blind date. The only problem: Kenya, a black woman, is surprised to discover that her blind date is a white man. She can't handle the idea of a prospective relationship with someone who isn't black, but shortly thereafter she hires Brian as the landscape architect for her new home. As Kenya and Brian work together on her yard, their relationship gradually deepens, and Kenya must decide what really matters in life -- love or race?

This was a very interesting, thought-provoking film about an appealing couple, which frankly confronts issues regarding race. It was interesting to me being exposed to a culture where dating outside one's race is still considered a taboo, or at least highly problematic. I live south of Los Angeles and know numerous interracial couples, including black-white relationships, so I was somewhat surprised this was still considered to be an issue in 2006, at least in California.

However, one of my daughters told me last night about a Vietnamese friend whose sister is now shunned by her father for having a relationship with a Hispanic man, so I guess those kinds of stories are still out there if you look hard enough, and it's clearly not simply a black-white issue.

I did find a scene where Kenya feels noticeably awkward even being seen talking to a white man in a Starbucks in a black neighborhood surprising. After all, no one else in the restaurant knew they'd been set up as a date, so why did she feel uncomfortable simply being seen talking to him? Was his race really an issue in that setting even if he were a friend or business colleague?

To its credit, however, the script by Kriss Turner isn't afraid to show people acting less than their best, and it works through the issues to a very positive conclusion. Kenya isn't the only character to grow as a person and learn valuable lessons. I particularly liked a speech made near the end of the film by Kenya's father, played by Earl Billings.

Alfre Woodard plays Kenya's mother. Blair Underwood, Wendy Raquel Robinson, and Donald Faison are among the large cast.  There's also a fun cameo in the final scene, as John Ratzenberger suddenly pops up in a wordless role as Simon Baker's father.

The movie was directed by Sanaa Hamri. It runs 99 minutes. I especially enjoyed the location shooting around Los Angeles; the cinematography was by Shane Hurlbut.

Parental advisory: This film is rated PG-13 for love scenes and adult dialogue. This is the kind of movie where I wish the filmmakers hadn't felt the need to follow the "modern" crowd and include such moments, as with the editing of perhaps less than two minutes of footage this would be a romantic drama more appropriate for a wider audience. It raises interesting issues for parent-child discussion.

SOMETHING NEW is available on DVD and can be rented from Netflix. It can also be rented for streaming on Amazon.

Around the Blogosphere This Week...

...is taking the weekend off due to computer issues.

My aging computer has been operating increasingly erratically, and a replacement is on the way.  I should be able to write some posts this week on other family members' computers, and I will resume regular posting once I have my own computer and files available again!

In the meantime, those who have not already done so might wish to check out last weekend's link roundup as well as the latest Disney News.

Have a great week!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Comanche Station (1960) at UCLA

Tonight's marvelous Budd Boetticher - Randolph Scott double bill at UCLA started with RIDE LONESOME (1959) and continued with COMANCHE STATION, another outstanding widescreen Western directed by Boetticher and written by Burt Kennedy. Both movies were filmed in CinemaScope by Charles Lawton Jr.

RIDE LONESOME was my favorite of the pair -- indeed, I thought it one of the best Westerns I'd ever seen -- but COMANCHE STATION was likewise an excellent film which is a "must" for fans of Westerns in general and Randolph Scott in particular. It's another study of a group of travelers in the dangerous West, clocking in at a brisk 74 minutes.

As the film begins, Jefferson Cody (Scott) bargains with Indians for the release of Nancy Lowe (Nancy Gates), who was recently kidnapped by the tribe.

As Cody attempts to deliver Mrs. Lowe back to her husband, they meet up with a trio of outlaws, Ben Lane (Claude Akins) and his sidekicks Frank (Skip Homeier) and Dobie (Richard Rust). Indians are on the warpath so there's safety in numbers as the group travels together, although Ben lets Frank and Dobie know that he isn't planning for Cody or Mrs. Lowe to make it to the end of their journey.

In some ways this film was reminiscent of the first Scott-Boetticher-Kennedy teaming, SEVEN MEN FROM NOW (1956). There's a scene in which Ben tells Cody and Mrs. Lowe a "story" over coffee which comes close to copying a scene with Lee Marvin on a rainy night in the covered wagon in the earlier film.

Bits of dialogue also echo earlier Kennedy scripts, but instead of seeming to be merely a copycat, COMANCHE STATION seems to be elaborating on and exploring established themes. This is particularly seen with Scott once again playing a man strongly motivated by a past tragedy; perhaps aiding Mrs. Lowe will help him gain some measure of peace regarding his past loss, though it seems likely he'll continue to wander the West. The film's conclusion is deeply moving.

Akins is another in a long line of colorful villains in this series of films, although I think the relatively innocent, not-too-smart Frank and Dobie were even more interesting, as they struggle to come to grips with what it might take for them to "amount to something" in life. Homeier was a one-time child actor in films such as BOYS' RANCH (1946); his acting career stretched for close to four decades.

Although she is not very well known these days, Nancy Gates was a busy working actress in the '50s. She starred with Sterling Hayden and Frank Sinatra in the excellent suspense film SUDDENLY (1954), screened this year at the Noir City Festival in Hollywood. She also starred in TOP OF THE WORLD (1955) and THE GUNFIGHT AT DODGE CITY (1959), both reviewed here within the past year. Nancy Gates retired from acting in the mid '60s and is now 86.

Like SEVEN MEN FROM NOW and RIDE LONESOME, COMANCHE STATION was shot on location at Lone Pine, California. In fact, the climax of the film takes place in the same area where Scott and Lee Marvin shoot it out at the end of SEVEN MEN FROM NOW (1956).

COMANCHE STATION is available on DVD in the Films of Budd Boetticher collection. Extras include an introduction by Clint Eastwood and a commentary by director Taylor Hackford. It can be rented from Netflix.

This title has also had a release on VHS.

Tonight's Movie: Ride Lonesome (1959) at UCLA

Last weekend I enjoyed attending the opening night of UCLA's current series celebrating the career of director Budd Boetticher. I saw two of Boetticher's films with Randolph Scott that evening: an old favorite, SEVEN MEN FROM NOW (1956), and a film that was new to me, DECISION AT SUNDOWN (1957).

Most of the Boetticher-Scott collaborations, known collectively as the Ranown films, are being shown in the series. I hadn't originally planned to return to UCLA this weekend for the double bill of RIDE LONESOME (1959) and COMANCHE STATION (1960), but I was encouraged to do so by my friend Blake Lucas, and I'm so glad I did. I've had many great experiences seeing films in theaters this year, but tonight certainly ranks as one of the best evenings yet.

I loved both of tonight's films and thought that RIDE LONESOME, in particular, was one of the best Westerns I've ever seen, and I've seen plenty -- though not nearly as many as Blake! RIDE LONESOME was utter perfection in terms of script, performances, pacing, and conclusion, and it was a genuine thrill to discover this film for the very first time. I'm sure I'll be revisiting it on multiple occasions in the future.

The film follows the typical Boetticher-Scott Western formula, focusing on a small group of people under stressful conditions, dealing with conflicts amongst each other as well as attacks from outside forces.

Ben Brigade (Scott) is a bounty hunter bringing in a killer, Billy John (James Best), for a reward. Sam Boone (Pernell Roberts) and his sidekick Wid (James Coburn, in his first movie role) are one-time criminals who want to turn Billy John in themselves in exchange for amnesty, so they can live a peaceful ranching life. These men find Carrie Lane (Karen Steele) all alone at a stagecoach stop, waiting for the return of her husband, the station manager. Meanwhile Mescalero Indians are on the attack...

RIDE LONESOME is a perfectly constructed movie without a wasted moment in its 73 minutes, and it's a great example of how less can be more. Despite the short running time, the director, screenwriter Burt Kennedy, and the cast combine to create fascinating, memorable characters in a gripping story. Randolph Scott is seen at his very finest as the man with a tragic past whose stoic determination to bring in Billy John unexpectedly proves to be part of a much larger plan.

Roberts' Sam is one of the best characters in the Ranown films, a charmer who consistently comes through to help Ben despite their wary relationship. The film makes one wonder what might have been for Roberts if he hadn't ended up trapped on the Ponderosa....and if he'd had a reputation as a more congenial colleague on the set.

A scene between Sam and Wid near the end is both funny and unexpectedly touching, with Coburn's Wid uttering a line that made me simultaneously laugh and tear up.  The climactic confrontation between Sam and Ben provided the perfect payoff to the film, which then moved to an even higher level with the film's unforgettable closing shot. There was an audible exclamation of approval from the audience as the movie faded to a close, sort of a group "Wow, what a movie!" along with the applause.

This was the third of Karen Steele's films for Boetticher, following DECISION AT SUNDOWN (1957) and WESTBOUND (1959). She's good as the feisty, comely frontier woman who evokes longing in the men, especially Sam.  Lee Van Cleef makes a big impression in a small role as Billy John's brother, Frank.

It was fantastic seeing these CinemaScope films on the big screen in UCLA's Billy Wilder Theater. As deeply as I appreciate my home viewing collection, there is simply no movie experience quite like seeing a beautifully projected widescreen film on a huge screen, a pleasure I also experienced last weekend with SOUTH PACIFIC (1958).

This film is available on DVD in the Films of Budd Boetticher collection; extras include an introduction by Martin Scorsese and a commentary track by Jeremy Arnold. It can be rented from Netflix.  The film has also had a release on VHS.

RIDE LONESOME is most highly recommended.

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