Sunday, September 30, 2012

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...There's a Val Lewton blogathon coming for Halloween, sponsored by Kristina of Speakeasy and Stephen of Classic Movie Man. I've signed up to contribute a post on Jacques Tourneur's THE LEOPARD MAN (1943) starring Dennis O'Keefe.

...Here's a nice profile of actor Bill Williams posted at MovieFanFare, written by Melanie Simone of the blog Talking Classics. Just last week I watched Williams and his wife, Barbara Hale, in the Western West of the Pecos (1945).

...Coming to DVD: Gene Barry as Bat Masterson.

...ON THE LOOSE (1951), available for streaming from Netflix, sounds interesting. I'm always on the lookout for a good "B" movie! The film stars Joan Evans, Melvyn Douglas, and Lynn Bari. Robby compares the Beverly Hills High School location, then and now, at Dear Old Hollywood.

...We may have different politics, but it's always a kick to see one of these WEST WING video reunions! I did love that show and the characters. Sheen's "Apocalypse Now" line gave me the giggles, and "walk and talk" always makes me smile.

...Last year I had a really good time seeing Joan Crawford and Jeff Chandler in FEMALE ON THE BEACH (1955) at the Noir City Film Festival. Grand Old Movies has an amusing take on the movie. It's out on DVD from TCM.

...Colin keeps reviewing interesting movies I'd love to see at his blog Riding the High Country; the latest such film is RED SUNDOWN (1956) which stars Rory Calhoun and Martha Hyer. So far this year I've enjoyed Calhoun in FOUR GUNS TO THE BORDER (1954) and RAW EDGE (1956); I'm looking forward to checking out more of his Westerns.

...Mark Harmon receives his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Monday, October 1st.

...The Pasadena Star News published an article last week on Leonard Maltin and how his movie ratings guidebook stays relevant in the age of the internet.

...A new cookbook due out at month's end: BAREFOOT CONTESSA FOOLPROOF by Ina Garten. Some of our family's favorite recipes have come from Garten's cookbooks, such as Roast Lemon Chicken with Croutons.

...At A Shroud of Thoughts, Terry muses on the seemingly perpetual problem of properly casting the role of Daisy in film versions of THE GREAT GATSBY. That was definitely an issue in the otherwise excellent 1949 version I saw with Alan Ladd earlier this year.

...This doesn't seem well thought out: Slashfilm reports that if you purchase an AVENGERS DVD with a digital copy but don't have a computer with a disc drive, there's no way to access the digital copy.

...THE WALTONS had a 40th Anniversary Reunion last night. It's rather great that, like her character Elizabeth Walton, Kami Cotler became a teacher. Proceeds from the reunion went to benefit a Los Angeles charter school where Cotler now serves as principal. Susan King has more at the Los Angeles Times.

...Cliff profiles the marvelous Greer Garson at Immortal Ephemera. Some classic film fans on Twitter all agreed we especially love Garson's RANDOM HARVEST (1942). Recommended!

...Adventures in Primetime remembers the late, great Stephen J. Cannell, who passed on two years ago.

...Happy news: Samantha Brown, longtime Travel Channel host, is expecting twins.

...Glenn Erickson's latest reviews at DVD Savant include Nicholas Ray's A WOMAN'S SECRET (1949), starring Maureen O'Hara and Gloria Grahame, and BORN TO BE BAD (1950) with Joan Fontaine. (The delicious BORN TO BE BAD will air on TCM on October 22nd, Joan Fontaine's 95th birthday.) I also especially enjoyed a review of SOUTHSIDE 1-1000 (1950), starring Don DeFore and Andrea King, since I ordered it last week; he terms it "an obscure noir winner." Sounds like my kind of movie!

...John at Greenbriar Picture Shows has another most enjoyable batch of mini movie reviews including Ida Lupino and Steve Cochran in PRIVATE HELL 36 (1954) and Marsha Hunt and Robert Sterling in I'LL WAIT FOR YOU (1941). I reviewed the latter film, a remake of HIDE-OUT (1934), back in 2009. (Speaking of HIDE-OUT, there's a gorgeous still from the film recently posted at Classic Montgomery.)

...Instapundit led me to this shot of the very first Amazon home page, back in 1995. My very first Amazon order, in July 1997, was a book on John Ford.

...Attention Film Noir Fans: You can support the Film Noir Foundation by ordering some great merchandise with the Foundation's logo, including t-shirts, mugs, and phone cases. I just ordered my son, a fellow noir fan, a black t-shirt.

...Notable Passings: This New York Times story on the late Claudine Mawby, who appeared with her sisters in a handful of films circa 1929, was quite interesting...I also enjoyed reading about the life of the Dowager Duchess of Northumberland who recently passed on at the age of 90.

Have a great week!

Fox Movie Channel in October: Highlights

Fox Movie Channel's October schedule isn't very different from the schedules for July, August, or September, truth to tell. The channel seems to have mostly given up on incorporating fresh titles into its rotation.

Given the repetitious nature of the channel's recent schedules, this month's list of FMC highlights will be quite short.

...The Michael Shayne film BLUE, WHITE AND PERFECT (1941) plays on October 1st. Lloyd Nolan plays Shayne, with Mary Beth Hughes costarring.

...The marvelous FALLEN ANGEL (1945) will be shown on October 10th. This wonderful noir stars Dana Andrews, Linda Darnell, and Alice Faye. Some of the film was shot in the city of Orange, California, right here in Orange County.

...Clark Gable and Susan Hayward star in SOLDIER OF FORTUNE (1955) on October 11th. This is a rare film which I don't recall having played in recent weeks. Edward Dmytryk directed.

...Also on the 11th: Marie Windsor stars in THE DAY MARS INVADED EARTH (1962). Kent Taylor costars.

...The multi-story TALES OF MANHATTAN (1942) will be shown on October 17th. The all-star cast includes Rita Hayworth, Ginger Rogers, Charles Boyer, Henry Fonda, George Sanders, and more.

...Gregory Peck and Jennifer Jones star in THE MAN IN THE GRAY FLANNEL SUIT (1956) on both October 17th and 18th.  Fredric March costars.

...FLAMING STAR (1960) is an Elvis movie which costars Barbara Eden. It will be shown on October 21st.

...EVERYTHING HAPPENS AT NIGHT (1939) is a chance to see Ray Milland and Bob Cummings costarring 15 years prior to appearing together in Hitchcock's DIAL M FOR MURDER (1954). Sonja Henie costars on October 22nd.

...LOVE NEST (1951), starring William Lundigan and June Haver, returns to the schedule on October 27th. Marilyn Monroe costars.

For more October viewing, please visit TCM in October: Highlights.

Today at Disney California Adventure: Sunday Afternoon in Radiator Springs

It was a warm but beautiful day today in Anaheim, where our kids played in the MouseAdventure Road Trip game at California Adventure.


Given my ongoing recovery from surgery a month ago, I wasn't quite ready yet for speedwalking several miles in mid 90s temps, so instead of participating in MouseAdventure, my husband and I went out for lunch and a leisurely stroll. There was a nice breeze which made it quite pleasant.


One of my favorite spots in Cars Land is the shady porch of the Curios Shop.


There's a nice view of Flo's and the Cadillac Range, and it's a good place to relax and listen to some of the great uptempo music that can be heard all over town.


As it happened, we spotted our family team, Skippers in De Nile, hard at work on a puzzle outside the Curios Shop. I'm looking forward to hearing how it went playing MouseAdventure for the first time in California Adventure!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Four Guns to the Border (1954)

Given how much I enjoy Universal Westerns of the '50s and actor Richard Carlson, I was immediately intrigued when film historian extraordinaire Blake Lucas told me about one of his favorite Westerns, FOUR GUNS TO THE BORDER. FOUR GUNS TO THE BORDER was one of a handful of projects directed by Carlson, the follow-up to his first directing effort, RIDERS TO THE STARS (1954).

When I stumbled across the hard-to-find FOUR GUNS TO THE BORDER on the internet this weekend, I made sure to watch it immediately, lest it quickly disappear.

Ray Cully (Rory Calhoun) leads a group of rather goofy bank robbers (John McIntire, George Nader, and Jay Silverheels) in the Pacific Southwest. In their wanderings they meet up with Simon Bhumer (Walter Brennan) who's escorting his daughter Lolly (Colleen Miller) back to their home.

Lolly shares a mutual attraction with Cully, so her wary father puts space between them just as fast as he can. Cully and company have a bank to rob, anyway...but with the Apaches on the warpath, Cully will soon face a life-changing decision about his priorities.

This is, by and large, a good-natured film with a rather unusual theme for a Western: what it means to grow up and act like a mature adult. Cully and his gang aren't so much bad men, it's more that they've never grown up -- as evidenced by the constant childlike roughhousing of two of the men -- and lacking responsible jobs, robbery happens to be the way they support themselves. They're not killers, they're just looking for some easy money.

While Cully's been wandering aimlessly with his merry band of bank robbers, his old friend and rival, Jim (Charles Drake), became a responsible citizen -- the sheriff! -- and married a lovely woman (Nina Foch). One senses some of Cully's growing inner turmoil during a creatively staged bank robbery, where Cully brawls with the sheriff to distract an entire town, but it takes the Indians attacking Lolly and her father to finally trigger the chain of events which will push Cully into assuming the role of a responsible man.

The theme of growing into an adult also applies to Lolly, who is emerging from tomboyish adolescence into womanhood. I was initially somewhat bemused by the ultra-obvious approach to Lolly's burgeoning sexuality, what with her rolling around on the ground, water poured all over her torn shirt, and some additional blatant symbolism which I'll leave it to viewers to recognize. One might be forgiven for thinking her ripe character overdone up to this point, or for wondering why on earth Lolly decides to wander out into a rainstorm clad only in a short, thin nightgown. (The answer to that, incidentally, is soon apparent: "Because she wanted to.")

But it's at this point, as Cully follows Lolly into a horse shed, that the movie turns into something really interesting and special, in an extended scene tracing the romantic awakening of a young girl. Curiosity, fear, tenderness, and passion play out one after the other. The sequence is simultaneously beautiful, touching, and rather amazingly hot for 1954.

As Blake Lucas describes this sequence in THE WESTERN READER, it's a "lyrical love scene in an obscure programmer...with matchless intensity and insight, a fine cinematic suppleness, and a rare command of mood." It's a beautifully choreographed scene worthy of a second look to take it all in.

From here on the movie is really outstanding, as Cully faces his past and then makes decisions about his future. The final confrontation between Cully and the sheriff, with the now more adult-looking Lolly sobbing and yelling at the wounded Cully to give up, is simply marvelous, particularly as the scene evolves in such an uncliched way.

The cast is uniformly excellent. Calhoun makes a handsome, conflicted Western hero, while Miller is an unusual screen presence. She's not classically beautiful, but as her character matures into a young woman she becomes increasingly appealing and ultimately is quite memorable.

It sometimes seems that John McIntire must have been in every Universal Western of the '50s, but the man never wears out his welcome. He's truly one of the great ones, who seems to bring a little something different to every character.

Nina Foch is also superb in the middle section of the film, as a woman who fears that she may suddenly and unexpectedly lose her man. Mary Field is also deserving of mention, in a terrific little role as a nervy gun-toting dressmaker who tells off Cully.

As noted above, director Carlson brings some fresh perspectives to the Western, and one really wishes he'd had a more extensive directing career.

The screenplay of this 83-minute film is based on a story by Louis L'Amour. It was filmed by Russell Metty at Southern California locations which included Bell Ranch.

I note that, per IMDb, one of the stuntmen on the film was Bobby Hoy, who I recently wrote about as one of the cast members of the late '60s TV Western THE HIGH CHAPARRAL.

Let's hope that FOUR GUNS TO THE BORDER will be a future release in the Universal Vault DVD series, as it's deserving of a wider audience.

TCM in October: Highlights

Wasn't it just summer the other day? Yet somehow it's already time to check out the October schedule for Turner Classic Movies.

Spencer Tracy is the October Star of the Month beginning Monday evening, October 1st. I'll have more on that in the near future. (Update: Please visit TCM Star of the Month: Spencer Tracy, which has now been posted.)

There are lots of interesting titles airing on TCM this month, including a series on disabled characters in the movies; a look at American politics on film, including a brand-new documentary; a tribute to Cinerama; a high number of interesting "B" movies; and of course the usual October assortment of horror, science fiction, and suspense thrillers.

Here are a few of the great titles available on TCM in October:

...It was a real thrill for me to see Susan Peters in THE SIGN OF THE RAM (1948) at this year's Noir City Festival. This was Peters' only film after a shooting accident left her in a wheelchair, and it's a brave, fascinating performance which causes the viewer to wish her film career had continued. Phyllis Thaxter, Alexander Knox, Peggy Ann Garner, and Diana Douglas costar. It airs October 2nd.

...Last October I watched the wonderfully spooky Val Lewton/Jacques Tourneur film I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943). This tropical variation on JANE EYRE stars Frances Dee and Tom Conway. It's on October 3rd.

...There's a pair of good Gene Tierney films from 20th Century-Fox airing in prime time on Thursday, October 4th: first the marvelous adventure film SON OF FURY (1942), which I described a few years back as "a little slice of Tyrone Power heaven," and then THUNDER BIRDS (1942), a drama about pilots training for WWII which costars John Sutton and Preston Foster. I wrote of THUNDER BIRDS that "the Fox Technicolor is worth the price of admission in and of itself."

...SHADOW OF DOUBT (1935) is one of the little-known films I'm interested in checking out this month. It stars Ricardo Cortez and Virginia Bruce, airing on October 4th.

...Another interesting little movie on my watch list is called SINGAPORE WOMAN (1941), starring Brenda Marshall, directed by Jean Negulesco. It will be shown early on October 5th.

...TCM's new Night at the Movies documentary, HOLLYWOOD GOES TO WASHINGTON (2012), first airs on October 5th.

...My appreciation for Nicholas Ray's PARTY GIRL (1958), starring Robert Taylor and Cyd Charisse, has only grown since I first saw it half a decade ago. It will be shown October 6th.

...GOODBYE, MY FANCY (1951) was an interesting, if occasionally maddening, movie starring Joan Crawford, Robert Young, Frank Lovejoy, and Eve Arden. It's worth catching on October 7th.

...BRIGHT VICTORY (1951) has been on my viewing wish list for some time now. It has a great cast, topped by the Oscar-nominated Arthur Kennedy, with the lovely Peggy Dow and Julie Adams in support. It's part of the series on disability in film, airing October 9th.

...BRIGHT VICTORY is followed by another film which sounds interesting, REACH FOR THE SKY (1951). Kenneth More and Alexander Knox star in a film about a double amputee who becomes a WWII flying ace.

...It wouldn't be October without everyone's favorite spooky house movie, THE UNINVITED (1944). Don't miss Ray Milland, Gail Russell, Ruth Hussey, and the memorable "Stella By Starlight" on October 10th.

...October 11th there's a great day of short "B" movies. A couple of the most interesting titles are FLIGHT FROM GLORY (1937), with Chester Morris and a young Van Heflin as pilots, and THE MAN WHO FOUND HIMSELF (1937) with Joan Fontaine and John Beal.

...DESTINATION MURDER (1950) airs in the early morning hours on October 12th. I enjoyed this programmer when I watched it a few months ago thanks to the Warner Archive. The initial minutes of the film feature a cleverly staged murder, and there are some other well-planned bits including a killer who likes to work accompanied by "Moonlight Sonata."

...Later on the 12th there's a Dick Powell musical I've never seen, HAPPINESS AHEAD (1934), directed by Mervyn LeRoy.

...EYES IN THE NIGHT (1942) is a nifty crime drama with Edward Arnold as a blind detective. He has a remarkable dog! It leads off an evening of films on the disabled on October 16th.

...Another really interesting title in the disability in film series: 23 PACES TO BAKER STREET (1956) with Van Johnson as a blind playwright. Vera Miles costars. it will be shown October 16th.

...A day of Miriam Hopkins films on October 18th includes the entertaining WISE GIRL (1937) and WOMAN CHASES MAN (1937). She's teamed with Ray Milland in the first film and Joel McCrea in the second.

...SHADOW OF A WOMAN (1946) stars Andrea King as a woman who fears her husbands wishes to kill his son from a previous marriage. It airs October 20th. I highly recommend the official Andrea King website which has gorgeous photos of Andrea and her films.

...Joan Fontaine will turn 95 on October 22nd. The day's lineup includes a couple of obscure "B" films, YOU CAN'T BEAT LOVE (1937) with Preston Foster and SKY GIANT (1838) with Chester Morris. Some of Fontaine's better-known films also air that day, including THE CONSTANT NYMPH (1943), which I think might be her finest hour; the deliciously soapy BORN TO BE BAD (1950), in which Fontaine wreaks havoc in the lives of Robert Ryan, Joan Leslie, and Zachary Scott; and UNTIL THEY SAIL (1957), in which she movingly portrays a New Zealand woman who finds love with an American soldier during WWII. This would be a great day to stay home in front of the TV for a dozen hours or so!

...It's Joan Taylor night on October 28th, with a double bill of 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957) and EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956).

...APPOINTMENT IN BERLIN (1943) is another relatively obscure film I plan to record. George Sanders as a British secret agent battling the Nazis? Yes, please! Marguerite Chapman costars. It will be shown October 29th.

This is just a small selection of some of the well-known classics and interesting little discoveries available this month on Turner Classic Movies.

For more on TCM in October, check out the complete schedule, and be sure to visit Cliff's picks at Immortal Ephemera and Ivan's "Coming Distractions" at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Dangerous Mission (1954)

DANGEROUS MISSION is a somewhat odd but quite entertaining thriller starring Victor Mature as a New York detective on a special mission at Montana's Glacier National Park.

Matt Hallett (Mature) suspects that pretty Louise Graham (Piper Laurie), who works in Glacier's hotel gift shop, is the sole witness to a mob murder. If Louise is identified as the witness, there's a contract out on her life, and the hitman could be anyone at the resort.

The killer's probably not Chief Ranger Parker (William Bendix)...and we'll give good old Bess Flowers, the perennial movie party guest, a pass...and it's unlikely to be young park ranger Dennis Weaver or ranger Walter Reed...but perhaps it's photographer Paul Adams (Vincent Price) or Mr. Elster (Harry Cheshire) or...

DANGEROUS MISSION was one of a string of "resort thrillers" released by RKO in the early '50s. It followed in the footsteps of that studio's HIS KIND OF WOMAN (1951) and SECOND CHANCE (1953), both set in Mexico, and it also bears some similarities to the previous year's Fox film NIAGARA (1953).

Like SECOND CHANCE, DANGEROUS MISSION was filmed in 3D in beautiful settings; location shooting also distinguished NIAGARA, although that title wasn't in 3D. I think of the style of these types of movies as "Hitchcock meets Traveltalk" -- which the Master himself pulled off to perfection in his own NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959) at decade's end.

DANGEROUS MISSION blends spectacular footage shot at Glacier with some really bad back projections and soundstage work; the final glacier sequence was obviously all filmed indoors. The really good shots, which capture not only the scenery but the wardrobes and vehicles of a particular time and place, outweigh the silly-looking stuff and make the movie worth seeing.

The movie also emulates HIS KIND OF WOMAN in featuring Vincent Price as a strange hotel guest, a genial photographer who has a curiously potent effect on a gorgeous young Indian girl (Betta St. John, from the Broadway cast of SOUTH PACIFIC). What she sees in him I never did figure out. I also didn't understand why she was so curiously unaffected by the fact that her father (Steve Darrell) had very recently been charged with murder, but since that was simply a red herring in the plot I guess it didn't matter anyway!

The plot tends to meander in pointlessly entertaining directions; producer Irwin Allen couldn't resist ending a party scene with an avalanche, apparently for no other reason than it would make an exciting 3D sequence. The avalanche is soon over, Victor Mature saves the day by turning off the electrical power, and that's the end of that.

Similarly, Chief Ranger Parker drafts Mature to help out in a nonsensical firefighting sequence that could easily have been lifted from Paramount's THE FOREST RANGERS (1942). What these men think they'll accomplish by standing right next to trees with falling burning branches I'll never know, but apparently this was considered state of the art firefighting in the '40s and '50s. The fire is likewise soon over and Mature is back to his real job, trying to protect Laurie from the killer.

Lest I leave the impression I didn't like the movie, I had a really good time watching it, despite -- because of? -- its stranger aspects. Victor Mature on location in Glacier National Park works for me! The movie may have been silly at times, but it was never dull, and I found it to be fun Friday night viewing.

Louis King directed this 75-minute film. The photography was by William Snyder.

DANGEROUS MISSION does not appear to have had a DVD or VHS release, although it had a video release in Europe. It was recently shown on Turner Classic Movies. Here's the trailer.

Coming to DVD: Maureen O'Hara at Universal

Thanks to Toby and company at 50 Westerns From the 50s for the great news that two of Maureen O'Hara's early '50s films will soon be out in the Universal Vault series, available at Amazon.

FLAME OF ARABY (1951), in which Maureen costars with Jeff Chandler, has been on my wish list for a while now, and I'll be picking it up as soon as it's available. Looks like a lot of fun.

The supporting cast of FLAME OF ARABY includes Richard Egan, Lon Chaney Jr., and Susan Cabot. Charles Lamont directed.

COMANCHE TERRITORY (1950) pairs Maureen with Macdonald Carey, recently enjoyed by me in another Western, MAN OR GUN (1958). George Sherman directed.

The Universal Vault DVDs have been visually impressive, as mentioned in my reviews of TOMAHAWK (1951) and SEMINOLE (1953), so I'm anticipating the lovely Maureen will be looking exceptionally nice in these Technicolor movies.

This is a DVD series really deserving of support from classic film fans. My only complaint about the Universal Vault series is I wish they would release more titles!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Tonight's Movie: West of the Pecos (1945)

WEST OF THE PECOS is a well-made RKO "B" Western starring the young Robert Mitchum and Barbara Hale.

Mitchum, who had appeared the previous year in the Western NEVADA (1944), stars as Pecos Smith, while Hale plays Rill, who accompanies her father (Thurston Hall) when he travels to Texas for his health.

Pecos and his friend Chito Rafferty (Richard Martin) help Rill and her father settle into their new ranch, while also bringing to justice those responsible for the death of Pecos's best friend, Tex (Bill Williams).

This is a nicely constructed 66-minute Western with an appealing cast and particularly fine use of the Alabama Hills; the movie is a must for those who love Lone Pine.

My only quibble with the movie is that Barbara Hale spends a significant part of the film's running time dressed as a boy. I can't say I enjoyed the cross-dressing aspect of the plotline, with Pecos calling her "Kid" and a variety of resulting awkward little situations. Otherwise, the film is quite enjoyable, with Mitchum and Hale both demonstrating why they would go on to have long, successful careers.

This was Mitchum's last "B" Western; his career took off with the release of THE STORY OF G.I. JOE (1945) the same year, and then it was on to TILL THE END OF TIME (1946), UNDERCURRENT (1946), THE LOCKET (1946), PURSUED (1947), CROSSFIRE (1947), OUT OF THE PAST (1947), and on and on his great list of credits continues, for another 50 years.

I particularly loved realizing that Bill Williams was riding shotgun on the stagecoach carrying his real-life future wife, Hale; I don't think they ever actually spoke in this film, but finding them on the same stage was rather delightful. Williams and Hale married in 1946 and would later costar in A LIKELY STORY (1947) and THE CLAY PIGEON (1949). Williams passed on two decades ago; Hale, who was also seen by me last weekend in HIGHER AND HIGHER (1943), is now 90.

Richard Martin played Chito Rafferty in RKO Westerns throughout the '40s, including in Mitchum's NEVADA and in many Tim Holt Westerns, including THUNDER MOUNTAIN (1947). In WEST OF THE PECOS he is well teamed with Rita Corday, playing Hale's French maid; together they provide just the right amount of comic relief without overdoing it.

The movie was directed by Edward Killy and filmed by Harry J. Wild.

WEST OF THE PECOS is available on DVD from Lions Gate in the Zane Grey Western Classics series. The C&C Television Corp. print is quite good. It can be rented from Netflix or ClassicFlix.

It also had a release on VHS.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Maid's Night Out (1938)

MAID'S NIGHT OUT is an agreeable little screwball comedy starring the young Joan Fontaine and Allan "Rocky" Lane.

Lane plays Bill Norman, the heir to the Arlen Dairy business, who would prefer to spend his time studying fish. Bill ends up agreeing to work for his father (George Irving) as a milkman for a month and meets Sheila (Fontaine) at one of the houses on his route; he thinks she's the maid, but she's actually an impoverished debutante being courted by the annoying-but-rich Wally (William Brisbane).

This is a cute, fast-paced little movie with congenial leads, a good supporting cast, and pleasant-looking Southern California locations. (I'd love to know the neighborhoods where the movie was shot.) The good supporting cast includes Cecil Kellaway as the Norman family butler, Hedda Hopper as Sheila's mother, and Billy Gilbert as an excitable fishmonger.

Watch carefully to spot Jack Carson as a roller coaster attendant! A very young Frances Gifford is the ticket seller at the octopus exhibit. Lee Patrick makes the most of her brief screen time as an exuberant customer who loves kissing milkmen.

Vicki Lester is charming in a couple of scenes as Bill's cousin Adele. I know nothing about her and, given that her short-lived film career began in 1937, I wonder if she adopted the name of the heroine in the same year's A STAR IS BORN.

Other familiar faces in the cast include Edward Gargan, Paul Guilfoyle, Richard Lane, and I. Stanford Jolley. The movie was directed by Ben Holmes.

The movie gets a bit too silly in the final minutes, as Bill and Sheila are chased by the police, but on the whole MAID'S NIGHT OUT is a great example of the RKO "B" movie, providing an enjoyable 64 minutes.

A bit of oddball movie trivia: This is the second film seen by me this week featuring an ichthyologist for a leading man! Don Taylor was also obsessed with fish in 1948's FOR THE LOVE OF MARY.

MAID'S NIGHT OUT had a release on VHS in the excellent RKO Collection series, as part of a double feature video with Lucille Ball's ANNABEL TAKES A TOUR (1938).

It was also recently shown on Turner Classic Movies.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

TCM Announces 2013 Classic Film Festival Dates

Turner Classic Movies made several important announcements today regarding its 2013 Classic Film Festival.

As previously reported here, the fourth annual TCM Classic Film Festival will take place in Hollywood in the spring of 2013.

Today it was announced that the exact dates the festival will take place will be from April 25th through 28th, 2013.

It was also announced that the festival's theme will be "Cinematic Journeys: Travel in the Movies."

The pre-Festival Road to Hollywood screenings which take place around the country will begin extra-early this year, with screenings of FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956) due to take place next month at Kennedy Space Center -- as well as on the International Space Station!

Festival passes will go on sale this November. Prices are listed in today's press release.

I'll be sharing additional information about the festival as it develops. For more information, please also visit the TCM Classic Film Festival website.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Higher and Higher (1943)

HIGHER AND HIGHER is an early Frank Sinatra film I watched many times as a child; if I remember correctly, it used to be shown regularly on KHJ Channel 9 here in Southern California. I've always remembered this rather goofy film with a warm glow, and I finally caught up with it again tonight for the first time in decades. What a treat to discover that the glow is still there.

The plot is some of the usual movie comedy nonsense about the crazy rich and the hired help. Cyrus Drake (Leon Errol) is going broke; he's about to lose his mansion, and his staff hasn't been paid for months.

The servants hatch a plan to have French scullery maid Millie (Michele Morgan) pose as Drake's long-absent daughter, who's been living abroad. The plan is for Millie to marry money and save the mansion and everyone's finances. The only problem is Millie is in love with Mike (Jack Haley), the valet. And she's also got this neighbor named Frank Sinatra crooning to her...no joke!

The plot may be a trifle, but it's put over by a unique, energetic cast, and it's also got some wonderfully memorable music. Young Sinatra, playing himself, sings some great McHugh-Adams songs, "The Music Stopped," "A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening," and the Oscar-nominated "I Couldn't Sleep a Wink Last Night." These beautiful songs, as sung by Sinatra, are part of the film's magic.

Sinatra's not the only interesting musician in the film, however. There's this 17- or 18-year-old kid named Mel Torme making his film debut, and believe it or not pianist Victor Borge made his American film debut in the same movie. He plays a supposedly wealthy man who's also looking for a rich spouse. What fun to see this trio sharing a screen so early in their careers!

It was fun for me to realize tonight that in the years since first seeing the movie, I saw both Sinatra and Borge in concert, and Mel Torme was in the audience when I watched classic films on more than one occasion.

For good measure, the movie also boasts wonderful Dooley Wilson, the year after he played Sam in CASABLANCA (1942).

Lovely Barbara Hale plays a debutante who swoons for Sinatra. Hale, of course, would later be famous, among other things, as Della Street on TV's PERRY MASON. And as a bit of added trivia, her son with actor Bill Williams, William Katt, was the star of THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO.

If you look closely at one of Millie's bridesmaids near the end of the movie, future Oscar-winning actress Dorothy Malone can easily be spotted. It's that kind of movie!

The cast also includes Mary Wickes, Marcy McGuire, and Elisabeth Risdon. The movie was directed by Tim Whelan; it runs 90 minutes.

HIGHER AND HIGHER has a couple of interesting connections with films I've seen in the past few days. William Bowers, who wrote some of the film's additional dialogue, wrote the screenplay for last night's movie, THE LAW AND JAKE WADE (1958). And the songs "A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening" and "I Couldn't Sleep a Wink Last Night" were borrowed three years later for RKO's "B" movie CRIMINAL COURT (1946), sung by Martha O'Driscoll.

HIGHER AND HIGHER is available on DVD in the five-film DVD set Frank Sinatra - The Early Years. The DVD can be rented from Netflix.

It also had a release on VHS in the RKO Collection.

HIGHER AND HIGHER is one of those relatively little-known films which is nonetheless a great deal of fun. Recommended for fans of musicals and screwball comedies.

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