Sunday, June 30, 2013

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...In my mailbox from John DiLeo: AND YOU THOUGHT YOU KNEW CLASSIC MOVIES: 200 QUIZZES FOR GOLDEN AGE MOVIE LOVERS. This 1999 book by John was just reissued, including in a Kindle edition. It's filled with fun quizzes; I appreciate that John's book isn't aimed at those with only a superficial knowledge of some classic films, but instead is targeted for film fans who really know their movies. If you can name the movies in which Van Johnson, Herbert Marshall, Arthur Kennedy, and Ida Lupino were blind, then this book is for you! I've enjoyed John's previous books, including SCREEN SAVERS, SCREEN SAVERS II, and TENNESSEE WILLIAMS AND COMPANY: HIS ESSENTIAL SCREEN ACTORS, and I appreciated receiving the review copy of his reissued book!

...I really enjoyed a two-part article at Greenbriar Picture Shows on the wonders of being a classic film fan in this day and age. The look back at RCA videodiscs particularly struck a chord -- they seemed like such a great idea, but were almost unplayable, skipping like crazy.

...Kim of GlamAmor recently had the marvelous opportunity to inspect Elizabeth Taylor's 1950 wedding gown designed by Helen Rose, which sold at auction last week for over $188,000. Rose also designed gorgeous real-life wedding gowns for Ann Blyth and Grace Kelly.

...THE COME-ON (1956) with Sterling Hayden and Anne Baxter sure sounds like fun. You can read about it at Where Danger Lives.

...A WWII propaganda film from Monogram with a flashy title, WOMEN IN BONDAGE (1943), was recently released by the Warner Archive. Gail Patrick plays a German wife who comes to realize Nazi-ism is scary stuff. The movie was just reviewed by Glenn Erickson at DVD Savant.

...It is possible Fox is finally realizing how badly their "manufactured on demand" program is blowing it, in terms of releasing widescreen films in pan and scan? I hope this bit of industry gossip proves to be true.

...The annual Hallmark ornament Dream Book is available online. I was surprised to learn that Hallmark has lost the rights to Barbie ornaments; the rights are now held by American Greetings, and based on this post they are rather unattractive. Well, at least it will save me money and I don't need to worry about ending up with more ornaments than will fit on my Barbie tree! Westerns fans: Last year's RIO BRAVO John Wayne ornament was followed up this year with an ornament based on THE SEARCHERS.

...Last week the Guardian ran an interesting interview with movie dubber extraordinaire Marni Nixon. (Via KC at Classic Movies.)

...The L.A. Times had an interesting article this weekend on apps which allow neighbors to help one another and make some money, cutting more expensive service providers out of the loop. I'd never heard of DogVacay or TaskRabbit and found the concepts quite interesting. DogVacay has an interesting website; you can check out people in your area who will board your dog and read reviews.

...Notable Passings: Screenwriter and novelist Richard Matheson has passed away at the age of 87. Matheson wrote for many TV series, including TWILIGHT ZONE and LAWMAN; his novel BID TIME RETURN became the much-loved SOMEWHERE IN TIME (1980) with Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour...Actor Elliott Reid, seen here in a photo, has died at 93. One of his earliest films was MGM's YOUNG IDEAS (1943). He's perhaps best known for GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES (1953). Other films included SIERRA (1950) and VICKI (1953).

Have a great week!

Tonight's Movie: Easy to Love (1953)

EASY TO LOVE is a terrifically entertaining film starring the late, great Esther Williams. This movie is a spectacular illustration for anyone who wants to know what an Esther Williams film is all about.

Esther plays Julie Hallerton, who water-skis and swims in shows at Cypress Gardens in Florida. She's rather inexplicably in love with her boss Ray Lloyd (Van Johnson), a manipulative workhorse who constantly guilts Julie into doing one more job, one more personal appearance.

When charming singer Barry Gordon (Tony Martin) falls for Julie while she's on a trip to New York, it looks as though Julie has found the real Mr. Right and will transfer her affections to Barry. If only.

The movie's one flaw, actually, is that Barry is so nice and genuinely interested in Julie -- plus he sings like an angel -- that it makes it really hard to see what Julie likes in Ray. Ray continually lets Julie down, and there doesn't seem to be much of an up side to their relationship. Sure, we know she loves him 'cause he's Van Johnson, but other than that...Barry's the one who's the catch.

The screenplay writes itself into a bit of a corner with this issue, but then extricates itself brilliantly with a Hail Mary pass that will leave any musical fan with a huge smile at the end. Barry comes out A-OK, and that's an understatement. It had been so long since I saw the film that I'd completely forgotten how it ended, and I confess it actually made me tear up a little with happiness. More than that I won't say.

Esther looks absolutely fabulous, dressed in creations by the great Helen Rose. She has a variety of swimming numbers which are all very different, special in their own ways. The opening swim routine, with John Bromfield, is quite a seductive, elegant number. Later she swims in a tank during a job tryout, showing off lovely somersaults and other balletic swim moves through the glass.

The final number is a massive water-ski routine designed by Busby Berkeley, and it still thrills today. It's even more impressive when the viewer knows that Williams was pregnant at the time -- and had never water-skiied before in her life! Williams insisted that a double perform the final high dive, fearing it could cause a miscarriage, but otherwise that's Esther out there on skis throughout the number, even jumping over the orchestra!

This was the last film teaming Esther with her frequent costar Van Johnson. Some of the posters are amusing, implying that Van was also on water-skis, but that's not the case. Poor Van is actually saddled with a fairly unlikeable character in this, and he's also not photographed to best effect, with his skin looking noticeably splotchy in a couple shots.

EASY TO LOVE is a bit of a reversal of Van and Esther's relationship seen in their previous film, DUCHESS OF IDAHO (1950), where Van had the nicer character and Esther was constantly stringing him along. But, anyway, despite the annoying character, it's Van Johnson and he and Esther always end up together so presumably they'll live happily ever after!

Look for Carroll Baker in a small role as Barry's jealous girlfriend; it was her first feature film. The cast also includes King Donovan and Edna Skinner.

EASY TO LOVE was directed by Charles Walters, a nice man who, as I recounted a few years ago, I had the good fortune to meet. He and Esther were good friends and actually created the story for MGM's ATHENA (1954) together, only to have MGM steal it away to use as a Jane Powell-Debbie Reynolds movie.

EASY TO LOVE runs 96 minutes. It was shot in Technicolor by Ray June. The extended location shooting in Florida is a real plus for the movie.

EASY TO LOVE is part of the TCM Spotlight Esther Williams Volume 2 DVD collection. It can be rented from Netflix and ClassicFlix.

It also had a release on VHS.

EASY TO LOVE is also shown on Turner Classic Movies. The trailer can be seen on the TCM website.

TCM in July: Highlights

Summertime and the livin' is easy! Time to power down and cool off watching plenty of classic movies.

The are lots of interesting titles ahead on the Turner Classic Movies schedule for this month.

The TCM Star of the Month is Paul Henreid; I'll be incorporating some of those titles into this post rather than doing a separate Star of the Month post for July. 27 Henreid films are scheduled spread across five Tuesday evenings in July.

Here are tips on just a handful of the interesting films airing on TCM this month:

...On July 1st TCM celebrates Canada Day with a number of movies set in the country to our north. Titles include everything from ANNE OF GREEN GABLES (1934) to the original version of ROSE MARIE (1936) to the WWII film NORTHERN PURSUIT (1943) with Errol Flynn. NORTHWEST RANGERS (1942) is an MGM "B" movie with William Lundigan and James Craig; Lundigan had played a similar role in a Warner Bros. version of the same story, EAST OF THE RIVER (1940). I'm particularly looking forward to recording George Brent in GOD'S COUNTRY AND THE WOMAN (1937).

...Paul Henreid's Star of the Month celebration kicks off on Tuesday evening, July 2nd, with five films, including two opposite Ida Lupino, IN OUR TIME (1944) and DEVOTION (1946); two musical biographies, SONG OF LOVE (1947) and DEEP IN MY HEART (1954); and the musical MEET ME IN LAS VEGAS (1956), in which he plays Cyd Charisse's manager.

...WEEKEND WITH FATHER (1951) is a romantic comedy about parents who meet and fall in love while sending their children to summer camp. It stars Van Heflin, Patricia Neal, with the children played by Gigi and Janine Perreau, Jimmy Hunt, and Tommy Rettig (LASSIE); it was directed by Douglas Sirk, best known for his melodramas of later in the '50s. It will be shown the evening of the 3rd along with several other "family" films including TWICE BLESSED (1945), a fun "B" film which plays like an early version of THE PARENT TRAP (1961). Preston Foster and Gail Patrick are the divorced parents in TWICE BLESSED, with talented real-life twins Lyn and Lee Wilde as their daughters.

...There are a number of patriotic films airing on the 4th of July, although a couple of them, such as THE HOWARDS OF VIRGINIA (1940) and THE SCARLET COAT (1955), admittedly aren't all that good. But stick around for Americana musicals such as ANCHORS AWEIGH (1945), YANKEE DOODLE DANDY (1942), and THE MUSIC MAN (1962), which it seems like TCM shows every Independence Day. :)

...SH! THE OCTOPUS (1937) is an odd title for what is a 55-minute comedy starring Allen Jenkins. Unfortunately the tedious Hugh Herbert costars, but Allen Jenkins in a short octopus movie might be worth trying. It's on July 5th.

...Later on the 5th: the excellent Western noir BLOOD ON THE MOON (1948) starring Robert Mitchum, Barbara Bel Geddes, Walter Brennan, Robert Preston, and Phyllis Thaxter, not to mention terrific actors like Charles McGraw, Tom Tully, and Frank Faylen in the supporting cast. It was directed by Robert Wise. I was fortunate to see it on a big screen just about exactly two years ago.

...In the mood for a Jane Powell musical? RICH, YOUNG AND PRETTY (1951) is a fun one airing on July 7th. She stars opposite Vic Damone, in his film debut, with Danielle Darrieux, Fernando Lamas, Una Merkel, and Wendell Corey costarring. The Four Freshmen even turn up for a song late in the film.

...Paul Henreid films continue on July 9th, starting with the classic NOW, VOYAGER (1942) opposite Bette Davis. He also starred opposite Davis in DECEPTION (1946) and directed her in DEAD RINGER (1964), both airing on the 9th as well. The five films airing this evening wrap with the Technicolor swashbuckler THE SPANISH MAIN (1945) opposite Maureen O'Hara. (Is that supposed to be Henreid in the poster?!)

...Robert Osborne's picks on July 10th are two Joan Bennett films followed by two Hedy Lamarr films. I love both actresses and am glad to see Mr. Osborne shining a light on their work. The Bennett films are THE RECKLESS MOMENT (1949) and TRADE WINDS (1938); THE RECKLESS MOMENT is an absolutely superb "housewife noir" title costarring James Mason and directed by Max Ophuls, while in TRADE WINDS Bennett famously and permanently changed from a blonde to a brunette -- which left her looking a bit like the other lady celebrated that night, Hedy Lamarr! The Lamarr films are her first American film, ALGIERS (1938), and her funny turn in COMRADE X (1940). COMRADE X doesn't entirely succeed, but Lamarr is simply wonderful as a dedicated Communist who marries an American reporter (Clark Gable) in Russia.

...TCM honors the late, great Ray Harryhausen with a five-film memorial tribute the evening of July 11th. Titles include EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956) which I found a lot of fun when I saw it for the first time last year. Hugh Marlowe and Joan Taylor star.

...Several Westerns air during the day on Friday, July 12th, including RED RIVER (1948) and one of my favorite films, WAGON MASTER (1950). Another favorite airing that day, SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON (1949), was filmed in Monument Valley, which I visited in May. Photos of a significant location for the film are included in my post. There's another chance to see SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON on July 27th.

...HIRED WIFE (1940) is an excellent romantic comedy with a witty script which was hard to find for a very long time. It's on during an evening of Rosalind Russell films on July 13th. Brian Aherne, Virginia Bruce, Robert Benchley, and John Carroll costar.

...I really enjoyed the murder mystery THE WHOLE TRUTH (1958) and would like to watch it again. You can't beat the cast: Stewart Granger, Donna Reed, and George Sanders. It's on the 15th.

...The half-dozen Paul Henreid films shown on the 16th are a varied bunch, ranging from SIREN OF BAGDAD (1953) with Patricia Medina to the noir HOLLOW TRIUMPH (1948) -- also known as THE SCAR -- with Joan Bennett to JOAN OF PARIS (1942) with Michele Morgan. SO YOUNG, SO BAD (1950) is a somewhat interesting low-budget film with Henreid playing a psychologist trying to help wayward girls including Anne Francis and Rita Moreno.

...The hour-long BORN FOR TROUBLE (1942), also known as MURDER IN THE BIG HOUSE, was one of Van Johnson's very earliest films. It will air on July 18th.

...Friday, July 19th, features a day of baseball films, including two titles I've reviewed here previously, DEATH ON THE DIAMOND (1934) with Robert Young and IT HAPPENS EVERY SPRING (1949) starring Ray Milland.

...Another baseball film, THE STRATTON STORY (1949), airs on July 21st. It was the first film teaming Jimmy Stewart and June Allyson.

...July 22nd is a day of films featuring big bands. Titles include HOLLYWOOD HOTEL (1937) with Dick Powell and GARDEN OF THE MOON (1938) with John Payne. It's fun to note that both Powell and Payne started out as '30s crooners, then later morphed into two of the most highly regarded stars of film noir.

...STORM FEAR (1953) is a must for me on July 23rd. It stars real-life husband and wife Cornel Wilde and Jean Wallace, the same year they made the noir classic THE BIG COMBO (1955), and it was directed by Wilde. The great Dan Duryea costars.

...Six more Paul Henreid films air on July 23rd, including OF HUMAN BONDAGE (1946) and BETWEEN TWO WORLDS (1944), also starring Eleanor Parker. PIRATES OF TRIPOLI (1955) was another adventure film he made with Patricia Medina.

...I really enjoyed an unfamiliar actress, Marian Marsh, in BEAUTY AND THE BOSS (1932). She stars with Boris Karloff and Katherine DeMille in the horror film THE BLACK ROOM (1935) on July 25th.

...On July 26th I strongly recommend STATION WEST (1948), which like BLOOD ON THE MOON (airing July 5th) is basically a Western film noir. It stars noir icons Dick Powell and Jane Greer. Burl Ives adds some atmospheric music.

...LATIN LOVERS (1953) is one of those '50s Technicolor films from MGM which looks so great it could be enjoyed with the sound off. It stars Lana Turner, Richard Montalban, and John Lund, directed by Mervyn LeRoy, who had also directed Turner in her breakthrough film as a teenager, THEY WON'T FORGET (1937). It airs Sunday the 28th.

...The 68-minute "B" film FEAR (1946) sounds interesting, with Warren William as a police captain. Anne Gwynne costars. It airs July 29th.

...The final evening of Paul Henreid films, on July 30th, leads off with the CASABLANCA-like THE CONSPIRATORS (1944), costarring Hedy Lamarr, Peter Lorre, and Sydney Greenstreet, and then CASABLANCA (1942) itself.

...Reno is the daytime theme on July 31st. The titles include Gail Patrick, Richard Dix, and Anita Louise in RENO (1940), directed by John Farrow.

...Later on the 31st, Cornel Wilde stars in Douglas Sirk's SHOCKPROOF (1949). Another interesting film that evening is Sirk's THERE'S ALWAYS TOMORROW (1956), recently reviewed by Mark at Cin-Eater. THERE'S ALWAYS TOMORROW stars Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck; it was partly filmed at the Apple Valley Inn, also seen in HIGHWAY DRAGNET (1954) and FOXFIRE (1955).

As a side note, the Fox Movie Channel schedule is extremely repetitive this month so I won't be doing a separate post on it. Please visit my June post on the Fox schedule, which also links to posts which cover the past few months; put any title of interest from those posts into the search box at the Fox Movie Channel website to see if it's playing in July. Chances are good it will be!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Border G-Man (1938)

I initially intended to follow up tonight's highly enjoyable pre-Code, BEAUTY AND THE BOSS (1932), with FIVE STAR FINAL (1931), a pre-Code newspaper movie with the same leading lady, Marian Marsh. FIVE STAR FINAL stars Edward G. Robinson.

Unfortunately FIVE STAR FINAL was a real downer of a movie, and threatened to become even more so as it went on. I virtually always finish movies once I've started them, but I felt that the movie was emotionally manipulative and decided to set it aside, at least for tonight. (If anyone wants to sell me on why it's worth enduring creepy Boris Karloff disguising himself as a minister and causing folks to commit suicide, feel free. It just wasn't working for me.)

Instead I turned my attention to the reassuring, smiling presence of George O'Brien as a BORDER G-MAN. BORDER G-MAN is a nicely entertaining hour-long RKO Western costarring the young Laraine Johnson, who would move to MGM the next year. At MGM Laraine Johnson was transformed into Laraine Day, the heroine of the DR. KILDARE series; by 1940 she was the leading lady of Hitchcock's FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940). Later still, she would become the offscreen "First Lady of Baseball" thanks to her marriage to Leo Durocher.

BORDER G-MAN is a "hybrid Western" in the style of some of the Roy Rogers and Gene Autry movies; characters frequently travel on horseback and there's lots of gunplay, but cars, trucks, and telephones are also part of the story.

O'Brien plays Jim Galloway, sent by the Department of Justice to investigate strange goings-on at a ranch on the Pacific Coast. Galloway discovers a militia in training and uncovers a plot to smuggle munitions and horses out of the United States, in violation of the Neutrality Act.

As in his other films, O'Brien has a winning personality, balancing a light, humorous attitude with the ability to get the job done when things get rough. The scenes where he courts the initially antagonistic but spirited Johnson are a lot of fun.

Some of the best moments in the movie feature Ray Whitley singing with the Phelps Brothers, including Whitley's classic composition "Back in the Saddle Again." I really liked "To Watch the Settin' Sun," which had great mood. The Phelps Brothers appeared with Whitley in a number of other Westerns.

BORDER G-MAN was directed by David Howard.

BORDER G-MAN is not available on DVD or VHS; I was able to see it thanks to Turner Classic Movies. O'Brien and Johnson/Day made three films together in 1938; it would be wonderful if they were released on DVD in a set such as the three-film George O'Brien Collection released a few months ago by the Warner Archive. All three films in the Archive's O'Brien Collection costarred Virginia Vale; it would be great if the Archive were also to release the other three films O'Brien made with Vale. I'd snap up any further O'Brien collections in a heartbeat, as I have found them to be very enjoyable entertainment.

Previous reviews of George O'Brien Westerns: GUN LAW (1938), THE MARSHAL OF MESA CITY (1939), and LEGION OF THE LAWLESS (1940).

Tonight's Movie: Beauty and the Boss (1932)

BEAUTY AND THE BOSS is a delightfully diverting, very unpolitically correct pre-Code. It provided a most enjoyable hour and six minutes.

Warren William plays super-wealthy Viennese Baron Josef von Ullrich. The Baron is a productivity-focused working machine who declares "Women are for non-working hours" when he's distracted by his comely secretary, Ollie (Mary Doran). The Baron discharges Ollie -- then gives her six months' pay and tells her she'll be hearing from him when he has "a weak moment." Some of the dialogue in this scene has to be heard to be believed!

Enter Susie Sachs (Marian Marsh), a poorly dressed young woman who is unemployed and on the verge of starvation; Susie is also, like the Baron, a fiend for work. In a tremendous scene, the best in the movie, Susie thrills him with her efficiency and is hired on the spot. She immediately picks up the phone and has a large order of groceries delivered to her mother -- even, at the Baron's insistence, a goose!

The Baron and Susie sail along, working in harmony, until a business trip to Paris. Susie finds herself jealous of Ollie, who is making a play for the Baron's attention, and as for the Baron, he is stunned when he sees Susie in a Parisian evening gown, and upset when his younger brother (David Manners) declares his love for the duckling-turned-swan.

This movie was tremendous fun, not least because of all the chauvinistic dialogue which couldn't be said in a movie of 2013! Not to mention the racy dialogue which would disappear from movies after the Code began to be enforced in 1934. This is a movie to watch and listen to quite carefully, as the dialogue flying by can leave the viewer's head spinning for multiple reasons.

This is the kind of great no-holds-barred, powerful character Warren William essayed so well in the pre-Code era. As in many other William movies, he's frankly rather a sexist cad at times in this, but he's also tremendous fun to watch. The pre-Code era just wouldn't have been the same without Warren William.

Fortunately, as the film goes on William's character is toned down and softened as he's humbled by love, and the film ends on a high note as a kind of Cinderella romantic comedy.

I'm not sure I've seen Marian Marsh in a film before; she looked and sounded a bit like Reese Witherspoon. She's a wonderful fresh face in this, at least for me as the viewer; she might have toned down her ultra rapid-fire dialogue in the "swan" section of the movie, but it works perfectly in her first and final scenes.

I enjoyed Marsh very much as the determined Susie, who has been turning down dates with the landlord's son so she can perfect her shorthand (150 words a minute!). The sequence where she finagles her way into the Baron's office and talks him into offering her a job is worth the price of admission.

The cherry on top of the icing is droll Charles Butterworth as one of the Baron's assistants. The perpetually befuddled Butterworth can always be counted on to provide some funny moments, and he delivers here.

BEAUTY AND THE BOSS was directed by Roy Del Ruth. The supporting cast includes Frederick Kerr and Robert Greig.

This movie is available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

This movie, which was based on a play, was remade just a couple of years later as THE CHURCH MOUSE (1934), starring Ian Hunter and Laura La Plante. THE CHURCH MOUSE is also available from the Warner Archive.

BEAUTY AND THE BOSS can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies, which has the trailer available on the TCM website.

BEAUTY AND THE BOSS is "must" viewing for anyone who loves pre-Codes, and it makes a great introduction for those unfamiliar with this era in classic film history.

Today at Disney California Adventure: Beautiful Morning

It's a hot but pretty day here in Southern California, and I celebrated the start of a holiday week by heading out to California Adventure for a walk and breakfast.

On my way in I spotted this beautiful new sign:


Bustling Buena Vista Street early on Saturday:


This fountain at Carthay Circle is one of my favorite things on Buena Vista Street. So inviting on a hot day!


My view from the patio at Flo's:


Another of my favorite things in DCA:


And speaking of favorite things, it was too early to stop in Clarabelle's today, but check out the inviting photos of the shop's hand-dipped ice cream bars at the official Disney Parks Blog.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Broadway Gondolier (1935)

BROADWAY GONDOLIER is a very enjoyable Warner Bros. musical comedy starring Dick Powell as a singing cab driver.

Powell plays Dick Purcell, a cabbie who hopes to croon on the radio. He loses his initial chance with UBC radio when he can't go through with the indignity of making animal sounds on a children's show, but when he goes to visit his music professor (Adolphe Menjou) in Italy, he's discovered by UBC radio sponsor Mrs. Flagenheim (Louise Fazenda). She thinks Dick's an Italian gondolier, and UBC markets him that way.

Radio serial star Cliff Stanley (William Gargan), who is jealous of Dick's romance with station secretary Alice Hughes (Joan Blondell), threatens to expose Dick as a fraud unless Dick will stop seeing Alice.

This is an amusing trifle with some very funny moments, such as Blondell's initial scene where she turns Dick away from the station in a fast-talking deadpan monotone. Her reactions as she first listens to him sing are delightful, as she's alternately swept away by his voice and trying to play it cool when he's looking at her. Powell, of course, moves easily from comedy to romance to some really lovely singing. It's a terrific part, and he makes the most of it, onscreen for the majority of the film.

This was one of many films teaming Powell and Blondell, and they have great chemistry; in fact, they married the following year, a marriage which last eight years. At the time BROADWAY GONDOLIER was made, however, Blondell was married to the film's cinematographer, George Barnes.

The movie makes a great showcase for some very good songs by Harry Warren and Al Dubin. "The Rose in Her Hair" is a bit of silver screen magic when Dick sings it while cruising the canals of Venice; I had a big smile on my face as the sequence escalated and crowds joined in the singing. I was also thrilled to see Powell singing "Lulu's Back in Town" with the Mills Brothers, a wonderful musical moment. Other songs include "Lonely Gondolier" and "Outside of You."

My only real complaint about BROADWAY GONDOLIER is that Adolphe Menjou's Italian-accented routine as Powell's professor wears fairly thin. Menjou was good in a lot of movies, but this part as the not-with-the-times old musician simply isn't interesting; the character slows down the action whenever he comes on screen.

The supporting cast is a treasure trove of character actors, including Grant Mitchell as the harried exec running the radio station, while Hobart Cavanaugh and George Barbier play inebriated theater critics. Joe Sawyer, then billed as Joseph Sauers, plays a cabbie, and the inevitable George Chandler shows up in two scenes as a newspaper reporter. Mary Treen has a funny bit as an irate mother complaining to the radio station. Ted Fio Rito and Judy Canova are among the performers at the radio station.

This film was directed by Lloyd Bacon. It runs 99 minutes.

BROADWAY GONDOLIER has not had a DVD or VHS release. It can be seen on Turner Classic Movies. The trailer is at the TCM website.

BROADWAY GONDOLIER is a very enjoyable sample of "typical" mid '30s Warner Bros. moviemaking clicking along on all cylinders. Good stuff.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Tonight's Movie: No Name on the Bullet (1959)

Audie Murphy is superb as mysterious hired killer John Gant in an excellent psychological Western, NO NAME ON THE BULLET.

Gant rides into town and checks into a room above the saloon, then proceeds to sit around drinking coffee and playing chess while various guilt-ridden townspeople go crazy due to the presence of a hired killer in their midst.

Before long one man has killed himself, another prepares to leave town, and some of the townspeople have engaged in a shootout amongst themselves. Gant, meanwhile, bides his time before paying a visit on his unlikely quarry.

This movie reminded me, of all things, of the classic 1958 MAVERICK episode "Shady Deal at Sunny Acres," where James Garner's Bret Maverick sits on a porch whittling and saying "I'm workin' on it!" while others are actually busy righting the wrong that was done to him. I couldn't help thinking of that as Gant sat quietly ordering more coffee, while the townspeople fell to pieces around him. Gant may be a hired killer, yet he leaves the town a better place, with many of the changes occurring while he sits and watches.

Gant engages in philosophical chats with the town doctor, Luke Canfield (Charles Drake), whom Gant calls "Physician." Their exchanges are some of the best scenes in the movie, as they discuss matters of life and death. Gant admires Luke as an honest man and tries to convince Luke that perhaps their roles are not as different as Luke thinks.

Murphy is simply excellent in every way as the steely killer. He's well aware of the chaos his presence causes and takes a certain amount of satisfaction from it, particularly if fear inadvertently leads the guilty to some form of justice; at the same time, Gant is highly self-disciplined, refusing to gun down the honorable sheriff (Willis Bouchey) he wasn't paid to kill.

It's a very assured, confident performance by Murphy; having seen several Murphy films this year, it's interesting tracing his development from a slightly awkward yet fitting performance in SIERRA (1950) to the pitch-perfect acting of later films like NIGHT PASSAGE (1957) and NO NAME ON THE BULLET.

Drake is also fine as the doctor concerned about the state of his community's health as they react to Gant; Drake was always a reliable "go to" actor, particularly when it came to playing noble types, FOUR GUNS TO THE BORDER (1954) being but one more example.

I thought the casting of R.G. Armstrong as Drake's father was a bit odd, and indeed, a peek at IMDb shows that in real life Armstrong was just six months older than his "son." Both men were born in 1917. Drake had been in the movies for two decades at this point, with one of his earliest films being THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1939); Armstrong's first film wasn't until 1954. Offscreen Armstrong outlived Drake by many years; Drake died in 1994, while Armstrong was still with us until last summer, passing away in July 2012, at the age of 95.

Joan Evans plays a judge's daughter who's Luke's fiancee, but it's a bland role and performance; her character seems to exist mainly to serve as a plot device late in the film.

Virginia Grey, seen last night in THE FIGHTING LAWMAN (1953), probably filmed her scenes in a single day, but she's highly effective as a woman who knew Gant in the past. Warren Stevens plays her disturbed husband. This storyline seems somewhat truncated; it would be interesting to know if some of it ended up on the cutting-room floor.

The cast also includes Karl Swenson, Jerry Paris, Whit Bissell, Edgar Stehli, Marjorie Bennett, and Hugh Corcoran. Cowboy actor Bob Steele is a poker player.

The movie was directed by Jack Arnold (CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON). It was shot on the Universal backlot by Harold Lipstein. The film runs 77 minutes.

NO NAME ON THE BULLET is available on DVD in a widescreen print from the Universal Western Collection. It was also released in the Universal Western Collection VHS series. The DVD is no longer available from Netflix but it can be rented from ClassicFlix.

Previous reviews of Audie Murphy films: SIERRA (1950), GUNSMOKE (1953), RIDE CLEAR OF DIABLO (1954), and NIGHT PASSAGE (1957).

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Tonight's Movie: The Fighting Lawman (1953)

It's apparent in the first few minutes of the Allied Artists film THE FIGHTING LAWMAN that it's not going to be one of the more scintillating "B" Westerns ever made. A sample of the too-earnest narration: "It was a hot, dry, dusty day. Seems like it always is when you're chasing bank robbers."

The first few minutes are narrated by Deputy Marshal Jim Burke (Wayne Morris), which gives the film the feel of a Western law enforcement procedural. It's an odd blend of "docu-cop" and 1880s Western, as Burke hunts down the three surviving men who robbed the Bank of Flagstaff. His trail leads to a small town and the sister (Virginia Grey) of a fourth robber who died after breaking out of jail.

I approached the film with goodwill due to the lead actors, Morris and Grey, and while the movie did not prove to be noteworthy, it was watchable light entertainment which moved along at a good pace. It's a pleasant time-passer for fans of "B" Westerns, but not much more than that, and surely some of the lines must have been hokey even in 1953.

I did also feel that Morris's performance veered back and forth between appearing comfortable and awkward as a lawman in the Old West; that clash was, oddly enough, part of what made him interesting to watch. Morris was a longtime pro but I could never quite figure out if he fit in a Western movie, though he made a number of them in the '50s. A better script with more character shadings doubtless would have helped; the story is acceptable but quite by-the-numbers.

Grey's role was a bit of a surprise, playing a no-good, exceptionally mercenary woman. It's not a very appealing character for such a likeable actress, but Grey does well in the part. She and Morris had previously costarred in DESERT PURSUIT (1952).

I felt that it was useful to see this film to appreciate the relative quality of the "B" Westerns starring actors such as George O'Brien and Tim Holt. The Holt movies, for example, were sometimes miniature Western works of art in terms of their visual quality, beautifully shot by people like J. Roy Hunt and Nicholas Musuraca.

THE FIGHTING LAWMAN is partly set in Flagstaff but the locations look very Southern California, and indeed, IMDb indicates the film was made at Corriganville in Simi Valley.

This film was directed by Thomas Carr. The supporting cast includes John Kellogg, Harry Lauter, John Pickard, Denver Pyle, and Rick Vallin. Longtime Western character actor Myron Healey plays a sheriff who joins forces with Jim. The film runs 72 minutes.

THE FIGHTING LAWMAN is part of a Wayne Morris Double Feature released by the Warner Archive. The print is quite nice, although the film itself has an unremarkable "TV Western" type appearance, shot by Gilbert Warrenton. Warner Archive also gets kudos for the very appealing box art. What a long way the Archive has come from the plain blue cases of its first year!

The other film on the "twofer" disc is THE MARKSMAN (1953), costarring Elena Verdugo and character actor favorite Frank Ferguson.

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