Monday, September 30, 2013

TCM in October: Highlights

It's time to take a look at the schedule for Turner Classic Movies in October!

Vincent Price is Star of the Month for October, and the Friday Night Spotlight has been transformed into Friday Night "Spooklight" for the month, all of which means there are more scary movies airing on TCM in October than I can ever remember!

Vincent Price movies will be shown every Thursday this month, culminating in Price horror movies all evening on Halloween night. Since scary movies aren't my thing, I won't be doing a separate Star of the Month post for October, but I'll be highlighting some of Price's non-horror films below.

Here's a peek at some of the interesting things airing this month:

...There's a pair of good Ida Lupino-Robert Ryan films from 1952 on October 3rd. Actually, I'd have to say the second of the films, ON DANGEROUS GROUND (1952) is great, not good; its strong points include stunning black and white photography. Also showing: BEWARE, MY LOVELY (1952). The two Lupino-Ryan films are preceded by a movie Lupino directed, HARD, FAST AND BEAUTIFUL (1951).

...The first evening of Vincent Price films this month, on October 3rd, includes the great "color noir" LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN (1945) with Gene Tierney and Jeanne Crain, and an MGM noir I love, THE BRIBE (1949), costarring Robert Taylor and Ava Gardner. The film's finale finds Price taking part in a very stylish shootout during a fireworks show.

...FEMALE (1933), airing on October 4th, is one of my favorite pre-Codes. It packs tremendous entertainment value into its 61 minutes, including some stunning set design (that organ!). Some viewers feel the ending is a cop-out, but who can blame Chatterton for falling for handsome George Brent? At the time they were also a couple off the screen.

...711 OCEAN DRIVE (1950) is one of those movies I might not have liked with a different actor or less effective staging, as the lead character, played by Edmond O'Brien, makes a lot of bad choices. I remained in sympathy with him nonetheless, perhaps in part because of his genuinely tender feelings for the character played by Joanne Dru. Great location shooting at Hoover Dam is another plus. It's on Saturday, October 5th.

...A tribute to director Robert Z. Leonard on October 7th includes MGM's PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (1940), which I greatly love, anachronistic costumes and all. One of the cast members, Marsha Hunt (Mary), is still with us at age 95; her onscreen sister, Ann Rutherford (Lydia), just passed away last year.

...A day of dancing films on October 8th includes Cyd Charisse and Margaret O'Brien in THE UNFINISHED DANCE (1947) and Fred Astaire in two underrated films, THE SKY'S THE LIMIT (1943) and my very favorite Astaire film, YOU WERE NEVER LOVELIER (1942).

...There's a fun lineup of Peter Lawford movies on October 9th, including the delightful GOOD NEWS (1947) with June Allyson. You can't help but love great numbers like "The French Lesson," "Pass That Peace Pipe," or "The Varsity Drag." Charles Walters directed.

...Vincent Price is pure fun in HIS KIND OF WOMAN (1951), one of half a dozen of his films shown on October 10th. The movie stars Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell. Also on tap that evening are Russell and Victor Mature in another fun film, THE LAS VEGAS STORY (1952), and another Mature film, DANGEROUS MISSION (1954).

...I like to recommend MYSTERY STREET (1950) when I get a chance. It was filmed in Boston, with Ricardo Montalban as a police detective working to solve a murder with Harvard criminalist Bruce Bennett. The early "CSI" aspect is quite interesting. It will air on October 12th.

...Another very enjoyable musical from Charles Walters airs on Sunday, the 13th: THE GLASS SLIPPER (1955), a retelling of the Cinderella story starring Leslie Caron.

...Angela Lansbury's 88th birthday will be celebrated in the daytime lineup on October 16th with seven films ranging from GASLIGHT (1944) and THE HARVEY GIRLS (1946) to THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (1962).

...I'm thrilled there will be a five-film primetime tribute to Tyrone Power on October 16th. The event includes the TCM premieres of two 20th Century-Fox films, the excellent Western RAWHIDE (1951), costarring Susan Hayward, and the film noir which contains one of his greatest performances, NIGHTMARE ALLEY (1947). Also featured: my favorite Power film, THE MARK OF ZORRO (1940); the pirate film THE BLACK SWAN (1942); and the costume drama MARIE ANTOINETTE (1938).

...There are another half-dozen Vincent Price movies on October 17th, including WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS (1956) and THE BIG CIRCUS (1959) which both have great all-star casts. After these first three weeks of the month, the next two Thursdays are completely devoted to Price horror films.

...THE COMMAND (1954) sounds interesting, a Western starring Guy Madison and Joan Weldon. It's on October 18th.

...MIRACLES FOR SALE (1939) costars Robert Young and Florence Rice, who I enjoyed together in THE LONGEST NIGHT (1936) and MARRIED BEFORE BREAKFAST (1937). MIRACLES FOR SALE airs on the 19th.

...The wonderful British actress Margaret Lockwood will be honored with a seven-film tribute on Tuesday, October 22nd. I just reviewed HIGHLY DANGEROUS (1950), and I also liked BANK HOLIDAY (1938). The final film of the tribute, THE LADY VANISHES (1938), is one of my favorite Hitchcock films.

...I've read some things indicating that SOMBRERO (1953), airing on October 23rd, isn't all that good, but what a cast of favorites: Yvonne DeCarlo, Cyd Charisse, and Ricardo Montalban. It was directed by Montalban's brother-in-law, Norman Foster.

...It's no secret I've become quite a fan of Tim Holt -- and his sidekick Richard Martin! -- in the past year, and I've also watched many films directed by "B" movie specialist Lew Landers. I'm thus very excited that on October 24th TCM is showing a Holt-Martin film directed by Landers which isn't in one of the Warner Archive Tim Holt sets, DYNAMITE PASS (1950). This one has a terrific cast, with Lynne Roberts, Regis Toomey, Cleo Moore, and John Dehner. Can't wait!

...There are several other Westerns airing on the 24th, all but one released in 1950 or '51. A couple of unfamiliar titles have interesting casts: INSIGHT STRAIGHT (1951) stars Arlene Dahl, David Brian, Barry Sullivan, and Paula Raymond, while SLAUGHTER TRAIL (1951) stars Brian Donlevy and Virginia Grey.

...I love the theme for the daytime schedule on October 25th: "Not the One You're Thinking Of." The lineup includes THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS (1955), MR. AND MRS. SMITH (1941), THE BLACK SWAN (1942), and MILLION DOLLAR BABY (1941). Fun programming!

...I really enjoyed CAT PEOPLE (1942) earlier this year, finding it spooky but not horrific. Highly recommend this Val Lewton-Jacques Tourneur film, starring Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Jane Randolph, and Tom Conway. It will air October 26th.

...THE SECRET GARDEN (1949), showing on Sunday, the 27th, is one of the better book-to-film adaptations, with Margaret O'Brien playing Mary Lennox in the Frances Hodgson Burnett classic. Dean Stockwell and Herbert Marshall costar.

...SHADOW OF DOUBT (1935), not to be confused with the similarly titled Hitchcock classic, is a very enjoyable mystery which is also quite funny at times. The excellent cast includes Ricardo Cortez, Virginia Bruce, Regis Toomey, and Constance Collier. It's on October 30th.

...Another suspense film I really enjoy which is showing on the 30th is EXPERIMENT PERILOUS (1944) with George Brent and Hedy Lamarr, beautifully directed by Jacques Tourneur. Some of the powerful visuals, including a stormy train ride and a sequence involving fish tanks, linger in the memory, as do Hedy Lamarr's beautiful, pleading eyes.

For more on TCM in October, be sure to check out the complete schedule. Happy viewing, and Happy Halloween!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Around the Blogosphere This Week

Miscellaneous bits of news and fun stuff from around the Internet...a slightly abbreviated edition due to participating with my kids in today's MouseAdventure competition at Disneyland. We had a blast!

...Thanks to my friend Jane for sending along information on the latest UCLA series, Archive Treasures: Remembering Charles Hopkins and Our Man Gregory LaCava. I'm going to be studying the calendar and choosing what to see -- STAGE DOOR (1937) and FIFTH AVENUE GIRL (1939) is a terrific double bill. I saw STAGE DOOR at the New Encore as a kid in the '70s. I'll be sharing more about both series closer to their opening dates in mid-October and early November, respectively.

...Glenn Erickson just reviewed a film which is not only one of my favorite John Wayne films, it's one of my favorite movies, period: ANGEL AND THE BADMAN (1947).

...Most of the late actor Harry Carey Jr.'s official website seems to have been shut down, but the main page has a lovely video tribute to Carey and his longtime friend Ben Johnson. Fans of the actors won't want to miss it.

...The release of GRACE OF MONACO (2014), starring Nicole Kidman, has been delayed from November until next spring.

..."Taking Post-it Notes Into the Cloud."

...Over at the Classic Film and TV Cafe, Rick pays tribute to one of my favorite TV shows, THE HIGH CHAPARRAL. I shared thoughts on the series a year ago. It's currently on cable's Inspiration Network, but the only DVD release so far comes from the Netherlands, of all places. I have the Season 1 set, and it's gorgeous.

...The reviews of the new Olive Films release, SHACK OUT ON 101 (1955), certainly make it sound appealing. DVD Beaver says it's "all but impossible to dislike," "stylishly directed," and "beautifully shot," while Mike Clark recalls it being just one of a couple films he progammed in the AFI Theater in Washington, D.C. which received a standing ovation. I'd never even heard of this film until a few weeks ago! It stars one of my real favorites, Frank Lovejoy, along with Terry Moore, Lee Marvin, and Keenan Wynn, directed by Edward Dein. With two kids in college I haven't bought many DVDs recently, but this one I ordered right away! Looking forward to reviewing it here soon.

...Congrats to my friend Aurora, who just published her 200th post at her blog Once Upon a Screen. After enjoying getting to know Aurora online in recent years, we had a great time getting to know one another in person and enjoying movies together at this year's TCM Classic Film Festival.

...Will McKinley is someone else I enjoyed movies with at the TCM Fest! Over at Cinematically Insane, Will shares his impressions of seeing THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) in 3-D and sharing the experience with his young nieces.

...Someone else I really enjoyed getting to know at the TCM Festival was Raquel of Out of the Past. She shares ideas on how to fit in more reading on classic films.

...If you missed Friday's post, here's all the info on the dates, theme, and pricing for next year's TCM Festival! As you might guess from the above comments, I certainly hope to be there again next year!

...Big news early this morning in Southern California was Pat Haden suddenly firing USC head football coach Lane Kiffin. We're diehard USC football fans, especially as my oldest daughter is an alumni, and we had to turn the game off in the second half last night. As the interceptions mounted it was just too painful to watch.

...Meanwhile the football team at my youngest daughter's new school, the University of Oregon, is having no such problems! No. 2 ranked Oregon beat the Cal Bears last night, 55-16. Our daughter is having a great time in the marching band!

...Actress Marta Heflin, the niece of Oscar-winning actor Van Heflin and longtime ALL MY CHILDREN actress Frances Heflin, has passed away at 68. Her credits included Robert Altman's A WEDDING (1978) and COME BACK TO THE FIVE AND DIME, JIMMY DEAN, JIMMY DEAN (1982).

...For recent links on Disney movies, books, and theme parks, please visit last Thursday's big link roundup, In Disney News...

Have a great week!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Highly Dangerous (1950)

HIGHLY DANGEROUS is an enjoyable Cold War espionage drama starring the appealing team of Margaret Lockwood and Dane Clark.

Lockwood plays Frances Gray, a British entomologist drafted into serving her country in an unusual capacity; she's sent behind the Iron Curtain on a mission to uncover plans for germ warfare which will be conducted using bugs.

When her initial plans go awry, Frances is aided in her mission by an American newspaperman, Bill Casey (Clark).

It struck me as rather preposterous that an untrained civilian like Frances would be sent alone on such a dangerous mission, rather than having experienced agents obtain the bugs and smuggle them out of the country to be studied in safety, but if one accepts the plot as is, it's entertaining and just a bit chilling at times.

An extended sequence where Frances, under the influence of some drugs, discovers her inner secret agent persona is quite amusing, as she unknowingly adopts language and ideas from a favorite radio serial.

The last section of the film, as Frances and Bill undertake a dangerous mission and brief "road trip" of sorts, is also fun to watch. Those sorts of storylines tend to provide a nice opportunity to watch characters getting to know one another, why is doubtless why the theme appears in so many movies!

HIGHLY DANGEROUS reunited Lockwood with Naunton Wayne, one of her costars from THE LADY VANISHES (1938) and NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH (1940). For that matter, an extended sequence on a train early on in the film definitely gives a Lockwood fan a feeling of deja vu; Lockwood and trains seem to go together!

Wilfrid Hyde-White has a nice turn as the British consul; he's particularly good in his last couple scenes, as he enjoys outsmarting a nasty commandant. A heavily made up Marius Goring, who plays the commandant, is almost unrecognizable from other UK-set thrillers he appeared in in the early '50s such as CIRCLE OF DANGER (1951) and SHOOT FIRST (1953).

HIGHLY DANGEROUS, like the aforementioned SHOOT FIRST, has a screenplay by novelist Eric Ambler. Ambler's wife was longtime Hitchcock associate Joan Harrison, a fine producer in her own right.

The director of HIGHLY DANGEROUS was Roy Ward Baker, who passed on in 2010. I recently saw Baker's INFERNO (1953) at the World 3-D Film Expo, and I also very much admire his I'LL NEVER FORGET YOU (1951), starring Tyrone Power and Ann Blyth.

HIGHLY DANGEROUS was filmed in black and white by Reginald Wyer at Pinewood Studios in the UK. It runs 89 minutes.

The movie is available on a nice DVD as part of the Rank Collection from VCI. It can be rented from ClassicFlix.

HIGHLY DANGEROUS can also be streamed on Netflix Instant.

HIGHLY DANGEROUS will be shown by Turner Classic Movies as part of a day-long, seven-film tribute to Margaret Lockwood on October 22, 2013.

TCM Announces 2014 Classic Film Festival Dates and Theme

Turner Classic Movies made several important announcements today regarding the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival.

The festival will be held in Hollywood April 10-14, 2014.

The festival's theme, "Family in the Movies: The Ties That Bind," was also announced today.

According to the press release, the festival will "showcase on-screen clans of all types – big and small, happy and imperfect, musical and dramatic. The festival will spotlight the first families of Hollywood and the filmmaking dynasties that have entertained generations. It will explore the kinship that connects close-knit groups of professionals behind the camera, such as the stock companies of classic Hollywood."

I think that sounds terrific, particularly the focus on movie stock companies.

As in past years, the festival will be held at the Egyptian and Chinese Theatres, as well as the Chinese 6 multiplex. There's no word yet on whether screenings will also be held at Disney's El Capitan Theatre, as was the case in 2013.

The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel will once again be the festival's headquarters.

Festival passes will go on sale in November. The prices, which are also listed in the press release, range from $249 to $1599 per person.

Those interested in attending will want to bookmark the festival website and follow the festival's Twitter account.

The TCM Classic Film Festival coincides with the celebration of TCM's 20th anniversary. I'll be sharing additional information about the festival as it develops!

In other festival news, classic film fans in Southern California may wish to note that the TCM Classic Film Festival will be immediately preceded by the 16th Annual Noir City: Hollywood Festival at the Egyptian Theatre. The Film Noir Foundation's Alan Rode mentioned to me at a recent screening that next year's Noir City festival would be the last two weekends of March and the first weekend of April. This scheduling follows the same pattern as this year's festivals, simply moved up a couple weeks earlier on the calendar.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Violent Road (1958)

Quite unintentionally, this turned into Merry Anders Week here at my blog!

It all started last weekend with PRINCESS OF THE NILE (1954), with Anders as one of the lovely handmaidens. Next came FBI CODE 98 (1963), in which Anders played a secretary who fortuitously spills coffee, indirectly saving plane passengers from a bomb, and then came DEATH IN SMALL DOSES (1957), in which she's a truckstop waitress addicted to speed.

In VIOLENT ROAD, which was also the second trucking movie I've watched this week, Anders is simply The Girl in the Convertible, with her scenes bookmarking Brian Keith's entrance and exit from the film.

VIOLENT ROAD is the story of six men hauling highly explosive rocket fuel on rough roads through unpopulated areas in order to reach the rocket company's new site.

The film is fairly entertaining but with the underpinning of an interesting story it had the potential to be better than it ultimately was; the movie is weighed down by several characters' depressing back stories. For instance, the underutilized Efrem Zimbalist Jr. is a rocket scientist who inadvertently killed his wife and kids (!) when a launch went bad and a missile crashed into a school. A couple other characters are drinkers who constantly -- and tediously -- relieve past glory days on the college campus or during the war.

As an aside, unless one wishes to spend the entire evening watching characters smashed on alcohol, I don't recommend watching this as a double bill with the other movie I wrote about today, CLASH BY NIGHT (1952)!

On the plus side, the movie was shot near Lone Pine, California, and some of the scenes are starkly beautiful, with gorgeous cloud-filled skies. There are some nicely done nail-biting moments, and Brian Keith is quite believable as the nervy trucker heading up the job.

From a modern perspective, it's rather fascinating to see something so dangerous being done in such an...unregulated...fashion! The rocket company works with the military but there's no government involvement in the move, the men just hop in trucks and do it, including a last-minute kid driver (Sean Garrison) who jumps in a truck when one of the original crew is too drunk to drive. The truckers meet some resistance from police at one point but otherwise they just get on the road and go.

Dick Foran plays a former war hero, with Ann Doran as his long-suffering wife. The cast also includes Joanna Barnes, Perry Lopez, Arthur Batanides, Ed Prentiss, John Dennis, Peter Brown, and Venetia Stevenson.

This 86-minute movie was shot in black and white by Carl Guthrie and directed by Howard W. Koch. The Richard Landau screenplay was from a story by Don Martin. IMDb indicates this is a version of a French film, THE WAGES OF FEAR (1953), which in turn was remade as SORCERER (1977), which was recently restored.

VIOLENT ROAD is a Warner Bros. film which does not appear to have had a release on DVD or VHS, but it's been shown on Turner Classic Movies, so it may turn up there again in the future.

Tonight's Movie: Clash By Night (1952)

CLASH BY NIGHT is a moderately entertaining drama of life in a seafaring village. The film has a strong first hour depicting evolving relationships and community ties against an interesting background, but it's ultimately done in by the tiresome, self-destructive behavior of two of the lead characters.

Mae Doyle (Barbara Stanwyck) returns home after ten years and moves in with her fisherman brother Joe (Keith Andes). Mae has had an unhappy life and though she has no great desire to be back home in the fishing village, she is longing for some stability and security.

Mae ultimately decides to marry kindhearted fisherman Jerry (Paul Douglas), and initially she seems content, especially when she and Jerry have a lovely baby girl. However, Mae feels restless and bored and begins an affair with Jerry's drunken, recently divorced friend Earl (Robert Ryan).

There are some very nice moments in this film, which was directed by Fritz Lang, and there are interesting performances by Douglas, Andes, and Marilyn Monroe as Joe's flighty young girlfriend. However, after watching Mae slowly build a new life in the film's first hour, I had no interest in watching her tear it all back down in the next 45 minutes. Earl is a total loser, but Mae carries on with him heedless of those she's hurting.

I'm a huge Robert Ryan fan but I honestly think this character may have been less sympathetic than some of his villains. Earl didn't care about his life and didn't care about others. I didn't care about him.

I'd read about Ryan and Stanwyck having amazing chemistry, but I didn't see it; I just saw her inexplicably interested in a drunken, depressed lout. I had little patience for it, and as I watched I was mentally yelling at her to grow up already. If she didn't care what she was doing to her husband, who had been nothing but accepting and kind, then she should at least consider what her behavior's consequences would do to her helpless infant daughter.

The movie also suffers from mixing the authentic and the artificial. The film has an excellent opening depicting the daily work of fishermen and the women who process the day's catch; there's some very atmospheric location shooting. I loved shots of Paul Douglas drinking coffee as he brings in his boat and of Marilyn Monroe rolling out of bed at 4:30 a.m. to get to work at the cannery. Footage of the fish being unloaded and processed provides insight into the life's work of the various characters. Process shots used later in the film were a bit disappointing, though not unusual for the era.

More disappointing was that the characters themselves waver between realism and fakery; at times they're down to earth, yet some of the dialogue feels very phony, as though it were written for characters to say in a play. (The CLASH BY NIGHT screenplay by Alfred Hayes, in fact, originated as a play by Clifford Odets.) It's hard to believe characters as drunk or depressed as they are in some scenes could string such unnatural sentences together!

I'd class the film as worth a look due to its talented cast, beautifully shot by Nicholas Musuraca, but watching people go on benders while moaning incessantly about how rotten life is and how unhappy they are isn't going to leave anyone feeling too cheery by movie's end. The film has a tentatively optimistic conclusion, so there's that, at least.

CLASH BY NIGHT was released on DVD in the Film Noir Classic Collection, Vol. II.

It was released on VHS by TCM in 1996.

May 2017 Update: CLASH BY NIGHT has been reissued on DVD by the Warner Archive.

In Disney News...

It's time for some of the latest Disney news!

...Coming next April: THE ART OF THE DISNEY GOLDEN BOOKS. Want!

...Also out in April: an Updated Edition of the excellent 2003 book THE ART AND FLAIR OF MARY BLAIR by animation historian John Canemaker.

...First Showing has the new UK trailer for FROZEN (2013), coming to theaters in the U.S. this Thanksgiving weekend.

...At Passport to Dreams Old and New there's a lengthy but very interesting essay on what makes Disneyland unique, by a Floridian who just concluded a year living in California. Among the things he finds that make Disneyland special are live music and good food that doesn't require sit-down table service. Part of his conclusion: "It's that chill of recognition that I've gotten standing at the foot of the Washington Monument or inside the Smithsonian, that electric spark between you and relevant history. It's very much alive at Disneyland. This is where Steve Martin watched Wally Boag and learned comic timing, right there is where Walt Disney cracked wise with the mayor of New Orleans, over there is where Marc Davis rode a mine train and changed theme design history by not liking it. Magic Kingdom is a darn good theme park, but Disneyland is a national treasure..."

...Jon Hamm of MAD MEN is slated to star in Disney's MILLION DOLLAR ARM (2014), due out in the spring of 2014. It's based on the true story of a search for a Major League Baseball player among cricket players in India.

...The TV special TOY STORY OF TERROR debuts on ABC October 16th.

...Here's fall photos of Disneyland Paris! I'd love to go back...though hopefully by the time of my next visit the menus will have improved.

...The Disney Tourist Blog ranks Disneyland's Top 10 counter service restaurants. See if you agree!

...A 50th Anniversary Edition of MARY POPPINS (1964) will be out on DVD and Blu-ray this December.

...Touring Plans has extensive photos of the Starbucks which just opened in Disneyland's Market House. The stove and checker board are still there, they've just been moved.

...I recently wrote about Disneyland's crazy Friday the 13th event. The Dateline Disneyland column at MiceChat has photos, as well as pictures of the Halloween Time decorations and the ongoing park renovations. The column has even more great seasonal photos here and here.

...Here's the latest big roundup of Disneyland Resort news and gossip from MiceAge!

...Pixar recently removed Bob Peterson as director of THE GOOD DINOSAUR (2015). Changing directors seems to be par for the course for Pixar; it's the fourth time the studio has made such a change. The release date was also changed, from Memorial Day weekend 2014 to Thanksgiving weekend 2015! Meanwhile Angelina Jolie's MALEFICENT (2014) was bumped up from Independence Day week to Memorial Day weekend.

...The Los Angeles Times published a nice article on recently retired Imagineer Tony Blair in August.

...Disney's TOMORROWLAND (2014), starring George Clooney, is still quite a mystery, although bits of info about the story and filming have been revealed.

...Disney is expanding its Golden Oak Movie Ranch.

...Notable Passing: Via Boot Hill I learned that actor Arthur Malet passed on last May at the age of 85. Malet played Mr. Dawes Jr. in MARY POPPINS (1964) and also appeared in the Disney films LT. ROBIN CRUSOE, U.S.N. (1966) and BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS (1971).

...Attention Southern Californians: THE LITTLE MERMAID (1989) is currently playing in 3-D at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood. Although I don't have a great desire to see the movie in 3-D, seeing Disney films at the El Capitan is such an enjoyable experience that I will probably be going to see it there in early October. Besides, THE LITTLE MERMAID features what might be my all-time favorite Disney song, "Part of Your World."

...Disney's Soda Fountain next door to the El Capitan will be converted to a Ghirardelli Soda Fountain beginning November 15th.

...Call me old-fashioned, but Disney inviting the use of iPads and other electronic devices during select screenings of THE LITTLE MERMAID strikes me as a very poor idea. Do we really need to encourage even shorter attention spans and ruder behavior among young filmgoers? The movie even freezes periodically so that related games can be played. No thanks.

...MouseAdventure is coming soon! Our family team, Skippers in De Nile, will be playing the game at Disneyland this Sunday, September 29th.

...My August photo posts on the D23 Expo exhibit celebrating the 50th anniversary of MARY POPPINS (1964) can be found at Part One and Part Two. I'm behind schedule on posting more photos from the Expo and hope to do that in the near future!

For more recent Disney links, please visit the Disney roundups for July and August.

Update: Late-breaking news today: Steven Clark has resigned as the head of the D23 Fan Club.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Tonight's Movie: A Kiss Before Dying (1956)

A handsome, socially climbing young man resorts to murder when his dreams of marrying into the upper class are thwarted. This description may immediately call to mind A PLACE IN THE SUN (1951), but it's also the storyline of the lesser-known -- and frankly more entertaining -- A KISS BEFORE DYING.

Robert Wagner plays Bud Corliss, a 25-year-old college student who lives with his widowed mother (Mary Astor). (It's assumed he's a Korean War vet due to his age and a reference to the government giving him a larger stipend if he's married.) As the film begins, Bud's awkward but very wealthy girlfriend Dorie (Joanne Woodward) has just told him she's two months pregnant.

One might assume that if Bud marries Dorie he'll achieve his goal of life among the upper crust, but Dorie is convinced that the unplanned pregnancy will cause her rigid, controlling father (George Macready) to disinherit her. She tells Bud they're going to have to make it on their own, but she believes their love will conquer all.

Bud's carefully laid plans to court Dorie and win her father's acceptance seem to be up in smoke, so he decides his only option is to kill her and move on to Plan B. Bud takes Dorie to get a marriage license, but just as in A PLACE IN THE SUN, when they arrive the office is closed. Rather than taking her rowing, he takes her up to the roof to see the view...

Months later, Dorie's smart, elegant sister Ellen (Virginia Leith) comes to suspect Dorie didn't throw herself off the roof. She begins to investigate Dorie's death with the help of a nice young professor (Jeffrey Hunter) who had known Dorie and whose uncle (Howard Petrie) is the sheriff in charge of the case.

Meanwhile, Ellen also has a handsome new boyfriend in her life and is about to announce her engagement, with the support of her newly mellowed father.

I found this film highly entertaining, with a good cast and a gorgeous widescreen '50s look. The automobiles, sets, costumes, and location shooting in Tucson provide pure colorful eye candy, shot in CinemaScope by Lucien Ballard. A jazzy opening title track is another plus; the film's score is by Lionel Newman, with orchestrations by Billy May and Nelson Riddle.

Wagner is quite chilling as the young man whose smooth moves cover up a deeply disturbed individual, capable of plotting multiple killings. His two-sided relationship with his doting mother is rather fascinating; he piles on the charm with her face to face, but behind her back he reacts to her taste with disgust. His condescension spills out in front of her when he believes she's chosen the wrong attire for an important event late in the film; he lets loose with criticism, undermining her confidence at a key moment. Astor is quietly heartbreaking as Bud's proud yet hurt mother; one hates to think of what she would go through when she learns the truth about her son.

I can't say I enjoyed Woodward's screen time, as Dorie was almost -- but not quite -- as whiny as Shelley Winters' character in A PLACE IN THE SUN. Certainly, her character was coping with a major life problem, but I felt Woodward's portrayal lacked appeal in terms of both looks and personality. Some of that may have been by design, as it's pretty clear she annoyed Bud as well; surely the only reason he was going out with her in the first place was her moneyed family background, as well as her willingness to have a physical relationship. It quickly becomes clear that Bud's supposed concern for her is all a put-on, and if she can't deliver the riches he's dreamed of, she's expendable.

The intelligent and attractive Ellen and Gordon (Hunter) provide a needed contrast to Bud and Dorie, and I found it especially enjoyable when their characters moved front and center in the second half of the film. I only wish there had been a couple more scenes with their characters interacting as they play detective, as I really enjoyed both actors and would have liked to see their relationship developed further.

Macready lends some nuance to his role as the uptight father, slowly learning from past mistakes as he navigates his relationship with his surviving daughter.

The supporting cast includes Robert Quarry, Bill Walker, and Marlene Felton.

The movie runs 94 minutes; although I would have appreciated a couple more scenes with Leith and Hunter, that's another nice contrast with the bloated 122-minute running time of A PLACE IN THE SUN.

The film was directed by Gerd Oswald. The Lawrence Roman screenplay was based on a novel by Ira Levin. The movie was remade in 1991.

The MGM DVD has the widescreen print on one side of the disc and a fullscreen print on the other. I watched the letterboxed print, which was beautiful.

The DVD can be rented from Netflix, which also has the movie available for streaming. It can also be streamed at Amazon Instant Video.

2016 Update: This movie is now available on Blu-ray from Kino, and it's also available on a "manufactured on demand" DVD-R from MGM.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Death in Small Doses (1957)

DEATH IN SMALL DOSES is an Allied Artists film featuring Peter Graves as a federal agent on the trail of drug dealers in the trucking industry.

Graves poses as Tom, a novice trucker learning the ropes as a driver in Southern California. He witnesses the effects of "bennies" on truckers immediately, as an older man, Shug (John Dierkes), who's addicted to them dies and Tom's coworker, Mink (Chuck Connors), is a perennial wild man, guzzling the pills like candy. Then Tom's trainer Wally (Roy Engel) is killed after asking too many questions about the source of the pills which killed his friend Shug.

Mala Powers plays the attractive owner of the boarding house where Tom and Mink live, and Merry Anders is an addicted truckstop waitress who deals pills.

The drama's a bit exaggerated at times, but it's quite entertaining, though I have to say I didn't care for the unexpected resolution; I didn't see it coming until just before the climax, and it seemed a bit...convenient, as well as disappointing.

Graves is fine as the agent, and this movie provides a whole new look at Chuck Connors, that's for sure. He's an absolute crazy man in this, which is entertaining in part because it's completely different from any other performance I've seen from him. It's quite a memorable portrayal. There's a brief sample of Connors' character in this preview clip available on YouTube.

The supporting cast includes Robert Williams, Harry Lauter, Claire Carlton, Robert Shayne, Fred Sherman, and John Mitchum.

The screenplay, based on a Saturday Evening Post article, was by John McGreevey. McGreevey was a longtime writer for THE WALTONS, and I had the pleasure of chatting with him at a WALTONS tribute at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art a number of years ago; he was a very nice man. He passed on in 2010.

DEATH IN SMALL DOSES was directed by Joseph M. Newman (711 OCEAN DRIVE) and shot in black and white by Carl E. Guthrie. It runs 79 minutes.

I watched this via a remastered print from the Warner Archive Film Noir collection. IMDb doesn't have info on the aspect ratio; the DVD is fullscreen, and while it doesn't seem that anything is missing from the picture, at times the actors have the same oddly "squished" look that I noticed when I recently watched Sony's BATTLE OF ROGUE RIVER (1954). It would be interesting to know the cause. The picture quality is a little rougher than the norm for an Archive DVD, but certainly very watchable. The DVD can be rented from ClassicFlix. (Update: Please visit the comments for more on the format issue; 'tis a mystery!)

This film has also been shown on Turner Classic Movies.

There are additional takes on the film at The Bloodshot Eye and Rupert Pupkin Speaks. Chuck Connors seems to have made a vivid impression on everyone!

DEATH IN SMALL DOSES would make a great double bill with HELL DRIVERS (1957), a British trucking noir released the same year.

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