Sunday, November 30, 2014

Tonight's Movie: 3:10 to Yuma (1957)

Movie No. 5 on my list of 10 Classics to see this year was 3:10 TO YUMA (1957), a Western directed by Delmer Daves. 3:10 TO YUMA stars a pair of very fine actors, Van Heflin and Glenn Ford.

3:10 TO YUMA tells the story of Dan Evans (Heflin) who is eking out a hardscrabble living on his drought-stricken farm with his wife Alice (Leora Dana) and sons (Barry Curtis and Jerry Hartleben).

Evans has the chance to make some desperately needed cash by escorting Ben Wade (Ford), a charismatic but murderous stage robber, to prison in  Yuma. In the tradition of HIGH NOON (1952), when Ben's gang is on the way to free him most people desert Dan, but he feels a sense of honor to go through with his job even though it likely will mean his death.

The movie has a very memorable opening, with a widescreen vista of a lonely stagecoach traveling across the desert while Frankie Laine sings the title song. The black and white cinematography by Charles Lawton Jr. and music by George Duning are superb throughout.

The film has a number of striking scenes, such as barmaid Emmy (Felicia Farr) filling a long row of glasses for Ford and his gang one by one, and Ford's subsequent seduction of the lonely girl. He's so charming you'd never know he'd just shot someone in cold blood hours before. It's one of Ford's best performances.

Heflin seems to be playing a less hopeful variation on his character from SHANE (1953); Dan is about at the end of his rope, although it seems that the prospect of facing death wakes him up to what a fortunate man he really is despite the hardships.

I first knew Leora Dana from WILLIAMSBURG: THE STORY OF A PATRIOT (1957) which was shown multiple times when I was in grade school; I also saw it on a trip to Williamsburg! She was also in SOME CAME RUNNING (1958) and POLLYANNA (1960). Dana does a fine job as Heflin's tired but loyal wife.

The movie as a whole fell into the "like but not love" category for me. There was a great deal to admire but I became impatient with the talky cat-and-mouse game between Dan and Ben in the hotel room, which I felt went on far too long.

That said, this is the kind of film I typically like better when I revisit it; I don't particularly enjoy suspense, and when I already know how a movie will end I find I can relax and take more in the second time around.

The screenplay of this 92-minute film was by Halsted Welles, based on a story by Elmore Leonard (THE TALL T).

The supporting cast includes Henry Jones, Ford Rainey, Dorothy Adams, and Richard Jaeckel. I thought Robert Emhardt was particularly fine as the stagecoach owner; he initially seems as though he might be a bit of a buffoon but proves to be made of sterner stuff.

Sincere thanks to Blake Lucas for providing a beautiful widescreen DVD so I could enjoy the movie as it was meant to be seen.

3:10 TO YUMA is available in a special edition DVD or on DVD or Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection.

Somehow it always seems that I end up watching several films from my "10 Classics" list in December! It works out well for me, though, as the titles on my lists are typically longer, deeper films which I don't want to squeeze in after a long workday; I have the most free time for leisurely movie viewing between Christmas and New Year's, and I hope to complete my list on schedule by December 31st.

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...Those of you whose cable providers carry getTV have a real treat in store tonight: HAPPY HOLIDAYS WITH BING AND FRANK, a 1957 Christmas special directed by Sinatra. It airs at 10:00 Eastern time. This is one of my favorite Christmas DVDs, and getTV sent along the info that this is the first time the show has aired on TV in over a decade. There's some awkward patter in between songs, but for the most part the show is pure music, one great song after another with the 20th Century's two greatest male singers. The show will be repeated on December 12th, which would have been Sinatra's 99th birthday.

...Bing Crosby is the subject of a new American Masters program, BING CROSBY REDISCOVERED, which premieres on public television this Tuesday, December 2nd. Susan King has more in the Los Angeles Times.

...Robby has a list of gift suggestions for classic film fans at Dear Old Hollywood.

...The 2009 release CHRISTMAS WITH THE KING FAMILY now has a sequel, A KING FAMILY CHRISTMAS VOL. 2. Certain to provide a hefty dose of nostalgia for some of us! Watching their specials is a very early Christmas memory.

...The Universal Vault Collection and Olive Films have spread holiday cheer among classic film fans with recent announcements of new releases. New Universal Vault DVDs include long-wanted titles such as Irene Dunne and Randolph Scott in the Jerome Kern musical HIGH, WIDE, AND HANDSOME (1937), which I reviewed in 2010; Henry Fonda and Margaret Sullavan in THE MOON'S OUR HOME (1936); Fred MacMurray and Ray Milland in William Wellman's MEN WITH WINGS (1938); Dorothy Lamour and Ray Milland in HER JUNGLE LOVE (1938); and Joseph Cotten and Jennifer Jones in LOVE LETTERS (1945). There's a complete list at ClassicFlix.

...Olive Films releases coming to both DVD and Blu-ray on January 20th include Joan Leslie, Audrey Totter, John Lund, and Brian Donlevy in Allan Dwan's THE WOMAN THEY ALMOST LYNCHED (1953); Kent Taylor and Petula Clark in TRACK THE MAN DOWN (1955); Steve Cochran, Lizabeth Scott, and Herbert Marshall in THE WEAPON (1956); and Dan Duryea and Patric Knowles in WORLD FOR RANSOM (1954). More details at ClassicFlix here and here.

...Fellow TCM fan Paula Guthat, whom I've had the pleasure of meeting at the TCM Classic Film Festival, owns a movie theater, Cinema Detroit. The Detroit Free Press ran an article on Paula last week. Yesterday Paula was one of four classic movie fans who helped Ben Mankiewicz introduce films on Turner Classic Movies.

...Last August I mentioned that the Dukes of Hazzard boys, John Schneider and Tom Wopat, used Kickstarter to raise the funding to produce a Christmas album. That album is now available on CD or MP3. As a particular fan of Schneider's singing, I'm getting the CD on the basis of sampling his rendition of "Silver Bells," one of my favorite Christmas tunes.

...After reading this Marc Myers column on Christmas music in the Wall Street Journal I also ordered a Rosemary Clooney album in which she sings songs from WHITE CHRISTMAS (1954).

...A follow-up on the Amazon Echo, first mentioned here in early November: a review at ZDNet calls it a "perfect 10."

...From the TCM Movie Morlocks blog, Kimberly Lindbergs on "10 Things You Might Not Know About Rod Taylor."

...I missed a very interesting New York Post article by Lou Lumenick last month, on the Museum of Modern Art restoring TO THE LAST MAN (1933), a Randolph Scott film which includes a very early screen appearance by Shirley Temple.

...Susan King discusses the new book on Bob Hope in the Los Angeles Times. I'll be reviewing the book at a future date.

...The Hollywood Reporter says that Thanksgiving moviegoing dropped sharply. The only movie currently out which I'd like to see, THE IMITATION GAME (2014), is only playing in Los Angeles, so no movies for us this weekend.

...Attention Southern Californians: Director Quentin Tarantino recently bought the New Beverly Cinema, and there are some really interesting screenings planned for December. My attention was caught by next weekend's double bill of the Westerns STATION WEST (1948) with Dick Powell and Jane Greer and RAMROD (1947) with Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake. Late December features the Zane Grey Western DESERT GOLD (1936) with Larry "Buster" Crabbe and a very young Robert Cummings and Marsha Hunt, paired with Gary Cooper in THE WESTERNER (1940). Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in THE EXILE (1947) is another interesting title. I hope to visit the New Beverly before too long; I think the last time I was there was the late '70s or early '80s.

...Notable Passings: Former Paramount Pictures president Frank Yablans has died at the age of 79...Famed puppeteer Bob Baker has passed away at 90. I have a vague memory of having seen one of his marionette shows as a child.

Happy Advent, and have a great week!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Pete Kelly's Blues (1955) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

PETE KELLY'S BLUES (1955), directed by and starring Jack Webb, is now available in a gorgeous new Blu-ray from the Warner Archive.

PETE KELLY'S BLUES is set in the '20s, soaked with jazz, rain, illegal booze, and gunfire. It's a unique movie not quite like anything else I've ever seen, with Webb's trademark dry delivery juxtaposed against hot music and high drama.

One IMDb reviewer called it an "existential noir gangster musical," with "the toughness of a gangster pic, the existential malhereuse of a trendy European epic, the fine '20s sounds of a period musical, all in Warners wide screen." I liked that!

Cornet player Pete Kelly (Webb) plays jazz at a speakeasy with his band, the Big 7. Local mobster Fran McCarg (Edmond O'Brien) moves in on the band and insists on a cut of their income to "manage" them. McCarg also insists that his moll, Rose (Peggy Lee), sing with the band.

Conflict regarding paying the protection money to McCarg leads to Pete's best friend, clarinet player Al (Lee Marvin), leaving the band and ultimately also leads to the death of young drummer Joey (Webb regular Martin Milner).

Meanwhile, flighty young flapper Ivy (Janet Leigh) decides that Pete is wonderful and launches a campaign to become his wife.

The movie doesn't quite completely work, yet it's fascinating, and there's much to love about it. It's almost as though the individual elements are more important than what comes together as a whole.

For starters, the movie looks absolutely terrific. The production designer was Harper Goff, "Courtesy of Walt Disney," and he and cinematographer Hal Rosson give the movie a rich, colorful look; you'd never know that the movie was filmed in Warnercolor, which so often looks harsh or washed out.

In my favorite sequence, at a dance hall, the scene is filmed with several different color tints, as a color wheel lights up the room. Other notable sets include a secret attic still and a ballroom shootout with a glittery ball spinning, giving the sequence a surreal, nightmarish look. Everything about the film is visually striking, including the prologue and the opening credits sequence.

Production designer Goff, who was a member of Disney's Firehouse Five Plus Two musical group, is seen on screen playing banjo early in the film when Ivy sings. (Incidentally, it sounds as though it's Janet Leigh's voice singing, and she does quite well.) Last year I attended a tribute to Goff at a screening of another film he designed, Disney's 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1954).

Then there's the music. The movie would be worth seeing if only for the rare treat of seeing Ella Fitzgerald singing in a feature film; it's quite a thrill watching her in this. The Big 7 also sound great, and I would have enjoyed hearing even more from them.

There are also some excellent performances, starting with Lee Marvin as Pete's best pal. Marvin's more colorful character makes a great contrast with Webb's dry style. They have a wonderful scene where they make up after a serious fight.

Andy Devine gives an atypical performance as a very tough cop. Devine did some especially good work in this era, with his pilot in William Wellman's ISLAND IN THE SKY (1953) also being a particularly interesting characterization.

Marvin and Devine were my favorite actors in the film, but the entire cast is good, including the Oscar-nominated Peggy Lee and Janet Leigh, who makes likeable a woman who easily could have come off as a shallow floozy.

It's hard to put a finger on why the movie isn't a complete success; some have faulted Webb's lead performance, but I appreciate his style and have no problems with "Webb being Webb." I think the movie could have used even more music and perhaps a faster pace. That said, I really enjoyed it, and fans of Webb and great music should like it too.

The cast also includes Than Wyenn, Jayne Mansfield, Herb Ellis, John Dennis, and several musicians including Dick Cathcart and George Van Epps.

The screenplay of this 95-minute film was by Richard L. Breen.

Previous reviews of films directed by Jack Webb: DRAGNET (1954) and -30- (1959).

The Warner Archive Blu-ray includes a short, a cartoon, and the trailer. The Blu-ray looks fantastic and will please anyone interested in the movie.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered at the Warner Archive website.

TCM in December: Highlights

Happy December! And welcome to what promises to be an especially wonderful month on Turner Classic Movies.

This year the December Star of the Month is Cary Grant; over 40 Grant films will be shown each Wednesday evening in December. I'll share more about this month's Grant films in a separate post in the near future.

The Friday Night Spotlight will be devoted to a favorite director, Charles Walters, who is also the subject of a brand-new biography by Brent Phillips. I'll also be devoting a separate post to this month's Walters films, which include numerous terrific MGM musicals and light comedies.

As always, I'll also be devoting a post to the many wonderful Christmas movies airing on TCM in December!

Here's a look at just a handful of the other highlights from TCM's December schedule!

...A day of Joan Crawford films on December 1st includes THE LAST OF MRS. CHEYNEY (1937). With Robert Montgomery and William Powell as Crawford's leading men, this is a most enjoyable film.

...December 2nd there's a multi-film celebration of everyone's favorite pre-Code cad, Warren William. I'm especially looking forward to THE DARK HORSE (1932) with Bette Davis.

...The evening of the 2nd features a tribute to the lovely Rhonda Fleming, including OUT OF THE PAST (1947), A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT (1949), and THE CROWDED SKY (1960).

...A day of crime films on the 3rd includes Andrew L. Stone's HIGHWAY 301 (1950) starring Steve Cochran and Virginia Grey. This one comes highly recommended by my fellow movie fan John Knight, who regularly comments here.

...December 4th it's a day of romantic comedies, including BEDTIME STORY (1941) with Loretta Young and Fredric March, plus a sterling supporting cast: Robert Benchley, Eve Arden, and Allyn Joslyn. The hotel finale is quite amusing.

...On December 6th TCM's series of Saturdays with Dr. Kildare and Dr. Gillespie wrap up with DARK DELUSION (1947), the very last film in the series. James Craig and Lucille Bremer costar.

...Pearl Harbor Day is observed on December 7th with Walter Huston in DECEMBER 7TH (1943) and the multi Oscar winner FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (1953).

...Monday the 8th Harold Lloyd stars in THE MILKY WAY (1936). I recently saw the Danny Kaye remake THE KID FROM BROOKLYN (1946) and am interested in checking out the original.

...It's Errol Flynn night on December 9th! 5 movies are showing, including one I've never seen, ROCKY MOUNTAIN (1950), with his wife Patrice Wymore.

...A day of Thomas Mitchell films on the 10th includes a favorite Priscilla Lane-Dennis Morgan film, THREE CHEERS FOR THE IRISH (1940). It would be hard to find a cuter couple!

...ISLAND OF LOST WOMEN (1959) on December 11th stars Jeff Richards (Benjamin in SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS) and Venetia Stevenson, daughter of director Robert Stevenson and actress Anna Lee.

...One of the very best Astaire-Rogers films, SWING TIME (1936), airs on December 14th. Entertainment doesn't come any better!

...The enjoyable "B" crime film DESTINATION MURDER (1950), starring Joyce McKenzie and Hurd Hatfield, plays on December 17th.

...THE AFFAIRS OF MARTHA (1942) is a favorite "B" film starring Marsha Hunt. The lovely and gracious Hunt is particularly dear to L.A. classic film fans who have had the chance to enjoy her appearances at many screenings around town. Hunt's costar in MARTHA is Richard Carlson. The movie airs on December 18th.

...SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON (1949), one of my favorite John Ford/John Wayne films, will be shown on December 20th. My posts on the movie's Monument Valley locations are here and here.

...December 21st will be the very first evening of the new series Treasures from the Disney Vault. TCM has a special page here listing the evening's lineup, which includes THE RELUCTANT DRAGON (1941), a unique blend of black and white and Technicolor, live action and animation, starring Robert Benchley, Frances Gifford, and Alan Ladd. For more on last week's announcement of joint TCM-Disney projects, please visit my post.

...A nine-film tribute to Ruth Roman on December 22nd includes LIGHTNING STRIKES TWICE (1951) and TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY (1951). I've seen seven of the nine films airing that day; it's a great lineup!

...One of the best "weepers" of all time, DARK VICTORY (1939), airs on December 29th. Bette Davis, George Brent, and Geraldine Fitzgerald all give superb performances.

...A December 31st day of films paying tribute to filmmakers who died in 2014 includes BRIGHTON ROCK (1947) starring the late Richard Attenborough.

Stay tuned for additional information on more great stuff airing on TCM in December coming soon!

The complete December schedule is on the TCM website.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Happy TCM viewing!

Updates: Please also visit TCM Star of the Month: Cary Grant, TCM in December: Christmas Movies, and TCM Friday Night Spotlight: Charles Walters.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Brotherhood of the Popcorn (2014)

I first became acquainted with the new documentary BROTHERHOOD OF THE POPCORN (2014) when it was shown at the Lone Pine Film Festival last month.

Due to our festival tour schedule we could only catch about half of the film, but Woody Wise, who is featured in the film, kindly sent me a screener so I could watch the whole thing. It made for great holiday weekend viewing!

BROTHERHOOD OF THE POPCORN tells the story of the "Cliffhangers," a group of senior citizens who have been meeting at Woody's house to watch "old" movies every other Saturday for the past 35 years.

The men all enjoy serials, hence the name of the group. Film noir and Westerns are also favorites.

In addition to depicting the men's communal enjoyment of great movies, the film explores each of their backgrounds and current interests. It's a diverse group including a couple of animators, a former L.A. Times reporter, a teacher, a fish truck driver, and a rockabilly singer.

The section of the film on Woody accompanies him to his favorite volunteer job, screening movies at the Lone Pine Film Festival. Having just been to the festival, where I had the pleasure of meeting Woody, I especially enjoyed that.

BROTHERHOOD OF THE POPCORN runs 90 minutes. At that length it wouldn't hurt to edit down a couple of the more repetitive sections, but that's my only criticism of a documentary which any classic film fan should enjoy.

More than a few viewers will probably envy Woody's screening room -- not to mention the fact that his home sits on property once owned by Bette Davis. And those of us indulging in the Warner Archive Black Friday sale today could certainly relate to watching Woody flip through a stack of Archive DVDs deciding what the group should watch next!

The movie was directed by Inda Reid. It was produced by Woody Wise and another Cliffhanger, James Tim Walker. The filmmakers hope to enter the movie in festivals.

The film's official website includes a trailer. BROTHERHOOD OF THE POPCORN also has a Facebook page, and you can follow Woody on Twitter at @wisewoody.

Sincere thanks to Woody Wise for providing a review copy of this film.

Tonight's Movie: Plymouth Adventure (1952) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

There seem to have been relatively few Thanksgiving-themed films released during the classic film era.

One of the first "Thanksgiving" films I think of is MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947), which is more closely associated with Christmas but opens on Thanksgiving Day.

Another major Thanksgiving film is MGM's PLYMOUTH ADVENTURE (1952), available in a remastered edition from the Warner Archive.

PLYMOUTH ADVENTURE is a straightforward telling of the Pilgrims traveling to the New World on the Mayflower. All the familiar names are there: William Bradford (Leo Genn), John Alden (Van Johnson), Priscilla Mullins (Dawn Addams), Miles Standish (Noel Drayton), William Brewster (Barry Jones) and more.

The story is told matter-of-factly, with the major dramatic arc being the romantic attraction of foul-tempered Mayflower Captain Christopher Jones (Spencer Tracy) and Bradford's emotionally fragile wife Dorothy (Gene Tierney), followed by Jones's conversion from being a first-class jerk to a more honorable man.

It's all quite watchable and looks great on the remastered DVD, yet the film is rather stolid and perhaps disappointing, lacking dramatic heft and excitement.

Adding to this is that the relationship between the Captain and Dorothy seems truncated; Tracy and Tierney have one excellent dramatic scene yet the passion seems to come out of nowhere. It doesn't help that for much of the film Tracy plays his character without any shadings, nor does the script provide an explanation for his character's behavior; he's just mean.

Van Johnson is sweet as eager young John Alden. I would have enjoyed seeing more of Johnson and Tierney, and less of Tracy and his crew member Lloyd Bridges, whose character is as mean as Tracy's.

One of the film's pleasures is the scoring by Miklos Rozsa, particularly the "going to sea" sequence. Rozsa seemed to have an affinity for these types of scenes as he also did a wonderful job the following year on the sailing film ALL THE BROTHERS WERE VALIANT (1953).

I also enjoyed John Dehner as Gilbert Winslow, who is introduced at the outset as keeping a journal on the Pilgrims' voyage. This allows Dehner to narrate the film in his mellifluous voice.

The cast also includes Tommy Ivo, Noreen Corcoran, Rhys Williams, and Kathleen Lockhart.

PLYMOUTH ADVENTURE runs 105 minutes. It was directed by Clarence Brown and photographed in Technicolor by William Daniels. The movie won an Oscar for Best Special Effects.

As a side note, I welcome other suggestions for classic-era Thanksgiving viewing in the comments, and I'm sure my readers would enjoy hearing ideas as well.

The Warner Archive release of PLYMOUTH ADVENTURE includes the trailer.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered at the Warner Archive website.

A Visit to Autzen Stadium

One of the fun things we did on our recent visit with our daughter at the University of Oregon was attend a football game at beautiful Autzen Stadium.

Our daughter plays tenor saxophone in the Ducks marching band so the games are a big part of her college experience.

Game day for us began with breakfast at Elmer's. We found the breakfast here so good that we ate there two days in a row.


When we walked back to our hotel, we were quite surprised to find a row of seven motorcycle officers lined up at the front entrance.


It turned out that the Oregon Ducks football team had spent the pre-game night at our hotel! That was certainly a fun and unexpected coincidence. We watched as the team filed out of the hotel and onto the buses, then the buses took off for Autzen Stadium with the motorcycle officers' lights going. It was quite an exciting start to our game day experience.


The stadium is some distance from the University of Oregon campus, with a walk "over the river and through the woods."


Some of the beautiful landscaping around the stadium.


Autzen Stadium! The "O" for Oregon was added for a Game Day telecast a few years ago.


The plaza outside the stadium, leading to Moshofsky Center and a Duck Store:



We packed a lunch from Subway and ate alongside hundreds of people inside Moshofsky Center. The center can hold up to 5000 "tailgating" fans before football games.


The University of Oregon Marching Band enters the stadium! Our daughter is down there somewhere...


Welcome to Autzen Stadium!


The Ducks band plays the National Anthem:


And the Oregon football team runs through the middle of the band to take the field!


The Oregon Duck mascot, which sometimes looks like Donald Duck due to a special agreement with Walt Disney dating back to the 1940s. Given our family's love for all things Disney, it's rather fun that our daughter ended up at a university with a Disney mascot!


It was quite thrilling to watch the game amidst a sea of excited fans wearing green and yellow. We sat in the section right next to the band, which was the perfect vantage point for us as band parents.


The band performs their halftime show:


We stayed nice and warm in the third quarter thanks to more Dutch Bros. hot chocolate!


Oregon beat the Colorado Buffaloes, 44-10. Following the game it's tradition for the band to sing, rather than play, the university's alma mater song. A moving end to a really wonderful day.


Previously: A Visit to the University of Oregon.

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