Sunday, February 25, 2018

Tonight's Movie: The Sea Wolf (1941) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

A restored version of the classic adventure THE SEA WOLF (1941) is now available on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive.

This new Warner Archive release is the first time the film has been seen in its original 100-minute release version since 1947, when 13 minutes were pared out of the film's theatrical re-release print to shorten up double bills.

The restored print is thanks to a 2nd generation 35mm nitrate print from New York's Museum of Modern Art. Leonard Maltin wrote more about the restoration last fall, including informative quotes from Alan K. Rode, biographer of the film's director, Michael Curtiz.

It had been over a decade since I last saw THE SEA WOLF and reviewed it here, and this print was certainly a great way to revisit it.

Honestly, while there is much to admire about the film, I also find the oppressive atmosphere exhausting. Every ten years is about as often as I can handle watching it! That said, it was certainly worth it this time around to see the complete version for the first time.

Based on the novel by Jack London, from a script by Robert Rossen, THE SEA WOLF is the story of sadistic sea captain Wolf Larsen (Edward G. Robinson), and those aboard his ship, the Ghost.

The Ghost is filled with a motley crew including George Leach (John Garfield), a fugitive who took work aboard the Ghost in order to flee San Francisco; Ruth Webster (Ida Lupino), a prison escapee picked up after a ferry wreck, along with intellectual writer Humphrey Van Weyden (Alexander Knox); a rotten cook (Barry Fitzgerald); and Dr. Prescott (Gene Lockhart), an alcoholic.

Robinson's Larsen is evil personified, and the viewer's heart breaks for each of the characters he torments in turn. Leach is soon contemplating finding a way to escape, along with Ruth. Garfield and Lupino are excellent, connecting over their hard lives and discovering the perhaps they're not doomed to suffer along through life after all.

Van Weyden, for his part, has philosophical debates with Larsen, trying to understand -- along with the audience -- why Larsen is as he is. Van Weyden then attempts to stir mutiny after learning Larsen occasionally suffers from a debilitating, blinding malady...

As is sometimes the case for me with other films with difficult subject matter, I found THE SEA WOLF an easier watch the second time around, knowing what to expect. It's a brutal film, but it's also a great exemplar of a Warner Bros. film of the era, a stylishly made and exciting adventure which keeps viewers on the edge of the proverbial seat, wondering how it will all turn out -- even on a second viewing. I found watching the gorgeous Warner Archive Blu-ray a satisfying experience on multiple levels.

The supporting cast includes Howard Da Silva, Stanley Ridges, and David Bruce.

A note for Southern Californians: A digital presentation of this restored print will be shown at UCLA on March 17th as part of the ongoing series celebrating director Michael Curtiz. The restored version will also be shown at this year's TCM Classic Film Festival.

The restored black and white film, photographed by Sol Polito, looks superb on the Warner Archive Blu-ray. Sound quality is also strong. Blu-ray extras are the trailer and a 1950 Screen Directors Playhouse radio production starring Robinson.

In addition to the Blu-ray reviewed here, the Warner Archive has also released THE SEA WOLF on DVD.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Tonight's Movie: The Covered Wagon (1923) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

The silent epic THE COVERED WAGON (1923) was released this week on Blu-ray and DVD by Kino Lorber.

THE COVERED WAGON is an engrossing film, with impressive location filming in several states, including Utah, Nevada, and California.  The movie was adapted by Jack Cunningham from a novel by Emerson Hough, directed by James Cruze and filmed by Karl Brown. The Kino Lorber Blu-ray print looks terrific, especially when one considers this movie is 95 years old.

THE COVERED WAGON tells the story of two wagon train caravans journeying from Kansas City to the "promised land" of Oregon. Molly (Lois Wilson) is ostensibly engaged to one caravan leader, Sam (Alan Hale Sr.), but she's been putting off marrying him and finds herself attracted to Will (J. Warren Kerrigan of CAPTAIN BLOOD), leader of the second "Liberty" caravan.

Will has a mysterious past -- some say he was a cattle thief -- but it's Sam who's actually bad news, as is revealed during the long journey. Over many months the travelers face challenges from fording the Platte River to battling snow and Indians.

It's a standard storyline but well told, holding the attention for the film's 98 minutes. The cast also includes Ernest Torrence and Tully Marshall, and the acting is fine, though no one really stands out.

What's really impressive are the visuals; in many scenes the wagon train stretches far, far into the distance, an incredibly stirring sight, especially knowing that it's all "real," no CGI. (The filmmakers were able to round up a number of covered wagons which had actually once made the journey west, which at that time was only a handful of decades in the past.) The river fording sequence and filming during a snowfall add to the realism. This film was a huge project, with hundreds of extras, not to mention livestock, filmed in locations still untouched by the 20th Century.

It's all the more interesting when one realizes that this film was one of the first of its kind, paving the way for later Western epics such as John Ford's THE IRON HORSE (1924) and Raoul Walsh's THE BIG TRAIL (1930).

The movie has a Wurlitzer organ score by Gaylord Carter.

The commentary track is by Toby Roan, a friend of this blog who blogs himself at 50 Westerns From the 50s. I listened to it from start to finish and found it quite informative, as is always the case with Toby's commentaries. (I enjoyed hearing that some of the final shooting on the film took place near Bishop, California, an area I know well.) He'll be providing more Kino Lorber commentary tracks in the next few weeks!

The case contains an attractive booklet with a good essay by Matt Hauske which helps explain THE COVERED WAGON's place in film history. The Blu-ray case contains reversible cover art; I liked the "alternate" option so well that I chose to switch mine over to the other side. For good measure the Blu-ray disc also has a short starring Shirley Temple, THE PIE-COVERED WAGON (1932).

Kino Lorber's THE COVERED WAGON is a recommended release, especially for those who love Westerns and/or silent films.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Tonight's Movie: The Finger Points (1931) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Newspapermen battling -- and being tempted by -- the Mob are the themes of THE FINGER POINTS (1931), a pre-Code drama just released on DVD by the Warner Archive.

Richard Barthelmess plays Breckenridge "Breck" Lee, a reporter from the South who gets a big break working on the most prominent big city paper in the North, The Press.

Breck works hard on stories aimed to help rid the town of mobsters and corruption, but his attitude changes after he ends up in the hospital for his efforts and the newspaper won't help cover his medical bills.

Mobster Louis Blanco (Clark Gable) shows Breck how to pay off his bills and then some, by killing stories that will hurt the mob, keeping them from publication. Breck accepts the payoffs and dives into a luxurious new lifestyle, though it costs him the affection of Marcia (Fay Wray), the newspaper columnist he hopes to marry. Marcia happens to see Breck taking money out of his safe deposit box and puts two and two together with the fact that Breck is clearly no longer living on $35 a week plus carfare.

Breck eventually convinces Marcia that he's actually been battling the mobsters behind the scenes by infiltrating them, casting himself in a brave new light, and she agrees to marry him and run away to a safer location. Breck has every intention of clearing the cash out of his safe deposit box first, of course. And what Breck doesn't know is that fellow reporter Breezy (Regis Toomey) is about to bust wide open a story for which Breck took a huge payoff, committing to keep it out of the paper.

There are a lot of things about this little film to like, starting with the newspaper setting. I loved the big signs on the wall, such as "IS IT INTERESTING?" Though I must say it's the filthiest newsroom I've ever seen in a movie; the actors have to wade through piles of trash all over the floor!

The story itself, by John Monk Saunders and W.R. Burnett, is an interesting premise, though unfortunately it's nearly killed by Barthelmess, a colorless, slow-speaking actor who periodically grinds the film to a halt with his plodding line readings. I found it interesting that in one dramatic scene in particular, the camera only shows the side or back of his head, remaining on the more interesting Wray's face throughout.

Fortunately the film is saved not only by a decent story and setting but a superb supporting cast in Wray, Toomey, and Gable. Wray is simply gorgeous as a smart cookie making her own way in a newspaper career, and I've always liked Toomey. In a scene where he feeds Wray donuts and coffee and asks what it will take for her to "go" for him, I was silently urging her that Toomey was a better choice than Barthelmess!

As for Gable, he's positively electric. He dominates all his scenes with the ostensible "star," Barthelmess; they seem to be playing two completely different games, so to speak. It's fascinating to see the charismatic star power Gable exudes even in a very early role. I found the film particularly valuable to see in the context of Gable's career.

THE FINGER POINTS was directed by John Francis Dillon and filmed by Ernest Haller. The supporting cast includes Robert Elliott, Oscar Apfel, and Robert Gleckler.

IMDb lists the film as 90 minutes long, but the Warner Archive disc runs 85 minutes. I didn't notice anything which overtly seemed to be missing storywise, and frankly the movie could easily have been speeded up, if only by having Barthelmess talk faster!

The print of this 1931 film is soft but overall it looks fine. The sound has more static than I would have wished for, though I didn't have any difficulty understanding the dialogue. There are no extras.

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 from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Black Panther (2018)

BLACK PANTHER (2018) is a strong new entry in the consistently well-done, entertaining films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Like Marvel's THOR (2011), BLACK PANTHER is a tale of "earning the throne," yet the movies couldn't be more stylistically different, which is part of the wonder of this Marvel series.

The MCU encompasses everything from the Nordic mythology of Thor and Loki to the zany Guardians of the Galaxy, from stalwart Captain America to an ordinary dad turned into a miniature Ant-Man; yet while the movies all have their own stamp -- thanks in part to the unique vision of each film's director -- they also form a cohesive whole, populating the same universe. It's great fun to see the characters cross paths in the various films; for example, is there anything better than Thor confronting the motley crew who comprise the Guardians of the Galaxy at the end of the AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR trailer?

BLACK PANTHER originates from a comic book of just over a half century ago, yet as I watched I couldn't help thinking that it was Marvel meets THE LION KING (1994). Each film tells the tale of a royal family in Africa, reflecting the "circle of life," and the familiar themes continue from there.

Black Panther, also known as T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman), is the new king of the mysterious African kingdom of Wakanda. T'Challa's father T'Chaka (John Kani) died tragically in a previous entry in the series, and now it's time for T'Challa to take his place on the throne.

Wakanda hides in plan sight, seeming to be a poor country, while it's actually a wealthy technological powerhouse thanks to vibranium, the same material which goes into Captain America's shield. Wakanda has remained isolated, keeping vibranium out of the hands of bad actors, but T'Challa's once and future significant other, Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o), believes Wakanda has an obligation to help the world.

Unfortunately such debates must be put off, along with finding the man responsible for T'Chaka's death, as it seems that T'Chaka had a disloyal brother (Uncle Scar, anyone?) whose son, Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), arrives in Wakanda to challenge T'Challa for the throne. And Killmonger is really bad news.

BLACK PANTHER is a wonderful melding of the terrifically creative with the familiar, such as T'Challa being guided by his father's spirit (more borrowing from THE LION KING). I also liked what a friend pointed out on Twitter, that the opening of the film is thematically very similar to GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014); in each a young boy experiences tragedy and witnesses something amazing from outer space, but from there, their lives go in completely different directions.

Many viewers have also picked up on a bit of a James Bond theme, with T'Challa's sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) serving as a sort of "Q," inventing all manner of gadgets for her brother to use when acting as a superhero.

At the same time as it presents its spin on classic themes, the film is bursting with unique visuals and characters, such as Danai Gurira's leader of the royal guard, the Dora Milaje. The movie could rate a second look just to more completely take in everything that's on the screen, let alone the story!

I really enjoyed Boseman, whose character is a compelling mixture of confidence and uncertainty, as he strives to be worthy of his new role(s). Now I want to go back and take a look at DRAFT DAY (2014) again, as well as check out 42 (2013) and MARSHALL (2017), which are both in my viewing stack.

The film is noteworthy for several strong women's roles, as played by the actresses noted above. Martin Freeman is also on hand as Everett Ross, an American agent who joins forces with T'Challa's family after they save his life. The cast also includes Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Sterling K. Brown, Daniel Kaluuya, and Andy Serkis.

BLACK PANTHER was directed by Ryan Coogler, who also directed this film's villain, Jordan, in CREED (2015). CREED costar Tessa Thompson joined the MCU last time around in THOR: RAGNAROK (2017).

The movie was filmed by Rachel Morrison. It runs 2 hours and 14 minutes.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated PG-13. There are a couple disturbing yet bloodless deaths. Mostly it's the usual Marvel cartoon violence.

A trailer is here.

BLACK PANTHER opened to strong reviews, including from Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times, who wrote "This is the model of what an involving popular entertainment should be. And even something more." It received a four-star review from Brian Truitt at USA Today, while Leonard Maltin writes that "Black Panther has already generated enough hype for multiple movies…and delivers on its promise to an eager audience."

Previous Marvel reviews: IRON MAN (2008), IRON MAN 2 (2010), CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011), THOR (2011), THE AVENGERS (2012), IRON MAN 3 (2013), THOR: THE DARK WORLD (2013), CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014), GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014), AGENT CARTER (2015), ANT-MAN (2015), AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (2015), CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016), DOCTOR STRANGE (2016), GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 (2017), SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017), and THOR: RAGNAROK (2017).

Coming next from Marvel: AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018) on May 4th and ANT-MAN AND THE WASP (2018) on July 6th.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Brigadoon (1954) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

Last night I pulled out an old favorite, BRIGADOON (1954), from the review stack. I'm thrilled to say the movie has never looked better than it does on the Warner Archive Blu-ray, released last fall.

Though I'm just now reviewing the BRIGADOON Blu-ray, it's not for lack of interest. BRIGADOON has been a favorite of mine since I first fell in love with MGM musicals as a pre-teenager. Though some critics find fault with it, particularly the set design, it's always been special to me, and it continues to be so to this day.

The movie is a filming of the 1947-48 Lerner and Loewe Broadway production; the film was produced by Arthur Freed and directed by Vincente Minnelli.

Two Americans, Tommy (Gene Kelly) and Jeff (Van Johnson), become lost during a hunting trip in Scotland and stumble across an odd little village, Brigadoon, which isn't on their map. Tommy quickly falls in love with beautiful Fiona (Cyd Charisse), while the more cynical Jeff takes in the strange goings-on in the town with a jaundiced eye.

Brigadoon seems strangely lost in an older time, and when Tommy sees some confusing dates in Fiona's family Bible, she takes him to the village schoolmaster, Mr. Lundie (Barry Jones) for an explanation. It's a long story which boils down to a miracle: The people of Brigadoon are essentially still living in the 1700s, with the village appearing for just one day every century. An outsider can remain in the village if he loves someone enough...and so Tommy has a big decision to make.

The criticism one hears most often of this movie is that it wasn't filmed on location in Scotland or elsewhere. I love great location filming -- after all, THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965) is one of my favorite movies -- but Brigadoon's look has honestly never bothered me. The extensive sets filmed in widescreen make it come across just a bit like a filmed stage play, especially as groups are often emphasized over close-ups; that said, the storybook look creates an otherworldly environment which works for me in the context of this film. (Incidentally, the film was Oscar nominated for Best Art Direction and Set Decoration.)

I simply love getting lost in the story, the gorgeous music, and the film's look. The Blu-ray is truly beautiful, bringing out the best in the film's fairly plain Ansco Color; Cyd Charisse's orange underskirt and yellow shawl, and later her red dress and green shawl -- matching Kelly's green shirt -- are the best they've ever looked.

The one aspect which might not have completely held up for me over the years is Kelly's performance; he's supposed to be a cynical American, though not as far gone as Johnson's character, but the character I saw as wildly romantic when I was a teenager now seems just a little too slick. This aspect of his performance does soften as the film goes on and Fiona and Brigadoon win Tommy's heart; and in great moments like "The Heather on the Hill" dance with Charisse, any uncertainty about him is forgiven. I also really like Kelly's performance of "Almost Like Being in Love."

I'm a big fan of Cyd Charisse and she's simply lovely in this; in addition to her spot-on performance and gorgeous dancing, she's perfectly dubbed by Carol Richards, who would provide Charisse's singing voice in three additional MGM musicals.

Jimmy Thompson and Virginia Bosler are nicely cast as Fiona's sister and her fiance, who are front and center during the film's extended wedding sequence late in the movie. BRIGADOON comes most strongly alive during this section of the film, from the "Gathering of the Clans" through the "Wedding Dance." The choreography, Conrad Salinger's orchestrations, Irene Sharaff's Oscar-nominated costuming, and Joseph Ruttenberg's best camera work in the movie, fully utilizing the CinemaScope screen, combine for a thrilling experience. The high-stepping Scottish dancers in their colorful tartans never fail to give me goosebumps.

Outstanding extras carried over from the original DVD release include three deleted musical numbers, one audio outtake, and the trailer. During this viewing I took the time to pause the movie and watch the deleted songs where they would have fit in the movie, which really added to my experience. The finished film isn't particularly long at 108 minutes, and I regret that all of these numbers were cut, especially the lilting "Come to Me, Bend to Me," sung by John Gustafson, dubbing Jimmy Thompson. The scene where Thompson sings the song to his bride-to-be, Bosler, is touching.

Rather than chapter selections, the disc features a song selection option, a feature I appreciate very much.

The supporting cast includes Albert Sharpe, Hugh Laing, Tudor Owen, Dee Turnell, Dodie Heath, Eddie Quillan, Madge Blake, and in one scene near the end of the film, gorgeous Elaine Stewart.

The Warner Archive BRIGADOON Blu-ray is a must for fans of musicals in general and BRIGADOON in particular.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...Great news: As I have long hoped, MOONRISE (1948) will be released in May by the Criterion Collection. MOONRISE stars Dane Clark and Gail Russell, directed by Frank Borzage. Though I hate to complain in the face of this great news, I'll be honest: The Criterion cover, which can be seen at their site, is unusually unpleasant, and the extras are skimpy. Nonetheless it's fantastic that this film is coming out on DVD and Blu-ray at long last. (Now, dare I hope for NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES?)

...Coming to the Warner Archive this week: A GIRL, A GUY, AND A GOB (1941) with Lucille Ball, Edmond O'Brien, and George Murphy, listed on the WAC site here, and Jack Carson and Janis Paige in LOVE AND LEARN (1947), listed here.

...Here's a trailer for an upcoming WWII-era film starring Lily James and Matthew Goode. The film's wordy title is THE GUERNSEY LITERARY & POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY. No U.S. release date is set.

...New from Cook's Illustrated in April: DINNER ILLUSTRATED: 175 MEALS READY IN 1 HOUR OR LESS.

...A few days after I watched Tim Holt in THE ROOKIE COP (1939), Jessica reviewed it as part of her recently started series "Watching 1939."

...One of the things which makes me happiest is recommending a movie and later hearing that someone else enjoyed it. In just the last few days I've learned that my friend Jessica enjoyed Belita in LADY, LET'S DANCE! (1944), which she wrote about here; Raquel enjoyed Saoirse Ronan in BROOKLYN (2015), which she wrote about here; the Self-Styled Siren liked Audie Murphy and Dan Duryea in RIDE CLEAR OF DIABLO (1954); and Mel enjoyed the Hallmark Hall of Fame film LOVING LEAH (2009). It was a great week for recommendations, and hearing this news was really wonderful. Thank you all for the feedback! I hope more readers will check out these most enjoyable films.

...Earlier this month Parade magazine featured a nice article on Hallmark movies, including interviews with several actors who regularly appear in Hallmark films.

...Three late 2017 releases are coming out on Blu-ray and DVD on February 27th: DARKEST HOUR (2017), which I reviewed here; MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (2017), reviewed here; and COCO (2017), reviewed here.

...Congratulations to Raquel on 1,000 posts at her blog Out of the Past! Raquel recently started a sister blog, Bygone Voyager, to discuss historical movies and TV programs.

...Here's an article on film preservation at Paramount Pictures.

...Kristen of Journeys in Classic Film recently reviewed THE LADY FROM CHEYENNE (1941), a delightful film starring Loretta Young and Robert Preston. It's a movie which very much needs a DVD release!

...Kino Lorber Studio Classics reviews coming to my site in March: Richard Conte, Joan Bennett, and Wanda Hendrix in HIGHWAY DRAGNET (1954) and Richard Dix and Irene Dunne in STINGAREE (1934).

...More exciting Kino Lorber news for April: Releases of TRIGGER, JR. (1950) and SINGING GUNS (1950), both with commentary tracks by Toby Roan of 50 Westerns From the 50s. William Witney's son Jay Dee Witney will also participate in the TRIGGER, JR. commentary.

...Notable Passings: I was very sorry to learn of the passing of singer-actor Vic Damone. Damone appeared in several MGM musicals in the '50s including RICH, YOUNG AND PRETTY (1951), ATHENA (1954), DEEP IN MY HEART (1954), HIT THE DECK (1955), and KISMET (1955)...Glen Holt, the widower of Annette Funicello, has died at the age of 87. Annette passed on nearly five years ago, in April 2013...Writer Bill Crider died this week at 76. I enjoyed peeking in on his blog from time to time as he was a film fan and he also liked to feature great vintage advertising at his site.

...For more recent links on classic movies and more, please check out my February 11th link roundup.

Have a great week!

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Goodbye Again (1933) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Warren William and Joan Blondell star in GOODBYE AGAIN (1933), a pre-Code comedy just released on DVD by the Warner Archive.

GOODBYE AGAIN is a mildly amusing bedroom farce directed by Michael Curtiz. Ben Markson's screenplay was based on a play by George Haight and Allan Scott. (Fun note: James Stewart had a small role in the Broadway production.)

William plays Kenneth Bixby, author of successful romantic novels who's currently in the midst of a publicity tour. Bixby is reunited with a forgotten old flame, Julie (Genevieve Tobin); he may have forgotten her but he certainly doesn't mind picking up again where they left off, despite the fact that she's married to Harvey (Hugh Herbert, less annoying than usual).

Hotel or train, everywhere Bixby goes, Julie follows, and it's quite clear they're they're engaged in a steamy affair. Bixby's secretary Anne (Blondell) is concerned and jealous, and Julie's husband, sister (Helen Chandler), and future brother-in-law (Wallace Ford) are also intent on breaking up Bixby and Julie's new romance.

The movie was loosely remade with George Brent as HONEYMOON FOR THREE (1941), and while I think I liked the remake better, this original version zips by in a quick 66 minutes. It's nonsensical, but watching William and Tobin both acting like utter dingbats has its charms; William has such a dignified appearance, yet he was unafraid to be utterly silly on screen.

Blondell is, of course, always a welcome screen presence, though her role is less flashy than Tobin's. There's also quite a bit of subtly racy dialogue scattered throughout which periodically startles a fading viewer back into playing close attention once more.

A random comment: I love both Tobin and Blondell, but they look so very much alike in this, it might have been easier for viewers if their appearances had been differentiated more.

GOODBYE AGAIN was filmed by George Barnes. The supporting cast includes Hobart Cavanaugh, Fred "Snowflake" Toones, and Ruth Donnelly.

The Warner Archive DVD has a good print, if slightly soft in a typical early '30s way, and fine sound. There are no extras.

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 from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

Weekend Movie Fun

My husband and I enjoyed a fun, movie-filled day in the Great Los Angeles area yesterday!

It all began in the afternoon with a visit to the Griffith Park area home of our friend Woody Wise, who screens the movies at the Lone Pine Film Festival. Woody has a very nice home screening room, as seen in the documentary BROTHERHOOD OF THE POPCORN (2014), and he invited a few members of the L.A. TCM Backlot chapter over to enjoy a movie.

Woody's home is on property where Bette Davis once had horse stables; the home she lived in, behind his own house, still stands. Thanks to the kindness of both Woody and his neighbor, we were invited over for a peek at the exterior:


Here's the house as it looked on a vintage postcard:


A side note: As it happens, Davis's final resting place is fairly nearby, at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, as seen in this post.

Woody's home is filled with fabulous movie posters everywhere; my favorite was this Bob Steele poster seen behind his staircase:


Our group settled down to watch Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame in IN A LONELY PLACE (1950), which I last saw half a decade ago. As was the case with last year's revisiting of NIGHT AND THE CITY (1950), it's a film I was initially dubious about which I appreciated more on a second look. I find it helps to know what to expect going in, and because of that I also found them each less depressing the second time! I was glad I saw it again.


I especially enjoy Frank Lovejoy and Jeff Donnell, seen here with Bogart and Grahame. According to IMDb, the intersection where Bogart races away from the beach picnic is Pacific Coast Highway and Chautauqua. I've driven past it numerous times.


Woody's Blu-ray projector and sound system were great! It was especially nice to make new friends who are TCM and classic movie fans.

We next drove to Westwood and had a nice dinner, then headed to UCLA's Billy Wilder Theater and an evening at the Michael Curtiz Retrospective.


I'd been unable to be at this series since the opening weekend so I was especially glad to be there. The diverse double bill, pairing the film noir THE UNSUSPECTED (1947) with the colorful musical ROMANCE ON THE HIGH SEAS (1948), showcased the director's versatility. He also produced both films.


Here's Curtiz biographer Alan Rode introducing THE UNSUSPECTED:


It had been five years since I'd seen THE UNSUSPECTED and six since I'd seen ROMANCE ON THE HIGH SEAS, and I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting each of them. THE UNSUSPECTED was shown digitally, as only half of the 35mm Library of Congress print arrived in time for the screening! ROMANCE ON THE HIGH SEAS was shown in a 35mm print which was somewhat orange-tinged in spots but on the whole quite good, save for an abrupt jump between reels late in the film.


To be sure, THE UNSUSPECTED has some flaws, including a rather weak performance by leading man Michael (Ted) North, who received an "Introducing" screen credit yet never made another film. On the whole, though, it's highly enjoyable, with spectacular black and white cinematography by Woody Bredell and a wonderful cast including Audrey Totter, Fred Clark, and Constance Bennett. Having Totter and Bennett both in the same film is simply delicious.



Kenneth Britton, who plays Claude Rains' offbeat butler, also turns up as a shipboard bartender in ROMANCE ON THE HIGH SEAS. The evening was also a Bess Flowers "two-fer," as Hollywood's most famous extra is a guest at Rains' surprise party in the first film and a ship's passenger in the second.


As for ROMANCE ON THE HIGH SEAS, what can one say but "Doris Day! Doris Day! Doris Day!" She's simply fabulous in this star-making performance, especially when she breaks into "It's Magic." She's surrounded by a marvelous cast including Jack Carson, Janis Paige, and Don DeFore. A treat from start to finish.


For lots of colorful screencaps from ROMANCE ON THE HIGH SEAS, check out a post from last summer by The Blonde at the Film.

We're very fortunate to have so many wonderful moviegoing opportunities in Southern California, along with chances to connect with fellow fans and enjoy bits of film history. (Speaking of film history, Oscar winning actor-dancer George Chakiris of WEST SIDE STORY walked into the Billy Wilder Theater lobby shortly after our arrival!) I'm hoping to be at UCLA again in two weeks for THE PROUD REBEL (1958) and FOUR DAUGHTERS (1938).

And coming to UCLA later this year: An Ida Lupino series!

Friday, February 16, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Loving Leah (2009)

My latest exploration of Hallmark films led me to a real find, the Hallmark Hall of Fame production LOVING LEAH (2009).

Leah Lever (Lauren Ambrose) lives in Brooklyn and is married to Benjamin (David Rossmer), an Orthodox rabbi who dies suddenly.

Benjamin's distant brother David (Adam Kaufman), a busy doctor and non-observant Jew who lives in Washington, D.C., is confronted with the tradition of needing to marry his brother's childless widow to carry on the family name. It's either that or go through a ceremony in which he denies his brother's existence, and David unexpectedly finds himself unable to follow through with that option.

David suggests to Leah that they marry in name only, which assuages his guilt about not having much of a relationship with his brother, while enabling Leah to get away from her controlling mother (Susie Essman) and attend college. David and Leah will figure out what happens later...later.

Needless to say, David's girlfriend Carol (Christy Pusz) has a little trouble wrapping her brain around her boyfriend's unusual marriage, and she wisely cuts out of the picture pretty quickly.

The joy of the film is watching how Leah and David become entwined in each other's lives, each making changes. David's apartment undergoes a transformation, with a mezuzah in each doorway, a kosher kitchen, and Sabbath prayers on Fridays. Eventually his pool table leaves in favor of a dining table, the better to enjoy Leah's cooking.

Leah meanwhile prepares for college by studying for her SATs, and she also begins to explore how she wants to live out her faith as an independent adult. Initially embarrassed when she visits a nearby Reform shul and realizes the rabbi (Ricki Lake) is a woman, she ultimately finds in the rabbi a new friend and sympathetic listener. Leah also wrestles with issues regarding whether she wants to maintain every Orthodox tradition she's lived by to that point, such as covering her hair with a wig in public. For his part, David begins to enjoy and reclaim the traditions which were part of his religious heritage.

The couple grow close, but then David finds himself wracked with guilt that he is able to be happy with Leah because his brother is dead...

I thought this was a wonderful film, very absorbing and even educational. Though it's obvious where the story is going from the outset -- after all, the title is LOVING LEAH -- the pleasure is in the couple's journey. I also found the depictions of Jewish life extremely interesting; it's rare for a film to go into so many details regarding religious practice and values.

Another particular pleasure for me is that Leah is a classic film fan, something she had felt she'd had to keep hidden from her family; she would sneak off to the movie theater. She wrestles with her own guilt, that when Benjamin had died suddenly, she'd been in a revival house watching a classic movie, when everyone thought she'd been shopping.

When Leah moves in with David, Bernard Dick's biography of Claudette Colbert is on her nightstand, and she later tells David about IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934) and the walls of Jericho.

LOVING LEAH was directed by Jeff Bleckner from a script by Pnenah Goldstein. It was filmed by Charles Minsky.

LOVING LEAH is available on DVD. An Amazon review indicated that the DVD has scenes which didn't air on TV; the TV version minus commercials is roughly 85 minutes long, give or take a couple minutes, and I found a version on YouTube which is 93 minutes long. Sure enough, the YouTube version has scenes which weren't part of the TV broadcast!

I suspect the scenes may have been part of the original CBS network broadcast and then were trimmed for reruns on Hallmark Channel, but that's just an educated guess. They weren't critical but it was interesting to see them, and I plan to buy the DVD for future viewing. I'll be wanting to watch this one again.

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