Saturday, March 31, 2018

TCM in April: Highlights

It's time for a look at highlights from the April schedule on Turner Classic Movies!

There's a great month ahead for TCM fans, including the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood April 26th-29th.

As I mentioned a few days ago, I'll again be covering the festival as a member of the credentialed media. Be watching for more on the festival here in April, including a close look at the festival schedule along with my top picks once the schedule is available. (It's typically posted a couple weeks ahead of the festival.) Then I'll have a complete post-festival wrap-up beginning a day or so after it all comes to an end!

Tying in with it being festival month, last year's LIVE FROM THE TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL interview, featuring Michael Douglas, will debut on TCM on April 3rd.

William Holden is the April Star of the Month on TCM. Stefanie Powers will join Ben Mankiewicz to celebrate the centennial of Holden's birth beginning on Monday, April 2nd. I'll have more on the William Holden lineup in a separate post in the very near future. (Update: Please visit TCM Star of the Month: William Holden.)

I'm especially looking forward to this month's TCM Spotlight on director Michael Curtiz, with over 50 Curtiz films shown in a series of 24-hour marathons on Wednesdays, beginning April 4th. Curtiz biographer Alan K. Rode (seen at left) will be on TCM with Ben Mankiewicz each Wednesday evening to discuss Curtiz's life and films. Alan has posted the schedule for his intros at his website.

It's a fantastic series; the only thing that could have made it more perfect for me would have been if TCM had been able to include Paramount's WHITE CHRISTMAS (1954). That film has its detractors but for me, it's perfection, one of my favorite films of all time, as I wrote in the linked review.

This month's Noir Alley titles, playing both Saturday nights and Sunday mornings, are SUDDENLY (1954) on April 7th and 8th, MYSTERY STREET (1950) on April 14th and 15th, CRY DANGER (1951) on the 21st and 22nd, and HOLLOW TRIUMPH (1948) (aka THE SCAR) on April 28th and 29th.

All four titles are excellent; my favorite is probably CRY DANGER with Dick Powell, which I had a tremendous time seeing at the UCLA Festival of Preservation a few years ago. Powell is seen here with his real-life close friend Regis Toomey on the left and Richard Erdman on the right. Rhonda Fleming, William Conrad, and Jean Porter also star. Great stuff.

Speaking of film noir, we're incredibly fortunate here in Southern California to have not only the TCM Classic Film Fest but the annual Noir City Hollywood festival this month. Be on the lookout for extensive details on that festival here in April along with the TCM Classic Film Fest!

Below are just a few of TCM's April highlights; click on any hyperlinked title for the related review:

...Easter Sunday, April 1st, includes EASTER PARADE (1948) and HOLIDAY INN (1942). EASTER PARADE is a film I've seen so many times I can visualize every scene just listening to it; you could say it's been part of my "Easter soundtrack" for my entire life.

...Doris Day turns 96 on April 3rd! TCM celebrates with several Day films including CALAMITY JANE (1953). I saw a bit of that this weekend and was reminded all over again that it's one of her very best. Howard Keel costars.

...The first day of the Michael Curtiz Spotlight series on April 4th features many interesting films -- which can be said of every day in the series. I'm calling special attention to the silent-talkie hybrid NOAH'S ARK (1928), which stars George O'Brien (at his hunkiest) and Dolores Costello. 90 years later the flood sequence remains an astonishing piece of pre-CGI filmmaking. Did extras die in the making of the film? We'll never know...Curtiz biographer Alan K. Rode has posted background on the film, adapted from his book, at his website.

...One of the first films I ever saw at the Noir City Film Festival in Hollywood was SO EVIL MY LOVE (1948), starring Ray Milland and Ann Todd (seen at right), costarring Geraldine Fitzgerald. It's "gothic noir," a dark thrill ride of a movie, with a great part for Leo G. Carroll as a private investigator. It's on April 5th.

...If you like newspaper movies -- and who doesn't?! -- there are several good ones playing on April 6th, including the classic comedy LIBELED LADY (1936) with William Powell, Myrna Loy, Jean Harlow, and Spencer Trcy.

...I like what TCM is doing on Saturday mornings, creating a "day at the movies" with shorts, cartoons, a serial, a "B" Western, and film from an ongoing series. This month, starting on April 7th, you can catch a Tim Holt Western every Saturday morning -- all filmed before his break for service in WWII -- followed by a Tarzan film, some with Johnny Weissmuller and later in the month with Lex Barker.

...A day of Ward Bond films to celebrate his birthday on April 9th includes GYPSY COLT (1954), a family film costarring Frances Dee and the excellent child actress Donna Corcoran.

...Jane Powell turns 89 on April 1st. A few days later, on April 10th, TCM honors her with a five-film prime time tribute including TWO WEEKS WITH LOVE (1950), an all-time favorite, and THE GIRL MOST LIKELY (1958), partly filmed on Balboa Island here in Orange County. TWO WEEKS WITH LOVE costars Debbie Reynolds, who shared an April 1st birthday with Powell.

...The second evening of Michael Curtiz films on April 11th features films starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, including what I consider one of the finest films ever made in Hollywood, THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938). Earlier that day, don't miss FOUR DAUGHTERS (1938), seen at right, with a wonderful cast including Priscilla Lane (and sisters!) and John Garfield.

...April 13th features an evening screening of THE TALL T (1957), one of the great Randolph Scott-Budd Boetticher Westerns, filmed in Lone Pine, California. Richard Boone and Maureen O'Sullivan costar.

...I'm delighted that TCM is celebrating the late Peggy Cummins with a prime time tribute on April 17th. Of course, it features GUN CRAZY (1950), HELL DRIVERS (1957), and CURSE OF THE DEMON (1957), but I'm particularly delighted it has the comedy ALWAYS A BRIDE (1954). Ironically I just ordered that recently from Amazon UK, though I've not watched it yet. The fifth and final film of the evening is THE LATE GEORGE APLEY (1947) with Ronald Colman. (Update: Here is a lovely video tribute to Cummins from Eddie Muller.)

...The Curtiz films on the 18th kick off with Doris Day's star-making role in ROMANCE ON THE HIGH SEAS (1948), which I was fortunate to see last month in the Curtiz series at UCLA. That evening Alan Rode joins Ben Mankiewicz to focus on Curtiz in the '40s, including CASABLANCA (1942) and MILDRED PIERCE (1945).

...A day of "beach" movies on April 19th includes Frankie and Annette in BEACH PARTY (1963), costarring Bob Cummings and Dorothy Malone.

...Harold Lloyd's birthday is celebrated all day on April 20th with a lineup of shorts and feature films including GIRL SHY (1924), which is my personal favorite (seen at left, with Jobyna Ralston), plus THE KID BROTHER (1927), THE MILKY WAY (1936) and more.

...Danny Kaye and Virginia Mayo star in WONDER MAN (1945) and A SONG IS BORN (1948) in prime time on Sunday evening, April 22nd. Wonderful Technicolor entertainment.

...The final day of the Curtiz series on April 25th features some very interesting titles I haven't seen yet, including Alan Ladd in THE MAN IN THE NET (1959) and Will Rogers Jr. and Nancy Olson in THE BOY FROM OKLAHOMA (1954). The prime time lineup includes the excellent Western THE PROUD REBEL (1958) starring Ladd and Olivia de Havilland.

...I need to see Irene Dunne as Queen Victoria in THE MUDLARK (1950), showing on April 26th.

...Victor Mature and Jane Russell star in THE LAS VEGAS STORY (1952) on April 27th. It's an entertaining film with Hoagy Carmichael, location filming in Vegas, neon signs, and great sets...in other words, my kind of movie. Not a classic, but definitely fun.

...Also fun: Ginger Rogers and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in HAVING WONDERFUL TIME (1938) on April 30th. It will make viewers long for summer vacation at a lakeside camp!

For more on TCM in April, please review the complete schedule.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Quick Preview of TCM in June

Turner Classic Movies posted its May schedule just a couple of weeks ago, and now we get a look at the network in June! The schedule was posted earlier this week.

The June Star of the Month is Leslie Howard. That was a bit of a surprise as Howard was Star of the Month slightly less than six years ago, in July 2012. The series will include a 2016 documentary on the actor.

I'm especially excited about the new collaboration between TCM and Ball State University, as the June TCM Spotlight focuses on "The History of the Hollywood Musical." Ball State will provide a free online course in conjunction with the series. Last month the Ball State Daily News posted a very interesting article on how Ball State students worked with TCM on creating the course.

Treasures from the Disney Vault makes its quarterly appearance with an animal-themed evening including THE BEST OF DISNEY'S TRUE-LIFE ADVENTURES (1975), GREYFRIARS BOBBY (1961), BIG RED (1962), and THE BISCUIT EATER (1972). (Update: THE BISCUIT EATER was dropped from the final schedule.)

It's also a great month for Noir Alley, featuring the TCM debut of the Film Noir Foundation's restoration of THE MAN WHO CHEATED HIMSELF (1950). I saw this terrific noir at last year's Noir City Film Festival in Hollywood, prior to its restoration. It stars Lee J. Cobb, Jane Wyatt, and John Dall, and it features some great location shooting in San Francisco.

Saturday morning programming in June will include Tom Keene Westerns and Lex Barker Tarzan films. June's Silent Sunday Nights include Harold Lloyd films every Sunday evening!

June themes include Father's Day, weddings, bullfighting, hotels, plastic surgery, and the Napoleonic Wars. Only on TCM!

Filmmakers receiving multifilm tributes include Fredric March, Edward Dmytryk, Julie Andrews, Rosalind Russell, Errol Flynn, Basil Rathbone, Peter Lorre, and Sergio Leone. A double bill of Ingrid Bergman's foreign films is also on the schedule.

In the meantime, a centennial tribute to William Holden is coming in April, and Marlene Dietrich will be Star of the Month in May.

A detailed look at the April schedule is coming soon!

Updates: TCM Presents Mad About Musicals! and TCM in June: Highlights.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Ida Lupino Tribute Coming to UCLA

The UCLA Film & Television Archive will honor actress-director Ida Lupino next month with a three-night, six-film tribute.

Lupino's centennial birthday was February 4th.

Hard, Fast and Beautiful: The Films of Ida Lupino will take place at UCLA's Billy Wilder Theater on April 6, 7, and 27, 2018. Each evening pairs one film Lupino directed with one in which she appeared onscreen -- or did both acting and directing.

The first evening features THE HARD WAY (1943), in which she starred with Joan Leslie, Dennis Morgan, and Jack Carson, with HARD, FAST AND BEAUTIFUL (1951). Lupino directed the latter film, starring Sally Forrest and Claire Trevor.

The following evening Mala Powers stars in OUTRAGE (1950), directed by Lupino. The second film on the double bill is THE BIGAMIST (1953), which Lupino starred in and also directed. Lupino's costars in THE BIGAMIST are Edmond O'Brien and Joan Fontaine.

The final night, on April 27th, features THE HITCH-HIKER (1953) and ON DANGEROUS GROUND (1951). Lupino memorably directed Edmond O'Brien, Frank Lovejoy, and William Tallman in THE HITCH-HIKER, and she costarred with Robert Ryan in ON DANGEROUS GROUND. Lupino directed the final scene of the latter film when director Nicholas Ray disapproved of the ending the studio wanted.

This is a terrific series, and I'm hoping to attend at least one of the first two nights of the tribute. The last evening overlaps with the TCM Classic Film Festival, but fortunately I've seen both of those films in a theater relatively recently. That's a highly recommended evening for Southern Californian classic film fans who don't already have plans in Hollywood.

Update: Here's my review of HARD, FAST AND BEAUTIFUL (1951), which also contains commentary on the similarly themed THE HARD WAY (1943), which I revisted for the first time since 2008. Please also visit a Photo Gallery I put together of stills from THE HARD WAY.

Update: Here are my reviews of OUTRAGE (1950) and THE BIGAMIST (1953).

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Highway Dragnet (1954) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Yesterday was Richard Conte's birthday, so it was a particularly good weekend to watch him in the crime film HIGHWAY DRAGNET (1954).

HIGHWAY DRAGNET was just released on Blu-ray and DVD by Kino Lorber. I first saw the movie streaming on Netflix back in 2011, when Netflix had a far greater variety of older films available; I really wanted to see it again and so was delighted when I learned it would be released by Kino Lorber.

This film, which was Roger Corman's first co-producing credit -- he also cowrote the story -- admittedly isn't the world's greatest movie, yet at the same time it's a heck of a lot of fun. Boring it ain't; it's a zippy 70 minutes which I watched with a kind of glee, totally enjoying the lead actors and the various situations as they unfolded. (When Iris Adrian, as a waitress who clearly prefers an empty restaurant, hurled menus onto a table I actually laughed out loud.) Add in superb location shooting, and this is definitely my kind of movie.

Conte plays Jim Henry, who's just left the military after service in Korea. He's picked up in a bar by former model (Mary Beth Hughes); there's a fadeout so we don't know what happens, but Jim is arrested the next day for her murder by strangulation.

The disbelieving Jim's alibi can't be located, and with Detective Joe White Eagle (Reed Hadley) convinced Jim did the deed, despite Jim's honorable military record, Jim decides to make a break for it. He manages to escape and eventually hitches a ride with Mrs. Cummings (the always-great Joan Bennett), a photographer, and her model Susan (Wanda Hendrix).

Mrs. Cummings and Susan soon realize they have a problem on their hands, what with newspapers blaring headlines about the "Strap Murderer." But we, like Susan, increasingly sense that Jim truly is just a nice guy in a bad situation...and what did happen to Mrs. Cummings' missing dog leash, anyway?

It may feel just a bit as though the still-gorgeous Bennett is slumming in this one -- and I think she knew it -- but she's still grand fun as the calculating, short-tempered photographer. Along with her jaded portrayal, I love her dress with its billowing skirt; she must have had petticoats underneath. She's quite the glamorous traveler, complete with jewelry, while young Susan is always dressed down. Changing generational attitudes towards dressing up for travel captured on film?

I simply like Conte, who is in any number of films I really enjoy, and I also admire Wanda Hendrix, as I wrote about here. This role is far less complex than some Hendrix played, but she's appealing as the quick-witted Susan.

The majority of the film was shot outdoors on location, and those locations really help make the movie as enjoyable as it is. Initially there's stock footage of old-time Las Vegas, followed by terrific shots of the cast at the Apple Valley Inn. There's more about the Apple Valley Inn in my original review and in an illustrated post at Paradise Leased; it was also seen in FOXFIRE (1955) and THERE'S ALWAYS TOMORROW (1955). I clearly need to pay it a visit someday.

I don't know if the agricultural inspection station was real or created for the movie; I'm guessing it was staged in the desert closer to L.A. rather than traveling all the way to the Nevada border. There's also some fascinating filming in a flooded-out home at the Salton Sea. It's a unique choice which adds a lot to the movie.

The movie was directed by Nathan Juran and photographed in black and white by John Martin. The supporting cast includes Frank Jenks, Harry Harvey, House Peters Jr., Joseph Crehan, and Tom Hubbard.

The print and sound are excellent. (The strong wind on location impacts the sound in a couple of scenes but they didn't bother to loop them; it sounds authentic, at least!) The disc includes half a dozen trailers for film noir titles which are also available from Kino Lorber. There are no additional extras.

While HIGHWAY DRAGNET wouldn't be the right film for someone looking for a top-drawer film noir classic, its interesting imperfections combined with a good cast and stellar locations make it a delight for the right audience. I've happily watched it twice and will do so again in the future thanks to Kino Lorber.

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

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...I'm delighted to announce that I will again be covering this year's TCM Classic Film Festival as a member of the accredited media. This will be my sixth year covering the festival, and it's always a highlight of the movie year for me and many other classic film fans. I'll have more on what to expect at this year's festival before it opens on April 26th, along with ongoing real-time Tweets while it's taking place and plenty of post-festival coverage. In the meantime, check out my post on the latest announcements, and scroll to the end of that post for even more links with information on the 2018 festival. For anyone who's been on the fence about going, it's not too late to make plans to attend!

...Classic film fans in town early for the TCM Classic Film Festival may want to make plans to tour the Oakridge Estate. The Friends of the Oakridge Estate will be conducting tours at 10:00 a.m. on both April 21st and April 22nd, 2018. Oakridge, built in 1937, is the former home of Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor, and later Jack Oakie. Click here to visit the website and register. (March 26th Update: The 10:00 a.m. tours both days are now sold out and a 1:00 p.m. tour has been added on Saturday the 21st. If you're interested, best to sign up immediately! Additional Update: A Sunday afternoon tour has been added as well!)

...Prior to the TCM Classic Film Festival I'll once again be attending the annual Noir City Hollywood Festival, celebrating its 20th year with a slate of films set entirely in Los Angeles and Southern California. The schedule was unveiled a few days ago; I'll have a detailed run-down posted here in early April.

...Is this the end for Necco Wafers?! Say it isn't so!

...This weekend I enjoyed revisiting LEAP YEAR (2010) for the first time since 2010. Good movie which tickles my funnybone. It stars Amy Adams, and I'd completely forgotten her costar was Matthew Goode so that was a nice surprise when I pulled the case off the shelf! (P.S. This time around I noted some influences from 1945's I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING! which I hadn't keyed in on last time. Part of the fun of revisiting movies is there's always something new to discover.)

...Fellow blogger Lara Fowler of Backlots had a media credential to cover the oral arguments in a hearing regarding Olivia de Havilland's lawsuit against FX last week. The hearing was to determine whether the case will move forward to a jury trial. Lara's report may be found at Backlots. For more, Cari Beauchamp's account of the hearing was posted at LA Observed. A decision is expected fairly soon. (March 26th Update: Olivia de Havilland has lost at the appellate level and the case has been remanded to the lower court with instructions to dismiss it. Here's more from The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. Lara's analysis of the decision is also available at Backlots.)

...Reviewed by CineSavant Glenn Erickson at Trailers from Hell: Ingrid Bergman's Swedish Years, an Eclipse set coming in April from Criterion Collection.

...ClassicFlix will be releasing DOWN THREE DARK STREETS (1954) and 5 STEPS TO DANGER (1957) on Blu-ray and DVD in late April. My 2013 review of DOWN THREE DARK STREETS, starring Broderick Crawford and Ruth Roman, is here, and my review of Roman and Sterling Hayden in 5 STEPS TO DANGER is here. ClassicFlix has been doing a very nice job providing high-quality releases.

...A great resource to find where movies and TV shows are available to watch via streaming: JustWatch.com.

...Raquel has a fabulous new list of upcoming film-related books at her blog Out of the Past. Many interesting titles I'd like to check out! Just one book among many: STERLING HAYDEN'S WARS, a biography of the multitalented man by Lee Mandel, coming in May from the University Press of Mississippi. There's truly something for everyone on this list so be sure to scan the entire thing!

...Another book on the list, HERBERT MARSHALL: A BIOGRAPHY by Scott O'Brien, was just reviewed by Jocelyn at Classic Film Observations & Obsessions. It's from Bear Manor Media. Incidentally, Marshall is on the cover of one of the books on Raquel's list which intrigues me most, HOW DID LUBITSCH DO IT? by Joseph McBride.

...An additional bio coming later this year, which I learned of at Jocelyn's blog: CLAIRE TREVOR: THE LIFE AND FILMS OF THE QUEEN OF NOIR by Derek Sculthorpe, published by McFarland.

...Coming this fall: BING CROSBY: SWINGING ON A STAR - THE WAR YEARS 1940-1946, the second volume on Crosby by Gary Giddins. The publisher is Little, Brown & Company.

...Another book tip from Raquel: VINTAGE SIGNS OF AMERICA by Debra Jane Seltzer, from Amberley Publishing.

...I recently thoroughly enjoyed the short documentary SRIRACHA (2013), which is available to stream on Amazon. Great "foodie" history and a wonderful American success story, by way of Vietnam and a couple other countries! It's informative and entertaining. Recommended.

...Lots of pre-Codes coming from the Warner Archive in April 2018, plus Kay Francis in COMET OVER BROADWAY (1938).

...More on MoviePass and its efforts to improve customer service, from Deadline.

...Karie Bible, the official tour guide at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, recently made a series of appearances on KTLA Ch. 5 news, taking viewers through the cemetery to mark Women's History Month. Videos of the interviews may be found on the KTLA website.

...Paula Prentiss was recently interviewed by Texas Monthly.

...For more recent links on classic movies and more, please check out my March 4th link roundup.

Have a great week!

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Murder in the Big House (1942) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

It's hard to believe, but yesterday was the ninth anniversary of the Warner Archive. Readers can revisit my very first post describing the Archive, dated March 22, 2009.

Over the years the Warner Archive has brought us classics and rareties alike, and I especially appreciate the company's work making available lesser-known films. The recent release MURDER IN THE BIG HOUSE (1942) is a great illustration of the Warner Archive's value.

Those who have access to Turner Classic Movies can catch MURDER IN THE BIG HOUSE there on occasion, but this is the kind of film that would never make it to DVD without the Warner Archive. This Warner Bros. "B" film won't be found in many cinema history books, but it's fast-paced fun and lets viewers take a look at Van Johnson in his very first leading role, along with seeing an early role in the career of Faye Emerson. A couple of years later Emerson would also be known for marrying Elliott Roosevelt, son of the President.

The movie is shown under its reissue title, BORN FOR TROUBLE, with the original title noted later in the credits. Johnson plays Bert Bell, who's trying to get a job as a newspaper reporter when spunky Gladys Wayne (Faye Emerson) takes advantage of what might be called a "leadership vacuum" and hires Bert to cover a big story.

On a dark and stormy night Bert goes to the "big house" to witness an execution, but shortly after arriving, the reporters are told the man about to be executed (Michael Ames, also known as Tod Andrews) is already dead -- killed by a lightning strike!

Bert and seasoned reporter "Scoop" Conner (George Meeker) are suspicious and begin an investigation, which nearly gets them killed.

It's pretty obvious what the solution is from early on in the film, but this newspaper/prison film is a pleasant enough time-passer, clocking in at just 59 minutes.

Johnson had previously appeared in the chorus of TOO MANY GIRLS (1940) at RKO. MURDER IN THE BIG HOUSE was his lone film for Warner Bros.; they dropped him at the end of a six-month contract, but he landed on his feet at MGM, where he had a highly successful career. Here he's pleasant but not particularly noteworthy; he developed a more engaging screen persona thanks to his training at MGM.

The striking Emerson had been in a number of films over the course of 1941-'42, ranging from bit parts to the lead of another "B" film, LADY GANGSTER (1942). She's saddled with a rather severe hairstyle in the film's early scenes, but she's personable and fun to watch.

The supporting cast includes Frank Wilcox, Roland Drew, Joseph Crehan, William Gould, Ruth Ford, and Patrick McVey. IMDb lists William Hopper (PERRY MASON) as a reporter but I didn't spot him.

MURDER IN THE BIG HOUSE was directed by "B movie specialist B. Reeves Eason. It was filmed in black and white by Ted D. McCord.

The DVD is a good print with strong sound. There are no extras.

Another reason to love the Warner Archive: MURDER IN THE BIG HOUSE is one of three Faye Emerson films just released to DVD, along with HOTEL BERLIN (1945) and DANGER SIGNAL (1945). I first reviewed DANGER SIGNAL after seeing it on Turner Classic Movies back in 2011, and I'll soon be taking a fresh look at it via the Warner Archive DVD. I hope to eventually also review HOTEL BERLIN.

Thanks and happy birthday to the Warner Archive!

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.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Tonight's Movie: How to Fall in Love (2012)

My latest exploration of Hallmark films led me to the very well-done HOW TO FALL IN LOVE (2012).

HOW TO FALL IN LOVE stars Brooke D'Orsay, a special actress I greatly enjoyed in MISS CHRISTMAS (2017), and Eric Mabius, who stars in the channel's ongoing movie series SIGNED, SEALED, DELIVERED. HOW TO FALL IN LOVE happens to be a particular favorite of my father, who sent me the DVD.

Mabius plays Harold White, a smart but shy accountant who emotionally has never quite gotten past his awkward high school years. Harold's friend Willie (Panou), inspired by a TV show, suggests Harold try a dating coach to help him break out of his shell.

Event planner Annie Hayes (D'Orsay), Harold's long-ago high school crush (and disappointment), is desperately in need of an income, and when she reconnects with Harold for the first time in years and learns he's considering hiring a dating coach, she suggests herself as his most affordable option.

Annie studies up and does a wonderful job helping Harold overhaul his wardrobe, polish his conversational skills, and gain some self-confidence, to the point he successfully begins dating Julie (Gina Holden), a woman he's admired in the coffee shop where he's a regular.

The only problem is that after a few dates it turns out that Harold and Julie aren't compatible in the least, as the wildly extroverted Julie is always on the go, not appreciating Harold's love of quiet pursuits like nature photography or a night "in" cooking and listening to Sinatra.

And as it happens, Harold and Annie have gradually fallen for each other, but each is afraid to confess the truth to the other.

This is a sweet and engaging film with considerable depth. There's an interesting moment where Harold looks in the mirror and sees his high school self staring back. Old insecurities run deep, and Harold's somehow never gained the self-confidence that a successful CPA -- with a gorgeous house! -- should have.

Annie has her own issues; she's a bit flighty and has been having conflicts with her sister (Jody Thompson), who's let Annie move in with her family while she tries to jump start her career. The sisters' scenes, balancing annoyance and love, are quite well done. Eventually, Annie's experiences with both her sister and Harold lead her to personal growth and maturing of her own, not to mention an opportunity to get her event planning career back on track.

Kathy Najimy costars as the waitress working alongside Annie in her second job at a coffee shop. Jesse Hutch appears briefly as an old high school friend.

HOW TO FALL IN LOVE was written by Bart Fisher and directed by Mark Griffiths. It was filmed in British Columbia by Eric J. Goldstein.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)

Diane Keaton stars in MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY (1993), an entertaining comedic mystery cowritten and directed by Woody Allen.

I've never been a particular fan of Allen's -- and it's a given that with the passage of time, his offscreen life has seemed ever more questionable -- but a handful of his films have connected with me, such as MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (2011).

More important to me as a viewer, I always enjoy Diane Keaton, who made this film a few years after the delightful BABY BOOM (1987), and it was her presence in the lead of MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY which drew me to give it a try. Keaton is front and center in this tale of merry mayhem, backed by Allen, Alan Alda, and Anjelica Huston.

Keaton and Allen play Carol and Larry Lipton, New York empty nesters whose only son is away at college. Larry's a book editor; Carol's a homemaker and gourmet cook who's considering opening a small restaurant.

One evening Carol and Larry meet neighbors who live on the same floor in their apartment building, Paul and Lillian (Jerry Adler and Lynn Cohen). The next evening Lillian suddenly dies...and almost immediately, for a variety of reasons, Carol suspects that Paul killed his wife.

Larry is baffled by Carol's insistence that their neighbor could be a murderer, though their recently divorced friend Ted (Alda) -- who incidentally has a little crush on Carol -- enthusiastically joins in with her concocting murder theories. Lillian was immediately cremated so there's no corpse for the coroner to investigate, but for a grieving husband Paul seems to be having far too good a time. Carol and Ted get a thrill out of "investigating" Paul, feeling that it's adding some excitement to their lives, even if it all turns out to be entirely innocent.

And then something crazy happens...Carol sees the supposedly "dead" woman go past her on a bus. Now everyone's interested, including Marcia (Huston), a writer Larry has set up with Ted, and after more unexpected events unfold, the foursome come up with a plan to trap Paul, since the police will never believe their wild story, given the lack of physical evidence.

The script by Allen and Marshall Brickman is pretty good, although the last act is too predictable. (Come on, why would Carol go into her apartment alone at that juncture, with the murderer knowing they're on to him?)

More importantly, the cast plays it in an enthused and engaging fashion. Carol is thrilled to have something so unexpected drop into her life and plays P.I. with enthusiasm, including going on stakeouts. A scene where the quartet of mid-lifers sit in a restaurant into the wee hours, putting together murder theories while bemused diners and waiters eavesdrop with puzzlement, is a gem.

It's a light and entertaining movie which never gets very scary, although there's one moment which provoked a pretty good gasp from me. I had a pleasant time watching it.

There's a nice selection of songs on the soundtrack, and evocative "New York in fall" location filming by Carlo Di Palma. The film runs a well-paced hour and 44 minutes.

Parental Advisory: MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY is rated PG for mild language and comic violence.

MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY is available on DVD. I watched this version; it's a nice widescreen print, and the disc includes the trailer, which is in rougher shape.

The movie is also available on Blu-ray from Twilight Time. The minimal extras include an isolated music track and the trailer. I wish a commentary track had also been included, as the Twilight Time discs are beautiful but quite pricey.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Finian's Rainbow (1968) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

Anyone looking for perfect St. Patrick's Day viewing need search no further than FINIAN'S RAINBOW (1968), available on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive.

Fred Astaire starred in his first movie in half a dozen years when he played the title role of Finian McLonergan in this whimsical film, which was a very early directing credit for Francis Ford Coppola.

I first saw the film at an L.A. revival theater when I was about 16, and it's been a fond memory ever since. I collected lobby cards from the film, and I've enjoyed the LP on countless occasions in the years since I first saw it.

I watched the earlier DVD release when it came out, but it's easily been over a dozen years since I last saw the film. The plot, frankly, is even crazier than I had remembered. On the one hand there's a light and fluffy fairy tale about Finian, who has come to America from Ireland with a stolen pot of gold and a leprechaun (Tommy Steele) hot on his heels; on the other hand, there's an oddball thread about race relations and Finian's daughter Sharon (Petula Clark) accidentally turning a white senator (Keenan Wynn) into a black man.

It gets a bit dark, with threats to burn Sharon as a witch -- but with that juxtaposed with musical numbers and the leprechaun falling in love with the charming dancer "Susan the Silent" (Barbara Hancock), it's hard to take the heavier aspects of the story very seriously, and that's a good thing.

Oh, and did I mention there's a botanist (Al Freeman Jr.) trying to grow "mentholated tobacco"? Yeah, the plot is just a little bit odd.

For those wishing to read a more detailed plot recap, I recommend the favorable review by Glenn Erickson. To my way of thinking, the story is merely an excuse for a great many marvelous songs and dances, with outstanding orchestrations and choral arrangements. (Choral specialist Ken Darby worked on the film.) The score includes tuneful melodies which it's almost impossible to get out of one's head, including "Look to the Rainbow," "Old Devil Moon," "When I'm Not Near the Girl I Love," and the great "How Are Things in Glocca Morra?"

Clark and Don Francks do a fine job carrying the lead vocals, along with Steele, who's a mite too manic as the leprechaun, but the lyrics he sings are so clever you have to forgive him. Hancock shines in her dances, and as for Astaire, watching him jumping down boxes in one dance sequence, it's hard to believe the man was nearly 70.

Like virtually every other '60s musical, it's a long one, but it moves along well. Little bits of the movie, especially the garish opening credits, seem unpleasantly "1960s" from a visual standpoint, but on the whole the film overcomes its crazier aspects to provide an engaging and entertaining 141 minutes of musical joy.

The movie was filmed by Philip Lathrop. According to IMDb, future cinematographer and director Carroll Ballard did uncredited second unit photography. Outdoor locations, including Disney's Golden Oak Ranch, are mixed with sound stage exteriors.

The Warner Archive Blu-ray has an outstanding widescreen picture which looks simply terrific. It's hard to imagine the film could look or sound any better than it does here.

As was the case with the original 2005 DVD release, this Blu-ray presents the film in its "roadshow" version with the Overture, Intermission and Exit Music intact. The Warner Archive Blu-ray also imports Francis Ford Coppola's onscreen introduction and commentary track from the DVD. Finally, the disc includes the trailer and a featurette on the movie's world premiere.

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.

Tonight's Movie: The Last Hunt (1956) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Robert Taylor gives a memorable performance as an evil man in THE LAST HUNT (1956), a Western available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

THE LAST HUNT was written and directed by Richard Brooks, based on a novel by Milton Lott. It's the story of Charlie Gilson (Taylor), a Civil War veteran hunting buffalo for profit in 1880s South Dakota.

Charlie puts together a hunting crew consisting of Sandy McKenzie (Stewart Granger), Woodfoot (Lloyd Nolan), and a halfbreed, Jimmy (Russ Tamblyn). When their horses are stolen by Indians, an enraged Charlie tracks them down and kills them all, sparing only an Indian woman (Debra Paget) and her toddler son.

Charlie wants the woman to be his squaw, but while she will submit passively if she must in order to survive, she's clearly uninterested in his attentions. It's also not lost on Charlie that she and Sandy regularly exchange unspoken looks. Tensions between Charlie and Sandy only grow deeper as Charlie increasingly reveals himself to be unhinged, enjoying killing buffalo -- and humans -- for killing's sake.

Sandy and the woman ultimately escape the vengeful Charlie in the night, but an eventual showdown with Charlie seems inevitable.

This is a grim, gritty film which is almost shocking in what it puts onscreen in the mid '50s. The film begins with cards explaining that the movie was filmed during the annual thinning of buffalo herds by the U.S. government, but it's still disconcerting to have them killed for real onscreen.

The opening sequence, with Sandy and Charlie talking while Sandy walks around shooting downed but not dead buffalo is a bit jaw-dropping, to say the least. His shooting might have been staged but the buffalo were real so... While I can appreciate that the film wanted to accurately show the rough reality of frontier life of the time, that doesn't mean it's pleasant to watch.

The film is also unusually blunt for its era as far as the Taylor-Paget scenes. There's not a lot of dialogue, but it's not needed in order to convey that Taylor wants to make use of her, so to speak, and not just as an extra hand to work on buffalo hides. A scene with Granger upstairs in a saloon is also fairly bawdy for the mid '50s.

Taylor and Granger flip their good guy/bad guy roles of ALL THE BROTHERS WERE VALIANT (1953) a few years before. By all accounts Taylor was a true gentleman and consummate professional offscreen, but he is incredibly convincing here as an angry, disturbed, racist psychopath. (I could probably throw in a few more adjectives but I'll stop there!) He's chilling...which makes his last, spookily memorable scene perfect. Taylor has been so underrated over the years; in a just world a performance like this should have gained him an Oscar nomination.

I enjoy Granger in his MGM films a great deal, although his character here is somewhat ineffectual, which I suppose is how he ended up agreeing to work for a man like Charlie in the first place. I was surprised when he didn't immediately react more strongly when Charlie slapped the woman, though perhaps he showed wisdom in his patience, as any action on his part would have led to a deadly showdown. As it was, his mere promise to kill Charlie if he hit her again nearly provoked a fight. In the end, Sandy shows his compassion not only by helping the woman and child but also going to great effort to rescue a starving Indian tribe.

As in BROKEN ARROW (1950), Paget is once again a beautiful Indian woman. She's a quiet, nameless character but has a real spine, deliberately claiming the orphaned child as her own to prevent Charlie from killing him, as he clearly would like to be rid of the baby. (It's uncomfortably clear that Charlie would get rid of the tyke without compunction.) With few lines, Paget conveys a woman who has weathered considerable misery and is made of strong stuff. Her finding happiness with Sandy is the only light in a very dark film.

While I admired what the filmmakers accomplished and am glad I finally saw a key film in Taylor's career, that darkness makes it hard to call the film an enjoyable watch. Well-done and thought-provoking, yes; something I'm going to be anxious to watch again, no. Once was probably enough.

The Warner Archive DVD runs an hour and 44 minutes, which varies from IMDb's listed time of an hour and 48 minutes. The remastered widescreen Warner Archive print is beautiful, showing off Russell Harlan's fine CinemaScope photography. The movie was filmed in Eastmancolor on location in South Dakota. There are some obvious soundstage shots, mostly around the campfire, and some interiors including in MGM's well-used frontier general store, but much of the movie was shot outdoors and looks absolutely great.

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

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