Sunday, May 20, 2018

Patricia Morison Dies at 103

Actress-singer Patricia Morison died earlier today, May 20th.

The star of stage and screen, who among other accomplishments originated the title role in KISS ME, KATE, was 103.

I'm fortunate to have seen Morison in person on multiple occasions. As a child I saw her play the Baroness in a Los Angeles theatrical production of THE SOUND OF MUSIC.

In more recent years, I saw her interviewed at a 2015 Noir City Hollywood screening of THE FALLEN SPARROW (1943), which took place shortly after she celebrated her centennial birthday.

Just last September Morison appeared at a Cinecon screening of UNTAMED (1940), in which she starred with Ray Milland. She shared her memories of liking working with Milland -- and freezing while shooting the film's blizzard scenes in an ice house!

For more on Patricia Morison, including numerous photos and links to all my reviews of her films, please visit my 2017 birthday tribute to the actress.

Obituaries have been published by the Los Angeles Times, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Deadline, Broadway World, and The New York Times.

I send my sincere condolences to her friends and colleagues, with gratitude for many hours of wonderful entertainment, both past and future.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Burn 'Em Up O'Connor (1939) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Dennis O'Keefe has an early starring role as a race car driver in BURN 'EM UP O'CONNOR (1939), just released on DVD by the Warner Archive.

O'Keefe plays brash Jerry O'Connor, a driver who hooks up with a racing outfit run by Pinky Delano (Harry Carey Sr.) after becoming attracted to Delano's daughter Jane (Cecilia Parker). Jane and Jerry "meet cute" when he runs her car off the road, and needless to say she's not impressed.

One of Delano's drivers, "Rocks" Rivera (Alan Curtis), is unable to make a turn in a race and killed. Shortly thereafter two more drivers (Tom Neal and Tom Collins) meet a similar fate after being blinded while driving. Jerry's mechanic pal Buddy (Nat Pendleton) turns detective...meanwhile, as a precaution, Jerry practices making turns while "driving blind."

With a cast like this one, it should be a fun "B" movie, but the script by Milton Merlin and Byron Morgan is dull and the whole thing never really gels.

I've shared here that I'm a big fan of lead actor Dennis O'Keefe, but some of his early leading roles are problematic; as with a film he made the same year, THE KID FROM TEXAS (1939), he's stymied by an inferior script and his own performance. Occasionally we see the bright, more interesting man underneath the rash exterior, but he plays much of the role with the same annoying yokel style as in THE KID FROM TEXAS.

As O'Keefe moved into the '40s and '50s he had better material, including some scripts written by himself, and he developed a much more appealing and compelling screen presence, whether playing romantic leading men or the occasional noir anti-hero or villain. Seeing his earliest leading roles, which he received after several years of toiling in the industry as a bit player, is rather interesting when placed in the context of his successful career.

In the right hands O'Connor's love-hate relationship with the pretty Parker could have had potential, but she spends so much time fending him off that it's almost unbelievable when she finally gets around to liking him. Parker is delightful in Westerns opposite actors like Buck Jones and George O'Brien, and of course she was also in the long-running ANDY HARDY series; she's lovely here but doesn't have much to do but pout.

Carey offers his usual smoothly professional, likeable performance -- his grin sure lit up the screen -- and Pendleton has more to do than he often does, playing a man who's dumb like a fox, but all in all it's kind of a long 70 minutes.

BURN 'EM UP O'CONNOR was directed by Edward Sedgwick. It was filmed in black and white by Lester White. The supporting cast also includes Charley Grapewin, Frank Orth, Addison Richards, Helen Jerome Eddy, and Si Jenks.

The Warner Archive DVD has a good picture and sound. The disc includes the trailer.

Thanks to attending three film festivals in a month's time, I have quite a backlog of DVD and Blu-ray screeners, so stay tuned for even more reviews in the coming days and weeks, along with my ongoing festival coverage!

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.

Tonight's Movie: The Famous Ferguson Case (1932) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

THE FAMOUS FERGUSON CASE (1932), a pre-Code newspaper drama, remains as timely today as it was the year it was filmed. It was just released on DVD by the Warner Archive.

When Mrs. Ferguson (Vivienne Osborne) is found tied up next to the dead body of her wealthy banker husband (Purnell Pratt) at their summer home, the New York newspaper media descend on the small town of Cornwall en masse.

Some reporters, especially Martin Collins (Grant Mitchell), are committed to doing an honest and accurate job of reporting, simply being a "mirror" reflecting the facts.

Other reporters, like alcoholic Bob Parks (Kenneth Thomson) and his pal Jim Perrin (Leslie Fenton), are more interested in being able to write sensational stories. They manipulate the county attorney (Clarence Wilson), badger the pregnant wife (Miriam Seegar) of a suspect (Leon Ames, billed as Leon Waycoff), and generally try to shape the story and create what we might today call "fake news."

It all comes crashing down on the unethical reporters thanks to the dogged work of young small-town reporter Bruce Foster (Tom Brown).

I haven't yet mentioned top-billed Joan Blondell, who starts out as one of the hard-bitten crew who arrives in town but gradually has second thoughts about her life and career. She also tries to warn off Bruce's colleague Toni (Adrienne Dore) about the insincere and unreliable Bob, but Toni chalks it up to jealousy.

Blondell often ends up near the top of the list for the actress whose films I see most in a given year, and fast-paced, zippy films like this one are a big part of the reason why. I really enjoy a story which can be told in a quick 74 minutes, and it goes without saying that Blondell is always compelling.

Mitchell and Ames, always pros, are also quite good.

The film begins with a card saying the film is "built upon the contrast between legitimate journalism and unprincipled scandal-mongering," and this is the most interesting aspect of the film; indeed, the focus on this angle pushes aside the actual details of the crime, which receive fairly scant attention.

While I enjoyed the film and found it worthwhile, it's not perfect. The "gee whiz" Brown is okay but on the bland side, and I've always found Fenton annoying. I also thought the conclusion was a bit hard to buy, as it seems unlikely that even being embarrassed by blowing reporting on the case could sufficiently impact Thomson's Parks to make him a better reporter, let alone give up the bottle.

Flaws aside, anyone interested in the media or "newspaper films" should find this worth a look. The main theme really resonated with me, and it's both fascinating and rather sad that "the more things change, the more they stay the same," close to 90 years after this was made.

THE FAMOUS FERGUSON CASE was directed by Lloyd Bacon and filmed by Dev Jennings.

The picture is somewhat soft, as DVD prints of films from this era are apt to be, but it's without major defects and has a strong soundtrack. The disc 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.

The 2018 Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival: Friday

After a terrific opening night at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival, we were up bright and early Friday morning!

We started off with a stop at our favorite place to eat breakfast in Palm Springs, Elmer's, and then, since we'd seen the first movie of the day in a theater within the last few years, my husband decided to do one of his favorite things and go on a horseback ride.

After dropping him off at the stables I had some extra time so I drove past the former home of one of my favorite actresses, Loretta Young, which was just a minute or two from Elmer's:

It was fun to take a quick peek at the exterior. Readers may recall that last year we stopped by Frank Sinatra's famous home, Twin Palms.

Then it was time to head to the Palm Springs Cultural Center for the 10:00 a.m. film! The day kicked off with LARCENY (1948), starring John Payne, Joan Caulfield, Dan Duryea, and Shelley Winters. (Click any hyperlinked movie title for my corresponding past review.)

I'd been fortunate to see LARCENY on a couple prior occasions, including at the 2014 Noir City Film Festival, but I was happy to revisit it.

Payne and Duryea play con artists out to fleece wealthy widow Caulfield; Winters, in a ferocious performance, plays Duryea's mistress, who'd prefer to have Payne as her boyfriend.

LARCENY isn't a perfect film -- I always feel like it could have been a bit longer than its 89 minutes -- but it's highly entertaining, and I enjoyed watching it again. It's of note that LARCENY was one of several films screened at the festival which is not available for home viewing in any format.

The next film, THE TURNING POINT (1952), was screened at this year's Noir City Hollywood festival, but I was able to save a trip to Los Angeles since I knew it was on the schedule for Palm Springs! It was shown in a restored digital print by Paramount Pictures, one of only two digital films screened at the festival.

THE TURNING POINT is a solid film in which prosecutor Edmond O'Brien and reporter William Holden team up to bring down a mobster (Ed Begley Sr.), aided by Gal Friday Alexis Smith. Although set in an unnamed city, there's fantastic location filming in Los Angeles, including the Angels' Flight Railway (seen in screen shot at right). This was a much better print than I had seen via Netflix streaming a few years ago, and it was very worthwhile to watch it again.

No word on when or if this restoration will come to DVD or Blu-ray, so here's hoping.

We decided to skip the third film of the day, THE UNSUSPECTED (1947), only because we had just seen it at UCLA in February! It was the only one of the festival's 12 films which I didn't see.

THE UNSUSPECTED has a great cast, including Claude Rains, Audrey Totter, Constance Bennett, and Joan Caulfield, who was also in LARCENY. It's an entertaining film which I recommend; it won't be too long before I'm ready to see that one again. For those who'd like to check it out, it's available on DVD via the Warner Archive.

After dinner it was time for one of the films I most looked forward to seeing at the festival, THE WEB (1947). THE WEB is another not-on-DVD film which stars Edmond O'Brien, Ella Raines, Vincent Price, and William Bendix. I'll have more on this film in a separate review soon.

Following the film Price's daughter Victoria was interviewed by Alan K. Rode. An articulate and positive speaker, she particularly emphasized how her father was able to help many other actors and artists over the years, usually behind the scenes without others knowing. Price was a man of many interests, including not just acting and art but also cooking, and we were fortunate to have his daughter share some of her memories with the audience.

Victoria is the author of VINCENT PRICE: A DAUGHTER'S BIOGRAPHY, which I purchased as a gift for my husband when it was published a few years ago. As a Price fan he enjoyed it a great deal.

Coming soon: A review of THE WEB and an overview of Saturday's screenings.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Farewell, My Lovely (1975) at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival

The 2018 Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival opened on Thursday evening, May 10th, with a screening of Robert Mitchum in FAREWELL, MY LOVELY (1975). The screening was followed by a reception on the theater patio.

Our own day began well ahead of that, as my husband and I visited The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in Palm Desert early Thursday morning. Temps were hovering around 100 that day but we got in and out of the zoo early enough that it was a pleasant visit. I expect to share some photos at a future date.

Later we checked into our room at one of the official festival hotels, the Courtyard By Marriott, where we had a very good experience again this year, and we also stopped for dinner at Bill's Pizza, which we've never found less than excellent. Then it was off to the Camelot Theatres, now known as the Palm Springs Cultural Center, for opening night!

Jack O'Halloran, who memorably plays Moose Malloy in FAREWELL, MY LOVELY, was the night's special guest, and I was quite thrilled to meet him. O'Halloran, who made his screen debut in FAREWELL, MY LOVELY, shortly thereafter played the scary villain Non in SUPERMAN (1978) and SUPERMAN II (1980). As I wrote here back in 2006, SUPERMAN was a key film of my teen years, which I've seen numerous times, so it was great fun for me to meet someone from the cast. (Very sadly, SUPERMAN'S Lois Lane, Margot Kidder, would pass away later that same weekend, at the age of 69.) O'Halloran is pictured here before the screening with festival producer and host Alan K. Rode.

Before the screening the Mayor of Palm Springs welcomed us and shared the good news that the abandoned mall next to the Palm Springs Cultural Center would soon be razed and become a new campus for the College of the Desert. The new campus will include a digital media and film program. This was great to hear as the empty mall, pictured here, has always looked so forlorn since I began visiting the festival three years ago. (Click on any photo to enlarge.)

This was my first time to see FAREWELL, MY LOVELY, with Mitchum starring as detective Philip Marlowe, based on the book by Raymond Chandler. It's set in 1941, with Joe DiMaggio's hitting streak providing a framing device which I especially enjoyed.

Marlowe is struggling along, getting older and barely scratching out a living, when a big lug named Moose Malloy (O'Halloran), newly released from several years in prison, pays Marlowe to search for his long-lost girlfriend, "my Velma." Marlowe starts the hunt, through the seedier parts of the city; simultaneously he's hired by someone else (John O'Leary) to ransom a jade necklace, which ultimately leads Marlowe to interact with the highest echelons of Los Angeles society. The two seemingly disparate cases will eventually merge in unexpected ways.

Along the way Marlowe meets with a host of interesting characters, including the Lauren Bacall-esque sexy wife (Charlotte Rampling) of an elderly judge (Jim Thompson); a boozy ex-nightclub singer (Oscar nominee Sylvia Miles); and the henchman (Sylvester Stallone) of an infamous madam (Kate Murtaugh). Keeping tabs on Marlowe is his old friend, the simultaneously exasperated and sympathetic Lt. Nulty (John Ireland), along with the less friendly -- and less ethical -- Detective Rolfe (Harry Dean Stanton).

The film reminded me a bit of L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (1997), which came out a couple decades later and which I also just saw for the first time recently. Both films feature complex plots with many strands which somehow all tie back in with each other by movie's end, and both films also feature extensive location shooting in Los Angeles.

Each film is also fairly violent, which is one reason I'd skipped them up to this point. In each case those moments are telegraphed in advance and fairly easy to avoid watching; FAREWELL, MY LOVELY is bloody yet otherwise not very graphic.

While I'm focused on the "R" rated aspects I'll mention that the only aspect of FAREWELL, MY LOVELY I really didn't appreciate was some nudity; I sometimes think movies of the '70s did this more frequently than recent movies just because filmmakers wanted to push boundaries after the demise of the Production Code. These moments added nothing to the story, and I wish they'd been left on the cutting room floor.

Otherwise I found this film quite absorbing and enjoyable and was very glad I finally caught up with it. I especially enjoyed watching the two "old pros," Mitchum and Ireland, and their interactions. Ireland has a great moment near the end of the film where he decides being a good cop is more important than being on the take, and I wanted to cheer!

O'Halloran makes an unforgettable Moose Malloy, and it was also fun to see the young Stallone, just before he hit it big in ROCKY (1976).

Mitchum is in almost every scene, which means the movie is extremely watchable, because Mitchum is never less than an interesting actor. Add in L.A. locations and a baseball theme, and there was much for this viewer to enjoy.

FAREWELL, MY LOVELY was directed by Dick Richards and filmed by John A. Alonzo. It runs 95 minutes.

After the film O'Halloran sat for an interview with Alan Rode, which delved into his very interesting life, including boxing, acting, and learning that his father was mobster Albert Anastasia, a fact he discovered after Anastasia's death.

O'Halloran recounted that he had commented to Mitchum that maybe he should get acting lessons, and Mitchum in so many words told him he was doing fine and not to mess up the good thing he had going! O'Halloran spoke very highly of Mitchum as a person and a mentor.

In a nice bit of serendipity, O'Halloran shared that while they were filming Mitchum discovered a label in one of his suits which indicated it had previously been worn by Victor Mature. That was quite fun since Mature's daughter, Victoria, was in the audience Thursday evening.

I believe the complete interview should be available for viewing later in the year on the Film Noir Foundation website, so be on the lookout!

Now I'm quite curious to see Mitchum's second film as Marlowe, THE BIG SLEEP (1978), which fortunately was released on Blu-ray along with FAREWELL, MY LOVELY, just a few weeks ago. I've ordered it and hope to watch it soon! THE BIG SLEEP has a very interesting cast which includes Richard Boone and James Stewart along with Mitchum.

Coming soon: An overview of Friday's festival screenings and a review of Edmond O'Brien in THE WEB (1947), with more to follow!

Today at Disney California Adventure: Under Construction

Thanks to all the spring film festivals, it's been a while since I've been able to spend time at the Disneyland Resort!

We usually spend the Friday morning before Memorial Day Weekend at the parks, but we're unable to do that this year, so instead we took a half day off today and headed for Disney California Adventure. Click any photo below to enlarge for a closer look!

Paradise Pier is behind construction walls... it's transformed to Pixar Pier. California Screamin' will become the Incredicoaster:

Looking toward Paradise Bay from the Silly Symphony Swings:

It was rather fascinating watching the work going on at the raised World of Color platform. Here's a closer look:

Another view. looking toward Mickey's Fun Wheel, which will turn into the Pixar Pal-A-Round. (Surely there's a better name they could use...)

The Blue Sky Cellar has reopened with models and artwork showing what the completed Pixar Pier will look like:

I love the Mid-Century Modern look for the Incredicoaster ride queue building:

Is a Marvel Land display next for the Blue Sky Cellar?

Looking toward Cars Land from the patio outside the Blue Sky Cellar:

We finished our visit with dinner while listening to the Pixarmonic Orchestra playing music from Pixar films. They were quite good, a great finish to our afternoon!

Although it's not quite Memorial Day Weekend yet, here are links to past Memorial Day Weekend photo posts: Today at Disneyland: Rock Your Disney Side 24-Hour Party (2014), Today at Disney California Adventure: Rock Your Disney Side 24-Hour Party (2014), Today at Disneyland: Diamond Celebration 24-Hour Party (2015), Today at Disney California Adventure: Grizzly Peak Airfield (2015), Today at Disneyland: Memorial Day Weekend Begins (2016); Today at Disneyland: Memorial Day Weekend (2017).

Monday, May 14, 2018

The 2018 Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival in Review

I'm back from a fantastic weekend at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival in Palm Springs!

This was my third time to attend the festival, and while I've greatly enjoyed each one, this might have been the best yet. The movies and guests were all terrific, and Palm Springs is a wonderfully relaxing setting in which to enjoy it all.

A dozen films were screened at the former Camelot Theatres, which last year was donated by owners Rick and Rozene Supple to the Palm Springs Cultural Center. The theater now has new signage reflecting the change.

You can't ask for a better venue, as the main theater where the festival takes place has a huge screen, comfortable seating with lots of leg space, and there's even a cafe in the building.

Here's a glimpse of the festive scene on the theater's front patio after the movie on opening night:

Ten of the dozen films shown at this year's festival were screened in 35mm. I saw 11 of the 12 films, only choosing to skip THE UNSUSPECTED (1947) since I just saw it at UCLA in February. The remaining films were a terrific mix of new discoveries and films I was glad to revisit; in the case of WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION (1957), I hadn't seen it since I was a teenager!

Here's a peek at the program; click each photo to enlarge for a closer look. There's more about the films in the preview post I wrote last month.

The festival continues to be produced and hosted by Alan K. Rode, who does a fantastic job. Alan's Film Noir Foundation colleagues Eddie Muller and Foster Hirsch were also on hand again this year to help introduce some of the films.

Anyone who regularly attends Noir City festivals or watches Noir Alley on TCM knows how informative Alan and Eddie's intros are, but I also want to give a special shout-out to Foster Hirsch; I really enjoy the way his introductions highlight interesting visuals and themes to watch for while viewing. Here he introduces UNDER THE GUN (1951) on Sunday; more on that later!

There was also a special guest each day, who was interviewed by Alan. Here are Alan and Jack O'Halloran before the opening night screening of FAREWELL, MY LOVELY (1975), which I'll be writing about here soon. O'Halloran memorably played Moose Malloy in the film.

Alan and his wife Jemma with Vincent Price's daughter Victoria, prior to the screening of THE WEB (1947), in which Vincent Price starred with Edmond O'Brien.

Alan and the irrepressible Ruta Lee Saturday night before WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION:

And finally, Alan with Victor Mature's daughter Victoria, who was interviewed after a screening of her father's classic film KISS OF DEATH (1947). Victoria also shared her singing talents with the festival audience! More on that in a future post.

Actor Clu Gulagher was in his customary front row center seat throughout the festival, and it was also great to see Monika Henreid there again this year. Here's Monika, the daughter of actor-director Paul Henreid, chatting with Clu on the theater patio in between movies:

It was also great to see several friends from the Southern California classic film community at the festival this year!

During the festival I provided extensive Twitter coverage using the hashtag #ArthurLyonsFilmNoirFestival. Please check out the hashtag for photos and coverage of the festival as it unfolded.

The 20th anniversary edition of the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival will take place in Palm Springs next year from May 9th to 12th, 2019. I highly recommend making plans to attend!

I have much more to share about this year's festival over the next few days, including reviews of several new-to-me films plus overviews of each day's screenings. As usual, I'll be adding each link below so that all of my festival coverage may be easily found in one place.

Additional Festival Posts: 2018 Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival Opens in Palm Springs May 10th; Tonight's Movie: Farewell, My Lovely (1975) at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival; The 2018 Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival: Friday. [More links coming soon!]

Previously: The 2015 Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival in Review; The 2017 Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival in Review.

Sincere thanks to Alan K. Rode and the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival for providing an All Access Pass to help facilitate my festival coverage.

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