Saturday, June 30, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice (1952)

As I wrote last month when I reviewed the new documentary IN SEARCH OF OZU (2018), I've been trying out the FilmStruck streaming service.

FilmStruck appeals to me because it has classic film content not currently available elsewhere, such as the aforementioned Ozu documentary and a number of "not on Region 1 DVD" titles from the great Japanese director.

One of those films is FLAVOR OF GREEN TEA OVER RICE (1952), known in Japan as OCHAZUKE NO AJI. Though I own some other Ozu films which I've yet to see, I've been particularly wanting to see this one simply because the title is so intriguing, and happily I was able to watch it on FilmStruck.

It's a bit different from other Ozu films I've seen, focusing more on the intricacies of a marriage than on other aspects of family life. The frequent Ozu theme of a young girl being pressured by her family to become engaged is here, but it's not the main story.

Mokichi Satake (Shin Saburi) and his wife Taeko (Michiyo Kogure) have been married some years. They're quite financially comfortable thanks to Taeko's wealthy family and Mokichi's job as an executive; indeed, their home is considerably larger than seen in other Ozu films, and they can afford a servant to do the cooking and other chores.

The couple have no children and their marriage has fallen into something of a rut; Taeko is often petulant and silly, doing things like lying to her husband about spending a day at a resort with relatives, when the easy-going man would doubtless have no problem with the truth. Taeko is also impatient with some of her husband's habits, which reflect his lower-class upbringing. She refers to him as "obtuse," but the reality is he seems quite observant about many things, choosing instead to hold his own counsel.

Taeko's niece Setsuko (Keiko Tsushima) is being pressured to meet a gentleman with marriage in mind, but she's dubious about whether she wants to marry, seeing as how Taeko doesn't seem happy. And besides, she'd rather spend time with her uncle's friend Noboru, also called "Non-chan" (Koji Tsuruta), a nice guy she feels comfortable with.

Mokichi and Taeko finally clash spectacularly, which in a gentle Ozu film means she takes a train ride out of town in a huff, not realizing that her husband is about to be sent to Uruguay on business. The question for the last section of the film is whether Mokichi and Taeko will be able to rebuild their relationship.

Like every other Ozu film I've seen to date, this is a wonderful movie. There's not a moment wasted in the film's 115-minute running time. Michiko Kogure was a new face for me, but the rest of the cast is filled with familiar actors from other Ozu films, including Kuniko Miyake and the ever-present Chishu Ryu.

Shin Saburi of EQUINOX FLOWER (1958) is front and center in this film. I like him tremendously as the long-suffering husband who tells his wife not to worry and apologizes even when it's clear she's being unfair. He and Kogure, in the last main sequence of the film, are simply marvelous, in a sequence which reminded me a bit of the best, final kitchen scene in BIG NIGHT (1996).

One of the constant themes of Ozu's films is the Westernization of Japan, and it's particularly fascinating here. While Setsuko and others wear nothing but Western dress, Taeko only wears traditional Japanese styles -- but what's fascinating is when she retreats to her upstairs bedroom and the door opens to a Western-style room which would fit in any English country house, with chintz-covered chairs and a bed. It's clear that Mokichi, meanwhile, continues to sleep on the floor in Japanese fashion, as we see the maid (Yoko Kosono) lay out his bed in the evening.

Other aspects of Westernization appear when several characters attend a baseball game, and signs at Mokichi's business are in both Japanese and English. A can of Wesson Oil is spotted in the Satake kitchen, and so on. Looking for these touches in a film released just seven years after the end of World War II is both interesting and enlightening.

Films periodically rotate on and off the FilmStruck service, so anyone hoping to see this film via FilmStruck should not delay. Since it's showing on FilmStruck's "Criterion Channel," hopefully in the future it will also have a Criterion DVD and Blu-ray release in the U.S.

Like every other Ozu film I've seen to date, this movie is very much recommended viewing.

Previously reviewed Ozu films: LATE SPRING (1949), EARLY SUMMER (1951), TOKYO STORY (1953), EQUINOX FLOWER (1958), GOOD MORNING (1959), LATE AUTUMN (1960), and THE END OF SUMMER (1961).

Criterion Half-Price Summer Sale at B&N

Here's a heads up for my readers that the annual Criterion Collection half-price summer sale is now underway at Barnes & Noble.

The sale began yesterday; I didn't locate an end date. Visit the B&N Criterion Collection page to shop.

I purchased KING OF JAZZ (1930) and THE AWFUL TRUTH (1937).

What's on everyone's lists?

Update: Per an announcement email from Barnes & Noble, the sale runs through August 6th.

Friday, June 29, 2018

New Westerns Column at Classic Movie Hub

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I would soon be writing a monthly column on Westerns for the Classic Movie Hub site.

I'm delighted to say that my first piece was posted today, and I'd like to invite my readers to click over to the Western Roundup at Classic Movie Hub to read it.

For my introductory post I wrote about five of my all-time favorite Westerns. I hope everyone will enjoy checking it out.

While at Classic Movie Hub, be sure to check out all the site has to offer, including contributions by other excellent film writers, regular giveaway contests, and much, much more. Many thanks to Annmarie Gatti and her team for a wonderful opportunity to share my love for Westerns with the CMH audience!

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Flamingo Road (1949) at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival

Last month's 2018 Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival concluded on Sunday, May 13th, with one of my favorite films of the festival, FLAMINGO ROAD (1949).

It was my first time to see this terrific Joan Crawford melodrama, with Michael Curtiz directing a superb cast in a highly entertaining 94-minute film.

Crawford plays Lane Bellamy, a carny dancer who tires of being chased out of towns along with the carnival. Marooned in a small town and ready for a new life, she's helped by Deputy Sheriff Fielding Carlisle (Zachary Scott), who helps her get a waitress job at a diner run by Pete (Tito Vuolo).

Lane and Fielding fall for one another, which doesn't sit well with town political boss Sheriff Titus Semple (Sydney Greenstreet), who wants his deputy and political protege to marry wealthy and ladylike Annabelle Weldon (Virginia Huston, OUT OF THE PAST).

Semple tries to drive Lane out of town, getting her fired and also arrested on a trumped-up charge, but Lane is befriended by roadhouse owner Lute Mae (Glady George), who gives her a new job. No matter how hard Semple pushes, Lane refuses to back down.

Lane is heartbroken when Fielding throws her over and marries Annabelle, but she doesn't know how good she has it, in more ways than one: The weak Fielding dissolves into an alcoholic mess, and Lane soon meets another powerful political boss, Dan Reynolds (David Brian), who truly loves her -- and who has the gumption to stand up to Semple.

Crawford is beautiful and sympathetic as the woman who won't let evil Sheriff Semple push her around, and I was pleasantly surprised by David Brian in a strong role; initially it's unclear whether Dan will be friend or foe, but as the story unfolds, Dan's star rises while Fielding's crashes to the ground. Fielding is a perfect role for Scott, initially charming but a mess underneath.

The cast is filled with an abundance of great faces in even the smallest roles, including Fred Clark, Dale Robertson, Alice White, Frank Cady, Sam McDaniel, John Gallaudet, Iris Adrian, Gertrude Michael, and Tristram Coffin.

It's just plain fun to watch this cast in a steamy Southern soap opera. It has a great sense of mood and place, paired with a fast-moving story. Among the excellent cast, the milk-guzzling Greenstreet is particularly unforgettable; sadly, 1949 was his final year in films. He passed on in 1954.

FLAMINGO ROAD was filmed in black and white by Ted McCord. The score was by Max Steiner.

Over the years most of the prints I've seen at the Arthur Lyons Festival have been excellent, including many restored prints; however, as I mentioned in my overview of this day at the festival, the Library of Congress print was dark and broke once, but was successfully repaired. Despite these hindrances I still thoroughly enjoyed the movie, and I hope to see it again one day via the nitrate print UCLA screened last February.

Although I hadn't caught up with it before this festival viewing, I own FLAMINGO ROAD on DVD in the Joan Crawford Collection, Vol. 2. (I picked the set up for a crazy low price on iOffer a few years ago.) It's also been reissued on DVD by the Warner Archive.

It can also be streamed via Amazon Instant Video.

I found FLAMINGO ROAD to be a thoroughly good time at the movies. Recommended.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Witness for the Prosecution (1957) at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival

This week I'll be taking a look at the last two "new to me" films seen at last month's 2018 Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival in Palm Springs.

WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION (1957), seen on Saturday at the festival, technically wasn't actually new to me, insofar as I had seen it as a teenager; however, I remembered nothing about it other than that I had liked it. It's rather surprising I'd never gone back to it in the years since, given how much I like Tyrone Power, but seeing it on a big screen was a great way to revisit it!

Ironically, although I was enjoying it quite well, I faded out a bit toward the end of the movie -- it was the fourth film I'd seen that day so I suppose that will happen once in a while! Shortly after I got home I ordered the Kino Lorber DVD, and I just rewatched the last 40 minutes or so of the movie. I'm glad I did, as I had missed a couple key plot points last month before I tuned back in for the final minutes.

WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION is based on an Agatha Christie play; director Billy Wilder cowrote the screenplay with Harry Kurnitz, based on an adaptation by Lawrence Marcus.

Charles Laughton plays Sir Wilfrid Roberts, a famous barrister in failing health. He's supposed to be sticking to boring cases which won't tax his energy but instead Sir Wilfrid takes on the defense of Leonard Vole (Power), accused of murdering a wealthy woman (Norma Varden) who left him a fortune in her will.

Vole claims he didn't know about the will and had befriended the lonely woman in hopes she might finance one of his inventions. He also claims to be happily married to Christine (Marlene Dietrich), whom he met in Germany during the war. Christine provides Leonard with an alibi, but things get interesting when she's called as a witness for the prosecution.

There are a number of twists and turns from that point, none of which will be revealed here! The film is quite theatrical in its presentation and rather shows its stage roots, between the limited number of sets and the somewhat exaggerated performances of the leads, but the style fits the story. It's a very entertaining film, well worth checking out.

Laughton is surrounded by some wonderful players including Elsa Lanchester in a terrific turn as the nurse supervising his convalescence from a heart attack; his colleagues are played by a trio of great character actors, Ian Wolfe, John Williams, and Henry Daniell. Laughton and company, especially Lanchester, provide some good laughs to balance out the suspense of the murder trial.

Power is quite creepy as the sleazy, slippery Vole. Sadly, this was his last released film before his untimely passing in 1958, just 44 years old.

I had completely forgotten Ruta Lee was in this until quite recently, and it was wonderful to have her at the festival to share stories about making the movie, which I wrote about in my May 12th festival recap.

WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION runs 116 minutes. It was filmed in black and white by Russell Harlan.

Kino has also released this film on Blu-ray. It was released on VHS in 1999.

This film is available to rent via streaming on Amazon.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

This spring I reviewed the Warner Archive's Blu-ray release of WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS (1956), directed by Fritz Lang and starring Dana Andrews.

I'm following up on that review with a look at another Warner Archive Lang-Andrews Blu-ray from the same year, BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT (1956), costarring Joan Fontaine.

Tom Garrett (Andrews) is riding high: The author of a recently published best seller, he's also engaged to Susan Spencer (Fontaine), the elegant daughter of a wealthy newspaper publisher, Austin Spencer (Sidney Blacker).

Garrett needs a successful follow-up book, and Austin has a dilly of a suggestion: As part of his own crusade against capital punishment, he and Tom will plant circumstantial evidence showing that Tom has killed a recently murdered showgirl. After Tom is convicted, Austin will produce all the carefully dated evidence to clear Tom's name. Two missions accomplished: They'll strike a blow against capital punishment based on circumstantial evidence, and it will also give Tom subject matter for what should be a best-selling book.

Tom and Austin elect not to let Susan in on their plans, so when Tom starts spending time with another showgirl (Barbara Nichols), Susan breaks off the engagement. A much bigger problem looms after Tom is convicted, when Austin is killed in a car crash and the exculpatory evidence can't be found. The hunt is on...

I was prepared to like this film, given the two lead actors, but while they do their usual fine work, the movie is marred by a very silly plot.

The screenplay, by Douglas Morrow, is simply impossible to believe, and both Tom and Austin are, simply put, a pair of dumbbells. Watching them like a pair of kids playing a game as they planted evidence here and there was unsettling and annoying. And leaving aside the government resources wasted by their scheme and the fact that they were ostensibly diverting the police from the hunt for the "real killer," they didn't plan well enough for the possibility of Austin's untimely death. The entire thing left me feeling impatient and disappointed.

It's all rather crazy, including a plot switcheroo at the very end, which was perhaps the only part of the film I found satisfying...very satisfying, given all that had gone before. Thankfully the movie was only 80 minutes long.

One aspect I did find interesting was the media angle, including a TV camera in the courtroom filming the trial, with recaps on the evening news, shades of the O.J. trial. Later Susan uses her newspaper to push for a pardon. I always find it of interest seeing how the media was portrayed in films made decades ago, as it sometimes seems rather little has changed over the years.

The supporting cast includes Arthur Franz, Shepperd Strudwick, Philip Bourneuf, Robin Raymond, and Dan Seymour.

BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT was filmed in black and white by William Snyder.

BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT was previously released by the Warner Archive in a remastered DVD.

The Blu-ray, which looks and sounds terrific, includes the trailer.

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: Action in the North Atlantic (1943)

Warner Bros. goes to war in ACTION IN THE NORTH ATLANTIC (1943), a very fine tribute to the bravery of the Merchant Marine.

Humphrey Bogart, Raymond Massey, Dane Clark, Alan Hale (Sr.), and Sam Levene are part of the crew on a tanker which is torpedoed by a German submarine. The surviving crew is rescued after a number of harrowing days floating on a raft, and they soon embark on a new voyage aboard the Liberty Ship Sea Witch, joining a huge convoy delivering equipment from Halifax to Murmansk.

It's a challenge for the convoy to hold together due to Nazi submarine attacks, and as the Sea Witch struggles to stay afloat and safely deliver its cargo, it also finds itself under attack from the sky.

This is a very well-done and engrossing film with quite a bit of interesting info on the Merchant Marine and its role in World War II. I was particularly fascinated by the Halifax captains' conference where the convoy formation and rules are explained. Very interesting stuff, especially then seeing the plans put into action.

I especially liked the relationship between Captain Jarvis (Massey) and his First Mate, Lt. Rossi (Bogart), which is simultaneously easy and professional. They're both excellent, and the interactions between Captain Jarvis and "Mister" Rossi are the best reasons to see the film.

Of course, this being a Warner Bros. film, there are many familiar faces among the crew, including Clark, Hale, Levene, Kane Richmond, Dick Hogan, and more. Julie Bishop and Ruth Gordon have brief roles as the women Bogart and Massey leave behind; the film reunited Massey and Gordon, who costarred in ABE LINCOLN IN ILLINOIS (1940).

About the only things I didn't care for were a couple different sequences involving shipboard kittens, which were entirely too nerve-wracking to watch, when I should have been worrying about the crew!

ACTION IN THE NORTH ATLANTIC was directed by Lloyd Bacon. IMDb also lists uncredited contributions by Raoul Walsh and Byron Haskin. It's a long yet well-paced film, running 126 minutes.

The movie was filmed in black and white by Ted McCord and the uncredited Tony Gaudio. The film does an especially good job smoothly mixing shots in a soundstage tank with special effects, stock footage, and the backlot dock. I was so wrapped up in the film that it was only near the end when it crossed my mind the ship was in a soundstage. That's good movie-making.

ACTION IN THE NORTH ATLANTIC is available on DVD in the Humphrey Bogart Signature Collection Vol. 2 or the Bogart TCM Greatest Classic Legends Film Collection. I actually had my Signature Collection DVD stop working after a few years, which has occasionally happened to me with Warner Bros. discs, and I replaced it with the TCM DVD.

Last month this film was reissued on DVD by the Warner Archive.

ACTION IN THE NORTH ATLANTIC also had a 2000 release on VHS.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Tonight's Movie: I, Jane Doe (1948) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

I, JANE DOE (1948) is an engrossing Republic Pictures melodrama just released on Blu-ray and DVD by Kino Lorber.

This beautiful Blu-ray is described by Kino Lorber as a "brand new HD master from a 4K scan of the original 35mm negative and finegrain by Paramount Pictures Archives." Kudos to both Kino Lorber and Paramount for rescuing this little-known yet very interesting film.

As the film opens, Stephen Curtis (John Carroll) has just been shot to death by a woman known only as "Jane Doe" (Vera Ralston). Jane Doe refuses to testify on her own behalf and is sentenced to death, but the execution is delayed when she is unexpectedly found to be pregnant.

After the baby is born, Curtis's widow Eve (Ruth Hussey), an attorney, visits Jane Doe in the hospital. Eve convinces Jane, whose true name is Annette, to take the stand in a retrial for her baby's sake, and Eve represents her.

In a series of flashbacks Annette's shocking story is told, including her wartime marriage to Stephen after his plane was shot down over Europe -- a marriage which took place despite the fact he was already married to Eve. Stephen fled back to the U.S. as soon as the war ended, abandoning Annette, and when his bride followed him to the U.S., her reward was to have her bigamist husband try to deport her.

I, JANE DOE is a most interesting courtroom drama in which two women who should ostensibly be enemies unite as one, recognizing in retrospect that the man they each loved was an utter sleaze. Hussey and Ralston each handle their roles with quiet dignity. Hussey is always good, and this is one of the better, more natural performances I've seen from Ralston.

I particularly liked the matter-of-fact way the film treats Hussey and Benay Venuta as professional attorneys, despite the unusual situation in which Hussey's Eve finds herself. Without any fuss Eve is accorded respect as an equal by her state's attorney friend (John Howard) and everyone else, without the condescension or "battle of the sexes" that's so often part of a '40s "working woman" storyline (i.e., the next year's ADAM'S RIB). Hussey's onscreen persona could never be less than highly intelligent, and that shines through in this performance.

Carroll and Hussey had worked together on SUSAN AND GOD (1940), PIERRE OF THE PLAINS (1942), and BEDSIDE MANNER (1945); it's nice to see them on screen together again, although his character is a total reprobate. Carroll's shift-eyed, narcissistic performance is highly convincing.

They're backed by an excellent cast of pros including Gene Lockhart as a prosecutor, James Bell as the judge, John Litel as a public defender, and Adele Mara, notable in a single scene as Stephen's pre-war paramour who gives Eve her first hint all is not well with her marriage.

Also of note is the film's set design, from a rather modern-looking courtroom -- which seems unique compared to other movie courtrooms of the era -- to Stephen and Eve's apartment with a striking hooded brick fireplace.

I, JANE DOE was directed by John H. Auer and filmed by Reggie Lanning. It runs 85 minutes.

The lone extra on this release is a five-film trailer gallery for other films available from Kino Lorber. This movie is such an interesting discovery that I wish it had been accompanied by a featurette or commentary, but I'm delighted that it's now available for home viewing in a gorgeous print.

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

Tonight's Movie: Won't You Be My Neighbor? (2018)

This has been a good movie-going week! I followed up seeing OCEAN'S EIGHT (2018) and INCREDIBLES 2 (2018) with WON'T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? (2018), a new documentary about beloved children's television host Fred Rogers.

This 94-minute film chronicles how Rogers combined his interest in child development with his background as a Presbyterian minister to create a unique program aimed at children, MISTER ROGERS' NEIGHBORHOOD (1968-2001). Rogers used his TV platform to help interpret the adult world for children, while at the same time helping them feel listened to and accepted.

It's a moving documentary for anyone such as myself who grew up loving Mr. Rogers. In my case I especially loved the trolley and the visits to the Neighborhood of Make Believe, where all the characters were voiced by Mr. Rogers himself, from King Friday XIII to X the Owl to Daniel Tiger and more.

It seems as though many people have their own special Mr. Rogers story, and mine is somewhat unique, as the show helped me through a difficult time when I was extremely ill early in my first pregnancy. I hadn't seen MISTER ROGERS' NEIGHBORHOOD since I was a child and stumbled across it on TV when I was unable to work, read, or do much of anything; his soothing voice and positive attitude somehow made me feel better. I turned it on daily for the next couple of weeks, until I was over the worst of it, just enjoying his calm, understanding presence.

The show was also a nice reminder that though I was feeling bad at the time, it was because I was going to ultimately have a child who could watch it -- and indeed she did, as did our other children.

My main quibble regarding the documentary is I was surprised there wasn't an interview with one of the key figures on the show, Betty Aberlin, who as "Lady Aberlin" served as a bridge between make believe and reality. I haven't seen it yet but I believe she was interviewed for a separate new Rogers documentary, IT'S YOU I LIKE (2018), which has aired this year on public television.

Although cellist Yo-Yo Ma is interviewed, his focus is on Rogers himself, rather than music; I would have liked a little more time on how Rogers used the show to help foster music appreciation, through such things as musicians appearing at Negri's Music Shop, the singing of Officer Clemmons (Francois Clemmons), the on-set playing of Johnny Costa, or the playing of Yo-Yo Ma himself.

On the whole, however, WON'T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? is a very worthwhile and illuminating film on Fred Rogers and his show.

WON'T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? was directed by Morgan Neville and filmed by Graham Willoughby.

Parental Advisory: WON'T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? is rated PG-13 for some "thematic elements," which I assume includes discussion of how the show interpreted adult issues for children. There is also a brief photo of a man's rear end, having to do with a staff prank.

The trailer is here.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Secret Enemies (1942)

SECRET ENEMIES (1942) is a nice example of the type of "B" movie at which Warner Bros. excelled in the late '30s and early '40s.

Clocking in at just 57 minutes, it's a zippy spy thriller with a fast-paced story and plenty of familiar faces.

SECRET ENEMIES, which was released nine months after Pearl Harbor, begins on December 8, 1941. Attorney Carl Becker (Craig Stevens) heads for the German embassy in Washington to try to obtain help getting the sick wife of a close friend (Frank Reicher) out of Germany.

Becker has no luck, and the friend is pressured by a German spy (Robert Warwick) to spy for the Nazis in order to save his wife's life.

Becker, meanwhile, joins the FBI when an agent friend (Charles Lang) is gassed to death in the hotel where they were both staying.

Becker's training supervisor, John Trent (John Ridgely), is initially somewhat suspicious of Carl and whether he could have played a role in the agent's death, but eventually the two men work together closely to break up the German spy ring. Little does Carl know that not one but two important people in his life are part of the ring.

Faye Emerson costars as Carl's girlfriend Paula, a nightclub singer; she never sings and the role is underdeveloped -- I mean, it's a 57-minute movie! -- but she ends up having a key part in the story as the finale unfolds.

There's a particularly good scene where Stevens and Ridgely arrive to stay at the hotel well-prepared to prevent their own deaths by gas and catch some bad guys, and on the whole the movie hurtles along quickly with spies and gun battles galore. It's a fun watch which is particularly interesting as an example of of the kind of films Hollywood studios were turning out in the earliest days after our entry into WWII.

Stevens is an acceptable leading man although I find him just a bit bland; I honestly feel that longtime supporting actor fave Ridgely is more charismatic and fun to watch. Fortunately they have numerous scenes together!

SECRET ENEMIES was directed by Benjamin Stoloff and filmed in black and white by James Van Trees. The supporting cast includes George Meeker, Monte Blue, Addison Richards, Cliff Clark, and Ray Teal.

I saw this film thanks to recording a past showing on Turner Classic Movies. Perhaps one day it will turn up on DVD via the Warner Archive. I'd love to see the Archive release sets of hour-long WB "B" films such as this one!

Tonight's Movie: A Notorious Affair (1930) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

My latest Kay Francis viewing was A NOTORIOUS AFFAIR (1930), recently released on DVD by the Warner Archive.

Kay steals every scene she's in as a man-eating vamp, Countess Olga Balakireff. She's obsessed with chasing after men, and she's not picky, romping with the stable boy and other servants before setting her sights on a newly famous violinist, Paul Gherardi (Basil Rathbone).

The spineless, emotional Paul falls for Olga and is unfaithful to his wife Patricia (Billie Dove), who was disowned by her wealthy father (Montagu Love) for marrying an untitled nobody. The long-suffering Patricia meanwhile reconnects with a former suitor, Dr. Allen Pomeroy (Allen Thomson, recently seen by me in THE FAMOUS FERGUSON CASE), who is called in to attend to her unstable husband.

Rathbone is simply annoying as a whiny man who doesn't appreciate his fine career and beautiful wife. There is no hint here of the sophisticated type of villain he would be playing just a few years later in films such as THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938) or THE MARK OF ZORRO (1940). It's rather difficult to imagine how this unhappy fellow ever swept beautiful Patricia off her feet, to the extent she would leave behind family and fortune in order to be with him.

This isn't a particularly scintillating film, being on the creaky side, but every time it seemed ready to slow down to a crawl Francis would reappear to wake things up. It also must be said that Dove is lovely as the heroine of this melodrama, the type of role Francis would so often play in later films. And on the plus side, the movie wraps up in just 69 minutes. In the end it was worth a look, though not one of the more memorable films I'll see this year.

Look for future cowboy star Bill Elliott as a party guest early in the film.

A NOTORIOUS AFFAIR was directed by Lloyd Bacon and photographed by Ernest Haller.

The print of this 1930 film is soft but otherwise acceptable, with a fairly strong soundtrack. 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, June 21, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Incredibles 2 (2018)

It's hard to believe it's been 14 years since the release of one of Pixar's very best movies, THE INCREDIBLES (2004).

In a nice touch, INCREDIBLES 2 (2018) is preceded by a brief featurette in which cast members thank the fans for waiting so long and express the hope the audience will enjoy the movie. I'm happy to report that I definitely did!

INCREDIBLES 2, like the original film, was written and directed by Brad Bird, who also voices "fashion designer to superheroes" Edna Mode.

Composer Michael Giacchino also returns, along with the entire cast, excepting Spencer Fox as Dash, who's voiced this time around by Huckleberry Milner.

The movie picks up right where THE INCREDIBLES leaves off. Bob (Craig T. Nelson) and Helen (Holly Hunter) Parr, aka Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl, are arrested after trying to stop the Underminer (John Ratzenberger), as superheroes are still illegal. They're released and move into a motel with their children Violet (Sarah Vowell), Dash, and baby Jack Jack (Eli Fucile).

Uncertain of their next step, the Parrs are unexpectedly approached by Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk), who has a plan to make superheroes legal again. Elastigirl is at the forefront of his plan, as a sort of "kinder, gentler" superhero; the family needs an income, so Bob agrees to stay home with the kids while Helen is at "work."

Bob is soon completely worn out dealing with the kids, from Dash's "new math" to the sudden realization that not only does Jack Jack have powers, he has lots and lots...and lots...of them! Fortunately it's Edna to the rescue when Bob is at his wit's end trying to keep his baby boy under control.

Meanwhile Helen is enjoying her newfound popularity with the public, but little does she know that there is more to a new villain, Screenslaver (Bill Wise), than she suspects.

As with the original film, the family dynamics are pitch perfect, from Violet's adolescent angst to a very relatable scene with a mathbook ("Why would they change math? Math is math!").

Baby Jack Jack is a total scene stealer, especially when he goes into combat against a raccoon, and when he's introduced to Edna, utter hilarity ensues. I was not expecting Edna to be baby friendly, but her delight in finding ways to manage Jack Jack's powers is really wonderful. (P.S. I'm wondering if Disney will eventually write and publish a complete version of Jack Jack's bedtime book, DOOZLES ARE DOZING.)

Samuel L. Jackson also returns as Bob's best friend Lucius, aka Frozone, and Kimberly Adair Clark is also on hand again as the voice of Lucius's unseen wife Honey.

I found this 118-minute movie well-plotted and completely enjoyable. Be sure to stay all the way through the end credits, which are superbly animated and show off Giacchino's jazzy score to good effect, along with some fun superhero theme music.

(Fun trivia: Three of the four trombonists on the INCREDIBLES 2 soundtrack have served as the Grand Marshal for the Trombone Christmas concert my husband organizes in Anaheim every year.)

Input from other reviewers: Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times finds the movie "sparkling," while Brian Truitt of USA Today compares it to other Pixar films and says it "surpasses most everything without TOY STORY in the title." He also notes "Every scene involving Jack-Jack is a complete joy." Leonard Maltin's only complaint was that it was too long, but he suggests that viewers won't care as "They'll be too busy having a good time."

Parental Advisory: This film is rated PG. There is a bit of bad language which should have been dropped, but studios seem to fear a G rating.

A trailer is here.

INCREDIBLES 2 was preceded by the Pixar short BAO (2018), about a Chinese dumpling which suddenly comes to life as a baby. I didn't particularly enjoy this one as there was no line connecting the fantasy of most of the short with the reality of the last minute or two, which made it hard to follow. More often than not I like Pixar shorts but this one was just a little too "out there" for me to appreciate.

INCREDIBLES 2 is a recommended film which will be finding its way onto my Disney/Pixar Blu-ray shelf in due course!

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Whispering Smith Speaks (1935)

George O'Brien plays the title role in the Fox film WHISPERING SMITH SPEAKS (1935).

O'Brien plays Gordon Harrington Jr., whose wealthy father (Frank Sheridan) is intent on handing him the family business on a silver platter...eventually. Meantime he doesn't have much for Gordon to do other than sit in an office stamping his signature on documents.

Gordon feels useless so one day he quits the family business and heads west. He hires on with a small railroad, the Blake Line, run by Nan Roberts (Irene Ware). Not wanting to give his own very well-known name, Gordon says his name is John Smith. He begins learning the railroad business from the ground up, walking tracks and handling maintenance.

Eventually "Smith" protects Nan from selling land she believes is worthless; Gordon is suspicious about its value and learns she's sitting on valuable property filled with tungsten.

This is a pleasant but very minor O'Brien film, chiefly enjoyable due to the fact that O'Brien is onscreen for most of the 65-minute running time. The film also has some very interesting rural railroad footage; I'd love to know where it was filmed but so far haven't had any luck.

There's also a fun scene near the end where O'Brien rides a sidecar as a motorcyclist tries to get him somewhere in a hurry. Again, it would be interesting to know the city where that was filmed.

The movie was directed by David Howard, who worked with O'Brien on many of his very good "B" Westerns. It was filmed by Frank B. Good.

The cast also includes Maude Allen, Kenneth Thomson, Spencer Charters, Edward Keane, and Si Jenks. Frequent bit player Bess Flowers has a larger-than-usual speaking role as Gordon's secretary near the beginning of the movie.

This isn't a particularly easy movie to find; I watched a "gray market" copy that was in fairly good shape, other than a bad moment here or there. It would certainly be nice if all of O'Brien's early Fox work would be available "on demand" or by another viewing method!

Addressing that issue and more, I did find a nice 2011 piece on this film by Steve at Mystery File, an excellent site where I frequently find reviews and interesting bits of info on otherwise obscure films. There's a lengthy quote by historian Ed Hulse about his relationship with O'Brien; at the 2016 Lone Pine Film Festival I was privileged to hear Ed discuss getting to know O'Brien.

Quoting from that blog post, Ed said, "I often cite WHISPERING SMITH SPEAKS -- which is really a romantic comedy, not a blood-and-thunder action piece -- as the film whose protagonist best represents the real George O’Brien: warm, funny, gregarious, supremely self-assured without being arrogant. It’s well worth seeking out for that reason alone, although it’s never been commercially available on any home video format. You can only get it in bootleg VHS or DVD versions."

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