Tuesday, July 31, 2018

TCM in August: Summer Under the Stars Highlights

Hard to believe that August is here and it's time for the annual Summer Under the Stars Festival on Turner Classic Movies!

For a quick look at a list of the 31 actors being celebrated in August 2018, please visit the preview I posted in May.

TCM has also created a Summer Under the Stars microsite with information regarding this month's movies, and of course, the regular schedule is also available.

And there's also a promotional video!

Noir Alley fans, please note that there are no Noir Alley showings during Summer Under the Stars. Check out this cute video in which Eddie Muller goes "on the lam" until September 2nd, when he returns with a showing of THE LOCKET (1946).

This year I'm recommending one film from all but a few days on the schedule. Click any hyperlinked title for my review.

...The month kicks off with Frank Sinatra on August 1st, and I'm recommending a movie in which Frank doesn't sing: SUDDENLY (1954), a zippy 77-minute crime film in which Sterling Hayden and Nancy Gates must find a way to stop Sinatra from killing the President of the United States.

...I'm not sure how many times I've recommended LIBELED LADY (1936) over the years, but given that it's one of my favorite comedies, it must be a lot! It's part of Myrna Loy Day on August 2nd. William Powell, Jean Harlow, and Spencer Tracy star.

...August 3rd features films with character actor Lionel Atwill. He was in one of my favorite entries in the Dr. Kildare series, THE SECRET OF DR. KILDARE (1939), playing the father of a young woman (Helen Gilbert) with a psychosomatic illness.

...It's safe to say that my favorite Katharine Hepburn film is LITTLE WOMEN (1933), which I've seen countless times yet somehow have never yet reviewed here. Frances Dee, Jean Parker, and Joan Bennett costar with Hepburn as the four March sisters. It airs on August 5th.

...One of the best days on the schedule is Audrey Totter Day on August 6th. I've seen all but three of the films being shown that day and there are many good ones to choose from! I'm going to go with suggesting TENSION (1949) because it's a lesser-known film with a fabulous cast, including Richard Basehart, Cyd Charisse, and Barry Sullivan; Audrey is tremendously fun as a greedy wife. But honestly, if you're going to pick one day in August to call in sick and watch movies, this is the day!

...Although you could also spend August 7th happily watching Harold Lloyd movies all day! So many wonderful hours from which to choose...since I've mentioned several of his silent films here in the past, I'd like to highlight one of his talkie comedies, THE MILKY WAY (1936). Some viewers will recognize the story from the later Danny Kaye remake, THE KID FROM BROOKLYN (1946). I particularly enjoyed Verree Teasdale in a wonderful role; Teasdale's husband, Adolphe Menjou, is in the movie too.

...24 hours of Jeanette MacDonald on August 8th is pure bliss as well! Do be sure to check out THE MERRY WIDOW (1934), costarring Maurice Chevalier and directed by Ernst Lubitsch. It was a highlight for me at this year's TCM Classic Film Festival.

...I've only seen two of the films showing on August 9th, Walter Matthau Day, but I can say that CHARLEY VARRICK (1973), a heist film with Matthau as a cagey crook, is worthwhile and interesting.

...On August 10th TCM pays tribute to Dorothy Malone, who passed away last January. I've seen many of the films showing that day and will mention here I movie I saw eight years ago and found quite memorable, THE LAST VOYAGE (1960). Poor Dorothy spends most of the movie trapped on a sinking ocean liner, while her husband (Robert Stack) and two brave crew members (Edmond O'Brien and Woody Strode) try to save her. George Sanders plays the captain. With a cast like that how can you go wrong?!

...August 11th is Gary Cooper Day, and I'd like to put in a good word for Billy Wilder's LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON (1957). Some film fans don't like the age difference between Cooper and costar Audrey Hepburn, but I find it moving. Maurice Chevalier costars.

...August 12th celebrates that beam of sunshine everyone loves, the one and only Doris Day. Again, I've seen most of the movies showing that day, and as with my Sinatra recommendation, I'm going to mention a non-musical film which isn't particularly popular with the critics but that I really enjoyed: JULIE (1956), costarring Louis Jourdan, Barry Sullivan, Frank Lovejoy, and Jack Kelly. Sure, it's far from Doris's best film, but it's highly entertaining, especially when Doris lands a plane at the end (!), and what a great cast!

...I love that the perennially underrated George Brent has his own day on August 13th. He plays a doctor in THEY CALL IT SIN (1932), a fun little 69-minute pre-Code costarring Loretta Young and Una Merkel.

...It's great that Miriam Hopkins is being celebrated (August 16th) since I just recently attended a tribute to her at the Egyptian Theatre. You can't go wrong with Lubitsch's TROUBLE IN PARADISE (1932), which I'll be seeing for the gazillionth time this month at UCLA.

...It's Clark Gable Day on August 18th; there's only one film airing that I haven't seen yet, and I can safely say this is an entertaining day start to finish. One of Gable's best performances was in COMMAND DECISION (1948), when he must bear the responsibility of sending flyers to their deaths during WWII. The superb cast includes Van Johnson, Brian Donlevy, Walter Pidgeon, John Hodiak, Charles Bickford, and Edward Arnold, plus at least 10 more familiar faces.

...Judy Garland costars in LOVE FINDS ANDY HARDY (1938), which I saw for the first time at this year's TCM Classic Film Festival. Andy (Mickey Rooney) juggles having asked multiple girls (Ann Rutherford and Lana Turner) to the Christmas dance, Judy sings, and all in all it's a good time. Judy Garland's day is August 19th.

...There are some terrific movies on Stewart Granger Day August 20th, including ADAM AND EVELYNE (1949), a romance with his future wife, Jean Simmons.

...Lovely Anita Louise is celebrated on August 21st. I recommend another highlight from this year's TCM Classic Film Festival, A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM (1935), in which she plays Titania. I wasn't especially excited about that title and left feeling like it was one of the top films I saw this year, truly enchanted.

...And then a full day of Dana Andrews on August 22nd! The 20th Century-Fox film FALLEN ANGEL (1945), costarring Linda Darnell and Alice Faye, is one of the movies which made me a film noir fan.

...Virginia Mayo Day on August 23rd! PAINTING THE CLOUDS WITH SUNSHINE (1951) was an unexpected charmer. It's the old plot of three gals looking for rich husbands, but it's bright and colorful, with a great cast including Dennis Morgan, Virginia Gibson, Gene Nelson, and Tom Conway. I loved it.

...SILK STOCKINGS (1957), a remake of NINOTCHKA (1939), may not be one of MGM's top musicals, but the dancing of Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse makes it worth a look. "Fated to Be Mated" and "Red Blues" are simply terrific! The movie is part of Peter Lorre Day on August 24th.

...On Anthony Quinn's special day, August 26th, I recommend a Western I just saw for the first time a few months ago, WARLOCK (1959). He plays the longtime friend and companion of a "town tamer" (Henry Fonda), ultimately proving to be just a little too obsessed with making sure his pal is "top gun." Richard Widmark and Dorothy Malone also star.

...As is probably apparent from some of the recommendations above, I've been trying to highlight some lesser-known titles I've enjoyed this month. One such film is SCANDAL AT SCOURIE (1953), in which a Canadian couple (Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon) adopt an orphan (Donna Corcoran). It's a tiny bit reminiscent of another Canadian orphan story, ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, but it has some unique aspects, including the charming relationships of the three leads and the theme of religious discrimination. Agnes Moorehead, whose films are being shown on August 27th, plays the nun who entrusts the little girl to Garson and Pidgeon.

...It's Lew Ayres Day on August 28th. THE UNFAITHFUL (1947) was loosely inspired by THE LETTER (1940). Ayres plays the attorney for Zachary Scott and Ann Sheridan, who become mixed up in intrigue when Sheridan kills an intruder when hubby Scott is out of town.

...Just about a year ago I enjoyed seeing Lauren Bacall and John Wayne in William Wellman's BLOOD ALLEY (1955) for the first time. It's an imperfect but entertaining film about Chinese villagers fleeing Communism on a paddle-wheeler, navigating 300 uncharted miles in an attempt to reach safety in Hong Kong. It's part of Bacall's day on August 29th.

...The month wraps up celebrating Joan Crawford on August 31st. I really enjoyed her costarring with Robert Montgomery and William Powell in THE LAST OF MRS. CHEYNEY (1937). She and Powell play jewel thieves, but she's reformed by love for Montgomery.

For more on TCM this month, please visit the schedule or the Summer Under the Stars site.

Happy August movie viewing!

Monday, July 30, 2018

Tonight's Movies: The Oyster Princess (1919), I Don't Want to Be a Man (1918), and Forbidden Paradise (1924) at UCLA

It was quite a weekend at the UCLA Film & Television Archive's Billy Wilder Theater, with a nitrate screening of William Wyler's COUNSELLOR AT LAW (1933) on Friday evening, followed Saturday by the opening night of the Archive's Bob Fosse retrospective, with a showing of ALL THAT JAZZ (1979).

It was back to UCLA one more time on Sunday evening for screenings in the Archive's ongoing Ernst Lubitsch retrospective.

Sunday night featured a trio of short silent films: the 58-minute THE OYSTER PRINCESS (1919), the 41-minute I DON'T WANT TO BE A MAN (1918), and the 76-minute FORBIDDEN PARADISE (1924).

All three films were enjoyable; none of them particularly wowed me -- FORBIDDEN PARADISE came closest -- but it was a pleasant evening enjoying the rare opportunity to see these films on a big screen with live music and an appreciative audience. Amazing to think that one of the films is now a century old, with another of the films soon to reach that point.

THE OYSTER PRINCESS was a digital restoration with a prerecorded soundtrack; the other two films were 35mm prints from the George Eastman Museum, with live musical accompaniment by Cliff Retallick.

Mr. Retallick also accompanied last weekend's screenings of LADY WINDERMERE'S FAN (1925) and SUMURUN (1920). I'm glad I had the opportunity to personally thank him last night for helping to make these evenings of silent films special. The prospect of live music definitely helped push me to make a third trek to Los Angeles this weekend!

THE OYSTER PRINCESS is about a pair of rich Americans in Europe, Mister Quaker (Victor Janson), the "Oyster King," and his headstrong daughter Ossi (Ossi Oswalda). When the young lady hears a friend has married a count, she throws a tantrum so her father pledges to do better than a mere count and buy her a prince for a husband.

A matchmaker (Max Kronert) finds Ossi an impoverished prince (Harry Liedtke of SUMURUN), but she accidentally marries his friend (Julius Falkenstein) when he arrives to check her out. The prince later meets Ossi and they fall for each other immediately, not realizing their true identities. Fortunately Ossi's "husband" had married her using the prince's name, "in name only," so Ossi and the Prince are free to follow their hearts.

THE OYSTER PRINCESS was for the most part a fun watch although there was a bit of an "ick" factor at times, with moments like Ossi's father peering through a keyhole to see if either of her marriages are being consummated. Otherwise it was a good time, especially when Ossi prepares for marriage by learning infant care with a toy doll, and I liked the way the story wrapped up.

THE OYSTER PRINCESS, along with the second film, I DON'T WANT TO BE A MAN, is available in the Lubitsch in Berlin set from Kino Lorber. The set also includes one of the films I saw last weekend, SUMURUN (1920).

I DON'T WANT TO BE A MAN (1918) only had German narrative cards, so UCLA Archive head Jan-Christopher Horak sat in the back of the theater with a microphone and translated as we went. That was a unique way to see a silent film and added to the evening's spirit of fun; fortunately for him the movie was relatively short! I was also pleasantly surprised how much of the simple wording on the cards came back to me from high school German a lot of years ago.

Oswalda turns up again here as another temperamental young woman, also named Ossi, who yearns to have what she perceives as the greater freedom men enjoy. When her uncle must sail to America on business, Ossi is left with her governess (Margarete Kupfer); Ossi's uncle appoints a guardian, Dr. Kersten (Kurt Gotz), to keep an eye on her, and when Dr. Kersten visits he puts his foot down on her behavior.

Ossi decides to dress up as a man and meets Dr. Kersten at a party. The doctor is quite taken with the young "man," but Ossi ultimately realizes she'd rather be a woman after all.

This was an oddball film; putting aside the gender bending aspects, the doctor was at least twice Ossi's age, if not more! That said, there were funny moments and it was all handled with a fairly light touch. There wasn't much time to dwell on any one aspect as it was over so quickly!

Both THE OYSTER PRINCESS and I DON'T WANT TO BE A MAN were filmed by Theodor Sparkuhl, who like director Lubitsch would later move to the United States and work in Hollywood.

I think I enjoyed FORBIDDEN PARADISE the most, thanks to the lively performance of Pola Negri as Czarina Caterina; her character was loosely based on Catherine the Great, but set in the 20th century, with automobiles!

While the first two films of the evening were comedies, FORBIDDEN PARADISE was a costume drama; that said, all three films address varied angles regarding sexual relationships and were interesting to see in light of the later sound comedies for which Lubitsch is renowned. I feel Lubitsch's later sound comedies have a lighter, classier touch, while these early silents are more heavy-handed, with brief crass moments here and there. It's interesting to look at the list of Lubitsch's films and see how his style evolved over time.

As UCLA's program notes aptly described, in FORBIDDEN PARADISE Caterina "eats men for breakfast." Adolphe Menjou plays Caterina's sympathetic Chancellor, although "procurer" might be a more correct description, as he supplies her with a steady stream of men, who are each rewarded for their "duty" to the empress with a special medal.

Caterina thinks she truly loves Captain Alexei (Rod La Rocque), but although he gives in to her briefly, he is in love with her lady in waiting Anna (Pauline Starke), and he ultimately refuses to continue as the Czarina's lover, at the risk of death. Fortunately the Chancellor has the Spanish ambassador waiting in the wings to replace Alexei!

Negri was quite entertaining as the vain, imperious, man-hungry Czarina, conveying a great deal with her facial expressions. I didn't find her that interesting as the dancer in last week's SUMURUN but her performance made FORBIDDEN PARADISE quite worth seeing.

I also admired the film's sumptuous sets, which were filmed by Charles Van Enger.

Apparently Clark Gable was one of the guards, but I didn't notice him!

FORBIDDEN PARADISE, a Paramount film, doesn't seem to have an authorized release, although Amazon does have one DVD listed.

I hope to return to the Lubitsch series on August 4th; I just saw that evening's first film, TROUBLE IN PARADISE (1932), at UCLA last year but I don't think that's one which can be seen too often, and it's followed by ANGEL (1937), which I've never seen. ANGEL stars TROUBLE IN PARADISE's Herbert Marshall, along with Marlene Dietrich and Melvyn Douglas.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Tonight's Movie: All That Jazz (1979) at UCLA

A sold-out audience packed Westwood's Billy Wilder Theater for the opening night of UCLA's new series Fosse, Fosse, Fosse!: A Retrospective.

The screening of ALL THAT JAZZ (1979) was introduced by Fosse biographer Sam Wasson, who assured the audience that everything we were about to see in the autobiographical film directed and co-written by Fosse was basically true.

On hand for a post-film discussion, moderated by Mark Olsen of the Los Angeles Times, were actor-editor Alan Heim, who both edited the film and plays the editor in the film; onscreen and offscreen Fosse assistant Kathryn Doby; and associate producer Wolfgang Glattes. Present in the audience was Deborah Geffner, who plays Victoria, one of the most prominent members of the dance company.

The plot of this film, which won four Oscars and received several more nominations, concerns Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider), a workaholic, perfectionist, and very unhealthy director-choreographer who consistently makes bad life choices yet is still loved or at least respected by the people in his life.

The film has an unusual premise in that Joe is both flirting with and fending off the Angel of Death (Jessica Lange) while juggling his too-busy life, which includes choreographing his newest Broadway show (which was CHICAGO in real life), editing the film he just directed (based on 1974's LENNY), and dealing with the women in his life: Ex-wife Audrey (Leland Palmer), the mother of his child and star of his new musical; current girlfriend Katie (Fosse's real-life girlfriend Ann Reinking), who he cheats on and who returns the favor; dancer Victoria (Deborah Geffner), his latest fling; and his daughter Michelle (Erzsebet Foldi).

There was a lot I loved about the film along with a couple things I strongly disliked. I could have spent the movie's entire 123 minutes watching more of the film's opening "On Broadway" audition sequence; there's nothing more thrilling than hundreds of people dancing in unison. (We were told around 450 dancers participated in creating the sequence.)  And what a thrill to be seated not far from Kathryn Doby, the assistant who leads the auditioning dancers through the increasingly difficult combinations.

Editor Heim later joked that he had enough footage for a documentary on the audition process, but then he had to start cutting it back to focus on the characters. I'd sign up to watch that documentary! Doby noted that in real life Fosse handled auditions just as his alter ego does in the film, personally having a word with each dancer he dismisses.

Here are the first few minutes of the movie as seen on the Criterion Collection's YouTube channel; the audition sequence begins about 90 seconds in. Doby is the woman in the beige boots leading the dancers.

Scheider is absolutely terrific as Gideon/Fosse, in his trademark black outfits, getting himself going in the morning with drugs, cigarettes, and the words "It's showtime!" The filmmakers present said that Scheider shadowed Fosse everywhere and was uncanny in his imitations, and what's more, one of them noticed that he had so absorbed Fosse's mannerisms that two years later he was still unconsciously imitating Fosse.

Scheider has a challenge playing a man who wants to live yet clings ferociously to self-destructive behavior, managing to retain our sympathy even while we shake our heads. Apparently, like much about the movie, this was quite true to Fosse himself.

One of my favorite scenes was a rehearsal where Joe constantly criticizes Victoria, who was hired more for her looks and availability (of the casting couch type) rather than ability. When she breaks down in tears he backs off of barking at her and says honestly that he can't make her a great dancer and he's not sure he can even make her a good dancer, "but I can make you a better dancer." When she asks if he's going to keep yelling at her he says "Probably."

I also especially liked a sequence where he talks with his daughter while they're dancing together in an empty rehearsal hall. He's not always the best father, devoting more of himself to work than family, but here they're able to communicate while doing something they both love, dancing. (For that matter, his longest talk with his ex is also while she's in the middle of dance practice.)

The film is brutally honest about the business end of the arts, whether the show's producers are meeting with their insurance rep while Joe is in the hospital or tentatively courting a replacement director (John Lithgow). These scenes are both hilarious and, we suspect, all too real.

I've liked Reinking ever since seeing her in MOVIE MOVIE (1978) and MICKI AND MAUDE (1984), and she's excellent, essentially playing herself in the long-suffering but loyal (sort of) Katie.

I saw Leland Palmer. whose character stands in for Gwen Verdon, in the musical review RODGERS AND HART at the Westwood Playhouse not long before this film was made, so it was rather ironic to be seeing another of her performances in Westwood all these years later. Google tells me that RODGERS AND HART was in 1975; Palmer's costars were Harve Presnell and Constance Towers.

I didn't care for the more R rated aspects of ALL THAT JAZZ, particularly a graphic flashback to Joe's teenage years and the later "Airotica" number, which I found, putting it delicately, wildly inappropriate; in my opinion it wasn't sexy, it was simply gross. On the polar opposite end of the spectrum, Katie and Michelle have a charming dance routine entertaining Joe in his living room which was one of the most delightful moments in the movie.

As Joe gets closer and closer to the Angel of Death, the musical numbers get stranger and stranger, culminating in a huge variety show type fantasy number hosted by O'Connor Flood (Ben Vereen), where Joe says goodbye to all the people in his life. Fosse himself made it to 1987, dying at the too-young age of 60.

The last section of the movie, dealing with Joe's life-threatening medical crisis, goes on far too long, and there are some unpleasant visuals. The movie could easily have been at least ten minutes shorter, between the dance number I didn't like and the last part of the film. Nonetheless the film was, for the most part, entertaining and interesting, and I'm glad I finally caught up with it. The restored digital print looked great, and this celebratory big screen showing was certainly the very best way to try it out.

ALL THAT JAZZ is available on Blu-ray and DVD from the Criterion Collection. Despite my discomfort with some aspects of the film, I liked enough about it to be interested in picking it up, given the extensive extras which include a documentary on Fosse and a scene-specific commentary by the late Roy Scheider.

A trailer for the film is on YouTube.

I expect to see more films in the Fosse series next month, beginning with a rare big screen showing of THE PAJAMA GAME (1957).

Tonight's Movie: 5 Steps to Danger (1957) - A ClassicFlix Blu-ray Review

The Cold War chase film 5 STEPS TO DANGER (1947) was recently released in an attractive restored Blu-ray by ClassicFlix.

Ruth Roman and Sterling Hayden star as Ann and John, who "meet cute" when his road trip to go fishing is stalled out after his car dies in a small town. She offers him a lift to Santa Fe if he'll share the driving.

Ann needs to reach Santa Fe urgently, and for a while we're not quite clear if she's a crook, a woman on the verge of an emotional breakdown, or a dedicated American patriot.

Before they've known each other long, John and Ann end up on the run while handcuffed! Along the way we're also introduced to a nasty psychiatrist (Werner Klemperer), a mysterious nurse (Jeanne Cooper), a lying professor (Richard Gaines), a CIA man (Charles Davis, seen below with Hayden and Roman), and a friendly FBI agent (Ken Curtis). The cast also includes Peter Hansen and John Mitchum.

I first saw 5 STEPS TO DANGER in 2014 and thoroughly enjoyed revisiting it via this great-looking new release.

The film won't win any points for originality, borrowing from THE 39 STEPS (1935), THE BIG STEAL (1949), and other films, but it's great "movie comfort food," a fun mashup of road film, "couple on the run," and Cold War espionage.

The movie doesn't take itself very seriously, especially when John proposes marriage to a woman we're still not 100% sure isn't a little bit nuts, but the somewhat improbable plotting is part of its charm. It's simply an enjoyable, not-too-stressful adventure with a pair of appealing actors in Hayden and Roman. Fans of the actors and this type of film will find it worth checking out.

I also especially enjoy the very straight arrow performance of Davis as the CIA guy; Curtis is also fun in a brief role as the genial FBI man. Both Davis and Curtis's helpful characters reassure us by their very squareness that everything will be OK. (Their dry "oops!" comments on a near-miss in the final shootout make me chuckle.)

This 80-minute film was written and directed by Henry S. Kesler, based on the book THE STEEL MIRROR by Donald Hamilton. It was filmed by Kenneth Peach.

ClassicFlix restored the film from the original camera negative. The very nice widescreen print is in its original 1.85 aspect ratio. There are no extras.

I liked the case cover design, which includes a black and white still spanning the width of the interior of the case when it's opened.

In addition to the Blu-ray, 5 STEPS TO DANGER is also available from ClassicFlix on DVD.

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

Friday, July 27, 2018

Weekend Movie Fun: Counsellor at Law (1933) at UCLA (and the Apple Pan!)

I'd be the first to admit that living in Southern California has its share of frustrations...but there are also many great opportunities.

For example, in the last 10 days I've celebrated Disneyland's birthday, seen a pair of silent films directed by Ernst Lubitsch at UCLA's Billy Wilder Theater, and enjoyed a book signing, lecture, and another Lubitsch film at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood.

Tonight was the sort of quintessential "L.A. night" which makes me happy I still live here. We started off with dinner at the classic Los Angeles hamburger joint The Apple Pan, which has been run by the same family on Pico Boulevard since 1947.

Over the years I've eaten at many great restaurants in the L.A. area, from Cassell's Hamburgers to Hutch's BBQ in Pasadena (now sadly gone) to Philippe's French Dip to my very favorite, El Cholo.

Somehow, though, I had never eaten at the Apple Pan, though I'd been inside it once; I think we must have decided the wait was too long that particular day. This oversight was rectified with a visit tonight and everything about it was great, from the metered parking place right next to the building to immediate seating at the counter to the friendly service and terrific food.

We'll definitely be going back, and next time maybe we'll save room for apple pie!

Here are several photos:







Cash only at the Apple Pan, rung up on the old-style cash register!

Then it was over to UCLA's Billy Wilder Theater in Westwood, just a few minutes away, for a very special nitrate screening of COUNSELLOR AT LAW (1933), starring John Barrymore and directed by William Wyler.

Several members of the Wyler family were sitting in the row in front of us, including his children Cathy and David. It was special knowing we were enjoying the film along with the director's family, especially considering the film is now 85 years old!

In some ways, though, you'd never know the movie was that old, as some of the dialogue could have been written yesterday, particularly for a character enchanted by socialism. (The more things change, the more they stay the same, and all that.) The nitrate print was absolutely stunning; there were a couple shots so sharp and clear they almost felt like 3D.

The nitrate print was from Wyler's personal collection and had been deposited at UCLA by the family, who also gave permission for the screening.

I reviewed the film on DVD in 2010. It's a terrific film which I highly recommend.

Tonight's program also inciuded a 1933 Hearst Metrotone newsreel, notable for a couple violent scenes such as an Indy racing crash with bodies flying through the air (!), and the 1933 Fleischer cartoon AIN'T SHE SWEET (1933), which segues to a live-action singalong with Lillian Roth in the final minutes. The audience sang along -- a little quietly, but I give everyone bonus points for participation!

If all goes well I anticipate being at the opening night of UCLA's tribute to Bob Fosse Saturday evening, with a screening of ALL THAT JAZZ (1979).

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Tonight's Movie: The Boy From Oklahoma (1954) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

For every movie I see that's the occasional disappointment, such as last weekend's RIDE, VAQUERO! (1953), there are plenty more discoveries of previously unseen gems. THE BOY FROM OKLAHOMA (1954) is one such film, a Western available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

The movie was directed by Michael Curtiz with his usual energy and polish.

In his book on Curtiz, biographer Alan K. Rode notes that the film was made at the end of Curtiz's Warner Bros. career, and he and star Will Rogers Jr. unsuccessfully lobbied to change the title to something more appropriate and exciting, especially given that Rogers was no "boy." There were other issues, such as a tight budget and leading lady Nancy Olson's fear of horses.

At the time the film was perhaps seen as a not-very-impressive end to Curtiz's storied career at the studio, but despite its production issues, viewed today it's a real charmer, with appealing leads supported by a terrific cast of character actors. Within the framework of a standard Western plot, screenwriters Frank Davis and Winston Miller created something a little more unusual, based on a story by Michael Fessier titled "The Sheriff Was Scared."

The movie's tale of a quirky law student turned lawman somewhat echoes James Stewart's DESTRY RIDES AGAIN (1939) and strongly plays like a forerunner of James Garner's SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF! (1969), what with a man (Rogers) on his way somewhere else becoming sheriff of a wild town, maintaining order with unusual methods while also courting a tomboy (Olson).

I also read today that THE BOY FROM OKLAHOMA inspired the TV Western series SUGARFOOT, which like this film featured a lawyer named Tom Brewster. Will Hutchins played Tom in SUGARFOOT, and three of the supporting cast members of this film also appeared in the SUGARFOOT pilot!

Rogers had made a few other films, including playing his father in THE STORY OF WILL ROGERS (1952), but not having seen him in a movie before I had no idea what to expect. Rogers handles the role with relaxed ease, so patient and reasonable that he talks a man (Lon Chaney Jr.) shooting up the town to walking right into the jail, where he'll have a respite from his wife and free meals. When Tom meets Billy the Kid (Tyler McDuff), who's itching for a showdown, he talks to Billy about the kind of life he wishes Billy could have, until the exasperated Billy backs down and leaves the saloon.

I've always liked Nancy Olson, so as much as I also like Janet Leigh, I'm glad the budget was such that the production couldn't afford Leigh! Olson is perfect as spunky Katie and has a nice chemistry with Rogers. According to Rode's book, she remembers Rogers as a "dear human being." (And if it's not clear by now, Rode's Curtiz bio is "must" reading! He's also got a neat photo of Olson and husband Alan Jay Lerner and their daughter on the set with Curtiz.)

The film is quite enjoyable, with great support from actors like Louis Jean Heydt (a favorite of this blog), Anthony Caruso, Wallace Ford, Clem Bevans, James Griffith, and Slim Pickens. Joan Weldon has a tiny role as a saloon girl, the very same year she starred in the sci-fi classic THEM! (1954). Also seen in a small role is future TV talk show host Merv Griffin.

This 87-minute movie was shot by Robert Burks in WarnerColor. WarnerColor doesn't always hold up well but happily this is a good-looking DVD.

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.

New Westerns Column at Classic Movie Hub

My second Western Roundup column has now been posted at Classic Movie Hub.

This month I'm focusing on a trio of favorite John Wayne Westerns which were not directed by Ford or Hawks. The movies discussed are TALL IN THE SADDLE (1944), ANGEL AND THE BADMAN (1947), and HONDO (1953).

I'd like to invite all my readers to click over to Classic Movie Hub and check it out! I hope everyone will enjoy it -- and most importantly, watch these wonderful movies.

Previously: June 2018 Western Roundup Column.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Bob Fosse Retrospective Opens Saturday at UCLA

The UCLA Film & Television Archive will pay tribute to choreographer and director Bob Fosse with Fosse, Fosse, Fosse! A Retrospective, opening on Saturday, July 28th.

A dozen films featuring Fosse's work, both onscreen and off, will be shown between opening night and the final screening on August 26th.

I'm hoping to attend the opening night screening of ALL THAT JAZZ (1979), which I've never seen. It will be shown in a digital print.

I'm very excited about the prospect of seeing Doris Day and John Raitt in THE PAJAMA GAME (1957) on August 18th. I was lucky enough to see that on a big screen a couple of times as a teenager, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the FilmEx festival, and I'm thrilled at the opportunity to see it again in a theater for the first time in so long. I love the movie and its musical score!

THE PAJAMA GAME will be shown with a film I've never seen, DAMN YANKEES (1958), starring Gwen Verdon and the late Tab Hunter. Both films will be shown in 35mm.

August 25th is another special day on the calendar, starting with an afternoon screening of WHITE CHRISTMAS (1954), for which Fosse did uncredited choreography.

I saw WHITE CHRISTMAS in a theater at Thanksgiving in 2013, but as one could probably tell from my review at the time, I don't think it's a movie I could ever see too often. Another nice plus is that while last time I saw it in a digital print, UCLA will be screening it in 35mm.

After a dinner break, it will be time for a double bill of KISS ME KATE (1953) and MY SISTER EILEEN (1955). The films will be introduced by dance historian Debra Levine, who hosted UCLA's marvelous tribute to George Chakiris in 2013.

I've seen KISS ME KATE theatrically multiple times, including twice in 3D, but again it's been a very long time since my last chance to see it on a big screen, and I've never seen MY SISTER EILEEN in a theater. Fosse is pictured here dancing with Janet Leigh in MY SISTER EILEEN; the film also features a fantastic dance with Fosse and KISS ME KATE's Tommy Rall.

KISS ME KATE (seen below) will be shown in a 35mm print from the British Film Institute, with MY SISTER EILEEN shown in DCP format.

Incidentally, MY SISTER EILEEN was just released on a limited edition Blu-ray by Twilight Time. Twilight Time always does great work so musical fans should be sure to consider picking it up. My copy has already arrived!

I've highlighted the series films here which are of interest to me; please visit the UCLA website for the complete schedule. Musical fans have some wonderful opportunities at UCLA in August!

July 28th Update: Here is a report on opening night, including a review of ALL THAT JAZZ (1979).

August 19th Update: Here are reviews of THE PAJAMA GAME (1957) and DAMN YANKEES (1958).

August 26th Update: Here's a review of KISS ME KATE (1953) which also includes information on the screenings of WHITE CHRISTMAS (1954) and MY SISTER EILEEN (1955).

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