Sunday, September 30, 2018

Tonight's Movie: The Farmer's Daughter (1947) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Today my movie viewing had a fun and unexpected theme. Earlier in the day I watched PERSONAL MAID'S SECRET (1945), with Ruth Donnelly as a wise housekeeper, and I followed up watching that with Loretta Young as THE FARMER'S DAUGHTER (1947), who proves to be another smart maid.

THE FARMER'S DAUGHTER was just released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber. It's a longtime favorite with two highly appealing stars, Loretta Young and Joseph Cotten. I hadn't seen it for quite some time and revisiting the movie via the beautiful new Blu-ray was a real treat.

Loretta Young won her only Oscar in the title role as Katrin "Katie" Holstrom, a Swedish-American miss who leaves the family farm intending to go to nursing school in the big city. An unfortunate incident with an masher (Rhys Williams) who essentially robs her of every penny leads to her taking a job as a maid for a pair of political hotshots, Congressman Glenn Morley (Cotten) and his mother (Ethel Barrymore).

It isn't long before Katie has become indispensable to the entire household, including butler/advisor/family friend Joseph Clancy (Oscar-nominated Charles Bickford). Katie may "just" be the maid but she has no problem speaking her mind freely, particularly on political issues. Glenn is charmed and starts to fall in love with her...which gets really complicated when rival political brokers suggest she run for Congress!

The movie is amazingly timely; did you know people were arguing about a "living wage" way back in the '40s? The last part of the film revolves around the attempt to baselessly smear Katie; should she slink away or fight to preserve her good name and the chance to serve her country?  Regardless of where people fall on the political spectrum, I think viewers may be surprised by how undated the issues are. (Side note, "just in case": Please steer clear of current politics in the comments; this site is a place where we're united by our love of movies!)

The four lead actors are all completely charming; it's especially hard not to love Bickford, who is quickly won over by Katie's ability to make good coffee. Loretta was approximately 33 when this was filmed and realistically is a bit old for the part but she's so gorgeous and winning, who cares?

And what a supporting cast! Right down to Charles McGraw, who pops up in the final minutes as a bad guy exasperated with Glenn. Check out this list of character actors: Harry Davenport, Frank Ferguson, Charles Lane, Don Beddoe, Tom Powers, Art Baker, Thurston Hall, John Gallaudet, William Bakewell, and Cy Kendall. Katie's brothers are played by James Arness, Lex Barker, and Keith Andes. And yes, this movie even has a party scene with legendary dress extra Bess Flowers. Add in a good script (by Allen Rivkin and Laura Kerr), and it's quite wonderful spending 97 minutes with faces like these.

THE FARMER'S DAUGHTER was directed by H.C. Potter and filmed in black and white by Milton Krasner. While some of the exterior scenes are obvious soundstage shots, there's a strikingly beautiful scene in which Glenn and Katie climb a hill to see her father. It's so beautiful it makes one wish more of the "outdoor" scenes looked like that! According to IMDb, exteriors were filmed up the California coast in Petaluma.

The Blu-ray is a beautiful print. The disc has the movie trailer and a commentary track by Lee Gambin which I look forward to hearing soon.

In addition to the Blu-ray, Kino Lorber has also released THE FARMER'S DAUGHTER on DVD.

The Blu-ray is a lovely release of a delightful movie, and I recommend both highly.

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

Tonight's Movie: Personal Maid's Secret (1935) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

This seems to be the weekend for short Warner Archive movies! Yesterday I watched the 57-minute EXPERIMENT ALCATRAZ (1950), and today I saw the 58-minute PERSONAL MAID'S SECRET (1935). Both films are available on DVD from the Warner Archive and are quite entertaining.

I really liked PERSONAL MAID'S SECRET when I first saw it over five years ago, and I was looking forward to seeing it again via the Warner Archive's brand-new release. If anything I think I enjoyed it even more the second time around! It's not a classic, to be sure, but it's an engaging "B" picture which provides a fast-moving, enjoyable hour.

Lizzie (Ruth Donnelly), a Park Avenue maid, leaves her current employer when they can't pay her salary. On an impulse Lizzie takes a lower-paying job with Joan Smith (Margaret Lindsay) as combination maid and housekeeper, simply because she likes Joan and thinks it might be nice to have full charge of a home for a change.

Time and again the Smiths stretch their budget to afford Lizzie and her many recommendations, on everything from silver to business entertaining to where to live, but Lizzie's recommendations always prove wise, as Jimmy Smith (Warren Hull) consequently sails up the career ladder. Before they know it, the Smiths are living a life of comfortable luxury.

Lizzie, meanwhile, has a personal problem: Thanks to a brief marriage to a wealthy young man during WWI, she is the mother of Diana Abercrombie (Anita Louise), who's been raised by her grandparents (Maude Gordon and Claude King) and doesn't have a clue that her mother is a lowly housekeeper. Lizzie gave up her daughter as she wanted her to have all the benefits of life as an Abercrombie without the stigma of her mother having been one of the servants.

Things get even more complicated when Joan's brother (Frank Albertson) falls head over heels for Diana.

Donnelly is pitch perfect in this, treating the Smiths' little boy (Ronnie Cosby) with kindness but being firm with both the Smiths and Diana about what she considers right and proper behavior. The domestic drama is balanced with lighthearted moments between Lizzie and her friend Owen (Arthur Treacher), a snooty butler, as they argue over what wines to serve with main dishes; beneath their arguing there's real fondness, and they consider a future together. Lizzie's influence with the Smiths is such that when she tells them it's time they hire a butler, they immediately hire Owen!

Everyone in the movie does a nice job; the cast also includes Henry O'Neill, always a welcome face, and future cowboy star Bill Elliott, billed here as Gordon Elliott. I need to put the disc back in and check for Dennis O'Keefe as a dinner guest! Time after time he and Bill Elliott turn up in small roles in the very same mid '30s movies.

I like this little film a lot and will definitely watch it again in the future. Anyone who enjoys this film's cast and a well-made programmer is sure to enjoy it.

PERSONAL MAID'S SECRET was directed by Arthur Greville Collins and filmed by future director Byron Haskin.

The Warner Archive DVD is a nice print. 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.

TCM in October: Highlights

Time for a look at some of the interesting titles on the October schedule at Turner Classic Movies!

Rita Hayworth's centennial will be celebrated as she is honored as the October Star of the Month.

21 Rita Hayworth movies are on the October schedule, airing on Tuesdays. I'll have a separate Star of the Month post up on Monday. (October 1st Update: Please visit TCM Star of the Month: Rita Hayworth.)

The TCM Spotlight is focused on "Funny Ladies," with Carol Burnett and Illeana Douglas cohosting every Thursday. Can't wait!

This month's Noir Alley titles are ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW (1959) on October 6th/7th, THE DAMNED DON'T CRY (1950) on October 13th and 14th, THE HUNTED (1948) on October 20/21, and FOLLOW ME QUIETLY (1949) on October 27th and 28th. I really enjoyed the latter three films and particularly recommend THE HUNTED, a minor noir which is nonetheless one of my all-time favorites. Preston Foster and Belita star.

Treasures From the Disney Vault returns on October 15th with BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS (1971), a perfect choice for October! Also showing: THE CAT FROM OUTER SPACE (1978), FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR (1986), THE BLACK HOLE (1979), and THE LAST FLIGHT OF NOAH'S ARK (1980). Leonard Maltin hosts.

Saturday morning programming in October will feature Jimmy Wakely Westerns, POPEYE cartoons, and the Saint series starring George Sanders.

This being October, look for Horror Stars featured on Wednesdays and Mummy films every Sunday.

Here's a look at just some of the interesting titles airing on TCM in October. Click any hyperlinked title to read the corresponding film review and learn more details.

...On October 2nd TCM is showing Myrna Loy and Warner Baxter in the highly enjoyable PENTHOUSE ( 1933), followed later in the day by the role PENTHOUSE is said to have won her, playing Nora Charles in THE THIN MAN (1934).

...For delightful MGM entertainment you can't do better than DANCING CO-ED (1939), starring Lana Turner, Richard Carlson, Ann Rutherford, and Artie Shaw. I have described it "a treasure trove of enjoyable personalities and good music." Shakespeare it's not, but it's great fun. Tune in October 3rd.

...HELL'S HEROES (1929) is one of the earliest versions of the classic story 3 GODFATHERS, starring Charles Bickford, Raymond Hatton, and Fred Kohler, directed by William Wyler. It's short and sweet -- and has fantastic location filming at what is now the ghost town of Bodie, California. It's on October 4th.

...Later on the 4th it's the first night of "Funny Ladies," hosted by Carol Burnett and Illeana Douglas. I particularly recommend Marion Davies in SHOW PEOPLE (1928), which I saw for the first time at this year's TCM Classic Film Festival.

...A prime time tribute to Margaret Lockwood on October 5th features a great lineup of NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH (1940), seen at right; Hitchcock's THE LADY VANISHES (1938);  and the Gainsborough Pictures melodrama THE WICKED LADY (1945), costarring James Mason. A terrific evening of entertainment!

...I can't recommend THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951) too many times; it's one of my favorite discoveries of the last few years. Kenneth Tobey and Margaret Sheridan may not be household names these days but they're absolutely terrific in this sci-fi tale set at a base at the North Pole. It's on October 6th. Although the credited director was Christian Nyby, it's an accepted fact that it was actually directed by Howard Hawks; indeed, Tobey told historian Alan K. Rode that Nyby only directed one scene. The terrific screenplay was by Charles Lederer, with uncredited work by the great Ben Hecht.

...One of my all-time favorite films, THE MARK OF ZORRO (1940, is on October 8th. What can I say other than it's a perfect movie?! Check out this beautiful photo gallery of stars Tyrone Power and Linda Darnell, along with supporting player Basil Rathbone.

...A day of documentaries on October 9th includes THE SECRET LAND (1948), a documentary about Admiral Richard Byrd and the Antarctic which is narrated by Robert Montgomery, Robert Taylor, and Van Heflin.

...The Korean War film BATTLE CIRCUS (1953), starring Humphrey Bogart and June Allyson, is one I need to see. Richard Brooks directed. It's on October 10th.

...Night two of "Funny Ladies" is on October 11th. The terrific five-film lineup includes THEODORA GOES WILD (1936) starring Irene Dunne and Melvyn Douglas, grandfather of Funny Ladies cohost Illeana Douglas. I enjoyed seeing her introduced this film at the 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival.

...TCM is showing two different versions of SHOW BOAT this month. The 1929 version, which I haven't seen, will be shown on October 7th, and the colorful and highly enjoyable 1951 MGM version is on October 12th. (Funny thing, the only version not being shown this month, released in 1936, starred Irene Dunne, star of the previously recommended film THEODORA GOES WILD.) 1951 stars Kathryn Grayson and Ava Gardner are seen at the right. Related viewing: TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY (1946), listed below on October 14th.

...October 13th: Howard Hawks' RIO BRAVO (1959) with John Wayne, Dean Martin, Angie Dickinson, and Ricky Nelson. Be there.

...It's been quite a while since I've watched MGM's TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY (1946), a biopic about composer Jerome Kern (Robert Walker) featuring many of his greatest songs...not to mention a mini version of SHOW BOAT with Tony Martin, Lena Horne, and Kathryn Grayson, five years before she played the same role in the full-length movie. TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY is on October 14th.

...You can't go wrong staying put for a seven-film tribute to Jean Arthur on October 17th. It includes three Frank Capra films, THE MORE THE MERRIER (1943), and THE EX-MRS. BRADFORD (1936) with William Powell.

...I've acquired a liking for Tom Keene and look forward to checking out his Western SON OF THE BORDER (1933), costarring Julie Haydon. It's on October 18th.

...The third night of "Funny Ladies" is October 18th, featuring BORN YESTERDAY (1950), SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952), and PILLOW TALK (1959). I'm glad Doris Day is being recognized for being a wonderful comedienne!

...NURSE ON WHEELS (1963), with Juliet Mills as a young nurse in a country village, sounds interesting. It's on October 19th.

...October 22nd is the 101st anniversary of the birth of the late Oscar-winning actress Joan Fontaine, who died in 2013. She'll receive an eight-film daytime tribute, which includes her starring turn in an atypical role in the delicious BORN TO BE BAD (1950).

...The comedy CALLAWAY WENT THATAWAY (1951) provides a good dual role for star Howard Keel. Fred MacMurray and Dorothy McGuire costar. It's on October 23rd.

...I love the cast of FLIGHT COMMAND (1940), on the schedule October 24th: Robert Taylor, Ruth Hussey, and Walter Pidgeon.

...The comedy-fantasy MAN ALIVE (1946) has a good cast: Pat O'Brien, Ellen Drew, and Adolphe Menjou. It's on October 25th. Looking forward to catching up with it as some point!

...Perfect (and not too scary!) late October viewing: THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR (1947), the 20th Century-Fox classic starring Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison. It will be shown October 27th.

...There's a centennial tribute to Diana Serra Cary, aka Baby Peggy, on October 28th; she turns 100 on the 29th. The evening features the documentary BABY PEGGY: THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM (2010), the short PEG O' THE MOUNTED (2924) and the feature films HTE FAMILY SECRET (1924) and CAPTAIN JANUARY (1924). I really enjoyed her in HELEN'S BABIES (1924) at the Cinecon Festival and few weeks ago and look forward to trying these movies.

For more on TCM in October 2018, please visit my Quick Preview of TCM in October as well as TCM's complete online schedule.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Experiment Alcatraz (1950) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

EXPERIMENT ALCATRAZ (1950) is an odd yet entertaining "B" film available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

In this brisk 57-minute movie, five convicts incarcerated on Alcatraz Island, including Barry Morgan (Robert Shayne), are promised their freedom in return for participating in a potentially dangerous medical experiment. They're exposed to radiation as part of a study designed by Dr. Ross Williams (John Howard), who hopes to find a cure for leukemia.

Unfortunately the experiment seems to go haywire. Lt. Joan McKenna (Joan Dixon), an army nurse, accidentally leaves a pair of scissors in the hospital room and Morgan stabs to death one of other convicts, asserting the radioactive medical treatment caused his uncontrollable urge to kill. Or did it?

Nurse McKenna and Dr. Williams set out to discover the truth.

This film has several things going for it, not least its unusual plotting. The storyline is different, and the mashup of medical drama, crime film, and '50s era "nuclear sci fi" is enjoyable. There are also some surprises, for instance, just when you think Dr. Williams and Nurse McKenna might become an item...well, let's just say I was not expecting the last few minutes of the movie!

There's some terrific stock footage mixed with what appears to have been some new second unit filming in the San Francisco area. When the convicts are released from Alcatraz they're delivered to the Presidio -- right about where the building now housing the beautiful Walt Disney Family Museum is located!

John Howard (THE PHILADELPHIA STORY) plays the dedicated doctor who soons finds himself beaten up on a regular basis. Joan Dixon may not be the world's greatest actress but I find her a striking and enjoyable presence; I'm closing in on having seen all her feature films once I see a couple more Tim Holt Westerns.

Walter Kingsford, who played Dr. Carew in the Dr. Kildare movie series, is third-billed as Dr. Finley, who helps run the experiment and who is helpful when Dr. Williams needs time to try to prove radiation doesn't turn a man into a murderer. Kingsford's character actually takes on the most significant role in solving the mystery in the film's final minutes and does a fine job.

The cast also includes Lynne Carter, Harry Lauter, Kim Spalding, Kenneth MacDonald, Frank Cady, Byron Foulger, and Myron Healey.

EXPERIMENT ALCATRAZ was directed by Edward L. Cahn and filmed in black and white by Jackson Rose.

Those who have seen the movie may find a KCET article titled Alcatraz Island: A History of "The Rock" On Screen of interest.

EXPERIMENT ALCATRAZ is a very good DVD print. 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.

Coming October 4th-8th: The 29th Lone Pine Film Festival

The 29th Lone Pine Film Festival will take place in Lone Pine, California, from Thursday, October 4th, through Monday, October 8th.

I'm fortunate that this will be my fifth consecutive year at the festival! Links to my coverage of the past few years may be found at the bottom of this post.

As usual, the festival will open with a gala at the Museum of Western Film History on Thursday evening. This year the opening night entertainment will be a new film directed by and starring Perry King, THE DIVIDE (2018). It will be introduced by actress Sara Arrington (BOSCH), who appears in the film.

This year's festival is titled "Hell Bent for Westerns," and the terrific guest list includes Robert Wagner, Patrick Wayne, Ben Mankiewicz, Scott Eyman, William Wellman Jr., Vanda Krefft, Wyatt McCrea, Jay Dee Witney, Ed Hulse, and Diamond Farnsworth.

Live piano accompaniment for the silent movies will be provided by Jay C. Munns, who always does a terrific job.

This year we'll be attending one locations tour, for the Bill Cody film FRONTIER DAYS (1934). It will be conducted by the outstanding Lone Pine tour guide Don Kelsen.

My husband will also be participating in the Friday morning horseback ride led by wranglers from McGee Creek Pack Station, which he always thoroughly enjoys.

Some of the other schedule highlights:

*UNDER WESTERN STARS (1948), a restored print of Roy Rogers' first starring film introduced by Ed Hulse, Jay Dee Witney (son of director William Witney), and Julie Rogers Pomilia (granddaughter of Roy Rogers).

*A talk and book signing by Vanda Krefft, author of the highly regarded biography THE MAN WHO MADE THE MOVIES: THE METEORIC RISE AND TRAGIC FALL OF WILLIAM FOX.

*TRAILING TROUBLE (1930) starring Hoot Gibson

*THE BIG TRAIL (1930) starring John Wayne, followed by a discussion with Patrick Wayne, John Wayne biographer Scott Eyman, Ben Mankiewicz of Turner Classic Movies, and moderator Ed Hulse.

*THE WILD HORSE STAMPEDE (1926), a silent Western starring Jack Hoxie and Fay Wray, which I missed at the Cinecon Festival last Labor Day Weekend.

*BROKEN LANCE (1954), followed by Ben Mankiewicz interviewing Robert Wagner and Scott Eyman.

*A talk by Don Kelsen and Dennis Liff on "Iverson Ranch: The First Location Ranch" (I have toured Iverson with Don and Dennis a couple of times; read more about our 2016 visit here).

*THE ARIZONA RANGER (1948) starring Tim Holt.

Due to overlapping events I won't be able to do every single thing on this list, but I'll do as much as I possibly can! This year we'll be staying until Monday for the first time, so I'll also have the opportunity to participate in "Cowboy Church" Sunday morning and see the parade down Main Street Sunday afternoon.

There are at least 15 tours during this year's festival, focusing on everything from GUNGA DIN (1939) to Audie Murphy movies to RAWHIDE (1951) starring Tyrone Power to a "lost" John Wayne Western, THE OREGON TRAIL (1936). (THE OREGON TRAIL costars Ann Rutherford and is seen in the photo to the left; this year's issue of "Lone Pine and the Movies" is entirely devoted to the history of this lost film.) In addition to movie-themed tours, there are also tours on the Owens River 1900 Water Wars, Arches of the Alabama Hills, the Geology of Owens Valley, and a Sunrise Photo Tour.

Please visit the festival website for complete details on tours, screenings, and much more.

Looking forward to another terrific Columbus Day Weekend in Lone Pine!

Links to my complete coverage of the last four Lone Pine Film Festivals may be found in each of these annual overview posts: 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017.

And please also visit my new column at Classic Movie Hub, "Lone Pine Favorites," which provides a brief historic overview of filming in Lone Pine along with a look at five movies filmed in the area.

Updates: Off to Lone Pine!; Back From Lone Pine!.

Links to all 2018 festival coverage may be found here: The 29th Lone Pine Film Festival.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Quick Preview of TCM in December

Turner Classic Movies has released its December schedule!

Dick Powell will be the December Star of the Month. My records indicate that he has been Star of the Month once previously, way back in October 2000.

Over three dozen Powell films will be shown on Thursdays, including the rarely screened comedy gem YOU NEVER CAN TELL (1951). I'm curious whether that Universal Pictures film is a TCM premiere.

As is usual for TCM in December, Christmas movies will be playing on the network throughout the month. There are two Christmas films in the lineup I can't recall having been on TCM before, Roy Rogers' TRAIL OF ROBIN HOOD (1950) and the British film THE HOLLY AND THE IVY (1952), starring Celia Johnson and Ralph Richardson.

Also turning up for Christmas: The 1994 version of LITTLE WOMEN, starring Winona Ryder; the 1933 and 1949 versions are on the schedule as well. Many other seasonal favorites will be shown in December, including LADY ON A TRAIN (1945) and COVER UP (1949). I'll have a separate preview of Christmas films posted at the end of November, along with the usual monthly highlights and a Star of the Month post.

December's Treasures From the Disney Vault features THE ABSENT MINDED PROFESSOR (1961), its sequel SON OF FLUBBER (1963), plus THE WORLD'S GREATEST ATHLETE (1973), THE STRONGEST MAN IN THE WORLD (1975), and GUS (1976).

December's Noir Alley titles: CRACK-UP (1946), TOO LATE FOR TEARS (1949), TALK ABOUT A STRANGER (1952), BEWARE, MY LOVELY (1952), and DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944).

Last year Eddie Muller stated on Twitter that CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY (1944) with Deanna Durbin and Gene Kelly would be on TCM "for holiday season 2018" but sadly it didn't make the final schedule. BEWARE, MY LOVELY, incidentally, is also set at Christmas.

Another treat on the December schedule is KING OF JAZZ (1930). Also of note: December 26th features a tribute to the late Burt Reynolds.

As has often been the case in years past, New Year's Eve will be spent with the THIN MAN movies followed by the THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! series of great clips from MGM musicals.

Click any hyperlinked title in this post for my review and cast info. As mentioned, I'll have much more on the December schedule posted here around December 1st!

Coming up next: Rita Hayworth's centennial will be celebrated when she is the Star of the Month in October, and Glenda Farrell is Star of the Month for November.

Update: For more on TCM in December 2018, please visit TCM in December: Highlights, TCM in December: Christmas Movies, and TCM Star of the Month: Dick Powell.

Monday, September 24, 2018

New Westerns Column Posted at Classic Movie Hub

My latest column is now posted at Classic Movie Hub!

This month's piece, "Lone Pine Favorites," provides a brief overview of the history of Lone Pine as a Western movie location, then discusses five Westerns filmed in the area. I hope everyone will click over to Classic Movie Hub and check it out!

I very much appreciate that so many readers have taken the time to visit my past Classic Movie Hub columns and leave comments. Thank you all!

Previous Classic Movie Hub Western Roundup Column Links: June 2018; July 2018; August 2018.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Tonight's Movie: My Past (1931) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

MY PAST (1931) is an entertaining pre-Code melodrama starring Bebe Daniels. It was released on DVD this summer by the Warner Archive.

Daniels plays Doree Macy, an actress splitting her romantic affections between wealthy John Thornley (Lewis Stone) and his younger partner, Bob Byrne (Ben Lyon). Doree is fond of John but is more attracted to Bob, who unfortunately for Doree already has a wife. When said wife (Natalie Moorhead) returns home from an extended European sojourn, Bob gives up Doree, intending to make the best of his marriage.

The brokenhearted Doree begins a romance with John on the rebound, but when Bob's wife wants a divorce it looks like the way is paved for Bob and Doree at last. Until Bob learns that Doree has been with John, the man who's been like a father to him...

Daniels' Doree goes back and forth like a ping-pong ball in this, first with John, then Bob, then John, then Bob, then John...it's all quite melodramatic but it goes down easily thanks to the smooth playing of the three leads. It's especially nice having the chance to see the long-married Lyon and Daniels playing a real-life couple.

The film is definitely a pre-Code, with Doree and the married Bob clearly having an extramarital fling, as evidence by the breakfast with two coffee cups discovered the next morning by Doree's friend Marian (Joan Blondell). The behavior gets a bit over the top at times, particularly when Bob's wife not only wants a divorce but happily shares a photo of her lover with him!

While on one level the film is something of a Depression-era fantasy, a risque melodrama of people who spend much of their time living on yachts, Daniels brings the film down to earth with a sincere and heartfelt performance. Watching her face crumble as she gamely tries to pretend it doesn't matter when Bob breaks the news he's going back to his wife tugs at the heartstrings.

As for Bob, his behavior is frankly caddish, but Lyon has enough boyish charm and guilt over his behavior to maintain audience goodwill, although his outrage over Doree's fling with John is a little much, given his own behavior.

Stone is perfect as the gallant John, always a welcome, gracious screen presence, and sassy Blondell livens things up periodically.

MY PAST was directed by Roy Del Ruth and filmed by Barney McGill. It runs 72 minutes.

The print is speckled in spots, especially early on, but overall the print is quite good, with some scenes outstanding, especially considering the film's age. The sound could be stronger but is typical of a release of its era and is adequate. The disc has 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.

Tonight's Movie: Merrily We Live (1938) - A ClassicFlix Blu-ray Review

The delightful screwball comedy MERRILY WE LIVE (1938) was recently released in a restored Blu-ray edition by ClassicFlix.

MERRILY WE LIVE received multiple Oscar nominations yet today doesn't seem to be as well known as other classic screwball comedies. I first reviewed the movie here back in 2007. Over the years I've seen it a couple more times, and each time I've enjoyed it more. It's great fun spending time with this cast at their zany best.

Wealthy Mrs. Emily Kilbourne (Billie Burke) has hired a succession of tramps as household servants. They have a way of running off with the family silver, but when another supposed "tramp" shows up on her doorstep she can't resist hiring him. Wade Rawlins (Brian Aherne) isn't actually a tramp at all, he's a writer who's the victim of car trouble, but he soon finds himself acting as the family chauffeur because why not?

The family also includes perenially exasperated Mr. Kilbourne (Clarence Kolb), son Kane (Tom Brown), daughter Marian (Bonita Granville), and oldest daughter Gerry (Constance Bennett); the equally off kilter family servants include Alan Mowbray as the butler (who constantly threatens to quit!) and Patsy Kelly as the cook with a crush on Rawlins.

There's an immediate spark of attraction between Wade and Gerry which only grows over time, and all manner of funny incidents along the way. Although the script isn't perfect -- among other things, the romance could have used fleshing out -- the entire cast brings their "A" game.

Burke, in fact, was Oscar nominated as Best Supporting Actress, a relatively rare example of a comedic performance receiving its due from the Academy. She's brilliantly daffy; the scene where she dithers over her fish bowl, concerned her fish has pretended not to recognize her, is an absolute riot, as is the scene where she attempts to train Rawlins to serve dinner. I never fail to wonder what anyone that convincing in playing such a giddy role was actually like in real life!

This is a very likeable film with many funny bits, such as Marian's dogs being named Get Off the Rug and You Too. I also love the breakfast sequence where the family makes do with unusual utensils since the last hobo stole the silverware. The slapstick finale, with multiple characters sliding to the ground, is the perfect nutty ending to a fun film.

It's also worth noting that the sets are fantastic; the kitchen area, complete with servants' dining room, is gorgeous, and there's a very funny sequence when the drunken Kolb staggers up the circular staircase and then back down the other side, a case of good set design contributing to how well a film plays. And take a good long look at the amazing Art Deco bar!

I was curious about the golf course seen in the film; according to IMDb, the sequence was filmed at Riviera Country Club.

MERRILY WE LIVE was produced by Hal Roach and directed by Norman Z. McLeod. It was filmed in black and white by Oscar-nominated Norbert Brodine. The supporting cast also includes Ann Dvorak, Marjorie Rambeau, Phillip Reed, Paul Everton, and Willie Best. The running time is 95 minutes.

This is another excellent release from ClassicFlix; the Blu-ray is a terrific print. It comes in an attractive case which includes a photo spread of two black and white stills from the film on the interior. There are no extras.

MERRILY WE LIVE is also available from ClassicFlix on DVD.

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

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Tonight's Movie: The Girl Downstairs (1938) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Franchot Tone and Franciska Gaal star in the romantic comedy THE GIRL DOWNSTAIRS (1938), just released on DVD by the Warner Archive.

Wealthy Paul Wagner (Tone) is a playboy who fancies himself in love with Rosalind Brown (Rita Johnson). Rosalind's father (Walter Connolly) strongly disapproves of Paul and bans him from the house, so Paul devises plan to get in anyway: Disguised as his own chauffeur, he courts the Browns' scullery maid Katarina (Gaal), which enables him to come and go from the Brown mansion, sneaking into the house to see Rosalind via the back stairs.

Katarina quickly falls for Paul, who eventually tries to disentangle himself from Katarina by writing her a letter confessing and apologizing for his bad behavior -- only to later learn she can't read and has no idea what the letter said. Right about that point Paul also starts to realize he's falling for Katarina...only to have Rosalind's father cave in and consent to their engagement. Now what?!

Tone is delightful as Paul, overcoming viewer dismay with Paul's poor choices by dint of his charm, and he's supported by wonderful character actors including Reginald Gardiner, Franklin Pangborn, Reginald Owen, Robert Coote, and Barnett Parker. The story concept allows for some funny sequences, with Paul's long-suffering chauffeur (Coote) constantly handing his uniform over to Paul, and Paul's old friend (Owen) being mistaken by Katarina for Paul.

It's a cute film with a terrific cast, the only fly in the ointment being a disappointing leading lady. Gaal appeared in DeMille's THE BUCCANEER (1938) the same year, and I didn't particularly care for her in either film. Gaal plays "cute" without actually being cute, and it doesn't help that Katarina is written as a rather unintelligent character, doing things like shouting into a phone to be heard because the person on the other end is so far away.

Although it's fun to go along with the fairy tale, I did find myself wondering how much Paul and Katarina would have in common long term, given her dimwitted portrayal. That said, I quite enjoyed the movie, other than simply wishing for another actress opposite Tone, who could retain Katarina's warm heart but not portray her in such a dense fashion. (And what was with the Pippi Longstocking style braids standing straight out from her head?!) The movie works despite Gaal, rather than because of her presence, and I found it worthwhile checking out this lesser-known comedic romance.

THE GIRL DOWNSTAIRS was directed by Norman Taurog. It was filmed in black and white by Clyde DeVinna. The running time is 77 minutes.

The Warner Archive DVD has a good picture and sound. 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.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Lone Star (1952) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Clark Gable and Ava Gardner star in LONE STAR (1952), a drama about Texas statehood. It's available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

LONE STAR is a movie I watched multiple times growing up; since it was an MGM film I believe that would have been on KTTV Ch. 11 out of Los Angeles, to be exact. It wasn't a particularly exciting film -- and being chock full of commercials back then didn't help any -- but I loved watching handsome Gable romancing the beautiful Gardner and turned it on every time it aired. Even the somewhat older 1952 version of Clark Gable still held -- and holds -- appeal for me.

I hadn't seen LONE STAR in many years so I was glad to have the opportunity to revisit it via the Warner Archive's very nice remastered print, initially released several years ago. I was curious how I'd find it, and the answer is pretty much the same: It's kind of a humdrum movie but I still love watching Gable and Gardner. At least now I can enjoy them in a good-looking print, without putting up with a 94-minute movie being edited to also fit lots of Tarn-X commercials into a two-hour time slot!

Gable plays Devereaux Burke, who's recruited by Andrew Jackson (Lionel Barrymore) to convince Sam Houston (Moroni Olsen) to push for Texas statehood.

On his way to Texas, Dev saves the life of Tom Crane (Broderick Crawford), who's being pursued by Indians. The hotheaded Crane strongly opposes statehood, envisioning Texas as a independent country which would take over much of North America, with a powerful role for himself.

Gardner plays a strong-willed Austin newspaper publisher who initially supports Crane but eventually comes around to Dev's way of thinking.

Although the screenplay is by the estimable Borden Chase, screenwriter of RED RIVER (1948), WINCHESTER '73 (1950), and other favorites, it's just not as interesting as it should be. The pace is sludgy, with many scenes of older men sitting around tables arguing, then spots of high-powered action periodically breaking up the talky scenes. The final battle, with Crane's crew going up again Dev and his group of volunteers, trying to break down the wall of a fort, is pretty exciting.

Despite finding it only a so-so film, I'd watch it again, for the same reasons I've watched it several times over my lifetime, and they both have the last initial G. Gardner is stunning and spunky, and she and Gable have some nice scenes together. And I guess I'd watch Clark Gable in pretty much anything.

The supporting cast includes Ed Begley (Sr.), Beulah Bondi, James Burke, Lowell Gilmore, Ric Roman, William Conrad, Russell Simpson, Trevor Bardette, and Harry Woods.

LONE STAR was directed by Vincent Sherman. It was filmed in black and white by Harold Rosson.

The Warner Archive DVD includes the trailer.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Book Review: That Was Entertainment: The Golden Age of the MGM Musical

MGM musicals were among my first great movie loves. At a young age I was captivated by the picture book THE MGM YEARS, with its glossy photos of some of MGM's greatest films, and I began searching for the movies I read about. Some of them were shown in Los Angeles revival theaters, and I was fortunate that my parents were more than happy to take me to see them; others I saw on commercial television in those pre-cable, pre-VHS days.

The books THE MGM STOCK COMPANY and THE MGM STORY, as well as the release of THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! (1974), cemented my passion for classic films in general and MGM musicals in particular. MGM musicals have been a source of endless joy for me over many years of movie viewing.

I was thus happy to learn of a new book on the MGM musical, THAT WAS ENTERTAINMENT: THE GOLDEN AGE OF THE MGM MUSICAL. It's a history by Bernard F. Dick, whose previous books include biographies of Loretta Young and Claudette Colbert; it's been published by the University Press of Mississippi.

Particularly given my love for MGM musicals, I found the book an enjoyable read. THAT WAS ENTERTAINMENT presents biographical material on some of MGM's greatest talents, starting with producer Arthur Freed, and simultaneously also surveys MGM's musicals in considerable detail. For me the book was a sort of "walk down memory lane" of favorite films and the many great talents who worked at the studio.

Judy Garland is the focus of multiple chapters, looking at her films with Mickey Rooney and then the progression of her career at the studio throughout the 1940s. Other chapters focus on topics such as MGM's original musicals, film versions of Broadway shows, Esther Williams' "swim" films, and musical revues. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on MGM's many "biopic" musicals.

I did have some reservations about the writing style and feel the book would have benefited from an editor able to help shape the facts into a smoother read. I was impressed at how much of Arthur Freed's early history, a century or more ago, the author was able to piece together, but at times it was difficult to follow the narrative. As an example, the author theorizes as to Freed's location at the time his father committed suicide in 1917; he then goes on to discuss Freed becoming head of the family, his WWI service, and his brother dying in France in 1918. After that the author returns to 1917 and describes the father's suicide at greater length. I found the non-chronological presentation challenging to follow, which was disappointing as the material itself is valuable.

Similarly, an introductory paragraph on MGM's 1930s musicals starring Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy initially jumps all the way forward to a specific critique of their last film, I MARRIED AN ANGEL (1942), then backs way up to discuss MacDonald's pre-MGM career, describing scenes from her Paramount film ONE HOUR WITH YOU (1932). All in one single paragraph! Similarly, the paragraph introducing the chapter on original MGM musicals begins with AN AMERICAN IN PARIS (1951) winning the Best Picture Oscar but ends up being mainly about the later adaptation of the stage musical BRIGADOON (1954).

The author obviously researched and knows his material, but it feels as though he struggled a bit on how to wrap his arms around the voluminous information he had to share and guide the readers through it in a consistently coherent manner. Trimming out some excess background not germane to the topic could have been part of the solution, such as a paragraph on the SUSPENSE radio show which works its way into a look at Garland's career or a detailed two-paragraph description of the recent Broadway production of AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, dropped into the chapter on original MGM musicals.

I felt that some of the later chapters, for instance on composer biopics, Jane Powell, and Esther Williams, were smoother reads. Also on the positive side, the depth of detail and tendency to dart from point to point make the book feel like chatting with an old friend about a favorite topic, excited to compare notes and cram everything into the conversation! I didn't always agree with the author's thoughts but found it interesting to compare opinions. As someone with a lifelong love for MGM musicals, spending time reading and thinking about them is always a pleasure.

As is the case with many books in today's publishing environment, there was a need for some additional copy editing; several minor goofs crept in. They weren't particularly important but I mention that in the interest of a thorough review. A more glaring error: The introduction states that Betty Garrett sang "I Can Cook, Too" in ON THE TOWN (1949); that song is not in the film.

THAT WAS ENTERTAINMENT is 253 pages long, including footnotes and index. There is a nice insert of 16 glossy pages with photos from MGM musicals.

Thanks to the University Press of Mississippi for providing a review copy of this book.

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