Thursday, February 28, 2019

Revisiting Cinderella (1950) at the El Capitan Theatre

This evening I headed back to the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood for a screening of Disney's classic CINDERELLA (1950).

Almost exactly a month ago I was at the El Capitan for SLEEPING BEAUTY (1959), and tonight was another wonderful evening at the theater enjoying CINDERELLA, which like SLEEPING BEAUTY was shown as part of the theater's current series of animated Disney classics.

Cinderella herself was on hand to greet children in the lobby before the film:


It was quite delightful watching her interact with the little ones.


Cinderella also did a short dance to "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes" on stage just before the movie started; here she is near the end, as confetti rained down on the audience!


More confetti!


The El Capitan is always such a fun experience, with some real old-fashioned showmanship in the presentation of the films. All that was missing tonight was the organist, but at least we got to hear him play an extra-long concert last month!

It had been nearly seven years since I first saw CINDERELLA at the El Capitan in 2012, and my memories had faded enough that tonight's viewing was very fresh. I deeply appreciated the Mary Blair art and the animal animation all over again! The comedy bits with the animals are just delightful.

The enthusiastic audience laughed appreciatively all the way through the movie and applauded both when Cinderella produced the matching glass slipper and again at the end.

For more of my thoughts on CINDERELLA, please visit my 2012 review.

It was an absolutely lovely night! I can't recommend seeing Disney films at the El Capitan highly enough.

Previously: Tonight's Movie: Lady and the Tramp (1955) at the El Capitan Theatre; Tonight's Movie: Cinderella (1950) at the El Capitan Theatre; Tonight's Movie: Peter Pan (1953) at the El Capitan Theatre; Tonight's Movie: Mulan (1998) at the El Capitan Theatre; Tonight's Movie: The Little Mermaid (1989) at the El Capitan Theatre; Tonight's Movie: Mary Poppins (1964) at the El Capitan Theatre; Tonight's Movie: Sleeping Beauty (1959) at the El Capitan Theatre; Tonight's Movie: Swiss Family Robinson (1960) at the El Capitan Theatre; Tonight's Movie: Alice in Wonderland (1951) at the El Capitan Theatre; Tonight's Movie: The AristoCats (1970) at the El Capitan Theatre; Tonight's Movie: The Incredibles (2004) at the El Capitan Theatre; Revisiting Enchanted (2007) at the El Capitan Theatre; Revisiting Sleeping Beauty (1959) at the El Capitan Theatre; plus Tonight's Movie: The Jungle Book (1967) at the TCM Classic Film Festival.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Tender Comrade (1943) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Ginger Rogers stars in the World War II melodrama TENDER COMRADE (1943), released on DVD last year by the Warner Archive.

Ginger plays Jo Jones, who as the movie opens is reunited with her husband Chris (Robert Ryan), who has just one night to spend with her before getting on a train to ship overseas.

Jo works at Douglas Aircraft and gets the idea that if she and three coworkers (Ruth Hussey, Kim Hunter, and Patricia Collinge) with husbands in the military pool resources they could share a house rather than renting small rooms or apartments. They're even able to hire a housekeeper (Mady Christians), a German immigrant whose husband is fighting in the U.S. Army.

For the most part the women get along and support one another, although they're all quite different. Young Doris (Hunter) is a newlywed whose husband (Richard Martin) shipped out immediately after the ceremony; the older Helen (Collinge) has both a husband and son serving; and cynical Barbara (Hussey) goes out on dates despite being married, which creates some conflict with Jo. Jo, meanwhile, eventually gives birth to a baby boy.

The movie somewhat calls to mind an earlier Rogers film, STAGE DOOR (1937), which similarly featured a group of women living in a big old house; while STAGE DOOR is funnier, both films confront some major life issues, including death. That said, TENDER COMRADE is the weaker of the two films.

I love Rogers, Hussey, and homefront dramas but find TENDER COMRADE an imperfect exemplar of the WWII morale-raising film. It's certainly watchable -- this was my second viewing, having previously seen it in 2006 -- but it also has issues, being weighted down by flashbacks, overly talky speeches, and heart-tugging moments which are too overtly maudlin.

The film does have wonderful moments, especially thanks to Ryan; Ginger's farewell to him at the train station was particularly well done, as they chat while she tries not to tear up, breaking down after the train is gone. At the same time there are also scenes, such as Jo reading a letter for Helen or talking to her baby after receiving a telegram, that the viewer starts to think will never end!

One of the nice things about TENDER COMRADE is that it was the film which gave Robert Ryan his big break; he'd been toiling in bit parts and small roles since 1940. Ryan's biographer J.R. Jones recounted that Ryan showed up to read for a role in TENDER COMRADE (1943); there were "about a hundred" other actors at the audition, but Ginger Rogers slipped the producer a note which said, "I think this is the guy." The producer later gave the note to Ryan, and he kept it for the rest of his life.

A fun bit of trivia: On a whim I searched Google for the address of the rental home in the movie, 957 West Adams, since I recognized the address as being in the neighborhood where my daughter went to college at USC in Los Angeles. I was amazed when the search pulled up a photo of the house actually used in the movie! It seems rather remarkable that a house's actual address was used. Here's a photo; the caption indicates it has been demolished. It was the home of Isidore Dockweiler.

TENDER COMRADE was directed by Edward Dmytryk from a script by Dalton Trumbo. It was filmed in black and white by Russell Metty. The running time is 102 minutes.

The supporting cast includes Richard Gaines, Jane Darwell, and Mary Forbes.

The Warner Archive DVD print has some scratches, including a particularly noticeable "blip" near the end of the movie, but otherwise it's perfectly watchable, with good sound. 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.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Tonight's Movie: My Name is Julia Ross (1945) - An Arrow Academy Blu-ray Review

The classic thriller MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS (1945) has just been released in a terrific Blu-ray edition by Arrow Academy.

I first saw this film in 2010; after the passage of nearly a decade, it was a pleasure to revisit the movie via this sparkling Blu-ray. The movie couldn't look any better, and it's presented with terrific extras.

Given the bloated running times of so many movies today, modern filmmakers would do well to study this 65-minute mystery and learn that "less can be more."

Director Joseph H. Lewis, cinematographer Burnett Guffey, and a fine cast headed by Nina Foch collaborated on a gripping, efficiently told gem which is over and done in not much more than an hour, yet leaves the viewer completely satisfied with an excellent cinematic experience.

As the film begins, young Julia (21-year-old Foch) is facing a gloomy, rainy day in London. She's jobless, behind on her rent, and lovelorn, as her crush Dennis (Roland Varno) has mailed her an announcement that he's marrying someone else.

Her luck seems to turn, though, when she answers a job agency ad and finds a job as live-in personal secretary to Mrs. Hughes (Dame May Whitty) and her son Ralph (George Macready). What's more, Dennis turns up, decidedly not on his honeymoon...it seems his bride-to-be got tired of listening to him talking about Julia all the time.

That evening Julia moves into Mrs. Hughes' London home and goes to sleep...then wakes up two days later locked in a bedroom in a mansion on the coast of Cornwall. Her wardrobe is different, she's wearing a wedding ring, and everyone insists on calling her Marian.

Try as she might, Julia can't find a way to escape, despite telling everyone she meets "My name is Julia Ross!" The villagers all think she's mentally disturbed and ignore her. An attempt to mail a letter to Dennis in London is thwarted when Ralph replaces the letter with blank paper, but perhaps he's not as clever as he thinks...

Foch is onscreen for a majority of the film's running time, and she keeps viewers interested as we watch the progression of her emotions, from anxiety to joy, confusion to desperation to steely resolve and back to desperation. Julia may initially seem mild-mannered but she proves herself to be a gutsy woman dealing with a bizarre situation few could imagine. Foch, incidentally, would later be well-known here in Southern California teaching acting for decades at USC.

Whitty is particularly good, veering from being a sweet little old lady to a cold-hearted killer. She's especially chilling near the end of the film when she gives her son directions on how to deal with Julia.

 Macready is also effective as the character who is the one who's truly mentally disturbed, with a penchant for slashing things up with a knife. The cast also includes Doris Lloyd, Anita Sharpe-Bolster, Queenie Leonard, and Evan Thomas.

The excellent extras include a commentary track by the Film Noir Foundation's Alan K. Rode, a 22-minute featurette with Nora Fiore (also known as The Nitrate Diva), and the trailer. Rode is always a personable, interesting speaker, and his commentary includes a great deal of information on cast members and filmmakers, particularly the fascinating Foch, as well as thoughts on the film's style. Fiore is likewise an articulate speaker who discusses the evolution of Lewis's career along with analysis of the film and its connection with women's changing roles at the end of WWII.

The first pressing from Arrow will also include reversible case cover art and a collector's booklet with an essay by Adrian Martin; these items were not included in the advance copy I reviewed.

Arrow previously released another film directed by Lewis, TERROR IN A TEXAS TOWN (1958), which I reviewed in 2017. Arrow has also just released a Blu-ray of another unusual mystery helmed by Lewis, SO DARK THE NIGHT (1946); like MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS, the new Blu-ray has several interesting extras, including a commentary track by Farran Smith Nehme (the Self-Styled Siren) and Glenn Kenny. I reviewed a DVD release of the film SO DARK THE NIGHT in 2014.

MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS is a recommended release.

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

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Hide-Out (1934) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Robert Montgomery and Maureen O'Sullivan star in HIDE-OUT (1934), a charming love story which has long been a favorite of mine. I'm delighted that it's now available on DVD thanks to the Warner Archive.

HIDE-OUT was written by the top team of Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, based on a story by Mauri Grashin. It's the tale of racketeer Lucky Wilson (Montgomery), a rather dissolute, high-living playboy who unexpectedly finds himself "marooned" in the country with a family of farmers as he recovers from a gunshot wound.

Lucky is initially somewhat annoyed by his rustic surroundings, but he soon finds himself warming to farm life thanks to the kindness of his hosts, the Millers (Whitford Kane and Elizabeth Patterson), their young son Willie (Mickey Rooney), and most especially lovely young Pauline (O'Sullivan).

The ostensibly hardened Lucky struggles to understand the feelings he's developing for Pauline, especially when he finds himself unable to take advantage of her when they're alone in a house due to a rainstorm. Suddenly caring more about her than his own wants? He has no idea how to explain himself to her, let alone to himself! His tongue-tied babbling is rather adorable.

Lucky realizes that before he can plan a life with Pauline, as he suddenly wants to do, he's got to clean up the mess he left behind in New York. That may happen sooner than he thinks, as a pair of police detectives (Edward Arnold and Edward Brophy) are hot on his tale.

HIDE-OUT is an utterly delightful film thanks to a fine story and script and the strong playing of the cast. The "fish out of water" and "tough guy redeemed by the love of a good woman" angles may seem old hat today, but it's important to remember that they were still fairly original ideas in the early '30s. What's more, the film is quite well scripted, giving Montgomery the basis for an excellent, believable performance, as he gradually reveals the good man hiding inside the jerk. Montgomery's last couple of scenes with O'Sullivan are particularly special, as he becomes emotional at the prospect of parting from her.

By chance I've seen O'Sullivan in two films in a week's time, having seen her last weekend in THE TALL T (1957). It's completely believable that Lucky would fall for the innocent young girl with the shining, trusting eyes. O'Sullivan is a perfect match for Montgomery, leaving no doubt that he'll be coming back to her and the warmth of her family.

The other actors are all tops, making this film a highly enjoyable 81 minutes. I've been waiting for this film to come out on DVD for years and am delighted it's finally happened! (Crossing my fingers that FUGITIVE LOVERS, in which Montgomery starred with his lifelong friend Madge Evans, won't be far behind...)

HIDE-OUT was directed by W.S. Van Dyke, just after he directed THE THIN MAN (1934). It was filmed in black and white by Ray June and Sidney Wagner.

HIDE-OUT was remade a few years later as I'LL WAIT FOR YOU (1941), starring Robert Sterling and Marsha Hunt. The early scenes depicting Lucky's background were condensed in I'LL WAIT FOR YOU, with the film running eight minutes shorter than the original. I'LL WAIT FOR YOU is quite enjoyable thanks to the cast and I recommend it, though my favorite of the two films is the original movie. I'LL WAIT FOR YOU was released on DVD by the Warner Archive several years ago.

The HIDE-OUT print has some occasional streaks but nothing serious. There are no extras.

HIDE-OUT is one of the films which made me the Robert Montgomery fan I am today. Recommended.

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.

Director-Choreographer Stanley Donen Passes On at 94

The great director-choreographer Stanley Donen has died at the age of 94.

Donen, a key figure in movie musical history, directed and/or choreographed a great many wonderful films, including the movie I might call my all-time favorite, SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS (1954). (It's in a three way tie with MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS and THE SOUND OF MUSIC.) If you could bottle the pure joy SEVEN BRIDES has given me over the years you could make a fortune!


Donen's directing credits included three films codirected with Gene Kelly, ON THE TOWN (1949), the immortal SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952), and IT'S ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER (1955)...



...ROYAL WEDDING (1950) with Fred Astaire and Jane Powell...


...the charming, underrated GIVE A GIRL A BREAK (1953) with Debbie Reynolds, Bob Fosse, and Marge & Gower Champion...


...FUNNY FACE (1957) with Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn...the good feelings of "Bonjour, Paree!" have been part of my life since earliest childhood.


There's also the marvelous THE PAJAMA GAME (1957), with Doris Day and John Raitt, codirected with George Abbott...


...INDISCREET (1958) and CHARADE (1963), teaming Cary Grant with Ingrid Bergman and Audrey Hepburn, respectively...and quite a few more very enjoyable titles.



That's not even mentioning the memorable choreographic work he contributed to films such as COVER GIRL (1944), ANCHORS AWEIGH (1945), LIVING IN A BIG WAY (1947), THE KISSING BANDIT (1948), and even a dance sequence in a terrific episode of the TV series MOONLIGHTING, "Big Man on Mulberry Street" (1986).




Obituaries have been posted by Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Los Angeles Times.

Donen's work contributed significantly to making me the classic film and musicals fan that I am today. I've read many tributes saying how much joy Donen's films gave viewers, and indeed, I keep reaching for that word myself as I write about him. I can't think of a better legacy.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Quick Preview of TCM in May

The May schedule is now available for Turner Classic Movies!

Paul Newman is the May Star of the Month. 25 Newman films are scheduled to play over the course of five Wednesday evenings in May.

I'm particularly enthused about the Thursday evening Spotlight series, which will focus on World War II "Homefront" films set in the U.S. and Britain. Some very fine films will be shown, ranging from well-known titles like SINCE YOU WENT AWAY (1944) and MRS. MINIVER (1942) to somewhat lesser-known, yet excellent films such as MILLIONS LIKE US (1943), THE HUMAN COMEDY (1943), and THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU (1944).

Titles such as JOURNEY FOR MARGARET (1943), TONIGHT AND EVERY NIGHT (1945), and HOPE AND GLORY (1987) depict living through the London Blitz, while homefront comedies, including THE MORE THE MERRIER (1943) and THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN'S CREEK (1944), will receive attention as well. It's a series I find particularly interesting, and I'll have more details to share here as May approaches.

For good measure, Tuesday evenings in May feature a fantastic lineup of screwball and romantic comedies, and Robert Osborne's May 3rd birthday will be celebrated with "Robert Osborne's Picks." I'm particularly delighted by the inclusion of THE TIME, THE PLACE AND THE GIRL (1946) in the Osborne tribute, as it introduced me to the lilting tune "Oh, But I Do" by Arthur Schwartz and Leo Robin.

The May Noir Alley films are NIGHTMARE ALLEY (1947), WHITE HEAT (1949), KEY LARGO (1948), and DEAD RECKONING (1947). Tyrone Power and Coleen Gray are seen at the left in NIGHTMARE ALLEY.

Saturday mornings will feature Westerns starring Tom Keene, Whip Wilson, and Tim Holt, along with films in the Falcon series.

Mother's Day, on May 12th, will feature several well-known films about mothers, and Memorial Day on May 27th features a lineup of war movies. Additional May themes include lady gangsters, detectives, Western musicals, truck drivers, and multi-story "omnibus" films.

There will be multifilm tributes in May honoring Gary Cooper, Robert Mitchum, Nelson Eddy, Orson Welles, Laurence Olivier, Joseph Cotten, and Maureen O'Sullivan (seen at right).

TCM will definitely be the channel to be watching 24/7 this May! I'll have more details on the schedule posted here in late April.

In the meantime, Fredric March will be the March Star of the Month, with Greta Garbo honored in April.

Update: For more on TCM in May 2019, please visit TCM in May: Highlights and TCM in May: WWII Homefront Films.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Latest Westerns Column Up at Classic Movie Hub

I have a new Western Roundup column now posted at Classic Movie Hub!

This month's post is on "Unexpected Western Leads," including Franchot Tone, seen here in a still from TRAIL OF THE VIGILANTES (1940).

There are several more actors featured in my column, including Dennis Morgan and Dick Powell. I hope everyone will enjoy reading it, and I'd love to hear thoughts on additional "unexpected" Western stars in the comments.

Please click on over to Classic Movie Hub to check it out. Thanks for reading!

Previous Classic Movie Hub Western Roundup Column Links: June 2018; July 2018; August 2018; September 2018; October 2018; November 2018; December 2018; January 2019.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Tonight's Movie: El Paso (1949) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

John Payne and Gail Russell star in the Paramount Pictures Western EL PASO (1949), recently released on Blu-ray and DVD by Kino Lorber.

By coincidence this weekend I revisited not one but two John Payne films released in 1949; in addition to EL PASO, which I first reviewed here in 2011, I also saw THE CROOKED WAY (1949) at the UCLA Festival of Preservation. The films were released four months apart, THE CROOKED WAY in April 1949 and EL PASO that August.

In EL PASO Payne plays Clay Fletcher, a lawyer newly returned to Charleston after fighting for the South during the Civil War. Clay heads to El Paso on a legal errand for his grandfather, Judge Fletcher (H.B. Warner), hoping it will also give him the opportunity to reunite with Susan Jeffers (Russell). Clay has fond memories of Susan, who moved away during the war.

Clay discovers Susan's father, a judge (Henry Hull), is kept drunk and ineffective by Bert Donner (Sterling Hayden) and his crony Sheriff La Farge (Dick Foran), who run the town and are plotting to take over local farms. Clay initially deals with the crooks in a court of law, but as they become increasingly violent, he switches to meting out justice with a gun.

The excellent cast also includes a nice turn by Eduardo Noriega as Don Nacho Vazquez, an ethical man who comes to Clay's aid and later trains him to use a gun. Familiar faces such as Gabby Hayes, Mary Beth Hughes, Catherine Craig (Mrs. Robert Preston), Arthur Space, Bobby Ellis, Steven Geray, Lane Chandler, and Don Haggerty fill out the large cast.

Despite a great group of actors, it must be admitted that EL PASO is a fairly sludgy 103 minutes. It starts out fairly well, as Clay arrives in El Paso and meets Susan and Vazquez, and the first hour or so is relatively entertaining. As the plot becomes increasingly dark, the final 30 or 40 minutes slow to a crawl, relieved only by a very well-staged climactic gun fight during a dust storm.

Payne and Russell do a nice job with what they have to work with, though Russell's role tends to fade into the woodwork a bit in the last half of the film. Payne's motivations are well laid out, but the script does Hayden no favors. While Hayden is typically excellent in Westerns, he's surprisingly bland here in an underwritten role. The movie would have benefited from editing to pare down the slow-moving story yet at the same time could have used more character development for Payne's chief adversary.

EL PASO was directed by Lewis R. Foster from his own screeplay, based on a story by Gladys Atwater and J. Robert Bren. It was filmed in Cinecolor by Ellis W. Carter.

Having previously seen EL PASO in a very iffy print, I was delighted to have the chance to see it again in such good condition. A couple of scenes early on have some streaks, but most of the film looks excellent. The Cinecolor print I previously saw looked quite muddy and brown, but this print is much more attractive, bringing out the best in Cinecolor's unique look. The print is described by Kino Lorber as a "brand-new HD master from a 4K scan of the 35mm original 2-color negative & positive separation."

Extras include a commentary track by Toby Roan, who is always an informative pleasure to listen to, and a Kino Lorber Westerns trailer gallery. The case also includes reversible cover art.

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

Tonight's Movie: The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part (2019)

It's hard to believe it's been exactly half a decade since the dazzlingly colorful and creative THE LEGO MOVIE (2014) debuted.

I wrapped up my holiday weekend theatrical viewing today with the brand-new sequel, THE LEGO MOVIE 2: THE SECOND PART (2019). While the new film may not have the surprises of the original film or the heart and wickedly sharp humor of THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE (2017), it's still entertaining and worthwhile, on a level with the most recent film in the series, THE LEGO NINJAGO MOVIE (2017).

Without wanting to get too specific, THE LEGO MOVIE 2: THE SECOND PART builds on the relatively profound big "reveal" at the end of the first film, which gives this movie a different and interesting dynamic. The stylized back-and-forth melding of different "universes" in this film reminded me vaguely of SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE (2018).

This time around Bricksburg, home of our heroes, has been attacked by aliens who are attracted to anything "cute." This results in Bricksburg turning into a dirty, gritty place so as not to lure the destructive monsters. When Emmet (Chris Pratt) can't resist building an ultra-cute house for Lucy (Elizabeth Banks) -- complete with a room for Unikitty (Alison Brie) and an entire room filled with toasters! -- the bad guys soon arrive to attack.

The monsters, headed by Queen Watevra Wa'Nabi (Tiffany Haddish), kidnap Lucy and Batman (Will Arnett), so it's Emmet to the rescue, soon aided by a new friend, Rex Dangervest (also voiced by Pratt).

The movie has some interesting dramatic themes; I loved the concept of the trauma of ending up under the dryer and the fact not all the characters are exactly what we first think. There are also lots of amusing and visually attractive moments and a good score, including a reprise of the first film's catchy, Oscar-nominated "Everything is Awesome."

As with the other films, much of the appeal here is that it's a children's film made for adults, who will enjoy and be moved by the film on a different level from younger viewers.

THE LEGO MOVIE 2: THE SECOND PART was directed by Mike Mitchell from a screenplay by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated PG. I'm not sure why; destruction of a Lego city?

For some fun additional reading, Brian Truitt of USA Today has ranked the four LEGO films. I completely agree with his assessments.

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