Friday, January 15, 2021

Tonight's Movie: The Shop Around the Corner (1940) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER (1940) is the third and greatest of a trio of Christmas movies released on Blu-ray last month by the Warner Archive.

I previously reviewed the Warner Archive's December releases of IT HAPPENED ON FIFTH AVENUE (1947) and HOLIDAY AFFAIR (1949).

I love THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER, which I wrote about for the ClassicFlix site in 2015; an updated version of that review was published here in 2017.

Since I discussed my feelings about the movie so extensively in that review, rather than "reinvent the wheel" I'd like to suggest readers click over to it for more detailed thoughts on the film itself, as well as a bit of the history of this oft-filmed property, before returning here to continue with the Blu-ray review.

Suffice it to say that this story of two bickering shop workers (James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan) unknowingly falling in love by mail is a superb film, with outstanding performances and the typically lighter-than-air touch by director Ernst Lubitsch. It's a true gem of Golden Era filmmaking.

The excellent acting includes not just the two leads, but Frank Morgan as the store owner and Felix Bressart, Sara Haden, Inez Courtney, Joseph Schildkraut, and William Tracy as his other employees. (Incidentally, last year I got to know Tracy's work better thanks to the ClassicFlix Streamliners releases TANKS A MILLION and HAY FOOT.)  For me every return to this film is 99 minutes of pure movie joy, welcome at Christmastime or any time.

Prior to the Blu-ray release I was fortunate to have last seen the film in 35mm as part of a 2018 Lubitsch tribute at UCLA. That glorious print had such richness and depth that I wrote at the time that if I didn't know better, I'd have guessed it was a nitrate print.

The new Warner Archive Blu-ray beautifully shows off the black and white cinematography of William Daniels and calls to mind how wonderful the film looked at that special screening.  While the print struck me as slightly soft in the earliest scenes, the second half of the film in particular looks superb; the scenes with Morgan in the snow are probably as close as one can get to the 35mm screening.  In fact, I enjoyed noting that reviewer Glenn Erickson mentioned this new Blu-ray "is so rich, it almost feels like 3-D," which is quite similar to how I described my 35mm experience.  It was a joy to watch the film once more via this print.

Like the Warner Archive releases of IT HAPPENED ON FIFTH AVENUE and HOLIDAY AFFAIR, THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER comes with an "old time radio" extra -- in this case, there are actually two separate productions, a short 30-minute 1940 Screen Guild Theater performance with original cast members Stewart, Sullavan, and Morgan, and an hour-long 1941 Lux Radio Theater production with Claudette Colbert, Don Ameche, and Felix Bressart.  I find it a real treat to hear both original and "alternate" casts on radio productions of classic films.  I feel these radio recordings add a great deal of value to the Blu-rays, and I hope the Warner Archive will include more on future releases.

The disc also includes the trailer and the "New Romance of Celluloid" Short THE MIRACLE OF SOUND (1940).

THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER film and Blu-ray release are both highly recommended.

The Warner Archive has a number of additional great Blu-ray releases scheduled for early 2021, and I'm delighted to say I'll be reviewing several of them here, including some wonderful musicals, AFTER THE THIN MAN (1936), SAN FRANCISCO (1936), and Cary Grant in ROOM FOR ONE MORE (1952).  Stay tuned!

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the WBShop or from any online retailers where Blu-rays are sold. 

Monday, January 11, 2021

Tonight's Movie: The Pirate (1948) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

Judy Garland and Gene Kelly star in director Vincente Minnelli's THE PIRATE (1948), now available on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive.

The Warner Archive has been gradually releasing MGM musicals on great-looking Blu-rays; Garland's THE HARVEY GIRLS (1946), reviewed here, was released alongside THE PIRATE, and coming soon are GOOD NEWS (1947) and SHOW BOAT (1951).  This is all wonderful news for classic film fans in general and those who love MGM musicals in particular.

THE PIRATE is a giddy, lusty comedy about Manuela (Garland), a young maiden in the Caribbean (or Caribbean) tropics.  She's just become engaged to the unattractive older mayor (Walter Slezak) of her town, which will improve the ailing finances of her aunt (Gladys Cooper) and uncle (Lester Allen)...but she secretly dreams of the dashing pirate Macoco.

While picking up her wedding trousseau in a port city, Manuela chances to meet Serafin (Kelly), a traveling player. He hypnotizes Manuela as part of his act and learns of her passion for Macoco, whom she's never seen, and impersonates the pirate in order to woo her.  Little does he know that the real Macoco is nearby...

Truth to tell there are numerous MGM musicals I prefer to THE PIRATE, as the plot is not a favorite...but even a "lesser" MGM musical is marvelous entertainment, as testified by the fact my records show I've seen this film at least eight times -- and I suspect the number, going back into my earliest childhood, is actually higher.

It had been a few years since my last viewing, so the movie simultaneously felt familiar and fresh. It's rather fascinating watching it as an adult and realizing the strong sensual undercurrents which went over my head as a child, including a couple moments I'm actually surprised were included.  ("The Pirate Ballet" gets pretty far out there...)  The movie is partly a sendup of swashbucklers and pirate films, but more significantly, it's deeply focused on the dreams and desires of Manuela, who is quite willing to be "sacrificed" to the pirate to save her town -- and save her from marrying the awful mayor.

Garland was at the height of her powers here: A mature actress and comedienne, a powerhouse singer, and also at the peak of her beauty.  She nails every aspect of the role from start to finish, and for my money is the single best thing about the movie.

That's not to short Kelly, who has marvelous dances, including "Nina" and "Be a Clown" along with the previously mentioned "Pirate Ballet." "Be a Clown," a highlight performed with the Nicholas Brothers, is almost exhausting to watch; the physical shape the three men had to be in to perform the moves in that dance blow my mind.  

As much as I've always loved Kelly, his often cocky screen persona has admittedly not worn as well over time as I'd like, but he is just right here for the sly, goofy, and very athletic pirate impersonator.  One also senses the positive feelings between Garland and Kelly, who had previously costarred in Kelly's first film, FOR ME AND MY GAL (1943).

The gorgeous colors photographed by Harry Stradling (Sr.), ranging from Caribbean (or Caribbean) village pastels to the striking red and black Pirate number, are quite dazzling as seen via Blu-ray.  The movie is a visual treat, and the great "MGM sound," including Conrad Salinger's orchestrations of the Cole Porter score, are also shown off via the excellent soundtrack.

The supporting cast for this 102-minute movie also includes Reginald Owen, George Zucco, and Mary Jo Ellis.

The Blu-ray carries over extensive extras from the film's original DVD release, including a commentary track by John Fricke, audio outtakes, a Pete Smith short, and a Tom and Jerry cartoon.  The disc also includes a "making of" featurette.

Musical fans will definitely want to add this lovely Blu-ray to the shelf.  Recommended.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the WBShop or from any online retailers where Blu-rays are sold. 

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Rio Grande (1950) - An Olive Signature Blu-ray Review

Director John Ford's RIO GRANDE (1950) is now available on Blu-ray from Olive Films.

RIO GRANDE is not just one of my favorite Westerns, I have listed it as one of my Top 30 favorite films of all time. Olive's new Blu-ray release more than does it justice.

RIO GRANDE is a film which, like Ford and Wayne's SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON (1949), is so close to my heart that it's challenging to write about.  (I did so briefly early last year for Classic Movie Hub.) I pretty much know the film by heart, yet it never gets old; instead it becomes dearer with each viewing, as once more I spend time with old friends.

RIO GRANDE is the final film in Ford and Wayne's informal "Calvary trilogy" which began with FORT APACHE (1948) and continued with SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON. Some readers are no doubt aware that RIO GRANDE was part of a deal Ford, Wayne, and O'Hara made with Republic Pictures president Herbert J. Yates, who agreed to fund the making of THE QUIET MAN (1952) if they first made this Western.

Lt. Col. Kirby Yorke (Wayne) commands a calvary troop at a fort near the Rio Grande.  To Yorke's surprise, his son Jeff (Claude Jarman Jr.), whom he's not seen in 15 years, shows up among a group of new recruits.  The young man enlisted after flunking math at West Point and losing his chance for a commission.

Yorke is even more surprised when his estranged wife Kathleen (Maureen O'Hara) arrives at the fort shortly after Jeff, hoping to change Jeff's mind about frontier military service and buy him out of his enlistment. Jeff refuses to quit and gradually impresses his father with his character.  Meanwhile, Jeff's parents begin moving toward reconciliation, including coming to terms with an incident which drove them apart during the Civil War.

James Kevin McGuinness based his excellent screenplay on a Saturday evening post story by James Warner Bellah.  The combination of writing, directing, and acting ensures that every character is beautifully sketched, from the leads down to small roles like gallant Captain St. Jacques (Peter Ortiz) and kindly Dr. Wilkins (Chill Wills).

Aside from Wayne and O'Hara, whose touching performances here are among their very best, I especially love Ben Johnson and Harry Carey Jr. as Troopers Tyree and Boone.  My entire family can quote some of their lines, and their horsemanship is beyond compare.  (For anyone who may not already know, yes, that's really Johnson, Carey, and Jarman doing the "Roman riding" early in the movie, not stuntmen!)

I also love that the movie is filled with music from the Sons of the Pioneers, including soloist Ken Curtis, which is not only beautiful but works to reveal character and move the story forward, notably during "I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen" and "My Gal is Purple."  The latter song, with Wayne standing at the river contemplating at sundown, is one of my favorite scenes in any movie.

There's also plenty of action to offset the more tender musical moments; the final charge on a church to rescue a group of children, all set to the incessant clanging of the church bell, is superbly staged.

The supporting cast includes Victor McLaglen, J. Carrol Naish, Grant Withers, Karolyn Grimes, Fred Kennedy, Steven Pendleton, and Alberto Morin.

RIO GRANDE was filmed in black and white by Bert Glennon. Much of the film was shot on location in Utah and Arizona.  The movie runs 105 minutes.

This Olive Films Signature Edition Blu-ray, with plentiful extras, is limited to 3500 units.  It looks and sounds wonderful.

Olive's extensive extras include an audio commentary track by Nancy Schoenberger; multiple featurettes, with Claude Jarman Jr., Patrick Wayne, Leonard Maltin, and Mark Wanamaker (the latter on the Sons of the Pioneers); a visual essay by Tag Gallagher; and the trailer. 

I found Jarman's recollections particularly enjoyable.  Jarman's interview with Ford ("Can you ride a horse?") sounded very much like a story William Wellman Jr. recently shared with some bloggers, including myself, on a Zoom chat about being cast in THE HORSE SOLDIERS (1959); it was likewise a very short discussion where Wellman was asked the same question.  Ford spent such little time with Wellman that he was quite surprised to later learn he'd been cast in a small part.

Both RIO GRANDE and Olive's Blu-ray are most highly recommended.

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

Tonight's Movie: The Mirror Crack'd (1980) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

THE MIRROR CRACK'D (1980), featuring Angela Lansbury as the British sleuth Miss Marple, is the final film in a trio of Agatha Christie movies recently released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber.

I previously reviewed the new Blu-rays of DEATH ON THE NILE (1978) and EVIL UNDER THE SUN (1982).

As it happens, THE MIRROR CRACK'D was the only one of the movies I'd seen previously, in a theater when it was initially released.  I remembered going to see it at Christmastime, which the IMDb release date confirms.  

I hadn't seen it in the years since, so watching it now was almost like seeing a new movie; I only remembered the central fact-based plot device, which will not be revealed here.

The film is set in 1953 England, where a U.S. film production has descended onto the small country village of St. Mary Meade.

The filmmakers include star actress Marina Rudd (Elizabeth Taylor), making a comeback after prolonged ill health; her husband, director Jason Rudd (Rock Hudson); Jason's quiet assistant, Ella (Geraldine Chaplin); producer Martin Fenn (Tony Curtis); and Martin's actress wife -- and Marina's rival -- Lola Brewster (Kim Novak).

A "meet and greet" cocktail party for the village citizenry is held at a local estate prior to the commencement of filming.  Partway into the event a young woman, Heather Babcock (Maureen Bennett), who had been chatting with Marina collapses and dies after drinking a daiquiri.

Inspector Craddock (Edward Fox) is soon on the case; in between interviewing the involved parties he pays visits to his aunt, Miss Jane Marple (Lansbury), to discuss the latest clues.

A fun opening sequence sets the tone for what's to come, as a black and white mystery film being screened by the local vicar breaks just as the inspector is about to reveal the murderer.  Miss Marple confidently tells the rest of the audience who did it based on clues she spotted in the movie.  It's a nice bit of place-setting as a "real-life" mystery then begins unfolding for Miss Marple to solve.

THE MIRROR CRACK'D is entertaining, if lacking in subtlety.  The performances by Taylor, Novak, and Curtis are what might be described as loud and garish, going over the top as Hollywood types, while the rest of the lead actors play in a quieter range.

Some of the fun is seeing cast members who worked together on past projects reunited here; it's especially nice to see Hudson and Taylor playing husband and wife again, close to a quarter century after GIANT (1956). 

Lansbury had played Taylor's sister at MGM in NATIONAL VELVET (1944) 36 years before.  She and Taylor both look older than their real ages in this. Taylor was only 48 when this was released but doesn't look particularly well, though that's admittedly in keeping with her character.  Some of the problem may have been what seems to be a poorly fitted wig and costuming which seems appropriate for an older woman.

Lansbury is intentionally made up to look elderly, though in reality she was about 54 or 55 at the time this was filmed.  She looks far older in this than she appeared in her later TV series MURDER, SHE WROTE (1984-1996).

Regarding cast member reunions, it was also fun to see former Universal stars Hudson and Curtis sharing the screen; I was musing that it was three decades after they each had small parts in WINCHESTER '73 (1950).

Another fun bit is spotting a young Pierce Brosnan in a scene appearing opposite Marina when the movie is filming.

Like the other Christie films I've recently reviewed, THE MIRROR CRACK'D isn't really great cinema, but it's a pleasant watch.  I liked it the best of the three recently viewed Christie films.

THE MIRROR CRACK'D runs 105 minutes.  It was directed by Guy Hamilton and filmed by Christopher Challis.

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray includes a new audio commentary track by Howard S. Berger, Steve Mitchell, and Nathaniel Thompson; a trailer and TV spots; and half a dozen trailers for additional films available from Kino Lorber.  The case includes reversible cover art.

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

Saturday, January 09, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Dragnet (1954) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

DRAGNET (1954), directed by and starring Jack Webb, was recently released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber.

I unabashedly love this movie, which I first reviewed here as part of a Webb blogathon in 2014 and which I was fortunate to see again in 35mm at the Noir City Hollywood Festival in 2018.

I grew up watching Webb's TV shows, and if anything this film version of DRAGNET is even more fun, with a fantastic cast and delightful dialogue.  

Regarding the dialogue, one of my favorite moments comes when Richard Boone, playing Captain Hamilton, comments regarding a murder victim: "The first two [shots] cut him in half," to which Webb's Sergeant Joe Friday responds, "The second two turned him into a crowd." It makes me laugh every time. Sure, it's macabre, but how can you not love Jack Webb deadpanning a line like that?

The movie begins with a murder before the credits, quickly followed by Sgt. Friday and his partner, Officer Frank Smith (Ben Alexander), meeting with Boone's Captain Hamilton and Dennis Weaver as Captain Lohrman to discuss the case.  From there we follow the investigation step by step.

The cast is one of the film's deep pleasures, with Boone particularly fun as Friday's boss.  Great character faces pop up in almost every scene: Virginia Gregg.  Olan Soule.  James Griffith.  Stacy Harris.  Virginia Christine.  Herb Vigran.  William Boyett.  James Anderson.  Ross Elliott.  Vic Perrin.  Art Gilmore.  Dub Taylor.  Harry Lauter.  

The list of familiar actors goes on and on, even including Disney production designer Harper Goff, who was the production designer on Webb's PETE KELLY'S BLUES (1955), and trumpeter Dick Cathcart.

When I saw the movie at the Noir City Fest, costar Ann Robinson, who plays Officer Grace Downey, was present and recounted that she read for the role after someone else was cast; she was thrilled when they decided to pay off the other actress and gave her the role.  I only wish she'd been onscreen longer as she's quite engaging.  

And then there's the movie's look!  Downtown Los Angeles, complete with Yellow Cars...Googie designs...the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History...the cars...it's Mid-Century heaven.

This film is just great fun.  I think I've enjoyed it more on each viewing. DRAGNET is highly recommended for anyone who loves Webb police procedurals or a great look at '50s Los Angeles.

For more on this very enjoyable film, please check out a 2019 review by my friend Caftan Woman.

DRAGNET was filmed in WarnerColor by Edward Colman.  It runs 88 minutes.

The Universal Vault DVD I saw back in 2014 was of variable quality, with some scenes looking great and others...not so much.  I'm glad to report that Kino Lorber's Blu-ray looks consistently good from start to finish.

The Blu-ray disc, utilizing a brand-new 2K master, includes both the 1.75 and 1.37 versions of the film.  I watched the 1.75 version for this review.

Toby Roan's commentary track is packed with info on Jack Webb and the history of DRAGNET on radio and TV, the many character actors in the film, and the movie's locations.  For those wanting even more, check out Toby's 2014 post on the film at The Hannibal 8.

Additional Blu-ray extras are the DRAGNET trailer and a trailer for the crime film THE SLEEPING CITY (1950), which is also available from Kino Lorber.  I reviewed THE SLEEPING CITY here last summer.

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

Around the Blogosphere This Week

Miscellaneous bits of news and fun stuff from around the internet... 

...Photos of Netflix's proposed remodel of Hollywood's Egyptian Theatre have been released.  I'm glad they're putting money into the theater, though I do have concerns about reduction in seating capacity.  Changes will include removing the theater balcony, which was actually not added until 1998.  The theater first opened in 1922.

...UC Santa Barbara has acquired the American Radio Archives, a treasure trove of classic radio memorabilia previously housed at the Thousand Oaks Library.


...Charlie Largent has reviewed the Inner Sanctum Mysteries Blu-ray collection for CineSavant at the Trailers From Hell site.

...Thanks to my friend Jane for passing on this terrific article on Bonita Granville from the Desert Sun. Granville had a multifaceted life beyond her excellent acting career.

...UCLA has announced that alumna May Hong HaDuong will be the new director of the UCLA Film & Television Archive beginning in February.  She is only the fourth director in the archive's history. 

...I was sorry to hear that the 101 Coffee Shop in Hollywood, where I've enjoyed breakfast, has permanently closed due to COVID lockdowns.  It was located in the bottom of the Best Western Plus Hollywood Hills Hotel on Franklin Avenue.

...Matthew Jacobs muses on Christmas without movie theaters at the Huffington Post.

...More good stuff ahead from Kino Lorber: It's been announced that O.S.S. (1946), starring Alan Ladd and Geraldine Fitzgerald, is coming to Blu-ray "soon," from a brand-new 2K master.  I reviewed the film close to a decade ago after watching it on VHS and look forward to seeing this new print.

...Karie Bible's "Hollywood Kitchen" series returns to the Internet on January 17th, featuring Cary Grant's Apple Pie.

...The Los Angeles Dodgers family has suffered two huge losses in a matter of days.  Vin Scully's wife Sandra died on January 3rd due to ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease).  They were married 47 years.  She was 76...I was quite emotional hearing the news that longtime Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, who worked for the organization for 71 years, passed on January 7th at 93. He's part of so many Dodgers memories! He had been in poor health in recent weeks, but it's a joy to know he was there last October when the Dodgers won the World Series for the first time since 1988, when he was manager.  Buildings and stadiums around Los Angeles lit up blue in his honor Friday night. 

...Notable Passings: Diana Millay of TV's DARK SHADOWS is reported to have passed on at 85.  Like so many actors, she's someone I first knew from my favorite TV show, MAVERICK; she was in the episode "Dodge City or Bust" (1960), seen here with MAVERICK star Jack Kelly...Tanya Roberts of CHARLIE'S ANGELS and the 007 film A VIEW TO A KILL (1985) has died of an infection at the age of 65.  She starred in the first movie I ever saw with my husband, which was, believe it or not, THE BEASTMASTER (1982).  Her death came shortly after she was mistakenly said to be dead but had not yet actually passed...Director Michael Apted, whose credits included COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER (1980) and the James Bond film THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH (1999), has passed away at 79...Barbara Shelley of Hammer horror films has passed away at 88.

...Legendary Disneyland photographer Renie Bardeau has died at 86. He shot many well-known pictures throughout the park's history, including Walt Disney with Mickey Mouse on a fire engine in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle and the "Footsteps" photo of Walt walking across wet early morning pavement behind the castle.  Renie was honored with a tribute window on Disneyland's Main Street USA, appropriately located above the Camera Shop. His death closely follows the passing of longtime Disneyland exec Ron Dominguez, reported here last week.

...For additional recent links of interest to classic film fans, please check out my January 2nd roundup.

Have a great week!

Friday, January 08, 2021

Tonight's Movie: USS Christmas (2020)

Epiphany may be over, but I think I'll keep watching Hallmark Christmas movies till Candlemas...or Lent...or maybe all year long! I've been enjoying them more than ever this year, and they're certainly a good tonic for all the bad news in the world, which I think we've had just about enough of for the past year.

USS CHRISTMAS (2020) is a Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Channel film with a unique setting, a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier which goes here by the fictional name USS Polaris.

The story takes place during a Christmastime "Tiger Cruise," a short repositioning trip which allows the families of crew members to experience a taste of life on an aircraft carrier.

Maddie Contino (Jen Lilley), a North Carolina newspaper reporter, goes on the cruise with her mother, Elizabeth (Barbara Niven).  Maddie's sister Amelia (Stefanie Butler) is a Navy pilot who serves on the ship.

One of Amelia's colleagues, Lt. Billy Jenkins (Trevor Donovan), is the son of an old friend of the family, Captain Chet Jenkins (Brett Rice).  Billy helps Maddie track down leads for a story she's inspired to write after visiting the carrier's archives. 

Along the way Maddie and Billy fall for each other, but Maddie is wary of a serious relationship, having grown up with her father away on Navy duty much of the time and ultimately losing him in a training accident.  Will true love find a way?

I felt this film, written by Andrea Canning and directed by Steven R. Monroe, was slightly weaker in quality than some Hallmark Christmas films I've seen this season, but the enjoyable setting helps make up for a somewhat more lightweight script. It was fun to see a bit of life aboard a ship, and frankly I would have been happy to see even more of those types of scenes.

The film also has appealing actresses in Lilley and Niven. Donovan isn't as warm as some Hallmark actors, but his persona admittedly fits the role of a hotshot Navy pilot, and his character unbends enough that his last couple scenes are touching.  He also has good chemistry with Lilley; their characters seem genuinely comfortable hanging out together and opening up about their lives.

While a majority of Hallmark films are shot in Canada, USS CHRISTMAS was filmed in North and South Carolina, including the Battleship North Carolina, which is a museum, and the Wilmington Railroad Museum. I found an article on the locations which provides more information for those who may be interested.

USS CHRISTMAS was a pleasant 84 minutes and time well spent as we head into the second week of January.  Happy New Year!

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

A Tribute to Loretta Young

Note
: This is an updated version of a Loretta Young tribute which first appeared at the ClassicFlix site in 2014. I also previously honored Young on her birthday here in 2012 (updated in 2013); in 2014 I covered a celebration of the centennial of her birth.

Please click any hyperlinked film title below for a full-length review.

It's hard to believe that several years have now passed since the centennial of actress Loretta Young was celebrated with an exhibit at the Hollywood Museum, a ceremony at the Palm Springs Historical Society, and the rededication of Young's namesake memorial chapel at the Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs, Young's longtime home. Young was also the Star of the Month on Turner Classic Movies. These were all most deserved honors for an Oscar-winning actress and television pioneer.

Young was born in Utah on January 6, 1913. Her family moved to Southern California, where the pretty young girl began appearing in silent films as a child. By the time Loretta was in her teens she had emerged as the star among a family of actors which included her older sisters Polly Ann Young and Sally Blane; the extended Young clan would later grow to include Sally's husband, actor-director Norman Foster, and half-sister Georgiana's husband, Ricardo Montalban.

For years Loretta was known best for her later, "ladylike" roles in films such as the Christmas perennial THE BISHOP'S WIFE (1947) and on her long-running TV series. The availability of Young's pre-Code work, thanks to DVDs and Turner Classic Movies, has in recent years allowed viewers to see her career in a new context.

The young Loretta was a riveting stunner, with her performances in films such as TAXI! (1932) and MIDNIGHT MARY (1933) conveying a glamour and steam quite different from her later, better-known roles. Historian-critic Mick LaSalle, author of the pre-Code history COMPLICATED WOMEN, refers to these roles as the "Drinking-Smoking Loretta," while historian Jeanine Basinger wrote in THE STAR MACHINE, "This is not our mothers' Loretta Young." Getting to know Young's early work is fascinating, giving viewers a more complete picture of her many career accomplishments.

As her career moved on throughout the '30s, Loretta starred in everything from romantic comedies to a DeMille epic to biopics such SUEZ (1938) and THE STORY OF ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL (1939). The '40s saw her starring in more comedies, interspersed with wartime dramas such as the hard-hitting CHINA (1943) and LADIES COURAGEOUS (1944).

Several of Young's best films came in the late '40s, including the Orson Welles film THE STRANGER (1946), the previously mentioned classic THE BISHOP'S WIFE, and her Oscar-winning role as THE FARMER'S DAUGHTER (1947), not to mention another Oscar-nominated role in COME TO THE STABLE (1949). 

In the early '50s Loretta left films behind for television, producing her own long-running, Emmy-winning series and helping to blaze a trail for other female television executives.

After her TV series ended in the early '60s Loretta retired from the screen, returning to make a pair of TV-movies in the late '80s, CHRISTMAS EVE (1986) and LADY IN THE CORNER (1989).

Loretta Young passed away on August 12, 2000. Her family maintains an official Facebook page and Instagram account honoring her life and career.

There are several good books on Loretta Young, including her authorized biography FOREVER YOUNG by Joan Wester Anderson; her daughter Judy Lewis's memoir UNCOMMON KNOWLEDGE; and a biography by Bernard Dick, HOLLYWOOD MADONNA.

In the years since this column was first written, some of Loretta's best films have become available for the first time on DVD and Blu-ray, including THE FARMER'S DAUGHTER (1947), which holds up today as a wonderful movie with a charming performance by Loretta. Another favorite which has finally been released in the U.S. is RACHEL AND THE STRANGER (1948), costarring William Holden and Robert Mitchum; RACHEL was worth the wait, as it featured 12 minutes of restored footage, allowing the film to be seen in its original release version for the first time in decades.

Here are a dozen recommended Young titles which showcase her varied films and performances over a couple of decades:

TAXI! (1932) - Viewers who only know Loretta from her later roles are sometimes surprised by the pre-Code roles she enacted in her late teens and early 20s. Here she more than holds her own opposite James Cagney; in their nightclub scene she's impossibly cool and glamorous. It's hard to believe Loretta was just 18 when this was filmed.

EMPLOYEES' ENTRANCE (1933) - One of the most infamous of all pre-Code titles, Loretta plays the young wife of Wallace Ford, a woman so desperate for a job she gives in to spending a night with the amoral head of the store (Warren William).

MIDNIGHT MARY (1933) - My favorite Young film, in which Loretta plays a gangster's moll who wants to go straight for love of a lawyer (Franchot Tone). Ricardo Cortez is the villain who won't let go. Loretta even plays herself as a child in this remarkable piece of pre-Code cinema, directed by William Wellman.

THE CRUSADES (1935) - Loretta was in the early stages of her secret pregnancy with Clark Gable's child while making this very entertaining Cecil B. DeMille epic, but the stress she was under does not appear onscreen in her performance as the brave Princess Berengaria of Navarre, wife to King Richard of England (Henry Wilcoxon). It's hard to think of another actress of the era who could have carried off this role, equal parts nervy and soulful. Loretta's absence from the screen after THE CRUSADES was explained as illness, and she later was said to have "adopted" daughter Judy, a charade which allowed both Young and Gable to preserve their careers -- and hence also provided Young with the financial means to raise her child.

CAFE METROPOLE (1937) - One of five films of the '30s which teamed Loretta with Tyrone Power; was there ever a more gorgeous screen team? This well-written romantic comedy has an original, complicated plot to go with a perfect cast.

THE STORY OF ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL (1939) - Loretta plays Mabel, the beloved deaf wife of Alexander Graham Bell (Don Ameche), in a very entertaining film which is one of my personal favorites. It's especially fun to see Loretta's real-life sisters, Polly Ann Young, Sally Blane (born Elizabeth Jane Young), and Georgiana Young, as her onscreen siblings.

A NIGHT TO REMEMBER (1943) - One of my favorite Young comedies, in which she's the giddy wife of a mystery writer who insists they move into a Greenwich Village apartment with lots of "atmosphere." Young and costar Brian Aherne have excellent chemistry in this underrated, very enjoyable film.

ALONG CAME JONES (1945) - Another comedy, this time a Western, with Young playing opposite Gary Cooper, who's mistaken for a dangerous outlaw. Young's dazzled, thunderstruck "Thank you!" after Cooper kisses her is the film's best moment.

THE STRANGER (1946) - A change of pace, with Loretta starring opposite Orson Welles and Edward G. Robinson in a nail-biting suspense film which was also directed by Welles. Loretta comes to the realization that she has just married an infamous Nazi war criminal who's masquerading as a teacher in a small Connecticut town.

THE BISHOP'S WIFE (1947) - There's little that needs to be said about this Christmas perennial, which costarred Cary Grant, David Niven, and Monty Woolley, but I strongly encourage anyone who hasn't seen it, or perhaps hasn't watched it recently, to take another look. Pure Christmas movie magic.

COME TO THE STABLE (1949) - This isn't a Christmas film, yet it feels like one, as nuns Young and Celeste Holm relocate from France to America and struggle to build a hospital. It's to Young and Holm's credit that the movie is sweet but not cloying. The movie was nominated for seven Oscars, including Young's second Best Actress nomination.

CAUSE FOR ALARM! (1951) - A fun example of what some call "housewife noir," as Loretta comes to realize her husband (Barry Sullivan) is insane and has framed her for his murder. Young's in virtually every scene of this low-budget yet entertaining film.

This post is adapted from an article originally published by ClassicFlix in 2014.

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Sense, Sensibility & Snowmen (2019)

The Christmastide spirit continues here on Epiphany Eve with the Hallmark Channel's SENSE, SENSIBLITY & SNOWMEN (2019).

Erin Krakow (WHEN CALLS THE HEART) and Kimberley Sustad (CHRISTMAS BY STARLIGHT) play sisters Ella and Marianne Dashwood, who run a party planning business in Chicago.

Marianne is down-to-earth and practical, while the creative Ella is more free-spirited, leaving Marianne uncertain how committed Ella is to the business they inherited from their parents.

Ella's personality also initially clashes with an important new client, Edward Ferris (Luke Macfarlane), who has recently taken over running his family's Ferris Wheel Toys.  They first meet taking in a piece of modern art, to which they have very different reactions.

As they work with one another, Ella helps Edward open up to spontaneous fun and enjoying the Christmas season, while Edward gives Ella ideas on how to move forward creating concrete plans she can share with Marianne to grow their business.

I quite enjoyed this lighthearted film.  The plot is fairly simple, but it's played with charm by the leads.  The bubbly Krakow has very good chemistry with both Macfarlane, as the buttoned-up exec who learns to unbend, and with Sustad as the more uptight, responsible Marianne.  I frequently found myself smiling, which in and of itself seems like a good endorsement.

(But what's with Krakow's pronunciation of "Wabash"?  Maybe someone on the production staff should have Googled it...)

The script by Samantha Herman, based on a novel by Melissa de la Cruz, lightly riffs on Jane Austen character names and themes -- for instance, Marianne's new boyfriend is named Brandon (played by Jason McKinnon), Edward's assistant is Charlotte (Shiraine Haas), and Ella's competition is Lucy Steele (Anna Van Hooft) -- but just enough to provide fun moments of recognition without overpowering the rest of the story.

There's a lot of fun to be had as Ella and Edward gradually realize how their different personalities complement one another, and there's an enjoyable secondary romance between Marianne and Brandon.  I mark this one down as another winner from Hallmark.

This 83-minute film was directed by David Winning and filmed in Vancouver by Tyler Walzak.

It's available on DVD.

Monday, January 04, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Holiday Affair (1949) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

The Warner Archive has recently released three very special Christmas movies on Blu-ray.

I reviewed one of those films, IT HAPPENED ON FIFTH AVENUE (1947), a few days ago, and will be reviewing THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER in the near future.

The third film in the trio is the wonderful HOLIDAY AFFAIR (1949), starring Robert Mitchum and Janet Leigh.

Like IT HAPPENED ON FIFTH AVENUE, HOLIDAY AFFAIR's reputation has grown recent years thanks in part to regular airings on Turner Classic Movies.  Hopefully this new Blu-ray release will further cement its reputation as a top holiday film.

The 22-year-old Leigh plays Connie Ennis, a war widow raising a young son, Timmy (Gordon Gebert), in New York City.

Connie is being patiently courted by Carl (Wendell Corey), an attorney, when a series of unexpected meetings with department store clerk Steve Mason (Mitchum) turn her life upside-down.

Steve falls in love with Connie and proposes to her, knowing full well that she's just accepted Carl's proposal.  Connie must decide between Carl, who offers predictability and security, or the rather unpredictable Steve, who will soon be leaving to work at a boat-building business he co-owns in Balboa, California.

There's much more to the plot, with Timmy and an electric train both playing key roles, but this is perhaps a film it's better for a first-time viewer to see without knowing too much and just let the beautifully scripted story unfurl "cold."  My husband describes the movie as going in unexpected directions and I think that's apt; you think it will zig and instead it zags!

The wonderful screenplay was by Isobel Lennart, based on a story by John D. Weaver.  I've seen a majority of Lennart's films and they always entertain, starting with her very first screenplay for THE AFFAIRS OF MARTHA (1942).  I find HOLIDAY AFFAIR especially well-written.

One of the things I most appreciate is that there is conflict, but there are no villains.  All of the characters are good people with human flaws, with outstanding performances by everyone in the cast.

For instance, Carl is actually quite a nice man; he's simply not a man Connie loves passionately, as she did her late husband.  Even Steve acknowledges that Carl, his competition, is a nice guy.

For her part, Connie struggles with her emotions and perhaps shouldn't have accepted Carl, recognizing her feelings for him were not deeply romantic.  "Forever" is a long time to live with someone you simply like a lot, who can buy you a house in the suburbs.  

Steve perhaps might not always make the most sensible decisions, spending most of his cash to buy a child an expensive train or abruptly proposing to Connie at what might not be the most appropriate moment, but he's sincerely motivated by love in both cases.  

On the up side, Steve is a perceptive man who might be just what Connie needs to put some spark back in her life and help her stop fearing the future.  As he reminds her, "Every telegram is not from the war department."  That sentiment is borne out, twice over, at the end of the movie.

Little Gordon Gebert gives a charming, natural performance in a large role as Timmy.  I was fortunate to see him speak as a guest at the 2015 Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival. He happily recalled his experiences as a child actor, describing Mitchum as "a pro...could really work with other people."

He also fondly recalled Leigh's friend Elizabeth Taylor visiting the set and marveling at her beauty.

As I recounted at the time of the festival, Gebert had good experiences and his parents carefully managed his money, which paid for his college education and his first home.  He became a professor of architecture in New York.

I want to note that this was one of six films Leigh appeared in in 1949. I've seen five of the six films and am particularly impressed with her work in both this and ACT OF VIOLENCE (1949), especially given her young age and that she had only been in movies for two years at that point. She's real, appealing, and nuanced in both roles.

The excellent HOLIDAY AFFAIR cast is rounded out with wonderful performances by Griff Barnett and Esther Dale as Connie's in-laws; Henry O'Neill as a department store owner; and Harry Morgan as a cop in a Christmas Day scene which is not only very funny, it also does a beautiful job carrying the plot forward.

The movie was directed by Don Hartman and filmed in black and white by Milton Krasner. The running time is a perfectly paced 87 minutes.

The Warner Archive Blu-ray is a lovely print with excellent sound. The disc also includes the trailer and the 1950 Lux Radio Theater production with Robert Mitchum and Laraine Day. I love that the Warner Archive included radio shows on each of its three Christmas Blu-ray releases.

Highly recommended.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the WBShop or from any online retailers where Blu-rays are sold. 

Sunday, January 03, 2021

Tonight's Movie: All I Desire (1953) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

ALL I DESIRE (1953) is one of a pair of Barbara Stanwyck marital melodramas now available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber.

The other film, THERE'S ALWAYS TOMORROW (1956), was reviewed here in September.  Both movies were directed by Douglas Sirk.  

I hadn't seen ALL I DESIRE since 2010 and enjoyed giving it a fresh look after so many years.  It features a top cast in a thought-provoking story.

The screenplay by James Gunn and Robert Blees, adapted by Gina Kaus from the Carol Ryrie Brink novel STOPOVER, tells the tale of Naomi Murdoch (Stanwyck), who abandoned her husband Henry (Richard Carlson) and three children in small-town Wisconsin in order to pursue her dream of life on the stage.

Naomi has been gone a decade when she receives a letter from her daughter Lily (Lori Nelson, who passed away last summer) asking her to come home for Lily's senior class play.

Naomi's career has never amounted to much and she's struggling financially, but she impulsively decides to spend her savings on upgrading her wardrobe and returns home, giving the impression she's a successful theatrical star.

Lily is thrilled to see her long-lost mother, while Henry and oldest daughter Joyce (Marcia Henderson) are stunned.  Joyce harbors bitterness over her mother's abandonment, which pushed family responsibilities on Joyce at a young age, while the surprised Henry gradually warms up to the idea that Naomi is back in their lives.

Youngest son Ted (Billy Gray) is ambivalent, but rises to his mother's defense when she's attacked by her one-time flame Dutch (Lyle Bettger), with whom she was having an extramarital romance before leaving town years before.
 
It's a rather somber yet engrossing story of a deeply flawed woman, who -- perhaps initially pushed by financial necessity -- struggles to rebuild relationships.  She ultimately seems to be genuinely recommitted to her family, but there were definitely questions left in my mind about whether she could ever be truly happy with any choice she made; that said, the financially stark, lonely future awaiting her living on her own was doubtless a powerful motivator toward reconciliation.

The scripting and depictions of the daughters struck me as particularly realistic. Joyce is resentful and wary of being wounded; she's so tightly wound that at times she inadvertently takes her tension out on her charming fiance, Russ (Richard Long).  She gradually unbends toward him, if not her mother, but one wonders if a thaw might be coming there as well.

The younger Lily, on the other hand, has concocted a dream image of her mother, excusing her behavior and even wanting to emulate her.  She imagines her mother giving her a start in a theatrical career, not realizing that rather than being a great lady of the dramatic stage, her mother is playing the lower half of vaudeville bills, if she's lucky enough to be employed.

Carlson is quite good as a man still quietly carrying a torch for his wife despite having had to weather the scandal of Naomi's abandonment and raise his children alone.  I think I appreciated his performance more on this viewing.  One hopes that Naomi will prove worthy of his trust.

Maureen O'Sullivan is fine in a small role as a teacher who loves but cannot have Henry, a fact she's smart enough to recognize.  Her attempt to smooth the way for Naomi and Henry to resume their marriage, because she wants Henry to be happy, is touching.
  
The film was beautifully shot in black and white by Carl Guthrie, with many of Sirk's trademark views looking at characters through doors and windows.

As I noted in 2010, the film somewhat foreshadows Sirk's great ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS (1956), examining the impact of both children and society on their mother's love life.  It's an engrossing and worthwhile 80 minutes.

Back in 2005 I linked to a Jeanine Basinger essay on ALL I DESIRE and THERE'S ALWAYS TOMORROW, and it seems appropriate to share it again, given that both titles were jointly released on Blu-ray.

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray features a commentary by the always-interesting Imogen Sara Smith and the trailer.  A trailer gallery for half a dozen additional films available from Kino Lorber is also included.

For those who enjoy the work of Douglas Sirk, another of his films, TAZA, SON OF COCHISE (1954), was released by Kino Lorber earlier in 2020 and reviewed here last summer.

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

Newer›  ‹Older