Sunday, November 27, 2022

Tonight's Movie: Lady on a Train (1945) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

One of my most favorite Deanna Durbin films, LADY ON A TRAIN (1945), has just been released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber.

Although Kino Lorber did not follow its first volume of Deanna Durbin films, released in 2020, with a second set, I'm thrilled that LADY ON A TRAIN has been released as part of Kino Lorber's Dark Side of Cinema IX collection.

LADY ON A TRAIN is probably the Durbin film I've seen most; I first reviewed it here in 2009 and have seen it several times since, including on a big screen at the 2017 Noir City Film Festival.

Another of my repeat viewings came in 2015, when I reviewed the film for the ClassicFlix site; I shared an updated version of that review here in 2018. Clearly, having seen it so many times, this is a film I love and recommend!

I've been thrilled to see this film appear regularly in the Christmas movie rotation at Turner Classic Movies over the last few years. As I wrote in 2018, "...it's a giddy mashup of murder mystery, screwball comedy, and musical, with the added plus of being set during the Christmas season."

Given how frequently I've written about this film over the years, I'll keep my comments here relatively brief and refer readers to the links above for plot specifics and my analysis of the film. Suffice it to say that Deanna is absolutely wonderful playing a "Nancy Drew" type character who happens to witness a murder when her train stops at a station.

As she attempts to bring the killer to justice, she interacts with a variety of entertaining characters played by David Bruce, Dan Duryea, Patricia Morison, Edward Everett Horton, Ralph Bellamy, Allen Jenkins, George Coulouris, and more. Viewers will also find plenty of familiar faces in small roles, including William Frawley, George Chandler, Jane Adams, Barbara Bates, and Sam McDaniel.

And of course -- Deanna sings! She has a wonderful variety of songs in this film, ranging from "Silent Night" to "Night and Day" to "Give Me a Little Kiss."

It's a giddy, fast-paced 94 minutes directed by Deanna's future husband, Charles David, and filmed in lovely black and white by Woody Bredell. Deanna's wardrobe by Howard Greer is a stunner. The background score was composed by Miklos Rozsa.

The only extras on this nice-looking disc are trailers, but having this film on Blu-ray is pleasure enough for me. A couple of the scenes are momentarily soft, which I seem to also recall from the DVD, so that might be inherent to the source material. Overall it looks and sounds great.

I've previously reviewed the other two films in this set, TANGIER (1946) and TAKE ONE FALSE STEP (1949), and I particularly enjoyed the former title, a "B" thriller starring Maria Montez. Both films make fun "extras" to watch along with the gem of this collection, LADY ON A TRAIN.

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

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Tonight's Movie: Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022)

We often enjoy going to the movies on "Black Friday," and this year's post-Thanksgiving movie was GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY (2022).

The film was a sequel to KNIVES OUT (2019), which I saw for the first time earlier this month; in GLASS ONION Daniel Craig returns in his role as Southern detective Benoit Blanc alongside an entirely new cast of characters. 

The movie is only scheduled to run theatrically for a single week, after which it will begin streaming on Netflix around Christmas.

As the movie begins, a group of old friends who consider themselves "disruptors" in their various fields are invited to a luxury weekend on a Greek island with ultra-wealthy Miles Bron (Edward Norton).

The guests include a politician (Kathryn Hahn of WANDAVISION), a model/fashion designer (Kate Hudson), a scientist (Leslie Odom Jr.), a YouTube personality (Dave Bautista), and Miles' ex-partner (Janelle Monae).

Also along for the weekend is Benoit Blanc, who is disconcerted to learn that despite receiving an invitation, he was not actually invited by Miles.

The highlight of the weekend is intended to be a game in which Miles is "murdered" and his guests solve the mystery...no one will be surprised to learn that someone turns up dead for real, leaving Blanc to solve the crime.

I'll leave off with the plot there so as not to share any spoilers, but in a nutshell I found GLASS ONION quite entertaining. Truth to tell, I think I enjoyed it more than KNIVES OUT, which was fun but had a few problematic issues, including a plot device that made no sense, a gross "tell" that a character is lying, and the gratuitous exploitation of a teen character.

GLASS ONION, on the other hand, is pure Agatha Christie high style, with a "unique" detective solving a mystery among the rich and famous. At first the Poirot-like Blanc seems to be surprisingly dumb, perhaps rusty after being locked down due to Covid, but things soon get more interesting as onion-like layers of plot and character are gradually peeled back.

The actors are all quite good as their "types," with particular kudos to Monae (HIDDEN FIGURES) as the spurned partner no one can believe has had the temerity to actually show up for the weekend. Monae is powerful as a woman who initially seems quietly mysterious, and she only gets better from there.

There are also some fun cameos which won't be revealed here; these scenes caused some nice chuckles as well as a bit of emotion, as a couple of them have left us since filming their scenes.

It's not a perfect film; like Christie mysteries, the characters are more chess pieces than truly fleshed-out characters, though the actors do their best with the material. I was also really expecting a tag scene to explain away something startling which happens in the final action sequence, and its absence made the film a tad less believable.

That said, the script by director Rian Johnson has some fun stuff in it, including commentary on celebrity and those who are, as they say, "very online." The writing for Craig, Monae, and Hudson's characters is particularly good; Hudson is strongly reminiscent of her mother, Goldie Hawn, in this one, and in my view that's only to the good. 

Overall the film is a solid effort, and I had an enjoyable afternoon watching it.

GLASS ONION runs a long but fairly well-paced 140 minutes. It was filmed by Steve Yedlin.

Parental advisory: This film is rated PG-13. It's not particularly graphic or foul-mouthed -- the original film seemed worse in both respects -- but at the same time there's enough that this film is not for children.

A trailer is here.

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...Happy Advent! I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. As I mentioned last weekend, I had an unusually heavy work schedule earlier this month. That was immediately followed by a major computer crash to start Thanksgiving week! All my important things were safely backed up, but anyone who's been through a computer changeover -- which is probably everyone -- especially when it's unexpected, knows how much work it is setting up a new computer! That work has included trying to reconstruct the links I'd saved under a Chrome tab for this roundup which were lost in the crash. Things should be getting back to normal here soon.

...Upcoming 2023 Blu-ray releases from Kino Lorber Studio Classics include IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE (1958) and THE BRIDGES AT TOKO-RI (1954). Recently announced Kino Lorber release dates: MARCO POLO (1962) starring Rory Calhoun for February 7th and WHITE WOMAN (1933) with Carole Lombard for February 14th.

...The big entertainment news of the past week was the very sudden Sunday night replacement of Disney CEO Bob Chapek with past CEO Robert Iger. (The stunned reactions from fellow Disney fans on Twitter that evening were very entertaining!) I have mixed feelings -- it's important to remember that while Chapek has made dubious decisions, Iger started the ball rolling for many things which are currently problematic, including Disney+, which is leaking money. We'll see how things play out.

...On a lighter Disney+ note, the brand-new THE GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY HOLIDAY SPECIAL (2022) is a zany delight. Drax (Dave Bautista) and Mantis (Pom Klementieff) decide to cheer up Peter (Chris Pratt) at Christmas...by going to earth and bringing back Kevin Bacon!

...Agatha Christie's play THE MOUSETRAP, which has had a continuous theatrical run in London for seven decades, will be arriving on Broadway for the first time in 2023. This year's Christie-like movie mystery, SEE HOW THEY RUN (2022), was a period piece centered around THE MOUSETRAP; my review of the film may be read here.

...Recent CineSavant Blu-ray reviews by Glenn Erickson at Trailers From Hell include WARNING SHOT (1967) from Viavision/Imprint, EL VAMPIRO NEGRO (1953) from Flicker Alley, and Kino Lorber's French Noir Collection.

...This week Jessica reviewed UP IN ARMS (1944) at Comet Over Hollywood. I saw that film, which stars Danny Kaye and Dinah Shore, countless times on local TV growing up and have always had a soft spot for it.

...Amazon has announced plans to release eight to ten theatrical films each year.

...A new documentary, 'TIS THE SEASON: THE HOLIDAYS ON SCREEN (2022), coproduced by Tom Hanks, debuts on CNN on November 27th.

...For years I've used the "reference version" of IMDb for desktop, which has enabled me to easily research via easy-to-read pages packed with information and low on graphics. I'm dismayed that the reference version appears to no longer be available for actors and other filmmakers, though at the moment it still exists for the films themselves; instead there are giant graphics and the actual information is now hidden behind cascades of dropdown menus. It's rather like the way Turner Classic Movies ruined their website a couple years ago, changing it to slow-loading giant pictures and graphics to look "pretty" on phones but making it hard to have much content on the screen. For the first time ever I'm now sometimes using Wikipedia in order to easily eyeball credits lists. It's a shame that such an incredibly important reference site is being destroyed in this manner.

...Notable Passings: Mickey Kuhn, who played Beau Wilkes as a little boy in GONE WITH THE WIND (1939), has died at the age of 90. It's believed he was the last surviving featured player in the film. Other memorable roles included Kirk Douglas as a teenager in THE STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS (1946) and the younger version of Montgomery Clift's character in RED RIVER (1948)...Irene Cara, who starred in FAME (1980) and sang the memorable title song, has died at 63.

...For additional recent links of interest to classic film fans, please check out my November 12th roundup.

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Happy Thanksgiving!

Best wishes to all for a very happy Thanksgiving!


Here's a fun photo of Janis Paige, who recently celebrated her centennial birthday.

Happiest wishes and thanks to all my readers on this special day.

Previous Hollywood Thanksgiving photos: Jeanne Crain, Angela Greene, Ann Blyth, Marsha Hunt, Hedy Lamarr, Phyllis Thaxter, Loretta Young, Alan Ladd, and Ginger Rogers.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

A Birthday Tribute to Ellen Drew

Actress Ellen Drew was born in Kansas City, Missouri, on November 23, 1914.


Drew was discovered when waitressing at C.C. Brown's, a Hollywood Boulevard ice cream parlor which I loved visiting as a child, and signed by Paramount Pictures.


Drew's birth name was Esther Loretta Ray, and in her early film appearances she was billed by her nickname, Terry Ray, before eventually switching to Ellen Drew.


Drew is a particular favorite of mine, an interesting blend of beauty, sweetness, and intelligence. She graced films from 1936 to 1957, appearing in a handful of additional TV episodes before retiring from acting in 1961.


Favorite Drew film appearances include CHRISTMAS IN JULY (1940), in which she played the supportive sweetheart of Dick Powell.


She was superb as the alcoholic wife of Thomas Gomez in JOHNNY O'CLOCK (1947), which reunited her with Dick Powell:


THE SWORDSMAN (1948) had a weak leading man in Larry Parks, but Drew surely never looked lovelier onscreen than she did in this Technicolor film.



She appeared opposite John Payne in a good film noir, THE CROOKED WAY (1949):


My favorite Drew performance is as the wife of Joel McCrea in STARS IN MY CROWN (1950). The movie reunited her with McCrea, whom she appeared opposite in REACHING FOR THE SUN (1941) nearly a decade earlier; they play a preacher and his wife who are raising an orphaned nephew (Dean Stockwell).



She was also excellent as spunky Nan, Randolph Scott's ranching neighbor in MAN IN THE SADDLE (1951).


Drew was married and divorced four times. She died in Palm Desert on December 3, 2003, and was survived by a son from her first marriage, along with five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.


For anyone interested who might want to hunt for a back issue, there's a very lengthy profile of Drew by Jeff Gordon in the January 2002 issue of Classic Images. It's filled with photos and is the most complete account I've ever read of Drew's life and career.


Ellen Drew films reviewed at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings: INTERNES CAN'T TAKE MONEY (1937), THIS WAY PLEASE (1937), THE BUCCANEER (1938), CHRISTMAS IN JULY (1940) (also here), CHINA SKY (1945), JOHNNY O'CLOCK (1947), THE SWORDSMAN (1948), THE CROOKED WAY (1949), DAVY CROCKETT, INDIAN SCOUT (1950), STARS IN MY CROWN (1950), MAN IN THE SADDLE (1951) (also here).

Additional notable titles in which Drew appeared include IF I WERE KING (1938), SING, YOU SINNERS (1938), FRENCH WITHOUT TEARS (1940), BUCK BENNY RIDES AGAIN (1940), TEXAS RANGERS RIDE AGAIN (1940), THE MAD DOCTOR (1940), THE MONSTER AND THE GIRL (1941), REACHING FOR THE SUN (1941), OUR WIFE (1941), MY FAVORITE SPY (1942), ISLE OF THE DEAD (1945), THE MAN FROM COLORADO (1948), THE BARON OF ARIZONA (1951), THE GREAT MISSOURI RAID (1951).

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Tonight's Movie: Les Girls (1957) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

Gene Kelly's final MGM musical, LES GIRLS (1957), is available on a beautiful Blu-ray from the Warner Archive Collection.

I missed the chance to review the LES GIRLS Blu-ray when it was first released in 2018 and was very glad to have the opportunity to do so now. Like most other Warner Archive releases, this disc continues to be readily available years after release.

As I've shared here before, MGM musicals were one of my main gateways into loving classic films. I saw LES GIRLS several times in my early years, including a big screen showing at the Vagabond Theater in Los Angeles.

Like another of the late MGM musicals, GIGI (1958), I liked it well enough "back in the day," though the film's sophistication was somewhat lost on me as a teenager. I've come to appreciate both films much more on closer acquaintance over the years.

LES GIRLS concerns Barry Nichols (Kelly), an American who performs a musical act in postwar Europe with a trio of lovely ladies: British Sybil (Kay Kendall), French Angele (Taina Elg), and American Joy (Mitzi Gaynor).

As the movie opens, Sybil and Angele, who haven't seen each other in years, meet in court for a libel case regarding a book authored by Sybil. Through a series of flashbacks we see the story of professional and personal complications told from the divergent perspectives of Sybil, Angele, and Barry.

LES GIRLS has been compared to the Japanese classic RASHOMON (1951) inasmuch as we see the story from a variety of viewpoints; indeed, an extra wanders outside court with a none-too-subtle sandwich board reading "What is Truth?" Can they all be telling the truth simultaneously?

The movie is a curious blend of the previously mentioned sophistication with old-fashioned notions about women and careers; Sybil and Angele's suitors (Leslie Phillips and Jacques Bergerac) would just as soon their loves quit work -- or at least traveling for it -- and settle down to marriage.

That story contrasts with the film's stylish telling, directed by George Cukor and filmed in CinemaScope by Robert Surtees, with a new score by Cole Porter. John Patrick's screenplay for this 114-minute film was based on a story by Vera Caspary, author of the novel which inspired the film LAURA (1944); the script has a nice sense of humor mixed with a couple moments of genuine poignance.

The costumes by Orry-Kelly are especially dazzling; Kay Kendall's first court outfit alone is worth watching the film, and I also loved the ladies' black gowns worn with long white gloves and slanted wide-brimmed hats. Fabulous! His Oscar for Best Costume Design for this film was well deserved.

It's not a perfect film, including that the Porter songs are somewhat weak; I feel Porter's score for Fred Astaire's final MGM musical, SILK STOCKINGS (1957), was much better. That said, Kelly and Gaynor's dancing of Jack Cole's choreography in "Why Am I So Gone About That Gal?" dazzles, and Kelly's "Rope Dance" with Taina Elg is unique.

I also noticed this time around that LES GIRLS reinforces the fact that, like musical favorite Deanna Durbin, Kelly often played what might be described as a "pill," though his character is forgiven due to so much audience goodwill. Kelly's story arc in many of his musicals is his arrogance being humbled by true love.

Each of the ladies is wonderful in her own way. Elg (who was actually Finnish) is quite glamorous and acquits herself well, while Kendall seems to get the most critical acclaim for her comedic chops; that said, I especially like Gaynor's down-to-earth portrayal of a quietly confident woman. It's interesting that she alone doesn't have the chance to tell her side of things, but she probably would have immediately set everything to rights in a no-nonsense way, and we wouldn't have a movie!

For more on this film, I'd like to direct readers to a thoughtful 2016 take on it from the "Self-Styled Siren," Farran Smith Nehme, for Film Comment.

Disc extras carried over from the original DVD release of nearly two decades ago are a 2003 featurette on Cole Porter featuring Taina Elg; the cartoon FLEA CIRCUS (1954); and the trailer. As with the Warner Archive's other Blu-ray releases, a song selection menu is a very welcome addition to the Blu-ray.

The Warner Archive's Blu-ray releases of MGM musicals over the last few years have been a real joy, and I hope there will be more in the future. I'm crossing my fingers for Fred Astaire's YOLANDA AND THE THIEF (1945)...

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

Christmastime 2022 Arrives at Disneyland

The Christmas season arrived at the Disneyland Resort on Veterans Day, and we were there for both celebrations.


Veterans were honored with a special flag ceremony at Town Square next to the Disneyland Christmas tree.


The ceremony was so picked I didn't attempt to get photographs! It was heartwarming to see such enthusiasm for our nation's veterans.


The Christmas season is always beautiful at Disneyland, but particularly since 2020, going "home for Christmas" to Disneyland is more special than ever.



We paused for a few minutes at the Main Street U.S.A. tribute windows for the late Imagineers Marc and Alice Davis. As I mentioned here a few days ago, Alice has recently passed away at the age of 93. Her accomplishments included creating the wardrobes for both the It's a Small World and Pirates of the Caribbean rides.


As I've shared here before, Disneyland's Christmas season preparations take so many weeks -- decorations have been appearing here and there a bit at a time -- and so many people want to enjoy the season at the resort that the holiday season runs for a two-month period, from early November through Three Kings' Weekend in early January.


The "golden hour" at the Hub, where Sleeping Beauty's Winter Castle has returned.


Partners.


We shared a slice of Christmas cake at the Plaza Inn. It was almost too pretty to eat! Almost.


Looking through the window at the Plaza Inn's Christmas tree.


One of the prettiest sights anywhere.


One of the castle's side passages into Fantasyland.


The It's a Small World Holiday overlay is now in its 25th season.  


After its very late opening last year due to flood damage, it was wonderful to have the ride of up and running without issues this year!


I've periodically shared photos of the ride over the years, but with my camera having improved steadily over time, it's fun to share some brand-new shots!







A quick shot of the parade heading up Main Street from Town Square as we walked through a parade crossing. Last year I shared a few photos of the parade taken at the Merriest Nites party, a wonderful event which did not return this year.


First gingerbread man of the season!


Merry Christmas to all!


We'll be back at the park several times in the coming weeks, including visiting the Festival of Holidays at Disney California Adventure across the Esplanade.


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