Friday, September 22, 2023

Quick Preview of TCM in November

It's time for a quick look ahead at the November schedule on Turner Classic Movies!

Gloria Grahame will be the November Star of the Month.  Grahame's films will be shown on Tuesday evenings. There are still a number of unannounced Grahame titles, but the lineup will include the TCM premiere of NAKED ALIBI (1954), costarring Sterling Hayden.

The November Noir Alley schedule kicks off with the TCM premiere of a big favorite of mine, ABANDONED (1949), starring Dennis O'Keefe, Gale Storm, Raymond Burr, and Jeff Chandler.

ABANDONED will be followed by CRY TERROR! (1958) and STRANGE BARGAIN (1948). The Noir Alley film for Thanksgiving weekend has not yet been announced.

The November Spotlight on Fridays is titled "After Dark," with a number of the titles yet to be announced. The month's Special Theme is Bruce Lee.

As is often the case, Thanksgiving Day will feature family favorites including NATIONAL VELVET (1944), SPENCER'S MOUNTAIN (1963), and LITTLE WOMEN (1949).

There will be several memorial tributes in November, including Alan Arkin on the 6th, Jim Brown on the 10th, Harry Belafonte on the 19th, and William Friedkin on the 26th.

November programming themes will include hotels, small towns, 1933, weekends, military musicals, acting sisters, Paris, Tarzan, and ghosts.

Filmmakers honored with multifilm tributes include William A. Wellman, Ann Rutherford, Busby Berkeley, Anatole Litvak, June Allyson, Eleanor Powell, and Ralph Bellamy.

I'll have much more about the November schedule posted here around Halloween. In the meantime, TCM will be celebrating the centennial of actor Charlton Heston in October.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

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

HUMAN DESIRE (1953), directed by Fritz Lang, was recently released by Kino Lorber in a Special Edition Blu-ray.

I first saw HUMAN DESIRE a dozen years ago, in 2011, and while I liked certain aspects of the film on that first viewing, my overall reaction was somewhat tepid.

In the ensuing years many people I respect have spoken about the film with enthusiasm and I wondered if I'd feel differently seeing the movie in a new context. Kino Lorber's Blu-ray was the perfect opportunity to revisit it, and as it turns out, I did like the film considerably more on this second viewing.

As on my first watch of the movie, I found the film visually enticing; the train sequences and locations are absolutely great. What changed for me was that the plot completely exasperated me the first time around -- I described it as "Stupid People Doing Stupid Things" -- but on this viewing I was willing to "lean into" their problems and found it intriguing rather than annoying.

The plot concerns Jeff (an uber-handsome Glenn Ford), a Korean War vet who returns to his small town and his job as a railroad engineer.

Jeff has the potential for a nice life, with a good, steady job, and Ellen (Kathleen Case), the lovely daughter of his best friend Alec (Edgar Buchanan), clearly has a crush on Jeff and sees him as marriage material.

Jeff says he wants a simple life of fishing and going to the movies, but then he falls hard for the married Vicki (Gloria Grahame) when he sees her on a train and his life quickly gets very complicated.

Unfortunately, Vicki's husband Carl (Broderick Crawford) has just killed a man on that very train, and when Jeff lies at the inquest about seeing Vicki and Carl near the dead man's compartment, he's soon in over his head.

Vicki has more than a little similarity to Phyllis in DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944), and she'd like to be free of Carl -- permanently. And she certainly doesn't want to take care of it herself...

Spoiler alert: Those not wanting to know more about the plot might want to stop reading here until seeing the movie. I don't give the entire ending away but do discuss some aspects of it.

While I was frustrated with Jeff's stupidity on the first viewing, this time I could better understand how Vicki enticed him, and I also realized that he was under her spell for much less time than I remembered before he snaps out of it and realizes he's being played. Rather than being annoyed by his succumbing to her temptation in the first place, this time around I was glad he had the smarts to extricate himself before it was too late! It comes as a significant relief.

Jeff has a great moment near the end where he pulls the cord and sounds the train horn, symbolically reconnecting with Ellen, who blew the horn earlier in the movie when she and Jeff had an important conversation. Combined with Jeff's rapprochement with Alec, seen as Alec lights Jeff's cigarette with his pipe, I found the ending much more satisfying. I also liked that the movie didn't drag on, but clocks in at a pitch-perfect 91 minutes.

Crawford's bullying husband was about as boring as the first time, but I found Grahame fascinating. The passage of a dozen years definitely gave me a fresh perspective on her performance and her character, especially having seen Grahame in numerous films in that time frame.

In fact, the Grahame films I watched since my first viewing of HUMAN DESIRE included the phenomenal THE BIG HEAT (1953), the previous film she'd made with Lang and Ford. My great admiration for that film definitely impacted my willingness to give HUMAN DESIRE a new look.

Instead of finding her "poor me" staring-into-space routine tedious, I enjoyed watching a master manipulator at work. The layers of Vicki's character are fascinating; when the film begins she's bored but willing to help out by going back to work when Carl loses his job. Of course, her boredom probably plays into that noble gesture...

Vicki seems genuinely reluctant when Carl pushes her to beg a powerful man for his job back...but then she does what she feels she needs to do. And once Carl kills, all bets are off -- and she finally has a good excuse to drop their marital relationship.

HUMAN DESIRE was written by Alfred Hayes, inspired by a novel by Emile Zola.

The supporting cast includes Diane DeLaire, Grandon Rhodes, John Maxwell, Olan Soule, Dan Seymour, and Peggy Maley.

Ford and Crawford, incidentally, would reunite a couple years later in the Western THE FASTEST GUN ALIVE (1956).

Kino Lorber's Blu-ray shows off the superb, gritty black and white photography of Burnett Guffey. It looks great.

Blu-ray extras consist of the trailer; a gallery of three additional trailers for other films available from Kino Lorber; and a brief featurette with actress Emily Mortimer speaking on the film which was carried over from the Columbia Film Noir Classics II DVD release.

This special edition also includes reversible cover art and a cardboard slipcase.


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

Monday, September 18, 2023

Tonight's Movie: The Fatal Hour (1940) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

THE FATAL HOUR (1940) is the fourth of five films in the Mr. Wong Collection, available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber.

I've been gradually watching the films over the course of the last couple months and found them a pleasant surprise. They may be low budget "B" films, but sometimes a short little movie like a Mr. Wong film is exactly what I want at the end of a long day.

THE FATAL HOUR might be my favorite in the series to this point; it's a 68-minute film with a well- constructed plot. The movie was known in the UK as MR. WONG AT HEADQUARTERS, which I think might be a better title.

Like the previous film, MR. WONG IN CHINATOWN (1939), THE FATAL HOUR also benefits from the presence of Marjorie Reynolds as newspaper reporter Roberta "Bobbie" Logan.

As the movie begins, Police Captain Bill Street (Grant Withers) learns an old friend and fellow officer has been found murdered.

The dead man has been investigating smuggling on the waterfront, and before long Bill and private detective Mr. Wong (Boris Karloff) are investigating a costume jewelry shop which might be a front for sales of valuable jade.

Unfortunately more deaths occur before the mystery is solved; the interesting solution involves a newfangled remote-controlled radio.

I enjoy Karloff as the eternally unruffled, observant Mr. Wong; it's fun to watch his mind work as he sifts through clues.

Reynolds also adds quite a bit. I particularly liked that when Bobbie learns of the death of Bill's close colleague, she drops the sparring which is typical of their relationship and offers Bill genuine sympathy and help. Similarly, Bill's true feelings for Bobbie are apparent in the final scene.

The solid supporting cast includes Lita Chevret, Charles Trowbridge, Richard Loo, Craig Reynolds, Elsa Janssen, I. Stanford Jolley, and Jason Robards (Sr.).

The movie was directed by William Nigh and filmed in black and white by Harry Neumann.

Kino Lorber's Blu-ray print is a new master from a 2K scan of fine grain film. It's a tad soft in spots, but overall it's very good. Sound is also strong. It kind of amazes me that we now have these Monogram Pictures films available looking so good!

Previous reviews: MR. WONG, DETECTIVE (1938), THE MYSTERY OF MR. WONG (1939), and MR. WONG IN CHINATOWN (1939). I'll be reviewing the last title in the set, DOOMED TO DIE (1940), in the near future.

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

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Tonight's Movie: Wichita (1955) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

The Warner Archive Collection has just released a Blu-ray edition of a favorite Joel McCrea Western, WICHITA (1955).

McCrea plays Wyatt Earp in this film directed by Jacques Tourneur. Tourneur had previously directed McCrea in the great STARS IN MY CROWN (1950) as well as in STRANGER ON HORSEBACK (1955).

The story finds Earp reluctantly taking on the job as marshal of Wichita after a child is killed by the shooting of an unruly mob of cowboys.

The townspeople initially support Earp, only to later fear that in cleaning up the town, he's simultaneously ruining a significant amount of their business. Wyatt, however, won't back down, and a shocking betrayal by the town doctor (Edgar Buchanan) combined with another death eventually wins Wyatt the gratitude of Wichita citizens.

I wrote extensively about the film back in 2013, and I wrote more about it in a Classic Movie Hub column on Wyatt Earp films in 2018. I'd like to refer readers to those essays for further details on the story and my critical impressions of the film.

As I noted in 2013, director Tourneur takes a number of familiar elements and orchestrates them into "something more special than the norm, starting with a solid, well-paced script and Joel McCrea's firm, gallant performance."

Vera Miles appears as Wyatt's sweetheart, and the deep cast includes familiar faces such as Lloyd Bridges, Wallace Ford, Robert J. Wilke, Jack Elam, Keith Larsen, Mae Clarke, Walter Coy, Carl Benton Reid, and John Smith.

My favorite supporting performance is Peter Graves as Morgan Earp; he's handsome and charismatic, and I only wish he'd had a larger role.

WICHITA runs 81 minutes. It was written by Daniel B. Ullman based on his own story.

The movie was filmed in CinemaScope and Technicolor by Harold Lipstein; Lipstein and Tourneur do a particularly impressive job filling the wide canvas, starting with an opening shot of McCrea appearing as a horseman on the distant horizon.

The Blu-ray print and sound quality are outstanding, as is typical of the Warner Archive Collection.

Disc extras consist of a pair of Tex Avery cartoons, DEPUTY DROOPY (1955) and THE FIRST BAD MAN (1955).

This is a good month for Warner Archive Blu-rays starring McCrea and his wife, Frances Dee, as LITTLE WOMEN (1933), in which Dee played Meg March, has also just been released on Blu-ray. Look for a review here at a future date.

WICHITA is 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 Amazon Warner Archive Collection Store, Movie Zyng, or from any online retailers were Blu-rays are sold.

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...It's been a very hectic few days here, hence the "radio silence" on the blog. I previously mentioned that one reason this column didn't appear last weekend was my participation in the MouseAdventure competition at Disneyland. It was the first in-park game in several years, and I'm happy to announce our team, Skippers in De Nile, won the Basic Division! It's a competition which is challenging on multiple levels -- Disneyland/Disney knowledge, puzzle solving, and physical ability to get around the entire park in just a few hours -- so we're all extremely proud of this result! It's our first MouseAdventure win since we won the Family Division over a decade ago.

...Coming to Blu-ray from Kino Lorber on December 5th: ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW (1959), with a new commentary track by Alan K. Rode. Here's my review from the 2019 Arthur Lyons Film Noir Fest hosted by Mr. Rode.

...And coming from Kino Lorber November 28th: THE CARPETBAGGERS (1964), which will be released in a Special Edition Blu-ray with two commentary tracks.

...I enjoyed reviewing Rachel's Ten Favorite Live-Action Disney Movies at her blog Hamlette's Soliloquy. A couple of my favorites make the list, THE PARENT TRAP (1961) and CINDERELLA (2015).

...In related news, Rachel's list was part of the 100 Years of Disney Blogathon hosted by Silver Scenes. Click the link for the index of all the interesting entries!

...Toby has reviewed the new ClassicFlix Blu-ray release of BLONDE ICE (1948) at The Hannibal 8.

...Here's an enjoyable article on Karie Bible and her tours at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

...I recently learned that former child actress Pamelyn Ferdin announced last year that she's writing a memoir for Bear Manor Media. I'll be watching for further news! Ferdin did a great deal of voice work in the '60s and '70s, including Peanuts specials and CHARLOTTE'S WEB (1973), along with lots of episodic TV.

...Here's Lane Brown for Vulture with "The Decomposition of Rotten Tomatoes." I'm glad I've never paid any attention to RT ratings...

...Happiest birthday wishes to Janis Paige, who turns 101 today, September 16th. In honor of her special day, please enjoy last year's photo-filled centennial tribute to a wonderful actress.

...Notable Passing: Actress Gayle Hunnicutt has passed away at 80. She starred opposite James Garner in MARLOWE (1969); her other roles included playing Vanessa Beaumont on TV's DALLAS. She was married to actor David Hemmings for several years and continued to live in England after their mid '70s divorce, frequently working in British TV and movies.

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

Saturday, September 09, 2023

Tonight's Movie: 42 (2013)

Last weekend I enjoyed seeing the baseball movie THE HILL (2023).

The Jackie Robinson film 42 (2013) came up in the comments of my HILL review (thanks, Margot!), and I decided it was finally time to pull out the bargain Blu-ray I bought a few years ago and watch it. I'd lent the film to multiple family members who enjoyed it, but this was the first time I watched it myself.

The late Chadwick Boseman is outstanding as Dodger legend Jackie Robinson, who agreed to an audacious plan formulated by Dodgers executive Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) to desegregate Major League Baseball.

Rickey's plan was to find and sign an excellent black player to the team; that player would have to be willing to patiently, peacefully put up with the outrageous racist treatment sure to come his way in order to ultimately succeed and pave the way for other blacks to join him in the majors

Jackie agreed that he had the "guts" not to fight back, and he was called up to the major league Dodgers team in 1947. Rickey calculated the public would get behind Jackie, which they did, and in ensuing seasons the Dodgers added additional black players including Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe.

42 is a 128-minute film, written and directed by Brian Hegeland. It's presented as a fairly straightforward, traditional baseball biopic, but it's extremely well done.

Boseman's appealing performance once more makes me regret his too-early death, and I thought Harrison Ford was quite a revelation as Rickey. It's not a flashy "Look at me not being Harrison Ford!" role, but as the same time he completely sinks into the character, allowing the viewer to focus on Rickey rather than one of our better-known actors. He's excellent; his Rickey clearly relishes what he's doing, though we're slow to understand some of his motivation.

Nicole Beharie is quite winning as Jackie's smart wife Rachel, and I also particularly enjoyed John C. McGinley as Dodgers broadcaster Red Barber. I've heard many stories about Barber and his sayings over the years from Vin Scully, who became a Dodger broadcaster in 1950, but it was quite enjoyable to see and hear someone impersonating Barber and get a feel for what it was like to hear him call games.

42 was filmed by Don Burgess.

The cast also includes Chris Meloni as Leo Durocher, Lucas Black as Pee Wee Reese, Hamish Linklater as Ralph Branca, Andre Holland as sportswriter Wendell Smith, and Alan Tudyk as Ben Chapman, the racist manager of the Phillies. GREY'S ANATOMY veterans James Pickens Jr. and T.R. Knight also have roles. Brett Cullen, who I remember from TV's THE CHISHOLMS (1980), has a nice role as a veteran manager.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated PG-13. Numerous racial epithets are heard throughout the course of the story, but it's part of telling the story of a hero. The themes are adult but I think it's fine for younger children if they're interested; I would have been fine with my kids watching this when they were young. (They did see the 1950 film THE JACKIE ROBINSON STORY, in which Jackie played himself.)

A love of baseball is an added plus as far as enjoying this film, but I think the story is so compelling that it could be enjoyed by anyone.

Although these events happened when the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn, I'll always be proud that Jackie Robinson played for the team I've loved my entire life. Jackie Robinson Day is celebrated annually not only by the Dodgers but by all of Major League Baseball. His number, 42, has been retired not only by the Dodgers but by all of baseball.

Jackie was only 53 when he died in 1972; he was posthumously given the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Ronald Reagan in 1984. As I write this, his widow, Rachel, is 101.

This film is available on Blu-ray and DVD. A trailer is here.

42 is recommended.

Around the Blogosphere This Week... taking this weekend off.

I have an unusually busy weekend ahead, including being away for the day on Sunday participating in the MouseAdventure puzzle game at Disneyland.

I've participated in MouseAdventure with family members since 2010, but this will be my first time in a few years, for a variety of reasons including the park's 2020-2021 state lockdown.

It's also taken the game a while to return as they've had to figure out how to make it work with the park's post-lockdown reservation system.

(Update: I'm extremely pleased to announce our team, Skippers in De Nile, won the Basic Division!)

My Around the Blogosphere This Week column will return on Saturday, September 16th.

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

Friday, September 08, 2023

Book Review: The John Wayne B-Westerns 1932-1939

John Wayne worked in "B" Westerns for the better part of a decade, but these films have tended to be dismissed by fans and historians as a sort of meaningless blob of work.

James L. Neibaur hopes to change that with THE JOHN WAYNE B-WESTERNS 1932-1939, recently published by Bear Manor Media.

Neibaur, author of FRANK SINATRA ON THE BIG SCREEN, THE GEORGE RAFT FILMS, and THE FILMS OF JUDY GARLAND, presents a film-by-film review of Wayne's '30s Western work, in which he developed "as both an actor and an image."

As many film fans are aware, after starring in Raoul Walsh's impressive "A" picture THE BIG TRAIL (1930), the movie's lack of financial success -- for reasons not having to do with Wayne -- meant that instead of more big-budget leads, the next major phase of Wayne's career was playing leads in "B" Westerns.

Although I'm a longtime Wayne fan, I admit to ignoring those films myself for many years, until I was drawn to them through my time in Lone Pine, California. Over the past decade I've visited and photographed Lone Pine locations for multiple Wayne "B's," including THE MAN FROM UTAH (1934) and KING OF THE PECOS (1936). I've also been able to visit other locations from Wayne "B" films such as Iverson Movie Ranch.

As I watched Wayne's films in conjunction with my location visits, I came to realize that some of them are actually quite good, and even the lesser Wayne films are of interest for various reasons, including watching the young Wayne's growing ability to command a camera. It seems almost paradoxical, but as Wayne learned to be more subtle and reactive, he simultaneously became more interesting to watch.

Neibaur makes similar points in his introduction, noting "a careful look at these films reveal them to be much better than their general reputation." He goes on to mention that some of my favorite Western directors, such as Robert Bradbury and George Sherman, "were able to exhibit some impressive creativity within the confines of a threadbare budget," and he also makes mention of the location cinematography providing "striking visuals."

Neibaur's book covers over three dozen of these early Wayne Westerns, with each movie receiving its own chapter. At the top of each chapter there are cast and major production credits along with a list of each film's locations, which for probably obvious reasons I especially appreciated.

In addition to plot descriptions, Neibaur provides information on aspects such as budget, shooting time, and exhibitor response, and in some cases there are relevant quotes from cast members. He also supplies some critical thoughts on each movie.

Each of these angles combines to provide a picture of the development of Wayne's career throughout the decade, along with the fact that he seems to have been universally liked by his coworkers.

I found a chapter on John Wayne's "Year of Non-Westerns" at Universal Pictures to be particularly informative. My older Wayne books contain relatively little about these movies; the 1976 book JOHN WAYNE AND THE MOVIES by Allen Eyles probably does the best job previous to this. Wayne came to feel his sojourn at Universal stalled his development as a Western star, so I was quite interested to read about that aspect of his career and hope to seek out the films.

Although I wasn't there, it's fun to note that the rarely seen ADVENTURE'S END (1937) from this Universal era was just screened at the Cinecon festival over Labor Day weekend.

As an additional side note for fellow fans of Wayne's "B's," the 2018 edition of LONE PINE AND THE MOVIES focuses entirely on the "lost" Wayne Western THE OREGON TRAIL (1936), including extensive photos. As Neibaur notes in his book, the film was well received, and I keep hoping a print will turn up unexpectedly.

Neibaur's book concludes with a chapter on Wayne's "graduation" to John Ford's STAGECOACH (1939) and a brief summation of his superstar career, for which Wayne's work throughout most of the '30s had provided the foundation.

This softcover book is 268 pages including bibliography and index. There are numerous black and white photographs which are well-reproduced directly on the pages.

In the interest of completeness, I'll mention I felt this book could have used a proofreader to clean up punctuation and typographical goofs, which I found a bit distracting from the book's very worthwhile content.

THE JOHN WAYNE B-WESTERNS 1932-1939 is an informative and useful book which achieves its goal of explaining these films' significance in the context of Wayne's career. It's a book that very much needed to be written, and I'm glad James Neibaur took on the project. I read it cover to cover, and I'm glad to add it to my Wayne bookshelf as a future reference.

Thanks to James L. Neibaur and Bear Manor Media for providing a review copy of this book.

Wednesday, September 06, 2023

New at Classic Movie Hub: Destry (1954)

My latest Western RoundUp column is now up at Classic Movie Hub!

In this month's column I've reviewed the new Kino Lorber Blu-ray release of DESTRY (1954) starring Audie Murphy.

This is the first time DESTRY has been released for home viewing. It's part of Kino Lorber's new three-film Audie Murphy Collection II.

I've reviewed the other films in the set, KANSAS RAIDERS (1950) and SIERRA (1950), here at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings.

Please click over to Classic Movie Hub to check out my DESTRY review, and thanks very much 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; February 2019; April 5, 2019; April 30, 2019; May 2019; June 2019; July 2019; August 2019; September 2019; October 2019; November 2019; December 2019; January 2020; February 2020; March 2020; April 2020; May 2020; June 2020; July 2020; August 2020; September 2020; October 2020; November 2020; December 2020; January 2021; February 2021; March 2021; May 2021; June 2021; June 2021 (No. 2); July 2021; August 2021; September 2021; November 2021; December 2021; December 2021 (No. 2); January 2022; February 2022; March 2022; April 2022; May 2022; June 2022; July 2022; August 2022; September 2022; November 2022; November 2022 (No. 2); January 2023 (No. 1); January 2023 (No. 2); March 2023; April 2023; May 2023 (No. 1); May 2023 (No. 2); June 2023; July 2023.