Monday, July 26, 2021

Tonight's Movie: I Wouldn't Be in Your Shoes (1948) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

I WOULDN'T BE IN YOUR SHOES (1948) is a very good Monogram "B" film just released on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive.

I WOULDN'T BE IN YOUR SHOES is one of a pair of short crime movies newly available from the Archive. I reviewed the other film, STEP BY STEP (1946), a few days ago.

Don Castle and Elyse Knox star in I WOULDN'T BE IN YOUR SHOES as Tom and Ann Quinn, down-on-their-luck hoofers living in a rented room with a hot plate and a communal bathroom down the hall. Ann spends her evenings dancing for dollars at a "dance academy" while Tom spends his days trying to book their dance act at a nightclub.

Late one night cats screeching outside the window make it impossible to sleep, and the annoyed Tom tosses his shoes out the window to break up the catfight. Realizing he had inadvertently thrown his good pair of shoes at the cats, rather than the ancient pair he'd meant to throw away, Tom immediately goes downstairs to retrieve the shoes from the yard, but they're nowhere to be found. However, the next day the shoes mysteriously turn up in the hallway outside the Quinns' apartment door.

Things seem to be looking up for the couple when Tom finds a wallet containing money but no identification. After waiting a few days to see if anyone advertises a missing wallet in the classifieds, Tom and Ann begin to spend the money.

There's just one problem...the money, along with a print of one of Tom's shoes left in some mud, connects Tom to a murder case, and police detectives (Regis Toomey, Rory Mallinson, and Charles D. Brown) arrest him in short order.

I WOULDN'T BE IN YOUR SHOES is a well-done 70 minutes. The film initially starts out feeling a bit contrived, as the setup with the shoes is established, but it quickly morphs into something which is simultaneously familiar and compelling.

An added angle of interest is that much of the film is set at Christmas; it would be perfect for a Christmastime showing on TCM's Noir Alley franchise.

I knew next to nothing about the movie before watching it and was struck by how much it reminded me of two favorite noir films, I WAKE UP SCREAMING (1941) and BLACK ANGEL (1946). I WOULDN'T BE IN YOUR SHOES mashes up the obsessed cop of the first film with the young wife desperately trying to save her husband from the electric chair of the latter film.

As it turns out, I was right on target. I discovered that the screenplay of I WOULDN'T BE IN YOUR SHOES was written by Steve Fisher, who wrote the book on which I WAKE UP SCREAMING was based.

In turn, Fisher's I WOULDN'T BE IN YOUR SHOES screenplay was based on a story by Cornell Woolrich (aka William Irish), who also wrote the story which inspired BLACK ANGEL. I had to chuckle when I realized these connections; I guess I know my film noir pretty well by now!

More connections: Don Castle and Regis Toomey appeared the previous year in Monogram's HIGH TIDE (1947) and THE GUILTY (1947), which I saw at the 2013 and 2015 UCLA Festival of Preservation, respectively. THE GUILTY was also based on a Woolrich story.

I WOULDN'T BE IN YOUR SHOES leading lady Elyse Knox is perhaps best-known today as the mother of Mark Harmon, but she made over three dozen films in a career which lasted a little over a decade. She's capable and attractive as the gutsy young wife desperate to save her husband.

Castle is a solid "B" player, and I'm quite a fan of Regis Toomey, who always brings his "A" game. His role as another cop, in CRY DANGER (1951), is a favorite performance.

I WOULDN'T BE IN YOUR SHOES was directed by William Nigh and filmed in black and white by Mack Stengler. It was one of the very first films made by Oscar-winning producer Walter Mirisch.

The supporting cast includes Tito Vuolo, Steve Darrell, Bill Kennedy, Esther Michelson, John Elliott, and Robert Lowell.

The Warner Archive Blu-ray is a very attractive print with an equally good soundtrack. Blu-ray extras are the short THE SYMPHONY MURDER MYSTERY (1932) and the cartoon HOLIDAY FOR SHOESTRINGS (1946). The cartoon's Christmas theme is a nice tie-in with the disc's feature film.

I WOULDN'T BE IN YOUR SHOES is an excellent release in every way, a terrific-looking print of a film which proved to be a fun new discovery. I'd love to see more releases similar to I WOULDN'T BE IN YOUR SHOES and STEP BY STEP from the Warner Archive in the future.

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 any online retailers where Blu-rays are sold.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Tonight's Movie: I'm No Angel (1933) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

I've continued this summer's chronological journey through Mae West's filmography with I'M NO ANGEL (1933).

I'M NO ANGEL was recently released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber, along with a number of other West films.

I've previously reviewed Kino Lorber's releases of West's first two films, NIGHT AFTER NIGHT (1932) and SHE DONE HIM WRONG (1933). I'M NO ANGEL was West's third film, and the second film West made with up-and-coming star Cary Grant. Grant also appeared in SHE DONE HIM WRONG.

In I'M NO ANGEL West plays Tira, a circus performer who takes her lion-taming act from the hinterlands to the big city and becomes a major star.

Tira simultaneously upgrades the men in her life, leaving behind pickpockets and traveling salesman types for the smart social set. Wealthy Kirk Lawrence (Kent Taylor) is smitten and lavishes gifts on Tira; when Kirk neglects his business and his fiancee (Gertrude Michael), Kirk's cousin Jack visits Tira and asks her to end things with Kirk.

Jack immediately falls for Tira himself and they become engaged. Tira's boss (Edward Arnold) is uspet that she plans to retire and conspires with Tira's ex-boyfriend (Ralf Harolde) to make Jack think Tira is unfaithful.

Jack ends the engagement, and the broken-hearted Tira sues Jack for breach of promise, leading to a slam-bang courtroom scene where Tira, rather than her attorney (Gregory Ratoff), questions a series of witnesses.

I'M NO ANGEL isn't quite in the same league as SHE DONE HIM WRONG, with a little too much time in the movie's first half spent on the darker side of Tira's life, but it's still a very entertaining film.

West is poured into stunning, shimmering Travis Banton gowns which are absolutely eye-popping, and she delivers some of her classic lines in this one, including "Peel me a grape" and "When I'm good, I'm very good, but when I'm bad, I'm better."

No one could have pulled off the final courtroom sequence quite like Mae West, and its pleasures make the entire movie worthwhile. She's simply a great deal of fun to watch.

Grant is good, particularly when he's trying to suppress his delighted reactions to West's courtroom antics, although at this early stage of his career there's nothing especially unique about his performance. At this juncture he was simply a pleasant leading man, but of course he quickly developed into a much more significant performer.

When the trial ends, look for the tallest reporter in the crowd surrounding West; it's future star Dennis O'Keefe in one of his seemingly endless bit parts of the '30s. He's seen second from the left in this lobby card.

The cast also includes Gertrude Howard, Libby Taylor, Hattie McDaniel, Nat  Pendleton, and Walter Walker.  Grant's attorney in the courtroom scene is played by future director Irving Pichel.

I'M NO ANGEL runs 87 minutes. It was directed by Wesley Ruggles (brother of actor Charlie Ruggles) and filmed in black and white by Leo Tover.

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray looks great and has a strong soundtrack. Extras are a commentary track by Samm Deighan; the trailer; and half a dozen additional trailers, five for Mae West films and one for a Cary Grant movie.

I've really enjoyed all three Mae West films seen to date and recommend them. It's been a pleasure getting to know her work for the first time.

Next up in Mae West viewing will be a review of the new Blu-ray release of BELLE OF THE NINETIES (1934) costarring Roger Pryor and Johnny Mack Brown, with Duke Ellington as a piano player. Sounds fun to me.

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

Book Review: Summer Movies: 30 Sun-Drenched Classics

This is an especially good summer reading season for classic film fans!

There are several new film books I'm reviewing this summer, and first up is SUMMER MOVIES: 30 SUN-DRENCHED CLASSICS by John Malahy.

Malahy works at Turner Classic Movies, which published this book along with Running Press. It also has a foreword by Leonard Maltin.

SUMMER MOVIES is a beautifully designed book, starting with the colorful "eye candy" cover and the "wave" design inside the covers. There are wonderful photos on most of the pages, many of which I'd never seen before, and it's also an interesting read.

As advertised, the book focuses on 30 films in particular, but I was pleasantly surprised to find it offers quite a bit more than that, connecting the 30 main films to additional "deeper cuts," titles which go beyond the basics.

The book immediately won me over with its first title, the wonderful silent film LONESOME (1928). (Seen here: stars Barbara Kent and Glenn Tryon.) It's a movie which completely enchanted me on first discovery, and I'd love more people to discover it.

Other titles I especially enjoyed seeing included were MOON OVER MIAMI (1941), STATE FAIR (1945), and SUMMER STOCK (1950).

Additional films discussed in the book include REAR WINDOW (1954), SUMMERTIME (1955), PICNIC (1955), THE MUSIC MAN (1962), and JAWS (1975).

I liked that the author thought beyond typical "beach" movies, though titles like GIDGET (1959) and BEACH BLANKET BINGO (1965) are definitely included; the titles encompass films set at state fairs, summer camps, and vacation resorts as well as during during heat waves and summer vacation travels.

SUMMER MOVIES strikes a good balance between appealing to newer and established film fans. The photos and descriptions will provide those who haven't seen many of the films with a great list for future viewing, while more experienced movie viewers will enjoy the author's appreciation for favorites along with exploring his "deeper dives."

I especially liked Malahy's "Make It a Double Feature" recommendations, adding short write-ups on additional films which offer a similar vibe to his main topics.

Examples of double feature recommendations include the Andy Hardy film YOU'RE ONLY YOUNG ONCE (1938) being paired with another Mickey Rooney film, Rouben Mamoulian's SUMMER HOLIDAY (1948); Disney's Hayley Mills film THE PARENT TRAP (1961) is paired with Deanna Durbin's THREE SMART GIRLS (1936); DIRTY DANCING (1987) leads to Ginger Rogers and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in HAVING WONDERFUL TIME (1938); and THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH (1955) is matched with the relatively obscure but fun OUT OF THE BLUE (1947).

Intriguingly, the MGM musical SUMMER STOCK (1950) leads to a recommendation of a movie by Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu which I haven't yet seen, FLOATING WEEDS (1959). The author's more "adventurous" double feature recommendations such as that one really appealed to me as a classic film fan, and FLOATING WEEDS immediately went on my "watch soon" list.

All in all, there's a pleasing amount of depth to this "summer read," which also has the glossy photos and interesting factoids which have become a hallmark of the film genre overview books published by TCM and Running Press. I really enjoyed this book and recommend it.

SUMMER MOVIES is a relatively small hardcover book; for those familiar with Jeremy Arnold's book CHRISTMAS IN THE MOVIES from the same publisher, it's about the same size and weight. Also like the aforementioned Christmas book, SUMMER MOVIES features beautiful photographs printed on heavy paper. It's 200 pages including a bibliography and index.

Thanks to TCM and Running Press for providing a review copy of this book.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Alias Jesse James (1959) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Bob Hope stars in ALIAS JESSE JAMES (1959), which will be released on Blu-ray next week by Kino Lorber.

By coincidence this is one of two "ALIAS" titles being released in the Kino Lorber Studio Classics line this month; the other is ALIAS NICK BEAL (1949) starring Ray Milland.

ALIAS JESSE JAMES is an amusing trifle which finds Hope playing Milford Farnsworth, a hapless New York insurance salesman in the 19th century. Milford is being let go by his company due to his lack of success, when suddenly he meets a man (Wendell Corey) who agrees to pay cash for a $100,000 life insurance policy.

Milford's boss (Will Wright) is thrilled...until he picks up a newspaper and realizes Milford has just sold a life insurance policy to Jesse James, a man likely to be gunned down at any moment!

Milford is told to follow James west and buy back the life insurance policy as quickly as possible so that the company can avoid the inevitable $100,000 payout. Jesse, however, has a plan: He lends Milford his clothes, thinking he can pass him off as "Jesse" and have him bumped off in his place; Jesse's fiancee Cora Lee (Rhonda Fleming) will cash in the policy, and they'll live happily ever after.

Jesse isn't counting on Cora Lee falling for Milford, however...nor does he expect the high-powered help Milford receives from a slew of Western stars in the final shootout!

I found this an enjoyable Hope film. While I prefer him in relatively small doses, I always like to check out his films for the supporting casts, especially as he worked opposite some wonderful leading ladies. Indeed, Fleming is quite delightful in this as the smitten Cora Lee; Fleming's fans should really enjoy her in it. She also has the chance to sing a nice number with Hope at a barbecue which is one of the best scenes in the movie.

It's also rather a fun joke that Wendell Corey, a good actor normally identified with more milquetoast roles, is cast as the dangerous Jesse James. Corey seems to be having a terrific time with the part, playing Jesse as a rather dimwitted type, and I really enjoyed him.

The other big plus is the finale with nine TV and movie Western stars edited in to help Milford mow down the bad guys. I'll leave their identities to be discovered by viewers, but will mention that at some point James Garner's Bret Maverick is said to have been in the film but was edited out.

Jim Davis plays Jesse's brother, Frank James. Mary Young as the oddball Ma James lends the Jameses a sort of bizarre ADDAMS FAMILY style twist.

A host of familiar faces fill out the supporting cast, including Glenn Strange, Gloria Talbott, Fred Kohler Jr., George E. Stone, Iron Eyes Cody, and Emory Parnell, to name a few.

ALIAS JESSE JAMES runs 92 minutes. It was directed by Norman Z. McLeod and filmed by Lionel Lindon. The screenplay was cowritten by William Bowers and Daniel B. Beauchamps from a story by Robert St. Aubrey and Bert Lawrence. Bowers, who always had a way with sharp, witty dialogue, also cowrote last week's film THE WEB (1947).

The Blu-ray picture for the most part is quite sharp and attractive, with redheaded Fleming looking particularly lovely. Sound quality is excellent. The lone extras are the trailer and 13 additional trailers for other films available from Kino Lorber, most starring Hope.

Hope fans may wish to know that ALIAS JESSE JAMES is one of a number of the comedian's films released by Kino Lorber in recent months. The most recent Hope releases include CAUGHT IN THE DRAFT (1941), NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH (1941), and MY FAVORITE BLONDE (1942).

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...

...ClassicFlix has new DVD and Blu-ray announcements for this September and October: Coming to DVD in September are YOUNG AND WILLING (1943) and SILVER QUEEN (1942), with Vol. 3 of the ClassicFlix restorations of THE LITTLE RASCALS shorts coming to Blu-ray in October. YOUNG AND WILLING has a great cast including William Holden, Susan Hayward, Eddie Bracken, Martha O'Driscoll, and Robert Benchley. SILVER QUEEN, which I reviewed via Turner Classic Movies in 2014, stars Priscilla Lane and George Brent. Last week I mentioned another Brent film coming from ClassicFlix this fall, INTERNATIONAL LADY (1942).

...Happy 10th anniversary to my friend Kristina and her blog Speakeasy. Kristina recent resumed blogging with her always-interesting Movie Diary. I love Kristina's eclectic viewing tastes!

...My friend KC's A Classic Movie Blog has a new name and address: Watching Classic Movies. She also has a new podcast; the first episode features Jane Russell biographer Christina Rice.

...VCI Entertainment periodically releases films from classic-era Mexican cinema; the latest title is ESPALDAS MOJADAS (1955), now available on Blu-ray and DVD. One of their previous releases is UNA FAMILIA DE TANTAS (1949).

...Coming to Blu-ray from Kino Lorber Studio Classics on October 26th: HOT SATURDAY (1932) with Randolph Scott, Nancy Carroll, and Cary Grant.

...I have two outstanding books on the Disneyland Hotel by Don Ballard on my Disney bookshelf. An updated second edition of Ballard's DISNEYLAND HOTEL: THE EARLY YEARS, 1954-1988 will be released by Old Mill Press in August. Details are here. Ballard's other book on the hotel is DISNEYLAND HOTEL 1954-1959: THE LITTLE MOTEL IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ORANGE GROVE.

...It's the conclusion of Legends of Western Cinema Week! Full details at the link. Posts celebrating Westerns include Caftan Woman on a favorite Audie Murphy film, NO NAME ON THE BULLET (1959), and Hamlette on THE SONS OF KATIE ELDER (1965). It's great to have Caftan Woman blogging regularly again after her lengthy hospitalization this spring! The latter film was a favorite of our oldest son when he was younger, and I've somehow never gotten around to seeing it. It's amazing how many John Wayne movies I still need to see for the first time, given how much I love him. I've been watching my way through his '40s films fairly regularly over the last couple of years but there are obviously many more to catch from the ensuing decades!

...My take on the Disney+/Marvel series LOKI (2021) and its finale: Really liked the series, didn't like the last episode. Who knew that the grand finale would basically be a character (Jonathan Majors as Kang) giving a speech? While I would have been fine with some ends left open for Season 2, which was announced as an end credits tag scene, viewers needed some sense of resolution in the last episode. This wasn't it. Otherwise, the series was stylish, with wonderful art direction; had a good supporting cast with nice turns by Owen Wilson (Mobius), Sophia Di Martino (Sylvie), and Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Ravonna Renslayer); and, as always, a terrific performance by Tom Hiddleston as the mercurial God of Mischief, Loki. I'm looking forward to Season 2.

...In September Reel Weegie Midget Reviews will be hosting the No True Scotsman Blogathon celebrating all things Scottish. Details are here.

...This Thursday, July 29th, I'm due to attend an opening night D23 screening of JUNGLE CRUISE (2021) at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood. JUNGLE CRUISE, which stars Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Emily Blunt, was one of many films which had plans for a 2020 release pushed back due to COVID shutdowns. A trailer is here. It looks like a lighthearted adventure in the vein of KING SOLOMON'S MINES (1950). I should have a review up here by sometime next weekend.

...The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which at long last opens on September 30th, has announced a number of its initial screenings and events. I am scheduled to take a free member tour of the museum on September 27th, a few days before the opening.

...Attention Southern Californians: On Saturday, July 31st, the Art Deco Society of Los Angeles will be hosting an event in Orange County, a 1930s Fly-in Drive-in Movie Experience. The society will be screening an aviation-themed double bill of FLYING DOWN TO RIO (1933) starring Randolph Scott, Dolores del Rio, Fred Astaire, and Ginger Rogers, and LOVE ON THE RUN (1936) starring Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, and Franchot Tone. Details on the event, which takes place in Tustin, are here. I plan to attend!

...Notable Passing: Bandleader Elliot Lawrence has died at 96. Marc Myers pays tribute at JazzWax.

...For additional recent links of interest to classic film fans, please check out my July 17th roundup.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Step By Step (1946) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

The very enjoyable RKO "B" crime thriller STEP BY STEP (1946) has just been released on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive.

STEP BY STEP is one of a pair of newly released "never on DVD" "B" films from the Warner Archive; the other is Monogram's I WOULDN'T BE IN YOUR SHOES (1948), which I'll be reviewing here in the near future.

I'm especially thrilled by these new releases as I had thought we might not see any more of these types of relatively minor films from the Warner Archive Collection, which has recently focused on reissuing previous DVD releases on Blu-ray. It's been great seeing gorgeous prints of films such as classic MGM musicals on Blu-ray, and adding releases of fun little films like STEP BY STEP into the mix gives classic film fans the best of both worlds.

STEP BY STEP, which I first reviewed via Turner Classic Movies in 2014, reunited Lawrence Tierney and Anne Jeffreys, who had starred in the classic crime film DILLINGER (1945) the previous year.

The 62-minute STEP BY STEP isn't as good a film as DILLINGER, but at the same time it's probably more fun, a crime romp with tough guy Tierney in a surprisingly lighthearted role.

Jeffreys plays Evelyn Smith, who has wangled a secretarial job with a senator (Harry Harvey) and accompanied him to an isolated California mansion where he plans to conduct business.

When the senator plans to hold a confidential meeting he suggests Evelyn go for a swim at the nearby beach, where she meets Marine veteran Johnny Christopher (Tierney), who is quite smitten.

When Johnny later accidentally locks himself out of his car he goes to the mansion, only to find a completely different woman (Myrna Dell) claiming to be Evelyn. Johnny is also unaware that the senator he meets is an imposter (Jason Robards Sr.).

Eventually Johnny finds and rescues Evelyn, only for them to learn they're wanted for murder! Fortunately a kindly motor court owner (George Cleveland) believes their crazy story and decides to help them.

I really enjoy this film. For viewers used to seeing Tierney playing menacing characters such as Dillinger or the murderer of BORN TO KILL (1947), it's fun to see him relatively "unwound" in this role, though his staccato speech and references to places like Guadalcanal still make clear Johnny is a tough customer.

While the chemistry between Tierney and the lovely Jeffreys was more electric in DILLINGER, they have a comfortable, teasing ease here which is fun to watch. They're a good team, and I wish they'd made more films together.

With false identities and a spooky coastal mansion, the movie has a bit of the vibe of a film like MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS (1945), mashed up with touches of "couple on the run" films such as THE 39 STEPS (1935), PACIFIC BLACKOUT (1941), FLY-BY-NIGHT (1942), or SABOTEUR (1942).

A significant chunk of STEP WAS STEP was filmed at Leo Carrillo State Beach, named for the actor who was also a key player in California history. Carrillo spent many years serving on the state Beach and Parks Commission and, among other things, played an important role in the state's acquisition of Hearst Castle.

Leo Carrillo State Beach has served as a location in many films; in 2009 Huell Howser filmed a show on the area, "Movie Beach," which may be watched online at Howser's Chapman University archive. For that matter, Howser also filmed a 2007 episode on Leo Carrillo Ranch. I recommend watching both as informative "extras" along with this movie.

STEP BY STEP was directed by Phil Rosen and filmed in black and white by Frank Redman. Stuart Palmer's screenplay was based on a story by George Callahan.

The supporting cast includes Ray Walker, Lowell Gilmore, Addison Richards, John Hamilton, and Ralph Dunn.

The Warner Archive Blu-ray looks and sounds great. The disc contains two extras, the short THE TRANS-ATLANTIC MYSTERY (1932) and a Daffy Duck cartoon, THE GREAT PIGGY BANK ROBBERY (1946).

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 any online retailers where Blu-rays are sold.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

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

This month Kino Lorber is releasing a wonderful trio of "never on DVD" crime films on Blu-ray: LARCENY (1948), ALIAS NICK BEAL (1949), and tonight's movie, THE WEB (1947).

I've been fortunate to see all three films in beautiful prints at film noir festivals, but what a joy to have them available for home viewing at last! I'm very appreciative of the work Kino Lorber is doing to make previously hard-to-see films like these available for classic film fans to own on physical media.

I first made the acquaintance of THE WEB at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival in Palm Springs in 2018. I loved the movie, and that evening was made even more memorable by the appearance of co-star Vincent Price's daughter Victoria as a special guest.

I was thus happy to see the movie again, and I'm glad to say that the Kino Lorber Studio Classics Blu-ray presentation of this Universal Pictures film looks and sounds absolutely terrific. The movie is just as much fun as I remembered; the top cast and excellent script are among the reasons this film is such a pleasure.

Bob Regan (Edmond O'Brien) is an earnest young lawyer who meets business tycoon Andrew Colby (Vincent Price) and Colby's assistant Noel Faraday (Ella Raines) while representing a client.

Regan ends up being hired as an unlikely bodyguard to Colby, who's worried when a former associate, Kroner (Fritz Leiber), is released from prison. Regan sees it as a chance to earn a $5,000 nest egg towards opening his own law practice, never dreaming that in almost no time he'll find himself in the position of shooting Kroner to protect Colby.

The killing is ruled justifiable, but Regan's friend on the police force, Lt. Damico (William Bendix), still has questions about the incident...which soon are shared by Regan himself.

Things go from bad to worse when Regan and Noel, who have tentatively begun a romance, are framed by her boss for a new murder.

The climax of the movie might take a teeny suspension of disbelief, but it's so entertaining that I'm not inclined to quibble. Bendix is grand fun as the bespectacled homicide detective who manages to stay one jump ahead of everyone in the movie.

O'Brien and Raines were each incredibly attractive in this and strike sparks while tossing around great dialogue provided by William Bowers and Bertram Millhauser. I find O'Brien one of the most unique and appealing leading men of the '40s.

Raines' character is smart and independent, though it does baffle me why she was living in her boss's mansion. Was that part of her role as personal assistant, or was there something else going on between them? There are interesting hints about their relationship, which is fairly intimate, yet nothing is ever explained, and in the end it seems as though Noel would be too self-respecting to have had a fling with her longtime boss.

Price is delightfully slimy as Colby, who always handles questions from Regan with smooth aplomb. You almost believe he's a nice guy. Almost.

The movie was directed by Michael Gordon and filmed in black and white by Irving Glassberg. It runs 87 well-paced minutes.

The supporting cast includes Tito Vuolo, John Abbott, and Robin Redmond, who has a nice scene as a woman working in a newspaper morgue.

The Blu-ray extras consist of the trailer; a gallery of trailers for seven additional films available from Kino Lorber; and a commentary track by Jason A. Ney. Ney has written articles for the Film Noir Foundation's Noir City e-magazine.

Now that THE WEB is available for home viewing I hope it will become better known. I really enjoyed revisiting this movie and recommend it.

Look for reviews of LARCENY and ALIAS NICK BEAL here at a future date.

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

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Black Widow (2021)

As I mentioned last week in my review of F9: THE FAST SAGA (2021), we also saw BLACK WIDOW (2021) during our recent trip to Oregon.

Like most Marvel fans, I'd very much been looking forward to BLACK WIDOW, which provides Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johanssen) with her own film at long last.

Among the half dozen original Marvel movie superheroes, only Black Widow and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) had not previously had at least one film with their name in the title. Hawkeye will have his moment in the spotlight in the Disney+ TV series HAWKEYE (2021) streaming later this year.

As I chronicled over the last year and a half in my weekly Around the Blogosphere news roundups, BLACK WIDOW was originally scheduled for release in May 2020. The date was pushed forward multiple times, with rumors at various points that it would end up being released only on Disney+. It ended up having a hybrid release, available both theatrically and for a premium fee on Disney+. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to see it for the first time on a big screen!

BLACK WIDOW is a prequel of sorts, set in between CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016) and AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018). That said, it actually begins in Natasha's childhood, when young Natasha (Ever Anderson), her little sister Yelena (Violet McGraw), and their parents (David Harbour and Rachel Weisz) must suddenly flee what appears to be an idyllic existence in 1995 Ohio. We quickly learn that the family isn't a real family at all, but a cover for a spy operation, a la TV's THE AMERICANS (2013-18).

Flash forward a couple of decades, and Natasha (Johansson) is reunited with her "sister" Yelena (Florence Pugh, LITTLE WOMEN) in Budapest. Natasha learns that although she had believed him dead, Dreykov (Ray Winstone), the man who forced her and Yelena to become spies, is still alive.

Natasha and Yelena unite to take down the evil Dreykov, which also means first reconnecting with their "parents." They spring Alexei (Harbour) from a Siberian prison, then track down Melina (Weisz) before taking on Dreykov and his network of spies.

BLACK WIDOW initially struck me as perhaps not top-drawer Marvel, while certainly both engrossing and entertaining; one of my criticisms is there seemed to be an excessive amount of hand-to-hand combat due to the characters' skill sets.

In the week and a half since I saw it, though, I've noticed that the film has really "stuck with me" in terms of its tendency to sneak back into my mind as I mentally re-examine the characters and story. Though I might have wished for a little more focus on the characters than the fighting, the film nonetheless has a lot to say about their relationships, and I have a feeling this film will continue to improve on closer acquaintance. For more on this aspect, Rachel comments on the relationships and the film's heart at Hamlette's Soliloquy.

Johanssen's Natasha has always been one of my favorite characters since I began watching the series exactly six years ago this month. Natasha's story arc, culminating with AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019), is one of the most moving of all the series' many characters. This new film gives her character added depth; for example, we learn that Natasha's vest in INFINITY WAR originally belonged to her sister. My next viewing of ENDGAME will have an entirely new resonance.

Pugh is a fascinating actress with a bright future. While I wasn't completely won over by LITTLE WOMEN (2019), Pugh's steely Amy, a very fresh interpretation of the character, was probably the best thing about that film. I thoroughly enjoyed her as Yelena and look forward to her future appearances in Marvel films.

Harbour and Weisz have some good moments as the faux parents, but for the most part this film belongs to Johansson and Pugh, and they take the movie and run with it.

One minor quibble: I don't think little girls were coloring their hair wild colors in 1995 Ohio, as Natasha has in the opening scenes. Pondering that took me "out of the movie" initially. 

On the other hand, there are some really nice character touches, such as the reunited "family" sitting in the same places at the dinner table as they did in the Ohio sequence. I also appreciated the back story on Natasha's oft-referred-to adventures in Budapest with Hawkeye.

BLACK WIDOW runs 134 well-paced minutes. It was directed by Cate Shortland and written by Eric Pearson from a story by Jac Schaeffer and Ned Benson. The movie was filmed by Gabriel Beristain. The musical score was composed by Lorne Balfe.

Parental advisory: Like all Marvel movies, this film is rated PG-13, with lots of bloodless violence as our heroes make the world a better place. The films celebrate "found family," something Natasha comes to realize she has twice over, her Russian family on the one hand and the Avengers on the other.

Trailers are here and here.

Previous Marvel reviews: IRON MAN (2008), IRON MAN 2 (2010), CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011), THOR (2011), THE AVENGERS (2012), IRON MAN 3 (2013), THOR: THE DARK WORLD (2013), CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014), GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014), AGENT CARTER (2015), ANT-MAN (2015), AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (2015), CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016), DOCTOR STRANGE (2016), GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 (2017), SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017), THOR: RAGNAROK (2017), BLACK PANTHER (2018), AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018), ANT-MAN AND THE WASP (2018), CAPTAIN MARVEL (2019), AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019), and SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME (2019).

Since it's been a while since I reviewed a Marvel film, here's an overview of what's coming from Marvel later this year, if all goes well: SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE 10 RINGS (2021) will be released in September 2021, THE ETERNALS (2021) in November 2021, and SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME (2021) in December 2021.

Looking ahead to 2022, the schedule is DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS (2022) in March, THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER (2022) in May, BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER (2022) in July, and THE MARVELS (2022) in November.

ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA (2023) and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 3 (2023) are planned for release in 2023.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Coming October 7th-10th, 2021: The 31st Lone Pine Film Festival

I'm happy to announce that the Lone Pine Film Festival will take place in person this fall!

The dates for the 31st festival are October 7th-10th. Additionally, there will be one locations tour available on Monday, October 11th.

We've purchased our festival tickets and tours, and I couldn't be more excited about returning this year. This will be my seventh time to attend the festival, and especially after the last year and a half or so, I can't wait to attend. I think the experience will mean more than ever before.

(As with everything these days, that's conditioned on the state not throwing a monkey wrench into the plans, such as a mandate for indoor masks this fall; that would be a no go for me as, among other things, it would be too uncomfortable to be enjoyable. We'll very much hope that doesn't happen!)

I'm especially excited that Claude Jarman Jr. will be present at screenings of RIO GRANDE (1950) and HANGMAN'S KNOT (1952). I'm really looking forward to meeting him and hearing his stories about these films along with his life and career.

Additional festival guests are scheduled to include William Wellman Jr., Wyatt McCrea, Cheryl Rogers Barnett, Jay Dee Witney, and Diamond Farnsworth. The guest list is on the festival website. More guests may be added closer in time to the festival.

Additional information on films and tours is also available at the website.

For those who are new to the festival, my coverage of previous recent festivals may be found at these links: 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019. Each of these annual overview posts contains links to several additional posts covering that year's festival with lots of photos and information about the festival experience. Why not consider coming in 2021?

I'll have more coverage here closer in time to the festival.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Escape From Fort Bravo (1953) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

It's hard to believe I haven't reviewed a movie screener for three weeks now!  Our trip out of state earlier this month was followed by a massive work crunch when I returned home.

I have a really wonderful stack of Blu-ray and DVD releases to review this summer and am excited to get back to that!

First up: A Western I like better every time I see it, ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO (1953). It was recently released on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive Collection.

I first reviewed this film after watching it on DVD in 2007. A decade later I revisited it at the Lone Pine Film Festival; it was shown thanks to its extensive location work in nearby Death Valley. I enjoyed that screening so much that I created a photo gallery post of stills from the film, using images which hadn't been available the first time I wrote about the movie.

In 2017 I described ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO as "romantic, suspenseful, and action-packed, with a pair of wonderful, attractive leads and a terrific supporting cast."  My latest viewing of the movie cemented that impression. 

Set during the Civil War, the film tells the story of an isolated cavalry outpost in the southwest which serves as a prison for Rebel soldiers.

William Holden plays Captain Roper, whose tough, no-nonsense persona is seemingly contradicted by the rose garden he carefully tends behind his quarters.

When Carla Forester (Eleanor Parker) arrives at the fort to visit her friend Alice (Polly Bergen), daughter of the commanding officer (Carl Benton Reid), Carla immediately makes an overt play for the handsome Roper. Is it attraction, or is something else going on?

It's soon clear that Carla knows a Confederate officer, Captain Marsh (John Forsythe), who has been carefully plotting an escape...

The story culminates in a particularly exciting, nerve-wracking desert confrontation, as Union and Rebel soldiers alike unite to try to survive a deadly Indian attack. This sequence is expertly staged by director John Sturges.

As noted in my 2007 review, the movie plays a bit like a John Ford Cavalry film, including starting off with Stan Jones' "Yellow Stripes," a song also heard in Ford's RIO GRANDE (1950). The two films share in common Civil War and cavalry themes, not to mention a red-headed leading lady.

ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO soon establishes its unique aspects, including Parker's romantically assertive heroine and the aforementioned climactic action sequence, which I feel is really outstanding. All in all this is a very well-done 99 minutes of Western entertainment.

I'd add that the film has risen in my estimation since my first viewing, including a deeper appreciation for the supporting cast, which includes William Demarest, William Campbell, Richard Anderson, and John Lupton. As for Holden and Parker, they are superbly matched and a pleasure to watch from start to finish.

The Warner Archive Blu-ray is an outstanding presentation of Robert Surtees' widescreen filming, shot in Ansco Color. While there was one scene midway through which strangely went out of focus just as it faded out, for the most part this is an extremely attractive Blu-ray.

I haven't been able to put in my older DVD for a comparison but I feel confident this Blu-ray is an upgrade. A DVD Beaver review of the DVD backs this up, with grainy screencaps and a reference to it being a "terribly filthy print."

The Blu-ray is a crisp, clear print with beautiful color. The bright red letters of the opening credits let the viewer know immediately that a special viewing experience is ahead. I feel sure Eleanor Parker's gorgeous, colorful gowns by the great Helen Rose haven't looked better since the movie was first released.

There are some obvious soundstage exteriors, mostly used in night scenes, but much of the film was shot outdoors in New Mexico and the previously mentioned Death Valley. The fort scenes were shot at Corriganville using the set originally built for John Ford's FORT APACHE (1948).

A final interesting note is that Frank Fenton's screenplay was based on a story by Phillip Rock and actor Michael Pate. That very same year Pate had a memorable acting role as the Indian chief Vittorio in HONDO (1953).

The lone Warner Archive Blu-ray extra is the movie trailer.

Recommended.

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 Amazon Store or any online retailers where Blu-rays are sold.

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