Thursday, May 23, 2019

For Memorial Day: A Dozen Classic World War II Films

As Memorial Day approaches and our thoughts turn to those who sacrificed so much on behalf of our nation, it's an opportune time to take a look at some of Hollywood's best war movies. These fictionalized stories fill a valuable purpose, reminding audiences of the countless very real people who gave their all for our freedom.

This list focuses on World War II; there are countless cinematic depictions of the subject, but what follows is a personal list of recommendations of WWII films I've found especially enjoyable and meaningful. Please click any title link to read a more extended review.

CRASH DIVE (1943) - This Technicolor film stars two of 20th Century-Fox's most appealing leading men, Tyrone Power and Dana Andrews, as officers serving on a submarine. Rivals for the hand of lovely Anne Baxter, they unite to battle the enemy at sea. A good example of how Hollywood used movies to help rally support for the war effort, the film was also notable as the last film Power would make for three years due to his wartime service. He's billed as 'Tyrone Power, U.S.M.C.R.'

THIRTY SECONDS OVER TOKYO(1944) - Spencer Tracy stars as Lt. Col. James Doolittle in MGM's depiction of the historic air raid over Japan which took place in April 1942, just months after Pearl Harbor. Van Johnson and Robert Mitchum lead a fine supporting cast playing flyers volunteering for a dangerous mission, having no idea what it will be. It's a lengthy but very interesting film depicting the men's training, the mission itself, and the fight for survival after crash landing in China following the attack.

SO PROUDLY WE HAIL! (1943) - Paramount's telling of the story of the nurses who served at Bataan and Corregidor is, in my opinion, one of the finest of all WWII films. Claudette Colbert, Veronica Lake, and Paulette Goddard star in a surprisingly gritty film which doesn't pull any punches depicting the scope of U.S. losses early in the war. Despite the famous leading ladies, there are few concessions to glamour, other than the black nightgown Goddard takes everywhere as a morale booster. Goddard's heart-rending farewell to the wounded soldiers as she evacuates Corregidor, leaving with a helpless little wave of her hand, is one example of why she greatly deserved her Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress.

WING AND A PRAYER (1944) - This 20th Century-Fox film depicting operations aboard an aircraft carrier in the days between Pearl Harbor and the Battle of Midway is a somewhat lesser-known WWII film very much worth seeking out. It stars Don Ameche in an uncharacteristic role as the stern flight commander on the carrier; it's a lonely job, constantly making decisions which will lead to the deaths of some of his men. Dana Andrews plays a flight squadron leader juggling being an authority figure while still sharing camaraderie with his pilots.

PRIDE OF THE MARINES (1945) - An inspirational fact-based film from Warner Bros. starring John Garfield as Al Schmid, a machine gunner at Guadalcanal who killed at least 200 advancing Japanese but was himself blinded. The movie highlights the sacrifices made by soldiers and their families in the war, while also sharing an uplifting message about resilience in the face of adversity. Eleanor Parker costars as Al's devoted fiancee.

THEY WERE EXPENDABLE (1946) - John Ford's They Were Expendable is unquestionably one of the finest war films ever made, tremendously moving and simultaneously gritty and poetic. It's the saga of a PT boat squadron based in the Philippines during the darkest days of the war. Robert Montgomery and John Wayne, whose characters were inspired by real PT boat officers, attack Japanese boats as the situation in the South Pacific grows ever grimmer. Ultimately, Montgomery and Wayne's characters are ordered to evacuate, assigned a new mission to train future PT boat crews, but they must leave their men behind to uncertain fates as the Japanese advance.

COMMAND DECISION (1948) - Clark Gable leads an all-star cast for MGM, playing a Brigadier General who advocates a high-loss strategy bombing German airplane factories; he believes losing lives in the short run during long-distance daylight raids will save lives over time if the Nazis' ability to build planes is compromised. The film's origins as a stage play are apparent at times, with characters repeatedly walking in and out of rooms, yet Gable and the cast transcend this while presenting a thoughtful study on the stresses of leadership. Walter Pidgeon plays Gable's superior, who is sympathetic yet must also consider political and budgetary constraints. Brian Donlevy, Van Johnson, and John Hodiak costar.

FORCE OF ARMS (1951) - A romance set in WWII Italy, starring William Holden and Nancy Olson in one of four films they made together in the early '50s is a moving and memorable film which deserves to be better known. Holden and Olson play Pete and Ellie, an Army lieutenant and a WAC who don't initially hit it off; he's got battlefront fatigue and wants a quick fling, while she's mourning the combat death of her fiance. Pete finds he can't get the sweet but forthright Ellie out of his mind and they fall in love; meanwhile he's coping with what we now call PTSD and the fact he'll be returning to the front.

ABOVE AND BEYOND (1952) - MGM's depiction of the story of the Enola Gay, which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, stars Robert Taylor as pilot Col. Paul W. Tibbets. The film depicts the top-secret preparation for dropping the atomic bomb, the challenges of the mission itself, and the toll the stresses and secrecy took on Tibbets' marriage, with Eleanor Parker costarring as Tibbets' wife.

OPERATION PETTICOAT (1959) - For something in a lighter vein, this story of life aboard a submarine during the Pacific campaign is an all-time favorite comedy. Cary Grant is the commander of a sub which is unfortunately painted pink (it's a long story); there are some hilarious sequences thanks to Grant and Tony Curtis, but the reality of war is never far away, such as when a Christmas feast is suddenly strafed by the Japanese.

THE GALLANT HOURS (1960) - James Cagney was directed by his good friend Robert Montgomery in this portrait of Admiral William F. Halsey Jr. during the five weeks leading up to the U.S. victory at Guadalcanal. It's an unusual documentary-style film, filled with wartime tension yet without a single battle scene, save for bombs falling in the background at Guadalcanal. Cagney is superb in a quiet, authoritative performance as a man calmly coping with monumental decisions.

SINK THE BISMARCK! (1960) - An excellent Naval 'procedural' with Kenneth More starring as the Naval Director of Operations in a fact-based story on the critical 1941 battle to sink the fearsome German battleship. Most of the film is set in the British navy's operations bunker in London, and it's fascinating watching how the war was tracked and managed in those pre-computer days, with commanders moving ships around on a huge map as bulletins come in 'round the clock.

This post is adapted from an article originally published by ClassicFlix in 2015.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

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

Fernando Lamas and Rhonda Fleming star in JIVARO (1954), an adventure film recently released on Blu-ray and DVD by Kino Lorber.

The Blu-ray disc includes both 2D and 3D versions, so those with 3D Blu-ray players can watch it in that format if desired. I reviewed the 2D version.

A few months ago Kino Lorber also released another 3D film, SANGAREE (1953), which starred Lamas and Arlene Dahl; I reviewed SANGAREE last November. JIVARO lacks SANGAREE'S lush "romance novel" feel and beautiful color palette, but it makes up for that with rip-roaring adventure and another gorgeous redhead in place of Dahl, Rhonda Fleming.

Fleming plays Californian Alice Parker, who arrives in a small Brazilian town to surprise her fiance Jerry (Richard Denning), who has supposedly been building a plantation for them to live on when they marry. In reality Jerry has become a ne'er-do-well drunkard who's been carrying on with a local beauty (Rita Moreno) and recently disappeared in dangerous territory while on a quest for gold.

Rio Galdez (Lamas), who ferries Alice to the town on his boat, doesn't have the heart to tell Alice the truth about her fiance as she patiently waits in Jerry's miserable, falling-apart hut, which is supposedly just the place he crashes when he's in town. Alice slowly becomes suspicious all is not as it seems, especially when she finds a pair of woman's sandals in Jerry's hut.

Rio and Alice are constantly thrown together as he rescues her from myriad calamities, including an attack by a lecherous gold prospector (Brian Keith). Rio and Alice have just begun to acknowledge they have feelings for one another when proof arrives in town that all may not be well with Jerry, and they set off into the jungle hoping to find him.

The final jungle section of the film is a wild mishmash including jungle animal footage, a studio-built river, and some pretty grotesque moments of horror which must have been shocking in the original 3D. Will Rio and Alice make it out of the jungle alive?!

The story's only moderately passable, but it's entertaining enough, running a fairly snappy 92 minutes. Lamas and Fleming are an attractive couple and keep things worth watching even when the story is fairly predictable. It's not anything distinctive, but the film is acceptable Saturday-matinee style entertainment, with a bit of a feel of KING SOLOMON'S MINES (1950).

JIVARO is a Paramount release which was directed by Edward Ludwig and filmed in Technicolor by Lionel Lindon.

Blu-ray extras include the trailer, an additional trailer gallery of four films available from Kino Lorber, a commentary track with four contributors, and a nine-minute featurette, "Jivaro: A Shot By Shot Stereoscopic Analysis." The film includes an Intermission card at the halfway point of the movie, when the 3D reels would have been changed during the original theatrical run.

Although the story could have been more scintillating, this is a beautiful and even educational release from Kino Lorber which fans of jungle adventures or '50s 3D will want to be sure to order.

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

Monday, May 20, 2019

The 2019 Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival: Saturday

Our wonderful Friday at the 20th Annual Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival led to an equally wonderful four-film Saturday!

Saturday morning kicked off with Alan K. Rode introducing the restored 35mm print of TRAPPED (1950) starring Lloyd Bridges, Barbara Payton, and John Hoyt, directed by Richard Fleischer.

I had just seen this film at the Noir City Hollywood Festival at the end of March, but I was happy to watch it again! It's loads of fun, including alluring Barbara Payton, John Hoyt's rather surprising turn as an FBI hero, and marvelous L.A. location shooting, including a finale set in a Red Car Trolley barn. Recommended!

We never miss the chance to have a French dip sandwich for lunch at Sherman's Deli while we're in town, then it was back to the Camelot Theatres for the 1:00 p.m. movie, CALCUTTA (1947), introduced by Victoria Mature (seen at right). Victoria shared some interesting background information on both the film and the real Calcutta, including its history during WWII. (She donned shades for this intro to help deal with the brightness of the spotlight! Later in the day, in fact, Jan Shepard requested it be turned off so she could see the audience.)

CALCUTTA, which I had been fortunate to also see at the 2017 Noir City Hollywood Festival, was the first of a pair of Alan Ladd films seen at this year's festival; the other was THE GLASS KEY (1942) on Sunday. As I said in my preview of the festival schedule, you can never have too much Alan Ladd! It's been a great year for me to see Ladd on the big screen, including APPOINTMENT WITH DANGER (1951) at Noir City. I was happy to speak with other festival attendees in Palm Springs who were just recently discovering Ladd and liked what they saw!

CALCUTTA costars Gail Russell and William Bendix, directed by John Farrow. Russell plays an atypical role which I really enjoy -- I won't say more, except to watch her eyes if you're not sure she's telling the truth! Fun stuff.

The final two films of the day were completely new to me. Foster Hirsch introduced the heist film ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW (1959) and shared information he'd learned from past interviews with Harry Belafonte.

Part of what makes the film interesting is that there is racial animus among the crooks, which makes working together successfully a challenge. Hirsch had discussed with Belafonte that his character was as racist as Robert Ryan's and Belafonte agreed. They're seen here with Ed Begley (Sr.) as the third member of the team.

I was particularly intrigued that Belafonte, who also produced, had hired French cinematographer Joseph C. Brun because he wanted the film to be an outsider's perspective on the U.S., looking more like a European movie. Indeed, the film's look reminded me of the great French heist film RIFIFI (1955). The location shooting was terrific, especially in the small town where the bank was located.

I also enjoyed the score by John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet. Look for a more in-depth review here in the future.

The final film of the day was the new-to-me KING CREOLE (1958), with Elvis Presley supported by Carolyn Jones, Walter Matthau, Paul Stewart, and wonderful Dolores Hart. Jan Shepard, who played Elvis's sister Mimi, attended the screening. Here she is in the theater lobby before the the movie:

The movie, introduced below by Alan K. Rode, was excellent; I was particularly wowed by the evocative music just before and after the opening credits. I'll also be reviewing that film separately in the near future.

The delightful Shepard regaled us with stories of Elvis's sweetness and kindness, helping Marilyn Monroe shop for a house, and much more about the life of a young actress in '50s Hollywood. She seemed to know everyone! It was a joy to listen to her; I'd been unfamiliar with her work, and I'm definitely going to be watching for her other films and TV appearances in the future.

She's seen here at the left in a publicity photo along with Dolores Hart, Elvis, Carolyn Jones, and Liliane Montevecchi.

Watch for the recording of this interview to show up on the Film Noir Foundation website one day in the future.

Coming soon: An overview of the final day of the festival, along with reviews of THE SCARLET HOUR (1956), ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW, and KING CREOLE.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Pokemon Detective Pikachu (2019)

My latest new theatrical film seen was the family comedy POKEMON DETECTIVE PIKACHU (2019), a hybrid live-action/animated film.

This might seem a somewhat unusual choice, but over the years I parented four children who watched the Pokemon TV cartoons, collected the trading cards, and played the Game Boy games, so I acquired more than a passing familiarity with the franchise.

Added to that, I will happily admit to really enjoying the Pokemon Go phone app, which I've played for nearly three years now, so when our youngest daughter decided to send me to the new Pokemon movie as a Mother's Day gift, I was delighted with the idea.

One doesn't have to be an expert but I do think having the familiarity with the Pokemon world adds a lot to understanding and appreciating the more detailed aspects of the film; a viewer who "speaks the language" and knows what a Mewtwo is or what the little creatures are who walk around with their tails on fire or what happens when you throw a Pokeball at a Pokemon will simply get more out of it than someone coming to the film cold.

That said, the plot is still amusing enough that a more casual viewer could probably still enjoy it and perhaps find that it's an entry point into the Pokemon world. And for anyone wanting to give it a whirl, the Los Angeles Times published a helpful explainer to get the ball pun intended. (But Pokemon fans will get the joke.)

Detective Harry Goodman has disappeared from Ryme City, where humans and Pokemon happily coexist. Harry is presumed dead; when Harry's estranged son Tim (Justice Smith) arrives in Ryme City to talk with Harry's boss (Ken Watanabe) and settle his affairs, Harry's former partner, the Pokemon Detective Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) pays Tim a visit.

The really unusual thing about Detective Pikachu is that while most humans simply hear Pikachu adorably babbling in Pokemon talk ("pika pika!"), Tim and Pikachu can converse with each other in English. Together they set out to discover what actually happened to Harry.

It's a fairly simple plot, but the animators and Reynolds combine to make Pikachu a lot of fun; those who know Reynolds from the very R-rated DEADPOOL need have no fear, as this is most definitely a PG film. Pikachu is nervy and can be sarcastic, but he also has a tender heart.

A scene where Pikachu tries to buck up his spirits singing the TV theme song was the best moment in the movie; his sadness tugged at the heartstrings but I also couldn't stop laughing! I heard that song way too many times in years past not to get a kick out of the moment.

For me what really made the movie was its visually dazzling environment and watching everything going on in the background, and this is where the familiarity with Pokemon takes the movie to the next level. I really got a kick out of seeing so many different creatures I knew by name and noticing funny bits like the traffic being directed around a Snorlax who's asleep in the middle of the street.

It's not the strongest film I've seen this year by any means, but I had an enjoyable time and was glad I went, and if there's another Pokemon film in the future, as rumor has it, I will go see that one too.

More from Katie Walsh in the L.A. Times: "For audiences of a certain age, the phrase POKEMON DETECTIVE PIKACHU might sound like utter gibberish. DETECTIVE PIKACHU may not be for everyone — but it's surprising how much it could be... Incredibly fun."

POKEMON DETECTIVE PIKACHU runs 104 minutes. It was directed by Rob Letterman and filmed by John Mathieson. The supporting cast includes Bill Nighy and Kathryn Newton.

The trailer is here.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Quick Preview of TCM in August: Summer Under the Stars

The August Summer Under the Stars schedule is now available from Turner Classic Movies!

Here is the 2019 Summer Under the Stars lineup. One of the "TBA" days will be focused on Joel McCrea and the other on Ruth Hussey, winners of a recent TCM Backlot contest. McCrea beat out Robert Ryan for a Summer Under the Stars day, while Hussey won out over a fellow actress named Ruth, Ruth Roman.

Each star listed below will be celebrated with a 24-hour marathon.
































There are a number of interesting titles on the schedule, including several films from Universal, Paramount, and 20th Century-Fox which I believe may either be TCM premieres or haven't been shown on the network in a very long time.

Some of the interesting titles on the August schedule include Fox's SUSANNAH OF THE MOUNTIES (1939) shown on Shirley Temple Day; Paramount's MARY BURNS, FUGITIVE (1935) and I MET HIM IN PARIS (1937), both showing on Melvyn Douglas Day; Universal's HIGH, WIDE AND HANDSOME (1937) and WHEN TOMORROW COMES (1939) for Irene Dunne Day; and Fox's MOTHER DIDN'T TELL ME (1950) for Dorothy McGuire Day. It's great to see some fresh titles turn up on the network!

Interesting newer documentaries airing in August are AVA GARDNER: THE GIPSY OF HOLLYWOOD (2017) and THE GREAT BUSTER: A CELEBRATION (2018), the latter directed by Peter Boganovich.

There's so much good stuff coming in August that it makes up for the dates on the schedule which are utterly uninteresting to me, such as the MacLaine and Hoffman days...

For more information please visit the complete schedule.

I'll have much more on Summer Under the Stars posted here around the end of August! In the meantime, Paul Newman continues as the May Star of the Month, with Jane Powell coming in June and Glenn Ford celebrated in July.

A Visit to Forest Lawn Cathedral City

Last week on our way to the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival we made a stop at Forest Lawn in Cathedral City.

Forest Lawn is a mausoleum located directly across the street from Desert Memorial Park, which we visited in 2017. It's a relatively small, tranquil environment where we paused to pay our respects to several favorite performers.

Click on any photo to enlarge it for a closer look.

Oscar-winning actress Jane Wyman is one of the most prominent actors whose final resting place is located in Cathedral City:

Husband-wife entertainers Phil Harris and Alice Faye's remains are located nearby in these unusual urns:

Dinah Shore is rather interesting, as she chose for half her ashes to be placed in Cathedral City, near her longtime desert home...

...while the other half are at Hillside Memorial Park in Culver City (below). We visited Hillside last month, and I'll be sharing additional photos from that visit soon.

Dinah Shore was married for two decades to actor-artist George Montgomery, and they are said to have remained friendly after their divorce; in fact, Montgomery was at her bedside when she passed on. Like his ex-wife, Montgomery chose to have his ashes divided, with half in Cathedral City...

...and the other half in his family's plot in Great Falls, Montana.

Actor Guy Madison is also in Cathedral City:

Charles "Buddy" Rogers, who was married to Mary Pickford from 1937 until her death in 1979:

And actor Francis Lederer, who lived to be over 100:

Additional photo posts on the final resting places of historic Hollywood figures: A Visit to Forest Lawn Glendale, Part 1, A Visit to Forest Lawn Glendale, Part 2, A Visit to the Forest Lawn Museum, A Visit to Hollywood Forever Cemetery, A Visit to Westwood Village Memorial Park - The Musicians, A Visit to Westwood Village Memorial Park - The Comedians, A Visit to Westwood Village Memorial Park - The Actors, A Visit to Westwood Village Memorial Park - Writers, Directors, and More, A Visit to Holy Cross Cemetery, Part 1, A Visit to Holy Cross Cemetery, Part 2, A Visit to Holy Cross Cemetery, Part 3, A Visit to Desert Memorial Park, Los Angeles National Cemetery, A Visit to Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, Part 1, A Visit to Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, Part 2, and A Visit to Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, Part 3.

Friday, May 17, 2019

The 2019 Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival: Friday

The wonderful opening night of the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival was just the beginning of a terrific weekend enjoying movies in the desert.

On Friday we started our day with our favorite breakfast stop in Palm Springs, Elmer's, then headed to the Palm Springs Cultural Center at the Camelot Theatres for the 10:00 a.m. film, SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT (1946).

I'd previously seen SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT on DVD and reviewed it in 2011; what a treat to see it again on a big screen in 35mm!

SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT features the classic '40s film noir amnesia trope, as veteran John Hodiak tries to piece together his past. Richard Conte, Lloyd Nolan, and Nancy Guild costar, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. This was the first of a pair of Mankiewicz films screened at this year's festival, the second being FIVE FINGERS (1952) later in the day.

SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT was introduced by Foster Hirsch (at right), and I got a kick out of the fact that he mentioned Nolan's first scene in a Chinese restaurant, which I had spent time discussing in my 2011 review; particularly compared to Guild's weirdly memorable yet unbelievable performance as the leading lady, Nolan gives a master acting class in how to very naturally and personably handle exposition while engaging in entertaining bits of business.

Next up was a brand-new 35mm print of a little-known film directed by Michael Curtiz, THE SCARLET HOUR (1956). I thoroughly enjoyed this twisted tale of love, robbery, and murder, with lesser-known leads Carol Ohmart and Tom Tryon supported by a great cast of faces including James Gregory, Elaine Stritch, E.G. Marshall, Edward Binns, David Lewis, and even Nat King Cole singing a song in a nightclub!

THE SCARLET HOUR was introduced by Alan Rode (left), who of course has written a wonderful biography of Curtiz; like Mankiewicz, Curtiz was represented by more than one film at this year's festival, with the other movie being the Saturday night screening of KING CREOLE (1958).

I had missed out on a couple of opportunities to see THE SCARLET HOUR in the L.A. area last year so I was very happy to finally catch up with it. I'll have a separate review posted here soon. Let's hope for a future DVD release!

Later in the day I revisited two more films, starting with FIVE FINGERS (1952), which I hadn't seen for nearly a decade. This Mankiewicz-directed WWII spy film stars James Mason, Danielle Darrieux, and Michael Rennie.

Victoria Mature did the honors providing background on the film prior to the screening. I hadn't remembered a great deal about the movie other than that I had liked it, and I very much enjoyed a fresh look.

Friday wrapped up with ALL MY SONS (1948), which I had previously seen at the 2016 Noir City Hollywood Festival. It's not a favorite film, as the story is sad and I find leading lady Louisa Horton quite bland, but it's involving and was worth a second viewing. Edward G. Robinson and Burt Lancaster are both excellent.

Following the film Alan Rode interviewed Lancaster's daughter Joanna about her father's career and life growing up as a Lancaster. Joanna, whose career has included both producing and teaching, said growing up as one of five children in the Lancaster home included some animated dinner table discussions.

One of the amusing stories she told was that her father took his role in THE SWIMMER (1968) after asking teenaged Joanna's opinion of the story, and that everyone in the family then had to learn to swim!

All of the weekend's interviews were filmed and I anticipate will later be available at the Film Noir Foundation website, as has been the case with past festival interviews.

Coming soon: A review of THE SCARLET HOUR and a look at Saturday's screenings.