Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2020

My annual list of Favorite Film Discoveries was posted today at Rupert Pupkin Speaks!

The column shares a dozen of the films which made the biggest impressions on me from my 2020 viewing.  

An additional 12 titles of interest are listed at the very end of the post.

For additional information on any film on my list, simply input the title in the search box at the upper left-hand corner of Laura's Miscellaneous Musings to pull up the full review.

Thanks so much to Brian of Rupert Pupkin Speaks for inviting me to share another list as part of this annual tradition!

Previous Favorite Discoveries Lists: Favorite Film Discoveries of 2013Favorite Film Discoveries of 2014Favorite Film Discoveries of 2015Favorite Film Discoveries of 2016Favorite Film Discoveries of 2017Favorite Film Discoveries of 2018, and Favorite Film Discoveries of 2019.

Additional guest posts at Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Five Underrated Comedies, Five Underrated WesternsFive Underrated Mystery/Detective Films, Five Underrated Action/Adventure Films, Five Underrated Thrillers, Five Underrated Films of 1955, Five Underrated Films of 1945Five Underrated Films of 1956, and Five Underrated Films of 1947.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Hot Lead (1951)

It's been quite a while since I last saw a Tim Holt Western, so I pulled out the Warner Archive's Tim Holt Western Classics Collection Vol. 3 and watched HOT LEAD (1951).

Tim and Chito (Richard Martin) are working as hands for Gail Martin (Joan Dixon, ROADBLOCK) -- although Chito, as always, is easily distracted from work by a beautiful lady.

A gang of robbers (John Dehner, Robert J. Wilke, and Paul Marion) are at work in the nearby town of Trail Head, planning to rob a gold shipment due by train.

Dave Collins (Ross Elliott) comes to town after being released from prison.  After a friend (Lee MacGregor) of Tim and Chito's is killed during a robbery attempt at the train station, Tim becomes suspicious of Dave, who's being pressured by the robbers to cooperate; they need his skills operating a telegraph.

Dave comes clean to Tim and Gail about his background, and Tim and Chito go to work to set a trap for the robbery gang.  This will hoepfully also pave the way for Dave to pursue a romance with Gail.

Tim and Chito's usual enjoyable bantering, Dehner and Wilke as bad guys, and attractive filming by Nicholas Musuraca (OUT OF THE PAST) combine for a lively and enjoyable 60 minutes.

This was one of five Holt films costarring Joan Dixon released in 1951-52; I previously reviewed GUNPLAY (1951). I've come across stills of Dixon in another of her Holt films, PISTOL HARVEST (1951), wearing one of the same dresses she wears in this movie!  I'll have to see if the costumes are repeated throughout all five of her films; it wouldn't surprise me.

Dixon had a short but interesting career; she's not a great actress yet has a distinctive personality I enjoy, along with striking looks.  In HOT LEAD her character, a woman running a ranch with the help of her hands, does not shy away from being assertive, both in business and romance.

In addition to GUNPLAY and ROADBLOCK, I've also reviewed Dixon's films BUNCO SQUAD (1950) and EXPERIMENT ALCATRAZ (1950).  I look forward to seeing her additional Holt Westerns.

HOT LEAD was directed by Stuart Gilmore and written by William Lively.  It was filmed on movie ranches in Southern California's Newhall-Santa Clarita area.

Other than a couple very brief moments with some debris, most of the Warner Archive DVD looks great.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Taxi, Mister (1943) - A ClassicFlix DVD Review

Tonight I watched TAXI, MISTER (1943), the final film in the enjoyable ClassicFlix set The Complete Hal Roach Streamliners Collection, Volume 3: The Taxi Comedies.

I previously reviewed the other two films in the collection, BROOKLYN ORCHID (1942) and THE MCGUERINS FROM BROOKLYN (1942).  All three films are about Tim McGuerin (William Bendix) and Eddie Corbett (Joe Sawyer), two guys from tough backgrounds who make their fortune in the taxi business.

In this short 46-minute film, Eddie recounts to Lucy Gibbs (Marjorie Woodworth) how Tim first met Sadie in the 1920s and fell head over heels in love.  Gangster Louis Glorio (Sheldon Leonard) also had his eye on Sadie, and Tim helping capture Glorio led to a reward which began the growth of their taxi business.

I don't want to oversell TAXI, MISTER and the other films in the set as great movies, but I've definitely developed a soft spot for them and wish there were more.  Like the other Streamliners, they're fast-paced entertainment with some funny gags and the movies are all over and done almost before they've begun.  My fellow "B" fans will probably enjoy taking a look at these movies.

For me the delight of this trio of films has been Grace Bradley's sassy comic performance as Sadie, but this was to be her last film.  Bradley loved her offscreen role as "Mrs. Hoppy," the wife of William "Hopalong Cassidy" Boyd, and from this point forward focused on supporting him in his busy career.

Woodworth, who was my most watched actress in 2020, has just a small part in this one, listening to Eddie's story.  Very strangely, she receives no billing whatsoever; she doesn't even show up in the extended unbilled credits at IMDb, but after seeing her in a number of films over the past year I have no doubt it was her, reprising her character from the first two taxi movies. 

There isn't a great deal of information about Woodworth, but I've learned that she went to USC; she married a fellow alum in 1947 and retired.  Her father was a prominent attorney in Inglewood, California, where the Clyde Woodworth Elementary School and Woodworth Avenue are named for him.  Woodworth and her parents are all buried at Inglewood Park Cemetery.  I found a little more background at a page on Woodworth family history.

TAXI, MISTER was directed by Kurt Neumann and filmed in black and white by Robert Pittack.

The picture and sound on this ClassicFlix DVD were both very good.  I'll have more Streamliners reviews here in the future as I continue to watch my way through these collections.

Thanks to ClassicFlix for providing a review copy of this DVD.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Captain Newman, M.D. (1963) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Gregory Peck stars as CAPTAIN NEWMAN, M.D., which was released on Blu-ray last month by Kino Lorber.

It's 1944 and Captain Josiah "Joe" Newman runs a psychiatric ward at a dusty Air Force base in Arizona.

The doctor has a number of tough combat-related cases to treat, while simultaneously dealing with military brass who aren't overly sympathetic to mental health issues.  Dr. Newman is under pressure to solve cases within a few short weeks, hopefully returning the men to active duty.

He's aided by an orderly, Corporal Leibowitz (Tony Curtis), who is initially pressured into the job but who shows a real knack for understanding in his brash way.  Newman also persuades a nurse, Francie (Angie Dickinson), to transfer into the ward; among other things, he thinks the men will find her beauty an encouragement on their path to healing.

Eddie Albert, Robert Duvall, and Oscar-nominated Bobby Darin play Newman's most challenging patients.

CAPTAIN NEWMAN, M.D. was a fairly well-done film, though hampered a bit by Peck's tendency to arrogance -- thankfully punctured with frequency by Curtis, in a scene-stealing performance -- and the lack of "place setting" which strangely plagues 1960s World War II films.  Here we once more end up with anachronistic hairstyles, just as seen in the later THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY (1964) and BATTLE OF BRITAIN (1969).  We only know the film is set during WWII because we're told that's the case.

The film's bigger problem is that, while there is occasionally comic relief thanks to Curtis and a flock of sheep, it's very painful watching men in their deepest, darkest moments of agony and despair.  At some point I find it hard to call it entertainment.  It makes for a rather long 126 minutes even with -- because of? -- some strong and convincing performances.

Among the patients I was most interested in Duvall, with Bethel Leslie as his wife -- in part as theirs was the story which ultimately had the most hope. 

Peck is pleasant enough, but as hinted above, his character sometimes veers into an "I know best" attitude which makes a few of Peck's performances increasingly grating to me with the passage of time; THE BIG COUNTRY (1958) is another example. 

Curtis does something of a riff on his "scrounger" character from OPERATION PETTICOAT (1959), but he's such a welcome relief in that environment that the lack of originality doesn't matter too much.  Indeed, I particularly got a kick out of the scene where he punctures Dr. Newman a bit by sharing his belief that it's all pretty much common sense in dealing with their patients.

This was the third film I've seen Dickinson in since the start of the year; she's lovely but has little chance to show much in the way of acting chops.  Her role is to smile and look pretty.

The screenplay by Richard L. Breen and Henry and Phoebe Ephron was based on a novel by Leo Rosten.  The movie was directed by David Miller (SUDDEN FEAR) and filmed by Russell Metty.

The supporting cast includes Jane Withers, Larry Storch, Dick Sargent, James Gregory, Ted Bessell, and Gregory Walcott.

Kino Lorber's Blu-ray is a sharp, crisp widescreen print with excellent sound.  The disc includes a commentary track by Samm Deighan, the trailer, and a gallery of trailers for eight additional films available from Kino Lorber.

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

Tonight's Movie: My Dream Is Yours (1949) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

MY DREAM IS YOURS (1949) is one of a pair of Doris Day musicals being released on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive this week.

The other film is ON MOONLIGHT BAY (1951), which I'll be reviewing here in the near future.

This duo of bright and cheerful musicals are just what the world needs right now.  Indeed, after watching an unusually dark film last night the first thing I did was pop Doris in the Blu-ray player, ready for the sunshine and rainbows that only Doris can provide.

MY DREAM IS YOURS is one of my favorite Doris Day movies, which I first reviewed here in 2008 after a magical evening sitting in on my daughter's musicals class with Drew Casper at the University of Southern California.

Doris plays Martha Gibson, a young widow and mother who aspires to a singing career.  She's discovered by agent Doug Blake (Jack Carson) after he's dumped by his star client, radio singer Gary Mitchell (Lee Bowman, with singing dubbed by Hal Derwin).

Martha initially struggles to find success, until Doug realizes that Martha should be crooning ballads rather than singing jaunty novelty tunes.  Martha then makes the big time, but her love life is a mess, as she's torn between glamorous Gary and dependable Doug.  

This was only Doris's second film, following ROMANCE ON THE HIGH SEAS (1948), but she owns the screen from her first scene and doesn't let go for the entirety of the movie's 101 minutes.  The camera loved her, and she seemed to love being in the movies right back, a completely confident performer.  

Doris easily handles both light comedy and tearful scenes, and she sings a number of good songs, including Harry Warren and Al Dubin's "I'll String Along With You" and the title song, by Warren and Ralph Blane.  She's a joy.

Doris has excellent chemistry with her ROMANCE ON THE HIGH SEAS costar Carson; the viewer feels that they genuinely like each other.  I really like Carson in this pair of films; his mellow, supportive personality is appealing.  

The cast is rounded out by a dependable cast including Eve Arden, S.Z. "Cuddles" Sakall, Adolphe Menjou, Lee Bowman, and Selena Royle.  Faces like Edgar Kennedy, Sheldon Leonard, and Franklin Pangborn also pop up, and Duncan Richardson is cute as Martha's little boy.

This is another great Warner Archive Blu-ray print, showing off the glorious Technicolor work of Wilfrid M. Cline and Ernest Haller.  The film is absolutely beautiful, with the "vintage" looks at 1940s Hollywood a particular treat.  Coming from an era where I first saw many movies edited and riddled with commercials, I don't think I'll ever quite get over my amazement at being able to play a beautiful print like this any time I wish.

Michael Curtiz, who also worked with Day and Carson on ROMANCE ON THE HIGH SEAS, capably directed.  The Bugs Bunny animated sequence was directed by Friz Freleng.

Extras carried over from the film's original DVD release include a trailer, the cartoon A HAM IN A ROLE (1949), and two shorts, SO YOU WANT TO BE AN ACTOR (1949) and THE GRASS IS ALWAYS GREENER (1950).  The disc also has a song selection menu.

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

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Tonight's Movie: The Great Man's Lady (1942) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Another weekend, and another set of Kino Lorber reviews wrapped up!

Last year I reviewed the first two films in Kino Lorber's Barbara Stanwyck Collection, INTERNES CAN'T TAKE MONEY (1937) and THE BRIDE WORE BOOTS (1946).

There were so many interesting Kino Lorber sets released last year that I couldn't get to every film as each collection initially came out. With the pace of releases a bit slower this winter, I'm really enjoying circling back to completing watching these sets, and it's a good opportunity to remind readers of last year's many excellent multi-film releases.

THE GREAT MAN'S LADY is an historical saga directed by William A. Wellman.  Stanwyck appears opposite one of her regular costars, Joel McCrea, who also starred with her in the set's INTERNES CAN'T TAKE MONEY, filmed half a decade previously.  In the intervening years they had also costarred in Cecil B. DeMille's UNION PACIFIC (1939); ultimately Stanwyck and McCrea would make half a dozen films together in close to 24 years.

THE GREAT MAN'S LADY is a story presented in flashback as 100-year-old Hannah Sempler Hoyt (Stanwyck) recounts her life to a writer (K.T. Stevens, billed here as Katharine).  

Hannah is a young girl when she elopes with Ethan Hoyt (McCrea), who dreams of building a great city on the frontier.  

The Hoyts struggle and have decided to go west in search of gold when Ethan loses everything he owns to gambler Steely Hoyt (Brian Donlevy).  Hannah manages to get everything back from Steely, and when the Hoyts go west, Hannah and Steely become close friends when Ethan is away for weeks at a time prospecting.

Hannah gives birth to twins in her husband's absence, but they die in a flood.  Ethan believes Hannah has died in the same flood and remarries.  Having lost everything, Hannah goes with Steely to San Francisco, while Ethan becomes a wealthy and powerful man thanks to finding silver.

The early part of the film is the best, with McCrea and Stanwyck as ambitious young dreamers who are head over heels for each other.  The second half of the film is absorbing enough to watch but the lighthearted energy gradually disappears and the film instead becomes depressing, as one can imagine reading the above.  Killing off two little babies, followed by the permanent break to the Hoyt marriage, was much too much.

The performances by Stanwyck and Donlevy are top notch, and Stanwyck really gets to show her stuff as her character ages by eight decades.  McCrea is a big favorite but has less to do in this film, especially in the second half, when he's more talked about than seen.  

There are a number of familiar supporting faces in the cast, from Thurston Hall, Charles Lane, and George Chandler to Etta McDaniel, Mary Treen, and Lloyd Corrigan, but only the three excellent leads make any impression.  

The film is worth seeing for fans of Stanwyck, McCrea, and Donlevy -- and I'm definitely one -- but ultimately it's kind of a long 90 minutes with all the tragedies befalling the characters in rapid succession.

THE GREAT MAN'S LADY was filmed by William C. Mellor.  The screenplay by W.L. River was based on a story by multiple contributors, including Adela Rogers St. Johns.  Additional great names behind the scenes included costumes by Edith Head and a score by Victor Young.

Kino Lorber's Blu-ray is a nice print with excellent sound.  The disc includes a commentary by Eloise Ross along with the trailer.  

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

Tonight's Movie: Good News (1947) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

Two of my favorite MGM musicals have been released on Blu-ray in recent weeks by the Warner Archive: THE HARVEY GIRLS (1946), which I reviewed on New Year's Eve, and GOOD NEWS (1947).

I've seen GOOD NEWS many times and want to rave about the Blu-ray at the outset of my comments: I think it's one of the best Blu-rays I've ever seen. The clarity and crispness gives scenes such as students gathered on the sunny lawn of Tait College a remarkable "you are right there" immediacy, and the richness of the Technicolor made me sigh with bliss.  This disc is a "must buy" for fans of musicals in general and this film in particular.

GOOD NEWS was the feature film debut of director Charles Walters, who got his start in films as a dance director in the early '40s.  Walters more than showed his skills with GOOD NEWS, a joyous bauble which overcomes its minimal story with energetic performances and a succession of delightful musical numbers.  Though it's been in the shadow of more famous MGM musicals, my impression is that the movie is only becoming more beloved with the passage of time.

The fun begins right from the opening credits and the Tait College chant ("Boom boom sis boom...") launching into the title song under the opening credits.

It's 1927, and Tait College football star Tommy Marlowe (Peter Lawford) is tutored in French by librarian Connie Lane (June Allyson).  Tommy starts to fall for Connie, but his attention is momentarily diverted by glamorous golddigger Pat McClellan (Patricia Marshall).  

Will Tommy pass all his classes so he can play in the big game?  And will he realize Connie is his true love?  What do you think?  It's all neatly wrapped up in 93 minutes.

What's really important are the musical numbers, and there are so many fun scenes, with everyone in the cast at the top of their game.  I've always gotten a kick out of Peter Lawford, Mel Torme, and company singing "Be a Ladies' Man"; I agree with my friend KC that Torme should have had more screen time, but his reprise of "The Best Things in Life Are Free" late in the film is a delightful moment for fans of the "Velvet Fog."

Even better are "The French Lesson," a novelty duet with Allyson and Lawford; the "Varsity Drag" finale, recognized by many due to being showcased in THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! (1974); and the fantastic "Pass That Peace Pipe," an Oscar-nominated song which puts the vivacious Joan McCracken front and center. If only she had made more movies...

The fast-paced "Pass That Peace Pipe" and "Varsity Drag" are remarkable sequences featuring many synchronized dancers, and part of the joy, beyond the performance of Robert Alton's choreography, is the "realness" of the dancing captured on film; I counted roughly 8 or 10 perfectly timed cuts in each number, which doesn't seem like very many given the complexity of the routines. The long takes with such superb group dancing are a big part of the thrill.

The distinctive "MGM sound," with orchestrations by Conrad Salinger and Lennie Hayton, is also wonderfully displayed here. MGM's arrangements, along with the performances of the MGM orchestra and chorus, were head and shoulders above any other studio, and this film is an excellent example.

The movie also provides a good look at parts of the storied MGM backlot, including "St. Louis Street" from MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944) along with the Tait College sets.

Charles Schoenbaum filmed the movie in Technicolor.  The terrific, colorful costumes are by the great Helen Rose.  Betty Comden and Adolph Green wrote the screenplay based on the original play by several writers.

Extras reprised from the 2000 DVD -- which came in a snap case, remember those? -- are the trailer, a deleted musical number, a radio promo, and a couple of excerpts from an earlier version of GOOD NEWS (1930). There's also a song selection menu.


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

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...Kino Lorber has had some terrific announcements in recent weeks of "never on DVD" titles coming to Blu-ray via their Studio Classics line.  The most recent good news is regarding an upcoming release of ALIAS NICK BEAL (1949), a terrific film starring Ray Milland, Audrey Totter, and Thomas Mitchell.  I reviewed the movie when it was screened at the 2014 Noir City Hollywood Film Festival.  Kino Lorber says it's "coming soon," from a 2017 4K scan.

...Also coming soon from Kino Lorber: SHAKE HANDS WITH THE DEVIL (1959) starring James Cagney, and nine Mae West films, all for the first time on Blu-ray.  The West films are coming June 29th; a date has not yet been announced for SHAKE HANDS WITH THE DEVIL.

...In the Warner Archive's latest newsletter there was an announcement (seen here) indicating that the WBShop, currently managed by the Araca Group, will be ceasing business in a few weeks.  A "4 for $44" sale will take place the weekend of March 12th.  The news caused some concern that the Warner Archive may be coming to an end, but Susan King, who formerly covered classic films for the Los Angeles Times, was told by the Warner Archive's publicist that the line will be continuing and the recently laid off George Feltenstein will be a consultant.  Glenn Erickson confirms the consultant information in his latest CineSavant column.

...This week, incidentally, Glenn Erickson reviews the Warner Archive's new Blu-ray release of SAN FRANCISCO (1936).  Look for a review of that Blu-ray here at a future date!

...Coming to DVD in the Critic's Choice Collection in March: A Glenn Ford Western Triple Feature with THE MAN FROM COLORADO (1948), A TIME FOR KILLING (1967), and the not-on-DVD LUST FOR GOLD (1949), costarring Ida Lupino.  (February 22nd Update: Thanks to a kind reader for letting me know LUST FOR GOLD was released on DVD by Sony in 2005.  I hadn't found a link previously but it popped right up when I searched Amazon today.)  Also coming from Critic's Choice in March: A Boston Blackie Triple Feature.  I now have several of the Critic's Choice multifilm collections, including a nine-film Buck Jones set and a just-ordered Bill Elliott Triple Feature.  I recommend checking out the sets at the Critic's Choice site.

...A new release from VCI Entertainment's Cliffhanger Collection: WILD WEST DAYS (1937), a serial starring Johnny Mack Brown, on Blu-ray and DVD.

...At Classic Film Observations & Obsessions Jocelyn has written about the silent Western epic THE COVERED WAGON (1923), which I reviewed here almost exactly three years ago.  The review is part of Jocelyn's 2021 blog series "50 Years of Film in 50 Weeks."

...Here are a couple recent Bing Crosby CDs I'm hoping to pick up soon: Philco Radio Time, which came out last March, and Chesterfield Radio Time, which was a December 2020 release.

...A pair of Western-themed cookbooks I've recently added to my collection are the 1995 ALL-AMERICAN COWBOY COOKBOOK: HOME COOKING ON THE RANGE, which has recipes contributed by many cowboy stars, and THE OFFICIAL JOHN WAYNE FAMILY COOKBOOK.  Last weekend I made "Jim McLain's Big Beef Brisket" from the latter cookbook, and it was excellent!

...Another interesting column this week at Jeff Arnold's West: "The Westerns of Gordon Douglas." I'm so glad Jeff began blogging again! FORT DOBBS (1958), in which Douglas directed Clint Walker and Virginia Mayo, is a personal favorite.

...Rachel celebrates one of my favorite actors, Alan Ladd, at her blog Hamlette's Soliloquy.

...The Classic Movie Hub site which hosts my monthly Western RoundUp column has recently begun hosting a monthly "watch party."  Eacg month a film is shown on the Best Classics Ever channel on YouTube with a live intro and closing by Classic Movie Hub contributors, as well as live chat in the comments during the course of the film.  After the live presentation, the movies can later be seen, including the introductions, on YouTube.  Last night was TOO LATE FOR TEARS (1949) and the month before was ROAD TO BALI (1953).  Next month I'm scheduled to join the conversation for a showing of one of my favorite films, ANGEL AND THE BADMAN (1947).

...Benedict Cumberbatch is scheduled to star in a "limited series" remake of Hitchcock's THE 39 STEPS (1935).

...New merchandise for classic film fans, including T-shirts and mugs, is available from the American Cinematheque...and check out Kate Gabrielle's great designs at her Threadless shop.  I especially love the John B. Merlin & Son Toy Department shirt inspired by BACHELOR MOTHER (1939).

...At It's a Wonderful Movie, Net shares a dozen of her favorite winter-themed Hallmark and Lifetime TV-movies.

...If you're not watching WANDAVISION (2021) on Disney+, you're missing an amazingly layered and creative series in which an ongoing mystery unfolds each week while paying tribute to classic TV sitcoms, simultaneously incorporating deep Marvel history.  I can already see that the show will need to be rewatched from the beginning once it's over, as everything will look quite different from a fully informed perspective.

...For additional recent links of interest to classic film fans, please check out my February 13th roundup.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Smart Blonde (1937)

After watching FUGITIVE IN THE SKY (1937) earlier this week, I had the yen for another Warner Bros. "B" movie, so I pulled out the Warner Archive's nine-film Torchy Blane Collection.  

SMART BLONDE (1937) was the first film in the series and my introduction to newspaper reporter Torchy Blane (Glenda Farrell) and her boyfriend, Police Detective Steve McBride (Barton MacLane).  

Torchy is a gung-ho gal who thinks nothing of jumping on a moving train to get an exclusive interview, in this case with Tiny Torgenson (Joseph Crehan), who is on his way to Los Angeles to purchase a nightclub from Fitz Mularkey (Addison Richards).

Torgenson is gunned down in front of Torchy as they leave the train station in L.A., and she and Steve get to work on solving the murder.  

The screenplay by Kenneth Gamet and Don Ryan was based on a detective story by Frederick Nebel about a cop and a reporter, who were both male characters.  Just as the newspaper play and film THE FRONT PAGE (1931) later changed out a male lead for a female character in HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940), Warner Bros. turned the reporter into a woman.  And in this case the character of Torchy was so successful that she is credited as the inspiration for Lois Lane in SUPERMAN.

Torchy and Steve are already an item as the movie begins, which lets us jump right into the story and their relationship, which is simultaneously competitive and affectionate.  They argue with one another -- Torchy speed-talks, while Steve is loud -- but they clearly enjoy it, and Steve's bluster masks a softy underneath.

The mystery is fairly easy to follow, not always a given in these types of films, and while it's not great cinema, it's an entertaining and energetic 59 minutes which left me interested in watching the next movie in the set, FLY AWAY BABY (1937).  I expect to do so soon!

The cast of characters includes Charlotte Wynters (billed Winters) as Mularkey's fiancee; Wynters would marry MacLane in 1939, a marriage that lasted three decades, until MacLane's passing in 1969.

Also of note is Jane Wyman as a hatcheck girl; her scene with a St. Bernard dog is amusing.  Wyman would herself play Torchy in the final film in the series, TORCHY BLANE...PLAYING WITH DYNAMITE (1939), opposite Allen Jenkins as Steve.  Torchy and Steve were also played by Lola Lane and  Paul Kelly in a single movie midway through Farrell and MacLane's seven-film run as the characters.

The large cast also includes Wini Shaw, Tom Kennedy, Craig Reynolds, Carlyle Moore Jr., and Robert Paige (CAN'T HELP SINGING).

SMART BLONDE was directed by Frank McDonald and filmed in black and white by Warren Lynch.

The Warner Archive DVD is a nice-looking print with no extras.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Suspense (1946)

This week I've caught up with SUSPENSE (1946), a Monogram Pictures film noir which has been on my "watch" list for quite a while.

I've held off on watching it, as I have other noir titles, in hopes of seeing it for the first time on a big screen at a film noir festival, but since it's unlikely that will happen for some time yet, I went ahead and watched my Warner Archive DVD.

SUSPENSE, one of a couple examples of "ice skating noir," has a terrific cast: Figure skater-dancer Belita (THE HUNTED), Bonita Granville, and Barry Sullivan.

Sullivan plays Joe Morgan, a character who is frankly rather sleazy from the start.  We first meet him as an unkempt bum who's just arrived in Los Angeles.  He's hired on to sell peanuts at an ice show -- the Pan-Pacific Auditorium is seen under the opening credits and in stock shots -- and when he suggests a new routine for star Roberta Elva (Belita), Roberta's husband Frank Leonard (Albert Dekker) promotes Joe into a management job.

Frank later realizes that Joe is moving in on his wife and attempts to shoot Joe with a long-range rifle when they're all in the mountains.  Instead, the shot triggers an avalanche, and Frank is presumed dead.  Or is he?  Joe and Roberta both have a curious sensation that they're being watched...

Adding to the intrigue is the arrival of Joe's very jealous old girlfriend Ronnie (Granville) from New York, who decides to investigate why he left town for L.A. so suddenly.

SUSPENSE is a film with a number of interesting elements.  Although some reviewers opine that the skating numbers stop the plot, for me they're the chief selling point of the movie.  I loved Belita's Monogram musical LADY, LET'S DANCE! (1944) and find her a very exciting performer. 

Belita's first number in SUSPENSE, which I believe is called "East Side Boogie," is absolutely sensational.  She's magnetic, oozing style, and I frankly find her a more dynamic skater than Sonja Henie.  (At the time of this writing that routine can be watched here.)  I also particularly liked a Latin-inflected number near the end of the film.

Belita was a good though not great actress, but I think the skating scenes are important in part because the charisma and power she displays on the ice rink informs how we see her character off the ice.

I'm a big fan of Sullivan, who is usually able to make even heels compelling, but I found him less appealing in this than usual.  Joe is simply not a nice guy, and we don't get much of a sense of why he and Roberta have feelings for one another.  

The following year, incidentally, Sullivan and Belita would costar again in THE GANGSTER (1947) at the same studio, newly rechristened as Allied Artists.

I'm also a Granville fan, but her character and motivations are the murkiest of all.  One has a sense that some of the back story between Ronnie and Joe was left on the cutting room floor.  (Why did he leave New York, anyway?)  On the plus side, Bonita looks gorgeous and has a nice wardrobe, designed by Kalloch.

In the end what I found most appealing about SUSPENSE was Belita, along with the movie's overall sense of style, including Dali-esque skating backgrounds.  (One horrifying "skull" set I could have done without!)  There are some wonderfully stylish bits scattered throughout the film, like a character's name in lights dimming at movie's end.  The movie has terrific shadowy black and white filming by Karl Struss.

The film also has a great mood, at times reminiscent of GILDA (1946), with the jealous older husband and the employee making time with the beautiful wife.

Philip Yordan's script could have better explained the characters, while at the same time the editing of this 101-minute movie could have been tightened up, but despite my criticisms, my feelings about the film were positive.  It was an interesting and somewhat unique film, thanks especially to Belita, and I enjoyed it.  I really hope to see it one day in 35mm!

SUSPENSE was directed by Frank Tuttle.  Nick Castle choreographed the skating sequences.  The supporting cast includes Eugene Pallette, George E. Stone, George Chandler, and Billy Gray.  Kristine Miller is said by IMDb to be a model, but I didn't spot her on this viewing.

The Warner Archive DVD was in very good shape.  There were no extras on the disc.

SUSPENSE also turns up occasionally on  Turner Classic Movies, including a recent showing on Noir Alley.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Fugitive in the Sky (1936)

Last weekend Nora Fiore, aka the Nitrate Diva, Tweeted that she was watching the Warner Bros. "B" movie FUGITIVE IN THE SKY (1936).

It's no secret I love WB "B" films, and when I learned it was an aviation film in which the stewardess (Jean Muir) flies the plane, I had to pull it out and watch it immediately.

Even more fun: Muir costarred in the film with Warren Hull; just a couple of weeks ago I watched them in HER HUSBAND'S SECRETARY (1937).  Watching FUGITIVE IN THE SKY this week was clearly meant to be.

FUGITIVE IN THE SKY is one of those fast-paced, energetic little films at which Warner Bros. excelled; sure, sometimes it gets silly, but it's 58 minutes of pure entertainment.

The enjoyment begins with a "Foreword" which tells the viewers the film "...is not intended to represent events which have taken place on a commercial air line.....Scheduled air transport, regulated by the Department of Commerce, is today recognized as a fast and safe form of transportation."

Once we're assured of that, we meet Rita Moore (Jean Muir), the flight attendant on an eastbound flight taking off out of Los Angeles.

Newspaperman Terry Brewer (Warren Hull), who's sweet on Rita, is at the airport when he spots the FBI's Mike Phelan (John Litel) among the passengers.  Following a hunch, Terry gets permission from his editor to hop on the flight in hopes of a story.

After a stopover in Albuquerque, the passengers sleep as the plane heads toward Wichita.  Rita discovers something shocking: One of the men (Gordon "Wild Bill" Elliott) has been stabbed to death in his sleep!  She alerts the pilots (Carlyle Moore Jr. and Gordon Oliver), who wake up the passengers.  

G-man Phelan begins to take charge of the situation when the plane is hijacked by an unexpected character...

The above is only part of the jam-packed story, which at various points includes incapacitated pilots and a stewardess flying the plane; a near crash landing; a massive dust storm; a shotgun-wielding stewardess saving the day; and a pair of criminals in disguise.  There's no dramatic depth to this movie, but tons of plot, and it's all quite entertaining.

This movie was released the same year as another film in which the stewardess flies the plane, RKO's WITHOUT ORDERS (1936), which is available on DVD from the Warner Archive Collection.  FUGITIVE IN THE SKY would make a terrific DVD release, perhaps paired with one or two other short movies, but alas, releasing obscure films on DVD no longer seems to be the WAC business model.  

FUGITIVE IN THE SKY also stars Mary Treen, Wini Shaw, Nedda Harrigan, Spencer Charters, Lillian Harmer, and Charley Foy.  (Foy's brother Bryan was one of the film's producers.)  It was directed by Nick Grinde and filmed by Ted McCord.

IMDb identifies the airport scenes as being filmed at Alhambra Airport in Alhambra, California, which ceased functioning as an airport in 1943.  The property was sold to developers in 1946.

FUGITIVE IN THE SKY is not available on DVD, but it's shown from time to time on Turner Classic Movies.

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