Monday, May 23, 2022

Tonight's Movie: Johnny Stool Pigeon (1949) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Earlier this month I reviewed SINGAPORE (1947) from the Kino Lorber Dark Side of Cinema VI collection.

I returned to that set tonight for JOHNNY STOOL PIGEON (1949), directed by William Castle. This film about a government sting operation to break up a drug ring features a top cast including Dan Duryea, Howard Duff, Shelley Winters, and Tony Curtis; Curtis is fourth billed as Anthony Curtis.

JOHNNY STOOL PIGEON is almost a docu-noir, with the feel of movies about Treasury or FBI agents like T-MEN (1949) or WALK EAST ON BEACON! (1952).

Duff plays George Morton, a U.S. Treasury agent in postwar San Francisco. Morton has been unable to crack the case of a lethal drug ring when he has a fresh idea and pulls his childhood friend Johnny Evans (Duryea) out of prison on Alcatraz.

Johnny resents George as the man who sent him to Alcatraz in the first place, but George presents Johnny with a powerful reason to offer his help, and the two men go undercover together, posing as gangsters wanting to make a drug deal.

After a visit to Canada the men end up at a Western-style resort in Tucson, with Terry Stewart (Winters) tagging along. The resort is managed by the overly genial Nick Avery (John McIntire), who's got a silent bodyguard (Curtis) working for him...

It may not be a great movie, but it's quite solid, just the sort of procedural crime film I like, with a good Universal Pictures cast which also includes Leif Erickson, Gar Moore, Barry Kelley, and Charles Drake, who has a single scene as a hotel clerk. Duff may be a little dry, but it works in contrast with the emotional, compelling Duryea and Winters.

Curtis is effective as a gunman who doesn't speak but is quite observant. This was his third film, following his debut the same year dancing with Yvonne DeCarlo in CRISS CROSS (1949), and with his darkly handsome good looks and piercing eyes, Curtis is a real standout. It's easy to see why his career continued on an upward trajectory.

It's a fast-paced 76-minute film which was written Robert L. Richards from a story by Henry Jordan. The black and white cinematography was by Maury Gertsman. Another of the film's strengths is atmospheric location work.

To my knowledge, JOHNNY STOOL PIGEON is another "never on DVD" release from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. The Blu-ray print, from a new 2K master, looks and sounds great. The disc has a commentary track by Jason A. Ney and a three-film trailer gallery for other movies available from Kino Lorber.

I'll be reviewing the final film in the set, THE RAGING TIDE (1951), at a future date. It's another one with a top Universal cast!

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

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Tonight's Movie: Black Beauty (1946) - A ClassicFlix DVD Review

BLACK BEAUTY (1946), starring Mona Freeman as a young girl who loves her horse, is available on DVD from ClassicFlix.

It's part of the two-film The Black Beauty Collection along with with COURAGE OF BLACK BEAUTY (1957), starring Johnny Crawford. It was released last year as No. 14 in the ClassicFlix Silver Series.

BLACK BEAUTY was originally released by 20th Century-Fox. It claims to be inspired by the famous novel by Anna Sewell (misspelled Sewall in the opening credits) but in reality, the screenplay by Lillie Hayward and Agnes Christine Johnson has very little to do with the book.

Indeed, an opening title card says that the film was "freely adapted" from the book, while "preserving the beautiful spirit of this most beloved of all horse stories." The truth is that, other than a few minutes near the end where Black Beauty falls into the wrong hands, the film is an entirely original story.

Having read the book many times growing up, I was honestly fine with this film doing its own thing, as the actual story is quite tragic in spots. This film is an enjoyable, lighthearted story which doesn't get too heavy.

Mona Freeman plays a tomboyish young British girl, Anne Wendon, whose father (Charles Evans) gives her a newborn colt. It's the father's hope that in training the horse, Anne will herself become more disciplined.

Her father's plan does the trick, and as Anne patiently trains her horse, Black Beauty, they begin to grow up together. Both horse and girl attract the attention of a visiting American, Bill Dixon (Richard Denning). Bill is clearly interested in Ann, who is currently too young for thoughts of romance, and he hopes to find her grown when he returns a couple years later. When Bill is back in the United States, he mails her a horseshoe necklace for her birthday.

When Bill does eventually return, Anne crushes on him, but she's frustrated when he now seems preoccupied with glamorous Evelyn (Evelyn Ankers, who was the real-life Mrs. Denning from 1942 until her death in 1985). Anne decides to go away to school, and when she returns as a young lady, Bill definitely takes notice...but Anne is distracted by a problem with Black Beauty.  Their timing with one another is always just a little off!

BLACK BEAUTY is a pleasant 74 minutes about an energetic, emotional young girl gradually coming of age as she falls for both a horse and a man. There are some dramatic bumps along the way, with both Anne and Black Beauty's lives endangered at various points, but all in all this is a relaxing little watch which I enjoyed.

I've been a Mona Freeman fan dating back to watching MOTHER WORE TIGHTS (1947) when I was growing up, and I later enjoyed her appearances as Modesty Blaine in reruns of MAVERICK (1959-60). Due to her youthful appearance, in the '40s and early '50s Freeman easily switched back and forth from playing leading ladies to teenage girls, and that facility playing different ages really works for her in this film. She was around 20 when this was filmed.

I'd also note that Freeman occasionally affects a British accent, but it's not very much in evidence here. Her riding double, who is occasionally (unintentionally) visible to the camera, was Audrey Scott.

The nice supporting cast includes Moyna MacGill (mother of Angela Lansbury), Terry Kilburn (Tiny Tim in the 1938 A CHRISTMAS CAROL), J.M. Kerrigan, and Arthur Space.

This was one of the first couple screen appearances of famed movie horse Highland Dale, who appeared with Fred MacMurray in the 20th Century-Fox film SMOKY (1946) the same year. He appeared in films and TV series until 1968; after his "retirement" he lived until 1973.

BLACK BEAUTY was directed by Max Nosseck and filmed in black and white by J. Roy Hunt. The film is fairly low budget, including the use of some back projections; a couple of riding scenes were filmed at an unknown location which could have been somewhere like Corriganville.

The score, which includes piano music, was by Dimitri Tiomkin.

The ClassicFlix DVD print is a little soft but overall is a good print, save for a couple damaged spots here and there. The soundtrack is strong.

The sole disc extras, other than the previously mentioned second film, are a gallery of trailers for five additional ClassicFlix releases.

Look for a review of COURAGE OF BLACK BEAUTY here at a future date.

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

Tonight's Movie: A Star is Born (1937) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

The original version of A STAR IS BORN (1937), directed by William A. Wellman, is now available on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive.

I first saw this version as a teenager at the Vagabond Theater in Los Angeles. Although I love the "behind the scenes" Hollywood aspect, truth to tell I've never much cared for the tragic story, though I do far prefer the 1937 version to the 1954 remake.

However, this new Blu-ray restoration, a 4K scan from the original nitrate negative, is an absolutely eye-popping visual treasure, which added enormously to my pleasure in watching it. I've certainly never enjoyed this film more than watching the new Blu-ray, and I will definitely be watching it again.

From the moment the opening credits begin, with the names in neon against a picture postcard perfect view of Hollywood, the visuals prompt one delighted gasp after another. It's simply stunning.

The well-known story created by Wellman and Robert Carson, which has been remade not just once but three times, tells the story of farm girl Esther Blodgett (Janet Gaynor).

Esther dreams of a career in Hollywood, and with funding from her granny (May Robson) she hops a train for California.

Esther has no luck for weeks, but a kindly assistant director (Andy Devine) in her apartment building gets her a waitress gig at a big Hollywood party, where she meets actor Norman Maine (Fredric March).

Maine is quickly sweet on fresh, honest young Esther and gets her a screen test, then a starring role opposite him in a major movie, thanks to the agreement of producer Oliver Niles (Adolphe Menjou, in a particularly sympathetic performance).

Esther, renamed Vicki Lester, immediately becomes a star, but shortly after she and Norman are married, Norman's own career starts on a downward spiral. This also leads Norman to resume the heavy drinking he'd given up when he and Esther/Vicki married, and from there on things don't go well...

Gaynor and March are both as excellent as one might expect. I did note on this viewing that it's interesting that other than a brief "movie clip" at a premiere, we don't actually see their characters "act." Over the course of the film's 111 minutes we simply see them in costumes, on sets, or talking about work, but not actually doing their jobs. This leaves a bit of a dramatic hole, as the film is focused on their careers.

I'd be interested to know why the many screenwriters -- Carson, Dorothy Parker, and Alan Campbell are those credited, with more working behind the scenes -- made that choice. Perhaps they were worried that nothing that could be put on screen would make the actors appear to be as wonderfully talented as we're told they are?

Victor Fleming and Jack Conway are said to have done uncredited directing work on the film along with Wellman. The Technicolor photography was by W. Howard Greene, and the score is by Max Steiner. David O. Selznick produced, with the film originally released through United Artists.

The locations in this film are particularly outstanding. In addition to great shots of the Chinese Theatre, there is wonderful second unit work of the honeymooning actors' trailer driving through Lone Pine's Alabama Hills.

The supporting cast includes Lionel Stander, Clara Blandick, Owen Moore, Peggy Wood, Guinn "Big Boy" Williams, and Edgar Kennedy. Look for Dennis O'Keefe in the party sequence; he's mostly shot from the back of the head, but there's no doubt it's him.

The Warner Archive disc is loaded with outstanding extras, the most important being a pair of Lux Radio Theater broadcasts. The first, from 1937, pairs Gaynor with Robert Montgomery; the second, performed in 1942, stars Judy Garland and Walter Pidgeon. It's remarkable to have an audio performance of Garland performing this character a dozen years before she made the 1954 film. I very much appreciate the Warner Archive making these interesting slices of cinematic and radio history available.

The Blu-ray also has a trailer; a cartoon, A STAR IS HATCHED (1938); and three shorts from the year A STAR IS BORN was released: MAL HALLETT AND HIS ORCHESTRA (1937), TAKING THE COUNT (1937), and ALIBI MARK (1937).

Although the story has never been a favorite, this Warner Archive Blu-ray presentation has overcome that to help me appreciate the movie on an entirely new level, and it receives my very enthusiastic recommendation.

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

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Tonight's Movie: The Accused (1949) - Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

THE ACCUSED (1949), an excellent crime drama with a top cast, is available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber.

This film was previously available in an MOD (manufactured on demand) DVD, but it's the film's first time on Blu-ray. It actually came out at the end of 2021, but thanks to Kino Lorber's plethora of excellent releases I'm just now reviewing it.

I first saw THE ACCUSED via a 35mm print from the Library of Congress at the 2017 Noir City Hollywood Festival. I hadn't seen it in the last five years and thoroughly enjoyed revisiting it.

Loretta Young plays a university psychology professor, Dr. Wilma Tuttle. As we see in the very first scenes, Wilma accidentally kills a student, Bill (Douglas Dick), who has taken her to an isolated beach area near Malibu and is attempting to force himself on her.

Wilma considers going to the police but is terrified of not being believed, and even if she is, she worries the notoriety could be the end of her career; as a single, self-supporting woman that's no small consideration.

However, she's consumed by guilt, which also seems to weaken her immune system, leaving her hospitalized unconscious for several days while fighting viral pneumonia. If Dr. Tuttle were analyzing herself, she might come up with the diagnosis that she's subconsciously trying to avoid thinking about and dealing with what happened, including her bad decisions following the incident.

The student's guardian, Warren Ford (Robert Cummings), comes to town. Warren, a lawyer, makes clear he's aware that Bill had some serious issues. He's also very attracted to Wilma.

Police Detective Lt. Ted Dorgan (Wendell Corey) also likes Wilma, but at the same time he keeps finding bits of evidence that don't match the original coroner verdict that Bill accidentally drowned...and everything that pops up seems to point toward Wilma.

The film, written by Ketti Frings along with several other uncredited writers, runs a well-paced 101 minutes, although my feeling in 2017 that the ending is too abrupt holds true again on this viewing. The plot also occasionally stretches credulity, but it's so well acted by the three leads that it really doesn't matter too much.

Young plays the high-strung, repressed spinster professor who's gradually transformed both by love and by the need to look physically different from her appearance the night of the murder. Although the character is a bit cliched, Young is fascinating in the role, veering back and forth from smooth-talking professional woman to a bundle of nerves who just wants out of the situation, some way, somehow.

Something which occurred to me for the first time watching this is that Young had experience having to hide a major life incident, her 1935 pregnancy with Clark Gable; she later "adopted" her daughter Judy, which became known decades later. I couldn't help wondering if that stressful experience informed any of her performance, as Wilma must build lie upon lie in order to sustain her story. It's only in the film's final minutes, once the proverbial cat is out of the bag, that we finally see a relaxed, confident woman no longer burdened by lies.

Loretta has been my favorite actress for years; she is always compelling, and frankly I think she is underrated by many. This film would make an interesting double bill with another film in which Young plays a highly anxious character, CAUSE FOR ALARM! (1951).

Both Cummings and Corey are excellent and get to do a little more with very interesting characters. Late in the film Cummings' defense attorney simultaneously realizes Wilma might be responsible for the death and that Lt. Dorgan is in hot pursuit; I love the way Cummings' character immediately springs to action to protect Wilma, a true knight in shining armor. 

Ford never questions what happened or reproaches her, clearly believing it wasn't her fault as he pieces together what must have happened; he instead tries to use his professional skill to try to get her out of the situation. There's a great little moment in the detective's office where he subtly tries to warn Wilma not to say anything, with the faintest shake of his head. It's an excellent, deeply layered performance.

Corey might be the most interesting character of the trio, a dogged professional who is also attracted to Wilma but pursues his case despite that. A scene late in the film with his evidence analyst (Sam Jaffe), who has excellent insights into everyone involved, is really well done.

The cast also includes Suzanne Dalbert, Mickey Knox, Sara Allgood, Ann Doran, Billy Mauch, Henry Travers, Francis Pierlot, and Bess Flowers.

THE ACCUSED was directed by William Dieterle. It was filmed in black and white by Milton Krasner

Some of the filming appears to have been done on an actual college campus, but I didn't recognize it and haven't been able to dig up the information. I assume it was a Southern California campus such as Occidental College, which appeared in other movies of that era such as GOODBYE, MY FANCY (1951), or USC.

The print, while very good, is not as sharp as many of Kino Lorber's releases. At times it seems overly grainy or the picture flickers somewhat, including during the opening credits, and there is occasionally noticeable damage such as lines. That said, none of these issues are in any way deal breakers such as skips or jumps. It's simply a "very good" print rather than an "excellent" one. I have no hesitation in recommending it.

The soundtrack is strong and easy to understand.

The Blu-ray extras consist of the trailer; a five-film gallery of trailers for additional films available from Kino Lorber; and a commentary track by Eddy Von Mueller.

For another good take on this film I recommend Colin's review last fall at Riding the High Country. He sees the film much as I do.

THE ACCUSED is a very interesting, well-acted film. Recommended.

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...

...Lots of news to share after a couple weekends out of town! We'll lead off with the good news that the Cinecon Classic Film Festival has confirmed it will resume being held "in person" this Labor Day weekend. The location is yet to be determined; the Egyptian Theatre, where the festival has been held for the last several years, is currently undergoing extended remodeling. I'm excited to hear this news, though I'll add that my own attendance will depend on whether the festival is held under truly normal conditions, along the same lines as the recent Noir City Hollywood and Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festivals. More thoughts on that issue further below.

...Mary Mallory reports on the recent San Francisco Silent Film Festival at The Daily Mirror.

...Coming from Turner Classic Movies and Running Press this fall: VIVA HOLLYWOOD: THE LEGACY OF LATIN AND HISPANIC ARTISTS IN AMERICAN FILM by Luis I. Reyes.

...Some recent film reviews I've enjoyed: Jessica reviewed the delightful MGM musical LOVELY TO LOOK AT (1952) at Comet Over Hollywood...Danilo Castro reviewed the very enjoyable I, THE JURY (1953) at Classic Movie Hub...KC reviewed the new Warner Archive Collection Blu-ray release of THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM (1962) at her blog Watching Classic Movies...Colin's latest review at Riding the High Country is SLATTERY'S HURRICANE (1949), with the great cast of Richard Widmark, Linda Darnell, and Veronica Lake, supported by Gary Merrill and John Russell...Glenn Erickson's recent reviews at Trailers From Hell include DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1941), now out on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive...Glenn's colleague Charlie Largent reports on Kino Lorber's new seven-film Francis the Talking Mule Collection.

...My thanks to Glenn Erickson for mentioning my review of THE ARGYLE SECRETS (1948) in a recent CineSavant column. In another column Glenn shares the news that Kino Lorber has a new deal with Paramount Pictures for 71 titles, many of which they will be releasing on Blu-ray for the first time. A handful of Republic Pictures titles are on the list, but not much more is known yet. This sounds like good news!

...Film fashion historian Kimberly Truhler has a new online film fashion talk coming in June, History of Fashion in Film: The Jazz Age. Details are at Kimberly's site, GlamAmor. I have found Kimberly's past presentations both informative and enjoyable. She will also be seen on TCM in June in a new series, "Follow the Thread."

...Lora Lee Michel was a talented child actress in a baker's dozen of films between 1948 and 1950, including GOOD SAM (1948) with Gary Cooper; THE SNAKE PIT (1948), playing Olivia de Havilland as a child (seen here with Natalie Schafer); the MGM musical WORDS AND MUSIC (1948), playing Richard Rodgers' (Tom Drake) daughter Mary; and BETWEEN MIDNIGHT AND DAWN (1950) with Mark Stevens and Edmond O'Brien. Years later she spent time in prison and then dropped out of sight, with her own family not knowing where she was. Stacy Perman of the Los Angeles Times recently did some detective work and unraveled a fascinating -- if tragic -- story, which at least has provided her family closure, now knowing that she passed on in 1979. (Some readers may find that this story is behind a Times paywall.)

...Coming from Martin Scorsese: A new documentary on directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Additional news: Scorsese's Film Foundation recently launched a free "virtual screening room." Info on upcoming screenings is here.

...There's lots of new Kino Lorber Studio Classics Blu-ray news! Here are some of the upcoming releases which particularly caught my eye:

*LUCKY JORDAN (1942), starring fave Alan Ladd, is "coming soon." I reviewed it over a decade ago and really look forward to rewatching it in a great print.

*TIME OUT OF MIND (1947), with Phyllis Calvert, Robert Hutton, and Ella Raines directed by Robert Siodmak, is coming July 26th. Kino Lorber first mentioned this was in the works via their Twitter account last November.

*THE MISSISSIPPI GAMBLER (1953), a favorite Tyrone Power film costarring Piper Laurie and Julie Adams, is "coming soon."

*A Dark Side of Cinema X collection "coming soon" will feature FLESH AND FURY (1952), an excellent film with Tony Curtis, Jan Sterling, and Mona Freeman; THE SQUARE JUNGLE (1955) with Tony Curtis, Ernest Borgnine, and Pat Crowley; and WORLD IN MY CORNER (1956) starring Audie Murphy and Barbara Rush.

*MY MAN GODFREY (1957), a remake of the classic 1936 comedy starring June Allyson, David Niven, and Martha Hyer.

*A 3D restoration of BWANA DEVIL (1952) from the 3D Film Archive.  Robert Stack and Barbara Britton star.

*THE KILLING (1956) will be released in Ultra HD this July with a new commentary by Alan K. Rode.

...Landmark Theatres will be closing the company's Pico arthouse location at the end of the month. Variety has analysis on the future of the L.A. arthouse scene.

...Rachel of Hamlette's Soliloquy has written about four favorite Alan Ladd-Veronica Lake films for a "Four Favorite Noirs" blogathon. SAIGON (1947) is one I still need to see! (How I wish Kino Lorber could release it...) There are lots more links to posts on favorite noirs at Classic Film & TV Cafe, which hosted the blogathon.

...There's a big new permanent John Wayne exhibit at the Fort Worth Stockyards in Texas.

...Personal viewing notes: In early April I mentioned my plans to attend the UCLA Festival of Preservation this weekend, but I cancelled last week after confirming directly with the theater that masks would be required. (A side note: Masks are not currently required by the city, county, state, or even UCLA, but the requirement has been established by the Hammer Museum where UCLA's Billy Wilder Theater is located.) I complied with the mask requirement for last month's TCM Classic Film Festival, but I found it a miserable way to watch movies, including impeded, uncomfortable breathing and fogged glasses. I've made the personal decision that I'm simply "done" with that, especially as zero evidence has emerged over the last two-plus years that masking reduces the spread of the coronavirus; if anything, the data repeatedly shows the opposite, for reasons which are yet unknown. COVID is now an endemic virus which is likely to rise and fall in seasonal waves, and if some theaters won't give up masking now, it seems possible they never will.  I decided to say something here as one of the only ways this might end is if more people speak up.

...Additionally, in my last roundup column I mentioned looking forward to seeing DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS (2022). I'm a huge Marvel fan, having seen two dozen of the films -- only missing THE INCREDIBLE HULK (2008) and ETERNALS (2021) to date -- and I am also a great admirer of last year's TV series WANDAVISION (2021), as I've previously shared here. However, I've decided not to see DOCTOR STRANGE based on the advice of three different family members, and my friend Deb concurred with their feedback in the comments to my Star Wars Nite post. It sounds as though the film is disturbingly violent, and the writers also trashed my longtime favorite Marvel character, Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen); she could have learned and grown as she moved on from her experiences in WANDAVISION, but the filmmakers took her in the opposite direction and turned her into a killer. It's a shame, but I think I'd rather remember Wanda as she was in WANDAVISION and hope the writers might do right by her in a future multiverse story. I do still hope to enjoy the new film DOWNTON ABBEY: A NEW ERA (2022) before long!

...Notable Passings: Joanna Barnes, a busy working actress especially memorable as Vicky in THE PARENT TRAP (1961), passed on at 87. In a nice touch, Barnes was cast in a role in the 1998 PARENT TRAP remake. Barnes was also important to me as a five-time guest star on my favorite TV series, MAVERICK. She's seen here with James Garner in a publicity photo for the MAVERICK episode "The Lonesome Reunion" (1958)...Composer Vangelis, who won the Oscar for CHARIOTS OF FIRE (1981), has passed away at 79....Character actor James Olson has died at 91...ST. ELSEWHERE actor David Birney, the former husband of actress Meredith Baxter-Birney, has passed away at 83. Circa 1980 the Birneys sat behind me at a small (99-seat) theater production of Ibsen's A DOLL HOUSE, starring Linda Purl...Disney voice actor Norma Swank has died at 97. Her roles included voicing Chip of Chip and Dale and mice in CINDERELLA (1950)...Soap opera actor Jerry verDorn, best known for THE GUIDING LIGHT, has died at 72...Fred Ward, who played astronaut Gus Grissom in THE RIGHT STUFF (1983), has passed on at 79...I was sad to learn of the death of country singer Naomi Judd at the age of 79.

...For additional recent links of interest to classic film fans, please check out my April 30th roundup.

A Visit to Palm Springs

It's hard to believe it's already been over a week since the start of the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival in Palm Springs!

On our way to Palm Springs we took a brief detour to the Coachella Valley Public Cemetery. We paid our respects to the great director Frank Capra who is buried there along with his wife Lucille.

On past trips to Palm Springs we have driven past homes formerly owned by Frank Sinatra and Loretta Young. Last weekend we made a couple more interesting drive-bys, starting with the longtime home of William Powell and his wife, Diana "Mousie" Lewis.

There's a Historic Site Preservation sign next to the front gate. The Powells are buried nearby at Desert Memorial Park.

We also drove past the home Cary Grant owned from 1954 to 1972.

Like the Powell residence, Grant's former home, Las Palomas, has an historic marker next to the gate. I appreciate that Palm Springs works to preserve its film and architectural history in this manner.

Although Grant sold the home half a century ago, his initials still adorn the front gate. They do lend a certain cache!

Our favorite meal of the weekend was at Felipe's, where we first ate during the October 2021 festival.

We also enjoyed a stop at our favorite breakfast spot, Elmer's. It's the only California location of a chain we first discovered in Oregon.

We later learned that the Elmer's we love in Springfield, Oregon, sadly permanently closed the same weekend, but happily there is still another one we like located in Eugene.

Another excellent Palm Springs breakfast stop we discovered in 2021 is Manhattan in the Desert.

They have a wonderful cinnamon swirl pancake! I don't even put syrup on it -- the powdered sugar is plenty.  (The pink tint to the photos is because we were eating outdoors under an umbrella!)

All of these restaurants are recommended for visitors to Palm Springs.

Coming soon: A review of AMONG THE LIVING (1941), seen at the festival, and photos from our stop at the Palm Springs Air Museum.

Friday, May 20, 2022

Tonight's TV: All Creatures Great and Small (2020) - Series 1

Growing up in the '70s I was a huge fan of the British TV series ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL (1978-90). It was a treat Sunday nights on PBS!

ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL was often "laugh out loud" funny and had a superb cast, including Peter Davison (also known for CAMPION and DR. WHO) and Robert Hardy. Indeed, I consider Hardy's portrayal of the mercurial senior veterinarian Siegfried Farnon to be one of the all-time great TV performances and characters. It was a joy to be able to collect that series on DVD and share it in turn with my own children as they were growing up.

Naturally, when I first heard about the series being remade I had little interest in it. What could compare to the beloved original? Yet a number of people whose opinions I respect, including longtime commenter Jerry Entract, told me the new version was wonderful and I should give it a try.

I picked up the DVD set recently when I was in the mood for some mellow "comfort TV," and I don't know when I've raced through a TV series more quickly! It is indeed a very special show in its own right. Watching this warm series is something like wrapping oneself in a cozy blanket while enjoying a cup of hot cocoa.

The program follows the rough outlines of the original series and books by James Herriot. Circa the 1930s, James (Nicholas Ralph), newly graduated from veterinary school, travels from his home in Glasgow to apply for a position with Siegfried Farnon (Samuel West) in Yorkshire.

Siegfried, a widower who is more parent than brother to his "challenging" sibling Tristan (Callum Woodhouse), is emotional and unpredictable, but he's also fair and kind underneath the bluster.

As James gradually settles into his new job, he also begins to fit in among the people of "the Dales," and he finds himself attracted to farmer's daughter Helen Alderson (Rachel Shenton, who reminds me a great deal of Marvel's Hayley Atwell). Helen, however, is soon engaged to wealthy Hugh (Matthew Lewis), whom she's known since childhood.

I particularly liked the way this series fleshed out the character of Mrs. Hall (Anna Madeley), the housekeeper, making her a much more integral part of the story as she deftly "manages" the disparate personalities living under the same roof at Skeldale House. Mrs. Hall might be my favorite character, from the moment she greets James when he arrives for his interview and encourages Siegfried to hire him. Although emotionally wounded in a somewhat mysterious past, she doesn't hesitate to speak her mind and give advice to any of the vets when it's called for.

I also appreciate the way Tristan's character evolves. At first he seems to be simply a ne'er-do-well who refuses to apply himself to his veterinary studies, but over time we see that while he may struggle with learning from books, he's skilled when it comes to "hands on" interactions with both animals and people. When James is unsure how to save a cow struggling to breathe, it's Tristan who pulls books off the shelf and draws up the plan for James's surgery, and he also shows sensitivity dealing with a little boy whose donkey has had the misfortune to eat mistletoe.

Even before watching the original ALL CREATURES series in the '70s I loved Timothy West in EDWARD THE KING (1975); current ALL CREATURES star Samuel West is his son. Samuel even played the ill-fated Prince Albert Victor ("Eddy") on EDWARD THE KING as a young child. West makes Siegfried his own creation, no small feat in the wake of Robert Hardy's shadow.

As for Ralph and Shenton, they are simply lovely, subtly conveying their attraction for one another along with Helen's growing doubts about marrying Hugh. Shenton is bright-eyed and intelligent as Helen, at the ready with her honest opinions; like Siegfried, she serves as a quasi parent to a sibling, in this case her young sister Jenny (Imogen Clawson). Ralph is an empathetic James, a quiet man who also shows considerable courage from time to time as he steps out on his own as a practicing veterinarian handling difficult cases.

And after all this, I haven't even yet mentioned that the series also features the late Dame Diana Rigg as wealthy Mrs. Pumphrey, owner of the very pampered dog Trickie-Woo. She's delightfully funny in her inability to resist giving Trickie-Woo goodies he shouldn't have. Rigg sadly died after filming Season 1; Mrs. Pumphrey was recast with Patricia Hodge for Season 2.

I'll be watching Season 2 shortly, and I'm delighted to know that Season 3 is currently filming, with Season 4 also promised for the future.

ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL is available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Highly recommended -- and thanks to all who so highly recommended it to me!

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Tonight's Movie: The Whistle at Eaton Falls (1951) - A Flicker Alley Blu-ray Review

THE WHISTLE AT EATON FALLS (1951) is a very interesting "lost drama" which has been rediscovered and is now available on Blu-ray from Flicker Alley.

THE WHISTLE AT EATON FALLS was originally released by Columbia Pictures. I first became aware of it when it was shown during the 2021 "virtual" TCM Classic Film Festival. Now, less than a year later, it's available in a lovely release thanks to Flicker Alley.

It's a docudrama with an unusual storyline. Doubleday Plastics, located in Eaton Falls, New Hampshire, has been one of the area's main employers for many years, but the company is no longer doing well. Times are changing, and owner Dan Doubleday (Donald McKee) needs to purchase new equipment to remain competitive. The more efficient equipment will also result in laying off part of the workforce.

The union, headed by Brad Adams (Lloyd Bridges), is concerned about the direction things are going, but everything comes to a temporary standstill due to Doubleday's tragic death in a plane crash.

Doubleday's widow Helen (Dorothy Gish) is urged to hire the plant manager (Russell Hardie) as the new CEO, but Helen has another idea: Put Brad in charge and hope he can somehow bridge the gap between management and the union and find a way to save the company.

At times the company's prospects seem hopeless, but Brad works night and day, aided by an experienced, knowledgeable salesman (Victor Sutherland) and some of the union workers.

One might not think there's a great deal of drama to be found in a factory's struggle to modernize and remain in business, but for the most part it's quite a compelling, well-acted drama, balancing tragedy and optimism in equal measure. I particularly liked the ending, which feels well-earned for all involved.

The great film noir director Robert Siodmak does an excellent job with his cast and material which might have been dry in other hands. The movie, scripted by Lemist Esler and Virginia Shaler from a story by J. Sterling Livingston, would have benefited from shaving a few minutes from the 96-minute running time, but that's my only significant criticism.

The film has many interesting attributes, starting with the gritty location shooting in New Hampshire, with black and white photography by Joseph Brun. The film's documentary-style look, which shows scenes from daily life in the community along with depicting the bigger dramatic issues, gives the film a very different feel from the norm.

Lloyd Bridges is excellent as a man who might be in a little over his head, but he's got courage to match Mrs. Doubleday's, as well as the willingness to learn. It's a real challenge for Brad to juggle everyone's interests while dealing first and foremost with the fact that if the factory closes, no one will have jobs and any arguments between management and the union won't matter.

The role is a wonderful contrast to Bridges' creepy, insane murderer of the previous year's TRY AND GET ME (1950), not to mention his villainous roles in late '40s films such as MOONRISE (1948) and another Flicker Alley release, TRAPPED (1949) -- a true "palate cleanser"!

While I'm on the subject of Bridges, Glenn Erickson shared some additional interesting information, that the baby seen in a montage sequence is most likely Jeff Bridges.

Gish presents well in a small part as a strong woman, making me think a bit of her sister Lillian's role in THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955). Two very different stories, but two equally tough women.

The remarkable cast also includes Ernest Borgnine in just his second film as one of the union workers. Other union members are played by Arthur O'Connell, James Westerfield, Parker Fennelly, and Lenore Lonergan, who appeared to excellent effect in WESTWARD THE WOMEN (1951) the same year.

Doro Merande (COVER UP) is the company secretary, and Helen Shields is interesting as the company treasurer who resents Brad being CEO. Diana Douglas, whose marriage to Kirk ended the year this film was released, plays Bridges' wife.

Carleton Carpenter, who passed away earlier this year at 95 and was best known for his appearances in MGM musicals, has a key role as a young, enthusiastic union worker whose creative projects help spark the company's renaissance.

Carpenter also has the chance to perform a wonderful musical number with a young Anne Francis, playing his girlfriend. The number springs up organically at a company party and is simply delightful; they're both young and cute.

As an aside, the theming of this film and the presence of a musical number would make it great on a double bill with the musical THE PAJAMA GAME (1957)!

THE WHISTLE AT EATON FALLS is the second film released in Flicker Alley's Flicker Fusion line, which focuses on putting out Blu-rays of lesser-known rarities and archival restorations at a relatively affordable price point. Print and sound quality are both excellent.

The plentiful extras include a commentary track by historian Alan K. Rode; an isolated musical soundtrack; featurettes on the restoration and producer Louis De Rochemont; audio recordings of two songs sung by Carleton Carpenter; the trailer; an image gallery; and a booklet with an excerpt from the book KEEP 'EM IN THE EAST by Richard Koszarski.

I liked this movie, and the impressive print combined with Flicker Alley's extras make this a "must" for classic film fans looking for a terrific cast in a very different kind of movie.  Having an interesting film which was previously unknown to many of us surface and look great is a real treat.

Thanks to Flicker Alley for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray/DVD set.

THE WHISTLE AT EATON FALLS may be purchased through the Flicker Alley website as well as through retailers such as Amazon.