Wednesday, September 30, 2009

TCM Star of the Month: Leslie Caron

The lovely Leslie Caron will be honored as the October Star of the Month at Turner Classic Movies.

16 Caron films will be shown on Monday evenings, along with a PRIVATE SCREENINGS interview with Robert Osborne recorded in 1999.

Monday, October 5th, is an especially notable evening as it features Caron's AN AMERICAN IN PARIS (1951) and GIGI (1958), which each won the Best Picture Oscar; the memorable LILI (1953), for which she was nominated as Best Actress; and the Cinderella tale THE GLASS GLIPPER (1955).

I was fortunate to see all four of these films at various Los Angeles area revival theaters in years past. On one occasion I saw AN AMERICAN IN PARIS with director Vincente Minnelli in the audience.

I am fond of the little-known film THE GLASS SLIPPER, which I saw when my parents were enrolled in a class with the director, Charles Walters, at USC circa 1980-81. Leslie Caron plays Ella in this retelling of Cinderella, with Michael Wilding as the prince and Estelle Winwood as the fairy godmother. The supporting cast also includes Keenan Wynn, Elsa Lanchester, and Amanda Blake.

Monday, October 12th includes THE STORY OF THREE LOVES (1953), a very interesting film which was shot in gorgeous Technicolor. Caron appears with Farley Granger and Ethel Barrymore in the segment titled "Mademoiselle." The other segments feature James Mason and Moira Shearer, and Kirk Douglas with Pier Angeli. Again, I was lucky to see this quite a while back at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Since there aren't many revival theaters left these days, thank goodness for TCM!

October 12th also includes the family favorite FATHER GOOSE (1964), costarring Cary Grant and Trevor Howard, and FANNY (1961) with Charles Boyer and Maurice Chevalier.

October 19th features four films including THE MAN WITH A CLOAK (1951), costarring Joseph Cotten and Barbara Stanwyck.

The evening includes her Oscar-nominated role in THE L-SHAPED ROOM (1962).

The final night, October 26th, features four more films including Raoul Walsh's GLORY ALLEY (1952). Louis Armstrong and Jack Teagarden are in the cast; it sounds especially interesting for jazz fans.

I haven't seen several of the Caron movies playing in October and look forward to the opportunity to see them for the first time. Once again, TCM has provided another great month for fans of classic movies.

And coming as the November Star of the Month...Grace Kelly!

An Interview With Marge Champion

Legendary dancer Marge Champion, who recently turned 90, will be featured in a new documentary, KEEP DANCING.

Susan King of the Los Angeles Times has interviewed Champion about her career, including her work modeling SNOW WHITE for Disney and the origins of her dance partnership with Gower Champion.

Click the title of this post for the interview.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Southern California Sports: Miracles, Memories, and Magic Numbers

University of Southern California running back Stafon Johnson suffered a ghastly weightlifting accident Monday when the bar slipped and landed on his throat.

Johnson's surgeon said that Johnson's fitness saved his life because his neck muscles were so strong they helped keep open an airway. Click the title of this post for the story.

Johnson endured a seven-hour surgery on his throat and larynx. He is likely out for the season but is expected to make a complete recovery, although how his voice will recover is not yet known.

A happy ending to a very scary situation.

The Anaheim Angels clinched the A.L. Western Division last night and will head for the playoffs for the fifth time in the last six years.

Before celebrating, the Angels paused to remember Nick Adenhart, the rookie pitcher who was killed in a car accident after pitching six scoreless innings last April.

After manager Mike Scioscia spoke to the team about Adenhart, team members then poured champagne on Adenhart's jersey and went to the outfield to take a team photo in front of Adenhart's picture, which has been on the outfield wall all season.

The Los Angeles Dodgers lost in Pittsburgh yesterday and come home from a rough road trip with a Magic Number of one to clinch their playoff berth.

The team plays tonight in San Diego.

As T.J. Simers writes in the Times, Dodgers fans are probably just as happy the celebration was delayed until the team returned to California, as that means Vin Scully will be there to call the game.

This photo was taken five years ago...time to get the flags up again for the playoffs!

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Official Disney Parks Blog

Disney has launched an official blog about their theme parks today.

Click the title of this post for the link. The blog will cover Disney's U.S. parks and the Disney Cruise Line.

The initial posts include a nifty time lapse video of Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom decorating for Halloween Time.

The blog looks great! A wonderful idea. I'll be adding it to my Disney blog roll at the left margin.

(Hat tip: MousePlanet Twitter.)

Eleanor Parker: A Radio Interview

A recent column at Glenn Erickson's DVD Savant site pointed me to an interesting radio interview with Eleanor Parker, who is now 87. (Click the title of this post for the show.)

At the start of the program Parker mentions her favorite costar, who happens to be on my list of 20 Favorite Actors.

The interview resumes around the 18-minute mark, at which point she names the male costar she couldn't stand -- and ironically he's also on my list of 20 Favorite Actors!

Eleanor Parker movies previously reviewed here: SOLDIERS IN WHITE and MEN OF THE SKY (1942 shorts), THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU (1944), CRIME BY NIGHT (1944), PRIDE OF THE MARINES (1945), NEVER SAY GOODBYE (1946), IT'S A GREAT FEELING (1949), DETECTIVE STORY (1951), ABOVE AND BEYOND (1952), SCARAMOUCHE (1952), ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO (1953), and MANY RIVERS TO CROSS (1955).

Education: Two Views

President Obama has announced he believes children in the United States should be in school more hours per day, more weeks per year.

This, you see, is because "the challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom."

What a bunch of malarkey. What "challenges" are any different than they've ever been in the last hundred years? Over the decades there have always been changes in technology, world relations, and so on. Why is this new century somehow special? Students have always needed to have a good, solid education. Period.

But as for the idea that a good, solid education requires more time sitting in a classroom, I couldn't disagree more. Children need to be taught solid, substantive subjects by effective teachers -- but they don't need more time cooped up in a classroom, robbing them of time to be creative and inventive, to pursue their interests, to read for pleasure, and to get lots of physical exercise. Children also need plenty of time with their families.

So much classroom time is spent on "classroom management" and "discipline," not education. One of the miracles of homeschooling is how little time it actually takes to produce outstanding results, because the parent is teaching each child one-on-one and not struggling to motivate and teach an entire classroom of disparate abilities and languages. I have a strong suspicion that more hours and days in a classroom would produce diminishing returns, for many reasons.

Today at Salon Andrew O'Hehir writes about his family's experiences as new homeschoolers.

One of his points I strongly agree with: "We have rejected the mainstream consensus that since education is a good thing, more of it -- more formal, more 'academic,' reaching ever deeper into early childhood and filling up more of the day and more of the year -- is better for society and better for all children. This is almost an article of faith in contemporary America, but it's also one that's debatable at best and remains largely unsupported by research data."

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Tonight's Movie: Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935)

Busby Berkeley's GOLD DIGGERS OF 1935 takes the "Let's put on a show!" concept to a high-end summer resort, where Dick Powell, Gloria Stuart, and a cast of thousands -- or at least hundreds -- appear in a charity fundraising production.

Powell plays Dick Curtis, a medical student who spends his summers working as a clerk at the resort. Dick is hired by wealthy Matilda Prentiss (Alice Brady) to serve as a "safe" escort for her daughter Ann (Stuart), who is supposed to marry repulsive millionaire Mosely Thorpe (Hugh Herbert) at the end of the summer. Of course, Dick and Ann fall in love. All is neatly resolved by the end of the big summer musical production.

GOLD DIGGERS OF 1935 continued Warner Bros.' string of unique Busby Berkeley musicals, which began in 1933 with GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933, 42ND STREET, and FOOTLIGHT PARADE and continued in 1934 with DAMES.

GOLD DIGGERS OF 1935 is not on a par with the earlier Berkeley films, particularly the amazing trio released in 1933, but it boasts two stunning sequences which rank among Berkeley's finest work. The first number, "The Words Are In My Heart," features white-gowned girls at white pianos, which swirl and move into patterns with great precision. The way the pianos slide so gracefully into place is impressive. You can see men's legs under the pianos; it must have been uncomfortable to be hunched over pulling a piano along, but the effect was certainly worth it.

The other big number is set to the Academy Award winning Warren-Dubin song "Lullaby of Broadway." The song is sung by Wini Shaw, whose face at first is a mere dot on a black screen. Gradually the camera pulls up so close the viewer can just about see her tonsils, and then the camera goes inside her head as the number continues. The precision dancing by the huge chorus in the vast nightclub set is awe-inspiring -- one of those classic movie moments that caused me to sigh "Wow!" out loud -- and ultimately builds to a shocking conclusion. This impressive sequence is worth watching a second time after the movie ends in order to take in more of the details. It's a true Berkeley masterpiece.

Although Powell gets to sing "The Words Are in My Heart" and "I'm Goin' Shoppin' With You" earlier in the film, the movie is top-heavy with "humor" and light on music. Alice Brady is mildly amusing as the penny-pinching millionairess whose constant refrain is "Hmmmmmm" as she contemplates financial matters. However, I've never been able to understand why tiresome Hugh Herbert was cast in so many films; his storyline with Glenda Farrell is a complete distraction from the rest of the movie. Adolphe Menjou is similarly loud and over the top in this one.

In short, the movie could have used a lot more music and screen time featuring its energetic young cast members, including vivacious Dorothy Dare, and a lot less time watching Herbert, Menjou, and others plodding through forced comedy.

Lovely Gloria Stuart turned 99 last Independence Day. She was off the screen for nearly three decades, from the mid-'40s to the mid-'70s; her work in the '70s included two outstanding 1979 Lindsay Wagner TV-movies, THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY OF DR. MEG LAUREL and THE TWO WORLDS OF JENNIE LOGAN. Modern movie fans know Stuart from her Oscar-nominated turn in TITANIC (1997), in which she played Kate Winslet's character as an old lady.

Dick Powell went on to make several more musicals with Berkeley including HOLLYWOOD HOTEL (1937). I plan on catching up with more of their films in the weeks or months to come.

Virginia Grey, who moved to MGM shortly after this picture, can be glimpsed among the chorus girls. The cast also includes Grant Mitchell, Frank McHugh, Joseph Cawthorn, E.E. Clive, and Charles Coleman.

This movie was shot in black and white and runs 98 minutes.

GOLD DIGGERS OF 1935 is available on DVD as a single-title release or as part of Volume 1 of the Busby Berkeley Collection.

It has also been released on VHS.

This movie can be seen on cable on Turner Classic Movies. The trailer is at the TCM site here.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Tonight's Movie: A Kiss in the Dark (1949)

The romantic comedy A KISS IN THE DARK stars two fine leads, David Niven and Jane Wyman, and was made by an excellent director, Delmer Daves. Despite this trio's talents, I found A KISS IN THE DARK to be an overly silly, somewhat tedious film which seems to drag on longer than its 87 minutes.

David Niven plays Eric Phillips, a sheltered, nervous concert pianist whose business manager (Joseph Buloff) buys him an apartment house, the Cleopatra Arms. When Eric visits the apartment house, he meets advertising model Polly (Jane Wyman) and a building full of odd tenants, including Victor Moore, Wayne Morris, and Broderick Crawford. Thanks to Polly and the Cleopatra Arms, Eric gradually learns that there is life away from the piano keyboard.

Niven is sweet and appealing as the sheltered pianist, and Wyman is charming and looks absolutely lovely, but their surroundings in this film just aren't much fun. I have never enjoyed Victor Moore, and Crawford and Morris both play loud-mouthed, boorish bullies. The plotline had potential, glimpsed in a scene here and there, but the overall execution fell flat.

The supporting cast also includes Maria Ouspenskaya, Curt Bois, Percival Vivian, and Jimmie Dodd (THE MICKEY MOUSE CLUB). The movie was shot in black and white by Robert Burks, who went on to shoot some of Alfred Hitchcock's greatest films, including REAR WINDOW (1954) and NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959).

A KISS IN THE DARK has not had a DVD or video release, but it can be seen on cable on Turner Classic Movies. (Update: This film is now available on DVD from the Warner Archive.)

A trailer is available here.

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...Warning bells went off when I read the BBC has attempted to modernize their new production of EMMA and remove "stuffy period characters." The producers wish to take EMMA and Austen "off the literary shelf...making her seem part of our lives again." Er, what stuffy period characters, and when has Jane Austen not seemed "part of our lives"? And to quote a British professor, "If you modernise it too far and modernise the social relations that pertained to Austen's day, then some of the behaviour and the plot will not make sense." Exactly right. (Click the title of this post for the story. Hat tip: Mrs. Happy Housewife.)

...The L.A. Times has the history of USC's mascot Tirebiter.

...Reading about the '50s TV series THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS earlier today got me to thinking about the 1992 film. Gosh, I love that movie. It might have been terribly depressing, given the level of carnage, but it's too exciting, too sweeping, and too lushly romantic to leave the viewer feeling anything but thrilled. It surely has one of the all-time great movie heroes, as portrayed by Daniel Day-Lewis, and then there's the music and those North Carolina locations! Here's the trailer.

...From the "Are You Kidding Me?" Department: a homeless American Girl doll? That's just...disturbing. I can just imagine Christmas shopping for my daughters, back when American Girl dolls headed their wish lists, and choosing that over Molly or Samantha...not!

...Here's a simply lovely photo of a New York bookstore in 1945. Wouldn't you like to be able to browse there? Especially as they carried one of my all-time favorite books, Elswyth Thane's YANKEE STRANGER.

...Jacqueline takes a look at ZERO HOUR! (1957) at Another Old Movie Blog. (I reviewed the movie last New Year's Eve.) And while you're at it, be sure to read this interview with the daughters of Dana Andrews, Robert Ryan, and William Wyler which was linked in the comments.

..."Don't miss" political analysis: Victor Davis Hanson of Stanford University's Hoover Institution on "Barack Obama, College Administrator." Also worth reading: David Limbaugh on "Obama's Competing Waterloos."

...Kristina's Kinema has an interesting CLASSIC IMAGES profile of actor Paul Kelly, someone whose face I'm always glad to see turn up in movies -- most recently in THE ROARING TWENTIES (1939) and I'LL WAIT FOR YOU (1941). What a dramatic life!

...Reading the Pioneer Woman's personal love story last week got me to thinking about one of my favorite novels, Linda Howard's 1990 book DUNCAN'S BRIDE. Like Pioneer Woman Ree Drummond, the heroine of DUNCAN'S BRIDE married a rancher. I enjoyed rereading it the other day. Like so many great writers of the '80s and '90s, Howard left romance behind to write murder and suspense books, which aren't my cup of tea.

...I recently saw an episode of BAREFOOT CONTESSA where Ina Garten made a delectable-looking Brownie Pudding. Here's the recipe.

...Glenn Erickson reviews the Warner Archives release of NORA PRENTISS (1947) at DVD Savant. If you read my review last June you may understand why I loved Erickson's description of this film as a "Doom Ride"! (Update: NORA PRENTISS airs on Turner Classic Movies on Thursday, October 1, 2009.)

Have a great weekend!

Notable Passings

...Dorothy Coonan Wellman, the widow of famed director William A. Wellman, recently passed away at the age of 95.

Mrs. Wellman starred in her husband's film WILD BOYS OF THE ROAD (1933) and also appeared as a dancer in 42ND STREET (1933) and GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 (1933). The Wellmans had seven children, including actors Cissy Wellman and William Wellman Jr.

...John Hart, whose long acting career including a stint replacing Clayton Moore as the Lone Ranger, has passed away at the age of 91.

Hart married actress Beryl Braithwaite 10 days after meeting her while shooting the TV series HAWKEYE AND THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS. He was 39, she was 20; they were married for 52 years.

More on Hart has been posted at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Tonight's Movie: The Unguarded Hour (1936)

THE UNGUARDED HOUR reunites Loretta Young and Franchot Tone, costars of the pre-Code classic MIDNIGHT MARY (1933).

This time around, Tone plays Sir Alan Dearden, a prominent British barrister on the path to becoming the youngest attorney general in England's history. Loretta Young plays his adoring wife, Helen.

When Helen agrees to pay a blackmailer (Henry Daniell) in possession of letters which could damage Alan's career, Helen inadvertently becomes a key witness in an unrelated murder case, which (of course) is being prosecuted by her husband. If Helen comes forward to clear an innocent man, she will expose the very letters she sought to suppress. The plot grows ever more complicated, twisting and turning until eventually Sir Alan himself will end up as a murder suspect.

This is an interesting story, although it becomes quite convoluted and ends in a rather hurried finish. The film is entertaining thanks to its excellent cast. Tone, Young, and Lewis Stone, who plays General Lawrence of Scotland Yard, all skip using British accents, but thanks to '30s "movie star magic," it doesn't matter a whole lot. The actors are charismatic and enjoyable to watch, the story is absorbing, and that's really all that matters.

Roland Young, who does have a British accent, just about steals the movie as Tone and Young's close friend and confidant. There are many other great faces in the cast, including Jessie Ralph, E.E. Clive, Robert Greig (as, what else, a butler), and Dudley Digges.

I recently acquired a December 1944 Lux Radio Theater production of THE UNGUARDED HOUR; it's always interesting to see who appeared in a film's condensed radio version on Lux. Roland Young repeated his role, 8 years after appearing in the film version, with Robert Montgomery and Laraine Day in the leads. Montgomery's appearance in the show is interesting as he had no films released between mid-1941 and December 1945 due to his wartime service in the U.S. Navy.

THE UNGUARDED HOUR was directed by Sam Wood. It was shot in black and white and runs 87 minutes.

THE UNGUARDED HOUR is not available on VHS or DVD, but it can be seen on Turner Classic Movies. The print which has been shown on TCM was excellent.

A trailer can be seen here. The trailer advertises Loretta Young as being "back on the screen" a matter of fact, this was Young's first film after secretly giving birth to her daughter, Judy, who was fathered by Clark Gable during the filming of CALL OF THE WILD (1935). Loretta claimed "exhaustion" and illness and spent her pregnancy hiding in Europe and later Venice, California. You can read more about that in a 2007 review of Gable and Young's KEY TO THE CITY (1950).

Update: THE UNGUARDED HOUR is now available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

Tonight's Movie: You're in the Navy Now (1951)

YOU'RE IN THE NAVY NOW (1951) is perfect Friday night entertainment, a lighthearted look at the travails of a crew of "90-day wonders" stationed on a steam-powered "sub catcher" in the early days of WWII. It was "laugh out loud funny," and my family thoroughly enjoyed it.

When Navy Lt. John Harkness (Gary Cooper) arrives at his first command, he's shocked to discover two things: a crew as inexperienced as he is and a tricky steam-powered engine which needs to be tested in sea trials. Harkness, newly graduated from officers' school, was selected to command the ship because of his engineering degree from Rutgers -- 18 years previously. When it's time for the ship to get underway the first time, Harkness first runs to his quarters and consults a manual for directions!

The ship's officers are played by Eddie Albert, Richard Erdman, and Jack Webb. As a matter of fact, the dour Sgt. Joe Friday himself has a couple of the funniest scenes in the movie; it's a pleasure watching him.

Lovely Jane Greer adds a welcome touch of romance as Cooper's wife, although her scenes are fairly limited.

Millard Mitchell is the seasoned crewman who is just about the only person aboard ship who has a clue what he's doing. Part of the fun of watching the movie is simply recognizing the various crew members as they come on camera: Lee Marvin...Jack Warden...Harvey Lembeck...and most amusingly, Charles Bronson.

The upper brass on shore are played by John McIntire, Ray Collins, Harry Von Zell, and Ed Begley. This was the second movie made by Henry Slate, who plays Chief Engineer Ryan; his last movie was last Friday night's movie, MURPHY'S ROMANCE (1985).

YOU'RE IN THE NAVY NOW was directed by Henry Hathaway. It was shot in black and white and runs 93 minutes. The film has also been shown under the title U.S.S. TEAKETTLE.

YOU'RE IN THE NAVY NOW is available on DVD in an excellent print. The only notable extra is the trailer.

A couple of rating books I enjoy consulting for opinions only gave this film two stars. It's a good thing we don't let the books actually influence our viewing choices or we would have missed a real treat! It was very entertaining watching the crew figure out how to work together and "improvise" to run their ship. This was a solid three-star movie which I recommend as fun family viewing.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

New Book: Walt Disney: His Life in Pictures

Diane Disney Miller, one of Walt Disney's two daughters, has a new book coming out next Tuesday, WALT DISNEY: HIS LIFE IN PICTURES.

The release ties in nicely with the opening of The Walt Disney Family Museum next month.

The San Francisco Chronicle has previewed the museum.

One of the museum's first events is a South of the Border Weekend which sounds wonderful. The museum will be screening WALT AND EL GRUPO and THE THREE CABALLEROS and also hosting the author of the upcoming book SOUTH OF THE BORDER WITH DISNEY.

More on SOUTH OF THE BORDER is in an August post; for previous posts on WALT AND EL GRUPO, visit here and here.

Disney fans interested in more on Disney "south of the border" will also want to check out a new post, "Saludos Walt," by Wade Sampson at MousePlanet.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

New Book: The Pioneer Woman Cooks

This morning the L.A. Times Food section introduced me to a new blogsite, Ree Drummond's The Pioneer Woman.

Drummond was raised in Oklahoma but left to attend the University of Southern California. At that point she considered herself a city girl, yet she ultimately ended up back in Oklahoma, married to a cattle rancher and eventually homeschooling and blogging.

I don't know how I've managed to miss out on her blog so long, as it covers favorite topics like homeschooling and cooking. The photography is amazing.

My paternal grandparents were born and raised in Oklahoma and our daughter attends USC, so those connections add interest for me.

Drummond has a book, THE PIONEER WOMAN COOKS: RECIPES FROM AN ACCIDENTAL COUNTRY GIRL coming out on October 27th. It's jumped onto my wish list.

The Times printed a few of Drummond's recipes, including Chicken Fried Steak. Yum!

Update: This woman sure can tell a story! Correcting literature tests and preparing client billings have all taken a back seat for the last couple hours as I read chapter after chapter...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Actor Robert Ginty, Age 60

Sad news via Thrilling Days of Yesteryear: actor Robert Ginty, seen as a guest star or regular on many TV series of the '70s and '80s, has passed away at the age of 60.

Ginty notably played T.J. on BAA, BAA BLACK SHEEP (aka THE BLACK SHEEP SQUADRON) and Anderson on THE PAPER CHASE -- two of my favorite TV shows of the late '70s. (Ginty, incidentally, was briefly married to his PAPER CHASE costar, Francine Tacker, who played Elizabeth Logan.) Both series hold up wonderfully and are being enjoyed by my children on DVD.

Ginty is seen at the left in this BLACK SHEEP cast photo.

Click the title of this post for his L.A. Times obituary.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Tonight's Movie: Seven Days in May (1964)

Our latest Netflix movie was SEVEN DAYS IN MAY, an excellent political suspense film.

Kirk Douglas plays a colonel who uncovers a plan by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Scott (Burt Lancaster), to overthrow the Presidency and install himself in power. The great Fredric March plays the President of the United States, whose nuclear disarmament treaty with the Soviet Union has made him unpopular with both the public and the military brass.

Although this film was released 45 years ago, in many ways it is amazingly undated. Setting aside my annoyance with the film's politics -- i.e., the Cold War hawks in the military saddled with being the bad guys -- at times this film seemed almost ripped from today's front pages. For instance, the movie starts with a discussion of the President's tanking poll numbers (they are down in the 20s!); it was interesting to have polls be a plot point in a film set nearly half a century ago.

The disarmament issues call to mind last week's news regarding our current President announcing plans to abandon a missile shield defense system for our allies in Czechoslavakia and Poland.

Another key issue that rings true is the use of the media to sway the public to one side or another; General Scott has a network newsman (Hugh Marlowe) at his beck and call.

It's hard for a film to miss when the cast starts out with the names March, Lancaster, Douglas, and Ava Gardner, who plays General Scott's former mistress. I might not have cared for the President's politics, but Fredric March is nothing less than superb in a role which combines vulnerability and rock-ribbed strength. I haven't heard the director's commentary track yet myself, but I'm told director John Frankenheimer says March is one of the two greatest actors ever in the movies. (I don't know who the second actor was!) March is simply gripping.

Lancaster is quite interesting as the power-obsessed general who believes that he's all that stands between the United States and nuclear annihilation. Or does he, really? Are his motives nukes, personal power, or both? And what about the contrast between his public image and personal life? (There's a story we've seen played out with too many politicians.) A couple more scenes to more fully flesh out his character's back story and how he made the leap from Congressional Medal of Honor winner to potential dictator would have been good, although I'm not sure where they would have fit in a 118-minute film. This is a small quibble, though, in an excellent film.

Edmond O'Brien was nominated for the Oscar for his role as the alcoholic senior senator from Georgia. The senator's loyalty to the President and his country are the only things stronger than his love for drink, and he is thus able to put the bottle aside long enough to gather key intelligence about the pending plot.

This was John Houseman's first acting role, other than an appearance in a film in 1938. Houseman only appears in a couple of scenes but his character provides a significant turning point in the plot. Apparently Houseman did his part in exchange for a bottle of fine wine! Houseman, a longtime movie producer, didn't act again for nearly a decade, but that next performance was his Oscar-winning role as Professor Kingsfield in THE PAPER CHASE (1973).

The cast also includes Martin Balsam, Richard Anderson, George Macready, Andrew Duggan, Whit Bissell, and Helen Kleeb.

The movie was directed by John Frankenheimer, from a screenplay by Rod Serling. It was shot in black and white by Ellsworth Fredericks. The musical score is by Jerry Goldsmith.

One further note, I found the film's sets depicting the Pentagon and the White House very interesting. The use of a time clock at the Pentagon to help count down the passage of time was an effective plot device.

SEVEN DAYS IN MAY has been released on DVD in a crisp widescreen print. Extras include a commentary track with director Frankenheimer, who passed away in 2002.

This film has also had a release on VHS.

SEVEN DAYS IN MAY is highly recommended for a most interesting and thought-provoking viewing experience.

May 2017 Update: SEVEN DAYS IN MAY is now available on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive. My review of the Blu-ray is here.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

New on DVD: Wagon Master (1950)

John Ford's relatively unsung masterpiece, WAGON MASTER (1950), was released on DVD last Tuesday, September 15th.

I've loved this movie since I first saw it years ago at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Ford "stock company" favorites like Ben Johnson, Harry Carey Jr., and Ward Bond all have a chance to shine as the film's lead actors. The movie also has stunning black and white photography of Utah locations and a lovely score with songs by the Sons of the Pioneers.

Alongside the sweeping desert panoramas, there are delightful little "bits of business," such as Sandy (Carey) taking off his hat and bowing whenever he approaches lovely Prudence (Kathleen O'Malley).

Although this movie is not as famous as some of Ford's other movies, it's well-loved by those who have had the chance to see it.

Mike Clark of USA Today gives the film a deserved 4-star rating, calling it "poetry with an authentic feel" and noting that William K. Everson, a noted Western historian, said it was "the best Western ever." (2019 Update: This link has gone dead.)

Glenn Erickson gave the movie and the DVD itself rave reviews at his DVD Savant website. I enjoyed this comment by Glenn: "...what Wagon Master captures best is a certain 'western feel' that was a big part of America at that time. I caught only a little bit of it as I grew up later in the 1950s. Travis and Sandy sit on a fence haggling over the price of a horse, in blue jeans with the cuffs rolled up. Frankly, it's a feeling of being clean, decent and part of the natural landscape, working in an outdoors with plenty of elbow room and not too many rules."

Dennis Lim's review was published today by the L.A. Times. I found his comment that the movie is "practically a musical" interesting. He also says WAGON MASTER represents "the pinnacle of the [Western] genre's optimistic ideals."

Chris Hicks of the Deseret News calls WAGON MASTER "a great film, a grand western, and one of the best movies about pioneers ever made."

Those who know the movie might be interested to know that the WAGON MASTER screenplay was published in the late '70s as part of the RKO Screenplay Series. It's a paperback with several very nice glossy photos. Used copies are currently available from Amazon starting at under a dollar plus shipping. This book is highly recommended for fans of John Ford in general and WAGON MASTER in particular.

As described in a post here last May, the DVD extras include a commentary track by Peter Bogdanovich and costar Carey, which has received multiple positive comments in reviews.

This film's release is especially welcome given the dearth of classic releases on DVD so far this year. Those who have seen WAGON MASTER before will doubtless welcome the chance to view it again in a beautiful print and hear the commentary; for those who are not yet acquainted with the movie, this DVD is a wonderful opportunity to see a terrific film.

2010 Update: A review of the movie is here.

July 2019 Update: WAGON MASTER will be released on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive in August 2019.

Happy 90th Birthday to Marge Champion

Classic Hollywood Nerd has posted a lovely photo tribute to the great Marge Champion, who turned 90 years old on September 2nd. Click the title of this post for the link.

One of my very favorite Marge and Gower Champion dances, "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," can currently be seen on YouTube.

Previously: An Interview With Marge Champion (April 15, 2009); Happy 90th Birthday to Betty Garrett (June 3, 2009).

Coming to DVD: Disney's Zorro

This year's Disney Treasures releases will be Disney's classic ZORRO TV series starring Guy Williams.

Season 1 and Season 2 will each be released in their own Disney Treasures tin.

Extras include additional ZORRO specials which aired on WALT DISNEY'S WONDERFUL WORLD OF COLOR after the original series ended its regular run.

As always, Leonard Maltin serves as the host for this series.

A few months ago we got a free copy of ZORRO from Disney Movie Rewards, although we didn't realize till it arrived that it was colorized. The colorization actually didn't look as bad as most colorized movies and it was thus enjoyed, but we'll be glad to get the series in its original black and white. It looks like another great release in the Treasures series.

Still hoping for more SPIN AND MARTY and the Jiminy Cricket "I'm No Fool" cartoons to be released...maybe next year!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Tonight's Movie: In the Meantime, Darling (1944)

IN THE MEANTIME, DARLING is the story of newlyweds Maggie and Danny (Jeanne Crain, Frank Latimore), who live in a hotel with other military families during World War II. The hotel is located in Victorville, California, near Danny's desert training camp.

Maggie is from a wealthy family -- her parents are played by Eugene Pallette and Mary Nash -- and she struggles to fit into her new environment, especially as some of the other army wives are initially hostile. Mary finds a supportive friend in another military wife, Shirley (Gale Robbins, in a lively performance), and learns to pitch in and make the most of every moment before her husband is shipped overseas.

I first saw this film on cable about 15 years ago. It's one of those movies which might not be a particularly good film, but it's fun to watch -- it has a deep cast of familiar faces and provides a snapshot of wartime life, victory gardens and all, which is quite interesting viewed from a vantage point of over six decades later.

This was one of Jeanne Crain's first films, released right after HOME IN INDIANA (1944). I'm a big Jeanne Crain fan -- I like her, and I like the kinds of movies she made -- and this little film, which runs a fast 72 minutes, is no exception. Crain was a natural, and the camera loved her. Maggie, nicknamed "Child Bride" by her husband, is a likeable character who means well; she makes mistakes out of immature ignorance or love, but she learns and grows from her experiences.

The movie has an interesting cast roster. Gale Robbins is very appealing as Crain's friend Shirley, and her role is just about as big as Crain's. Robbins has the opportunity to sing a pretty ballad at an army dance. Robbins later appeared in the Fred Astaire musicals THE BARKLEYS OF BROADWAY (1949), THREE LITTLE WORDS (1950), and THE BELLE OF NEW YORK (1952).

Frank Latimore, who plays Crain's new husband, later played wealthy Steve Harrington in the Fox musical THREE LITTLE GIRLS IN BLUE (1946). The majority of his career was in foreign films, although he appeared in a few more English-language movies, including PATTON (1970).

Jane Randolph, who passed away earlier this year, is the widow who runs the hotel. Although her character at first appears to be cold and rude, we later learn her back story and she has some touching scenes with Crain.

Heather Angel, Cara Williams, and Elisabeth Risdon are among the other boarders at the Hotel Craig. The reliable Risdon, who had nearly 150 acting credits dating back to the silents, is fun to watch as a colonel's wife who isn't bothered in the least when Crain mistakes her for the hotel cook and wants to tip her for preparing an after-hours breakfast.

Actor-director Blake Edwards, who had a small role in a postwar film reviewed a couple weeks ago, TILL THE END OF TIME (1946), here plays Billy, a soldier who jitterbugs with Jeanne Crain. Glenn Langan, who was Crain's French teacher crush in MARGIE (1946), plays Lt. Larkin.

Clarence Muse, who makes a positive impression as Henry, the kindly hotel porter, had a 50-year career which concluded with THE BLACK STALLION in 1979. And Major Phillips is played by Reed Hadley, whose distinctive voice narrated BOOMERANG! (1947), HE WALKED BY NIGHT (1948), and THE IRON CURTAIN (1948).

This must be one of the least likely titles in the career of director Otto Preminger; it was one of his first American films. Later the same year his great classic LAURA was released. Preminger directed Crain again in CENTENNIAL SUMMER (1946) and THE FAN (1949).

The movie was shot in black and white by Joe MacDonald, whose credits include the beautifully filmed Western YELLOW SKY (1948).

This movie has not had a DVD or video release, but it is shown from time to time on Fox Movie Channel.

This film would fit in nicely on a double bill with TENDER COMRADE (1943), another story of communal wartime living, or with THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU (1944), another film about newlyweds coping with marriage and separation as a result of WWII.

Jeanne Crain films reviewed here previously: HOME IN INDIANA (1944), STATE FAIR (1945), MARGIE (1946), APARTMENT FOR PEGGY (1948), YOU WERE MEANT FOR ME (1948), A LETTER TO THREE WIVES (1949), TAKE CARE OF MY LITTLE GIRL (1951), I'LL GET BY (1951), DANGEROUS CROSSING (1953), VICKI (1953), THE FASTEST GUN ALIVE (1956), and SKYJACKED (1972).

Favorite Crain films not yet reviewed here include LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN (1945), CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN (1950), PEOPLE WILL TALK (1951), and BELLES ON THEIR TOES (1952). And I'm still looking for a copy of CENTENNIAL SUMMER (1946), which I've never seen!

2012 Update: IN THE MEANTIME, DARLING is now available on DVD-R from the Fox Cinema Archives.

Around the Blogosphere This Week

Miscellaneous bits of news and fun stuff from the Internet...

...The Self-Styled Siren calls attention to favorite films from the late '50s and early '60s in an interesting post titled "Ten Melos the Siren Would Watch Instead of MAD MEN." Click the title of this post for the link.

...Check out the cute Halloween Dots shapes at CandyBlog: bats, ghosts and candy corn.

...The Variety website may be available by subscription only starting next year.

...Rush Limbaugh has donated half a million dollars to the House Ear Institute in honor of the late Dr. Antonio De la Cruz, who performed Limbaugh's cochlear implant.

...House Moms on Campus is an interesting read at American Profile. (Hat tip: A Quiet Simple Life.) The concept is so nice and old-fashioned.

...Martha Stewart's newest cookbook, MARTHA STEWART'S DINNER AT HOME, debuts October 13th. It's subtitled 52 QUICK MEALS TO COOK FOR FAMILY AND FRIENDS. Based on her other cookbooks I'm betting this one will be a winner too.

...The liberals currently running California would rather take away freedom and kill business than build more power plants, so the state is on the verge of banning the sale of large TVs, perhaps as many as 25% of all TV sets currently sold in the state. I previously wrote about this in March. I wonder if there will be a court challenge... This will sure help our economy and our 12% unemployment rate!

...Surprising news last night as Disney Studios head Dick Cook left (or was pushed out) after 38 years. Cook began his Disney career as a cast member on Disneyland attractions. Will this throw PIRATES 4 into doubt?

...In cheerier Disney news, check out the neat INDIANA JONES-ish site for the new documentary WALT AND EL GRUPO. For more on the film see my post on the D23 Expo.

...Video from Fine Cooking: "How to Grill Corn on the Cob." We've been grilling it all summer...corn tastes so much fresher when it's not waterlogged!

..."The Media Genius of Andrew Breitbart." Breitbart is the proprietor of Big Government, which had a splashy debut with the shocking ACORN videos. Breitbart also runs Big Hollywood and Breitbart TV.

...A neat baking website I just discovered thanks to a friend: Bakerella, which in in the midst of transitioning from its prior web address.

...A political roundup: American Thinker has published a provocative article by a psychotherapist, "Is Obama a Narcissist?" Her analysis of his upbringing is particularly interesting... Mark Levin's LIBERTY AND TYRANNY has sold a million copies yet never been reviewed by the New York Times or Washington Post... Chris Wallace, anchor of FOX NEWS SUNDAY and a genuinely "fair and balanced" newsman, is not impressed with the professionalism -- or lack thereof -- of the current White House... The Democratic National Committee is promising there will be a "rain of hellfire" on those who oppose their plans to nationalize healthcare. Gee, how American. Didn't Hillary tell us "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism"?

...JULIE AND JULIA (2009) continues to inspire cooks.

...A Tesco supermarket in Wales was accused of discriminating against Jedis -- yes, you read that correctly -- for requesting that they remove their hoods. Someone at Tesco really knows their STAR WARS and showed that knowledge and good humor in a terrific response.

...I just came across a post at Sidewalk Crossings about growing up as a classic film fan in the '70s. I could have written a lot of that post myself as it mirrors many of my own experiences. Love the section about life before and after STAR WARS.

Have a great weekend!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Tonight's Movie: Murphy's Romance (1985)

I'm not sure I'd seen MURPHY'S ROMANCE since I first saw it in a theater at the time of its release, or perhaps I rented it at some later point. In any event, I suspect it had been at least 20 years or so between my last viewing and watching the film tonight. Although I remembered certain scenes, in some ways it was like seeing the movie for the first time. What a treat!

The movie stars one of my very favorite actors, James Garner, in his only Oscar-nominated performance. It was a well-deserved honor. Garner is impeccable as the initially crusty but always-there-when-you-need-him Murphy Jones, a small-town pharmacist. Murphy gradually becomes enamored with Emma Moriarty (Sally Field), a much younger divorcee who arrives in the area with her young son and opens a business boarding and training horses.

Emma's life struggling to make a living and raise her son is complicated when her immature, irresponsible ex-husband, Bobby Jack (Brian Kerwin), turns up like a bad penny. Perhaps against her better judgment, Emma lets Bobby Jack stay in her house for their son's sake. When Murphy starts coming around to visit, things get particularly interesting.

The movie is simply a lovely character study and portrait of small-town life. The cast is excellent -- I suspect many of the very "real" faces in bit parts were cast with local citizens -- and one of the film's biggest positives is the atmosphere captured with location filming in Florence, Arizona. Whether it's the wonderful old pharmacy with its soda fountain or the pleasures of dancing to fiddle music or playing bingo at the Elks Club, the movie has an authentic feel. The town reminds me a little of the small town in the Sierras we visit most summers.

The resolution of Emma's "Bobby Jack problem" was a bit too convenient, although in keeping with Bobby Jack's character. Otherwise this is a very honest, natural film which slowly but inevitably builds to a positive conclusion.

It hardly needs to be said that Garner's timing is one of his greatest assets, and some of his line readings in this are an absolute crackup. At the same time, some of his best moments require no dialogue at all. He is a master of the thoughtful gaze. The rest of the cast is excellent, with Corey Haim notably believable as Field's son.

The wonderful character actor Charles Lane appears in a couple of scenes. Georgeann Johnson, who later appeared in several episodes of the TV series DR. QUINN, MEDICINE WOMAN, plays one of Murphy's lady friends.

MURPHY'S ROMANCE was directed by Martin Ritt, whose credits include THE LONG, HOT SUMMER (1958), HUD (1963), SOUNDER (1972), and NORMA RAE (1979).

Parental advisory: This movie is rated PG-13 for foul language (including one word which surprised me) and a couple brief but frank discussions. Otherwise it is a family-friendly film which quietly celebrates the value of hard work, maturity, and commitment.

MURPHY'S ROMANCE has been released on DVD in a nice widescreen print. It's currently available at Deep Discount for not a whole lot more than the cost of a movie rental.

The movie has also had a pan-and-scan VHS release.

The trailer is available at IMDb.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

New Book: The Queen Mother: The Official Biography

Here's a book that's sure to be a good read for those interested in royal history or the history of 20th Century England: THE QUEEN MOTHER: THE OFFICIAL BIOGRAPHY by William Shawcross.

It will be released in the United States on October 20th, 2009.

The book was released today in England under a slightly different title, QUEEN ELIZABETH THE QUEEN MOTHER: THE OFFICIAL BIOGRAPHY. It's causing a bit of a stir in England as letters and other information under wraps for decades become public.

I think the single best royalty biography I've ever read was the authorized biography of the Queen Mother's mother-in-law, QUEEN MARY, by James Pope-Hennessy.

It was reissued in the United States in paperback a few years ago and is very much worth seeking out and reading.

Update: Missy notes that CBS News somehow thinks that Queen Elizabeth I and Diana, Princess of Wales, lived in the same centuries... The network is in desperate need of a fact checker!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Of Julia Child and France

Julia Child may have made French cuisine popular with home cooks in the United States, but according to the New York Times, Child is relatively unknown in France.

Child's most famous cookbook, MASTERING THE ART OF FRENCH COOKING, has never been translated into French.

The film JULIE AND JULIA opened in France today.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

D23 Expo Recaps and Reviews

On Saturday I wrote about our excellent experience at Day 3 of Disney's D23 Expo.

More reviews and posts about the Expo are now starting to find their way to the Internet.

Al Lutz has posted some initial thoughts on MiceAge. (Click the title of this post.)

The part of Al's post I most agreed with:

"The Parks & Resorts Pavilion at D23 Expo was the true hit of the sprawling exhibit floor, operated by Disneyland Attractions Cast Members in the queue and in the Magic TV pre-show and then staffed by dozens of knowledgeable Imagineers of all stripes and talents inside at the exhibits. The huge models, displays and live demonstrations of Imagineering art and wizardry were a wonder to behold of course. But it was that personal and surprisingly approachable interaction between the fans and the Imagineers that made the pavilion so memorable.

"Having the actual designers and creators of these new attractions and technologies standing there happily answering any and all questions thrown their way, while eagerly running their creations through their paces like proud parents, was unlike any experience Disney has ever offered its fans before.

"If the D23 Expo returns to Anaheim in the future, as it is tentatively slated to do every September through 2012, the Parks & Resorts Pavilion will have set the bar very high for all other divisions of the Disney empire to aspire to."

I briefly mentioned this aspect of the Expo near the top of Saturday's post. This Pavilion was definitely a major "wow" moment among many great moments that day. We were simply amazed to be approached by the friendly Imagineers when we walked up to each exhibit and have them enthusiastically tell us all about their creations. We weren't expecting that level of personal interaction, and it was a moment that told us Disney was truly invested in making D23 a top-line experience.

As a side note, I was glad to read in Al's column that some at Disney are perhaps uncomfortable regarding the appropriateness of bringing back the Michael Jackson Captain EO attraction. Hopefully wise heads will prevail and Captain EO will be left forever where it belongs, in Yesterland.

The L.A. Times blog Hero Complex has posted many Expo articles, including a terrific report on the Saturday night screening of SLEEPING BEAUTY, with the voice of Princess Aurora, Mary Costa, in attendance. I would have loved to see that but getting back for a 10:00 p.m. screening was a bit more than we could swing that day. As it turned out, Miss Costa signed autographs until 2:00 a.m.! She sounds like an absolutely lovely woman.

The screening reminds me of something that needs to be fixed for the next Expo. Parking at the Convention Center was $12. Okay, fine. But there are no "in and out" same-day privileges. Which meant if we decided to drive back for the screening that night, parking would have cost another $12. That's simply unacceptable on top of Expo tickets and the original parking fee. It's not right to "trap" paying Expo guests and double charge them if they need to leave for a while sometime between the long Expo hours of roughly 8:00 a.m. to midnight.

MousePlanet has photos and an overview of the Expo.

Photos of the day we attended were posted at All Ears Net. Other posts and photos are posted elsewhere on the site.

Finally, the D23 website itself has posted many photos and articles.

I hope we'll see the Expo return to Anaheim next year!

Thursday Update: Another review with constructive ideas for next time around by Werner Weiss of Yesterland.

Newer›  ‹Older