Saturday, October 31, 2009

Tonight's Movie: To Catch a Thief (1955)

What could be a better viewing choice for Halloween night than an Alfred Hitchcock movie?

Tonight's movie, TO CATCH A THIEF, is one of my earliest film memories. It was the first Hitchcock film I ever saw. It was also one of several Cary Grant movies I watched over and over as a young child; TOPPER, HOUSEBOAT, ARSENIC AND OLD LACE, THE BISHOP'S WIFE, PENNY SERENADE, and OPERATION PETTICOAT are some other Grant titles which are among my earliest movie memories.

Although I'd previously seen TO CATCH A THIEF roughly half a dozen times, I hadn't watched it in the recent past, so it seemed quite fresh to me tonight. There were even a few things I'd forgotten. And some of the dialogue certainly went over my head when I watched the film as a child...!

It was interesting to watch it in a new context; for instance, this year I've seen John Williams, who plays the insurance man, in DIAL M FOR MURDER (1954) and SABRINA (1954). It was fun to revisit TO CATCH A THIEF with a greater appreciation for Williams' acting.

TO CATCH A THIEF also ties in nicely with last night's movies, LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON (1957) and the aforementioned SABRINA (1954): they're all mid-'50s films set at least partly in France, and TO CATCH A THIEF and SABRINA share Paramount, John Williams, and costume designer Edith Head in common.

The plot of TO CATCH A THIEF is familiar to many film fans. John Robie (Grant), a reformed cat burglar, is suspected of a string of jewel robberies along the Riviera. Robie teams with an insurance executive (Williams) to try to find the real burglar and clear his name. Robie meets wealthy American Francie Stevens (Grace Kelly), who immediately believes he's the cat burglar and isn't the least bit concerned; in fact, she finds Robie wildly attractive...

TO CATCH A THIEF is colorful escapist entertainment featuring two great stars and a director who were all at the peaks of their careers. Grant and Kelly are elegance personified, and they also each have a great comedic touch.

The cast also includes Jessie Royce Landis as Kelly's mother. In 1959 Landis played Grant's mother in NORTH BY NORTHWEST; in reality Landis was only seven years old when Grant was born!

TO CATCH A THIEF was shot in VistaVision and Technicolor by Robert Burks. It runs 106 minutes.

TO CATCH A THIEF has had three different DVD releases. The 2002 release was accompanied by some featurettes. The 2007 Collector's Edition had an improved picture and a commentary track by Peter Bogdanovich.

This year's 2-Disc Centennial Collection release has a superb picture -- this is the edition I watched -- and a commentary by University of Southern California professor Drew Casper, along with a mix of new and old featurettes, described by DVD Talk. My daughter sat in on most of Casper's Hitchcock classes the year the featurette on the DVD was filmed, although she wasn't able to be present at Norris Theater on that particular night.

TO CATCH A THIEF has also had multiple releases on VHS.

Grace Kelly is TCM's November Star of the Month, and TO CATCH A THIEF will be playing on TCM on November 13th and 26th, 2009. It's also scheduled on February 21, 2010, during the annual 31 Days of Oscar festival.

The trailer can be seen here.

TCM Star of the Month: Grace Kelly

TCM marks the 80th anniversary of the birth of Grace Kelly by honoring her as November's Star of the Month.

TCM will show all of Kelly's films, from FOURTEEN HOURS (1951) through HIGH SOCIETY (1956). TCM is also airing a 1952 TV production starring Kelly and the interesting documentary A WEDDING IN MONACO.

On Thursday, November 5th, TCM shows FOURTEEN HOURS (1951), HIGH NOON (1952), and MOGAMBO (1953).

Kelly was nominated as Best Supporting Actress for MOGAMBO.

On Kelly's birthday, November 12th, the movies shown will be DIAL M FOR MURDER (1954), REAR WINDOW (1954), and THE COUNTRY GIRL (1954), for which Kelly won the Academy Award as Best Actress.

Slated for November 19th are GREEN FIRE (1954), THE BRIDGES AT TOKO-RI (1954), and THE KILL, which aired live when it was broadcast on TV in 1952.

GREEN FIRE, an adventure movie with Stewart Granger and Paul Douglas, has its moments but was a disappointment.

November 26th brings some of my personal Kelly favorites, TO CATCH A THIEF (1955) and HIGH SOCIETY (1956), along with THE SWAN (1956), and A WEDDING IN MONACO (1956).

Quite an amazing run of movies in a few short years!

I've seen all of Kelly's films except THE COUNTRY GIRL and THE BRIDGES AT TOKO-RI.

For more on Grace Kelly, I recommend the beautiful picture books REMEMBERING GRACE and GRACE: AN INTIMATE PORTRAIT, both by Howell Conant.

THE BRIDESMAIDS, by Grace's friend Judith Balaban Quine, is also a very good read.

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...Season 2 of THIRTYSOMETHING comes to DVD January 19th. Click the title of this post for more info at TV Shows on DVD.

...Leonard Maltin's latest posts include a rundown on the new TCM/Universal DVD program and an "on demand" program said to be in the works for Disney. Be sure to also check out the vintage Halloween publicity shots featuring Jane Wyman and other actresses. (Articles at Leonard's site don't have individual Permalinks.)

...The Movie Projector reviews 10 memorable homes from classic movies.

...Mick LaSalle, author of the excellent pre-Code cinema histories COMPLICATED WOMEN and DANGEROUS MEN, has a blog at the San Francisco Chronicle.

...I couldn't resist the new Williams-Sonoma cookbook THE WEEKNIGHT COOK when I spotted it at Costco. It contains many great-looking recipes; some are designed to be cooked in a relatively short amount of time and others are meant to utilize leftovers from a big Sunday dinner.

...Here's a look at the water flume ride on the top deck of the new Disney Dream cruise ship.

...Los Angeles is said to be the deli capital of the world. Who knew?

...Wondering which college football games will be broadcast in various regions of the country each Saturday? This ESPN map has the answers.

...Ivan at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear shares the great news that next February TCM is showing two Paramount classics starring Ray Milland, THE UNINVITED (1944) and KITTY (1945). THE UNINVITED is one of the few really spooky movies I love, and I've long wanted to see KITTY, which costars Paulette Goddard. Perhaps they are airing in conjunction with releases from TCM's new Universal/Paramount DVDs on Demand program? (And many thanks for the SEVEN DAYS FROM MAY link, Ivan!)

...Sweet little Hello Kitty has turned 35.

...Noir of the Week reviews one of my favorites, FALLEN ANGEL (1945).

...The Broadway revival of FINIAN'S RAINBOW received an excellent 3-1/2 star review from USA Today.

...USA Today also reviewed the new biography of Britain's Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.

...Mrs. Happy Housewife reports there was a big ratings dropoff after the BBC's first night of its new production of EMMA; Part 2 lost roughly 25% of the viewers who watched Part 1. Hmmmm. (And send good vibes and prayers to Mrs. HH, as she is having surgery in the near future, postponed from Friday. You are in my prayers!)

Have a good weekend, all!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Tonight's Movie: Love in the Afternoon (1957) at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Tonight we watched two movies as part of the current Audrey Hepburn tribute at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The first film on the double bill was the classic SABRINA (1954), reviewed here, and the second film was the sublime LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON. Both movies were cowritten and directed by Billy Wilder.

Ariane (Hepburn) is a young cellist who lives in Paris with her father (Maurice Chevalier), a private detective. When Ariane overhears one of her father's clients threaten to shoot American playboy Frank Flannagan (Gary Cooper), she decides to warn Flannagan. She's charmed by Flannagan, despite his roving eye, and they share an afternoon together before he leaves Paris. When Flannagan later returns to Paris and they are reunited, Ariane decides to make Flannagan think that she, too, has many men on a string...which drives Flannagan crazy and causes him to contemplate becoming a one-woman man at long last.

Cooper might have been considerably older than the lovely Hepburn, but it all works. Cooper's comedic timing in his big drunk scene, which involves a rolling cart of drinks, had the theater's audience in gales of laughter -- it made for one of those moments when you're especially glad to be enjoying a movie with a crowd. Both Cooper and Hepburn handle their roles with a light touch which retains the audience's sympathy; in the wrong hands their parts could have been leaden. The plot is a bit unusual but it made for a fascinating movie which I thoroughly enjoyed.

An Amazon reviewer writes "The final three minutes leave no doubt that Wilder hatched the best endings in Hollywood history." Indeed, as much as I enjoyed the movie as a whole, the film had one of the most powerful endings I can remember, with the audience hanging in suspense as tormented longing flashes across Cooper's face while he chooses the path for the rest of his life in a matter of seconds. Hepburn's tears and the shots of the train combine with Cooper's performance for a magical moment.

Kudos go as well to Maurice Chevalier as Ariane's father. He has some very funny moments, and his final confrontation with Cooper is a gem of a scene.

LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON was cowritten by director Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, based on a book by Claude Anet. The black and white photography is by William Mellor. It runs 130 minutes.

This movie is available on DVD. It's had multiple VHS releases.

LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON has been shown on Turner Classic Movies, which has the trailer available online.

February 2017 Update: LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON is now available on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive. My March 2017 review is here.

Tonight's Movie: Sabrina (1954) at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

SABRINA is one of the two films we saw this evening at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. SABRINA, along with LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON (1957), was shown as part of a tribute to Audrey Hepburn.

I had seen bits and pieces of SABRINA over the years, and also seen the 1995 remake, but this was my first chance to see SABRINA from start to finish. It was a great treat to see it for the first time in an archival 35mm print with an appreciative audience.

SABRINA is, simply put, brilliant. All the elements are there -- a trio of Oscar-winning actors, a tremendous supporting cast, shimmering black and white photography, a witty script, an excellent musical score, and fashion designs which are still famous half a century later. Every aspect of the film combines to give it a magical fairytale glow.

Sabrina (Hepburn), the daughter of a chauffeur (John Williams), has grown up in the servant's quarters of a large estate. Sabrina has always loved David (William Holden), the ne'er-do-well younger son of her father's employers. When a newly glamorous Sabrina returns from two years studying in Paris, David finally takes notice and it seems her dreams may be coming true. But then David's older brother Linus (Humphrey Bogart) steps into the picture...

The film drew appreciative chuckles and laughter from the audience, but it's interesting to note that while the film has a great script with many wonderful lines, some of the film's best acting was completely wordless. Hepburn's astonished eyes after Bogart kisses her on the tennis court were delightful, and Bogart conveyed his developing feelings for Sabrina almost entirely with his facial expressions. There is also some wonderful physical humor, such as Linus and David's father (Walter Hampden) wrestling with the last olive in a jar.

The actors in this film were all at the top of their game, and this film also helped cement Hepburn's status as a fashion icon for the ages. (Her gowns were by Edith Head and the uncredited Hubert de Givenchy.) The supporting cast includes Martha Hyer as David's latest fiancee, Ellen Corby as Linus's secretary, Francis X. Bushman as Hyer's father, Nancy Kulp (THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES) as a maid, and Nella Walker as Linus and David's elegant mother. This was the last of Walker's dozens of film credits; among her best-known roles was Deanna Durbin's mother in the trio of THREE SMART GIRLS films.

John Williams, who plays Sabrina's father, had another great role in 1954 as the police inspector in Hitchcock's DIAL M FOR MURDER.

SABRINA was cowritten and directed by Billy Wilder. Ernest Lehman and Samuel Taylor also wrote the script, based on Taylor's play. The black and white cinematography was by Charles Lang. The movie runs 113 minutes.

SABRINA has had multiple DVD releases, including last year's Centennial Collection DVD. It's also had multiple releases on video.

The movie also airs from time to time on Turner Classic Movies, which has the trailer available here.

SABRINA is a must for films of classic movies -- and if you have the opportunity to see it up on the silver screen, so much the better.

Dinner and a Movie...Or Two

Tonight we enjoyed a wonderful Friday evening out in Los Angeles!

We started with dinner at my favorite restaurant, El Cholo.

El Cholo might just be the most beloved restaurant in the city.

There was a plaque on the wall indicating that the film TWO-LANE BLACKTOP (1971) was written at our table. I'd never heard of it, but that was a fun bit of trivia.

From there it was on to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art on Wilshire Boulevard:

We were there for the current Audrey Hepburn series.

Prior to the movie, we browsed the museum bookstore. This great book caught my's actually come up in the past in my Amazon recommendations.

We saw a wonderful double bill with two classics, SABRINA (1954) and LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON (1957). The good-sized crowd was very responsive, and it was a delight to share the enjoyment of such funny movies with an audience.

Update: I've now posted reviews of both SABRINA and LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

TCM Introduces Universal On Demand

J.C. Loophole of the Shelf passed on the interesting news that TCM has started a program where they will be providing Universal movies on DVD on demand.

The movies available will include Paramount titles under Universal's control, with one of the first titles on sale being Paramount's terrific Christmas film REMEMBER THE NIGHT (1940), starring Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck. REMEMBER THE NIGHT will be available starting November 22.

The program is similar to the Warner Archive program in that the discs are burned on demand, but it steps up the quality in that the titles are remastered and have extras.

REMEMBER THE NIGHT, for example, will have "an introduction by Robert Osborne; still galleries, including behind-the-scenes photos; never-before-seen interview segments on the work of director Mitchell Leisen from the TCM Archives; and the original movie trailer, trivia, biographies and more."

J.C. also shares this info: "Future Universal collections and titles for rollout on DVD and TCM include vintage films from Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert, Deanna Durbin, director Douglas Sirk and many more."

This is great news for those of us who have been longing to see early Paramount titles such as THE GILDED LILY, with Colbert, MacMurray, and Ray Milland. Maybe Colbert's other films with Milland, like ARISE, MY LOVE and SKYLARK, will turn up too. I would be delighted if this comes to pass.

I wonder if the Durbin movie I recently watched on a Region 2 DVD will be part of the new program? Regardless, more Deanna Durbin available on DVD is a marvelous thing, especially if new audiences will see more of her work by having the movies aired on TCM in conjunction with their DVD releases.

Click the title of this post for more info from J.C. on forthcoming titles.

Maybe more great movies like Paramount's THE UNINVITED (1944) will finally make it to DVD...with extras, no less. (Wouldn't that be a great release for next October?) The possibilities are rather amazing.

Overall this new program seems like a very exciting development. I'll be extremely interested to learn more.

Obamacare: Not for the iPhone Era

Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street Journal approaches the gargantuan bureaucracy that Obamacare would bring from a fresh perspective:

"In a world defined by nearly 100,000 iPhone apps, a world of seemingly limitless, self-defined choice, the Democrats are pushing the biggest, fattest, one-size-fits all legislation since 1965. And they brag this will complete the dream Franklin D. Roosevelt had in 1939.

"The culture still believes the U.S. has a hipster for president. But the Obama health-care bill, and maybe this whole administration, is starting to look totally out of sync with the new zeitgeist, the spirit of the age.

"Everything about the health-care exercise is looking very old hat, starting with the old guys working on it. Max Baucus, Patrick Leahy, Pete Stark — all were elected to Congress in the 1970s, and live on as the immortals in Washington's Forever Land. But it's more than the fact that Congress looks old. The health-care bill is big, complex, incomprehensible and coercive — all the things people hate nowadays."

"Our outdated political software can't recognize trial and error."

He concludes:

"So long as the Democratic Party is the party of the Old Hat People, dependent on public-sector unions with Orwellian names like the Service Employees International Union, it will remain yoked to a pre-iPhone political model that will increasingly strike average everyday American voters as weird and alien to their world."

It may seem unrelated, but a few days ago I read an article about people who have ditched their TV sets but not their favorite TV shows. One person is quoted as saying "I can watch anything I want, any time I want." When my college-age daughter has a favorite show airing when she's at class, she no longer records it on her VCR -- she just says "Oh, I'll watch it online later."

We're in an era where doctors can read x-rays on iPhones, where someone can be following a major league baseball game or checking the times for the local movie theater on their phone while they're at their child's soccer game or standing in line at the grocery store. (And at the grocery store, if we're in a hurry we have the choice of using the self-service scanner.) We don't need to go to the bank when it's open, we go to a 24-hour ATM or log in and transfer money online when we have the time to do it. In our society we're increasingly able to handle daily tasks on our own terms, not as directed by others.

In contrast, Obamacare not only imposes a huge bureaucracy on every American, with its inevitable rationing and restriction of choices, but it taxes medical devices -- in other words, taxing the very innovations that work to make our lives better and bring increased freedom and choice to our lives. Just think, for example, about how knee and hip replacements have improved the quality of life for senior citizens. Yet Congress wants to heavily tax these kinds of innovations, punishing both those who create them and those who wish to use them.

I think Henninger makes a fascinating point here, and I hope his conclusion is correct.

Friday Update: Here's a list of the taxes found in the bill thus far.

As stated above, medical devices and procedures will be taxed. Among the items we will pay taxes on under Obamacare: Mammograms, dentures, wheelchairs, and soft contact lenses.

I continue to wonder: how does taxing medical devices and procedures, thus raising the prices, make medical care "more affordable"? Yes, that's a rhetorical question.

Update: The current plan outlaws the sale of private health insurance plans to individuals beginning in 2013. As having insurance will be mandated, this means individuals will be forced to enter the government insurance program. So much for more options and competition...

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Tonight's Movie: Let's Make It Legal (1951)

LET'S MAKE IT LEGAL is a fun "divorce comedy," following in the footsteps of films such as PRIVATE LIVES (1931), AFFECTIONATELY YOURS (1941), and NEVER SAY GOODBYE (1946). 20th Century-Fox comedies of this era have a style I love, starting with the jaunty opening credits. LET'S MAKE IT LEGAL isn't a classic, by any means, but it's a pleasant diversion which provides a few good chuckles.

Miriam and Hugh Halsworth (Claudette Colbert and Macdonald Carey) have divorced after twenty years of marriage, but Hugh still hangs around the family home, tending his beloved rose bushes. Hugh would like nothing better than to reunite with Miriam, but that notion is threatened by the arrival of Miriam's old flame, multimillionaire Victor (Zachary Scott).

Miriam and Hugh's daughter Barbara (Barbara Bates) and her husband Jerry (Robert Wagner) have been living with Miriam, along with their baby daughter. Immature Barbara relies on her mother to care for the baby and do too many other things, and Barbara puts more thought into her parents' marriage than her own. Jerry would like Victor to quickly sweep Miriam off her feet so that Jerry can convince Barbara it's time for them to move out into their own home.

The charming Claudette Colbert is the main reason to watch the movie, and happily she's in a majority of the scenes. The rest of the cast is quite good. Bates (I'D CLIMB THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN) is stuck playing a character who's a selfish brat, rather than a loving wife and mother, but fortunately she's allowed to grow up a bit over the course of the movie. I enjoy Carey and Wagner, and Scott excelled at playing this type of slightly slimy but wealthy man.

The movie's beautiful hotel exteriors were filmed at the Miramar Hotel, which was also memorably used as a location in THE BLUE DAHLIA (1946).

The film's set decoration is wonderful. I'd love to have Miriam's house; I particularly covet her stove with built-in nightlight and the patio table outside the kitchen's Dutch door.

The supporting cast includes Marilyn Monroe as a beauty pageant contestant who hopes to land Victor herself. She's only in the movie for a few minutes but she makes the expected impact. Kathleen Freeman and Frank Cady also appear in the film. Joan Fisher is credited with playing Baby Annabella, her only screen credit.

This movie was directed by Richard Sale. The film runs 73 minutes. It was filmed in black and white by Lucien Ballard, who also shot last night's movie, THE KILLER IS LOOSE (1956).

The screenplay was cowritten by I.A.L. Diamond, whose writing credits include LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON, SOME LIKE IT HOT, THE APARTMENT, and ONE, TWO THREE.

LET'S MAKE IT LEGAL has been released on DVD in a lovely print. Extras include the trailer and a commentary track by Robert Wagner. The package has Marilyn Monroe plastered on the front cover, despite the fact that she's a supporting character who is only in a handful of scenes.

This movie has also had a VHS release.

Claudette Colbert movies previously reviewed here at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings: TORCH SINGER (1933), SHE MARRIED HER BOSS (1935), BLUEBEARD'S EIGHTH WIFE (1938), MIDNIGHT (1939), BOOM TOWN (1940), THE PALM BEACH STORY (1942), NO TIME FOR LOVE (1943), THE SECRET HEART (1946), TOMORROW IS FOREVER (1946), WITHOUT RESERVATIONS (1946), and THE EGG AND I (1947).

Don't Mess With My Neccos

The New England Confectionery Company's Necco wafers, which date from 1847, are no longer what they once were.

Necco wafers are now "all natural," which has necessitated some changes. Because the company couldn't perfect the all-natural ingredients for green Neccos, the lime-flavored wafers are now history.

Chocolate now comes in four different flavors. I'm not wild about that, either. I really liked the chocolate flavor, which could even be bought in its own separate packaging. I'm wondering if the four chocolate flavors look different from one another? I have no interest in a mocha chocolate flavor, which is one of the new chocolate Necco flavors... Will they all be mixed together in the "chocolate only" packages?

I love Neccos and even have a Necco tin such as the one pictured here. I have fond memories of saving up nickels to buy them as a child. I guess everything changes eventually...but sometimes it's just a bit annoying that one can't count on old standbys to remain "as is" forever.

(Hat tip: Holy Coast, with thanks for the subject line!)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tonight's Movie: The Killer is Loose (1956)

THE KILLER IS LOOSE is a very creepy crime noir directed by Budd Boetticher. I loved the deep cast and '50s L.A. area location shooting but wasn't crazy about the plot. All in all, I found it a flawed yet worthwhile film.

Joseph Cotten plays Sam Wagner, an L.A. police detective who accidentally shoots and kills the wife of a bank robber, Leon Poole (Wendell Corey), when arresting Poole. Poole pledges to pay back Wagner and a couple years later escapes from a prison honor farm in order to do just that. Poole goes on a murder spree, traveling ever closer to Wagner's home, where he plans to exact an eye for an eye and kill Wagner's wife Lila (Rhonda Fleming).

Wendell Corey gives a convincingly disturbed -- and disturbing -- performance as the psycho killer. I had trouble watching the scenes where he commits murders, particularly an extended sequence where he torments a housewife prior to gunning down her husband. The realism of these scenes crossed a line for me and slipped from being entertainment to viewing which must simply be endured -- or not, as I resorted to using the fast-forward button on my remote a couple of times.

Cotten and Fleming are usually more interesting and had somewhat underwritten parts; the brisk 73-minute runtime didn't give much time to establish their characters and relationship. I love Cotten, but he just didn't have a lot to do in this other than argue with his wife about his job and then wait around for the killer. Fleming unfortunately spends most of the movie being rather unlikeable, complaining about the danger of her husband's job. She makes an irresponsible decision toward the end of the film which reflects poorly on her judgment but does make for a good nail-biting ending on a rainy night.

These comments aside, I really enjoyed the film's look. The L.A. city streets, the suburban houses, and the cars of the era are all very eye-catching. One of the things Boetticher does effectively, as others have also noted, is set Poole's crimes in very ordinary settings, which has the effect of making them even creepier, because it underscores that heinous crimes can happen anywhere. (Update: My dad makes the great point that in this regard THE KILLER IS LOOSE parallels Cotten's 1943 Hitchcock classic, SHADOW OF A DOUBT.)

The interiors are also wonderful, particularly Cotten and Fleming's kitchen, with its beautiful stove and refrigerator and cozy breakfast nook, and a little boy's bedroom (love the dog wallpaper!).

There are some wonderful faces in the supporting cast; several went on to TV stardom. Alan Hale Jr., one of the cops, of course became famous on GILLIGAN'S ISLAND. Virginia Christine, who plays a detective's wife, was known to millions as Mrs. Olson of Folger's Coffee commercials ("the richest kind!"). Christine has a strong scene where she tells off Lila regarding her attitude.

John Beradino, who plays another of the cops, appeared briefly in Boetticher's SEVEN MEN FROM NOW the same year. Beradino was a former professional baseball player who would go on to star for decades on GENERAL HOSPITAL beginning in 1963.

The movie also stars Michael Pate (HONDO) as a detective and Arthur Space as the police chief. Space, along with Hale, appeared in A MAN ALONE (1955) which I watched just a few days ago. Space had over 250 film and TV credits in a career which spanned four decades.

THE KILLER IS LOOSE was shot in black and white by Lucien Ballard, an Oscar winner in 1935 and again decades later in 1969.

This movie has not been released on DVD or video but can be seen on Turner Classic Movies.

Update: THE KILLER IS LOOSE is now available on DVD-R from MGM.

Update: This film is now available on Blu-ray from ClassicFlix.

"Dismantling America"

Thomas Sowell of Stanford's Hoover Institution lays out his concerns about the Obama Administration in blunt, thought-provoking fashion.

It's an unsettling must-read.

In Today's Mail...

THE PIONEER WOMAN COOKS: RECIPES FROM AN ACCIDENTAL COUNTRY GIRL is exactly what readers of The Pioneer Woman would expect: a beautifully produced book with many appealing recipes and lovely photographs.

I'm looking forward to both reading it and cooking from it!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Tonight's Movie: Big Jim McLain (1952)

Tonight I caught up with a new-to-me John Wayne movie, BIG JIM McLAIN. Wayne plays the title character, a HUAC investigator hunting Communists in Hawaii along with James Arness. In his free time, Jim romances a lovely widow (Nancy Olson) and tours some of the islands' beautiful sights.

The movie -- which struck me as something of a precursor to HAWAII FIVE-O -- is a fascinating snapshot of its era in terms of both political history and the visuals of pre-statehood Hawaii, which is gorgeous even in black and white. The film's a bit clunky in various ways, but I enjoyed it very much.

Among the film's drawbacks are an uneven tone; for instance, a random comedy scene with Hans Conreid as a loony potential witness is dropped into the middle of the story. This doesn't fit well with the fact that at times the film aspires to be a docudrama, with the cast including the real-life Honolulu Chief of Police, Dan Liu. (Although Chief Liu seems to be an admirable man, his line deliveries are quite stilted.) Unfortunately the film veers uncomfortably from docudrama to Alan Napier's over-the-top portrayal of a Communist ringleader, which is too cartoonish to be very believably threatening.

On the other hand, Wayne is at his '50s best in this, completely charming and likeable as the dedicated investigator. A scene where he punches an obnoxious man while barely mussing his tie is quite amusing, as is his tolerant behavior toward an alcoholic man-chaser (Veda Ann Borg) who persists in calling him "76" (Big Jim's height in inches).

The romantic scenes between Wayne and lovely Nancy Olson -- who has a killer wardrobe -- are a welcome diversion. Their relationship seems very real, and it's quite enjoyable to watch it unfold; Wayne and Olson's scenes were my favorite thing about the movie. I've been enjoying becoming more acquainted with Olson's work this year in films such as UNION STATION (1950) and SUBMARINE COMMAND (1951).

It's fashionable in some circles these days to belittle the postwar threat of Communism in general and Wayne's politics in particular, but I'm not one of those who buys into that point of view. The film starts out with Wayne and Arness tossing leis at the Arizona Memorial -- a stark reminder of the dangers our nation faced and could face again. In fact, a concluding scene with the Communist ringleader giving his cell members marching orders sounded rather similar to what we know of today's Al Qaeda.

The film's patriotism is expressed a bit awkwardly at times, but it's sincere and at times quite stirring.

The supporting cast also includes John Hubbard. That's the unmistakeable voice of Harry Morgan narrating after the opening credits.

BIG JIM McLAIN was directed by Edward Ludwig. It runs 90 minutes. The black and white cinematography was by Archie Stout.

This movie is available on DVD as a single-title release or as part of the 6-film John Wayne Film Collection. The other movies in the set are WITHOUT RESERVATIONS, TYCOON, TROUBLE ALONG THE WAY, ALLEGHENY UPRISING, and REUNION IN FRANCE.

It's also had a VHS release.

This movie can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies. The trailer is available at the TCM website.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Tonight's Movie: Varsity Show (1937)

VARSITY SHOW is a fun entry in the "Let's put on a college show" musical subgenre. The college students in question are Rosemary and Priscilla Lane, Lee Dixon, Johnny Davis, and Sterling Holloway, along with Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians. They're helped by Dick Powell playing a Broadway director who returns to his old school to help with the show.

The plot is a bit sluggish, and it also jerks around uncomfortably at times due to the runtime having been trimmed considerably after the initial release (more on that below). Despite the fairly mediocre script, the film's drawbacks are more than outweighed by its strong points.

VARSITY SHOW is notable in part for the film debuts of favorites Priscilla and Rosemary Lane. Over the next few years Priscilla appeared in 22 films and Rosemary in 20. Rosemary and Priscilla both sparkled and had great screen presence, starring in numerous successful films, yet by the late '40s both sisters had retired from the movies. Sister Lola, who does not appear in VARSITY SHOW, began her film career earlier in the '30s but after 44 films was also finished with movies as of 1946. All three ladies were very talented, and it's hard to understand why their careers suddenly fizzled out.

My favorite scene in VARSITY SHOW was Powell and Rosemary Lane dueting "You've Got Something There" by Mercer and Whiting. The music combined with the stars and shimmering black and white photography make a perfect musical moment. The same year Powell and Lane had another memorable duet, "I'm a Fish Out of Water," in HOLLYWOOD HOTEL; they were a charming screen couple.

Another strong reason to see the film is the opportunity to look at the work of the team of Buck and Bubbles. John Sublett (aka Bubbles) in particular was an amazing dancer. Fans of Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians -- I love their Christmas recordings -- can likewise enjoy the opportunity to see the famed group perform on film.

The other big reason to see the movie is the college fight song finale, choreographed by Busby Berkeley. A giant chorus twirls batons and forms patterns honoring various universities; I particularly enjoyed hearing the Pennsylvanians sing "Fight On, For Old 'SC!" as the cast formed a giant USC symbol.

The supporting cast includes Ted Healy, Mabel Todd, and Walter Catlett. IMDb credits Carole Landis as playing one of the students, but I didn't spot her.

VARSITY SHOW was directed by William Keighley. It was filmed in black and white and runs 80 minutes; the original release version is listed at IMDb as having run 120 minutes. A couple of the edited scenes are hinted at in the trailer available at Turner Classic Movies.

VARSITY SHOW is available on DVD as a single title release or as part of the Busby Berkeley Collection, Volume 2. The other titles in the set are GOLD DIGGERS OF 1937, GOLD DIGGERS IN PARIS, and HOLLYWOOD HOTEL. Rosemary Lane stars in all of the films except for GOLD DIGGERS OF 1937; Dick Powell appears in each movie except for GOLD DIGGERS IN PARIS. (May 2017 Update: VARSITY SHOW has now been reissued on DVD by the Warner Archive.)

Movies costarring all three Lane Sisters previously reviewed here: FOUR DAUGHTERS (1938), FOUR WIVES (1939), FOUR MOTHERS (1941), and DAUGHTERS COURAGEOUS (1939).

Rosemary and Lola costarred in HOLLYWOOD HOTEL (1937). Lola appeared solo in DEADLINE AT DAWN (1946).

Priscilla's starring films include MEN ARE SUCH FOOLS (1938), YES, MY DARLING DAUGHTER (1939), THE ROARING TWENTIES (1939), THREE CHEERS FOR THE IRISH (1940), MILLION DOLLAR BABY (1941), BLUES IN THE NIGHT (1941), and SABOTEUR (1942).

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Tonight's Movie: The Man in Grey (1943)

THE MAN IN GREY is a British Regency Era melodrama from Gainsborough Pictures, starring a powerhouse quartet of actors: James Mason, Margaret Lockwood, Stewart Granger, and Phyllis Calvert.

Calvert and Lockwood, at times seeming to channel Olivia de Havilland and Vivien Leigh's characters from GONE WITH THE WIND, meet as schoolgirls. Clarissa (Calvert) is a sweet girl ultimately pushed into a loveless marriage with Lord Rohan (Mason), a cad whose only interest in his wife is acquiring an heir to the title.

Years pass and lonely Clarissa hires Hesther (Lockwood), who became a disreputable actress after running away from school, to be her companion. Hesther and Lord Rohan recognize each other as similar types, who take what they want regardless of consequences, and embark on an affair. Meanwhile Clarissa is tempted by true love in the form of an actor, Rokeby (Granger). When Rohan finds out his unloved wife loves another, the consequences are disastrous for all.

It's all quite watchable, thanks to the fine cast, although ultimately perhaps rather pointless. True love, it seems, does not conquer all, at least in a Gainsborough picture. Fortunately the story is bracketed by modern-day sequences featuring Calvert and Granger as Clarissa and Rokeby's descendants, which serve to lighten the film a bit.

The movie plays a bit racier than American films of the same era. It's hard to imagine an American movie being quite so frank in its depiction of Clarissa's fear on her wedding night or of Rohan's licentious lifestyle.

The film made a star of Mason as an actor audiences loved to hate. By the film's end he turns into a bit of an antihero that the audience, at least temporarily, can cheer. Lockwood's evil character was likewise appreciated by audiences, and she went on to play THE WICKED LADY opposite Mason in 1945.

This was Granger's first major role; he was 30 at the time but seems younger. As one might expect, he does a good job as the romantic hero, and a scene where he slaps Lockwood is both shocking and satisfying for the viewer. Calvert manages to make a character which could be sugary sweet likeable and sympathetic.

The lead actors worked together again in varying combinations in many Gainsborough movies, including LOVE STORY (1944, Granger and Lockwood), FANNY BY GASLIGHT (1944, Mason, Granger, and Calvert), A PLACE OF ONE'S OWN (1945, Mason and Lockwood), MADONNA OF THE SEVEN MOONS (1945, Granger and Calvert), THEY WERE SISTERS (1945, Mason and Calvert), and THE MAGIC BOW (1946, Granger and Calvert), along with the aforementioned THE WICKED LADY. All these titles, excepting A PLACE OF ONE'S OWN and THEY WERE SISTERS, are available on Region 2 DVD.

THE MAN IN GREY was directed by Leslie Arliss, who cowrote the screenplay. It was filmed in black and white and runs 116 minutes. (The Region 2 DVD I watched was 112 minutes, but that is apparently due to the 4% "PAL speedup.") When the film was first released in the United States in 1946, it was cut down to 90 minutes.

THE MAN IN GREY is available on Region 2 DVD as part of the James Mason Screen Icons Collection. I watched the movie on my all-region player. The print was for the most part excellent, although there were a couple of minor glitches. There are extras consisting of a featurette, a trailer, and a stills gallery.

The other titles in the Mason DVD set are FIVE FINGERS, THE MAN BETWEEN, ODD MAN OUT, and THE BELLS GO DOWN.

The movie is also available as a Region 2 single title release.

This title does not appear to have ever had a VHS or DVD release in the United States.

The trailer is currently available on YouTube.

Fall 2012 Update: This movie is now available on a Region 1 DVD in the United States in the Criterion Eclipse line.

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...Leo Grin of Big Hollywood has launched a multipart series titled "John Ford, John Wayne, and THEY WERE EXPENDABLE." Click the title of this post for Part 1; Part 2 is here, with Part 3 due on October 31st... A side note, some film fans may be unaware that actor Robert Montgomery directed several days' shooting of THEY WERE EXPENDABLE (1945) when Ford broke his leg. Montgomery also served as codirector of the second unit filming the action sequences. Ford later paid Montgomery the high compliment of saying he couldn't tell the difference between his scenes and Montgomery's.

...Lauren Graham of GILMORE GIRLS is coming back to series TV, replacing the cancer-stricken Maura Tierney on NBC's PARENTHOOD.

...Glenn Erickson reviews what sounds like a fascinating film available from the Warner Archive, EXPERIMENT PERILOUS (1944), starring Hedy Lamarr and George Brent. The movie was also recently reviewed by R. Emmet Sweeney at the TCM Blog.

...Political links of the week: Rich Lowry on "Obama the Graceless," Charles Krauthammer on Obama vs. Fox News, Peter Wehner on "Obama's Enemies List," and Victor Davis Hanson on America's passing "Obama Obsession."

...The White House's failed attempt to blackball Fox News Channel from the White House press pool last week was an appalling abuse of Presidential power which should disturb those of all political persuasions. First they came for Fox News, and then...

...From American Thinker: "Gardasil Shows Why Government Health Care is Dangerous."

...This SlashFilm report on a press visit to Disneyland includes a nifty photo of the interior of Walt Disney's Disneyland firehouse apartment.

...The L.A. Times and Big Hollywood both wrote nice articles about the continuing success of the CBS series NCIS last week.

...Moira Finnie has posted a very interesting profile of actress Gladys Cooper at TCM, in Part 1 and Part 2.

...Vic Mizzy, composer of the famous finger-snapping theme for TV's THE ADDAMS FAMILY, has passed away at the age of 93.

...USC Mini Christmas Lights, anyone?

Have a great weekend!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Tonight's Movie: A Man Alone (1955)

This was a night for revisiting movies not seen in years, first HERE COMES MR. JORDAN and then one of my favorite Westerns, A MAN ALONE.

A MAN ALONE was shown frequently on TV when I was growing up, and I liked it so much I watched it several times over the years. Then it seemed to disappear. A few years ago I bought a used VHS copy of the movie when I discovered it had had a video release, but the print was quite poor. When I saw the movie was airing on the Encore Westerns channel, along with my favorite TV series MAVERICK, that was inducement enough for me to sign up to try out the Encore package. I was thrilled that the print I recorded is in beautiful shape -- and what's more, somehow it even managed to escape the station's perpetual onscreen corner logo.

The movie was as gripping as I remembered, causing me to stay up far too late! It's a relatively little-known Western which is an absorbing, engrossing film which deserves to be more widely seen. Ray Milland not only stars in the film, he also directed; his first directorial effort is a compact, neatly plotted Western romance with echoes of favorites like ANGEL AND THE BADMAN (1947) and YELLOW SKY (1948). (Update: There are also some similarities with 1948's FOUR FACES WEST.)

Gunslinger Wes Steele (Milland), stranded in the desert after his horse breaks a leg, happens across the scene of a stagecoach massacre. Things go from bad to worse when Wes rides one of the stagecoach horses into the nearest town and is immediately forced to shoot the trigger-happy deputy sheriff (Alan Hale Jr.) in self-defense. In a short period of time Wes not only learns who was behind the stagecoach massacre, but he has another murder pinned on him by the man responsible for all the carnage, the town banker (Raymond Burr).

Wes escapes from a posse of townspeople during a dust storm, hiding in the cellar of a quarantined home which just happens to belong to the sheriff (Ward Bond). The sheriff has yellow fever and is being nursed by his daughter, Nadine (Mary Murphy). When Wes helps the exhausted Nadine at the risk of his own life, she quickly realizes that Wes couldn't be a murderer. But the quarantine will soon be over and there's a posse on the hunt for Wes...

The first third of the film has almost no dialogue, and what exists is spoken by supporting actors. Wes Steele is truly "a man alone," in the middle of a waking nightmare. Milland's expressive performance, particularly his reaction to seeing a murdered mother and child, needs no words to engage viewer sympathy.

The middle third becomes a two-person character study as two lonely people, each with their own problems, overcome their wariness and help one another. Murphy -- who looks rather like Shirley Jones as she appeared in OKLAHOMA! and CAROUSEL in the same time frame -- is excellent as Nadine. She and Milland have an immediate rapport; indeed, Milland's Wes is charmed with what he sees of Nadine before they ever speak. I very much enjoy their interplay as she is unexpectedly confronted with a chivalrous gunman; is Wes a murderer or her knight in shining armor? I suppose some people might note there's an age difference between the two leads, but it's always made perfect sense to me in the context of the story.

The final third of the film moves into the classic Western confrontation between good versus evil.

The movie was shot in Trucolor and runs 96 minutes. The supporting cast includes Lee Van Cleef and Arthur Space.

The two options for seeing this movie appear to be a VHS tape or cable's Encore Westerns channel, as mentioned above. It's a movie worth seeking out, an interesting and memorable film which I've enjoyed multiple times. I'm delighted I now own a copy which I'll be able to watch again in the future.

2011 Update: Actress Mary Murphy Dies at 80.

Update: This film will finally be coming to DVD and Blu-ray, thanks to Kino Lorber, sometime in 2018!

October 2018 Update: A MAN ALONE will be released by Kino Lorber on DVD and Blu-ray on November 6, 2018.

December 2018 Update: My review of the terrific Kino Lorber Blu-ray may be found here.

Tonight's Movie: Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941)

Until roughly three years ago, I'd only seen three Robert Montgomery movies: MR. AND MRS. SMITH (1941), THEY WERE EXPENDABLE (1945), and HERE COMES MR. JORDAN, which I saw at L.A.'s Vagabond Theater as a teenager.

Over the last three years I've seen 30 additional Montgomery movies, and he's become one of my favorite actors. Tonight I revisited HERE COMES MR. JORDAN for the first time in many years. I especially enjoyed taking a fresh look at the movie in the context of now being so familiar with the rest of Montgomery's work; I was extremely impressed with his performance.

The Oscar-winning story is well known, not only from the original film but from its remake, HEAVEN CAN WAIT (1978). Prizefighter Joe Pendleton (Montgomery) is erroneously removed from his body by a Heavenly messenger (Edward Everett Horton) who is new on the job. Joe's body is cremated, so it's up to the messenger's boss, Mr. Jordan (Claude Rains), to find Joe a new body.

Joe temporarily takes up residence in the body of multimillionaire Bruce Farnsworth, who was going to be murdered by his wife (Rita Johnson) and her lover (John Emery). Joe/Bruce only has eyes for lovely Bette Logan (Evelyn Keyes)...which is a problem when Mr. Jordan delivers the news Joe can't remain in Farnsworth's body after all.

Montgomery, Rains, and James Gleason as Joe's trainer, Max Corkle, provide a trio of performances which are nothing less than superb; they simply couldn't have been any better. Montgomery, complete with New York accent, completely submerses himself in Joe Pendleton, leaving behind some of the (endearing) mannerisms seen in his other performances. He skillfully navigates a tricky part, playing not only Joe Pendleton, but Joe-as-Farnsworth and later still a completely different character. Montgomery greatly deserved his Oscar nomination as Best Actor.

Rains is a chameleon; his Mr. Jordan is nothing at all like his Prince John, his Louis Renault, his Adam Lemp, or any of the other characters he played so memorably. Mr. Jordan is at all times soothing and reassuring, even when initially baffled by Joe's insistence that he's not dead. When Mr. Jordan walks into a room, the viewer knows everything will be all right.

The film evokes both laughter and teary eyes, particularly during Gleason's scenes, first when he recognizes that Farnsworth is really Joe, and later in the story when Farnsworth disappears. It's a marvelous performance. Like Montgomery, Gleason was Oscar-nominated, in his case as Best Supporting Actor.

The final shot of Mr. Jordan waving farewell also caused me to choke up a bit, not simply for a lovely ending, but because the classic shot symbolizes in just a few seconds the movie magic which was possible under the studio system.

This was Montgomery's second Best Actor nomination; his first nomination was for NIGHT MUST FALL (1937). In addition to nominations for Montgomery and Gleason, the movie was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Director (Alexander Hall), and Best Black and White Cinematography (Joseph Walker). The movie won Oscars for Original Story and Screenplay.

The Oscars for Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor, and Black and White Cinematography were swept that year by HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY, while Gary Cooper took home the Best Actor trophy for SERGEANT YORK. The acting competition also included Orson Welles in CITIZEN KANE. Those were the days...

The movie runs 94 minutes. The supporting cast includes Halliwell Hobbes as Farnsworth's butler, Donald MacBride as a police inspector, and Lloyd Bridges as a young Heavenly pilot.

HERE COMES MR. JORDAN is available on a bare-bones DVD which has no extras but is a beautiful print restored by UCLA. It's also had multiple VHS releases.

The film is also shown from time to time on Turner Classic Movies. If you've never caught this film, make a point to look for it; you will be amply rewarded.

Netflix News

Despite the current state of the economy, Netflix saw its revenue up by 24% in the last quarter.

During the same time period Netflix added over half a million subscribers.

Netflix is currently in talks with movie studios regarding possibly creating a "sale only" period after a DVD's initial release. During this window of time DVDs would not be available for rental.

DVD sales have been steadily dropping. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings apparently sees a "sale only" period as a possible win-win which would strengthen the struggling DVD business while Netflix would receive more attractive rates for the movies it purchases to rent to its customers.

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