Friday, April 30, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Thunder Birds (1942)

THUNDER BIRDS, subtitled SOLDIERS OF THE AIR, is one of 20th Century-Fox's wonderful morale building films of early WWII. THUNDER BIRDS follows in the footsteps of A YANK IN THE R.A.F. (1941) and was followed itself by titles such as CRASH DIVE (1943). All depict the training and deployment of a military man who spends his free time competing for the love of a beautiful girl.

The girl in this case is Kay, played by 21-year-old Gene Tierney, who looks incredibly gorgeous in Technicolor. The military man is young British pilot Peter Stackhouse (John Sutton of A YANK IN THE R.A.F.), who is being trained by Kay's old flame Steve (Preston Foster). Unfortunately Peter has difficulty with heights and motion sickness, which makes it a bit difficult to succeed as a pilot!

It's a short film, at 78 minutes, and nothing particularly special in terms of the script (by Lamar Trotti) or acting, yet it succeeds as very pleasant entertainment, and it's fascinating when viewed from an historical perspective. The opening and closing narration about how the American, British, and Chinese pilots will help win the war is quite stirring.  One can well imagine that the confident attitude depicted in the film would have been reassuring to audiences viewing the film less than a year after our entry into the war.

The Fox Technicolor is worth the price of admission in and of itself, whether it's the vividly colorful opening credits, Gene Tierney's green eyes, or the desert vistas. James Wolcott described the film as a "Technicolor whooper dooper," a phrase he borrowed from critic Bosley Crowther. Wolcott goes on: "The yellow trim of the planes slices through the azure sky amid fluffy popcorn clouds as if blur and haze had been permanently banished from the West. But it's on Tierney that the colors truly sing, the red of her lipstick matching her cowboy boots and the spiffy cut of her powder blue Dale Evans outfit lyrically topped with a red neck-chief that...spells romance better than any of the mush spooned out in the script."

The good supporting cast includes Reginald Denny as a member of the R.A.F. You can read more about his real-life aviation background here.

Richard Haydn, Dame May Whitty, George Barbier, and Joyce Compton are also in the cast. Janis Carter is one of the Red Cross trainees.

The movie was directed by William A. Wellman.

This film is available on DVD. Brief extras include newsreel footage of Gene Tierney christening an airplane and putting her handprints in front of the Chinese Theatre.

The movie also turns up from time to time on Fox Movie Channel.

Today at Disney's California Adventure: Springtime

After spending a few hours at Disneyland, we headed over to spend an hour at Disney's California Adventure and take in the latest changes.

The big Food and Wine Festival is currently underway...we noted that Chef Robert of DINNER: IMPOSSIBLE will be at the park the weekend of May 21st. We may have to try to see him!

California Adventure has its share of lovely spring flowers:

The view from the new Paradise Park, which will be the viewing area for the World of Color water show:

This photo taken near Ariel's Grotto shows both Paradise Park and work continuing on a World of Color platform in Paradise Bay:

Signs of the coming changes are all over the park. (Click to enlarge.)

Work continues on Cars Land, beyond Paradise Pier:

Work on the Little Mermaid ride has "gone vertical"!

A couple years from now California Adventure will no longer be the underdeveloped side attraction to Disneyland, but a destination park in its own right.

Today at Disneyland: A Beautiful Day

We haven't been able to visit Disneyland for about six weeks, due to a hectic schedule, so we were very happy to be back in the park for a few hours this afternoon.

Thursday we had a very cold wind which is unusual weather for Southern California, but today was, simply put, an absolutely beautiful day.

The seasonal flowers seen at the Hub today:

These gorgeous flowers at Frontierland's Zocalo Park caught my eye:

It was warm enough that this idea looked quite appealing:

The Disney Showcase on Main Street is marking the park's 55th anniversary with a display of vintage 1955 Disneyland memorabilia:

Speaking of memorabilia, I was delighted to finally get a "ticket book notepad." This item in the 55th Anniversary merchandise line was spotted by friends early this year, but hasn't been seen in the park since. The stores on Main Street had a good supply of these today:

From the Hub you can see a crane working on Cars Land in Disney's California Adventure:

A new attraction poster, for Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, in one of the entrance tunnels:

And here's a new poster for the Jungle Cruise:

They still haven't filled the Rivers of America...hopefully next week!

For more photos, please visit Today at Disney's California Adventure: Springtime.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

New Book: Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look at Making More Magic Real

May 18, 2010, is the release date for a book which is certain to be of interest to Disney park enthusiasts: WALT DISNEY IMAGINEERING: A BEHIND THE DREAMS LOOK AT MAKING MORE MAGIC REAL.

The book is a sequel to one of the very best Disney coffee table books, WALT DISNEY IMAGINEERING: A BEHIND THE DREAMS LOOK AT MAKING THE MAGIC REAL.

The original book, published in 1996, is an oversized softcover which contains 200 glossy pages of fabulous artwork related to Disney's parks in California, Florida, France, and Japan. Sketches, photographs, attraction posters, signs, architects' drawsings, name it, this book has it. There are even fold-out pages with large drawings of Tower of Terror and attraction posters.

2719 Hyperion reviewed the first book earlier this year.

The brand-new sequel will hopefully achieve the same level of excellence. Last fall MousePlanet posted a press release describing the new book, which was originally scheduled for a January release.

I'll be posting more after I have a chance to see the new book in a few weeks.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Tonight's Movie: I Was a Spy (1933)

It's been a great pleasure becoming more familiar with the work of British actress Madeleine Carroll over the last year or so. Earlier this month I saw her in the lighthearted Bob Hope WWII spy caper MY FAVORITE BLONDE (1942). Tonight I watched one of her early British movies, the nail-biting suspense film I WAS A SPY.

Carroll plays Martha Cnockhaert, a Belgian nurse who works in a military hospital in German-occupied Belgium during World War I. Inspired by her aunt (Martita Hunt), Martha begins carrying messages to aid the Allied cause, and soon finds herself drawn deeper and deeper into espionage. Herbert Marshall plays a fellow spy.

The film in many ways has the feel of a silent movie. Some of the most memorable moments are wordless, such as Martha's anxiety attending a church service for the German military in an open field, knowing the Allies are about to strike because of information she passed on. Her prayers as she faces her possible doom, and the later shots of the utter destruction made possible by her espionage work, are hard to forget. Martha faces real conflict between her desire to save her country from occupation and her desire to save lives.

Later, Martha must face the man she loves after spending a night with the German commandant, and there is no dialogue, simply looks and gestures. It's a beautifully played moment.

Yet another wordless moment, when Martha hears the sound of bagpipes at the end of the film, is enough to make one's eyes mist.

Carroll is marvelous as the nurse who has the courage to help the wounded, regardless of nationality. Although she is initially frightened by the idea of spying, which carries the death penalty if discovered, she courageously takes on increasingly dangerous jobs. Carroll does an excellent job conveying both Martha's fear and her bravery. Carroll's Martha reminded me of the saying attributed to John Wayne: "Courage is being scared to death -- and saddling up anyway."

Mordaunt Hall wrote in the New York Times in 1934, "Miss Carroll is both beautiful and convincing in her acting. She looks like a Belgian girl and she arouses no little sympathy, particularly in a closing scene when she gazes upon the Highland soldiers as they march past to the welcome skirl of the pipers." Hall also terms Marshall's work "splendid."

The excellent cast also includes Conrad Veidt as the German commandant at the hospital and Edmund Gwenn as the town mayor. Gerald du Maurier, father of famed author Daphne du Maurier, plays a kindly German doctor. Nigel Bruce has a small role early in the film as a prisoner of war Martha aids.

The movie was directed by Victor Saville. During the '30s he directed several British films with popular actress Jessie Matthews. Like many of the film's cast members, he would later move to Hollywood, where his work included one of Rita Hayworth's best movies, TONIGHT AND EVERY NIGHT (1945), and the memorable historical melodrama GREEN DOLPHIN STREET (1947).

Leonard Maltin lists the runtime as 83 minutes, while IMDb pegs it at 89. I didn't think to check when I was watching, but I believe it was closer to 83.

Although I WAS A SPY is currently difficult to find, a number of Madeleine Carroll's other films are available on DVD, including the aforementioned MY FAVORITE BLONDE and THE 39 STEPS (1935), THE PRISONER OF ZENDA (1937), ON THE AVENUE (1937), and HONEYMOON IN BALI (1939).

It's worth noting that the suspense of Hitchcock's THE 39 STEPS, the swashbuckling duels of THE PRISONER OF ZENDA, and the humor in MY FAVORITE BLONDE and ON THE AVENUE make them excellent choices for helping to introduce younger viewers to the world of classic black and white movies.

Disney Announces New Toy Story Mania Game Coming in May

Fun news today from the Disney Parks Blog: a new game will be unveiled at California Adventure's popular Toy Story Midway Mania attraction in May.

Rex and Trixie's Dino Darts will be swapped in for Bo Peep's Baaa-loon Pop.

The game will also be added to Toy Story Mania at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

It's going to be an exciting summer at Disney's California Adventure, with the World of Color spectacular premiere on June 11th. The redesigned Silly Symphony Swings will reopen this summer as well.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

New on DVD: The Barbara Stanwyck Collection

Just a reminder that the six-film Barbara Stanwyck Collection, part of the Universal Backlot series, went on sale today, April 27th.

Full details, including a list of titles and costars, can be found in my post from February.

Reviews of the films have been posted this week by Lou Lumenick and Sean Axmaker.

Sets such as the Stanwyck Collection have been fairly rare over the past year, so hopefully all those interested in seeing these films will support this release. I'd love to see similar sets from Universal in the future. Universal's Claudette Colbert Collection, released last fall, was absolutely marvelous, and I expect the Stanwyck Collection will be equally interesting. My copy should arrive later this week!

Update: A report from Greenbriar Picture Shows on the print used for THERE'S ALWAYS TOMORROW is disappointing. I'll be watching for further reviews.

Update No. 2: Dave Kehr confirms the problem with the DVD print of THERE'S ALWAYS TOMORROW.

The set was also reviewed by Paul Mavis at DVD Talk.

Update No. 3: Those who are interested in the subject will want to read through the comments to Dave Kehr's review, linked above, where he and Paul Mavis have a spirited discussion about the aspect ratio issue.

Update No. 4: Here are my reviews of the set's INTERNES CAN'T TAKE MONEY (1937), THE BRIDE WORE BOOTS (1946), and ALL I DESIRE (1953).

Monday, April 26, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Stone Cold (2005)

My dad recently started watching Tom Selleck's JESSE STONE TV-movies, based on books by the late Robert B. Parker, and sent me the first film in the series, STONE COLD. I began watching it late last evening, intending to watch the first 30 or 40 minutes, but I couldn't wait to find out how it ended and stayed up way too late. It was worth the lost sleep.

Jesse Stone (Tom Selleck), a former member of the LAPD, is now the police chief of the small coastal town of Paradise, Massachusetts. Jesse broods over his ex-wife and drinks far too much Scotch, but he's a good cop with a small but devoted staff. Jesse and the Paradise PD are tested to the breaking point by a serial killer which terrorizes the community.

Selleck is terrific as the taciturn, hard-boiled cop who says as little as possible but is clearly a softy deep inside, as evidenced by the way he cares for a murder victim's dog. (The dog, Reggie, is adorable...I want one!) Stone also has a very sensitive touch when dealing with a teenaged rape victim. Stone may not be talkative, but he knows what he's doing and has become an integral part of Paradise.

The film abounds in the sarcastic dialogue at which Selleck excels. If this had been a '40s film noir, Robert Mitchum would have played the part...but Selleck is perfect.

Halifax, Nova Scotia, stands in for Massachusetts. (Ironically, Halifax was the setting for last Friday night's thriller, YELLOW CANARY.) One of the film's greatest assets is the way it captures the cold chill and stark beauty of a small coastal New England town.

The cast includes Kohl Sudduth, Viola Davis, Vito Rezza, and Stephen McHattie as Stone's police colleagues. Mimi Rogers, Polly Shannon, and Alexis Dziena are also in the cast. The killers (don't worry, they're known from virtually the beginning of the movie) are Reg Rogers and Jane Adams; FRASIER fans may remember Adams from several episodes as Mel.

There are five additional films, including the latest title, NO REMORSE, which will air in May. The second film in the series, NIGHT PASSAGE, is actually a prequel to STONE COLD.

This film was directed by Robert Harmon, who has directed the other films in the series. It runs 87 minutes.

Parental advisory: This fairly gritty film is not for the younger set. Although it was originally a TV-movie, the box indicates an R rating; however, I suspect much of the content is not a lot stronger than is currently seen in some episodes of primetime series such as NCIS or BONES.

STONE COLD is available on DVD. A trailer is available at IMDb, but those who don't like spoilers should skip it, as it gives away pretty much every single plot point.

Recommended for fans of Tom Selleck, mysteries, and small-town New England. I'm looking forward to continuing the series soon.

TCM Announces 2011 Film Festival

The first TCM Classic Film Festival concluded last evening, and today Turner Classic Movies announced its plans to hold a second festival in 2011.

TCM has not yet announced if the second festival will be held in the same Hollywood locations.

It will be interesting to see if TCM follows the same pricing model in 2011. I would have loved to attend, but didn't for a variety of reasons: the high price ($400-$500 minimum for one four-day pass) relative to similar festivals, such as the Disney D23 Expo; no option to buy a one-day pass or make advance purchases of single-screening tickets; and the fact that over my lifetime I have been fortunate to attend many similar types of screenings, at a far lower cost, due to the fact I live in Southern California.

Although the cost of the TCM Festival didn't make sense for our family's budget, it appears to have been quite successful and met the needs of those who saw it as a "destination" vacation-type event. I applaud that the festival called attention to classic films and film preservation, and hopefully it also helped to further develop interest in classic films in those who were able to attend.

Dear Old Hollywood has a positive review by a Southern Californian.

TCM's Movie Morlocks blog live blogged the festival at these links: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, and Day 4, or alternatively you can visit the Festival Blog Site. Further thoughts from attendees can be found in this TCM Discussion Forum.

Additionally, Glenn Erickson posted comments over the weekend, as well as a wrap-up post today.

I'll be posting information about plans for the 2011 Festival as they are developed.

Previously: Exciting News: The TCM Classic Film Festival; TCM Festival Update.

Update: Leonard Maltin has now posted his thoughts.

Guest Post at MovieFanFare

The MovieFanFare blog at the Movies Unlimited site recently asked to run my post on A YANK IN THE R.A.F. (1941) as a guest post.

It was posted today and can be found here.

My thanks to the folks at MovieFanFare for the opportunity!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Joel McCrea Ranch to Build Visitor Center, Open for Tours

The ranch owned by Joel McCrea and Frances Dee in Ventura County, California, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, announced plans last month to build a visitor center.

The center will feature displays and exhibits and be available for movies and meetings.

The caretaker's home on the ranch property, which is 90 years old, will be preserved. In about a year the ranch will open for tours.

Joel McCrea is said to have listed his occupation as "rancher," not actor, on his tax returns. He often rode his own horse and wore his own clothes when he filmed Westerns.

The ranch represents the intersection of California history with film history, and it's wonderful news that it will be preserved. We will definitely want to take this tour when it opens to the public. To say that I am thrilled by the possibility is an understatement.

A photo gallery of the ranch, featuring the McCreas' grandson Wyatt, is here.

And more ranch history, including some beautiful old black and white photos, is here.

Previously: February 14, 2010.

Wednesday Update: Here's more at 50 Westerns From the 50s.

Tonight's Movie: Cripple Creek (1952)

George Montgomery and Jerome Courtland are appealing as a pair of undercover Secret Service agents on the trail of gold smugglers in the old West, but on the whole CRIPPLE CREEK is a minor Western.

The film starts out on a very hokey note, with a fake Western landscape behind the town set, cowboys having a gun battle which looks as phony as an amusement park stunt show, and a booming extended voiceover by longtime Disney voice artist Paul Frees. Although the film has nice color and entertaining moments, it's hampered by poor dialogue, some awkward performances (particularly by William Bishop as the smuggling mastermind), and too many murky "day for night" scenes.

Montgomery and his younger sidekick Courtland arrive in Cripple Creek pretending to be rough gunfighter types in order to take the bad guys into their confidence. They already have another agent (Richard Egan) in town feeding them intelligence. The plot is fairly straightforward, as the agents figure out the smuggling scheme and then bring the villains to justice. There's a small twist near the ending but otherwise nothing very exciting, although there was one scene in the last third of the film that I found very unpleasant.

Montgomery is a personable and believable Western hero. Courtland, seen as a teenager last fall in TOGETHER AGAIN (1944), does a good job as the hotheaded younger agent. Courtland went on to a long career as both a Disney movie producer and a TV director of shows such as DYNASTY and FALCON CREST.

Karin Booth, who plays Julie, the saloon girl, spent much of the '40s at MGM. She graduated from bit parts to larger roles in a few feature films, most notably playing La Darina in the Margaret O'Brien-Cyd Charisse ballet film THE UNFINISHED DANCE (1947). After leaving MGM in the late '40s, she was the leading lady in a variety of Westerns and adventure films, including titles such as JUNGLE MAN-EATERS (1954) in Johnny Weissmuller's JUNGLE JIM series. She was mostly retired by 1959, and she passed away in 2003.

As a side note, I have no idea why Booth's character is on the ground in the film's posters! That's not a scene from the film.

CRIPPLE CREEK was directed by Ray Nazarro. It runs 78 minutes. The supporting cast includes John Dehner, Roy Roberts, Don Porter, Byron Foulger, and George Cleveland.

The film does not appear to have had a video or DVD release. It can be seen on Turner Classic Movies. The trailer is here.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Tonight's Movie: The Saxon Charm (1948)

Matt Saxon (Robert Montgomery) is a giant of the Broadway theater. Saxon may be brilliant, but he also has a reputation for being self-centered and arrogant. He'll do anything to get his way, whether it's through bullying or turning on THE SAXON CHARM.

Despite Saxon's mercurial, often difficult ways, novelist turned playwright Eric Busch (John Payne) is eager to have Saxon produce his first play. Eric's clear-eyed wife Janet (Susan Hayward) is dubious of Saxon but supportive of her husband.

Unfortunately, Saxon's talent has not kept pace with his ego, and as his manipulative actions reach a peak, his professional house of cards comes tumbling down.

This is one of a handful of unpleasant lead characters Montgomery played during his long film career, and he's certainly not afraid to take the part and run with it. He's compelling as a narcissistic man who has never really grown up, and he's ultimately a tragic figure, as it appears he will never change, even when life hits him over the head.

Saxon is a frustrating character, but the movie as a whole is quite absorbing, thanks to its fine cast. Susan Hayward is excellent as Janet, Eric's quietly confident wife who is one of the only characters Saxon isn't able to bowl over. (In a lighter sequence, Saxon also has a bit of trouble with his independent yacht captain, played by Chill Wills.) It's no coincidence that Saxon throws an appalling temper tantrum in a restaurant shortly after Janet refuses to let him order her meal. Janet is one of the few characters Saxon can't control. Ultimately, he attempts to "manage" her another way, by manipulating her husband away from her side.

John Payne manages to carry off the role of the playwright without making him look like a complete weakling -- he's just an easygoing guy who would like to do whatever it takes to get his first play produced. When Payne's Eric finally goes too far and dashes off to Mexico at Saxon's behest, his previously supportive wife lets him have it, and the audience is glad.

Audrey Totter, Montgomery's costar in the previous year's LADY IN THE LAKE, is very appealing as the unfortunately named Alma Wragge, who knows who and what Saxon is and loves him anyway. Her final scene with Saxon is the best one in the movie; when this film is shown to an audience, surely there must be some applause as she walks out the door!

Another excellent sequence has Saxon directing Alma's audition to sing at a nightclub. Totter's singing of "I'm in the Mood for Love" is dubbed by the wonderful Martha Mears. When Marjorie Reynolds debuted "White Christmas" with Bing Crosby in HOLIDAY INN (1942), it's actually Mears singing; her voice appears on the soundtrack of many other films, dubbing actresses including Veronica Lake and Rita Hayworth.

Harry Morgan, who recently turned 95, has a very effective scene as the last man left standing in Saxon's inner circle. Heather Angel is likewise notable in a brief sequence as the ex-wife used and quickly abandoned by Saxon. The cast also includes Harry Von Zell and Cara Williams.

THE SAXON CHARM was written and directed by the talented Claude Binyon. Binyon had spent many years as a writer at Paramount, where he wrote countless films for stars such as Fred MacMurray, Ray Milland, Claudette Colbert, and Bing Crosby. THE SAXON CHARM marked his directorial debut.

This film runs 88 minutes. It was filmed by Milton Krasner.

THE SAXON CHARM has had a release in Spain on Region 2 DVD. Ivan reviewed the DVD last year at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear. The movie has not had a U.S. release on video or DVD.

I'm always especially happy to see a Robert Montgomery film for the first time. My thanks to Moira for making it possible.

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...One of the latest releases from VCI is Raoul Walsh's SEA DEVILS (1953), starring Rock Hudson and Yvonne DeCarlo. I love VCI's colorful DVD cases.

...The Food Network is launching a spinoff, the Cooking Channel, on May 31st. I watch the Food Network often, but isn't one cooking channel enough? Hmmm.

...Laura Wagner has posted a lengthy history and critique of Eleanor Parker's INTERRUPTED MELODY (1955) at And Then I Watched. It's a great read, and the info in her post highlights why Eleanor Parker has become an actress I especially enjoy watching. Laura's new blog has started off on a high note with her initial posts.

...MorlockJeff has posted coverage of the first three days of the TCM Film Festival at the TCM blog: Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3. One day to go! (Sunday Update: Here is the link for the final day.)

...If I could have picked one event to attend at the TCM Festival, I think it would have been the poolside screening of NEPTUNE'S DAUGHTER (1949), with appearances by Esther Williams and Betty Garrett. I love them both!

...More on the Festival from the L.A. Times.

...If you like William Wellman's WESTWARD THE WOMEN (1951), which features one of Robert Taylor's best performances, this discussion thread at the TCM website features some great photos.

...I wish a company like VCI would put out the TV series THE DETECTIVES STARRING ROBERT TAYLOR on DVD. It ran from 1959 to 1962.

...Thanks to C.K. Dexter Haven of Hollywood Dreamland for making me aware of the website Vintage Disneyland Tickets, which I've added to my Disney blogroll. Take a look at the photos he posted today of new Matterhorn sleds!

...And speaking of the Matterhorn, the Disney Parks Blog has photos of nifty new retro-style Matterhorn and Flying Saucer t-shirts.

...Kevin's Movie Corner and Classic Movies Digest both recently wrote about Cecil B. DeMille's UNCONQUERED (1947), starring Gary Cooper and Paulette Goddard. The DVD is in my MTW (Movies To Watch) stack!

...Spare us from the ever-encroaching nanny state: the FDA has announced plans to regulate salt.

...If you use Hulu for online viewing, they are about to launch a $9.95 subscription service...possibly with commercials? It sounds like Hulu is trying to bring the cable TV model to the internet.

...Reviews, reviews, and more reviews: CRISS CROSS (1949) was reviewed by Dave at Goodfella's Movie Blog... Glenn Erickson takes a look at one of Margaret O'Brien's best films, OUR VINES HAVE TENDER GRAPES (1945), at DVD Savant... I love THE BIG COUNTRY (1958), which was reviewed by Livius at Riding the High Country... And WAKING SLEEPING BEAUTY (2009) was reviewed at Progress City, U.S.A.

...Rush Limbaugh has a good column in the Wall Street Journal on patriotism and the "violence card." Earlier this week Bookworm Room and Karl of Hot Air wrote interesting pieces on Limbaugh and closed liberal minds vs. closed conservative minds. I thought Karl's listing of the sheer number of references Rush analyzed in a single day's show was quite interesting.

...Moira Finnie critiques Joan Crawford in A WOMAN'S FACE (1941). So many movies to see, so little time!

...ClassicFlix lists a July 13th release date for UNION STATION (1950), DARK CITY (1950), and APPOINTMENT WITH DANGER (1951). More details will be posted here when they're available. (May 2010 Update: Amazon now lists a July 27th release date.)

...Glamoursplash has a nice piece on MGM's legendary costume designer, Adrian. (Hat tip: Classic Movies.)

...Notable passing: jazz historian Gene Lees has passed away at the age of 82. Lees was also a composer-lyricist who wrote lyrics for songs such as Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars."

...Tom of Motion Picture Gems was kind enough to let me know that Laura's Miscellaneous Musings has cracked the Top 50 Film Blogs as listed at Technorati. Thanks to all for reading!

Have a great weekend!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Yellow Canary (1943)

I was in the mood for a good spy yarn this Friday evening and pulled out YELLOW CANARY, a World War II story starring Anna Neagle and Richard Greene. Missy was kind enough to send it to me to supplement my Region 2 Anna Neagle Collection, and I found it most enjoyable.

It's 1940 and Sally Maitland (Neagle), a hated Nazi sympathizer, is leaving her native England for exile in Halifax, Nova Scotia. On the Canada-bound ship Sally strikes up a friendship with a Polish military man, Jan Orlock (Albert Lieven), and develops an antagonistic relationship with an undercover British naval intelligence officer, Jim Garrick (Richard Greene). Once the ship docks in Halifax, it gradually becomes apparent that no one is exactly who they seem to be.

This is an excellent tale told with great atmosphere, whether it's London at night during the Blitz, the fog-bound ship, or equally foggy Nova Scotia. It's rather unique that Neagle spends an entire hour being presented as a cold-hearted pro-Nazi witch; given that Dame Anna was one of England's most beloved actresses, I don't think it will surprise anyone that her character is perhaps not quite as awful as she seems at first glance.

Greene didn't make much of an impression on me in LITTLE OLD NEW YORK (1940), but he is quite dashing in this and also demonstrates a nice sense of humor. He starred in numerous films at 20th Century-Fox during the '30s, including John Ford's FOUR MEN AND A PRAYER and SUBMARINE PATROL, both released in 1938; KENTUCKY (1938) with Loretta Young and Oscar winner Walter Brennan; Shirley Temple's A LITTLE PRINCESS (1939); and THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (1939). (Happily, I have access to all of these films, as I would now like to watch more of his work.) When war broke out, Greene returned to his native England and joined the military. He was periodically furloughed to appear in movies to raise British morale, including YELLOW CANARY. In the '50s Greene would find new stardom as TV's ROBIN HOOD.

I was struck by some parallels this film has with one of my favorite Hitchcock films, NOTORIOUS (1946). Fans of NOTORIOUS may enjoy taking a look at this earlier film and noticing the big house with the creepy mother and son, as well as the woman who must feign loving an evil man for a better good.

The character of Sally also made me think of Britain's real-life Mitford sisters, as I have read a number of books on that family; Unity Mitford was a friend of Adolf Hitler.

The supporting cast includes Lucie Mannheim (who appeared in Hitchcock's THE 39 STEPS), George Thorpe, Marjorie Fielding, and Margaret Rutherford.

The movie was filmed by Max Greene, who also shot SO EVIL MY LOVE (1948), which I recently saw at the Noir City Film Festival. It was directed by Anna Neagle's husband and longtime collaborator Herbert Wilcox; Wilcox and Neagle married the same year YELLOW CANARY was released.

YELLOW CANARY was released in Britain at the end of 1943 and was distributed in the United States by RKO in 1944. The U.S. running time, which matches that of the print I watched recorded from Turner Classic Movies, was 84 minutes.

IMDb says the original British print runs 95 minutes, while Leonard Maltin lists the time as 98 minutes. It seems most likely that the U.S. print trims scenes with Sally's family, probably at the start of the movie. For instance, Nova Pilbeam (star of Hitchcock's YOUNG AND INNOCENT), who plays Sally's sister, is third billed yet she only appears in the final scene of the print I viewed.

This film does not appear to have had a DVD release in either the United States or the UK. Those who like a good British spy story should watch for this entertaining film to turn up again on TCM.

Coming to DVD: Deanna Durbin Music and Romance Collection

Turner Classic Movies has announced a June 9th date for the DVD release of Deanna Durbin: The Music and Romance Collection. (Update: The release date is now scheduled for June 30th.)

This five-film set will include THAT CERTAIN AGE (1938), MAD ABOUT MUSIC (1938), THREE SMART GIRLS GROW UP (1939), BECAUSE OF HIM (1946), and FOR THE LOVE OF MARY (1948).

The set will be sold exclusively at the TCM store or through Movies Unlimited, which services TCM's online shop. Movies Unlimited has a peek at the individual DVD covers on their site.

It's not clear if there will be any extras. Previous TCM exclusive releases, such as REMEMBER THE NIGHT (1940), have included stills and posters.

With this new release, 11 of Deanna's 21 feature films will now be available on Region 1 DVD. The 2004 Sweetheart Pack featured THREE SMART GIRLS (1936), FIRST LOVE (1939), IT STARTED WITH EVE (1941), CAN'T HELP SINGING (1944), LADY ON A TRAIN (1945), and SOMETHING IN THE WIND (1947).

I've previously acquired two of Durbin's films on Region 2 DVD, HERS TO HOLD (1943) and CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY (1944). It will be interesting to see if the remainder of her films come out on DVD in the U.S., as she has a very devoted following.

Speaking of Miss Durbin, her only color movie, CAN'T HELP SINGING (1944), has its TCM premiere coming soon on Monday, May 3rd. It has an overlooked Jerome Kern score and lovely location photography. Don't miss it!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Tonight's Movie: A Blueprint for Murder (1953)

I had limited time to watch a movie tonight, so I chose A BLUEPRINT FOR MURDER, in which Joseph Cotten solves a murder mystery in a compact 77 minutes.

Cotten plays Whitney "Cam" Cameron, who hurries to the side of his widowed sister-in-law Lynn (Jean Peters) when his young niece Polly is hospitalized. Lynn has been raising her stepchildren Polly and Doug (Freddy Ridgeway) since the death of her husband, Cam's brother.

Polly tragically -- and inexplicably -- dies. That seems to be the end of it, until Cam's friends Fred and Maggie (Gary Merrill, Catherine McLeod) suggest for various reasons that it's possible Polly was poisoned. The most likely suspect seems to be her stepmother Lynn, who stands to inherit all of her late husband's fortune if both his children die. Cam must discover the truth quickly, as the life of his nephew Doug may be in danger. Lynn wants to take the little boy on an extended trip to Europe...

This is a briskly paced movie which doesn't waste a second, even during the opening credits. The film is an interesting blending of traditional murder mystery melodrama with an unadorned, realistic "docu-noir" style in the sequences with the police. It may not be a top tier film, but it's consistently engrossing, and I found it a very enjoyable hour and 17 minutes.

The cast is very good, with Cotten as the man who is suspicious yet disbelieving that his beautiful sister-in-law could be evil -- especially as it seems increasingly clear that Cam is attracted to Lynn. Peters is a glamorous potential femme she a murderess, or is she being cruelly maligned?

I enjoy Gary Merrill (ALL ABOUT EVE), and I thought he and McLeod were appealing as Cotten's friends, an attorney and a mystery author. The "normality" of the scenes where Cotten spends time with his friends provides some needed relief from the otherwise tense storyline.

I was a bit hestitant about watching the movie, as I thought I might have trouble watching a film in which a child is murdered. However, it is tastefully handled, with the little girl's face never shown on the screen, although she is briefly heard crying.

Some fun trivia: the shipboard set seen in the film was used in several Fox films released in 1953, including TITANIC, GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES, and DANGEROUS CROSSING.

The film was written and directed by Andrew L. Stone.

Last fall Jacqueline posted a very interesting, detailed analysis of the film at Another Old Movie Blog, including a comparison of the film to a radio version starring Dorothy McGuire and Dan Dailey. Be sure to check it out.

A BLUEPRINT FOR MURDER has had a release on DVD.

It is also shown on Turner Classic Movies.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Tonight's Movie: The Silver Cord (1933)

THE SILVER CORD is a highly engrossing tale about a warped mother (Laura Hope Crews) whose obsession with her sons threatens their relationships with the women who love them.

Joel McCrea plays Dave, the older son, who has just returned from Europe with his bride, Christina (Irene Dunne), a biologist. Robert (Eric Linden), the younger son, is engaged to pretty young Hester (Frances Dee).

In a very short time this briskly paced 74-minute film shows Mama Dearest brazenly plotting to keep her sons for herself. (I suspect her creepy feelings for her sons could not have been played so openly once the Production Code began to be enforced in mid 1934.) Each of the sons must decide between his mother's selfish love or the chance to have marital happiness and children with a lovely young woman. That there could even be a question about what the sons will find to be the better option is part of what makes the film so interesting.

Laura Hope Crews is a bit too flamboyant in the role of the mother -- more subtlety at times would have been nice -- but she does modulate the performance enough to keep it from being strictly one note all the way through. She's both a hissable villain and a complete loon, such as her throwaway comment near the end that there must be insanity in Hester's family because her brother was an aviator. Huh?!

The film's true stars are the leading ladies, Irene Dunne and Frances Dee. Dunne was a handful of years older than McCrea in real life and the age difference works in the picture, as McCrea's character is revealed as still having some growing up to do. Dunne's Christina, a bright professional woman, must single-handedly shoulder the burden of taking on her mother-in-law, not to mention protecting a distraught Hester, without any support from her supposedly loving husband, and then must face the possibility of being a single parent.

I was particularly appalled that David would even consider abandoning his pregnant bride to take his manipulative mother to Europe; it surely didn't bode well for his marriage. Even if Christina and David remain together, one has the uneasy feeling that it is Christina who will forever be the more mature partner in the marriage. It's an uncharacteristically wimpy role for McCrea.

Dee steals the picture as Hester, who looks forward to marriage and "lots of babies," only to experience the shock of discovering that her fiance is having second thoughts. Dee goes from being a sweet young thing -- who, though young, also has some wise ideas about motherhood -- to an emotionally devastated woman in the blink of an eye. She's riveting, and her sobs tear at the viewer's heart.

THE SILVER CORD reminded me a great deal of ANOTHER LANGUAGE, released the same year. In ANOTHER LANGUAGE bride Helen Hayes finds it difficult to cope with the devotion of her husband (Robert Montgomery) to his controlling mother. ANOTHER LANGUAGE was based on a play by Rose Franken (CLAUDIA), while THE SILVER CORD was based on a Sidney Howard play. Elisabeth Risdon, known as a superior character actress in the movies, played Irene Dunne's role, Christina, in the theatrical version of THE SILVER CORD.

A trivial note: I find it amusing that within three years Joel McCrea starred in both THE SILVER HORDE (1930) and THE SILVER CORD!

THE SILVER CORD was directed by John Cromwell, whose films previously reviewed here include THE PRISONER OF ZENDA (1937) and SON OF FURY (1942).

I was able to watch THE SILVER CORD thanks to the kindness of Moira Finnie, who recently wrote an excellent, very informative piece on the film for TCM. I just enjoyed revisiting it after writing this post, and I recommend both her article and this interesting film. As an added plus, Moira's got a wonderful anecdote about McCrea and Dee, who married not long after this film was made, a union which lasted until McCrea's death on their 57th wedding anniversary.

Epicurious and Big Oven Cooking Apps

Cooks with an iPhone, iTouch, or even the new iPad may be interested in a very informative review of two cooking "apps" which was published in today's New York Times.

Wilson Rothman reviews Epicurious, which I installed shortly after I received my iTouch for Christmas, and Big Oven, which I'd never heard of before.

Both are free for the iTouch. Epicurious is also free for the iPad, but the iPad version of Big Oven is $9.99.

One of the interesting features at Big Oven, which I just installed tonight, is "Use Up Leftovers" -- you can input three ingredients in your kitchen and Big Oven will come up with related recipes.

Rothman does say that "Epicurious...should be the first thing any kitchen-loving iPad owner downloads." I haven't used the Epicurious app a great deal yet, but I've found some appealing recipes, and I like the related grocery list function. This article makes me want to try using both these apps often in the future.

I was also interested to learn, when I explored links at the end of the article, that Mark Bittman's HOW TO COOK EVERYTHING app debuted last weekend. It's $1.99.

Nigella Lawson also debuted a much pricier ($7.99) app within the last few days.

Update: Tyler Florence also has an app which is new this month ($4.99).

Today I downloaded the free Grocery IQ, which is recommended by both the New York Times column and USA Today.

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