Tuesday, August 31, 2010

TCM in September: Highlights

September already? Wasn't it just August 1st?! I always wish for just one more month of summer, but the fall schedule insists on getting underway anyway.

September does have its compensations, including a terrific lineup on Turner Classic Movies. The September Star of the Month is Vivien Leigh, starting on Tuesday, September 7th. I'll be taking a closer look at the Leigh films coming this month in the near future.

Here's a rundown on just a few of the interesting things on TCM in September:

...On September 1st, THE BISHOP MISBEHAVES (1935) sounds like fun. It stars Edmund Gwenn and Maureen O'Sullivan.

...Later on September 1st, IRENE (1940) has a great cast and an interesting filming technique, with most of the movie being shot in black and white, but a party sequence midway through the film was shot in Technicolor. Ray Milland and Anna Neagle star.

...The evening of the 1st is a five-film tribute to Kim Novak, starting with PICNIC (1955). More Novak is ahead on the evening of the 6th.

...A few months ago I watched PERFECT STRANGERS (1950), an interesting courtroom drama/romance with Ginger Rogers and Dennis Morgan. It airs September 5th.

...September 8th is the TCM debut of the 20th Century-Fox film SPRINGTIME IN THE ROCKIES (1942), great Technicolor escapist fare starring Betty Grable, John Payne, Cesar Romero, and Carmen Miranda, not to mention Harry James and his Music Makers. It's a shame this isn't out on DVD.

...MGM's Technicolor musical SUMMER HOLIDAY (1948) airs on the 9th. If you missed it previously, there's a link to a photo tribute to the film in last weekend's roundup. Gloria DeHaven is so pretty in this movie! SUMMER HOLIDAY is preceded by a half-dozen other MGM musicals.

...My dad really enjoyed THIS COULD BE THE NIGHT (1957), which is on September 10th. Jean Simmons plays a teacher who takes a clerical job at a nightclub. It also stars Paul Douglas and Anthony Franciosa.

...YOUNG BESS (1953) finds Jean Simmons playing Elizabeth I, with Charles Laughton as her father, Henry VIII. Stewart Granger (Simmons' then-husband) and Deborah Kerr also star. It's on the 12th.

...Claudette Colbert receives an eight-film birthday tribute on September 13th. I've seen the first six films in the day's lineup and especially recommend the delectable comedy MIDNIGHT (1939), costarring Don Ameche, John Barrymore, and Mary Astor.

...Toby of 50 Westerns from the 50s is happy about Tim Holt Day on September 14th. TCM will be running five of Holt's "B" Westerns.

...There are some really interesting titles "From the UCLA Film and Television Archive" airing on September 20th. I'm especially curious about SONG O' MY HEART (1930), a Frank Borzage film with Maureen O'Sullivan; SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR (1948), a Fritz Lang film with Joan Bennett and Michael Redgrave; and THE PROWLER (1951) with Evelyn Keyes and Van Heflin. The classic TOPPER (1937), with Cary Grant and Constance Bennett as two merry ghosts, will be shown in a new print. (That's one of the very first Cary Grant movies I remember seeing as a child.)  I'm also going to check out LIFE WITH FATHER (1947), which is in public domain and often shown in dreadful prints; hopefully TCM will have a nice copy.

...DEATH ON THE DIAMOND (1934) sounds great: baseball, Robert Young, and Madge Evans. Voters at IMDb give it a high 7.2 rating. It airs September 23rd.

...If you haven't seen the MGM B movie KID GLOVE KILLER (1942), it's a fun early police "procedural" starring Van Heflin and Marsha Hunt. It's on Friday the 24th.

...Only on TCM: September 27th is an eight-film tribute to Dane Clark, kicking off with a wonderful little WWII romance, THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU (1944). GOD IS MY CO-PILOT (1945) with Dennis Morgan and DEEP VALLEY (1947) with Ida Lupino are just a couple of the interesting titles airing that date.

...THE LUSTY MEN (1952) with Robert Mitchum and Susan Hayward airs on the 28th. Raquelle recently blogged at Out of the Past about her experience seeing this film at the Harvard Film Archive.

...September 29th is a seven-film birthday tribute to the great Greer Garson...

...and September 30th the month concludes with a seven-film birthday tribute to Deborah Kerr. I'm especially fond of KING SOLOMON'S MINES (1950), a grand adventure film Kerr starred in with Stewart Granger, who's absolutely terrific. Kerr's THE SUNDOWNERS (1960), costarring Robert Mitchum, airs the previous evening.

Be sure to check out the complete schedule at the Turner Classic Movies website.

Happy viewing!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Fly-By-Night (1942)

I first read about FLY-BY-NIGHT, directed by Robert Siodmak, in a program I bought at the Noir City Film Festival in Hollywood last April. The film was shown at Noir City Festivals in San Francisco and Chicago this year, though it didn't play in Hollywood. I was quite anxious to see it and managed to locate a passable copy of this hard-to-find film.

FLY-BY-NIGHT owes more than a little to Hitchcock, merging the "man on the run with an initially unwilling beautiful girl" theme with overtones of FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940) -- the cast even includes FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT'S Best Supporting Actor nominee, Albert Basserman. The film was released weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor, so its wartime espionage themes were quite timely.

Richard Carlson plays Dr. Geoffrey Burton, a medical intern who finds himself in a hotel room with a dead body and police officers who are threatening the electric chair. The doctor makes a break for it, planning to find a way to clear his name, and ends up on the run with the unwilling Pat (Nancy Kelly), a sketch artist. Geoff quickly wins Pat's cooperation and together they work to solve the murder mystery and clear Geoff's name. Along the way Geoff and Pat are mixed up with spies, an insane asylum, and a pair of police officer brothers (Edward Gargan and Adrian Morris) whose parents run a wedding chapel.

The film may stretch credibility at times, but it's good fun. Carlson and Kelly have a very nice rapport, which makes their relationship believable. Carlson's character is earnest and resourceful, and Kelly is no conventional meek flower, but an assertive woman with a sense of humor. Their scenes together have a nice light touch. There are some excellent bits of dialogue, and some nifty -- if improbable -- sequences, such as the couple managing a change in vehicles by leaping from a moving car onto a car carrier, then backing a car off the carrier!

The story was cowritten by Sidney Sheldon, who years later created the husband-wife romantic mystery series HART TO HART. It's fun to see him trying out a similar type of plot decades earlier. Sheldon's co-author was Ben Roberts, with the screenplay by Jay Dratler and F. Hugh Herbert (who is no relation to Hugh Herbert, the oh-so-annoying character actor).

I first knew Richard Carlson from his role starring in three of Frank Capra's great science movies, including HEMO THE MAGNIFICENT (1957), but he really caught my eye a couple years ago as the charming Scotsman courting Janet Gaynor in the wonderful comedy THE YOUNG IN HEART (1938). He also played Deborah Kerr's brother in one of my favorite adventure films, KING SOLOMON'S MINES (1950). Carlson is especially well-known for his roles in the '50s sci-fi films IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE (1953) and THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954).

Nancy Kelly was the older sister of Jack Kelly, the actor who was my favorite MAVERICK on TV. In fact, when Nancy was at 20th Century-Fox, where she starred in films like JESSE JAMES (1939), she helped her brother obtain roles as a child actor in two classic films, THE STORY OF ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL (1939) and John Ford's YOUNG MR. LINCOLN (1939). After that Jack Kelly was off the screen for a decade before resuming his career, starting out in bit parts. Nancy Kelly's best-known film was probably in THE BAD SEED (1956), where she recreated her Tony-winning Broadway role.

The cast also includes Marion Martin (effective as a blonde nurse), Miles Mander, Mary Gordon, Martin Kosleck, Walter Kingsford, Clem Bevans, Nestor Paiva, and Milton Kibbee.

The black and white cinematography was by John F. Seitz, who worked at several studios shooting everything from Shirley Temple movies to the Dr. Kildare and Andy Hardy series to Preston Sturges films. His films include SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS (1941), THE LOST WEEKEND (1945), THE BIG CLOCK (1948), and APPOINTMENT WITH DANGER (1951).

The Noir City program says this of FLY-BY-NIGHT: "...more screwball farce than a true noir...a delight from start to finish. Stars Richard Carlson and Nancy Kelly have a charming chemistry...Shifting with elan between risque romantic comedy and shadowy suspense, Siodmak stuffs two features' worth of set-pieces into the sprightly running time. The material is pure Hitchcock-inspired hokum, but it's directed with a master's touch..."

FLY-BY-NIGHT runs 74 minutes. The plot line starts to peter out a little bit towards the end, but overall, this is a nicely done little "B" movie which puts an original spin on some tried-and-true themes. It's likely to be equally enjoyed by fans of film noir and romantic comedy.

Now if only Universal, which owns the rights to '40s Paramount films, would release it on DVD! They must have enough titles to make up a nice film noir boxed set...

March 2020 Update: I had the wonderful opportunity to see FLY-BY-NIGHT in 35mm on a double bill with Robert Siodmak's THE DEVIL STRIKES AT NIGHT (1957) at the Noir City Hollywood Festival.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...POSSESSED: THE LIFE OF JOAN CRAWFORD, written by Donald Spoto, will be released November 2, 2010. Spoto is the author of numerous biographies, but I'm not sure if I've read one.

...USA Today plans a "radical" overhaul and will lay off 130 staff members. The paper plans to shift its emphasis from its print edition to "digital delivery." The paper has been getting thinner and thinner; is this the beginning of the end?

...In other publishing news, Barnes & Noble is currently attempting to fend off a hostile takeover.

...Another new film biography: HUMPHREY BOGART: THE MAKING OF A LEGEND by Darwin Porter is due September 16, 2010. (Update: Thanks to Jane for pointing out in the comments that Porter, the author of this book and the title below, has a dubious track record. His past titles certainly give one pause. Approach both books with caution!)

...There's also a book due out on Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier, by Darwin Porter and Roy Moseley. It will be available December 16, 2010.

...Last weekend I watched the 1976 film MIDWAY. Now a 3D film about the battle is said to be in the works.

...Today's L.A. Times Travel section featured a nice spread on visiting the Fess Parker Winery in Los Olivos, California. A sidebar column with trip-planning details is here.

...A new cookbook due on October 12th: FAMILY MEAL by Tyler Florence. The title has changed slightly since I mentioned it last June.

...Starlet Showcase has a photo tribute to Frances Dee.

...Last week ClassicFlix announced that VCI would be releasing a new DVD of the relatively little-known Christmas film I'LL BE SEEING YOU (1944) in November, but then almost immediately the release was said to be postponed. I'll be watching for updates.

...At Movietone News Matthew recently wrote about "The films I most wish had never fallen into the public domain." As a fellow Hedy Lamarr fan I was interested in his fun review of THE STRANGE WOMAN (1946), which I haven't yet seen.

...The Self-Styled Siren wrote an interesting review of another film I haven't seen yet, John Ford's WEE WILLIE WINKIE (1937), starring Shirley Temple.

...Anyone who goes on this ride is nuts: take a look at the design for Knott's Berry Farm's new WindSeeker.

...A new book on this year's health care legislation: THE TRUTH ABOUT OBAMACARE by health care expert Sally C. Pipes, which was reviewed by Thomas Sowell. Incidentally, it appears one of the law's many unfortunate effects may be ending student insurance on college campuses.

...Greenbriar Picture Shows writes about the new book ERROL & OLIVIA, which I mentioned in a recent roundup.

...Also at Greenbriar Picture Shows, a lovely photo tribute and article on SUMMER HOLIDAY (1948), which airs on Turner Classic Movies on September 9, 2010. It's not a perfect film, but it's gorgeous to look at...I saw a beautiful print at the Vagabond Theater in Los Angeles quite a while back in time.

...Reviews, reviews, and more reviews: Carrie at Classic Montgomery led me to a review at Confessions of a Film Addict on Robert Montgomery's terrific pre-Code comedy THE MAN IN POSSESSION (1931)...Glenn Erickson has an interesting point of view on THE MCCONNELL STORY (1955), a Warner Archive DVD-R reviewed at DVD Savant...and Black and White: Cinema and Chocolate looks at Ginger Rogers and Ray Milland in LADY IN THE DARK (1944). I saw the latter film at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art many years ago but I don't remember it very well.

...I came across the book VERNA FELTON by Frederick Tucker thanks to my Amazon recommendations. It came out last March. Felton's voice work included several Disney films; she was Mrs. Jumbo in DUMBO (1941), the Fairy Godmother in CINDERELLA (1950), the Queen of Hearts in ALICE IN WONDERLAND (1951), and Flora in SLEEPING BEAUTY (1959).

...Lou Lumenick reports that the Warner Archive will now be releasing films on a weekly basis, rather than every other week.

...Philadelphia wants bloggers who carry ads to purchase $300 business licenses.

...The L.A. Times covered USC passing UCLA in the national college rankings, which I mentioned last week.

Have a great week!

TCM at the Symphony: Celebrating 20th Century Fox at the Hollywood Bowl

Next weekend the TCM at the Symphony series comes to the Hollywood Bowl.

On Sunday evening, September 5th, Turner Classic Movies host extraordinaire Robert Osborne will preside over The Big Picture: The Films of 20th Century Fox.

The concert will be conducted by David Newman son of legendary Fox composer Alfred Newman. Alfred Newman wrote the Fox fanfare as well as some of its best-known music, including scores for STREET SCENE, YOUNG MR. LINCOLN, and BRIGHAM YOUNG; the music from those films was reused in numerous other Fox films. Alfred Newman's brothers, Lionel and Emil, were also well-known film composers.

The music on the program has not yet been announced.

Our family bought tickets today, and we're looking forward to enjoying the concert on Labor Day weekend. The opportunity to see Mr. Osborne in person is an added bonus, after enjoying him for so many years on TCM.

Thanks to my parents, I visited the Bowl many times when I was growing up, and my husband and I continued to visit regularly in the early years of our marriage. Over the years, when our own children were younger, the Bowl grew more expensive and it was difficult to obtain tickets to the most popular concerts, so the Bowl dropped off our summer "to do" list.

Our oldest daughter attended the annual Tschaikovsky Spectacular with friends last weekend and had a great time; we were amazed she was able to get tickets the day of the performance! At one point it was very hard to get tickets to that event without buying a ticket package for multiple concerts. Perhaps the current economy has made Bowl tickets more accessible. I hope we'll be able to visit again next summer.

L.A. Times Visits Grace Kelly Exhibit at V&A

Susan Carpenter of the Los Angeles Times has visited the Grace Kelly: Style Icon exhibit at London's Victoria and Albert Museum and written a story on it.

The exhibit seems to be of great interest to many people, as the post I wrote on it last April is one of this blog's all-time most-visited posts. It continues to draw daily readers months after it first appeared.

The Grace Kelly exhibit will run another month, closing on September 26th.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Julia Misbehaves (1948)

JULIA MISBEHAVES is an amusing, glossy MGM comedy featuring a stellar cast.

Julia (Greer Garson) is an actress who's struggling financially, when out of the blue she receives an invitation to the wedding of her daughter Susan, whom she hasn't seen since Susan was a baby. A friend (Reginald Owen) helps Julia with funds for the trip, and on the boat to France Julia meets Fred Ghenoccio (Cesar Romero), an acrobat who's one of the "Six Flying Ghenoccios." Julia gamely substitutes for Fred's alcoholic mother (Mary Boland) in that evening's performance in Paris before traveling on to the wedding. Fred is so taken with Julia that he proposes marriage as her train is leaving the station.

When Julia arrives at her former home she meets up with Bill (Walter Pidgeon), her estranged husband whom she'd never divorced, and their lovely daughter Susan (Elizabeth Taylor). Susan is engaged to marry a member of the nobility, but she clearly has eyes for a handsome young painter, Ritchie (Peter Lawford). When Susan's fiance skips the wedding rehearsal to attend a bachelor dinner thrown by his regiment, one can easily guess that Susan might end up with lovestruck Ritchie instead. And as for Bill and Julia, they're still attracted to one another, but a possible reunion is complicated by the appearance of Fred.

The film starts out a bit slowly but soon perks up and is quite funny at times. There are some wonderful bits of dialogue, such as "She may be your wife, but she's my fiancee!" The film builds to a nice climax with some wonderful repartee between Garson, Pidgeon, Romero, and Nigel Bruce; I was mildly surprised a couple of the lines made it past the censors in 1948.

Cesar Romero gets particular kudos for his way-out-there performance as the acrobat; his ersatz accent has to be heard to be believed. Mary Boland is also quite funny in the scene where Mrs. Ghenoccio is drunkenly swinging from the ship's steam stack, singing all the while.

Garson, working to shake her image as the star of serious dramas, engages in all sorts of physical comedy, being dangled by acrobats, riding a boat which sinks into a lake, falling in the mud...she gives it all she's got and is a lot of fun in the role. Pidgeon himself must contend with a trained seal, and he gets to fall into the lake and the mud right along with Garson. He also has a couple nice chances to show off his singing voice.

The movie is complete escapism...for instance, it never explores any feelings of abandonment Susan might have felt given her mother's complete absence from her life. Julia buying her daughter a Christmas gift for each year of her life seems to resolve everything! Likewise, it's never explained just why Bill originally fell out of love with Julia after 14 months of marriage, although one can infer his mother (Lucile Watson) caused problems. Julia does give Bill a piece of her mind about what happened at one point, but the film never digs any further. The viewer needs a willingness to put aside any thoughts of real-world emotions and dive in, simply expecting fun.

Elizabeth Taylor was just 16 when she filmed this, playing a part that was several years older. She was stunningly beautiful. She and Peter Lawford were also teamed the following year in LITTLE WOMEN (1949).

In Lawford's biography there's a nice story about him introducing Greer Garson to Buddy Fogelson, the man she married the year after this film was released. Like Taylor, Lawford was at the peak of his handsome good looks when he made this film. He and Taylor make a charming couple. It was a teaming which Taylor hoped to duplicate in real life, but Lawford steered clear of the underage beauty and she eventually settled for friendship.

Rounding out the cast are Henry Stephenson, Aubrey Mather, Fritz Feld, and Ian Wolfe.

This film was directed by Jack Conway. Conway began working in the silent era, and he was married to Virginia Bushman, daughter of silent film star Francis X. Bushman. Conway's brother-in-law was Disney artist Bruce Bushman. JULIA MISBEHAVES was Conway's last movie. He died in 1952 at the age of 65.

The movie is based on the book THE NUTMEG TREE by Margery Sharp, author of THE RESCUERS and CLUNY BROWN.

JULIA MISBEHAVES has been released on video. It has not had a DVD release. I suspect that at some point in the future it will be released in DVD-R format by the Warner Archive.

It can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies, which has the trailer available here. The trailer does a good job capturing the film's zany nature, ending with the tagline "Garson Misbehaves - And Pidgeon Loves It!"

Update: This film is now available in a remastered DVD-R from the Warner Archive.

Quick Preview of TCM in December

It's only been three weeks since Turner Classic Movies posted the November schedule online, and the December schedule is already available!

The December Star of the Month is Mickey Rooney, and his month will include a 24-hour marathon of the ANDY HARDY series.

It looks like three dozen or so of Rooney's other films will be airing, including some of his best work in films like BOYS TOWN (1938), THE HUMAN COMEDY (1943), NATIONAL VELVET (1944), and THE BLACK STALLION (1979).

As far as other titles airing in December, I'm especially excited about FAMILY HONEYMOON (1949), starring Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert, which I've never seen. Paramount films are oh-so-slowly making their way to the TCM schedule, and it's happy news when one turns up.

It's also fun to see that two MR. BELVEDERE films, starring Clifton Webb, are on the schedule: MR. BELVEDERE GOES TO COLLEGE (1949), with Shirley Temple and Tom Drake, and MR. BELVEDERE RINGS THE BELL (1951) with Joanne Dru and Hugh Marlowe. I've seen the original film in the series, SITTING PRETTY (1948) with Maureen O'Hara and Robert Young, many times, but have never seen the sequels.

And, of course, there are lots of Christmas films on the schedule as well. New Year's Eve will be spent with Cary Grant and the Marx Brothers.

For more comments on the December schedule, check out this discussion thread at the TCM Message Boards.

I'll be taking a closer look at the December schedule around Thanksgiving. In the meantime, here are the Stars of the Month lined up for the next few months: Vivien Leigh in September, Fredric March in October, and Ava Gardner in November.

October 20th Update: FAMILY HONEYMOON has now been removed from the schedule, as occasionally happens. However, the replacement being offered is equally high on my viewing wish list: THE GILDED LILY (1935) starring Colbert, MacMurray, and Ray Milland. I'm very excited that film is coming to TCM, and hopefully it won't be long before FAMILY HONEYMOON shows up too.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Hollywood Walk of Fame Apps for iTouch

Another day, another new iTouch (and iPhone/iPad) app: earlier this week the Los Angeles Times launched an app designed to use when touring the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

The L.A. Times Walk of Fame app is $2.99.

Just a few days ago the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce launched an updated version of its own Official Hollywood Walk of Fame app, which sells for $1.99.

Based on a quick look at the iTunes app store, there appear to be several other apps available related to the Walk of Fame; some are free and some have a minimal cost.

Something for film fans to keep in mind when planning an excursion to Hollywood...

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Love With the Proper Stranger (1963)

An erratically employed musician learns that a Macy's salesgirl he doesn't remember is expecting his baby. The couple get to know one another as they try to decide how to deal with the situation, and eventually both wonder if perhaps they've found LOVE WITH THE PROPER STRANGER.

Rocky (Steve McQueen) and Angie (Natalie Wood) are nice kids who both have some growing up to do. Rocky has been a commitment-shy ladies' man who doesn't put much effort into relationships, whether it's the sort-of girlfriend he lives with (Edie Adams) or his parents, whom he doesn't see often. Angie, on the other hand, is being suffocated by her mother and three brothers, who track her every move and try to plan her love life. She longs to move out and have some independence.

It's an interesting and absorbing film as Rocky and Angie wrestle with the consequences of their past and current choices, develop into more mature people, and inch toward a relationship with one another. The situation shocks Rocky into acting like a responsible adult who cares about someone else's feelings, while Angie, having faced up to the situation with her family, spreads her wings and rents her own apartment for the first time.

The two leads are excellent; they are both very expressive, and much of their communication is nonverbal. Wood was nominated for Best Actress for this film.

The supporting cast includes Tom Bosley, in his film debut, as the man Angie's brothers want her to date. Angie's brothers are portrayed by Herschel Bernardi, Harvey Lembeck, and E. Nick Alexander, with Penny Santon playing her mother.

A nice touch: in the background in the Rossini home are portraits of Natalie Wood as a little girl.

The movie has a great sense of style. It was filmed on location in New York, in beautiful black and white, by Milton Krasner. Krasner received one of the film's five Oscar nominations. Edith Head was also nominated, for best costume design; Angie certainly had a beautiful wardrobe for a shopgirl on a budget. Her coats are gorgeous, and the black dress she wears in the next-to-last scene is a knockout. The film was also nominated for Art Direction and Writing.

The score is by Elmer Bernstein, who cowrote the title song with Johnny Mercer.

LOVE WITH THE PROPER STRANGER was directed by Robert Mulligan, who had directed TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962) immediately prior to making this film.

It's rather surprising that this movie isn't yet available on DVD. It has been released on VHS.

This film can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies.

LOVE WITH THE PROPER STRANGER takes tough subject matter, including the possibility of abortion, and turns it into a positive story of growth, maturity, and commitment -- and happiness too. A very enjoyable film.

September 2017 Update: This film has now been released on DVD and Blu-ray by Kino Lorber. My review of the Blu-ray may be found here.

Netflix for iTouch

Thanks to Missy for alerting me to the news that there's now a Netflix app for the iTouch.

I can't imagine I'd use it much, but I have to admit it's kind of fun to have another "toy" in my iTouch. You never know when it might come in handy...!

If you're in the middle of watching something online on your computer, the app will even pick up where you left off.

Using Netflix for iTouch is included in the regular monthly Netflix fee.

Update: In related news, Blockbuster has announced it's going to be filing for bankruptcy in the next few weeks.

Our local Blockbuster store closed a few months ago. I never enjoyed going there; the selection was, in a word, junky, and the service was uninspired. Consequently, I rarely rented movies, and when Netflix arrived, it seemed like a movie rental miracle. Small wonder that Blockbuster's struggling to survive.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Adventure in Baltimore (1949)

Dinah Sheldon (Shirley Temple) is a minister's daughter with a knack for innocently ending up in awkward situations in ADVENTURE IN BALTIMORE.

Dinah's father (Robert Young) is endlessly understanding of his daughter's foibles and her ability to spark controversy, while Tom, the boy next door (John Agar), is less patient. Somehow Dinah manages to be expelled from a school for young ladies, lands in jail after painting a man sleeping on a park bench, and writes a speech on women's equality for Tom, which gives him some embarrassing moments when he delivers it. Matters come to a head when Dinah's advocacy of equal rights for women and her "controversial" portrait of Tom threaten her father's election as bishop of his diocese.

ADVENTURE IN BALTIMORE, which is a bit of an odd title for the film's subject matter, has a nice period flavor; it's somewhat reminiscent of MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944) or Doris Day's ON MOONLIGHT BAY (1951), although it doesn't have as well-balanced a story as either of those films. It's a bit top-heavy with Dinah going from one scrape to the next and her father's ruminations on petty gossip and his career plans; individual scenes are often well-done, but the film is a bit repetitive.

The best scenes may be those which break out of the "here's another problem" mold. The sequence where Dinah and her father -- who has a secret past as a ballroom dancer -- enter a waltz contest is a real gem. A few more moments like that would have done the movie good.

I generally prefer Shirley Temple's films as a young woman to her childhood films, and she's quite good in this. It's curious to me, though, that in the script Dinah is never called to account when she's actually wrong, whether it's writing a speech for someone else or going back on her word about using Tom's face in a painting.

Temple was paired with her then-husband John Agar, appearing in his second film; his first film was the previous year's John Ford Western FORT APACHE (1948), in which he was also matched with Temple as a romantic couple.

Robert Young, wearing makeup which makes him appear older than his actual age (42), is excellent as Temple's loving father. My appreciation of Young as an actor continues to grow as I see more of his work. I think Young and Fred MacMurray were frozen in the minds of many of us as a certain kind of bland "TV dad," and it's been something of a revelation for me to watch quite a bit of their earlier work over the last few years.

Josephine Hutchinson plays the minister's sweet-natured wife. The other children in the family are played by Tommy Sands, Patti Brady, and Gregory Marshall.

There are more familiar faces in the cast, including Albert Sharpe as the parish warden, Norma Varden as a suffragette, and Charles Kemper as a garage owner.

ADVENTURE IN BALTIMORE runs 89 minutes. It was directed by Richard Wallace. Wallace's credits include THE YOUNG IN HEART (1938), A NIGHT TO REMEMBER (1943), and BECAUSE OF HIM (1946).

ADVENTURE IN BALTIMORE is not available on DVD or VHS, but it is shown from time to time on Turner Classic Movies. The trailer is here.

While not a perfect film, ADVENTURE IN BALTIMORE is a well-made, entertaining family movie with solid values; it's worth seeing.

February 2015 Update: ADVENTURE IN BALTIMORE is now available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

June 2015 Update: Here is a review of the Warner Archive DVD.

New Book: Empire of Dreams: The Epic Life of Cecil B. DeMille

Scott Eyman, one of the finest biographers of legendary Hollywood filmmakers, has a new book due out on September 7th: EMPIRE OF DREAMS: THE EPIC LIFE OF CECIL B. DEMILLE.

The book was reviewed today by Tim Rutten in the Los Angeles Times.


Based on the quality of his previous work, I have every expectation that Mr. Eyman's new book on DeMille will be very much worth reading.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Criterion DVDs Leaving Netflix Instant Play

Just a heads up for Netflix users...according to The Criterion Cast, 66 Criterion films will no longer be available on Netflix "Watch Instantly" service as of September 22, 2010. The titles are listed at The Criterion Cast.

Movies seem to rotate off and on of "Watch Instantly," so I wouldn't be surprised to see these titles return to Netflix Instant in the future. In the meantime, you can still check out the films on DVD! Or buy them in the current Deep Discount sale.

I have A CANTERBURY TALE, which I've never seen, arriving soon from Deep Discount!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Coming to DVD: Falcon Crest Season 2

This is kind of an interesting development, given the unpredictable DVD market of the last 18 months or so.

Season 1 of FALCON CREST was just released this past April. It's been announced that Season 2 will be available on August 31st, but instead of being a regular retail release like Season 1, Season 2 will be "manufactured on demand" (MOD) and sold by the WB Shop.

I assume that this means it will be a DVD-R format similar to the Warner Archive releases. I'd love to know more about the economics and the decision-making process behind continuing to release the show, but in a different format.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Midway (1976)

One of my all-time favorite nonfiction books, which I first read around the age of 11, is Walter Lord's INCREDIBLE VICTORY (1967), about the Battle of Midway. My parents read it and gave it to me to read, and in turn my husband and I have passed it on to our own children, along with the rest of Lord's books. Until tonight, however, I had never seen the film MIDWAY, starring Charlton Heston, Henry Fonda, Glenn Ford, and an all-star cast.

I remember when MIDWAY was released in theaters, mostly because of all the advertising for Sensurround. I was a bit too young to actually go see it, and additionally, if my memory is correct I don't think it had much of a critical reputation at the time of release.

Although the universally panned subplot regarding Heston's son (played by Edward Albert) and a Japanese girl (Christina Kokubo, in a stiff performance) remains incredibly hokey and ill-considered, I think the film's reputation may have improved over the years; for one thing, we just don't have actors anymore with the stature of Fonda, Ford, and Mitchum, who play the admirals who won the war in the Pacific. Mitchum's role as bedridden Admiral Halsey is small, but the authoritative presences of Fonda and Ford, as Admirals Nimitz and Spruance, tower over the rest of the film. Further, if you leave out the romantic subplot, it's actually a very good war film which does a solid job telling the story of Midway and our "Incredible Victory."

The movie was shot, in part, on the USS Lexington. The battle scenes incorporate not only actual stock footage shot during the war, but footage from older movies. TCM host Ben Mankiewicz stated that the sepia-toned film seen during the opening credits sequence was from MGM's THIRTY SECONDS OVER TOKYO (1944). There's a nice bit of symmetry there, inasmuch as Robert Mitchum had a small role in THIRTY SECONDS OVER TOKYO, little knowing at the time that over three decades later some of the footage would be seen in a film in which he portrayed Admiral Halsey. (Incidentally, Robert Montgomery's 1960 film about Halsey, THE GALLANT HOURS, is high on my "to watch" list.)

Besides being an absorbing story, MIDWAY is also a lot of fun as various actors wander in and out of the cast. Hal Holbrook, Robert Wagner, and Robert Webber have good-sized roles, while James Coburn comes in for just a couple of minutes.  Cliff Robertson also has a small role.  Dabney Coleman, James Shigeta, Pat Morita, Glenn Corbett, Ed Nelson, Kevin Dobson, Kip Niven, and Erik Estrada are also in the cast. I never did spot Tom Selleck, who is credited as playing an aide.

The filmmakers chose to have the Japanese characters speaking English, which resulted in what was for me the most distracting thing in the film: every time Toshiro Mifune opens his mouth, the unmistakable voice of Disneyland's Paul Frees comes out. (Frees narrates Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln and is the "Ghost Host" of the Haunted Mansion, in addition to providing voices elsewhere in the park.) This wasn't the first time Frees dubbed Mifune; he also provided the Japanese actor with an English-speaking voice in GRAND PRIX (1966). The Disney Legends biography of Frees says that Mifune said that Frees "sounds more like me than I do."

The movie runs 132 minutes. It was directed by Jack Smight, who had previously directed Heston in AIRPORT 1975 (1974).

I watched a print recorded from Turner Classic Movies, which will be airing the movie again next weekend, on August 29th.

The film has also been released in a Collector's Edition DVD which includes footage added for television as an extra. Those of us "of a certain age" remember that adding footage to movies was a big deal on TV in the late '70s and early '80s, as the networks made their last stand against cable TV and video. Within a few years ABC, CBS, and NBC had for the most part stopped airing films in prime time.

The trailer is currently available on YouTube. The Sensurround references sure take me back to my childhood: "MIDWAY...so real you can almost feel it!"

Tonight's Movie: Lured (1947)

LURED is a terrific Douglas Sirk thriller starring Lucille Ball, George Sanders, and a deep supporting cast.

Sandra Carpenter (Ball) is an American dance hall hostess in London. Sandra aspires to a classier job, but her career is interrupted by Scotland Yard when a fellow dance hall hostess goes missing. The detectives at Scotland Yard (headed by Charles Coburn, Alan Napier, and Robert Coote) believe Sandra's coworker was the victim of a serial killer, and they recruit Sandra to help lure the murderer into the open. Sandra is shadowed by trusty Officer Barrett (George Zucco).

Meanwhile Sandra falls for nightclub owner Robert Fleming (Sanders) when they are repeatedly thrown together in various circumstances. Fleming is quite the ladies' man, but Sandra's initial refusal to fall prey to his charms leads to his falling head over heels for her and proposing marriage. There's just one little complication: a bunch of evidence in Fleming's desk tying him to the serial killings.

The cast also includes Boris Karloff, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Joseph Calleia, Alan Mowbray, and perennial butler Charles Coleman, who this time around gets to play Sir Charles, a member of the nobility. The nightclub singer performing "All for Love" is Ethelreda Leopold.

Besides a sterling cast, the film has amazing style, beginning with the opening credits sequence. Although it's a studio-bound production, the movie does a great job of putting over foggy London, whether it's a mysterious letter sliding into a Royal Mailbox or Ball standing under a lamp along the Thames, with Big Ben in the background. Ball has a marvelous wardrobe designed by Elois Jenssen.

Best of all, the movie is simply fun. It has its spooky moments, but given the subject matter it's not very scary; while the actors play the more serious and romantic scenes with genuine emotion, the film also has a droll sense of humor. One of my favorite scenes is a humorous exchange between Sandra and Officer Barrett involving guns. There were other scenes I loved, such as Fleming visiting a friend's house only to find the maid serving him is Sandra, working undercover. There are many such great little moments scattered throughout the film.

I'm not a particular fan of Ball's TV comedy style, but I've acquired quite an appreciation for her early film work, also including STAGE DOOR (1937), DANCE, GIRL, DANCE (1940), and THE DARK CORNER (1946). She's incredibly beautiful in this film.

Last year Moira wrote at Skeins of Thought that "any time you get a chance to see George Sanders be noble, stalwart and true (but never dull) is very refreshing." I agree completely! As I wrote here a few weeks ago, "I especially love Sanders when he plays one of the good guys." This is one of my favorite Sanders performances.

LURED runs 102 minutes. It was filmed with style by William Daniels.

LURED is available on DVD and VHS. It's also been shown on Turner Classic Movies.

There's more on the film by MorlockJeff at TCM's blog. As Jay Carter writes elsewhere at TCM, "LURED is a delicious plum pudding of a cult movie." Enjoy!

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...I'm considering purchasing my first DVD recorder in the next six months. I would appreciate recommendations, or even better, links to recommended models, from anyone currently using a DVD recorder.

...New Book: WHY? BECAUSE WE STILL LIKE YOU: AN ORAL HISTORY OF THE MICKEY MOUSE CLUB will be published on October 29, 2010. The author is Jennifer Armstrong. I recommend two earlier books on this topic, THE OFFICIAL MICKEY MOUSE CLUB BOOK by Lorraine Santoli (2005) and THE MICKEY MOUSE CLUB SCRAPBOOK by Keith Keller (1977). A fun bit of trivia: My dad and aunt went to elementary school with Bobby Burgess. (Update: My dad adds that not only did they attend school together, they were next-door neighbors! Somehow that part of the story had escaped my attention till today.)

...Another Disney book which came out last year just showed up in my Amazon recommendations: THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF CUSTOMER SERVICE AT DISNEY by J. Jeff Kober.

...The Errol Flynn Adventures DVD set recently received positive reviews from Raquelle at Out of the Past and Glenn Erickson at DVD Savant.

...I enjoyed this Q&A with commentator Kirsten Powers of Fox News Channel. Although I rarely agree with Powers, I respect her and the way she approaches political debate.

...The Five Guys burger chain is slowly moving into Southern California. I doubt anything could replace In-N-Out -- or even the underrated Fatburger -- in my estimation, but I'm looking forward to trying it. Another good burger restaurant in the area is always welcome!

...Last week Ann Rutherford made a personal appearance in Santa Monica at a double bill of ORCHESTRA WIVES (1942) and WASHINGTON MELODRAMA (1941). An interview was published by Susan King in the L.A. Times. Rutherford will be 90 in November.

...This week Trojans were cheering the news that the University of Southern California has surged past crosstown rival UCLA in the national college rankings. USC now ranks 23rd in the nation. UCLA holds the No. 25 position.

...I recently came across this blog on the Iverson Movie Ranch.

...This marvelous video clearly demonstrates why President Reagan is beloved by so many of us. The juxtaposition of his prescient comments about liberal government encroaching on freedom with recent statements by Democrat politicians is terrific...and scary.

...Kevin's Movie Corner reviews Cornel Wilde and Anita Louise in THE BANDIT OF SHERWOOD FOREST (1946). It's available on DVD.

..."Playing With Fire": Melissa Clark of the New York Times on how to make your own hot sauce.

...Here's a fun video of a man effortlessly making a barehanded catch of a foul ball...while walking with a tray of drinks!

...Dave Kehr of the New York Times recently reviewed the new Kim Novak Collection.

...I think I may have noted this before, but I think it's sad that when a man as busy as the President goes on vacation he spends endless hours, day after day, on the golf course away from his wife and daughters. It's a cliche, but childhood flies by in an instant, and I wonder if one day he'll wish he'd devoted more vacation time to family activities and enjoying his kids while they're little. The golf course will still be there when they're older and he's retired.

...Here's an interesting video from last summer on registering for background player work at Central Casting.

...This is the week for Disney books: an updated edition of Bob Sehlinger's THE UNOFFICIAL GUIDE TO DISNEYLAND PARIS was released this summer. As I noted just about a year ago, a good guidebook on Disneyland Paris is very much needed. Perhaps this will prove to fill in that information gap.

...This Big Hollywood article envisions a DVD-less world of movie streaming...but it neglects some key issues, such as the quietly brewing war between Internet service providers and content providers. Our family, especially my children, uses Netflix Instant Play, but I'd just as soon own a permanent DVD collection and not have to rely on others for the titles I want to see being available at all times.

...Alert for Southern Californians: There's a fabulous 75th Anniversary of Republic Pictures celebration coming up in Studio City on September 25, 2010. Joan Leslie, Coleen Gray, Peggy Stewart, Anne Jeffreys, Jane Withers, Hugh O'Brian, and Jimmy Lydon are among the actors who will be appearing that day. I have tickets to attend Destination D in Anaheim that day or I'd definitely make plans to check it out!

Have a great week!

Dodgers Announcer Vin Scully To Return for 62nd Season

Dodger fans far and wide are celebrating today: Vin Scully has announced he will return next year for his 62nd season calling Dodger games.

Scully began his career with the Dodgers in Brooklyn in 1950.

Just to put that time frame in perspective, Vinnie has been calling games since my dad was younger than my youngest son is today!

Vinnie will continue to call home games, as well as road games against the National League West.

A few nights ago I was out for an evening walk and one of the neighbors was gardening at dusk with Vinnie's voice on a transistor radio for company. It was such a quintessential Southern California moment, it made me a bit teary contemplating that Mr. Scully was likely to retire before too long.

Vin Scully is part of the soundtrack of my entire life, and I'm so glad that he's not yet ready to quit. Thanks for always being there, Vinnie!

Update: Here's more from L.A. Times.

Nancy Freedman, Co-Author of Mrs. Mike, Dies at 90

Nancy Freedman, who cowrote one of my favorite novels, MRS. MIKE, has passed away. MRS. MIKE was cowritten with Nancy's husband, Benedict.

The Freedmans married in 1941, at a time when Mrs. Freedman was given just three months to live due to a bout with rheumatic fever. Mrs. Freedman fooled the doctors and lived to age 90.

MRS. MIKE was published in 1947 and remains in print today. I discovered it in my junior high school's library and have vivid memories of reading it for the first time -- after starting it at school I came home, sat down in a rocker, and didn't move again until I'd finished it hours later.

Today my own copy of MRS. MIKE sits on a shelf which holds many of my favorite books, including Loula Grace Erdman's THE EDGE OF TIME, Gladys Hasty Carroll's AS THE EARTH TURNS, Dodie Smith's I CAPTURE THE CASTLE, Margaret Sutton's JEMIMA: DAUGHTER OF DANIEL BOONE, plus my Elswyth Thane and Louisa May Alcott collections. (I have an entire separate shelf for all my Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane books...)

A fine -- if highly abridged -- film version of MRS. MIKE was released in 1949 starring Dick Powell and Evelyn Keyes.

Decades later the Freedmans wrote two sequels, THE SEARCH FOR JOYFUL (2002) and KATHY LITTLE BIRD (2004). Reviews for THE SEARCH FOR JOYFUL were weak and I have never read the sequels, preferring to keep my strong positive memories of MRS. MIKE untouched by the later books.

Jennifer Greene, an author I enjoy, wrote a good review of MRS. MIKE a few years ago, saying that the book is "in my sacred keeper pile," one of three books she keeps on her desk for inspiration. It's a marvelous book which I highly recommend.

I'm so grateful that Mrs. Freedman, like her heroine Katherine Mary Flannigan, was stronger than she looked and that she lived to give the world such a marvelous book, as well as enjoy a very long, productive marriage which included children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Horizons West (1952)

HORIZONS WEST is a colorful Universal Western directed by Budd Boetticher, starring Robert Ryan, Rock Hudson, and Julia (Julie) Adams, plus a slew of familiar faces in supporting roles.

Dan (Ryan) and Neal (Hudson) Hammond return to Austin after the Civil War, along with their ranch's foreman, Tiny (James Arness). Neal and Tiny are happy to return to ranching life, and Neal has his eye on pretty Sally (Judith Braun).

Dan, on the other hand, has no interest in ranching and wants to make money in a hurry. A big hurry...and he doesn't care how he does it. He also covets the beautiful wife (Adams) of a slimy Austin businessman (Raymond Burr). Dan is soon commanding an army of rustlers and taking over ranches, and Neal sides with the family's friends and neighbors to capture Dan and stop his reign of terror.

Generally speaking, I've come to find that I don't care for films about outlaws, because Something Bad always happens...usually over and over again. Films which fall into this Western subgenre tend to be pretty depressing fare. (Universal's THE LAWLESS BREED, released the following year starring Hudson and Adams, is another example.) In HORIZONS WEST I enjoyed the familiar cast and the Universal look, but I can't say I liked the story.

The supporting cast includes John McIntire (great, as always), Frances Bavier, Dennis Weaver, Rodolfo Acosta, John Hubbard, Tom Powers, Mae Clarke, and Douglas Fowley. The film runs 81 minutes.

This film has been shown in a very nice print on the Encore Westerns Channel. It's available on Region 2 DVD for those who have all-region players.

November 2012 Update: HORIZONS WEST will be out on DVD from the TCM Vault Collection in February 2013.

April 2021 Update: HORIZONS WEST will be released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber in May 2021.

May 2021 Update: My review of the new Blu-ray is here.

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