Friday, December 31, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Crack in the World (1965)

For the past half a decade, our family tradition has been watching a hokey disaster movie on New Year's Eve. For three of those five years, that's meant spending New Year's with the one and only Dana Andrews, who was born 102 years ago this New Year's Day.

Andrews starred in ZERO HOUR! (1957) and THE CROWDED SKY (1960), along with tonight's movie, CRACK IN THE WORLD. In CRACK IN THE WORLD Andrews plays a scientist, Dr. Stephen Sorenson, who plans to harness energy from the earth's core by setting off a nuclear explosion to crack through the earth's mantle and access magma from the core.

Dr. Ted Rampion (Kieron Moore) warns Sorenson that he will set off a series of earthquakes, but Sorenson has learned he is terminally ill and he's in no mood to theorize and wait. It doesn't help Sorenson's mood any that his beautiful, much younger wife Maggie (Janette Scott) was once in love with Ted.

Unfortunately, once Sorenson explodes the bomb he learns that Ted was right, as thousands of people die in earthquakes. Unless they can find a way to turn things around, the earth will split in two!

As always, Dana Andrews is earnest and believable as the scientist who wants to help mankind and causes a tragedy instead. Unfortunately he's saddled with playing a terminal illness which seems to progress by hours, rather than days or weeks, and having him suddenly start wearing sunglasses indoors is a bit bizarre. Other than that, he's quite interesting as the doomed scientist with a curious marital relationship.

The story is absorbing, although completely impossible in myriad ways. The "science" in the movie, in and of itself, kept my oldest daughter in gales of laughter, as she has a geology minor in geohazards. If you put any concept of reality aside -- and ignore Andrews' indoor sunglasses -- it's a fun movie which builds suspense nicely to its explosive conclusion. (A moral of the story: never get in an elevator during an earthquake...)

There are very amusing reviews of this film by RHSmith at TCM's Movie Morlocks and by Glenn Erickson at DVD Savant. One of my favorite comments by RHSmith: "This is just a neat movie. Although the film wasn’t intended for children, CRACK IN THE WORLD has everything a kid wants. It has Walkie Talkies and binoculars and Jeeps and helicopters and trains and laboratories full of gauges and dials and beakers full of colorful liquids, it has warheads and flame retardant suits and explosions and lava and just everything."

Actress Janette Scott started out as a child actress, including playing James Stewart's too-mature daughter Elspeth in NO HIGHWAY IN THE SKY (1951). She made another notable sci-fi appearance, starring with Howard Keel in DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS (1962). She seems to have mostly retired within a couple of years of starring in CRACK IN THE WORLD; she married singer Mel Torme in 1966. They divorced in 1977.

Kieron Moore was also a veteran of DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS. He played Count Vronsky in Vivien Leigh's ANNA KARENINA (1948), was the bully in Disney's DARBY O'GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE (1959), and starred with Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren in ARABESQUE (1966). He passed away in 2007.

This movie was directed by Andrew Marton. It runs 96 minutes. The film also stars Alexander Knox.

CRACK IN THE WORLD is available on DVD. The widescreen print looks terrific. There are no extras.

Tonight's Movie: A Boyfriend for Christmas (2004)

A BOYFRIEND FOR CHRISTMAS is a pleasing holiday diversion starring Kelli Williams and Patrick Muldoon.

Holly (Williams) is lonely and tired of being pressured by her relatives about not being in a relationship. Holly's selfish ex-boyfriend Ted (Bruce Thomas of LEGALLY BLONDE) wants to get back together, but Holly's holding out for someone special...which Santa (Charles Durning) promised her when she was 12.

On Christmas morning Ryan (Muldoon) knocks on her door, saying he's her Christmas gift. Believing she was set up by a friend, Holly takes Ryan to her family's for Christmas and they hit it off in a big way. Turns out Ryan wasn't sent by Holly's friend, however...was he sent by Santa?

It sounds pretty goofy, but it plays more believably than it sounds. The film starts a bit slowly but moves up to full speed once Ryan knocks on Holly's door. The story's somewhat predictable, but in this crazy world, especially during the holiday season, sometimes "predictable" is just what's needed...something sweet and reassuring.

The actors carry off their roles well, with Durning doing a very nice job as the mysterious Santa Claus who's been watching over Holly for most of her life.

The three leads are well supported by Martin Mull as Holly's father and Erica Gimpel (FAME) as her coworker. The characters in a subplot involving Ryan's career do veer into cartoonish characitures, but fortunately they have limited screen time.

This film was directed by Kevin Connor. It runs 100 minutes.

This film is available on DVD.

Tonight's Movie: Unfinished Business (1941)

UNFINISHED BUSINESS is a pleasant romantic comedy-drama teaming two of my very favorite actors, Robert Montgomery and Irene Dunne.

Nancy (Dunne) is tired of small-town living in Messina, Ohio. After her younger sister marries, Nancy hops a train for the big city; on board she meets Steve Duncan (Preston Foster). Playboy Steve romances Nancy, but forgets her as soon as they're off the train. Innocent Nancy carries a torch for Steve but eventually becomes friends with and marries Steve's charming brother Tommy (Montgomery).

Hard-living Tommy reforms and happily settles down with Nancy, only to be shattered when he learns of Nancy's previous infatuation with his older brother. Where will it all end? One guess only!

The film could have been stronger; among other things it needed a crisper pace and more fluid development of Tommy and Nancy's feelings for one another. It almost feels as though there was a scene or two left on the cutting-room floor. Nancy's reluctance to iron things out with the apologetic Tommy near the end is a bit hard to buy.

That said, Dunne and/or Montgomery are on the screen for most of the film's running time, and they count for a great deal. In my opinion they were two of the most intelligent and sincere actors to grace the screen, and they're always good company even when the material isn't quite at their level.

Eugene Pallette is amusing as Tommy's plainspoken butler. Esther Dale plays Tommy and Steve's Aunt Mathilda. The cast also includes Dick Foran, Walter Catlett, Samuel S. Hinds, and Kathryn Adams. The minister in the first scene is played by Neal Dodd, a real-life minister who also played a minister in numerous films.

After UNFINISHED BUSINESS was released in the summer of 1941, Robert Montgomery was off the screen for a few years for service in WWII. He returned to the screen in one of the finest of all WWII films, John Ford's THEY WERE EXPENDABLE (1945), in which he not only starred (with John Wayne and Donna Reed), but served as Ford's uncredited co-director. Peter Bogdanovich wrote a short appreciation of that film which I recently came across.

UNFINISHED BUSINESS was directed by Gregory LaCava, who had directed Dunne in SYMPHONY OF SIX MILLION (1932) nearly a decade earlier.

The film runs 96 minutes.

This movie has not had a release on VHS or DVD. 

November 2013 Update: I had a wonderful opportunity to see this film on a big screen at UCLA; here are some additional thoughts on a very good movie which I liked even better the second time around.

Fox Movie Channel in January: Highlights

There are a number of interesting titles on the Fox Movie Channel schedule in January. Below are a few highlights, especially focusing on films which haven't aired in the Fox rotation recently:

...January 2nd there's a young Joel McCrea in BIRD OF PARADISE (1932), followed by a film I've wanted to see for ages: MOTHER IS A FRESHMAN (1949) with Loretta Young, Van Johnson, Rudy Vallee, and Barbara Lawrence. It was filmed at the University of Nevada at Reno, where several other films of the era were shot, including APARTMENT FOR PEGGY (1948). The movie is airing almost exactly one year after I mentioned how much I'd like to see it. In the past year I've managed to see 3 more of the half-dozen films listed in that post, and I've acquired a copy of yet another of the titles. Only HOTEL FOR WOMEN (1939) still eludes me.

...My DVR malfunctioned when I WAS AN ADVENTURESS (1940) aired last month, so I'm glad it's on again January 3rd. It stars Richard Greene, Vera Zorina, and Peter Lorre.

...SLAVE SHIP (1937), airing on the 4th, stars Warner Baxter and George Sanders. Later that day lovely Elaine Stewart (CODE TWO) stars with John Derek in THE ADVENTURES OF HAJJI BABA (1955).

...BRIGHAM YOUNG (1940) is a well-made film with Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell, Dean Jagger, Mary Astor, and Vincent Price. It will be shown January 7th.

...January 9th there's an early George Montgomery "B" film, ACCENT ON LOVE (1941).

...Don Ameche stars in THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1939) on January 14th.

...On January 15th Betty Grable, Alice Faye, and John Payne star in TIN PAN ALLEY (1950), the predecessor of I'LL GET BY (1951).

...The charming HOME IN INDIANA (1944), with Jeanne Crain, Lon McAllister, and June Haver, will be shown January 19th.

...ALASKA PASSAGE (1959), a Bill Williams film about Alaskan truck drivers, sounds rather unique. It will be shown on the 21st.

...I recorded a recent showing of Tyrone Power's KING OF THE KHYBER RIFLES (1953), which was partly filmed on location in Lone Pine, California. It will air again on January 28th.

...Fritz Lang's THE RETURN OF FRANK JAMES (1940), with Henry Fonda and Gene Tierney, ends the month on January 31st.

As always, keep in mind that Fox typically shows films multiple times over several weeks; I've only listed one air date per film. Check the schedule for alternate air dates.

Happy viewing!

TCM in January: Highlights

Happy New Year, and Best Wishes for 2011!

As I previewed last fall, in January there's a particularly good schedule at Turner Classic Movies, with a wide variety of interesting titles.

...There's a chance to see the rather unique Jimmy Stewart film NO HIGHWAY IN THE SKY (1951) on January 2nd. Glynis Johns and Marlene Dietrich costar.

...January 3rd is a typically interesting day on the schedule, including HEARTS DIVIDED (1936), with Claude Rains, Dick Powell and Marion Davies in a film about Napoleon's younger brother...Robert Montgomery and Davies in EVER SINCE EVE (1937) of my favorite film noir titles, MYSTERY STREET (1950) with Ricardo Montalban...June Allyson and Arthur Kennedy in a film about a pioneering woman doctor, THE GIRL IN WHITE (1952)...and back-to-back Ray Milland films to celebrate his birthday: A LIFE OF HER OWN (1950) with Lana Turner and THE SAFECRACKER (1958), which Milland also directed. And that's only a part of the day's schedule, which also includes Gene Tierney in THE SHANGHAI GESTURE and Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell in MACAO (1952).

...Jane Wyman's January 5th birthdate will be celebrated a day early, with 8 films shown on January 4th. The movies include Hitchcock's STAGE FRIGHT (1950) and Wyman's Oscar-winning JOHNNY BELINDA (1948). You can also hear Jane sing in LET'S DO IT AGAIN (1953), where she was teamed with her costar from THE LOST WEEKEND (1945), Ray Milland. THE LOST WEEKEND, incidentally, airs January 30th.

...There's a slate of five films about music teachers on January 5th. A few months ago my dad really enjoyed THEY SHALL HAVE MUSIC (1939), starring Joel McCrea.

...January 6th is TCM's annual birthday tribute to Loretta Young, with eight films being shown this year, including the relatively rarely shown THE UNGUARDED HOUR (1936) with Franchot Tone and THE MEN IN HER LIFE (1941), a new-to-me Young film costarring Dean Jagger and Conrad Veidt. Other Young titles airing that day are THE DOCTOR TAKES A WIFE (1940) with Ray Milland, A NIGHT TO REMEMBER (1943) with Brian Aherne, ALONG CAME JONES (1943) with Gary Cooper, THE BISHOP'S WIFE (1947) with Cary Grant, CAUSE FOR ALARM! (1951) with Barry Sullivan, and PAULA (1952) with Kent Smith. Lots of good viewing that day. (January 4th Update: Unfortunately TCM has had to pull THE MEN IN HER LIFE from the schedule and replaced it with RACHEL AND THE STRANGER. RACHEL is a good film, but it's a disappointment to those of us who were looking forward to the relatively little-seen THE MEN IN HER LIFE.)

...January 7th another of my favorite actresses, Jeanne Crain, will have a three-film tribute in prime time, consisting of THE FASTEST GUN ALIVE (1956) with Glenn Ford, STATE FAIR (1945) with Dana Andrews, and Elia Kazan's PINKY (1949), which netted Crain her sole nomination as Best Actress.

...One of the random "little" movies I'm interested in recording this month is PRETTY BABY (1950), with Dennis Morgan, Zachary Scott, and Betsy Drake (then Mrs. Cary Grant). It will be shown January 9th.

...SONS OF THE SEA (1941), starring Michael Redgrave, is about a steamboat crossing the Atlantic Ocean. It sounds very similar to RULERS OF THE SEA (1939), which starred Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Redgrave's THE LADY VANISHES (1938) costar, Margaret Lockwood. SONS OF THE SEA airs January 11th.

...January 13th is a Kay Francis film not yet in my collection: BRITISH AGENT (1934), costarring Leslie Howard. It's part of a 10-film Francis birthday tribute which includes GUILTY HANDS (1931), reviewed last fall; the wild JEWEL ROBBERY (1932), a pre-Code in which thief William Powell gives his victims marijuana; THE GOOSE AND THE GANDER (1935), a fun country house farce with George Brent; and IT'S A DATE (1940) with Deanna Durbin and Walter Pidgeon.

...January 14th there's a terrific night of John Payne films scheduled: 99 RIVER STREET (1953) costarring Evelyn Keyes, THE CROOKED WAY (1949) costarring Ellen Drew, KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL (1952) with Coleen Gray, and TO THE SHORES OF TRIPOLI (1942) with Maureen O'Hara and Randolph Scott.

...On January 18th there's an amazing evening of rare Screen Directors Playhouse TV shows from the mid '50s, with stars including John Wayne, Vera Miles, Robert Ryan, Charles Bickford, Errol Flynn, Ray Milland, and Teresa Wright, and directors including John Ford, Ida Lupino, Leo McCarey, and Fred Zinnemann. That's a great evening to have the recorder up and running.

...January 23rd there's the opportunity to see I MARRIED A WITCH (1942), SINCE YOU WENT AWAY (1944), SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS (1954), THE PALM BEACH STORY (1942), BLACK NARCISSUS (1947), and LOST HORIZON (1937). That is a powerhouse lineup of diverse classics!

...Late January brings some treasures from the Paramount and Universal vaults, starting with Paramount's LUCKY JORDAN (1942) and Universal's PHANTOM LADY (1944) on January 26th. LUCKY JORDAN stars Alan Ladd and Helen Walker, and PHANTOM LADY is a film noir with Franchot Tone and a very appealing Ella Raines.

...On the 29th is a very exciting Paramount title, Fritz Lang's MINISTRY OF FEAR (1944), starring Ray Milland, Marjorie Reynolds (HOLIDAY INN), and Dan Duryea. Get your DVRs and VCRs ready for that one! It's only available on Region 2 DVD in Europe.

...The month ends with a splash with a January 31st birthday tribute to the late Jean Simmons. The titles which I'm most excited about are HUNGRY HILL (1947) with Margaret Lockwood and SHE COULDN'T SAY NO (1954) with Robert Mitchum.

The January Star of the Month is Peter Sellers. I won't be doing a separate Star of the Month post for January, since most of Sellers' films aren't my cup of tea. Look for his films Thursday evenings.

Visit the TCM schedule for a complete list of the month's films. There are many, many more wonderful films being shown in January!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Knight and Day (2010)

Today I wrapped up work for the year, hooray! The next few days are a time for relaxing with family, movies, and books.

My daughters Netflixed KNIGHT AND DAY (2010), and although like a lot of people I've developed an aversion to Tom Cruise in recent years, I decided to try it after checking out Leonard Maltin's thumbs up review. I'm really glad I watched it, as Leonard was right -- the movie is a lot of fun.

The film might be described as awesomely, giddily stupid, deliberately lampooning spy thrillers in general and some of Cruise's past film personas in particular. It's something of a live-action cross between a comic book and a video game, with completely impossible action wittily played by the two leads, Cruise and Cameron Diaz. We all had a very good time watching it.

The film is a modern version of the "couple on the run" story which dates back at least as far as Hitchcock's THE 39 STEPS (1935) and SABOTEUR (1942). As in those films, the heroine is forced to accompany a mysterious man on the run, who could be either criminal or hero. The film's nearly bloodless comic book violence also calls to mind funny action films ranging from Roger Moore's THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977) to the highly entertaining MR. AND MRS. SMITH (2005) of half a decade ago.

Diaz is endearingly sweet as the baffled but surprisingly resourceful June, and it must be said that Cruise does a terrific job doing a rather brave send-up of himself. When he looks at Diaz over his shades, it's quite delightful.

If you're looking for a film with any basis in reality, this is not your movie. But if you want some laughs and a fun time, check out KNIGHT AND DAY. As Leonard Maltin says, it's "quite good...pure escapism."

Parental advisory: This film is rated PG-13 for an endless supply of falling bodies and some language; there is one particularly notable swear word, but other than that the language issue is not pervasive.

The movie was directed by James Mangold (WALK THE LINE). It costars Viola Davis and Peter Sarsgaard. This film runs 109 minutes.

KNIGHT AND DAY is available on DVD.

As the Amazon copy reads, "Knight and Day has action by the boatload, cheeky wit, unexpected double-crossing, sexual tension, and the blinding smile of its star, Tom Cruise. In short, what more could you ask of a rollicking good-time movie?"

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Tonight's Movie: The Lady Has Plans (1942)

THE LADY HAS PLANS is a fun WWII espionage movie starring Ray Milland and Paulette Goddard. It's nothing particularly special, but the two lead actors make it worthwhile viewing.

Ken Harper (Milland) is a war correspondent in Lisbon. His new assistant, Sidney Royce (Goddard), arrives in the city, unaware that her identity has been stolen by a Nazi spy (Margaret Hayes) who has some top-secret plans drawn on her back in invisible ink.

Matters become extremely complicated as initially neither the good guys nor the bad guys are sure whether or not the real Sidney is a spy; eventually Sidney and Ken crack the case and round up the spy ring.

The plot is fairly unbelievable and far-fetched, but it leads to some amusing moments as various people try to get a gander at Goddard's back to see if she has the plans. The film is also somewhat interesting from an historical perspective, as it came out in January 1942, just after America entered the war.

Although the story is a bit preposterous, the breezy charm of Milland and Goddard makes it worthwhile. Milland makes any film better, and I particularly like Goddard's forthright self-confidence. Milland and Goddard have a good rapport in this film, and they would later be teamed by Paramount in more films, including REAP THE WILD WIND (1942), THE CRYSTAL BALL (1943), and KITTY (1945).

Roland Young and Cecil Kellaway lead the good guy contingent, with Albert Dekker among the baddies. The cast also includes Edward Norris, Charles Arnt, and Gerald Mohr. Mel Ruick can be heard as a radio announcer.

THE LADY HAS PLANS was directed by Sidney Lanfield, who later directed Goddard in the fun comedy STANDING ROOM ONLY (1944).

This film runs a quick 77 minutes. It was shot in black and white by Charles Lang. The costumes were by Edith Head.

My thanks to Carrie for making it possible for me to see this hard-to-find Paramount movie!

Tonight's Movie: The King's Speech (2010)

THE KING'S SPEECH is a very well-done, absorbing film which takes its place alongside other outstanding recent movies about the British royal family, THE QUEEN (2006) and THE YOUNG VICTORIA (2008).

THE KING'S SPEECH depicts the true story of England's King George VI (Colin Firth) -- father of the present Queen -- who is unexpectedly thrust onto the throne when his brother (Guy Pearce) abdicates. The abdication crisis is soon followed by England's entry into World War II, and it is critical that the new king overcome his lifelong stammer so that he can speak to the British people as he leads the nation during a perilous time in history.

Geoffrey Rush plays Lionel Logue, an unorthodox speech therapist who worked with the king for years and aided him in preparing to give his wartime speeches. Fans of the classic Firth-Ehle version of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (1995) will enjoy seeing Jennifer Ehle playing Logue's wife, Myrtle.

Much of the film feels like a three-character play between the king, his supportive wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham-Carter), and Logue. All three actors are excellent, particularly Firth and Bonham-Carter. Firth is simply superb as "Bertie," who grew up in an emotionally distant family but has created his own happy family life with his wife and two daughters; though initially reluctant to be king, he is determined to succeed. Bonham-Carter captures both Elizabeth's love for her husband and her regal steeliness, particularly in a scene where she refuses to be welcomed to a party by Wallis Simpson (Eve Best).

There are many more interesting actors who surface periodically, including Michael Gambon and Claire Bloom as King George V and Queen Mary; Anthony Andrews as Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin; Derek Jacobi as Archbishop Lang; and Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill.

Although I enjoyed the film very much, I felt at a bit of an emotional distance from it. Fact after fact presented in the film was correct, yet I found one part of my brain analyzing how much of the emoting was dramatic license and what might have actually been real. It's interesting I didn't have the same reaction to THE YOUNG VICTORIA, in particular; I'm not certain why I responded differently to the two films.

I also wished the film had delved a bit more deeply into wartime Britain. The film ends just as the war begins, so the audience isn't shown more of the royal family's leadership during the London Blitz. The film's languorous pacing might have been speeded up a bit in spots to allow for a few more minutes to complete the story.

Those minor quibbles aside, this is a very good film which is definitely worth seeing. Firth, in particular, gives a performance which is worthy of an Oscar nomination.

The film is rated R for swearing in a couple of sequences where Logue tries to help the emotionally repressed Bertie express himself. In the context of the story it makes sense, and it's as inoffensive as the use of such words can be. Otherwise the film is family friendly, excepting a brief, fairly oblique conversation between the Duchess of York and Winston Churchill about Wallis Simpson's hold on Edward VIII.

THE KING'S SPEECH was directed by Tom Hooper. It runs 118 minutes.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Tonight's Movie: The Tourist (2010)

I went to see THE TOURIST today with fairly low expectations. Reviews were tepid, and I had found the trailer somewhat disappointing. I went to see the film for the eye candy -- Venice and Angelina Jolie's dazzling wardrobe.

To my delight, however, I thoroughly enjoyed the film. There was no graphic violence, no pervasive bad language, and no sex. It was a good old-fashioned caper movie in the best sense of the word, reminiscent of late '50s and early '60s films like NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959) and CHARADE (1963). The movie featured charismatic stars, lush photography and scoring, and a nice plot twist or two. And, as advertised, Venice and Miss Jolie were beautiful.

Mysterious Elise Ward (Jolie) takes a train from Paris to Venice, tailed by Scotland Yard, Interpol, and more nefarious types. On the train Elise strikes up an acquaintance with American tourist Frank Tupelo (Johnny Depp), who resembles Elise's previous lover, Alexander Pierce.

Mafioso Reginald Shaw (Steven Berkoff) wants to reclaim millions Pierce stole from him, while Scotland Yard wants Pierce for back taxes. Both the good guys and the bad guys hope Elise will lead them to Pierce, while the baffled Frank -- who is increasingly attracted to Elise -- ends up in the middle of a very dangerous chase.

I found this film great fun. Jolie has screen presence to spare, and while I was dubious of Depp's scruffy, mild-mannered character when I saw the trailer, he comes off very well too. Jolie's glam wardrobe and hair call to mind beautiful actresses of the past such as Grace Kelly or Audrey Hepburn. I didn't see the plot twists coming and thought they were fun, and it's a movie I'll definitely be watching again.

Sometimes reviewers seem to take pleasant but fairly average films -- BOTTLE SHOCK (2008) and (500) DAYS OF SUMMER (2009) come to mind -- and build them up unreasonably as the greatest thing since sliced bread. Conversely, sometimes the same critics seem to expect every film to be Oscar-worthy, looking down on enjoyable entertainment like LEAP YEAR (2010). The latter seems to have been the case with THE TOURIST.

As far as I'm concerned, what's not to like? I spent a very pleasant holiday week afternoon at the movies. I'm looking forward to taking a fresh look at it on DVD with the knowledge gained from late plot developments.

Parental advisory: This film is rated PG-13 for violence and brief strong language. There is one notable death but it's not bloody and probably not anything worse than was ever shown in a '60s Sean Connery 007 movie. Compared to many recent films, the language was almost unnoticeable.

This film was directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. It runs 103 minutes. The supporting cast includes Paul Bettany and Timothy Dalton as two members of the force from Scotland Yard; having a former 007 in the cast was a nice touch.

A trailer can be seen at IMDb.

Tom of Motion Picture Gems and The Movie Goddess are fellow bloggers who also liked the film.

Around the Blogosphere This Week

Miscellaneous bits of news and fun stuff from around the Internet...a slightly delayed, Christmasy Christmastide edition!

...One of my favorite gifts, sent by a dear friend, was V IS FOR VON TRAPP: A MUSICAL FAMILY ALPHABET. Author William Anderson also wrote the excellent THE WORLD OF THE VON TRAPP FAMILY, as well as good books on Louisa May Alcott and Laura Ingalls Wilder. V IS FOR VON TRAPP is a must for fans of THE SOUND OF MUSIC.

...Catherine Woolley's GINNIE AND GENEVA books are being reprinted by Image Cascade Publishing, which has also republished series such as Lenora Mattingly Weber's BEANY MALONE books and my favorite books by Anne Emery. (Via ConMartin.)

...And speaking of children's books, Another Old Movie Blog has an excellent post up about Children's Books During World War II. She's especially looking for information and memories of such books by those who read them during or shortly after that time period. (As I shared with Jacqueline recently, one of my favorite children's books from WWII is Carolyn Haywood's PRIMROSE DAY.)

...Turning from books to movies, Barrie Maxwell has an excellent bunch of reviews of recent DVDs posted at The Digital Bits. Titles he looked at include DARK CITY, APPOINTMENT WITH DANGER, THE BING CROSBY COLLECTION, BING CROSBY: THE TELEVISION SPECIALS: VOLUME II (Christmas shows), WAKING SLEEPING BEAUTY, and THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER.

...And at the New York Times, Dave Kehr reviews recent Bing Crosby releases.

...Livius reviews John Ford's Christmastime film 3 GODFATHERS (1948) at Riding the High Country. This is one I've not yet seen. The Siren also has thoughts on the film.

...Discovering Ida takes a look at BEWARE, MY LOVELY (1952), an Ida Lupino-Robert Ryan film set at Christmas.

...Classic Movie Man lists favorite Christmas films, and there are more at Comet Over Hollywood.

...One of my favorite Christmas discoveries of recent years is HOLIDAY AFFAIR (1949), discussed by Jacqueline at Another Old Movie Blog.

...One of Margaret O'Brien's best films, OUR VINES HAVE TENDER GRAPES (1945), has a touching Christmas sequence. Edward G. Robinson and Agnes Moorehead play O'Brien's parents. The film is reviewed at Movie Classics.

...Here's a fun story my dad came across about two devoted Christmas decorators who fell in love.

...The Boston Globe gave an excellent review to AS ALWAYS, JULIA: THE LETTERS OF JULIA CHILD AND AVIS DEVOTO. I got this book for Christmas. :)

...Let's hope the incandescent light bulb ban is promptly repealed, or we're all going to be reading by dingy light from highly toxic CFL bulbs.

...A car from IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946) was recently purchased by a Colorado couple. (Via KC at Classic Movies.)

...There are some nice photos in a tribute to the team of Ricardo Montalban and Cyd Charisse at A Noodle in a Haystack.

...Happy 5th Anniversary to Greenbriar Picture Shows!

...We'll end this week with a charming photo of Peter Pan in London Park on Disneyland's Storybook Land Canal ride.

Have a great week!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Larceny, Inc. (1942)

LARCENY, INC., is the amusing tale of three ex-cons who plan the ultimate bank heist but then decide they'd rather be honest businessmen instead.

"Pressure" Maxwell (Edward G. Robinson) gets out of Sing-Sing alongside his dense-but-loyal aide Jug Martin (Broderick Crawford). The two men join forces with Weepy Davis (Edward Brophy) to buy out a luggage business which has a cellar adjoining the vault of the bank next door. The trio plan to dig their way into the vault...but then see their luggage business take off thanks to marketing efforts by Pressure's foster daughter (Jane Wyman) and an enthusiastic luggage salesman (Jack Carson).

Pressure and his gang plan to go straight, but then evil Leo (Anthony Quinn) gets out of the pen with the intent of carrying out the bank robbery. Matters reach a climax during a Christmas Eve finale which finds both Pressure and Jug trying to prevent the crime while dressed up in Santa Claus suits.

This is a cute, good-natured film based on a play by Laura and S.J. Perelman. Robinson is quite funny as the initially reluctant businessman who tries to shoo customers away from his store. He's ably supported by a deep supporting cast which also includes John Qualen, Harry Davenport, Barbara Jo Allen (Vera Vague), Jackie Gleason, and Grant Mitchell. The entire cast seems to be having a good time, and the audience does as well. The final Christmas sequence makes it a perfect film for viewing during the holiday season.

Wyman is really lovely in this film, teamed with her longtime costar Carson. Their other films together included PRINCESS O'ROURKE (1943) and THE DOUGHGIRLS (1944).

This black and white movie was directed by Lloyd Bacon. It runs 95 minutes.

LARCENY, INC., was released on DVD as part of the Warner Gangsters Vol. 4 Collection. Extras include a commentary track by film historians Dana Polan and Haden Guest.

This film can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies.

July 2019 Update: LARCENY, INC. will be reissued on DVD by the Warner Archive Collection in August 2019.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Sleep, My Love (1948)

This has been such a busy month I've seen relatively few films, but it's certainly been a good month for new-to-me Claudette Colbert movies. Since Thanksgiving I've seen
SINCE YOU WENT AWAY (1944), SECRETS OF A SECRETARY (1931), and THE GILDED LILY (1935). Tonight marked number four in the Colbert festival, SLEEP, MY LOVE.

SLEEP, MY LOVE is a psychological thriller in the tradition of GASLIGHT (1944). Alison Courtland (Claudette Colbert) wakes up on a train in the middle of the night, having no idea how she got there or why she has a gun in her purse.

Alison's husband Dick (Don Ameche) has reported her missing to Sergeant Strake (Raymond Burr). Dick seems relieved when Alison turns up unharmed, but we soon learn that Dick is drugging Alison as part of a plot to ultimately allow him to enjoy Alison's wealth with gorgeous Daphne (Hazel Brooks).

Fortunately Alison's new friend Bruce Elcott (Robert Cummings) quickly surmises that something fishy is going on, and along with his "honorary brother," Jimmie (Keye Luke), he sets out to solve the mystery.

SLEEP, MY LOVE is a most enjoyable film. Nothing in the plot is particularly surprising, but it's all carried off with polish by the excellent cast.

One of the hallmarks of Colbert's performances is that she radiates great intelligence. Given that, one may briefly wonder why her character doesn't suspect her husband sooner, but she's just fine as the terrified wife, and it does make some sense that a woman who normally has such a sunny disposition would be the last to suspect the man she married.

Cummings is particularly enjoyable as sharp-eyed Bruce, and he and Ameche have a nice thinly veiled verbal duel over a game of darts. Cummings also has a very amusing exchange with a maid (Lillian Randolph). He has a fun rapport with Keye Luke, and there are some cute bits related to Jimmie's marriage to Jeannie (Maria San Marco). Cummings is quite charming in a role which is something of a forerunner to his part in DIAL M FOR MURDER (1954), where he must save another woman from her husband's dastardly plans.

Particular kudos go to Hazel Brooks as the femme fatale. One can rather understand why Ameche is so desperate to be with her.

Rita Johnson lends good comic support as Alison's friend Barby. George Coulouris is Ameche's "four-eyed" henchman, with Queenie Smith as his wife. Jimmie Dodd (THE MICKEY MOUSE CLUB) appears in a couple scenes as an elevator boy, and Bess Flowers plays Ameche's secretary.

There's some stylish set design, with Colbert's ancestral home featuring a very creepy door knocker, an endlessly twisting staircase, a "jungle" conservatory, and effectively used sliding doors.

The movie was directed by Douglas Sirk, whose previous film was another thriller, the very enjoyable LURED (1947). SLEEP, MY LOVE was filmed in black and white by Joseph Valentine. The film runs 97 minutes.

The film began with the title "Mary Pickford Presents." The film's producers included Pickford and her husband, Charles "Buddy" Rogers.

SLEEP, MY LOVE isn't available in the U.S. on either VHS or DVD. It's available in multiple Region 2 DVDs, including German and Spanish editions. DVD Beaver reviewed the German DVD.

I watched SLEEP, MY LOVE thanks to our new Roku, which streams Netflix onto our TV set via our wireless network. I was extremely pleased with the Roku's picture quality; you'd never have known we weren't watching TCM or a DVD.

SLEEP, MY LOVE is one of a number of interesting Region 2 and other titles which have recently turned up on Netflix's "Watch Instantly" service so there will be lots more to enjoy on the Roku in the future.

Update: SLEEP, MY LOVE is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Olive Films.

September 2014 Update: I had the wonderful opportunity to see this film in 35mm at UCLA and wrote a little more on the film here.

Singer-Actress Lina Romay Dies at 91

Singer-actress Lina Romay has passed away at the age of 91.

Romay will always have a special place in my heart, as her first movie was my favorite film made by both Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth, YOU WERE NEVER LOVELIER (1942). Romay sang "Chiu, Chiu" and "Wedding in the Spring" in the film with Xavier Cugat's band.

She appeared in several more films, including a supporting role as Geraldine Brooks' best friend in EMBRACEABLE YOU (1948), which I reviewed last September.

There's more information at the Lina Romay website.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve 2010

The view in our church this Christmas Eve:

"All is calm, all is bright..."

Have a wonderful Christmas!

Merry Christmas to All!

Best wishes for a very happy Christmas!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Almost Christmas!

It's been a hectic few days without much time to blog. I decided to take a look back and see how much blogging I did prior to last Christmas and found it was much the same story!

Last year's post of December 23rd almost could have been written tonight, except that I just finished up work today, not yesterday. Check it out for a number of fun Christmas-related links which are still relevant today.

Here are a few new links for this Christmas:

...At True Classics Carrie describes her love for WHITE CHRISTMAS (1954), which I share.

...Greenbriar Picture Shows has a marvelous multi-part post on WHITE CHRISTMAS and the VistaVision process: Part One and Part Two are up, with more to come. (Update: Here's Part Three, the conclusion.) Lots of fabulous photos! For more on VistaVision, visit 50 Westerns From the 50s.

...Last May Mark at Where Danger Lives posted about CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY (1944), starring Deanna Durbin and Gene Kelly. It was just republished at Movie FanFare.

...Mary McNamara of the L.A. Times describes being tourists with children in London over the Christmas holidays. As much as I'd like to return to London, I'm glad I'm not there right now, with all the weather-related travel delays!

...Susan King of the L.A. Times suggests viewing classic Hollywood comedies at this time of year as an alternative to Christmas movies...although I love Christmas films, I can't argue with her recommendations of movies like EASY LIVING (1937) and IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934).

...For a thoughtful change of pace, visit "Switching Gears as Christmas Nears" by Marcia Morrissey.

Merry Almost Christmas!

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