Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Fox Movie Channel in June: Highlights

Here's a preview of some of the interesting titles airing on Fox Movie Channel in June.

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

...On June 1st, James Mason plays Rommel, THE DESERT FOX (1951). I saw the end of this film a few months ago; it was quite disturbing, but that said, Mason's always worth watching.

...Jeanne Crain fans will want to catch one of her earliest films, IN THE MEANTIME, DARLING (1944), on June 3rd. Not a great film, but an interesting artifact of the WWII era, and a rather unlikely film for director Otto Preminger.

...Later on the 3rd, Crain can be seen in an excellent film, PEOPLE WILL TALK (1951), also starring Cary Grant. It's an unusual movie, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, which is one of my family's favorites. My favorite scene: Grant and Walter Slezak running a model train set. There's also a memorable long discussion between Grant and Crain that's rather remarkable for the amount of emotional territory it covers regarding the prospect of having a child.

...On June 4th there's another film directed by Mankiewicz, HOUSE OF STRANGERS (1949). It's a film noir starring Edward G. Robinson, Richard Conte, and Susan Hayward. Look for a young Efrem Zimbalist Jr., too.

...DESTINATION GOBI (1953) was part of my Memorial Day Weekend viewing. It's an unusual WWII story starring Richard Widmark which I found enjoyable. It was directed by Robert Wise. The film airs on Fox on June 6th.

...The pre-Code BORN TO BE BAD (1934) is one of the less appealing films ever made by Cary Grant and Loretta Young. Still, it's worth taking a look at these wonderful stars many years before they were teamed in the Christmas classic THE BISHOP'S WIFE (1947). BORN TO BE BAD airs on June 7th.

...SHOCK (1946) is another movie I saw recently. It's not a perfect film but it was nonetheless quite enjoyable. It airs on both June 9th and June 16th. The stars are Vincent Price and Lynn Bari.

...On June 13th, Gene Tierney, George Montgomery, and Lynn Bari star in CHINA GIRL (1942), directed by Henry Hathaway.

...June 14th ANNA AND THE KING OF SIAM (1946) will be shown. This is a straight dramatic version of the same story which later became the famous Rodgers and Hammerstein musical THE KING AND I. Rex Harrison and Irene Dunne are perfectly cast as the King and Anna, with Linda Darnell as Tuptim and Gale Sondergaard as Lady Thiang.

...On June 16th Jeanne Crain is back on FMC in her Oscar-nominated role in Elia Kazan's PINKY (1949).

...It seems to be "Jeanne Crain Month," as CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN (1950) airs on June 24th. Crain plays the eldest daughter of Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy in this family classic.

...Richard Widmark was Oscar nominated for his very first film, Henry Hathaway's KISS OF DEATH (1947). It's on June 26th.

...On June 27th James Stewart and Maureen O'Hara star in MR. HOBBS TAKES A VACATION (1962). I haven't seen that one since I was a teenager!

...One of Gene Tierney's very earliest film roles was in HUDSON'S BAY (1941), costarring Paul Muni and Laird Cregar. (Cregar has quite a following, if his unofficial fan club on Twitter is any indication!) It's on June 28th.

A reminder: Fox Movie Channel tends to show titles in several-month cycles, and there are many other good films which have been highlighted here in the last few months which are still currently in the rotation on Fox. There's a box to search titles on the upper right of the main Fox Movie Channel web page.

Happy June movie viewing!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Lady in a Jam (1942)

I'm second to none in my admiration for wonderful Irene Dunne, but it must be admitted that LADY IN A JAM is one of the weaker entries in her very impressive list of film credits.

Dunne plays the title character, broke heiress Jane Palmer. The film attempts to be a screwball comedy, but the problem is that for a fair amount of the running time Jane is not just giddy, she's stupid and mean. She completely ignores financial reality and is unkind to those who have loyally tried to help her.

Things take a turn for the better when Dr. Enright (Patric Knowles), a psychiatrist employed by a Palmer family foundation, attempts to help Jane at the behest of her exasperated business manager (Eugene Pallette). Dr. Enright tries to understand Jane's attitudes, and in his role as her doctor he accompanies her to visit her grandmother (Queenie Vassar) in Arizona.

The film takes a turn for the better in Arizona, thanks to Ralph Bellamy as an off-key would-be Gene Autry type, as well as a large number of scenes filmed on location in Mesa. Nice location photography is always a plus for me!

The second half of the film still doesn't fly on all cyclinders, but Jane becomes more likeable, especially as she begins to fall for the good doctor. The film's short 78-minute running time works in the movie's favor, as it's over and done with before it has a chance to become too annoying!

Knowles, perhaps best known as Will Scarlett in the classic THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938), is a nice guy with some good timing on his line readings, but he doesn't have a great deal of chemistry with Dunne. Perhaps some of the issue is that Knowles was 13 years younger than Dunne. Dunne was one of a couple actresses of the era -- Jean Arthur was another -- sometimes paired with a younger man; usually it works, but combined with the storyline, it's all just a bit of a muddled mess. The filmmakers seemed reluctant to have the film end on too romantic a note.

The film was directed by Gregory La Cava, who had earlier directed Dunne in SYMPHONY OF SIX MILLION (1932) and the previous year's more successful comedy UNFINISHED BUSINESS (1941), in which Dunne was well teamed with the more mature Robert Montgomery and Preston Foster.

The cast also includes Samuel S. Hinds, Russell Hicks, and perpetual cop Edward Gargan. (One of these days I'll take the time to add up how many of his over 300 credits were as a policeman!) Reed Hadley, Phyllis Kennedy, and Charles Lane have small parts.

The black and white cinematography was by Hal Mohr.

LADY IN A JAM was recently released in DVD-R format from the Universal Vault Series, available exclusively from Amazon.

Update: LADY IN A JAM will be released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber Studio Classics in April 2023.  Additional update: Here is my review of the Blu-ray release.

Tonight's Movie: Michael Shayne, Private Detective (1940)

I've gradually been developing a real appreciation for actor Lloyd Nolan, so I was glad when I recently had the chance to pick up a DVD set of his MICHAEL SHAYNE mysteries for a good price. I'd never heard of this series of detective films before some of the titles came out on DVD a couple of years ago.

Michael Shayne is a private investigator based on a character created by Brett Halliday. Watching Nolan as the wisecracking, broke P.I., who has an iffy relationship with the police, I couldn't help wondering if Shayne might have provided some of the inspiration for one of my favorite TV characters, Jim Rockford!

MICHAEL SHAYNE, PRIVATE DETECTIVE is the first film in the seven-film series. Four of the films are part of the Michael Shayne Mysteries, Vol. I, and another of the movies was released as a single title, DRESSED TO KILL. Volume 1 includes informative featurettes about the history of Michael Shayne. Alas, to date there hasn't been a Volume 2 release with the final two titles. Nolan made all the films between 1940 and 1942.

The plot of MICHAEL SHAYNE, PRIVATE DETECTIVE is a bit meandering and not always easy to follow, but it's also somewhat beside the point. It's simply fun watching Nolan's genial character, and I also enjoyed the supporting cast and the setting, including beautiful mansions, men in fedoras, and a gorgeous convertible, which IMDb identifies as a 1940 La Salle.

Leading lady Marjorie Weaver is cute, after initially being unlikeable; Weaver appears in a total of three of the films, each time as a different character!

There are great faces scattered throughout the cast. Elizabeth Patterson and Charles Coleman are very amusing as Weaver's aunt and butler. (When Shayne is trying to change clothes, Patterson's somewhat dotty character says "Don't mind me, young man, I was once an art student!") Clarence Kolb, Walter Abel, Irving Bacon, Douglas Dumbrille, and Donald MacBride are also in the movie.

The film was directed by Eugene Forde, who directed two more titles in the series, SLEEPERS WEST (1941) and DRESSED TO KILL (1941). The movie runs 77 minutes.

The actors in future entries in the series include Lynn Bari, Henry Wilcoxon, Mary Beth Hughes, George Reeves, Phil Silvers, Janis Carter, and William Demarest. I think I'm going to have a good time becoming familiar with these films.

As a side note, Netflix does not currently have the Shayne DVDs in stock, but they can be obtained from retailers such as Amazon or Deep Discount.

TCM in June: Highlights

It's time for summer, hooray! And Turner Classic Movies has a fabulous June schedule ahead to enjoy.

Jean Simmons is the June Star of the Month. 26 Simmons films will begin airing on Tuesday, June 7th. I'll be posting more about that in the near future.

Here's a look at just some of the many great things ahead on TCM in June:

...The month starts in fine style with a Robert Montgomery-Madge Evans film on my "must see" list, PICCADILLY JIM (1936), airing on June 1st.

...The evening of June 1st is a marvelous lineup of espionage films, several of which I've enjoyed in recent months: the Fox film THE HOUSE ON 92ND STREET (1945), a docu-noir with Lloyd Nolan; Margaret Lockwood and Rex Harrison in the very enjoyable NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH (1940); Fred MacMurray and Joan Crawford in the somewhat unbelievable yet very entertaining ABOVE SUSPICION (1943); Anna Neagle and Trevor Howard in ODETTE (1951); Errol Flynn in NORTHERN PURSUIT (1943); and Neagle plus Richard Greene in YELLOW CANARY (1943).

...IT HAPPENED TOMORROW (1944) is one of my very favorite movies starring Dick Powell and Linda Darnell. It's a fantasy directed with great style and charm by Rene Clair (I MARRIED A WITCH). It will be shown June 2nd.

...My kids are looking forward to the "Drive-In Double Features," which begin on June 2nd. If monster movies are your thing, check out the TCM schedule each Thursday evening in June.

...As a Dennis Morgan fan, I have to record KISSES FOR BREAKFAST (1941) on June 4th. It costars Jane Wyatt and Shirley Ross.

...I love character actress Jane Cowl, who made just a handful of films, including ONCE MORE, MY DARLING (1949) and NO MAN OF HER OWN (1950). Cowl stars with Bette Davis and Barry Sullivan in Curtis Bernhardt's PAYMENT ON DEMAND (1951) on June 4th.

...GOODBYE, MY FANCY (1951) was an interesting if not completely successful film starring Joan Crawford and Robert Young. Southern Californians might enjoy seeing Occidental College as it looked over 60 years ago. It airs on June 5th.

...June 6th is a day of Cary Grant movies. Glenn Erickson recently referred to EVERY GIRL SHOULD BE MARRIED (1948), costarring Betsy Drake and Franchot Tone, as MAD MEN: THE EARLY YEARS. I haven't seen this movie since I was a teenager and his review certainly made me want to take a fresh look.

...Also on June 6th, the intriguing teaming of Cyd Charisse, George Sanders, and Ernie Kovacs (?!) in FIVE GOLDEN HOURS (1960).

...Alexis Smith receives a birthday tribute on June 8th. 8 films will be shown, including THE SMILING GHOST (1941), a very early Smith film; SAN ANTONIO (1945) with Errol Flynn; THE TWO MRS. CARROLLS (1947) and CONFLICT (1945), both with Humphrey Bogart as a wife murderer; and WHIPLASH (1948), which I was fortunate enough to see in a stunning restored print at the Noir City Film Festival in April. Smith was an underrated actress, and this day is a great chance to become more familiar with her work.

...There's a William Wellman pre-Code festival on June 9th, including delicious fare such as NIGHT NURSE (1931) with Barbara Stanwyck and LOVE IS A RACKET (1932) with Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

...June 13th is a real treat, the 1929 version of THE LAST OF MRS. CHEYNEY, starring Norma Shearer and Basil Rathbone. I loved the 1937 version with Joan Crawford, William Powell, and Robert Montgomery.

...Also on June 13th: The 20th Century-Fox film LLOYD'S OF LONDON, starring Tyrone Power and Madeleine Carroll. It's part of a tribute to Freddie Bartholomew. (Only on TCM!)

...June 14th it's Dorothy McGuire Day, including THE ENCHANTED COTTAGE (1945), TILL THE END OF TIME (1946), FRIENDLY PERSUASION (1956), A SUMMER PLACE (1959), and SUSAN SLADE (1961).

...Young Lana Turner's at her most beautiful in MARRIAGE IS A PRIVATE AFFAIR (1944) on June 15th. She has an amazing wardrobe designed by Irene.

...My very favorite Fred Astaire-Rita Hayworth film, YOU WERE NEVER LOVELIER (1942), is being shown again on June 16th. I never miss a chance to plug this relatively overlooked movie, which has a magical Jerome Kern score and was filmed in shimmering black and white.

...Audie Murphy films are shown on TCM fairly rarely, as so many of them were made for Universal. On June 17th TCM will show four Murphy titles made between 1949 and 1964.

...On June 20th, try to catch CRY WOLF (1947), an Errol Flynn-Barbara Stanwyck film which received a number of interesting comments when I saw it in March.

...TCM had planned an eight-film birthday tribute for the late Jane Russell before she passed away, and that day, June 21st, will now serve as a memorial tribute. I'm looking forward to UNDERWATER! (1951), which Matthew wrote about this weekend at Movietone News. YOUNG WIDOW (1946) also sounds rather interesting. HIS KIND OF WOMAN (1951) and MACAO (1952) are also being shown.

...Robert Osborne's picks on June 22nd include both versions of THE PRISONER OF ZENDA, back to back! The 1937 edition stars Ronald Colman, Madeleine Carroll, David Niven, Mary Astor, and, best of all, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in a scene-stealing performance. Then the 1952 version stars Stewart Granger, Deborah Kerr, James Mason, and Jane Greer. That's entertainment!

...I'm very excited about finally being able to see STATION WEST (1948), starring Dick Powell and Jane Greer. It airs along with five other Greer films on the evening of June 25th. The other films: OUT OF THE PAST (1947), THE BIG STEAL (1949), THE COMPANY SHE KEEPS (1951), RUN FOR THE SUN (1956), and DESPERATE SEARCH (1952). If you're a fan of Greer -- or Powell, Robert Mitchum, or Richard Widmark -- start the DVR early in the evening and let it run for roughly the next ten hours!

...An evening of Hitchcock on June 27th includes a pair of his lesser-seen titles, STAGE FRIGHT (1950) and I CONFESS (1953).

...June 29th is another wonderful "theme" evening, this time featuring films set in Scotland. The movies kick off with I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING! (1945), a Powell-Pressburger film I had the thrill of discovering for the first time in 2008. Most highly recommended! That's followed by a musical I've always been partial to, BRIGADOON (1954), starring Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse, and then the less well-known LET'S BE HAPPY with Vera-Ellen and Tony Martin. (Unfortunately, LET'S BE HAPPY is a CinemaScope film which TCM only seems to have available as a pan-and-scan.)

There are three more "Scottish" titles on the 29th, including David Tomlinson and Margaret Rutherford in CASTLE IN THE AIR (1952); when TCM meant to show this a couple years ago, the obscure RAINBOW 'ROUND MY SHOULDER was shown instead! CASTLE IN THE AIR is an alternate title for RAINBOW, and TCM must have been shipped the wrong print. So fingers crossed for this showing!

...The month ends with a tribute to director Anthony Mann on June 30th. I really enjoyed TWO O'CLOCK COURAGE (1945) with Ann Rutherford as a spunky cab driver helping amnesiac Tom Conway. THE BLACK BOOK (1949), a French Revolution tale with Robert Cummings and Arlene Dahl, also sounds very interesting.

Happy June viewing!

June 6th Update: TCM Star of the Month: Jean Simmons.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Tonight's Movie: The Gallant Hours (1960)

THE GALLANT HOURS is a superb portrait of Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey Jr. (James Cagney) during the five weeks leading to the U.S. victory at Guadalcanal.

The film was a Cagney-Montgomery Production, with Cagney in the lead role and his good friend Robert Montgomery producing, directing, and narrating. They created an unusual documentary-style war film, filled with drama and tension yet without a single battle scene, other than bombs falling in the background on Gualdalcanal.

The film had my full attention from its unique opening with the a cappella singing of the Roger Wagner Chorale and Montgomery's narration introducing Halsey. The sequence is available to view on the TCM website. The haunting music is still echoing in my mind hours later.

The film depicts a point in the war when all might be lost, and Cagney gives a tremendous performance in a study on leadership and courage under enormous pressure. Halsey maintains that "There are no great men, only great challenges that ordinary men are forced by circumstances to meet," yet watching the film, one cannot help feeling that the war was won by many great men, Halsey among them.

The film conveys a strong sense of "you are there" intimacy as the characters deal naturally with the mundane (including Halsey's needle phobia) and the epic. An early sequence in which Halsey plays a hunch and has his plane detour from its planned route to Guadalcanal is an excellent example of what makes the film so interesting, with the officers' chatter and jokes mixed with Halsey making a decision which likely saved the lives of all on board. Over the course of the film Cagney as Halsey shows both the weight of making decisions which will cost other men's lives and the decisiveness and courage he showed under the most trying circumstances.

One of the sequences with the strongest impact shows Halsey sending his friends, Admiral Scott (Sydney Smith) and Admiral Callaghan (Nelson Leigh), off to very possible death during the naval battle for Guadalcanal. Beneath the hearty, friendly dialogue, it's the subtext and the unspoken words which are important.

With little or no dialogue Cagney conveys Halsey's reactions at decisive turning points, such as Admiral Yamamoto's plane being downed; in that scene he simultaneously conveys great relief, the profound weight of the moment, a humane regret at his Japanese counterpart's death, and a need to maintain an emotional even keel. It's a performance deserving of highest praise, and it's a shame that the film was relatively overlooked in its day. Now, half a century later, perhaps the true worth of the film and its lead performance can be reassessed.

If I have any criticism of the film, it's that the choral music should perhaps have been tamped down a bit as the film went on. I love the music, but some restraint in its use might have been a good thing. That said, it's a unique and effective way to score a film, and it contributes strongly to the film's unusual mood.

Cagney is backed by an outstanding supporting cast, including Dennis Weaver as Halsey's loyal aide. Ward Costello, Vaughn Taylor, Richard Jaeckel, William Schallert, and Les Tremayne are among the large cast. James Cagney Jr. and Robert Montgomery Jr. both had bit parts as marines.

Art Gilmore, who passed away last fall, narrates the Japanese sequences.

The film was shot in beautiful black and white by the great Joe MacDonald. The script was by Beirne Lay Jr. and Frank D. Gilroy. The movie runs 115 minutes.

This was, sadly, the last film directed by Robert Montgomery. Montgomery began directing doing uncredited second unit work on THEY WERE EXPENDABLE (1945), as well as filling in for John Ford when Ford was incapacitated. Montgomery went on to direct LADY IN THE LAKE (1947), RIDE THE PINK HORSE (1947), ONCE MORE, MY DARLING (1949), and EYE WITNESS (1950). In 1955 he won the Tony Award for Best Direction of the original Broadway production of THE DESPERATE HOURS, which starred Karl Malden and Paul Newman.

THE GALLANT HOURS is available on VHS and on an MGM DVD-R.

The film is shown from time to time on Turner Classic Movies, and it can also be seen on Netflix Watch Instantly. This is a film I definitely recommend.

Other Memorial Day Weekend viewing: THE FROGMEN (1951), DESTINATION GOBI (1953), ICE STATION ZEBRA (1968).

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

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...Last week my husband was visiting the film archives at USC and met Marilyn Ann Moss, author of a new biography, RAOUL WALSH: THE TRUE ADVENTURES OF HOLLYWOOD'S LEGENDARY DIRECTOR. It should be a fascinating book. Years ago I enjoyed Walsh's autobiography, EACH MAN IN HIS TIME.

...Thanks to Elisabeth for letting me know about the Recyled Movie Costumes website. The site's filled with fun costume-related movie and TV trivia, such as a dress worn by Roberta Shore on THE VIRGINIAN which was later worn by other actresses on the show, or this costume seen in MGM's GREEN DOLPHIN STREET (1947) and LITTLE WOMEN (1949). There are many more examples to explore!

...Looks like the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, aka William and Catherine, will be visiting Anne of Green Gables land, Prince Edward Island, when they tour Canada this summer.

...Classic Movie Man celebrated lovely Jeanne Crain's birthday last week.

...I've been enjoying exploring Dorian Tenore-Bartilucci's blog, Tales of the Easily Distracted. Her post on THE DARK CORNER (1946) is a great example of her work. Be sure to visit Dorian's older posts, such as this one on another favorite, I WAKE UP SCREAMING (1941).

...The Ava Gardner Museum in Smithfield, North Carolina, has a Twitter account.

...Glenn Erickson reviews FATE IS THE HUNTER (1964) at DVD Savant.

...Carrie's got a nice summery pic of Robert Montgomery on his yacht at Classic Montgomery.

...Here's another great photo, of Clark Gable and Gene Tierney taking a break during filming of NEVER LET ME GO (1953). (Via The Old Hollywood.)

...Nikki discusses Disney's POCAHONTAS (1995) at True Classics. That's a film I've not yet seen, though it has two of my all-time favorite Disney songs. It's on my list to catch up with eventually!

...New book: LADY BLUE EYES: MY LIFE WITH FRANK, by Barbara Sinatra, will be released Tuesday. USA Today has some details.

...Maureen O'Hara will host the Maureen O'Hara Classic Film Festival in Glengarriff, Ireland, next month. The official website is here. The Festival also has a Twitter account and Facebook page. (Via Moira Finnie, who recently joined Twitter.)

...Ty Burr of the Boston Globe and Roger Ebert expose a modern projection problem: many theaters are using 3-D lenses to project 2-D films, resulting in murky films which are difficult to see properly. If you attend a 2-D film and see two stacked beams of light in the projection window, instead of one, you've got a problem.

...Clara, who lives in Chile, shares a discussion she had with her grandparents about classic movie stars in a charming post at Via Margutta 51. I also enjoyed taking a look back at Clara's November post on her favorite films by director Mitchell Leisen.

...I loved this photo of John Payne celebrating his birthday on the set of TENNESSEE'S PARTNER (1955). It's posted at 50 Westerns From the 50s.

...I recently bought the new hardcover book SOUTHERN BISCUITS by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart, and it's a beauty. I'm really looking forward to trying out some recipes.

...Another Southern-themed cookbook came out in March: QUICK-FIX SOUTHERN: HOMEMADE HOSPITALITY IN 30 MINUTES OR LESS. The author is Rebecca Lang, an editor at SOUTHERN LIVING.

...Kristina has been busy adding photos to her blog, Kristina's Kinema, and at the Landmark Report she recently discussed favorite pirate movies.

...Notable Passing: Actress Phyllis Avery, the one-time wife of actor-director Don Taylor, has passed away at the age of 88. Avery costarred on THE RAY MILLAND SHOW: MEET MR. MCNULTY in the early '50s.

Enjoy the rest of the Memorial Day weekend, and have a great week!

Tonight's Movie: Ice Station Zebra (1968)

This weekend's Memorial Day themed viewing continued today with ICE STATION ZEBRA, a Cold War thriller about an American nuclear submarine on a dangerous mission at the "top of the world."

In a nutshell, the Americans are trying to beat the Russians to a cannister of film from a satellite, which is the movie's "MacGuffin." The film is based on the novel of the same name by Alistair MacLean.

The movie has several things going for it, starting with strong performances by Rock Hudson as submarine commander James Ferraday and Patrick McGoohan as a British spy. Hudson and McGoohan are both highly watchable and believable in their respective roles; McGoohan memorably shows what a great actor can do with some well-written exposition during an excellent scene where he tells Hudson about "our German scientists, your German scientists, and their German scientists." If the film had had more such scenes it would have been a lot better.

The film's pluses also include outstanding Oscar-nominated photography by Daniel L. Fapp and a stirring musical score by Michel Legrand.

Unfortunately, while it's worth seeing, the film is hampered by numerous problems. At roughly 148 minutes, the film is unnecessarily long and in desperate need of editing. For instance, there was an entire minute or so wasted near the start of the film simply watching cars driving around, without any clarity as to who we're watching or why.

More significantly, the character played by James Brown was really rather extraneous to the plot; I suspect someone like Darryl Zanuck, who famously turned A LETTER TO FOUR WIVES into A LETTER TO THREE WIVES, would have cut him from the script. He serves no purpose other than to be one more suspect as a double agent. If all his scenes had been cut, such as those where he interacts with the men under his command, the story would have remained exactly the same but it would have been a much tighter running time.

The plot, in general, is overly murky, particularly during the last half hour, which requires the audience to pay extremely close attention to a shell game with the cannister of film.

It was also jarring to go from the relative realism of the well-done submarine sequences to the Arctic setting, which was little more than styrofoam blocks of ice in a soundstage. I'm willing to suspend disbelief if a story is strong, but the plot mostly dies in the Arctic scenes, and the clearly make-believe setting didn't help matters.

The great Lloyd Nolan was limited to a single scene at the start of the film, while on the other hand Ernest Borgnine hams it up as a Russian defector for far too much screen time. Alf Kjellin plays a Russian commander. The submarine crew includes Gerald S. O'Loughlin and Ron Masak.

The movie was directed by John Sturges, whose films included THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960 and THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963).

I recorded the film from Turner Classic Movies, which did a very nice job showing the film in its original "roadshow" version, with the Overture, Intermission, and Exit music intact. The movie will be shown on TCM again on June 11, 2011.

ICE STATION ZEBRA was released on VHS in 1992. It was released on DVD in 2005; the DVD can be seen via Netflix.

The trailer is available at IMDb or TCM.

The Latest Joel McCrea Ranch Update

My thanks to regular reader Jane (aka Simple Gifts) for sharing an April article about progress at the Joel McCrea Ranch.

As of last month, the 1400-square-foot Visitor's Center was nearly completed and the ranch is on schedule to open for public tours this November.

I would certainly love to be the historian organizing the thousands of photographs...what a wonderful task. (I actually did a similar job as a college intern at the Kimberly Crest mansion in Redlands, where I discovered childhood photos of actress Carole Lombard.) There's still more work to do, including completion of renovations and organizing a docent program. Wyatt McCrea, Joel and Frances McCrea's grandson, would like to eventually add cattle and farming demonstrations.

For information on contributing to this endeavor, visit the McCrea Ranch Foundation.

Previously: March 19, 2011; November 5, 2010; April 25, 2010.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Destination Gobi (1953)

Tonight I've enjoyed a double bill of Richard Widmark WWII films, with THE FROGMEN (1951) followed by DESTINATION GOBI, which was released two years later.

DESTINATION GOBI is a Technicolor film directed by master craftsman Robert Wise. (Two weeks ago I watched a far different Wise movie, the 1951 film noir THE HOUSE ON TELEGRAPH HILL.) In DESTINATION GOBI Widmark plays Chief Petty Officer Samuel T. McHale, a longtime Navy man who improbably finds himself "babysitting" a small crew of Navy weathermen stationed in the Gobi Desert. The team is responsible for helping to forecast weather in the Pacific Theatre.

When Japanese airplanes destroy the weather station, taking out the radio system and killing the crew's commanding officer (Russell Collins), CPO McHale takes charge. McHale decides his men have the best chance of survival if they abandon the station and attempt to reach the sea, several hundred miles across the Gobi Desert.

The Navy men are aided by a Mongolian tribe led by the mercurial Kengtu (Murvyn Vye). Kengtu isn't completely trustworthy, yet he and the "1st Mongolian Calvary" always seem to turn up when the Americans really need help.

The film is said to be based on a true story, and the script blends sarcastic humor, poignancy, and flashes of action to create an absorbing, completely unique WWII saga. It's a fairly rare thing to see sailors attempting to evade the Japanese army while riding camels across the desert!

Widmark is always highly watchable, and as the frustrated Navy man longing to return to the sea, he's as interesting as ever. The actors playing his ragtag crew of weathermen include Don Taylor, Casey Adams (Max Showalter), Martin Milner, and Darryl Hickman, all of whom do a good job differentiating their characters. Ross Bagdasarian is properly annoying as the most negative member of the crew.

Murvyn Vye, who plays Kengtu, created the role of Jigger, the villain, in the original 1945 Broadway production of CAROUSEL; he's believable as the Mongolian tribal leader. Leonard Strong plays a key role as another Mongol tribesman.

Alvy Moore (SUSAN SLEPT HERE) has one scene during an amusing sequence in which the Navy brass in Washington try to figure out why their weather crew has requisitioned 60 saddles.

The Technicolor cinematography was by Charles G. Clarke. He and Wise created some very striking shots, with Nevada standing in for the Gobi Desert; one of my favorite scenes was when the men pass their "Skipper's" burial place as they leave camp, with a backdrop of beautiful cloud-filled skies.

The serviceable score was composed by Sol Kaplan. The movie runs 90 minutes.

DESTINATION GOBI is not available on DVD or VHS in the U.S. It's been released on a Region 2 DVD from Spain, and it can also be seen via Amazon's Instant Video pay service.

This movie is also shown occasionally on Fox Movie Channel. It will next air on FMC on June 6, 2011.

A trailer can be seen at IMDb.

2012 Update: DESTINATION GOBI is now available on DVD-R via the Fox Cinema Archives.

Tonight's Movie: The Frogmen (1951)

It seems appropriate that the first film seen this Memorial Day Weekend celebrates the U.S. Navy. THE FROGMEN, a well-made and often exciting movie about an underwater demolition team during World War II, stars two of my favorite actors, Richard Widmark and Dana Andrews.

Widmark plays Lt. Cmdr. John Lawrence, who finds it rough going when he's assigned to replace a respected officer killed at Iwo Jima. The men, including Chief Jake Flannigan (Andrews) and Flannigan's buddy "Pappy" Creighton (Jeffrey Hunter), don't care for Lawrence's "by the book" attitude. After a series of incidents, including Lawrence disarming a live torpedo, Lawrence and the men earn each other's respect.

This was a very well-done film with several outstanding sequences. It was fascinating watching the precision with which the "frogmen" entered the water on their missions -- sometimes without any sort of wetsuits -- and then were picked up by grabbing a looped rope as their boat passed the line of swimmers at a fairly fast rate of speed. These scenes are good movie-making which also give one great appreciation for those who actually did such dangerous jobs.

Another great set piece has Jeffrey Hunter's character trapped in sick bay with a live torpedo while water rushes in. There's excellent byplay between Widmark and Andrews in this nail-biting scene. Watching Widmark's character working on the torpedo called to mind one of my favorite old British TV series about WWII, DANGER UXB.

This film also underscores the impact a tragic scene can have without modern-day filmmakers' reliance on blood and gore. A boat full of men simply vanishing due to a direct hit was stunning and dramatic.

As one might expect, Widmark and Andrews are excellent as two talented, edgy men with tough jobs. They both mean well but don't always make the best choices, particularly Andrews' character, whose desire to pull a wartime prank on the Marines leads to his best friend being seriously injured.

Widmark and Andrews are well supported by Gary Merrill as Lt. Cmdr. Pete Vincent, the ship's commander who befriends Lawrence as he deals with the men in his new command. I like Merrill quite a bit and thought he did a good job as Lawrence's pipe-smoking sounding board.

Harvey Lembeck and Jack Warden have supporting roles. Robert Wagner is listed in the cast, but I had a hard time finding him!

THE FROGMEN was directed by Lloyd Bacon and filmed in black and white by Norbert Brodine. Brodine was nominated for the Academy Award along with Oscar Millard, a nominee for Best Original Story. The film runs 96 minutes.

THE FROGMEN is available on DVD in the Fox War Classics series. The sole extras are 3 trailers.

Disneyland: The Colors of Mary Blair

There's a terrific new exhibit at Disneyland's Disney Gallery, The Colors of Mary Blair.

The exhibit celebrates all of Blair's Disney work, for both films and theme parks, with a special emphasis on It's a Small World. It's a Small World is celebrating its 45th anniversary at Disneyland today, May 28th.

A few of Blair's designs for the films CINDERELLA (1950) and ALICE IN WONDERLAND (1951):

I loved that Blair's pencil marks are visible underneath the paint in some of the illustrations; it's like having a small peek into the original creative process. Some of the pencil marks are visible around the horse toward the left of this design for the opening credits of SO DEAR TO MY HEART (1948):

One of the designs for the Grand Canyon Concourse mural at Disney World's Contemporary Resort, circa 1969:

I've always wondered what became of Blair's Tomorrowland murals, a couple of which are pictured in the next two designs:

I was happy to learn from one of the notes posted that the murals still exist in Tomorrowland...

...covered by the current artwork.

I wish there were a way to remove them without causing damage and display them elsewhere.

Of course, the exhibit is also filled with Blair's "Small World" designs, such as this one:

This exhibit is highly recommended for those interested in the role of a true Disney Legend in developing classic films and theme parks.

Related posts: Today at Disneyland: Star Tours - The Adventures Continue; Today at Disney's California Adventure: The Little Mermaid - Ariel's Undersea Adventure.

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