Friday, September 30, 2011

TCM in October: Highlights

It doesn't seem possible that September has already flown by, but indeed it has, and so it's time to take a look at some of the treasures available in October on Turner Classic Movies.

First, though, some important news: it was announced in a press release yesterday that TCM host Robert Osborne returns to the air on December 1st. It will be great to have him back!

TCM has announced that critic Peter Travers and singer Chris Isaak will handle hosting duties from the 3rd through the 16th. There's no word yet on the hosts for the second half of the month.

The October Star of the Month is Buster Keaton, beginning Sunday, October 2nd, and continuing on four more nights through October 30th. Since my knowledge of both Keaton and silent films is very limited, I won't be doing a separate Star of the Month post this month. Needless to say, it's a great month for fans of Buster Keaton and for those who would like to learn more about his career.

TCM will also have a special centennial tribute honoring director Nicholas Ray, beginning on Tuesday, October 4th, and continuing each Tuesday through the end of the month. There are plenty of spooky movies on tap for October, as well as some very interesting tributes to Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Nina Foch, Zachary Scott, and cinematographer John Alton, not to mention an evening focusing on the first films made by four major movie stars when they returned from service in WWII.

Here are just some of the great titles ahead in October:

...Fans of Marsha Hunt -- and who isn't?! -- should be sure to catch the delightful little film THE AFFAIRS OF MARTHA (1942) on October 3rd. When I met Miss Hunt last April I had the opportunity to tell her this was one of my favorites of her films, and she said it was one of her favorites, too.

...On October 3rd, be sure to record THE VANISHING VIRGINIAN (1942), which I thought was an overlooked gem when I recently saw it on a Warner Archive DVD. 19-year-old Kathryn Grayson is delightful in this film which is a series of vignettes about her family's life in 1914. In some ways the storytelling foreshadows the much better known MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944). The movie also features exceptionally fine performances by Frank Morgan and Spring Byington; it was directed by Frank Borzage.

...The first night of the Nicholas Ray tribute, on October 4th, includes BORN TO BE BAD (1950), a highly entertaining film with Joan Fontaine in the title role, ably supported by Robert Ryan, Joan Leslie, Zachary Scott, and Mel Ferrer. A good time watching this one is guaranteed.

...Our dog Chance's name was inspired by John Wayne's character in one of the greatest Westerns ever made, Howard Hawks' RIO BRAVO (1959). Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Walter Brennan, Angie Dickinson, Ward Bond, John Russell...what more could a fan of Westerns want? Nothing, absolutely nothing. It's on October 5th.

...There are a lot of great movies on October 6th, including a number of Carole Lombard films in honor of her birthday. One of the relatively unknown movies airing that day is THREE LOVES HAS NANCY (1938). Robert Montgomery and Franchot Tone are very amusing in this comedy.

...Saturday, October 8th, there's a five-film tribute to Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., featuring GUNGA DIN (1939), THE CORSICAN BROTHERS (1941), SINBAD THE SAILOR (1947), LITTLE CAESAR (1930), and THE RISE OF CATHERINE THE GREAT (1934). That's a fantastic lineup! (October 3rd update: According to a discussion thread at TCM, THE CORSICAN BROTHERS has been replaced on the schedule by 1930's FLIGHT COMMANDER, also known as THE DAWN PATROL.)

...October is perfect for a night of spooky Val Lewton movies, airing on October 10th. The films include I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943), starring Frances Dee, and CAT PEOPLE (1942), starring Simone Simon.

...There are more great Nicholas Ray movies on the 11th. Don't miss Robert Ryan and Ida Lupino in ON DANGEROUS GROUND, a film which has begun to receive the recognition it deserves in recent years. Earlier in the day, Ryan and Lupino's other 1952 film, BEWARE, MY LOVELY, will be shown. I was fortunate to see it at the Noir City Film Festival earlier this year.

...I'm very partial to Doris Day and Gordon MacRae in ON MOONLIGHT BAY (1951), a charming musical set early in the 20th century. It has a feel somewhat akin to movies like CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN (1950), THE VANISHING VIRGINIAN (1942), or MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944). (It even has Leon Ames from ST. LOUIS as the father!) ON MOONLIGHT BAY is showing on the 18th. Although it's not airing that evening, there's a sequel, BY THE LIGHT OF THE SILVERY MOON (1953).

...A tribute to the great cinematographer John Alton will feature six films on October 19th, including Ricardo Montalban in BORDER INCIDENT (1949) and Robert Cummings in Anthony Mann's highly regarded "French Revolution noir" THE BLACK BOOK (1949), also known as REIGN OF TERROR. Incidentally, AN AMERICAN IN PARIS (1951), for which Alton won the Oscar, is airing three days later as part of a tribute to actress Nina Foch.

...On October 20th there are a half dozen films featuring Zachary Scott. The evening kicks off with a movie I'm very excited to see for the first time, THE MASK OF DIMITRIOS (1944), costarring Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre. The titles that night also include what many consider to be one of Scott's best films, Jean Renoir's THE SOUTHERNER (1945). I especially enjoyed COLT .45 (1950), in which Scott's wild-eyed performance as a deranged murderer was said to perhaps have been influenced by his distraught state when his wife left him for John Steinbeck.

...October 22nd there's another of the month's six-film tributes, this time to Nina Foch, who passed on in 2008. The evening starts with AN AMERICAN IN PARIS (1951); it includes EXECUTIVE SUITE (1954), for which Foch received a nomination as Best Supporting Actress, and the terrific little Gothic noir MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS (1945).

...The early hours on October 26th are a lot of fun -- a whole bunch of hour-long movies starring the likes of Jane Wyman, Ann Sheridan, and Ronald Reagan.

...I love the theme on Wednesday evening, October 26th, "Actors Home from WWII." The four films shown that evening were the films made by four major movie stars when they returned from their service in WWII. The lineup starts with a TCM premiere, Tyrone Power in THE RAZOR'S EDGE (1946). Next is the film which had the tag line "Gable's Back and Garson's Got Him," ADVENTURE (1945). That's followed by Robert Montgomery starring with John Wayne in John Ford's THEY WERE EXPENDABLE (1945), a film on which Montgomery also did uncredited directing work assisting John Ford. The evening concludes with Robert Taylor's first postwar film, the mystery UNDERCURRENT (1946), costarring Katharine Hepburn and Robert Mitchum.

...I'm curious about COUNT THE HOURS (1953), part of a tribute to Teresa Wright on the 27th. It reunites Wright with Macdonald Carey, her costar in Hitchcock's SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943) a decade earlier.

...I had a grand time watching THE TWO MRS. CARROLLS (1947) at the Noir City Festival. Humphrey Bogart plays a crazed wife killer, with Barbara Stanwyck his possible next victim and Alexis Smith waiting in line behind her. It's on the 29th.

...And on Halloween Weekend there isn't a better film to watch than THE UNINVITED (1944), a charming, moody "spooky house" movie with Ray Milland, Gail Russell, Ruth Hussey, and the unforgettable melody "Stella By Starlight." It's on the 30th...and in fact, you can also catch it earlier in the month, on the 10th.

Please review the complete schedule for information on all the other great movies being shown on TCM in October. Happy Autumn viewing!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Stronger Than Desire (1939)

In 1939 Walter Pidgeon and Virginia Bruce starred in a pair of "B plus" level remakes of two films which originally starred Myrna Loy.

The first Pidgeon-Bruce film, SOCIETY LAWYER, remade Loy's PENTHOUSE (1933), one of the films which catapulted Loy to the "A" level and her starring role in THE THIN MAN (1934).

The second film Pidgeon-Bruce film, STRONGER THAN DESIRE, remakes Loy's EVELYN PRENTICE (1934), which costarred William Powell.

There's a great deal of plot packed into this 78-minute film about Tyler Flagg, a successful, highly busy defense attorney (Pidgeon); his neglected wife Elizabeth (Bruce); the cad (Lee Bowman) who tries to blackmail Elizabeth over some letters; and said cad's long-suffering wife (Ann Dvorak), who is charged with his murder. Tyler takes on the woman's defense, not knowing his own wife is a key player in the case.

The courtroom scene at the climax of the film is riveting, with particularly fine acting by Walter Pidgeon; without any dialogue, we see the calm, highly competent attorney crushed by disbelief, shock, and fear. Bruce and Dvorak have excellent moments on the witness stand. The courtroom goings-on are highly irregular but dramatically mesmerizing.

It's a good movie, well acted by a deep cast which also includes Ilka Chase as Elizabeth's best friend, Rita Johnson as Tyler's annoying client, Richard Lane as Tyler's righthand man, and cute little Ann E. Todd as Tyler and Elizabeth's daughter. Other familiar faces in the cast include Ferike Boros, Reed Hadley, and Louis Jean Heydt.

I really enjoy Ilka Chase (NO TIME FOR LOVE), but I couldn't help thinking that for a loyal friend, she provided a lot of bad advice. First she encourages Elizabeth to be dissatisfied with her marriage, then she sets her up to spend time with lowlife Michael (Bowman) -- it would have been far better if she'd tried to help the busy but loving Flaggs spend more time together -- and finally she discourages Elizabeth from coming right out and telling her husband the whole story. This sophisticated-looking character was definitely not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but of course she is also the necessary catalyst for the progression of much of the story.

Ann E. Todd, who is quite cute as little Susan Flagg, was born in 1931 and began acting in 1938's ZAZA. She made 38 films, including classics such as INTERMEZZO (1939), DESTRY RIDES AGAIN (1939), ALL THIS, AND HEAVEN TO0 (1940), and HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY (1941). She played Tyrone Power's little sister in BRIGHAM YOUNG (1940), Linda Darnell as a child in BLOOD AND SAND (1941), Ann Sheridan as a child in KINGS ROW (1942), the daughter of Ann Doran and John Ridgely in PRIDE OF THE MARINES (1945), and Jeanne Crain's daughter in MARGIE (1946). She closed out her acting career appearing on THE STUART ERWIN SHOW in the early '50s. She married and became a music librarian at the University of California at Berkeley. According to IMDb, today she is a retired widow living in Northern California.

At the time this film was made, Ann Dvorak was married to the movie's director, Leslie Fenton. The movie was filmed in black and white by William Daniels.

STRONGER THAN DESIRE and SOCIETY LAWYER are available from the Warner Archive in a two-film set. I found both movies, which were recently shown on Turner Classic Movies in honor of Walter Pidgeon's birthday, quite enjoyable.

The trailer for STRONGER THAN DESIRE is available from the Turner Classic Movies website.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Coming to DVD: Back Street (1941 and 1961)

The TCM Vault Collection has a new release of Universal films coming on October 3rd: a two-film set containing the 1941 and 1961 versions of BACK STREET.

The 1941 film stars Charles Boyer and Margaret Sullavan, supported by Richard Carlson. It was directed by Robert Stevenson.

The 1961 edition stars Susan Hayward and John Gavin, along with Vera Miles. It was produced by Ross Hunter and directed by David Miller.

Turner Classic Movies aired both versions last weekend.

If only TCM could have also released the 1932 Irene Dunne version also...

Monday, September 26, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Society Lawyer (1939)

SOCIETY LAWYER is a genial remake of MGM's fine pre-Code crime drama PENTHOUSE (1933), with Walter Pidgeon and Virginia Bruce appearing in the roles originated by Warner Baxter and Myrna Loy.

Pidgeon plays Chris Durant, a lawyer trying to help his ex-fiancee (Frances Mercer) by saving her new love (Lee Bowman), who is accused of the murder of Judy Barton (Ann Morriss). Durant is aided by Tony Gazotti (Leo Carrillo), a mobster he'd saved from a murder conviction, and nightclub singer Pat Abbott (Bruce).

The story, which ran 90 minutes in the original film, is condensed down to 74 minutes in SOCIETY LAWYER. The film is a pleasant vehicle for Pidgeon, who had been in films for many years but was just starting to hit his stride at MGM in the late '30s, playing prominent supporting roles in "A" pictures and leads in "B" movies. He was still a couple of years away from his enormously successful teaming with Greer Garson, which began in BLOSSOMS IN THE DUST (1941); the same year he was first teamed with Garson, Pidgeon played leading roles in Fritz Lang's MAN HUNT and John Ford's HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY.

Along with the running time, the storyline was somewhat changed in order to comply with the Production Code. The most notable change was the lead female role; Myrna Loy played a call girl, who was transformed into a nightclub singer in the remake, and also given a completely new name. Bruce is seen to good effect as the singer, performing "I'm in Love with the Honorable Mr. So and So" in the nightclub, and sparring with Chris's butler (Herbert Mundin) in later scenes. She's beautifully photographed in black and white by George Folsey.

The remake changed some other character names in addition to the Loy/Bruce character, while partially changing others (Chris Durant was named Jack Durant in the original), and keeping still other names the same in both versions.

Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett have screenplay credit for both PENTHOUSE and SOCIETY LAWYER, based on a novel by Arthur Somers Roche; the remake lists additional screenwriters, Leon Gordon and Hugo Butler.

Herbert Mundin, who is amusing as Chris's butler, is perhaps best remembered as Much the Miller's Son from 1938's THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD. Sadly, this was his last role, as he was killed in a car accident in March 1939.

Ann Morriss, who played the murder victim, married the film's director, Edwin L. Marin, in 1940. The marriage lasted until Marin's untimely death in 1951.

The cast also includes Eduardo Ciannelli, Frank M. Thomas, Edward Brophy, Tom Kennedy, Clarence Kolb, Paul Guilfoyle and Lillian Yarbo.

SOCIETY LAWYER is available on DVD-R from the Warner Archive. It's sold in a two-film set with another film Pidgeon, Bruce, and Bowman made in 1939, STRONGER THAN DESIRE.

The trailer can be seen at Turner Classic Movies.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Quick Preview of TCM in December

The tentative schedule for Turner Classic Movies in December has still not been made available online in its entirety, but quite a bit of interesting information has been gathered in a discussion thread at the TCM board.

William Powell is the December Star of the Month, news which is sure to gladden the hearts of countless classic film fans.

Even more exciting to me is the news that TCM has secured the rights to show the beloved Jeanne Crain film MARGIE (1946) -- in prime time on Christmas Eve, no less! I believe Christmas Eve usually features picks by Robert Osborne so he may well have had something to do with TCM licensing this wonderful movie from 20th Century-Fox, which many, many people have been anxious to see.

MARGIE isn't a Christmas film, but it's classic movie Americana which seems perfect for the holidays. For a longer preview of the film, I reviewed MARGIE in 2009.

I'm also very excited that EVERYTHING I HAVE IS YOURS (1952), starring Marge and Gower Champion, is on in December. I've never seen this very hard-to-find MGM musical.

TCM will also debut a new special, A NIGHT AT THE MOVIES: MERRY CHRISTMAS!, on December 6th.

New Year's Eve has an amusing theme: films with a time deadline, including D.O.A. (1950), PANIC IN THE STREETS (1950), and FAIL-SAFE (1964).

I'll have more thoughts on TCM in December after Thanksgiving. In the meantime, October features Buster Keaton as the Star of the Month, and November is a "Battle of the Blondes."

Today at Disneyland: The MouseAdventure Zone

We spent a very enjoyable -- if exhausting! -- day today participating in our fourth MouseAdventure game at Disneyland, which this year had a Twilight Zone theme.

We felt today's game was the most difficult of the four times we've participated in MouseAdventure -- no chance at a repeat victory winning the Family Division this time around! We'll be curious to see how we rank when the points charts are available in a few days.

Regardless of our team ranking, it's a great way for our family to enjoy quality time together in one of our favorite places, and it's also fabulous exercise! We put in several hours today criss-crossing the park nonstop.

With this event we retired our team's Practically Perfect Mary Poppins theme and became Skippers in De Nile, with different quotes from the Jungle Cruise ride spiel on the back of each shirt.

We plan to return next spring for the next MouseAdventure event. We highly recommend that anyone who's considered playing give it a try next time around -- just remember that it usually sells out within a few hours!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...MONEYBALL (2011), a fact-based baseball film starring Brad Pitt, has opened to strong reviews, such as this positive write-up from Kenneth Turan at the Los Angeles Times. My oldest daughter enjoyed being a background extra in the crowd behind home plate in scenes which were filmed overnight at Dodger Stadium last August or September. She was decked out in the Oakland A's colors of green and yellow for the filming. The trailer can be seen on the film's official site.

...At Dear Old Hollywood, Robby has another of his outstanding posts on movie locations -- this time the Northern California locations of Grass Valley and Marysville seen in THE LAWLESS (1950). THE LAWLESS stars Gail Russell and Macdonald Carey, and it can be seen on Netflix Watch Instantly.

...I'm setting my DVR to record the new '60s themed show PAN AM Sunday night on ABC. It got a good review from the L.A. Times, which called it "sparkly" and "highly appealing," saying also it's "very much like a type of movie that flourished around the time the series is set, in which three or four young women set off together into the wider world; indeed, COME FLY WITH ME, from 1963, the year PAN AM begins, is about stewardesses working for an airline that looks very much like Pan Am." The vintage air travel and early '60s rom com vibe make it a "must try" in my book. Those who watch the show may want to check out my 2009 review of the film COME FLY WITH ME (1963).

...MacGuffin Movies reviews Robert Montgomery in PICCADILLY JIM (1936), which I enjoyed this summer.

...This November fan favorite Mark Harmon stars in the TV-movie CERTAIN PREY, based on a book by Pulitzer Prize winning author John Sandford. Harmon was also executive producer. It will air on the USA Network.

...A Tweet by Jacqueline Lynch led me to Mildred Fierce and a wonderfully detailed, thoughtful essay on a favorite film, HISTORY IS MADE AT NIGHT (1937), starring Jean Arthur and Charles Boyer. I also enjoyed her piece on Arthur's EASY LIVING (1937), released the same year. My 2008 review of EASY LIVING can be found here.

...Fedoras and High Heels looks at actress Marsha Hunt's fabulous photo book THE WAY WE WORE: STYLES OF THE 1930S AND 40S. This book is a must for fans of classic film in general, and MGM movies and Marsha Hunt in particular.

...Kimberly Lindbergs reviews James Mason and Margaret Lockwood in the spooky A PLACE OF ONE'S OWN (1945) at the TCM Movie Morlocks blog.

...Greenpriar Picture Shows has a typically terrific, photo-filled post on MGM's SCENE OF THE CRIME (1949), a good film with Van Johnson, Tom Drake, and John McIntire as cops. Then stick around at Greenbriar for a wonderful post on Warren William and EMPLOYEES' ENTRANCE (1933)

...First Showing has a trailer for what looks like an interesting new documentary, BEING ELMO: A PUPPETEER'S JOURNEY (2011).

...UCLA will be sponsoring a film festival at the Million Dollar Theater in Los Angeles from October 5th through December 21st. The titles are mostly of more recent vintage and thus not of particular interest to me, but they do include SUPERMAN (1978) and THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951). Photos of the interior of the Million Dollar Theater are amazing; I hope to see a film there at some point.

...Thrilling Days of Yesteryear will be sponsoring a 50th Anniversary DICK VAN DYKE SHOW blogathon on October 3rd. I'll be contributing a post about the tribute to the show being held at the Egyptian Theatre on October 1st.

...At 50 Westerns From the 50s, Toby has a very interesting review of Fred MacMurray and Dorothy Malone in QUANTEZ (1957), which is available in the Universal Vault Collection exclusively from Amazon. Be sure to also read through the knowledgeable and interesting comments.

...Over at Riding the High Country, Colin is back from his summer break with a review of James Stewart, Janet Leigh, and Robert Ryan in Anthony Mann's THE NAKED SPUR (1953). Welcome back, Colin!

...Add to the list of "5 Things You Like About Classic Films" at Another Old Movie Blog. My list includes sleeper cars on trains and Streamline Moderne sets. There are some wonderful contributions; if you love old movies be sure to check it out.

...Notable Passing: Bob Hope's widow, Dolores, recently passed away at the age of 102. Her final resting place will be alongside her husband at the historic San Fernando Mission Cemetery. Mrs. Hope was herself an entertainer and was also a prominent Southern California philanthropist who was a key player founding the Eisenhower Medical Center in Palm Springs, California, on land donated by the Hopes. The medical center has posted a tribute, saying "Eisenhower Medical Center has lost its dearest, most treasured friend and one of the world’s great humanitarians...She gave unselfish, hands-on service in striving to make this a better world."

Have a great weekend!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Tonight's Movie: No Way Out (1987)

I enjoyed last night's Kevin Costner film so much that I decided to double up and watch him this evening in another film, NO WAY OUT.

My husband and I saw NO WAY OUT when it was first playing in movie theaters, but I don't believe I'd seen it again in the intervening years. Consequently, most of the film played for me like a brand-new movie, albeit one that was vaguely familiar. Partway through the film I did suddenly remember the awkward, tacked-on twist ending, which raises more questions than it answers, and which will not be revealed below.

Costner plays Lt. Commander Tom Farrell, a Naval hero who is selected to serve as an aide to the Secretary of the Navy, David Brice (Gene Hackman).

Farrell falls in love with Susan Atwell (Sean Young), who also happens to be the married Brice's mistress. Susan loves Tom and plans to break off her relationship with Brice, but before she can do so Brice suspects her of being unfaithful and kills her in a jealous rage.

Brice's creepily devoted aide, Scott Pritchard (Will Patton), devises a phony cover story, that Susan was killed by the unknown other man in her life, a mythical Russian spy. The man assigned to find Susan's lover and "murderer" is none other than Tom Farrell.

Tom, of course, realizes immediately that his boss is responsible for the death, and he must find a way to clear himself and prove Brice's connection to Susan, as the hunt for the other man in Susan's life begins to close in around him inside the Pentagon.

NO WAY OUT is a solid, exciting film with a number of interesting twists and turns, set against the backdrop of Washington, D.C. One of the best scenes in the movie is the one where Tom is assigned to investigate the murder and opens the file to discover for the first time that Susan is dead. He calmly excuses himself, goes in the bathroom, and falls apart. It's a powerful and memorable scene with superb acting by Costner. He's excellent throughout the entire film, and from the vantage point of 2011 he seems impossibly young and handsome.

I don't particularly care for Sean Young in this film, bad '80s hair and all, but she does successfully convey someone free-spirited enough to participate in an infamous love scene in the back of a limousine. Susan's character isn't really developed; for instance, it's never clear why someone with reasonable looks and intelligence would earn her keep as the mistress to a married man she doesn't seem to like very much. Her character is more of a "placeholder" whose death triggers the suspenseful storyline.

Hackman and Patton both play unsettlingly convincing slimeballs. Hackman's character has an entitled, impatient, snotty air which I also saw in supposed big-shot attorneys a time or two in my former work life. I always wonder what it is that causes some people to placate such types, whose so-called power is really rooted in immaturity (with its accompanying bad behavior) and/or narcissism. That particular type of "power player" gives one the feeling that if you simply laughed at him, he'd fly into a rage and then fall to pieces. And indeed, that totally fits with Brice completely losing it when he believes Susan is seeing another man behind his back. He can't handle the rejection.

Patton's sneering, pushy character is more over-the-top and less believable than Hackman's; again, it's never quite clear what drives Pritchard to serve Brice's needs so willingly, to the point he'd be willing to kill for Brice. Pritchard tells Farrell early on that Brice is brilliant, but is that reason enough to help him cover up a murder? Does Pritchard crave power, is he a psycho, or both? His story is never really completely clear.

There are some fun visual angles to the movie, including the Washington locations and the state of technology as recently as two dozen years ago. The film may look fairly modern -- other than the women's big DYNASTY hair! -- but it takes place just long enough ago that Farrell has to find a pay phone to make a call in an emergency; computers are large and slow, and the resident computer expert in Costner's unit has a box of 3M floppy discs on his desk. I'm not sure my youngest children can remember computers with floppies or CDs; things have changed quickly!

NO WAY OUT was directed by Roger Donaldson, who also worked with Costner on THIRTEEN DAYS (2000). The supporting cast includes Senator Fred Thompson (billed back then as Fred Dalton Thompson), Howard Duff, George Dzundza, and the model Iman. The film runs 114 minutes.

There was a 1950 film titled NO WAY OUT, starring Richard Widmark, Linda Darnell, and Sidney Poitier, which is not related in any way to the 1987 film of the same title. However, the 1987 film is a remake of THE BIG CLOCK (1948), a suspense film starring Ray Milland and Charles Laughton, directed by John Farrow. THE BIG CLOCK and NO WAY OUT were both based on a novel by Kenneth Fearing.

Parental advisory: This film is rated R and is most definitely not for children. The R rating is partially for some completely unnecessary female nudity which had nothing to do with the story; I didn't miss a thing when I zapped the scenes with the fast-forward on my remote. The R rating is also due to language, violence, and mature themes.

NO WAY OUT has been released on widescreen DVD and VHS.

This film can be rented for streaming from Amazon Instant Video. Unfortunately the DVD is one of many that has gone to the "saved" section at Netflix and not been replaced, as the DVD has gone out of print, although new and used copies can be found from various dealers. I picked up my DVD for a couple dollars from a used book and DVD store at our local mall.

Update: This film will be released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber on July 30, 2024.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Tonight's Movie: The Bodyguard (1992)

I watch relatively few "modern" films, but every so often a so-called chick flick from the last couple decades hits the spot. And if it's a chick flick with Kevin Costner in it, so much the better.

I hadn't seen a Costner film in eons, and when I happened across THE BODYGUARD today, I knew what I'd be watching tonight. It came out close to two decades ago, which is pretty hard to believe, but somehow I'd never caught up with it.

Costner plays the title role, an ex-Secret Service agent whose latest assignment is guarding Rachel Marron (Whitney Houston), a temperamental singer-actress, and her 8-year-old son (DeVaughn Nixon). Although the bodyguard and his client initially clash, a powerful attraction develops between them which threatens to interfere with his job keeping her safe.

It's not particularly great drama in some respects; for instance, the culprit (or culprits?) is telegraphed pretty far in advance, and Houston's performance and character go a little over the top at times. But you know what? Despite the flaws, I really enjoyed the movie, and I actually liked that it was a bit predictable and not terribly nerve-wracking, although there were still plenty of suspenseful moments. It was relaxing, enjoyable entertainment, and that was plenty good enough for me.

I especially enjoyed Costner as Frank Fletcher, the button-down, all-business guard who still suffers pangs of guilt that he wasn't on duty to protect President Reagan the day he was shot. I enjoyed watching Frank's methodology and especially the relationship he develops with the cocky chauffeur (Christopher Birt), as well as the grudging respect that builds between Frank and Tony (Mike Starr), Rachel's original bodyguard who initially resents Frank stepping into the picture.

In my favorite section of the film, Frank takes Rachel and her family to stay with his father (Ralph Waite of THE WALTONS). This sequence, shot in the beautiful Lake Tahoe area, has a nice mix of low-key family togetherness, emotion, and suspense.

The supporting cast includes Michele Lamar Richards as Rachel's sister. Don't blink during the Academy Awards sequence, filmed at the Pantages Theatre, where Debbie Reynolds can be spotted in a funny cameo.

The movie was filmed all over Los Angeles, as well as at Joe Jost's, a very well-known bar which has been in Long Beach since 1924.

Speaking of local institutions, Kevin Costner spent part of his youth growing up in Orange County, where he attended California State University at Fullerton. Costner was the co-owner of the Clubhouse restaurant at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa until it closed down a couple years ago.

THE BODYGUARD was directed by Mick Jackson. It was written by Lawrence Kasdan, who wrote and directed the film in which Costner made his first big splash in 1985, SILVERADO.

The running time is 129 minutes.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated R for language. If the language was removed it would probably qualify for a straight PG rating, as the film is otherwise fairly tame.

THE BODYGUARD is available on widescreen DVD. It also had a VHS release.

It can also be seen via Amazon Prime streaming and Netflix Watch Instantly.

In Disney News...

...Additional information has been published about the surprising deal for Disney to put an "Avatar Land" in the Animal Kingdom park. The Los Angeles Times says Disney is also looking at installing AVATAR attractions in their Paris and Hong Kong parks. Fortunately there's no mention of Anaheim. The article also mentions that Disney is interested in licensing HARRY POTTER attractions outside Florida, where Universal has a Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

...Al Lutz weighs in on AVATAR at MiceChat. He finds the deal curious as he doesn't see AVATAR having a long "shelf life" and, unlike the Lucas or Henson properties, it hasn't developed much in the way of merchandise.

...WELCOME ABOARD! THE CREATION OF THE DISNEY DREAM is a beautiful new hardcover book by Disney historian Jeff Kurtti. It's just under 90 pages and retails for $14.95. I've never been interested in cruising -- although if I ever did take a cruise, it would be on a Disney ship -- but this little book is so visually sumptuous that I couldn't resist picking it up at the D23 Expo last month.

...In August there was a tribute to the late Wally Boag and Betty Taylor at Disneyland's Golden Horseshoe Review, where Boag and Taylor starred for decades. They passed away within a day of each other last summer.

...Disney is celebrating the 40th anniversary of Walt Disney World by reprinting the 1971 "Preview Edition" of a souvenir booklet on Walt Disney World. The most interesting thing about the book is the discussion of resort plans which never came to be, including Asian and Venetian resorts. You can read more about the original booklet at All Ears Net.

...The Blue Sky Cellar at Disney's California Adventure will reopen tomorrow with an update featuring the Carthay Circle Theatre.

...Over the past few months the Disney Movie Club has put a couple long-sought, hard-to-find Disney live action films out on DVD, including THE SWORD AND THE ROSE (1953), starring Glynis Johns and Richard Todd, and WESTWARD HO, THE WAGONS! (1956) with Fess Parker. Since the Movie Club DVDs aren't accessible to the general public, some enterprising Amazon vendors have obtained copies to sell (here and here). Hopefully these films will come to the Disney Movie Rewards Club or have a general release before too long. In the meantime, both films can be seen for $1.99 via Amazon Instant video, here and here. These titles can also be rented via Classic Flix, along with THE LITTLEST OUTLAW (1955) and JOHNNY SHILOH (1963). As a side note, DVD reviewer Mike Clark recently noted that the release of WESTWARD HO, THE WAGONS! is unfortunately a pan-and-scan print.

...Pixar has announced that it will release a dinosaur-themed film for the holidays in 2013.

...Did you get your Pixar postage stamps last month? Get them before they're gone!

...Disney's Aulani resort on Oahu has now opened, and it looks spectacular. It also looks unaffordable...

...Sue Kruse of Mice Chat posted info last month on the wonderful new book on the Disneyland Hotel, which I wrote about previously here.

...Jim Fanning posted a 60th anniversary tribute to ALICE IN WONDERLAND (1951) at the D23 website.

...I have a ticket to see BABES IN TOYLAND (1961) at D23's "50 and Fabulous" screening on the Disney Studios lot in November. I've never seen this movie before, which stars Annette Funicello, so I'm looking forward to it. There isn't a better place to see a movie than the plush state-of-the-art Disney Studio Theatre.

...This Sunday our family's team, Skippers in De Nile, will be participating in the MouseAdventure Zone game at Disneyland. Since our team, Practically Perfect, won the Family Division last April, the pressure is on!

...Disney employees recently participated in their own annual game in the park, Minnie's Moonlight Madness.

For additional Disney news, see this summer's posts dated July 30, 2011 and June 26, 2011.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Coroner Creek (1948)

When I see the name of Western novelist Luke Short in the opening credits of a film, I sit up and take notice. Short's novels provided the basis for the excellent films STATION WEST (1948) and BLOOD ON THE MOON (1948), and he wrote the original stories for two more very good Westerns, RAMROD (1947) and AMBUSH (1950). One of Short's favorite themes is the loner seeking justice.

That theme appears again in Short's CORONER CREEK, filmed as a Cinecolor Western starring Randolph Scott. This is one of the first Westerns in the long partnership of Scott and producer Harry Joe Brown, and it's an excellent, absorbing study of a man driven by revenge.

The film has some of Scott's signature touches of humor, such as the way he checks himself into a hotel without waking the sleeping clerk, but for the most part this is a somber, serious tale. In terms of quality, I would rank CORONER CREEK near the higher end of the Westerns Scott made before his well-known teaming with director Budd Boetticher in the '50s.

Chris Danning (Scott) is looking for a blonde man with a scar on his face who was responsible for the death of Danning's fiancee. Danning doggedly follows leads until he finally finds his man, Younger Miles (George Macready), in the town of Coroner Creek. Miles is a powerful land and business owner, who also has the sheriff (Edgar Buchanan) under his thumb; the sheriff is the father of Miles's alcoholic wife Abbie (Barbara Read).

Danning is helped by hotel owner Kate (Marguerite Chapman), local ranch owner Della (Sally Eilers), and Della's ranch hand Andy (Wallace Ford), who all have reasons for disliking Miles.

There are a couple of violent confrontations in the film which are absolutely brutal, particularly for 1948; this is no light "Saturday shoot-'em-up" Western. The first notable fight is an extended battle between Chris and Miles's henchman Ernie (Forrest Tucker), which includes the cringe-worthy smashing of a couple people's hands. Near the end of the film, Miles's relentless shooting of someone he knows is downright shocking. It's a fairly dark film in that regard, but it also makes the moment justice is served all the more satisfying.

The reference to justice being served shouldn't be a plot spoiler; after all, this is a Randolph Scott Western. Does anyone think he'd leave town without getting his man? :) There is something very comforting about sitting down to watch a Randolph Scott Western; the viewer knows it will deliver as expected.

This is what might be called a typical Randolph Scott Western performance, and that's a good thing. No one should mess with the steely-eyed Scott, and those who do live to regret it. In his films Scott is something of a Western superhero, and yet at the same time he's an entirely real person who at some points suffers excruciating pain, both mental and physical. Scott is capable of conveying a world of hurt on his weathered face. In fact, Scott probably does more acting with his eyes than he does delivering dialogue.

Marguerite Chapman has a fairly bland part as a religious woman who encourages Chris to give up his quest for revenge. Her character comes a bit more alive toward the end when she overcomes her religious scruples about violence to aid Chris; the scene made me think of Grace Kelly and HIGH NOON.

As a side note, Chapman has a fairly unattractive wardrobe which is not photographed to good effect in Cinecolor. There is no wardrobe credit so I wonder if the filmmakers just pulled some Western dresses out of the costume department! Better choices could have been made.

Actress Sally Eilers, who plays Della, had been married to producer Harry Joe Brown, although they were divorced at the time this film was made. She and Wallace Ford, who is most enjoyable as the loyal Andy, help provide the film with its lighter moments. William Bishop, Russell Simpson, and Douglas Fowley are also in the cast. Incidentally, IMDb credits stuntman-actor Jock Mahoney with doubling George Macready.

This was the last of 21 films made by actress Barbara Read, billed here as Barbara Reed. Read was very personable in the RKO programmer SORORITY HOUSE (1939). She was also in THREE SMART GIRLS (1936) with Deanna Durbin and another interesting programmer called MARRIED AND IN LOVE (1940). She's quite good as Miles's tragic wife.

The film runs 90 minutes. It was directed by Ray Enright and photographed by Fred Jackman Jr. There's some very nice location shooting in Sedona, Arizona, although the big battle between Scott and Tucker appears to have been shot in a soundstage.

CORONER CREEK was released on VHS in the Columbia Western Classics series. It's a good print, given the inherent limitations of Cinecolor. (There's a scene where Eilers shows Scott some ranch land, and as the camera scans the range the hills turn all sorts of different colors, in the same shot.) There were not any scratches or other notable defects.

To date the film does not appear to have had a release on DVD. (Update: This film will be released on DVD by TCM on December 2, 2013.)

Randolph Scott Westerns of the '40s and '50s previously reviewed here: BELLE STARR (1941), THE DESPERADOES (1943), ABILENE TOWN (1946), THE WALKING HILLS (1949), THE NEVADAN (1950), COLT .45 (1950), FORT WORTH (1951), MAN IN THE SADDLE (1951), TALL MAN RIDING (1955), A LAWLESS STREET (1955), SEVEN MEN FROM NOW (1956), THE TALL T (1957), SHOOT-OUT AT MEDICINE BEND (1957), and WESTBOUND (1959).

Netflix News: A Qwikster Roundup

Netflix stock hit a one-year low Tuesday, as negative reaction poured in to the astonishing news that the company is spinning off its DVD rental business into the abominably named and hard-to-spell Qwikster, while simultaneously removing customer-friendly features such as the integration of DVD and Watch Instantly queues.

Netflix has lost over half its stock value in the last two months, in the wake of a 60% price increase and the lastest miscue, which inverts Netflix's previously outstanding customer service by instead requiring customers to adapt to the future needs of Netflix. Less service for a higher price is not a winning combination.

Below is a roundup of some of the most interesting analysis I've read over the past couple days.

Darcy Travlos at Forbes: "NetFlix has just blown apart its relationship with customers for delivering a consistent experience and, from the amount of outpouring from its customers, has created an environment of distrust."

Henry Blodgett of Yahoo Finance: "...what's better for the company, in this case, is worse for most of the company's customers... Netflix's value to half of its customers has just dropped. Put differently, this seems a distinctly customer-unfriendly move. It seems so customer-unfriendly, in fact, that one suspects there is more behind it than merely the desire to have a separate management team for each company."

Ethan Smith of the Wall Street Journal: "If the CEO of Netflix Inc. were in a movie, the townspeople would be chasing him with torches and pitchforks."

Jennifer Garlen of The Examiner: "...the limited offerings of Netflix’s current streaming catalog make the consumer feel like the company has control over what the viewer watches, instead of the viewer making those choices for himself" and comments on the "feeling of being herded toward whatever Netflix can get cheaply enough to stream."

David Amerland at Social Media Today: "When it decided to change its name to Qwikster and put its prices up, not only did it lay itself open to just about every joke you can imagine concerning the company’s literacy, but it also seemed to forget to trademark the name and failed to check to see if the Twitter handle was available."

Alexandra Petri of the Washington Post has a humorous take on what Reed Hastings' now-infamous "I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings but I'd do it all again" letter should have actually said to DVD subscribers, including "We tried pricing you out. That failed. Now we are trying to shame you out. Consider: Do you really have enough dignity to subscribe to something called Qwikster?"

Allahpundit of Hot Air: "Great news: Not only will Netflix be more expensive, it’ll be twice as hard to use." The article includes some interesting information on how the pricing methodology for digital streaming rights may have spurred the change.

Julianne Pepitone at CNN Money: "Netflix Can't Afford a Streaming Content War."

John P. Mello Jr. of PC World: "Blockbuster Plans September Surprise for Netflix."

Please see my original post Netflix News: Netflix Jumps the Shark? for additional commentary and links.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Avatar Coming to Disney World

It's not been a good week for a couple of companies I especially appreciate.

First Netflix loses its mind, apparently determined to drive itself out of business.

Then today comes word that Disney has made a deal with James Cameron and will be putting an AVATAR land in Disney's Animal Kingdom. It's not expected to open for another half a decade.

The announcement said the AVATAR land would be coming to parks, plural. I simply hope it's not coming to California.

I've avoided AVATAR like the plague. Among other things, unlike many people, I find it very visually unappealing. Quite the opposite.

I was also unhappy with the violence when I had to sit through an extended AVATAR clip at a concert at the Hollywood Bowl last year. Not exactly family friendly.

The idea of the eyesore that is AVATAR invading one of my beloved Disney parks does not make me happy, to say the least.

All I need to make the week complete would be confirmation of the rumor that Marvel Comics will be invading Tomorrowland...

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