Wednesday, May 30, 2012

New Trailer: Les Miserables (2012)

The musical theater version of LES MISERABLES is a show that's very special to me, especially as an early '90s production I saw with Gary Morris ranks as one of the two or three most memorable theater-going experiences of my life.

I've been quite a skeptic about the film version of LES MISERABLES doing the show justice, especially when it was rumored a few months ago that Taylor Swift might play a leading role. I figured the movie version of LES MIS would end up interesting me about as much as the filming of Andrew Lloyd Webber's PHANTOM OF THE OPERA -- meaning not at all.

The first teaser trailer was released today -- the video link can be found in this article and at countless other places on the web -- and to my surprise, I'm now a believer. The look of the film is extremely impressive, and it appears they're not playing around but have actually made a real, substantive movie musical. I watched the trailer multiple times over the course of the day, taking in all the details; the trailer itself was extremely well crafted.

The director of LES MISERABLES is Tom Hooper, Oscar winner for THE KING'S SPEECH (2010).

We won't know for sure until December, but I now believe that this film is likely to be a success, and I can't wait to see it!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Fox Cinema Archives

In the comments section for last night's review of the 20th Century-Fox film SMOKY (1946), I wrote "There really needs to be a 20th Century-Fox program akin to the Warner Archive. There are so many good Fox movies that need to be more available."

So imagine my delighted response when just this morning I read the news of the launching of the Fox Cinema Archives in a column by Lou Lumenick of the New York Post!

The discs will be sold via Amazon. Among the first titles available:

RINGS ON HER FINGERS (1942) with Henry Fonda and Gene Tierney, which I reviewed in 2008

DIPLOMATIC COURIER (1952) starring Tyrone Power, reviewed by me here

SWEET ROSIE O'GRADY (1943) with Betty Grable and Robert Young

Other titles mentioned by Lou include HUDSON'S BAY (1941) with Gene Tierney, THE MAN I MARRIED (1940) with Joan Bennett, and FRONTIER MARSHAL (1939) with Randolph Scott, which I reviewed back in 2006.

Additional titles are listed in Lou's column. It's anticipated that there will be a library of 150 Fox titles available for purchase by the end of 2012.

Needless to say, this is very exciting news! I've reviewed many hard-to-find Fox films over the years, thanks in part to having access to Fox Movie Channel, and now perhaps favorites such as Jeanne Crain's HOME IN INDIANA (1944), MARGIE (1946), and APARTMENT FOR PEGGY (1948) will soon be easily available to anyone who'd like to view them.

There are countless films I'd love to own starring Fox favorites including Crain, Grable, Tierney, Linda Darnell, Loretta Young, Dana Andrews, John Payne, June Haver, Maureen O'Hara, and more.

The number one title I'd love to buy in a good print: the Jerome Kern musical CENTENNIAL SUMMER (1946), starring Jeanne Crain and Linda Darnell.

Back in 2008 I was told by Dr. Drew Casper of USC that he had worked on extras for a second volume of Betty Grable films, which was never released as the DVD market completely shifted within months of our conversation. (Warner Archive debuted early in 2009.) I wonder if there is a chance we'll see extras, originally prepared for never-released DVD sets, show up on some Fox Cinema Archives releases? It would be wonderful if that were the case. It was very exciting when the recent Warner Archive release of WESTWARD THE WOMEN (1951) included a commentary track originally recorded for a never-released regular retail DVD version.

There are discussion threads on the new Fox MOD program at Home Theater Forum and 50 Westerns From the 50s.

I'll be closely watching future developments and sharing information on Fox's new DVD program here. Let's hope it's just a matter of time before Universal follows suit with early Universal and Paramount titles!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Tonight's Movie: The Clay Pigeon (1949)

THE CLAY PIGEON is a nice little 63-minute film noir starring the real-life husband and wife team of Bill Williams and Barbara Hale.

Jim Fletcher (Williams) comes out of a coma at Long Beach Naval Hospital, only to learn he's going to be court-martialed for a wartime crime. Jim has no memory of his supposed crime and escapes from the hospital, heading for the home of his war buddy, Mark. Thanks to a newspaper headline, Jim learns that he is supposedly responsible for Mark's death. Jim, suffering from partial amnesia, hadn't even realized Mark was dead.

Jim goes on the lam with Mark's unwilling widow, Martha (Hale), who soon comes to realize that Jim is a nice guy who couldn't have killed her husband. Jim hopes that Ted Niles (Richard Quine), who was in a POW camp with Jim and Mark, will help him clear his name, but it won't be easy with strange men trailing Jim all over Los Angeles. And why is the evil prison guard who beat Jim during the war wandering around freely in the United States?

The veteran with a big problem is a familiar theme of postwar noir, and a guy and gal on the run together isn't original either, but the appealing leads and director Richard Fleischer make it work. The movie has a great sense of time and place, with atmospheric shots of L.A.'s Chinatown and the California coastline.

Fleischer was also the director of the noir titles BODYGUARD (1948) and FOLLOW ME QUIETLY (1949), which similarly teamed a man and woman to solve a crime. More significantly, Fleischer directed the noir classic THE NARROW MARGIN (1952), which is set almost entirely on a train; THE CLAY PIGEON can be looked at as a warm-up for that title, as the nail-biting climax takes place on a train outbound from Los Angeles.

In THE CLAY PIGEON Fleischer tells a fast-moving, interesting story; I like short movies but I would have been happy if this one had had another five or ten minutes to develop the plot and characters even further.

Bill Williams and Barbara Hale were married in 1946, the same year Williams starred in another noir title, DEADLINE AT DAWN (1946). They costarred in A LIKELY STORY (1947) prior to making THE CLAY PIGEON. Williams and Hale also had successful TV careers, Williams in THE ADVENTURES OF KIT CARSON (1951-55) and Hale on PERRY MASON (1957-66), in a role she revived decades later for a series of successful TV-movies. Williams and Hale had three children; their son, William Katt, used his father's birth name for his acting career and starred in the popular TV series THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO (1981). (When I was about ten I saw Katt singing "16 Going on Seventeen" in an L.A. stage production of THE SOUND OF MUSIC!) Bill Williams died in 1992; Barbara Hale just turned 90 a few weeks ago.

The supporting cast includes Ann Doran, a favorite of mine, as a resentful nurse at the naval hospital. Mary (Marya) Marco plays a war widow who helps Jim when he's on the run. Martha Hyer has a scene as a receptionist. Richard Loo is the former prison guard.

The movie was written by Carl Foreman (THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI). The black and white cinematography was by Robert de Grasse.

THE CLAY PIGEON is an RKO film which had a VHS release but has not come out on DVD in the United States. It has had a Region 2 DVD release in Europe. It turns up from time to time on Turner Classic Movies.

June 2015 Update: THE CLAY PIGEON is now available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

July 2015 Update: My review of the DVD is here.

Tonight's Movie: Smoky (1946)

NOTE: This review of SMOKY is my contribution to this weekend's Horseathon, sponsored by Page at My Love of Old Hollywood. Visit Page's blog for a complete list of participating bloggers and movie titles.

In all honesty, I've never been a very big fan of animal movies. They so often have moments of pathos, and I'm simply too tender-hearted to handle watching animals in distress! But as a Fred MacMurray fan I've been wanting to catch up with his film SMOKY, and the Horseathon provided a great reason to do so.

SMOKY does have some sad scenes which were tough for me to watch, but on the plus side it's a very nicely made film, distinguished by beautiful Technicolor filming in Wyoming. In addition to MacMurray, the movie features a young Anne Baxter and introduces "The Singing Troubadour," Burl Ives, in his first film. I wasn't wild about the story, but I appreciated the movie's many positive aspects.

MacMurray plays Clint Barkley, a wanderer who hires on as a hand at a horse ranch owned by Julie Richards (Baxter). Clint has a troubled background related in some way to Frank Denton (Bruce Cabot), who shows up at the ranch looking for a job.

He may have a mysterious past, but Clint's got a great way with horses, and he falls in love with a wild horse he names Smoky. Clint trains Smoky and they have a mutual affection for one another; Smoky even aids Clint when he's injured. And then Smoky disappears, and an anguished Clint searches the country, determined to find him.

SMOKY has great atmosphere, thanks to the combination of the lovely Wyoming scenery and Ives' music, which accompanies lazy Sundays in the bunkhouse and evenings on the range. MacMurray is excellent in a touching performance, though I think his character has more of a relationship with Smoky than he does with Julie! Although it's obvious that a stunt double does the most difficult riding scenes, MacMurray is nonetheless quite believable as a man who knows his way around horses.

In one of the stranger sequences in SMOKY, Julie narrates the horse's early history, telling Clint things it doesn't seem Julie could know about the animal. It's almost as though Julie turns into an omniscient narrator, rather than speaking from her personal knowledge; it seemed as though what Julie was saying must have been based on passages from the book on which the film was based. Baxter does a nice job in a fairly limited role as the spunky young ranch owner. She was 22 or 23 when she made this film, and would soon thereafter win the Supporting Actress Oscar for THE RAZOR'S EDGE (1946), released just a few months after SMOKY.

A couple years later Ives was also very effective in the Dick Powell "Western noir" STATION WEST (1948). Ives appeared in several films between 1946 and 1950, the other titles being GREEN GRASS OF WYOMING (1948), Disney's SO DEAR TO MY HEART (1948), and the Audie Murphy film SIERRA (1950). He was then off the screen for five years before returning in EAST OF EDEN (1955); he went on to win the Oscar as Best Supporting Actor for the memorable Western THE BIG COUNTRY (1958). Ives' place in pop culture history was cemented when he narrated the TV classic RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER (1964), singing the unforgettable "Holly Jolly Christmas."

SMOKY was directed by Louis King and photographed by Charles G. Clarke. It was based on a novel by Will James. The running time is 87 minutes.

This movie is not available on DVD or VHS. It has been shown on Fox Movie Channel, and if I remember correctly it also turned up on Turner Classic Movies a few months ago.

As a postscript, my dogs rarely pay attention to the television, but SMOKY absolutely transfixed my dog Luke, who seemed very aware there was another animal on the screen. When a mountain lion appeared on camera, Luke jumped! I got quite a kick out of watching Luke's interest in the whinnying horse on the screen. This movie is recommended for dogs as well as those who love horse movies!

Update: Here's a review of the 1933 version of SMOKY starring Victor Jory, as seen at the 2018 Lone Pine Film Festival.

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...Today marks the centennial of the birth of actor John Payne. Early in his career Payne was the singing star of wonderful Fox musicals such as SUN VALLEY SERENADE (1941), WEEK-END IN HAVANA (1941), and SPRINGTIME IN THE ROCKIES (1942). Like Dick Powell before him, Payne later made the transition from musicals to rugged film noir hero, appearing in classics of the genre such as KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL (1952), 99 RIVER STREET (1953), and SLIGHTLY SCARLET (1956). He also starred in numerous adventure films and Westerns in the '50s, including SILVER LODE (1954) and TENNESSEE'S PARTNER (1955). He'll always be best-known, however, as the star of the Christmas perennial MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947). John Payne died in 1989.

...This weekend's Horseathon is well underway, sponsored by Page at My Love of Old Hollywood. Click the link for a list of participating blogs. I've enjoyed reading a number of excellent posts this weekend; one of my favorites was Elisabeth of The Second Sentence writing on Robert Taylor in Disney's MIRACLE OF THE WHITE STALLIONS (1963). I saw that as a child and recently purchased a copy. Later today I'll be posting on SMOKY (1946), starring Fred MacMurray and Anne Baxter. (Update: Here's my review of SMOKY!)

...I love this story: During a remodel of Clifton's Cafeteria -- which has been in operation in Downtown Los Angeles since 1935 -- it was recently discovered that a neon lamp, boarded over in a previous remodel, had been burning nonstop for the last...77 years! It's estimated the forgotten light fixture racked up over $17,000 in electric bills since the '30s.

...A review of O.S.S. (1946) at Kevin's Movie Corner caused me to order a used VHS copy of the film from Amazon this weekend. O.S.S. stars Alan Ladd and Geraldine Fitzgerald. Sounds like my kind of movie!

...And a review of the Japanese film LATE SPRING (1949) by R.D. Finch at The Movie Projector caused me to add that film, directed by Yasujiro Ozu, to my Netflix queue. In the comments section for his review, R.D. also gave me some excellent suggestions for further exploration of Japanese movies.

...Susan King of the Los Angeles Times discusses war films featuring female casts, including one of my favorites, SO PROUDLY WE HAIL! (1943).

...Colin recently reviewed PURSUED (1947) at Riding the High Country. I've always liked this psychological Western noir, which stars Robert Mitchum and Teresa Wright, and my husband and I were fortunate to see it at UCLA last summer. Toby reports at 50 Westerns From the 50s that Olive Films will release PURSUED on DVD this August.

...Speaking of Toby, I loved his review of HONDO (1953) and the long discussion which followed in the comments. For more on HONDO and its new release on Blu-ray, visit Glenn Erickson's review at DVD Savant.

...Power Line, one of the finest political blogs, celebrated its tenth anniversary this weekend.

...Just came across John Greco's very good December 2009 review of SLIGHTLY SCARLET (1956) at Twenty Four Frames, which was of interest as I just saw the movie Friday night at the L.A. County Museum of Art. Greco also noted the visual similarity to Sirk's WRITTEN ON THE WIND; it intrigues me the films were made by two different directors and cinematographers yet came out the same year and share such vivid, over-the-top colors. Greco's description of Rhonda Fleming and Arlene Dahl's wardrobes is funny and accurate.

...A collection of Joan Crawford noir posters at Where Danger Lives ties in with my Friday night movie-going too, since I saw one of the movies he features, THE DAMNED DON'T CRY (1950).

...Grand Old Movies writes on the entertaining Loretta Young thriller CAUSE FOR ALARM! (1951). As Caftan Woman noted a while back, there's a rather interesting "housewife noir" subgenre which also includes Laraine Day in WITHOUT HONOR (1949).

...Royal Watch: There are lovely photos of the christening of little Princess Estelle of Sweden at the Swedish royal family's official website.

...One of my favorite DVD reviewers, Barrie Maxwell of The Digital Bits, has faced health challenges of late, so it was wonderful to see him return last week with a new batch of reviews. I send Barrie prayers and the very best wishes for his continued recovery.

...Cliff has posted an informative CRIME DOCTOR Episode Guide at Immortal Ephemera. I'm looking forward to trying this Warner Baxter series in the future, sounds like fun.

...George Maharis recently reminisced about shooting the TV series ROUTE 66. Love this photo of Maharis and Martin Milner! Shout! Factory has just released the entire series in a boxed DVD set.

...The new movie directors postage stamps were released last week! They honor John Ford, Frank Capra, Billy Wilder, and John Huston. There are links with more info on the stamps, including pictures, in a post I wrote last August.

...Will Amazon rescue the cancelled ABC TV series PAN AM?

...I got a kick out of Charles Krauthammer's column on his obsession with baseball in general and the Washington Nationals in particular.

...Notable Passings: Jean Craighead George, the author of classics such as MY SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN and the Newbery Medal winner JULIE OF THE WOLVES, has died at age 92...TV producer Lee Rich, the man behind THE WALTONS, DALLAS, and FALCON CREST, passed away at the age of 93...and Jack Benny writer Al Gordon has passed on at age 89.

Have a great week!

On Memorial Day

Thinking of those who gave all for our nation and our freedom, with profound gratitude.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Captains of the Clouds (1942)

CAPTAINS OF THE CLOUDS is an interesting film about the efforts of the Royal Canadian Air Force in World War II. The film, set prior to the U.S. entry into the war, was released just two months after Pearl Harbor.

The movie starts out as a tale of brawling Canadian bush pilots, played by James Cagney, Dennis Morgan, Alan Hale, George Tobias, and Reginald Gardiner. Brenda Marshall is the woman who complicates Cagney and Morgan's lives.

Morgan eventually signs on with the Royal Canadian Air Force, and the other men, who are too old to be accepted as fighter pilots, "audition" for positions as flight instructors, with varying degrees of success. The film comes to a climax when the men join a mix of RCAF and civilian pilots tasked with ferrying a fleet of bombers from Newfoundland to England.

The actors play their typical types of that era, with Cagney the brash rule bender, Morgan the responsible nice guy, and Hale and Tobias the goofy sidekicks. I especially enjoyed Gardiner's dry wit and reminisces about missing England. Marshall does a good job as a woman with inconstant affections who longs to leave the Canadian wilderness for the excitement of the big city.

The movie is 113 minutes, and the film's pace would have been improved if a few minutes had been shaved from the running time. That said, it's an enjoyable movie, distinguished by stunning Technicolor location photography. The film would be worth watching for the color scenery alone; Marshall is also lovely to watch in vivid Technicolor.

Sol Polito was nominated for the Oscar for Best Color Cinematography; it's a bit curious that he was the only photographer nominated for the film, as he shared a credit with Wilfred Cline. Polito lost to Leon Shamroy, who won for THE BLACK SWAN (1942).

The crew of aerial photographers included Winton C. Hoch, who would go on to win three Oscars.

The movie was directed by Michael Curtiz. The supporting cast includes Reginald Denny, Paul Cavanagh, Louis Jean Heydt, Clem Bevans, J.M. Kerrigan, and J. Farrell MacDonald. A student pilot is played by Gig Young, then billed as Byron Barr.

This film is available on DVD in the James Cagney Signature Collection. The disc comes with a complete "Warner Night at the Movies" set of extras including a newsreel, short, and cartoons. The DVD can be rented from Netflix and ClassicFlix.

This film also had a release on VHS.

CAPTAINS OF THE CLOUDS can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies, which has the trailer on the TCM website. TCM will next show this film on August 14, 2012, which is James Cagney Day in the annual Summer Under the Stars Festival.

2022 Update: This film is now available on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive Collection.  My review of the Blu-ray may be found here.

Book Review: Screen Savers II: My Grab Bag of Classic Movies


As its title indicates, the original SCREEN SAVERS called attention to relatively little-known or underappreciated films, including titles which are personal favorites of mine such as IT STARTED WITH EVE (1941), RACHEL AND THE STRANGER (1948), and THE TALL TARGET (1951).

SCREEN SAVERS II starts off sharing ten essays which didn't make the final cut for the original SCREEN SAVERS. It's a great list which includes Joan Fontaine's IVY (1947), Alan Ladd's BRANDED (1950), James Stewart in THE FAR COUNTRY (1955), and four Joel McCrea titles. I definitely share the author's appreciation of Mr. McCrea!

Section II of the book was adapted from posts on DiLeo's website. He writes about a number of other excellent films such as APARTMENT FOR PEGGY (1948) with Jeanne Crain, MY REPUTATION (1946) with Barbara Stanwyck, and SADDLE THE WIND (1958) with Robert Taylor. I liked that he mentions some obscurities such as GENTLE ANNIE (1944), which has a really lovely performance by Harry Morgan, and THE ROMANCE OF ROSY RIDGE (1947), in which Janet Leigh made her film debut.

The "blog post" reviews aren't as detailed as those in Section I, but they're still very much worth reading and definitely help whet the appetite to try those titles yet unseen. As a fan of the underrated John Lund, I'm particularly curious about MISS TATLOCK'S MILLIONS (1948), given DiLeo's rave for Lund's performance.

This section of the book also includes various other entries, such as centennial tributes and obituaries.

The final section of the book consists of movie trivia quizzes which I thought were quite good, providing some fun challenges. I particularly liked a quiz where various food-related events had to be matched with the correct titles, such as naming the film where Thanksgiving is ruined when three children realize they knew the turkey personally, or the film in which a trio of friends regularly orders oysters, searching for a pearl.

Other quizzes include matching 10 actresses to the film in which each played a princess, or matching a list of fictional movie studios with the films in which they appeared.

This is another good book by DiLeo, who also wrote the excellent TENNESSEE WILLIAMS AND COMPANY: HIS ESSENTIAL SCREEN ACTORS. It was an entertaining read, and I'm sure other classic film fans will enjoy both the book and the author's movie recommendations.

My sincere thanks to John DiLeo and Hansen Publishing Group for providing me with a review copy of this book.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Guadalcanal Diary (1943)

Memorial Day Weekend is always a good time to watch one of the many films paying tribute to our nation's armed forces, and tonight I chose GUADALCANAL DIARY.

GUADALCANAL DIARY is based on the book by correspondent Richard Tregaskis, played in the film by Reed Hadley.

It's a fairly standard WWII film, depicting the alternating boredom, misery, and sheer terror experienced by the first Marines to land on Guadalcanal.

Although the Lamar Trotti script is somewhat run of the mill, the movie does do a good job underscoring the bravery of our military in the early days of the war, when ordinary men stepped up to do an unimaginably difficult job. The film also manages to convey some of the horror of war without resorting to graphic violence.

The film is elevated by a fine cast. I especially liked Preston Foster as the Irish Catholic chaplain. The Marines are played by an impressive group of actors including Lloyd Nolan, Richard Conte, William Bendix, Anthony Quinn, Richard Jaeckel, Lionel Stander, Roy Roberts, and Minor Watson.

The movie was directed by Lewis Seiler. The black and white cinematography was by Charles G. Clarke; filming locations included California's Camp Pendleton and Catalina Island. The film runs 93 minutes.

This film is available on DVD in the Fox War Classics series. Netflix has the DVD available and also shows the film via streaming. The DVD can also be rented from ClassicFlix.

GUADALCANAL DIARY also had a release on VHS.

Mariette Hartley at the Garden Grove Strawberry Festival Parade

This morning our daughter's high school band marched in the Garden Grove Strawberry Festival parade, held every Memorial Day weekend. The festival was founded in 1958.

Actress Mariette Hartley was the parade's Grand Marshal:

Western fans may find it hard to believe, but it's been 50 years since Mariette appeared with Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott in her first film, RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY (1962).

It's also been more than a few years since she did those great Polaroid commercials with James Garner. She also worked with Garner in one of my very favorite ROCKFORD FILES episodes, "Paradise Cove."

In the early '80s I saw Hartley in the play PUT THEM ALL TOGETHER at the Coronet Theatre in Los Angeles. She was very gracious about signing autographs after the show, in which she played a mother who falls apart under the strain of caring for her hyperactive son. James B. Sikking (HILL STREET BLUES) costarred.

As it happens, playwright Anne Commire, who wrote PUT THEM ALL TOGETHER, passed away earlier this year at the age of 72.  Hartley and Commire also teamed to coauthor Hartley's autobiography, BREAKING THE SILENCE.

It was great to see Mariette in person again after so many years, as well as enjoy a slice of holiday Americana:

Best wishes to all for a special Memorial Day Weekend!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Slightly Scarlet (1956) at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

SLIGHTLY SCARLET was the second film on tonight's agenda in the series The Sun Sets in the West: Mid-Century California Noir at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. I've been interested in seeing this one for quite a while, so it was the biggest draw for me this evening, although it turned out that THE DAMNED DON'T CRY (1950) was also a highly enjoyable film.

SLIGHTLY SCARLET stars two red-haired, green-eyed lookers, Rhonda Fleming and Arlene Dahl. Fleming plays the secretary of a "good government" candidate for mayor, Frank Jansen (Kent Taylor), while Dahl is her kleptomaniac sister, newly released from prison.

The sisters become entangled with Ben Grace (John Payne), who works for mobster Solly Caspar (Ted de Corsia). Ben helps out Jansen's campaign, benefiting himself when Solly is forced to flee the country and Ben moves in to run his operations. Ben falls in love with June and walks a line between good and bad behavior, until Solly returns for a fateful confrontation.

This is a very interesting film, with an absorbing story and a fantastic sense of visual style, as well as a curiously ambiguous ending. I've always liked Payne and Fleming, who are both very good, but it must be said Dahl is especially impressive as the troubled sister. Having also seen Dahl recently in REIGN OF TERROR (1949) and SCENE OF THE CRIME (1949), I've come to feel she's a rather underrated actress. While her role in SCENE OF THE CRIME was a fairly standard part as Van Johnson's worried wife, she was compelling as the daring, brave conspirator in REIGN OF TERROR; in SLIGHTLY SCARLET she's quite striking as a woman with strong compulsions for both thievery and men.

Fleming and Dahl were born in 1923 and 1928, respectively, and both ladies are still with us today.

The film is a true visual feast, as photographed by the great John Alton in RKO's Superscope. Alton is most famous for shooting black and white film noir titles with directors such as Anthony Mann, yet it should be remembered he won an Oscar for shooting the brilliant Technicolor ballet in AN AMERICAN IN PARIS (1951). SLIGHTLY SCARLET has bright reds and greens, starting with the two lead actresses and their wardrobes, yet Alton also frames many scenes in deep shadows, at times almost achieving a mix of color with a black and white look. As a side note, the vivid colors made me think at times of the Douglas Sirk film WRITTEN ON THE WIND, which was photographed by Russell Metty and released the same year as SLIGHTLY SCARLET.

SLIGHTLY SCARLET is one of seven films Alton made which were directed by Allan Dwan; the series also includes SILVER LODE (1954) with John Payne, which I reviewed last summer, and TENNESSEE'S PARTNER (1955), a Payne-Fleming film I reviewed in 2010.

This 99-minute film is based on James M. Cain's novel LOVE'S LOVELY COUNTERFEIT. The Museum's information sheet on the film happened to quote my friend Blake Lucas's entry on the movie in THE FILM NOIR ENCYCLOPEDIA, in which he explained that the film changes the original story quite a bit.

The supporting cast includes Ellen Corby, Buddy Baer, Lance Fuller, and Myron Healy; if you don't blink you'll notice Frank Jenks as a bartender.

This film is available on DVD as a single-title DVD or in the Deadly Dames Film Collector's Set. The Deadly Dames DVD includes a commentary track.

SLIGHTLY SCARLET has also been released on VHS.

The film program at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), seen at the left, has struggled in recent years, but The Sun Sets in the West was a slice of outstanding programming, with an interesting theme and equally interesting film selections. The movies I saw were all well attended, especially CRISS CROSS.

Good things seem to be on the horizon with last fall's announcement that LACMA and the Academy would collaborate on a movie museum. My compliments to LACMA for an excellent series, and I hope classic film fans can look forward to more good viewing in the future.

Tonight's Movie: The Damned Don't Cry (1950) at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Tonight it was back to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for one more evening of the series The Sun Sets in the West: Mid-Century California Noir.

Last weekend's excellent movies, EXPERIMENT IN TERROR (1962) and CRISS CROSS (1949), were followed up tonight by two more very entertaining films, THE DAMNED DON'T CRY (1950) and SLIGHTLY SCARLET (1956). (SLIGHTLY SCARLET is reviewed here.)

Vincent Sherman directed THE DAMNED DON'T CRY, and it was a nice surprise when the evening started off with the announcement that his son Eric was there to introduce the film. Among other things, Eric acknowledged that his father had a fling with star Joan Crawford while making the movie. He also mentioned that Jerome Weidman's original script was 300 (!) pages long, then compressed down to manageable size by Harold Medford. The inspiration for the film was a Gertrude Walker story titled "Case History."

THE DAMNED DON'T CRY is a cross between a "woman's picture" and film noir, in the style of THE HARD WAY (1943) and Crawford's own MILDRED PIERCE (1945). It's the rags to riches tale of Ethel Whitehead (Crawford), a poor, beaten-down housewife who after a tragedy decides to dump her husband (Richard Egan, in one of his first roles) and -- after briefly teaming with CPA Marty Blankford (Kent Smith) on her move up -- eventually transforms herself into elegant Lorna Hansen Forbes, an "oil heiress" who is the mistress of mobster George Castleman (David Brian).

Lorna's life grows very complicated when Castleman sends her to "Desert Springs," California with a mission: to ingratiate herself with and spy on Castleman's underling, Nick (Steve Cochran), who Castleman suspects is plotting against him. Lorna initially finds the job distasteful, but then she starts to fall for Nick for real. If she tells Castleman the truth about Nick, Nick's a dead man, and things won't look too good for her either if Castleman realizes she's lied or figures out she's in love with Nick.

This is your typical engrossing Crawford melodrama, with noirish shadows and guns mixed in, plus a dash of Palm Springs. It was a good watch from start to finish, though I thought the surprisingly light final seconds of this 103-minute film wimped out just a bit from what I was expecting. I don't really understand why all the male characters find Crawford so incredibly attractive, but needless to say, she has a very compelling personality, which is why she was a star for decades.

As for the male actors, I would have liked it if there had been a lot less of David Brian and Kent Smith and a whole lot more of Steve Cochran, who first really came to my attention earlier this year in TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY (1951). Cochran is incredibly handsome and very charismatic, while Smith (NORA PRENTISS) is just a nice-guy wimp and Brian is okay, but not someone I particularly enjoy. Cochran really helps make the movie as worthwhile as it is.

Also registering strongly is Selena Royle as Patricia Longworth, who sponsors "Lorna's" entrance into high society. The cast also includes Hugh Sanders, Jacqueline deWit, Edith Evanson, and Jimmy Moss. Morris Ankrum wears a little too much makeup to disguise the fact that he's only a handful of years older than his movie "daughter," Crawford. I've got to take another look at this someday, as I apparently missed Bess Flowers as -- what else? -- a nightclub patron.

The Desert Springs sequences were filmed in Palm Springs, which is how the film came to be included in the museum's series on "mid-century California noir." As a matter of fact, the exteriors for Nick's house were shot at Frank Sinatra's home, built in 1947. The estate was known as Twin Palms, and there are some great shots of it, as used in the movie, here.

This movie is available on DVD in The Joan Crawford Collection or as a single-title purchase. (March 2018 Update: This film is being reissued on DVD by the Warner Archive in April 2018.)

May 2017 Update: I've posted a couple photos of the Twin Palms Estate, which is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

July 2023 Update: THE DAMNED DON'T CRY is now available in a beautiful Blu-ray print from the Warner Archive Collection. My review of the Blu-ray is here.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Exclusive Story (1936)

There was an exciting postscript to the wonderful times I had at the Noir City Film Festival in recent weeks: the evening of Geraldine Fitzgerald films was sponsored by the Warner Archive, which held a drawing for a giveaway of 10 Archive DVDs. And I was absolutely thrilled when I learned I'd won!

Even better was the news that I got to pick the 10 titles myself. One of the titles on my list was EXCLUSIVE STORY (1936), a newspaper versus the mob story starring a pair of actors I really enjoy, Franchot Tone and Madge Evans.

Tone plays the legal counsel for a newspaper which takes on organized crime. The chief reporter on the story is played by Stuart Erwin. Evans is the daughter of a grocer who is pressured by the mobsters to participate in a numbers racket.

It's an entertaining, fast-paced 73-minute movie, a nice mix of newsroom drama, crime busting, romance, and adventure, including a gripping shipboard fire sequence (which has a couple of surprisingly disturbing visuals).

Tone and Evans are fine, as usual. The nicest surprise in the film was a really good part for Stuart Erwin as the reporter. He and his understanding wife, played by Margaret Irving, have a delightful bantering relationship, and their scenes elevate the movie above the average run-of-the-mill film of this type.

The supporting cast includes the excellent actor Joseph Calleia as one of the mobsters and J. Farrell MacDonald as Evans' father. Louise Henry plays Tone's not-very-understanding fiancee. The cast also includes Robert Barrat, Charles Trowbridge, William Henry, Raymond Hatton, J. Carrol Naish, and Sam McDaniel. That's Dickie Jones as one of Stuart Erwin's sons.

EXCLUSIVE STORY was directed by George B. Seitz, a stalwart of MGM's "B" unit who headed up films such as the ANDY HARDY series and MY DEAR MISS ALDRICH (1937). He also directed the very good YELLOW JACK (1938) with Robert Montgomery and Virginia Bruce.

In addition to the DVD, EXCLUSIVE STORY can be seen on Turner Classic Movies.

For more on this film, please visit Frank Nugent's original review in the New York Times and Matt Hinrichs' positive review of the Warner Archive DVD for DVD Talk.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Today at Disneyland: Fantasmic! 20th Anniversary Celebration

It's hard to believe, but it's been two decades since Fantasmic! debuted at Disneyland.

Fantasmic! is a unique style of entertainment, incorporating dancers, projections on water screens, and fireworks; in the most impressive scenes, the show also utilizes Disneyland's Mark Twain and Sailing Ship Columbia.

A brief preview on the Disneyland website gives a good idea of what the show is like. There are also many videos available on YouTube, such as this one or this one.

On a few evenings this month Disneyland hosted an Annual Passholder 20th Anniversary Celebration of Fantasmic! Like the Soundsational passholder party we attended last October, on these evenings ticketed passholders were able to enjoy the performance after the park had been cleared of the daytime crowds. Some rides and restaurants were also available in Frontierland, Adventureland, and New Orleans Square. There were also special menu items available at area restaurants.

The Mark Twain at sunset:

Time for Fantasmic!

The fire-breathing dragon fondly known as Murphy has a history as being unreliable, but when he's "on," he's most impressive!

My favorite part of the show is the PETER PAN battle staged aboard the Columbia:

The grand finale on the Mark Twain:

The special passholder parties serve a dual purpose for Disney, making passholders -- who were just hit with massive price increases -- feel appreciated and that they're receiving "extra value," while at the same time the passholders who attend the off-hours parties may be less likely to attend as many regular days, making the park a little less crowded for everyone else. Crowds seem to have been a major factor behind the price hikes, especially with high interest in this summer's new lands at Disney's California Adventure.

Disney fun ahead in June: We'll be attending a D23 screening of IN SEARCH OF THE CASTAWAYS (1962) on the Disney Studios lot, and hopefully we'll be able to see Cars Land, which opens June 15th, during its inaugural month!

Newer›  ‹Older