Wednesday, October 31, 2012

TCM in November: Highlights

There's a great month ahead on Turner Classic Movies, with an interesting schedule which includes a wonderful series focusing on films adapted from novels, "Great Adaptations."

Constance Bennett is the Star of the Month beginning Tuesday evening, November 6th. I'll have more information on those films in the near future. (Update: My post is now up; please visit TCM Star of the Month: Constance Bennett.)

Here are just a few of the wonderful films airing on Turner Classic Movies this month:

...November 1st starts off with the Western TENSION AT TABLE ROCK (1956) -- check out this poster for it at 50 Westerns From the 50s. It stars Richard Egan, Dorothy Malone, Angie Dickinson, and Cameron Mitchell.

...As regular viewers know, TCM typically shows "B" series films on Saturday mornings, and in this month of "Great Adaptations" it's therefore fitting that the current Saturday morning series will be the FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS films, based on the books by Margaret Sidney. The series kicks off on Saturday, November 3rd, with THE FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS AND HOW THEY GREW (1939). Edith Fellows stars as Polly Pepper.

...Also on the 3rd, THE COWBOY AND THE LADY (1938) is a very cute romantic comedy starring Gary Cooper and Merle Oberon. They're adorable together. Recommended. This is one of a half dozen films celebrating Merle Oberon in the prime time and late evening hours that day.

...THE DEVIL MAKES THREE (1952) is one of Gene Kelly's lesser-known films, a drama set in postwar Europe. It airs in the early morning hours on November 5th.

...The "Great Adaptations" series on November 7th includes Clark Gable and Loretta Young in CALL OF THE WILD (1935) and John Barrymore and Joan Bennett in MOBY DICK (1930).

...Frank Capra's classic LOST HORIZON (1937), based on the novel by James Hilton, airs in the early morning hours on November 8th. I've had the good fortune to see this in theaters multiple times -- the last time, I believe in the mid '80s, was a restoration screening at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art featuring recovered scenes with dialogue but no film to match. It was fascinating.  And I liked the book!  (It's too bad TCM isn't showing RANDOM HARVEST, also based on a Hilton book, this month.)

...After LOST HORIZON, hang around for yet another great movie based on a book, MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY (1935), with Clark Gable, Charles Laughton, and Franchot Tone. I saw this in a theater when I was about 11 and it made such an impression that I immediately read the entire Nordhoff-Hall trilogy and became particularly fascinated with the history of Pitcairn Island.

...Hedy Lamarr was born 99 years ago on November 9, 1913. Her birthday will be celebrated by TCM with seven films. H.M. PULHAM, ESQ. (1941), which I haven't seen yet, has been recommended to me as one of her finest performances. Other titles include ZIEGFELD GIRL (1941) with Lana Turner and Judy Garland, CROSSROADS (1941) with William Powell, and THE CONSPIRATORS (1944) with some of the cast of CASABLANCA costarring. I'm especially fond of EXPERIMENT PERILOUS (1944) a Gothic noir with George Brent; Lamarr proves once more that she was not just a beauty, but a real acting talent.

...One of the films which intrigues me this month is THE SWORDSMAN (1948), airing on November 9th. It stars Larry Parks and Ellen Drew and was directed by Joseph H. Lewis.

...The family classic NATIONAL VELVET (1944) is very much worth seeing, with Elizabeth Taylor, Mickey Rooney, Angela Lansbury, Anne Revere, Butch Jenkins, and Donald Crisp. It's on Sunday afternoon, November 11th.

...I just reviewed THE LEOPARD MAN (1943) for today's Val Lewton Blogathon. I really enjoyed this spooky movie.  Check it out on November 12th. It stars Dennis O'Keefe, Jean Brooks, and Margo.

...It's been far too long since I last saw ANATOMY OF A MURDER (1959), a terrific courtroom drama with James Stewart, Lee Remick, George C. Scott, Eve Arden, and Ben Gazzara. It was directed by Otto Preminger. The air date is November 13th.

...I really enjoyed FOG OVER FRISCO (1934), a murder mystery with Margaret Lindsay, Bette Davis, and Lyle Talbot. (Be sure to read about the new book on Lyle Talbot here.) It's on November 14th.

...November 15th I plan to record WICKED AS THEY COME (1957), starring Arlene Dahl, Phil Carey, and Herbert Marshall. It's one of "Robert Osborne's Picks" this month, part of an eclectic lineup which includes the MGM musicals BABES IN ARMS (1939) and THREE LITTLE WORDS (1950).

...When I saw Budd Boetticher and Randolph Scott's RIDE LONESOME (1959) at UCLA last summer, I thought it was one of the best Westerns I'd ever seen, and regular readers know I watch a lot of them! It has a wonderful cast including Pernell Roberts, James Coburn, Lee Van Cleef, and Karen Steele, and a terrific, compact script by Burt Kennedy. Be sure to catch it on Friday, November 16th.

...I've always been a huge fan of MGM musicals, and THE HARVEY GIRLS (1946) is a particular favorite. It has a great cast including Judy Garland, Angela Lansbury, John Hodiak, Virginia O'Brien, and Cyd Charisse, among others, and the Oscar-winning "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe," which is a mind-blowing giant production number filmed on MGM's fabled backlot. It's a wonderful film to share with the family as Thanksgiving approaches. It's on late on November 17th, or early on the 18th for those of you in the Eastern time zone, so be sure to set your DVR. (P.S. Since this is a book-themed month on TCM, it's worth mentioning that there's an excellent book on the real-life Harvey Girls, sent to me a few years ago by a thoughtful friend.)

...November 18th: Jean Arthur and Charles Boyer in Frank Borzage's HISTORY IS MADE AT NIGHT (1937). A must-see.

...I love the cast of QUANTRILL'S RAIDERS (1958), airing on November 19th: Steve Cochran, Diane Brewster, and Leo Gordon. Brewster and Gordon were semi-regulars on my favorite TV series, MAVERICK; Gordon also wrote for MAVERICK, along with many other shows, and he also cowrote a little Victor Mature Western I liked a lot, ESCORT WEST (1958).  A very talented man.

...Later on the 19th there are two more Westerns from 1958: favorite Frank Lovejoy stars as COLE YOUNGER, GUNFIGHTER, and Rory Calhoun, Barbara Bates, and John Dehner star in APACHE TERRITORY, which runs again on the 29th.

...November 21st is devoted to the wonderful dancer Eleanor Powell. When I met her son, Peter Ford, last year, he told me she was "an angel," and her sweet personality comes across on screen along with her tremendous dancing talent. Have a peek for yourself at Powell in films such as BROADWAY MELODY OF 1936 (1935), ROSALIE (1937), and LADY BE GOOD (1941). BROADWAY MELODY OF 1940 contains Powell's sublime dance with Fred Astaire, "Begin the Beguine," familiar to many from THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! (1974).

...Thanksgiving Eve the Great Adaptations series includes two of the best examples of novel to film, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962) and GONE WITH THE WIND (1939).

...On Thanksgiving Day, the 22nd, the Great Adaptations series continues with wonderful family films based on books, including ANNE OF GREEN GABLES (1934), LASSIE COME HOME (1943), THE YEARLING (1946), THE SECRET GARDEN (1949), LITTLE WOMEN (1949), CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN (1950), SITTING PRETTY (1948), ROOM FOR ONE MORE (1952), PLEASE DON'T EAT THE DAISIES (1960), and LIFE WITH FATHER (1947). It's fun to note I've read all the original books for the Thanksgiving lineup, except for LASSIE and SITTING PRETTY.

...There are great movies all weekend following Thanksgiving. THE LEMON DROP KID (1951) with Bob Hope and Lloyd Nolan might start to put viewers in the Christmas spirit on Sunday, November 25th. Truth to tell I wasn't that impressed with it -- but I am forever grateful to this film for producing my favorite Christmas song, "Silver Bells," by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans.

...November 26th is one of those days where I could sit in front of TCM all day long if I had the time. Titles include Charles McGraw and Marie Windsor in the "train noir" THE NARROW MARGIN (1952), Robert Mitchum and Ann Blyth in a Korean War film, ONE MINUTE TO ZERO (1952), Hope, Crosby & Lamour in ROAD TO BALI (1952), Ida Lupino and Robert Ryan in BEWARE, MY LOVELY (1952), Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright in Andrew Stone's THE STEEL TRAP (1952), the MGM PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (1940) with Garson and Olivier, as well as Ann Rutherford and Marsha Hunt, and JANE EYRE (1944) with Orson Welles, Joan Fontaine, Margaret O'Brien and a fantastic cast. No wonder I love TCM!

...A birthday tribute to Gloria Grahame on November 28th includes ROUGHSHOD (1949), a relatively little-known but excellent Western costarring Robert Sterling and Claude Jarman Jr. Sterling was right at home in this and makes one wish he'd made more Westerns than he did over the course of his career.

...(UPDATE) Lou Lumenick of the New York Post reminded me via Twitter that THE IRON PETTICOAT (1956), starring Bob Hope and Katharine Hepburn, has its U.S. premiere on November 29th! You can read more about Lou and his involvement in bringing this film to light in his column from last April.

...(UPDATE) I was obviously fading away as I came to the end of TCM's schedule late last night -- how could I have completely forgotten to mention that dear Moira of The Skeins and TCM's Movie Morlocks will be a Guest Programmer on November 30th?! Moira chose TOUCHEZ POS AU GRISBI (1954). Three fellow Morlocks will also be Guest Programmers that evening. Congratulations to Moira and the entire group!

Please consult the complete schedule for more information on TCM in November.

Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Viewing!

November 1st Update: I'm going to skip a Fox Movie Channel schedule update for this month, as the movies in rotation continue to be pretty much the same titles which have played in October and other recent months.

However, it's worth noting that the very good Michael Shayne mystery SLEEPERS WEST (1941) turns up on the Fox schedule November 18th.

Happy Halloween

Today is a great excuse to share this lovely picture from one of my all-time favorite TV shows:

(Photo Credit: Found by my husband on a great Facebook page he subscribes to, Vintage Los Angeles. If you're on Facebook be sure to check it out.)

I grew up watching BEWITCHED in endless reruns and suspect I've seen every episode multiple times. I love that when I watch movies with one of my favorite actors, Robert Montgomery, I sometimes notice expressions or gestures that are familiar from watching his daughter for so long!

Be sure to drop in on the Val Lewton Halloween Blogathon at Speakeasy and Classic Movie Man today...and you can check out my blogathon post on THE LEOPARD MAN (1943) here.

Have a fun day!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Tonight's Movie: The Leopard Man (1943)

NOTE: This review of THE LEOPARD MAN is my contribution to the Val Lewton Blogathon being held on Halloween, cohosted by Kristina of Speakeasy and Stephen of Classic Movie Man. Over two dozen terrific bloggers will be writing on all aspects of Lewton's career, so please be sure to check out the other posts in this series!

THE LEOPARD MAN was the third of three RKO films turned out in quick succession by producer Val Lewton and director Jacques Tourneur, following CAT PEOPLE (1942) and I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943). THE LEOPARD MAN seems to be the odd man out of this trio, not having reached the same level of critical acclaim as its predecessors, but I was impressed by its style. Although I haven't yet seen CAT PEOPLE, I frankly enjoyed THE LEOPARD MAN more than the highly regarded I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE.

Kiki Walker (Jean Brooks), a performer at a nightclub in a small New Mexico town, is being upstaged by Clo Clo (Margo), a flashy dancer with castanets. Kiki's manager Jerry (Dennis O'Keefe) borrows a leopard from a local carnival, thinking Kiki can get attention by making a flashy entrance walking into the club with the leopard on a leash. However, Clo Clo scares the animal and he runs away, leaving the town's residents in a state of terror.

Shortly thereafter a young girl is killed, apparently by the leopard, and then another girl dies. Guilt-ridden Kiki and Jerry try to play it cool, not admitting to each other how deeply responsible they each feel, and they focus on plans to move on to a better gig in another town. Then circumstances unfold which cause them to look into the deaths more closely...

THE LEOPARD MAN captures the viewer's attention from the start of the opening credits. It's a visually stylish film which also uses music effectively -- those castanets! -- and it manages to be terrifying without a bit of gore. The fear is created with shadows, sound effects, and extremely effective editing. The black and white photography was by Robert de Grasse; the editor was future director Mark Robson, who like director Robert Wise got his start in the RKO editing room.

Modern filmmakers could learn a great deal from Lewton, Tourneur, de Grasse, Robson, and the others who worked on this film. The scene where Teresa (Margaret Landry) walks home from the store in the dark has to be one of the scariest scenes I've ever seen, keeping in mind that I rarely watch horror. What child hasn't had a nightmare in which there's a struggle to cross over the threshold of a doorway in order to reach safety? As a young child I had a recurring nightmare with that very theme, so this sequence resonated deeply with me. The climax to this set piece is tremendously effective and disturbing.

My liking for this film over I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE can be chalked up, in part, to some of my personal preferences; I liked that LEOPARD MAN didn't have heavy voodoo/occult elements -- the closest it gets is a fortune teller and later a creepy procession of hooded men -- and that it didn't have the disturbing visuals which are present in some scenes in ZOMBIE. I frankly don't enjoy watching movies which are visually ugly, and, while I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE had its moments of eerie beauty, I have to say that zombies just aren't very nice to look at (grin). THE LEOPARD MAN, in contrast, scares the viewer by not showing critical moments.

I also liked the personal story which unfolds between Jerry and Kiki in THE LEOPARD MAN, as they gradually lose their hard outer shells when forced to confront the havoc created by the leopard. They gradually reveal themselves to be compassionate and responsible, and their feelings for one another reach a new level; their growth as individuals and as a couple provides an interesting thematic contrast with the leopard's destruction.

I haven't read much about the movie, wanting to approach it "cold," but in my limited research, it seems there are those dissatisfied with the film's resolution. I can see the point, but I didn't really have a problem with how it was brought to a conclusion.

With its memorable set pieces and character development, it's hard to believe THE LEOPARD MAN runs a mere 66 minutes. Truly, for Lewton and Company, less was more.

Margo is particularly terrific as the nightclub dancer, who fears that the cards played by a fortune teller (Isabel Jewell) foretell her own doom. Margo's best-known role was perhaps Maria in LOST HORIZON (1937). She was the wife of Eddie Albert and the mother of actor Edward Albert, who died in 2006. As Margo Albert, she was active in Los Angeles community issues, including a stint serving as Commissioner of Social Services. I seem to recall her also turning up regularly in the social columns which used to be a staple of both the Los Angeles Times and the long-defunct Los Angeles Herald-Examiner when I was growing up. Margo passed away in 1985; Eddie Albert survived her for two decades and never remarried.

There's more information about actress Jean Brooks in my post on THE FALCON IN DANGER (1943). The cast also includes James Bell, Abner Biberman, Ben Bard, and Richard Martin.

THE LEOPARD MAN was based on the novel BLACK ALIBI by Cornell Woolrich. I've now enjoyed a number of films based on Woolrich stories, which are described in my posts on NO MAN OF HER OWN (1950) and THE WINDOW (1949).

THE LEOPARD MAN is available on DVD in the Val Lewton Horror Collection. Extras include a commentary track and trailer. It can be rented from Netflix.

It's also out on Region 2 DVD in Europe, and it was released on VHS in the RKO Collection.

This film can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies. The trailer is here.

Criterion Sale at B&N

The fall Criterion sale at Barnes & Noble is now underway!

All Criterion DVDs are 50% off.

B&N members can take an additional 10% off on purchases made in stores, but the discount does not apply online.

I've already called and have Three Wicked Melodramas From Gainsborough Pictures waiting for me to pick it up at our local B&N!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Miracle Landing (1990)

MIRACLE LANDING is a 1990 CBS TV-movie depicting the true story of Aloha Airlines Flight 243. I watched the film when it first aired and found it very engrossing, and when I stumbled across it on YouTube today I was glad to have the opportunity to watch it again.

Although the airline's name was changed for the movie from Aloha to Paradise and some details were dramatized, for the most part this is a straightforward, factual account of the disaster which occurred aboard a Boeing 737 island hopping from Hilo to Honolulu. A section of the fuselage tore off when the plane was at 10,000 feet, instantly killing one flight attendant.

As the film's title implies, the plane was miraculously able to land in Maui due to the skill of pilot Bob Schornstheimer, played by Wayne Rogers, and copilot Mimi Tompkins, portrayed by Connie Sellecca. I really enjoyed watching Rogers' and Sellecca's depiction of a pair of amazing professionals who managed to keep their wits under the most bizarre conditions imaginable, moving through checklists and trouble-shooting as they work the situation.

Equally gripping is the story of flight attendant Michelle Honda (Ana-Alicia). The only one of the cabin crew uninjured in the disaster, she was forced to put aside the trauma of the loss of her coworker C.B. Lansing (Nancy Kwan) to help the passengers and injured flight attendant. She performed heroically at great personal risk, crawling through the plane with its exposed ceiling in order to calm the passengers, helping them to put on life jackets and follow safety procedures to the extent they could.

Looking at the plane after it landed, with its roof torn off, it's hard to believe all of the passengers exposed to the elements during the flight survived. A personal note: My dad happened to travel to Hawaii shortly after the incident and saw the damaged plane when it was still parked at the airport.

The excellent primary cast is rounded off by Jay Thomas as the Maui flight controller and James Cromwell, who has two scenes as a flight simulator instructor.

A couple of minor characters, including an obnoxious FBI man at the end of the film, are overdone caricatures, but the lead actors are all low-key and feel much more authentic.

I've always particularly enjoyed the lead actresses in the film, Connie Sellecca and Ana-Alicia. Sellecca starred in THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO and HOTEL, while Ana-Alicia played the most fascinating character in the great cast of the '80s show FALCON CREST. I had the opportunity to meet her briefly early in that show's run and found her very nice and friendly, nothing at all like FALCON CREST's calculating Melissa! Sellecca still acts occasionally -- the upcoming ALL ABOUT CHRISTMAS EVE (2012) is her first film in three years -- while Ana-Alicia retired to raise her children. I came across an interview she gave a couple years ago; she looks great and at that time indicated she might resume acting.

MIRACLE LANDING was directed by Dick Lowry, who continues to direct today, most recently the JESSE STONE entry INNOCENTS LOST (2011). He also directed the very good Hallmark Christmas film SILVER BELLS (2005). He had previously directed Ana-Alicia in COWARD OF THE COUNTY (1981), a TV-movie I recall enjoying; I was amazed to discover that one is available on DVD and look forward to seeing it again. COWARD OF THE COUNTY is available via Netflix.

The MIRACLE LANDING print currently on YouTube was for the most part quite watchable, although long shots in particular lacked sharpness.

Another review of this film can be found

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...I was delighted to be able to share my recent post on IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955) at MovieFanFare earlier this week. I enjoyed the recommendations of other sci-fi films which follow in the comments. Be sure to check out posts by other classic film fans at MovieFanFare! For links to my other posts which have appeared at that site, please visit this post on THE STALKING MOON (1969).

...Found on YouTube: a few minutes of Dick Powell, Yvonne DeCarlo, Dale Evans, and Danny Kaye entertaining the troops during WWII. What a bunch of talent in one place! Loved having the chance to see Yvonne perform "Babalu."

...I mentioned it in a roundup last month, but this fun news bears repeating: there's going to be a terrific Val Lewton Blogathon on Halloween this Wednesday! It's jointly sponsored by Speakeasy and Classic Movie Man. Over two dozen bloggers have signed up to contribute posts on a wide variety of Lewton films. It should be a very informative and interesting blog event.

...Over at Cinematically Insane, Will McKinley has posted about two very different screening experiences this week. He unfortunately saw a sub-par presentation of FRANKENSTEIN (1931) and BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) at a recent TCM/Fathom Events screening in New York; until TCM and Fathom can overcome the issues with satellite transmission of the films, let the buyer beware. (And how cool is it that Roger Ebert Re-Tweeted Will's review of the experience?!) On the other hand, Will had a great time seeing a beautiful print of William Castle's HOMICIDAL (1961) in Jersey City. I enjoyed reading his account!

...Today's Long Beach Press-Telegram ran an interesting article about a teenage whiz who writes crossword puzzles for the New York Times.

...Last weekend I posted information on several films which have been reviewed here in years past which are now out on DVD in the Fox Cinema Archives line. A title I missed which just came out this month: MOTHER IS A FRESHMAN (1951) with Loretta Young and Van Johnson. My January 2011 review is here.

...This week Glenn Erickson reviewed the pre-Code BLESSED EVENT (1932) at DVD Savant. I really enjoyed that one; it has a great cast including Lee Tracy, Dick Powell, Ruth Donnelly, Allen Jenkins, and Ned Sparks.

...REAR WINDOW (1954) headed for Broadway?

...Found via Twitter: a detailed interview with actor Bruce Boxleitner. When I think of Boxleitner, I recall shows I enjoyed from very early in his career, the '70s TV version of HOW THE WEST WAS WON and the superb 1981 production of EAST OF EDEN which starred Jane Seymour.

...The latest "Watch List" at Greenbriar Picture Shows includes an interesting-sounding Frank Borzage film, CHINA DOLL (1958), starring Victor Mature.

...Last weekend I shared links for reviews of the new Criterion Eclipse set, Three Wicked Melodramas From Gainsborough Pictures. Here are two more reviews, by Matt Hough at Home Theater Forum and Sean Axmaker at Videodrone. I'm anxious for the next Criterion sale...rumor has it it might be this week. If that's the case I'll be sure to share the news.

...Since I recently saw THE BIRDS (1963) for the first time, I particularly enjoyed Brandie's piece on the meaning behind the movie at True Classics.

...Thanks to Raquelle of Out of the Past for pointing me in the direction of a very interesting book due out next month, THE ENTERTAINER: MOVIES, MAGIC, AND MY FATHER'S TWENTIETH CENTURY. It's by Margaret Talbot, the daughter of actor Lyle Talbot. Lyle Talbot's screen career ran for over 55 years, from 1931 to 1987. (My father recently told me that, as a child, he saw Talbot in a stage production in Long Beach, California.) Margaret has written for The New Yorker; one of her brothers, David, founded and another brother, Stephen, is a documentary filmmaker. A fourth Talbot child, Cynthia, became a physician.

...Warner Bros. is dropping its four-week rental embargo for "bricks and mortar" video rental stores.

...Kristen shares her love for I MARRIED A WITCH (1942) at Journeys in Classic Film.

...New cookbook: SIMPLY SENSATIONAL COOKIES by Nancy Baggett. We like Baggett's ALL-AMERICAN COOKIE BOOK, which came out over a decade ago, so I suspect this book is worth checking out.

...Slate ran an article last week on Lillian Moller Gilbreth and how she helped design the "modern" kitchen. Gilbreth is better known to some as the mother in the books CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN and BELLES ON THEIR TOES; when the books were filmed, Myrna Loy played Gilbreth.

...Notable Passing: Actor-activist Russell Means passed away earlier this week at the age of 72. Means had a memorable film debut, playing Chingachgook, THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS, two decades ago. That modern-day classic is one of my favorite films, which I wrote about briefly in a roundup back in '09.

Have a great week!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Flame of Araby (1951)

A year or so ago I equated the pleasure of watching a Universal Western to opening a box of candy, and that's certainly the case with FLAME OF ARABY, an "Arabian Western" starring Jeff Chandler and Maureen O'Hara. It's a somewhat silly yet completely delicious piece of movie escapism, and I had a grand time watching it.

I found this film to be more of an exotic Western than a Middle Eastern adventure film as, thanks to movie magic, Arabia seems to be in California's Alabama Hills! The movie definitely has its share of scenes with palaces, handmaidens, veils, and other fairy tale imagery, but roughly two-thirds of the film is set in the great outdoors, riding horses amidst the same rocks where hundreds of Westerns have been filmed.

Chandler plays Tamerlane, a Bedouin on the hunt for a beautiful black stallion. The stallion is also coveted by Princess Tanya (O'Hara) of Tunis, especially when it may indirectly prove to be the means by which she can escape both her evil cousin (Maxwell Reed) and forced marriage to one of the ghastly Barbarossas (Buddy Baer and Lon Chaney Jr.).

It's a bit amusing at first hearing the actors delivering rather stilted Arabian Nights style dialogue, yet they commit to it so completely that it's ultimately charming, rather than camp. Some of the "serious" lines made me smile, but it's all in good fun.

Chandler and O'Hara both dive into their parts with verve and seem to be having a great time -- what a way to earn a living! -- and the audience has a good time right along with them. I watched most of the film with a smile on my face; it's the perfect movie to lift the spirits at the end of a long, busy day.

Richard Egan plays Captain Fezil, loyal servant of the princess. Susan Cabot is a dancing wench who causes trouble for both Tamerlane and Tanya. The cast also includes Neville Brand, Henry Brandon, Dewey Martin, and Royal Dano.

This fast-paced 77-minute film was directed by Charles Lamont, from a story and screenplay by Gerald Drayson Adams. Adams wrote film noir titles such as THE BIG STEAL (1950) and ARMORED CAR ROBBERY (1950), as well as many a Warner Bros. TV Western.

FLAME OF ARABY was recently released on DVD in the Universal Vault Series. It's a lovely print showcasing the Technicolor photography by Russell Metty in general and the gorgeous red-haired Maureen O'Hara in particular. The film also has some particularly fine matte compositions of the city of Tunis.

Fellow fans of the lead actors and Universal films of the era will hopefully have as good a time watching this one as I did.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Rage in Heaven (1941)

RAGE IN HEAVEN is an interesting psychological thriller with a sterling cast comprised of Robert Montgomery, Ingrid Bergman, and George Sanders.

Montgomery plays Philip Monrell, whose surface wit and charm initially cover the fact that he's a deeply disturbed individual. Philip marries Stella (Bergman), but is jealous of her friendship with his best friend, Ward (Sanders). Viewers are quickly tipped to the extent of Philip's psychosis when he "disappears" the kitten Ward had given Stella.

Soon Philip is intentionally throwing Stella and Ward together in hopes he can catch them having an affair, and when that doesn't work, his thoughts turn to murder, giving both Ward and Stella reason to fear for their lives. And then Philip creates an even more devious plan...

RAGE IN HEAVEN was based on a novel by James Hilton, the author of LOST HORIZON, RANDOM HARVEST, and GOODBYE, MR. CHIPS. It's an interesting story although a bit haphazard at times; it comes off as well as it does in large part due to the trio of excellent lead actors.

Montgomery and Sanders are somewhat cast against type, though Montgomery had been Oscar-nominated as a murderer in NIGHT MUST FALL (1937) and Sanders occasionally played a charming good guy in films such as Hitchcock's FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940).

Montgomery's flat affect in this film works wonderfully well as the psychotic Philip -- Kim Morgan recently wrote that Montgomery "might be a genius" -- and it makes one rather wish Montgomery made a film with Hitchcock besides the comic MR. AND MRS. SMITH (1941), released the same year as RAGE IN HEAVEN. He might have been interesting, for instance, in parts along the lines of the Robert Walker role in STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951) or the Ray Milland part in DIAL M FOR MURDER (1954).

As an aside, it's fun to note that as a director himself, Montgomery did later work with a longtime Hitchcock associate, producer Joan Harrison, on films such as RIDE THE PINK HORSE (1947) and EYE WITNESS (1950).

Sanders is a charmer as the man who would have liked to marry Stella himself, with his warm, occasionally uncertain performance providing an effective contrast with Montogmery's Philip. Sanders has moments of vulnerability which are a bit surprising coming from him, and thus all the more touching.

Bergman is enormously appealing in this, an angelic innocent caught in Philip's dastardly web. Bit by bit her radiant love for her husband is crushed by his own doing, but when she realizes it's a matter of life and death she's got the spunk to get away, and she exhibits similar determination when she must embark on an eleventh-hour quest to save Ward at movie's end.

I did have a feeling the development of Sanders' and Bergman's relationship in the last half hour was a bit truncated, which seems to be confirmed by stills found online. Bergman's wardrobe indicates this taxi scene takes place at a critical juncture, after Stella has fled to Ward for help and he then receives a fateful phone call from Philip.

The ending relies too heavily on a last-minute coincidence, a family secret, and related rushing around; though I generally like short films, an extra few minutes of plot and character development might have helped this 85-minute film flow a bit more smoothly.

Lucile Watson plays Montgomery's mother, with Aubrey Mather as the devoted family butler. Philip Merivale plays one of Montgomery's employees. Oscar Homolka is the doctor who treats Montgomery at an insane asylum; though his character is helpful, some restraint in the performance might have helped make the ending seem more plausible.

The screenplay was by Christopher Isherwood and Robert Thoeren. W.S. Van Dyke directed; additionally, Robert Sinclair directed the first few days of shooting, and Richard Thorpe directed retakes.

RAGE IN HEAVEN was released in a remastered print by the Warner Archive. The disc contains a reissue trailer, which can also be seen at TCM.

Additional reviews of this film can be found at Sittin' on a Backyard Fence and East County Magazine.

RAGE IN HEAVEN is a flawed but interesting and worthwhile film; those who enjoy Montgomery, Bergman, or Sanders will want to check it out.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tonight's Movie: The Man Who Found Himself (1937)

THE MAN WHO FOUND HIMSELF is a fast-paced RKO "B" movie about a doctor who falls on hard times but "finds himself" thanks in part to the love of a devoted nurse.

The movie starts off with lightning speed, fitting an appendectomy, a fatal plane crash, and a scandal into just the first few minutes. Dr. James Stanton Jr. (John Beal) has a devil-may-care attitude toward his hobby as a pilot, which causes his doctor father (George Irving) great concern and has disastrous results when the plane goes down in bad weather and causes the death of a friend.

Even worse, the friend was a married woman and Jim is unfairly implicated in scandal regarding her marriage. After being disciplined by a medical board, Jim hops a train for California. Eventually, thanks to an old friend (Phillip Huston), Jim is employed as a mechanic by an air ambulance company, and when Nurse Doris (Joan Fontaine) falls in love with him, she sets out to restore Jim to his prior career and make things right with his temperamental father.

There's a whole lot of plot jammed into 67 minutes, including a train crash and Nurse Doris paying an interesting visit to Jim's one-time fiancee (Jane Walsh); the busy story keeps the movie entertaining even when it verges toward the silly (Dr. Jim becomes a hobo?!). I also admit I rather enjoyed all the cute miniatures used for the plane and train crashes.

Once Doris enters the scene, the film becomes especially enjoyable. This was Joan Fontaine's fourth film and first major role, and indeed, the film has a special ending with her face on the screen and the words "This picture has introduced to you a new RKO screen personality, Joan Fontaine." She's charming, although it's interesting to note that her accent is all over the place in this, sounding British at times and American at others.

Leading man John Beal's acting career stretched for six decades, with his first movie in 1933 and his final film, THE FIRM, in 1993. His work included narrating Disney's SO DEAR TO MY HEART (1948), which I watched last summer.

This film was directed by Lew Landers, who directed a huge number of "B" films as well as TV shows, including two episodes of my favorite series MAVERICK. Turner Classic Movies has had something of a Landers festival this month, and I've recorded a number of his RKO films.

This movie isn't on DVD or VHS but, as mentioned, was just shown on Turner Classic Movies.

April 2019 Update: This film will be released on DVD by the Warner Archive in May 2019.

July 2019 Update: My review of the Warner Archive DVD may be found here.

A Birthday Tribute to Coleen Gray

Actress Coleen Gray, the star of many film noir and Western titles, turns 90 today.

Gray was born in Nebraska on October 23, 1922.

I'm a very great admirer of Gray's performance in KISS OF DEATH (1947), her first major movie release, filmed when she was 24. Although Richard Widmark understandably received great attention for his electric, Oscar-nominated film debut as gangster Tommy Udo, the movie wouldn't work as well as it does without the contrast of the sincere, heartfelt performances by Gray and Victor Mature. Gray and Mature's work has been underrated by some, but I would go so far as to say they provide two of my all-time favorite screen performances.

As I wrote at the time I first saw KISS OF DEATH, Gray's natural, emotionally open performance is quite different from other acting of the era and almost has a modern feel to it. The only thing I can compare it to from that time frame is Deanna Durbin's unusual screen personality; I've never seen anyone else on screen quite like Durbin or quite like Gray in KISS OF DEATH.

I was also very taken with COPPER SKY (1957), a "B" Western variation on THE AFRICAN QUEEN, with Gray struggling to survive the desert and Indians along with hard-drinking cowboy Jeff Morrow. Gray's glowing performance is again refreshingly natural, with an especially lovely scene where she and Morrow pray together. I was particularly struck by the moment after Morrow kisses her, when she turns toward the camera with a look of pure, unfettered joy on her face. It was another of those special, unique scenes from her career which has stayed with me.

The quality of Gray's films was somewhat variable, as was the impact she made on film. Some movies didn't seem to know quite what to do with her, and she thus doesn't come off as well playing unpleasant or underwritten characters in titles such as SABRE JET (1953) or TENNESSEE'S PARTNER (1955). With the right director and script, however, Gray's work was transcendent and unforgettable.

Her classic films included RED RIVER (1948), which was filmed early in her career but released after KISS OF DEATH, and great noir titles such as NIGHTMARE ALLEY (1947), KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL (1952), and THE KILLING (1956). It's interesting that some of her best-known films today didn't receive much of their critical recognition until years after they were released.

THE SLEEPING CITY (1950) was another excellent noir title, costarring Richard Conte, although I had a sneaking feeling a little too much of her performance was left on the cutting-room floor.

Gray appeared in many Westerns over the years, including FURY AT FURNACE CREEK (1948) which reunited her with Victor Mature of KISS OF DEATH. Other Gray Westerns I've seen include ARROW IN THE DUST (1954), costarring Sterling Hayden, and the low-budget THE WILD DAKOTAS (1956) with Bill Williams.

I've also seen Gray opposite William Holden in the family comedy FATHER IS A BACHELOR (1950), and I look forward to seeing many more of her movies for the first time, such as a Western produced by Val Lewton, APACHE DRUMS (1951).

There's an interesting interview with Gray available on YouTube, divided into chapters on Henry Hathaway, Tyrone Power, Sterling Hayden, NIGHTMARE ALLEY, Howard Hawks, RED RIVER, Stanley Kubrick, and more. Fans should be sure to check it out.

Sending happiest wishes, as well as gratitude for many wonderful movie memories, to a very special actress!

Update: A Visit With Coleen Gray.

2013 Update: Here are links to reviews of more Coleen Gray films: NIGHTMARE ALLEY (1947), APACHE DRUMS (1951), THE FAKE (1953), and THE KILLING (1956). Coleen Gray appeared in person at the screening of THE KILLING at the TCM Classic Film Festival.

Update: Here's a review of the ARROW IN THE DUST (1954) DVD, and a look at Gray in the engaging LAS VEGAS SHAKEDOWN (1955) with Dennis O'Keefe. I've also reviewed Gray in HELL'S FIVE HOURS (1958) and in the detective film P.J. (1968).

October 2013 Update: Here's a link to a profile I wrote of Gray which was just published at the ClassicFlix site.

April 2014 Update: Here's an account of the memorial service for producer Stanley Rubin, where Coleen Gray was a eulogist.

August 4, 2015 Update: Farewell to Coleen Gray.

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