Thursday, October 31, 2013

TCM in November: Highlights

Happy November! Thanksgiving is now just weeks away, and fans of classic films can also look forward to a wonderful month on Turner Classic Movies.

I'm especially delighted that this month's schedule includes a Friday Night Spotlight series focusing on screwball comedies. It's a wonderful series, and it's especially nice to be able to enjoy so many happy films at this special time of the year.

Burt Lancaster is the November Star of the Month. Close to 30 Lancaster films will air on Wednesday nights, honoring the centennial of his birth on November 2, 1913.

I'll be incorporating a look at some of the Lancaster films airing this month in the highlights listed below. Here's a preview of some of the great movies showing on TCM in November:

...The month starts off in fine style with THE BROTHERS RICO (1957) on Friday, November 1st. I just saw this film for the first time last June and thought it was excellent. Richard Conte plays a clean-living former mob accountant whose past comes back to haunt him. Directed by Phil Karlson.

...TCM is the place to be on Friday nights in November! The screwball comedy series starts off November 1st with Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934), which I had the pleasure of revisiting for the first time in years at last spring's TCM Classic Film Festival. LIBELED LADY (1936), also showing Friday night, is one of my all-time favorite comedies; it stars William Powell, Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy, and Jean Harlow. The other comedies on the first night's schedule are HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940), NOTHING SACRED (1937), THE MAD MISS MANTON (1938), and THE BRIDE CAME C.O.D. (1941).

...Saturday mornings this month will feature Ann Sothern in the MAISIE series, starting with, what else, MAISIE (1939) on November 2nd. Robert Young and Ruth Hussey costar in the initial entry in the series.

...Vivien Leigh's centennial will be honored on November 5th with a 24-hour, 11-film tribute including both of her Oscar-winning movies, GONE WITH THE WIND (1939) and A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (1951). The celebration kicks off with WATERLOO BRIDGE (1940), costarring Robert Taylor -- a film greatly loved by many. (For those who might be wondering, Leigh was TCM's Star of the Month just three years ago.)

...Joel McCrea was also born on November 5th, and TCM will celebrate the 108th anniversary of his birth one day late, on November 6th. Half a dozen McCrea films are on the schedule, including one of my all-time favorite movies, THE MORE THE MERRIER (1943). I could watch "that scene" on the front porch steps on an endless loop for hours.

...The month-long tribute to Burt Lancaster kicks off on November 6th with an eight-film lineup including his very first movie, the fantastic film noir THE KILLERS (1946). I just saw it for the first time at the Noir City Film Festival earlier this year and loved doesn't get any more noir than Charles McGraw and William Conrad as hired killers in trenchcoats and fedoras! The movies on the 6th also include the classic FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (1953), which I first saw as a teen at a 'round-the-clock Filmex marathon of Oscar-winning movies.

...FOUR GIRLS IN WHITE (1939) is a favorite little "B" movie which airs on November 7th as part of an evening of films on nurses. The girls in white are Florence Rice, Ann Rutherford, Una Merkel, and Mary Howard.

...Friday, November 8th, brings the second night of screwball comedies, starting with Cary Grant and Irene Dunne in THE AWFUL TRUTH (1937), followed by the same pair starring in MY FAVORITE WIFE (1940). (Cary Grant's MY FAVORITE WIFE double take as an elevator door closes is classic.) Next up is LOVE CRAZY (1941) with Powell and Loy, followed by Carole Lombard and Robert Montgomery in Hitchcock's MR. AND MRS. SMITH (1941). TOO MANY HUSBANDS (194) and VIVACIOUS LADY (1938) are also on the schedule.

...Saturday, November 9th, there's a three-film tribute to Dick Powell, including GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 (1933), THE REFORMER AND THE REDHEAD (1950), and CORNERED (1945).

...The daytime lineup on Sunday the 10th is really nice, starting out with Kathryn Grayson and Van Heflin in the very enjoyable SEVEN SWEETHEARTS (1942), then moving on to Esther Williams in BATHING BEAUTY (1944) and Dorothy McGuire and Robert Young in the lovely THE ENCHANTED COTTAGE (1945).

...November 11th is another day I could happily watch for hours, a nine-film birthday tribute to Robert Ryan. The day kicks off with Jacques Tourneur's BERLIN EXPRESS (1948), costarring Merle Oberon.

...A series of lesser-known films directed by Busby Berkeley on November 12th includes George Brent in THE GO-GETTER (1937) and FAST AND FURIOUS (1939), with Franchot Tone and Ann Sothern as married sleuths Joel and Garda Sloan. Lee Bowman and Ruth Hussey costar.

...On November 13th the Burt Lancaster tribute continues, with the pick of the night being SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (1957), a phenomenal film with stunning black and white photography by James Wong Howe. Also good: the thriller SEVEN DAYS IN MAY (1964), with Kirk Douglas, Fredric March, Ava Gardner, and Edmond O'Brien.

...A November 15th tribute to Lizabeth Scott includes a really excellent film set in the world of 1940s professional football, EASY LIVING (1949). The terrific cast includes Victor Mature, Sonny Tufts, Lloyd Nolan, Lucille Ball, Jack Paar, Richard Erdman, and Paul Stewart, directed by Jacques Tourneur, a name many film fans such as myself have come to equate with quality entertainment. Also on the schedule: PITFALL (1948) with Dick Powell and Jane Wyatt, and several other interesting titles.

...TCM is showing two different films titled EASY LIVING on the 15th -- first the football film described immediately above, and then the classic 1937 comedy with Jean Arthur and Ray Milland. Also showing as part of the Friday night screwball comedy lineup: Irene Dunne and Melvyn Douglas in THEODORA GOES WILD (1936), Carole Lombard and John Barrymore in TWENTIETH CENTURY (1934), Claudette Colbert and James Stewart in IT'S A WONDERFUL WORLD (1939), Constance Bennett and Brian Aherne in MERRILY WE LIVE (1938), and another wonderful Jean Arthur film, IF YOU COULD ONLY COOK (1935), costarring Herbert Marshall.

...I'm hoping to see the marvelous STAGE DOOR (1937) at UCLA in early November, but if you're not in driving distance of Westwood, TCM is showing this marvelous comedy-drama on Saturday, November 16th. The cast just doesn't come any better: Ginger Rogers, Katharine Hepburn, Eve Arden, Ann Miller, Gail Patrick, and Lucille Ball.

...EAST SIDE, WEST SIDE (1949) is a very entertaining glossy MGM drama/crime movie with an all-star cast: Barbara Stanwyck, James Mason, Ava Gardner, Van Heflin, Cyd Charisse, William Conrad, and Nancy Davis (Reagan). It's on November 17th.

...There's more Burt Lancaster on November 20th, including THE TRAIN (1964), a suspense film I've not yet seen which was strongly recommended to me by Eddie Muller of the Film Noir Foundation.

...The comedies on November 22nd start out with one of the best, the zany MY MAN GODFREY (1936), costarring Carole Lombard and William Powell. The craziness then continues with Grant and Hepburn in BRINGING UP BABY (1938), Stanwyck and Cooper in BALL OF FIRE (1941), Stewart and Arthur in YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU (1938), and Dunne and Fairbanks Jr. in JOY OF LIVING (1938).

...PLYMOUTH ADVENTURE (1952), MGM's story of the Pilgrims, will air on Sunday, November 24th. It stars Spencer Tracy, Gene Tierney, and Van Johnson.

...I love Ricardo Montalban, and TCM is celebrating his birthday on Monday, November 25th. The movies include THE KISSING BANDIT (1948) and ON AN ISLAND WITH YOU (1948), in which he did some terrific dancing with Cyd Charisse; William Wellman's classic war film BATTLEGROUND (1949); noir titles BORDER INCIDENT (1949) and one of my faves, MYSTERY STREET (1950); and John Ford's CHEYENNE AUTUMN (1964).

...THE MATING OF MILLIE (1948), on November 26th, is an old favorite starring Glenn Ford and Evelyn Keyes.

...TCM has an unusual theme for the day before Thanksgiving, November 27th: heist movies! Titles include THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (1950), SIDE STREET (1950), and GUN CRAZY (1950).

...The final night of Burt Lancaster films on November 27th very appropriately includes one of his final performances, a beautiful and touching turn in FIELD OF DREAMS (1989). The wealth of film history he brought to the part gave resonance to his role as the kindly doctor with a mysterious past.

...Thanksgiving Day is focused on family entertainment, including Margaret O'Brien in THE SECRET GARDEN (1949) and Elizabeth Taylor in LASSIE COME HOME (1943) and NATIONAL VELVET (1944), followed by somewhat more recent films, THE MUPPETS TAKE MANHATTAN (1984), CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG (1968), and BORN FREE (1966). The last two films certainly take me back to my childhood, going to see Dick Van Dyke in CCBB and also watching the well-remembered TV broadcast he hosted of BORN FREE.

...The month's last night of screwball comedies on November 29th starts out with a Preston Sturges theme: THE LADY EVE (1941), CHRISTMAS IN JULY (1940), and THE PALM BEACH STORY (1942). The final three movies of the night are FOUR'S A CROWD (1938), TOPPER (1937), and TURNABOUT (1940).

For more details on TCM in November, please consult the complete schedule.

As a side note, Fox Movie Channel has stopped posting its schedule on line, and the movies in the rotation seem to be an endless cycle of the same titles. I watch the listings in my DVR Guide, and if anything especially interesting turns up I'll try to note it here or on Twitter. For now, the channel's future does not seem bright.

As for TCM, the future is bright indeed. December is just around the corner, filled with Christmas movies and Fred Astaire as Star of the Month!

Happy Halloween

Wasn't it just October 1st?!

Here's beautiful Linda Darnell filling in her dance card on Halloween:

Have a fun day!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Powder River (1953)

The 20th Century-Fox film POWDER RIVER is a colorful reworking of the Wyatt Earp story, starring Rory Calhoun.

Calhoun plays Chino Bull, a former marshal turned gold prospector, who returns to wearing a badge when his partner is killed. He patiently bides his time, waiting for the opportunity to bring in the man responsible for his friend's death.

While serving as marshal, Chino is sometimes aided by foe-turned-friend Dr. Mitch Hardin (Cameron Mitchell), a fast draw who suffers from a brain tumor. Mitch is having an affair with saloon owner Frenchie (Corinne Calvet).  Then Mitch's former fiancee Debbie (Penny Edwards) comes to town...

POWDER RIVER has a screenplay by Geoffrey Homes, who wrote the screenplay or story for many classic film noir and Western titles, including OUT OF THE PAST (1947), THE TALL TARGET (1951), and a little Western I admired quite a bit called ROUGHSHOD (1949).

The movie is strongest in the early going, particularly in some very well-written and performed action sequences which incorporate humor along with the gunplay. A scene where Chino's can of peaches is shot and he's sworn in as a temporary deputy in the midst of a gunfight is delightful, especially as at the time Chino has given up wearing a gun and handles the situation in an unorthodox fashion. These scenes actually made me think a bit of a much later favorite film, SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF! (1969), written by another great Western/noir writer, William Bowers.

The movie's energy begins to slow with the arrival of Debbie in town, which is just about the point that it becomes clear that the film is a loose redo of the earlier Fox films FRONTIER MARSHAL (1939) and MY DARLING CLEMENTINE (1946). The characters have been renamed and the situations are changed, but the basic outline is there until the story veers off the traditional course near movie's end.

I think the film would have been stronger if it had continued in a more original vein, as the familiar elements of the story were the least interesting. Anyone who's seen Nancy Kelly or Cathy Downs look lovingly around Doc's empty hotel room really doesn't need to see Penny Edwards do it again. It doesn't help that Edwards (TRAIL OF ROBIN HOOD) is a fairly pallid heroine whose character doesn't contribute much of interest. It's a bit hard to see why Chino is drawn to her, other than her china doll looks.

That comment aside, the supporting cast is terrific. This is one of those movies where the faces alone will make any Western fan happy. There's Robert J. Wilke riding up, playing, what else, a villain. There's Frank Ferguson as the loyal friend, and here comes gambler John Dehner to show Chino the wonders of canned food. By the time James Griffith walked into the hotel lobby I was in character actor heaven. Four of the very best actors from countless '50s Westerns.

Additionally, John Beradino is a card dealer, and actors such as Carl Betz, Mae Marsh, Robert Foulk, and Doodles Weaver can also be spotted in supporting and bit roles.

Rory Calhoun is a fine, confident Western lead and is one of the best things about the movie. His initial confrontation with Mitch is another of the film's very well-done early scenes. Calhoun and the filmmakers do a good job creating a character who uses brains instead of guns whenever possible, one of the film's more unusual and appealing aspects.

Cameron Mitchell does fairly well as Mitch in the early going, especially in the initial confrontation scene with Chino where they recognize one another as worthy adversaries and part friends. I did feel he could have brought more shading to the role; in the second half he becomes self-pitying, which isn't nearly as interesting as the fiery character of the opening scenes. Perhaps it's unfair of me, but I couldn't help comparing his performance here to his role as Uncle Buck on THE HIGH CHAPARRAL in the late '60s, where he created one of TV's most lively and indelible Western characters. Maybe any other part would seem a little too bland by comparison!

Corinne Calvet added some oomph to the film, in more ways than one, although her accent at a couple of points was almost too heavy to be easily understood. Her wardrobe was nicely done by Travilla, with a blue and green dress a particular standout.

The film was shot in Technicolor by Edward Cronjager; there's some lovely bright and sunny location work. (IMDb is silent on where the film was shot.) The movie was directed by Louis King, brother of Henry. It runs 78 minutes.

POWDER RIVER is available on DVD-R from the Fox Cinema Archives line. It's a very nice-looking DVD. It can be rented from ClassicFlix.

For more perspectives on this film, it's been previously reviewed by Toby at 50 Westerns From the 50s and Colin at Riding the High Country.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Stampede (1949)

One of my favorite Westerns this year was PANHANDLE (1948), a Rod Cameron film for Allied Artists which was cowritten and coproduced by 25-year-old Blake Edwards. It was Edwards' first work behind the camera.

Edwards, who also played a hired gun in PANHANDLE, took just one more acting role and by 1949 had quit acting to focus on writing, producing, and eventually directing. Edwards followed up on PANHANDLE by cowriting and coproducing another Rod Cameron Western, STAMPEDE. STAMPEDE, like PANHANDLE, was directed by Lesley Selander and was released by Allied Artists.

STAMPEDE lacks some of PANHANDLE's originality and clever dialogue, but it's a solid and enjoyable Western which I'm sure I'll be revisiting in the future.

Cameron plays Mike McCall, a cattle rancher whose way of life is threatened by settlers who plan on fencing the land and farming.

McCall owns the rights to Spirit Lake, the only possible source of water for the settlers, so he's standing in the way of not only the farmers but the businessman (Donald Curtis) who sold the farmers the land and is going to be in trouble if he can't provide the water he promised.

Mike's aided by his happy-go-lucky brother Tim (Don Castle of HIGH TIDE) and his friend Sheriff Aaron Ball (Johnny Mack Brown). He also receives unexpected support from Connie (Gale Storm), the spunky farmer's daughter whose initial antagonism toward Mike hides her attraction.

STAMPEDE is a fairly straightforward, traditional Western story but it's nicely paced and well-played by a good cast. Sparks fly when the strong-willed Mike and Connie collide; one of their scenes, where she goes after him with a gun, rather reminded me of Anne Baxter and Gregory Peck in the preceding year's YELLOW SKY (1948). There's also a cute repeated bit making light of the difference in Cameron and Storm's heights. I appreciated that, like PANHANDLE, STAMPEDE provides a strong female role.

My only quibble with the movie was that I would have enjoyed it if Cameron and Storm had had more scenes together; STAMPEDE clocks in at 76 minutes, but it could easily have been a little longer without wearing out its welcome.

The film provides a good supporting role for Johnny Mack Brown, who has a great action moment when he makes a running leap onto his horse late in the film. Don Castle is charming as Mike's younger brother. The cast includes Jonathan Hale, John Miljan, Steve Clark, and I. Stanford Jolley. Bit players include Chuck Roberson and Kermit Maynard, who also served as stuntmen.

The cinematography was by Harry Neumann. A poster for the film indicates that it was shot in Sepiatone, like PANHANDLE, but whereas the PANHANDLE DVD was in sepia, the nice-looking Warner Archive DVD is in black and white.

I'm looking forward to seeing more of Cameron's Westerns. I hope to see FRONTIER GAL (1945) and SHORT GRASS (1950) in the fairly near future; I'd also like to track down titles such as RIVER LADY (1948) with Yvonne DeCarlo and Dan Duryea, CAVALRY SCOUT (1951) with Audrey Long and James Millican, and WAGONS WEST (1952) with Peggie Castle and Frank Ferguson. The last two titles listed were written by Daniel Ullman, who wrote a pair of Westerns I've recently enjoyed, WICHITA (1955) and CANYON RIVER (1956).

My fellow Western fans should find STAMPEDE pleasing entertainment.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Blondie Johnson (1933)

BLONDIE JOHNSON is a crackerjack pre-Code gangster drama starring Joan Blondell and Chester Morris at the top of their games.

Blondell plays the title character, a woman who's suffered through a hardscrabble life and decides she wants a lot of dough, and fast. She starts running cons with the help of a genial taxi driver (Sterling Holloway) and immediately attracts the attention of Danny Jones (Morris), a big shot with the local racketeers. Blondie and Danny form a business-only partnership to get ahead, although they periodically fight their attraction for one another.

There's plenty of mob violence, with head man Max (Arthur Vinton) feeling threatened by Danny and trying to bump him off, and Danny more successfully returning the favor. Eventually Blondie becomes head of the organization and is forced to make a critical decision regarding whether to put Danny or business first.

I've always liked Chester Morris, but this is an especially good role for him, admiringly and then affectionately telling Blondie on several occasions "You're a fresh dame!" Morris is very appealing in this one -- although he needs to lose the chewing gum when he's trying to kiss Blondie! The scene where he gives Blondie a bracelet is pretty hot stuff, I'm really not sure how she manages to keep their relationship on a business level at that point...

Blondell has a chance to show a wide range of emotion in the film, starting with some heartfelt, emotional dramatic scenes as the movie opens and viewers are given a peek at Blondie's tough background. Later she uses fake tears as a means of manipulation, whether she's conning a mark or a jury. The courtroom scene where Blondie puts on a performance so that the jury will set one of the gang (Allen Jenkins) free is about as pre-Code as you can get, with Blondie pretending to be Jenkins' pregnant fiancee who needs him to be declared innocent so he can marry her! Blondell is an absolute gem in this scene as the "girl in trouble."

Later in the film there's a powerful scene where Blondie is led to believe Danny has betrayed her and the organization, and her performance here is as good as anything Blondell ever did. Again, she's able to convey a great deal of emotion simply with her eyes.  She's simply terrific in this scene, and in the movie as a whole.

Allen Jenkins is always especially welcome in Warner Bros. movies, and it's also the kind of film where Blondie walks over to speak to a clerk and it's Charles Lane, in one of 13 films he appeared in released in 1933. Olin Howland is a mob hitman, and that's Sam McDaniel as the porter on the train.

One of the things I found especially interesting and refreshing about the movie is that one of the mobsters, Joe (Donald Kirke), has an Asian girlfriend (Toshi Mori), and their long-term interracial romance isn't made an issue in any way.

This fast-paced 67-minute film was directed by Ray Enright and the uncredited Lucien Hubbard from a script by Earl Baldwin. The cinematography was by Tony Gaudio, and the gowns were designed by Orry-Kelly.

This Warner Archive release is a very good print; the disc includes a trailer.

The movie can also be seen from time to time on Turner Classic Movies; the trailer can be viewed on the TCM website.

Highly recommended for fans of pre-Codes.

NOTE: A version of this review was posted at ClassicFlix in August 2013.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...The recently released Twilight Time Blu-ray of John Ford's DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK (1939) has received rave reviews from Glenn Erickson ("a real stunner") and Lou Lumenick ("jaw-droppingly gorgeous"); there's more on the film from Aubyn Eli at ClassicFlix. This movie, which stars Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert, was a childhood favorite, certainly the first John Ford film I ever saw; since our living room TV's unexpected demise last weekend has forced us to buy a high-definition TV, I ordered DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK in order to check out what a familiar film looks like on Blu-ray in high definition. I hope to review it in the near future.

...The past week of TV shopping has introduced all sorts of previously unknown words into my vocabulary: "Smoothing," "motion judder," "refresh rate," and "soap opera effect," to name a few. I was horrified when we first saw my SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS (1954) DVD on a high-definition TV, but thanks to all my reading and a lot of tips from kind friends I think we've figured out how to make sure our movies aren't transformed into looking like TV soaps. If you'd like to learn more about this, here are some starter articles I recommend.

...Have you seen today's "Google Doodle" celebrating costume designer Edith Head?

...Partway through a "Complete Howard Hawks" Festival in New York, my friend Will McKinley had seen 20 of the 26 films shown, a rather impressive stat. He gives a rundown on his viewing; as someone who's become a huge George O'Brien fan this year I'd love to see him in Hawks' PAID TO LOVE (1927).

...Filmgoers in New York will have another great festival to enjoy when the Film Society of Lincoln Center presents 49 George Cukor films beginning this December.

...Over at 50 Westerns From the 50s, Toby takes a look at COW COUNTRY (1953), an Edmond O'Brien Western I really enjoyed. It has nice roles for Peggie Castle and James Millican.

...New York Times DVD columnist Dave Kehr, who's also run a blog, has been named Adjunct Curator in the Film Department at the Museum of Modern Art. He plans to discontinue blogging due to his new responsibilities.

...Here's Kimberly Lindbergs of the TCM Movie Morlocks on "In the Kitchen With Vincent Price."

...Lara at Backlots, who I had the pleasure of meeting at the TCM Classic Film Festival, had the wonderful opportunity to interview Joan Fontaine, who just turned 96 last week. My updated birthday tribute to Fontaine, which contains links to reviews of many of her films, can be found here.

...The Hallmark Channel is kicking off its Countdown to Christmas on November 2nd, with original Christmas movies airing each weekend until Christmas. The first film in line, airing on the 2nd, is actually a Thanksgiving film, THE THANKSGIVING HOUSE (2013), which has a cast including longtime TV favorites Lindsay Wagner and Bruce Boxleitner.

...Glenn Erickson of DVD Savant says that the "presentation is almost perfect" on the new Fox Cinema Archives release of CRY OF THE CITY (1948). I reviewed this great film, which stars Victor Mature and Richard Conte, in 2012 and was very fortunate to see it on the big screen in 35mm at this year's Noir City Film Festival. I suspect the print might have been readied for the Fox Film Noir line but never released; I'm looking forward to owning this one in a beautiful print.

...My daughter came across this interesting Curbed Los Angeles piece on filming at Leo Carrillo State Park. This beach, which recently celebrated its 60th anniversary, was named for the actor Leo Carrillo, who was also a conservationist.

...The exhibit "From Philadelphia to Monaco: Grace Kelly - Beyond the Icon" has opened at the Michener Art Museum in Philadelphia. There's a brief video welcome by Grace's son Prince Albert on the museum website, and the London Daily Mail has photos of Albert and his wife Charlene attending the exhibit opening.

...Chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream sandwiches? Yes, please! The recipe is at Mel's Kitchen Cafe.

...There's a new biography of Patrick Leigh Fermor, the travel writer who passed on in 2011. His WWII exploits were portrayed in the film ILL MET BY MOONLIGHT (1957) starring Dirk Bogarde. Christopher Benfey of the New York Times discusses the new book.

...George Clooney's THE MONUMENTS MEN (2014) is one of just three new movies I've hoped to see this coming holiday season, the others being Disney's FROZEN (2013) and SAVING MR. BANKS (2013). Alas, THE MONUMENTS MEN was unexpectedly pushed back to 2014, apparently to complete work on special effects. The new release date is February 7th.

...I was delighted when Jessica featured CENTENNIAL SUMMER (1946) in her "Musical Monday" column at her blog Comet Over Hollywood. As I recently mentioned, at the moment this 20th Century-Fox film can be found on YouTube.

...This week's YouTube find: Rory Calhoun and Peggie Castle in THE YELLOW TOMAHAWK (1954).

...THE HITCH-HIKER (1953), directed by Ida Lupino and starring favorites Frank Lovejoy and Edmond O'Brien, is now out from Kino in a remastered edition on DVD and Blu-ray. Matt Hinrichs reviews it at DVD Talk.

...Free shipping at Amazon now requires a $35 purchase, up from the longtime threshold of $25. Or you could just pay for a year of Amazon Prime for $79, which includes two-day shipping and Amazon Prime Instant streaming -- but I have to wonder if the price for that will be increased next.

...Royalty Watch: Here are lots of photos from last week's christening of cute little Prince George, and an additional photo of the smiling baby with his parents was released this weekend.

...Leonard Maltin had a pair of interesting articles on his site this week, one on the Lone Pine Film Festival, which my husband and I hope to attend in a future year, and another on the new John Ford set from the TCM Vault Collection. Maltin worked on extras for the Ford set.

..."Lessons From Living in London" made me want to return to my favorite city!

...Twitter News: It was fun to have actress Dana Delany respond to one of my Tweets on MOONRISE (1948) last week, and I also discovered I'm now one of the 3,000 or so accounts being followed by actor Ron Perlman. My husband and son got a kick out of that, as they watch him in SONS OF ANARCHY, but for me, Ron Perlman means BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, a series I never missed during its 1987-1990 run.

...My latest article at ClassicFlix is a profile of actress Coleen Gray, with recommendations for some of her films which are available on DVD...and be on the lookout for my review of the new Criterion release of THE UNINVITED (1944) which should be posted there sometime in the next few days. (Update: Here it is!)

...There are additional reviews of THE UNINVITED by Jennifer Garlen at Virtual Virago and Lou Lumenick at the New York Post. Lou also reviews the new release of I MARRIED A WITCH (1942) in the same column.

...Farran Smith Nehme, aka the Self-Styled Siren, wrote an excellent essay on THE UNINVITED for a booklet which accompanies the Criterion release. It can also be read online at the Criterion website.

...Notable Passings: Stuntman-Actor-Director Hal Needham has died at 82...Marcia Wallace of THE BOB NEWHART SHOW has passed on, age 70...Singer-Actor Noel Harrison, son of Rex, has died at the age of 79.

...There are many Disney-related links in my recent Disney News roundup.

Have a great week, and Happy Halloween!

Tonight's Movie: Fort Dobbs (1958)

FORT DOBBS (1958) is a superior Warner Bros. Western starring Clint Walker and Virginia Mayo which provides a fine 93 minutes of entertainment.

Walker plays Gar Davis, a man on the run from the law who stumbles across a small ranch just in time to save Celia Gray (Mayo) and her son Chad (Richard Eyer) from a Comanche attack. Davis escorts the Grays through enemy territory to the ostensible safety of Fort Dobbs, but there are complications along the way, including a villainous gun runner (Brian Keith) and Celia's mistaken belief that Gar is responsible for her husband's death.

FORT DOBBS pulls together a number of familiar Western themes, starting with Walker as a mysterious yet honorable man with a past who commits himself to protecting a woman and her child despite the possible personal cost.

The concept of a couple uniting at least partly because of a child has played out in countless Westerns, from HONDO (1953) and THE LONE HAND (1953) to GUN DUEL IN DURANGO (1957) and ESCORT WEST (1958), to name just a few examples.

Like ESCORT WEST, FORT DOBBS also features the story of strangers uniting to survive in Indian territory, another frequent Western storyline; one recently viewed film with this plotline was APACHE TERRITORY (1958).

These tried-and-true Western themes are part of what makes the film so appealing, but the main reason it all works as well as it does is the quality of the cast and behind-the-scenes talent. The movie was directed by Gordon Douglas, a solid talent who had previously worked with Mayo on THE IRON MISTRESS (1952), SHE'S BACK ON BROADWAY (1953), and THE BIG LAND (1957).

The script was cowritten by Burt Kennedy, who was in the midst of working on the "Ranown Cycle" of Westerns with Budd Boetticher and Randolph Scott. Indeed, Brian Keith's slimy-yet-genial villain falls right in line with the types of characters played by Lee Marvin, Richard Boone, and Claude Akins in the Ranown films, while Walker is a less intense echo of Scott's honorable man with a difficult past.

The film was shot on location in Utah, in beautiful widescreen black and white, by William Clothier. Clothier's frequent collaborations with John Wayne included not only Wayne Westerns, but Wayne's Batjac productions of the Ranown film SEVEN MEN FROM NOW (1956) and the previously mentioned ESCORT WEST.

Add in a musical score by Max Steiner, and it's clear that FORT DOBBS is a quality production all the way.

This was Walker's first starring role in a feature film, and he's terrific as an imposing man of few words who has a lot going on inside. It's rather a shame his stardom came so late in the era of Westerns' popularity as he makes an excellent cowboy hero. He worked again with director Douglas on YELLOWSTONE KELLY (1959) and GOLD OF THE SEVEN SAINTS (1961).

Mayo does fine work as the worn-down but brave frontierswoman. Her nerve sometimes gets her in trouble, but it also puts her in good stead when faced with the most trying days of her life. Mayo has a wonderful scene with absolutely no dialogue where she wakes up under a blanket and gradually realizes her wet clothes are all hanging on a line; her changing expressions as she realizes the stranger-hero has removed her clothes are priceless, yet his courtly behavior is such that she chooses to say nothing about it.

Richard Eyer, who plays Mayo's spunky young son, played a similar role in the recently seen CANYON RIVER (1956), where he was the widowed Marcia Henderson's little boy. According to internet sources, as an adult he taught elementary school in Bishop, California, a town we visit most summers on our way to camp in the Eastern High Sierras. He retired in 2006.

The small but fine cast also has a nice turn by Russ Conway as the sheriff on Gar's trail, a reasonable man willing to look at Gar in a new light as Gar's character reveals itself under difficult circumstances.

FORT DOBBS is available from the Warner Archive in a beautiful remastered widescreen print.

FORT DOBBS is recommended as quality Western entertainment.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Beauty and the Beast (1946)

Tonight it was time to watch another film from my list of 10 Classics to see for the first time in 2013: the French film LA BELLE ET LA BETE -- otherwise known as BEAUTY AND THE BEAST -- directed by Jean Cocteau.

I included BEAUTY AND THE BEAST on this year's list as, bit by bit, I've been stretching out of my comfort zone and trying some foreign films, such as the German-language SISSI series and THE STORY OF VICKIE (1954), all starring Romy Schneider; more recently I've watched Japanese films directed by Yasujiro Ozu and found them rewarding viewing.

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST seemed like an "accessible" choice for trying a French film, as it's a favorite fairytale. I have previously reviewed two other editions of the story: the 1976 Hallmark Hall of Fame TV version starring George C. Scott and Trish Van Devere, and the 1991 animated Disney musical.

I'd previously read that Cocteau's '40s version of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST was, well, magical, and I'm glad to say it did not disappoint. It was mesmerizing, a rich cinematic viewing experience. I'm looking forward to revisiting it again with a commentary track in order to take in more of the film's themes and details.

I admit I initially had to get past some discomfort with the film's opening visuals. The costumes may have been appropriate to the time and place, but the gowns and hats worn by the ladies in the early scenes were quite unattractive. An even bigger issue for me was the "living" furniture in the Beast's castle, which, to speak colloquially, gave me the creeps. I really didn't enjoy looking at that mantelpiece by the fire...!

However, such is the film's power that from the moment Belle arrived at the castle, the film lured me in and didn't let go. Just as Belle gradually fell under the spell of the Beast, getting over his looks to see the man inside, I too looked past initial appearances and ultimately found the movie quite beautiful.

Josette Day, who plays Belle, has a rare grace, moving through her role almost as a ballet dancer. This provides a particularly effective contrast with the rough-hewn Beast. Day's performance was interesting in that underneath her beauty and poignant bravery, Belle is an adventurous spirit; just as Disney's Belle loved vicarious adventures via her books, this Belle clearly wanted to experience something different from her dreary life and was willing to work past her fears in order to do it. Her trip to the Beast's castle was, perhaps, not simply a matter of saving her father but of finding something for herself. The desire for adventure was more overtly underlined in the dialogue of the film's final moments.

Jean Marais plays not only the Beast, but Avenant, a family friend who wishes to marry Belle, which made for some curious thematic elements I'm still puzzling out. Belle seems to like Avenant but claims she cannot leave her father to marry; she actually seems more fearful of marriage than of going to the Beast's castle. (Spoiler alert re ending) Unlike the later versions of the film, it is Avenant's death which releases the Beast from his curse, turning him into a prince who looks just like Avenant. I'd like to see the film again to pick up on themes such as Belle turning down Avenant yet perhaps subconsciously wanting him, and having Avenant and the Beast meld into one person who will take Belle on an adventure.

If there is one criticism I have of this 93-minute film, I would have liked to see just a few minutes more of Belle and the Beast's developing relationship. Belle seemed to go from Point A, being afraid of the Beast, to Point Z, liking him, very quickly. Additional scenes portraying her gradual rapprochement with the Beast would have been welcome.

Belle's father was portrayed by Marcel Andre, her brother by Michel Auclair, and her sisters by Mila Parely and Nane Germon.

In addition to directing, Jean Cocteau also wrote the screenplay. IMDb also says there is uncredited directing work by Rene Clement. The cinematography was by Henri Alekan.

The movie is available from Criterion in several editions: a DVD with plentiful extras, including two commentary tracks; a less expensive Essential Art House DVD with the extras stripped out; or on Blu-ray. A trailer can be seen at the Criterion site.

The DVD can be rented from Netflix or ClassicFlix; the movie can also be rented for streaming from Amazon Instant Video. There have also been multiple VHS releases.

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST has also been shown on Turner Classic Movies.

Highly recommended as creative, elegant filmmaking which lingers in the mind.

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