Friday, October 31, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Bullets for O'Hara (1941)

Several years ago I watched an engaging Warner Bros. "B" movie, PUBLIC ENEMY'S WIFE (1936), which starred Pat O'Brien as a G man who weds the ex-wife (Margaret Lindsay) of a mobster (Cesar Romero) to lure him out of hiding. The marriage is meant to be temporary but you can guess how that turns out! The film wasn't always plausible but I found it a lot of fun.

The story was loosely remade just half a decade later as BULLETS FOR O'HARA (1941), which I watched this evening. This time around Roger Pryor is a detective rather than a G man, with Joan Perry as the mobster's ex and Anthony Quinn as the very jealous crook.

Unfortunately the plot was even less believable in the remake, especially with the story shortened from 69 minutes all the way down to 50! I like a brisk movie, but that's really too short for much character or relationship development to take place; everyone's too busy running around from Point A to Point B.

The movie's biggest drawback is that Pryor is unfortunately lacking in either looks or charisma, and he and Perry have no chemistry whatsoever; it also doesn't help matters that his character is caught completely off guard by Quinn's character on two different occasions! It makes him look more than a little foolish. Perry is a little more interesting as the disillusioned wife and then reluctant bride, and her character has a nice scene where she demonstrates her resourcefulness.

Perry became Mrs. Harry Cohn the month this film was released and only appeared in a couple more movies after this. She was married to Cohn, the head of Columbia Pictures who was two decades her senior, until his passing in 1958. Perry lived until 1996. She and Cohn had four children, one of whom died in infancy. Perry was married to actor Laurence Harvey from 1968 to 1972, when they divorced. Joan is buried alongside her first husband Harry at Hollywood Forever Cemetery; a photo of the family plot is here.

Quinn is fine in the role originally played by Cesar Romero; whatever energy the film has largely comes from his performance.

Fans of character actor Frank Ferguson -- and there are many -- will enjoy spotting him as a prosecutor in one of his very first films. His screen career began the previous year, in 1940; he would eventually have over 300 credits in a career which lasted over three dozen years. One of his very last parts was in THE MACAHANS (1976), which I recently wrote about after seeing it at the Lone Pine Film Festival.

The supporting cast of BULLETS FOR O'HARA also includes Maris Wrixon, Dick Purcell, William Hopper, Joan Winfield, Milton Kibbee, and Joe King. The film was directed by William K. Howard and shot by Ted McCord.

BULLETS FOR O'HARA is not on DVD or VHS. It's shown from time to time on Turner Classic Movies.

The trailer can be seen on the TCM website.

Happy Halloween

The holiday is a great excuse to share this beautiful photo of Marsha Hunt, who just turned 97 on October 17th:

Love the jeweled spider web design.

Have a fun day!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Mark of Zorro (1940): A Photo Gallery

Here's a gallery of beautiful images I've collected from one of my favorite films, THE MARK OF ZORRO (1940). I have simultaneously posted more about ZORRO here.

Most of the photos here feature Tyrone Power and Linda Darnell, with Gale Sondergaard in one and Basil Rathbone in another. Enjoy!

Tonight's Movie: The Mark of Zorro (1940)

THE MARK OF ZORRO (1940) is one of my all-time favorite films, which I return to on a regular basis. I never tire of watching this marvelous filming of dueling and romance in Old California; it's a movie which makes me happy each time I see it again.

It's a curious thing, but I've never written here on my blog about some of my most favorite films. I almost feel too close to them to manage writing about them, particularly THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965); like other top favorite films, THE SOUND OF MUSIC is threaded through my life in such a way that I find it hard to simply write about it as a film.

I did finally post in the past year about WHITE CHRISTMAS (1954) and THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938), and I've written on a number of films a little lower down on my favorites list, but have still not tackled SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS (1954), YOU WERE NEVER LOVELIER (1942), or MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944), which I saw at this year's TCM Classic Film Festival. That said, I'd like to share more about the films which are so special to me, especially in the hope that those who've not yet seen them will discover and enjoy them as well.

And so we come to THE MARK OF ZORRO (1940), which I first met as a young child and just revisited again this week. When I saw ZORRO as a child, its magic was initially enhanced as my mother used to tell me about Johnston McCulley, author of the original story THE CURSE OF CAPISTRANO, having a cabin near her family's weekend cabin in Twin Peaks, California, when she was growing up.

THE MARK OF ZORRO must also be the first film in which I ever saw my favorite actor, Tyrone Power, and I've loved both the movie and Power ever since.

Power plays aristocratic Diego Vega, who returns home to California after spending time at a military academy in Spain. Diego's father (Montagu Love) has been replaced as the alcalde by Luis Quintero (J. Edward Bromberg), who is the buffoonish puppet of Captain Esteban Pasquale (Basil Rathbone). Together the two men have launched a cruel reign and are taxing the local citizenry to the point of starvation.

Diego quickly assesses the situation and -- to his father's despair -- he appears to be a weary, bored fop in public, dwelling on things such as fashion and the temperature of his bath. In reality, however, Diego is a dashing masked Robin Hood who calls himself Zorro; Zorro helps the peasants and makes life miserable for Quintero and Pasquale.

Diego's life is further complicated by his instant adoration of young Lolita Quintero (Linda Darnell), the alcalde's niece; not only does Lolita have an odious uncle, but she is annoyed by the silly public Diego, while being thrilled by tales of Zorro. She has no idea, of course, that they are the same man.

Every aspect of the film works; it has a great cast, action, humor, and romance, not to mention some superb fencing, all in service of a terrific story.

Everyone in the film is marvelous, with Rathbone and Eugene Pallette outstanding while essentially repeating their ROBIN HOOD roles as villain and priest. The key to it all, however, is Tyrone Power, who is by turns dashing, romantic, and terribly funny. The movie is a great exemplar of why he was loved by so many film fans.

It's impossible to believe, but Linda Darnell was just 16 when she starred in this as Power's leading lady. Like Joan Leslie in the same era, Darnell looked older than her years and starred in adult roles from a young age. The biography Hollywood Beauty recounts her embarrassment at being called away from a love scene with Power to do her school lessons! Darnell's impressive list of credits are a testament to her being far more than just a beautiful face, and she plays her role here with great charm.

The central love scene in Lolita's bedroom, like the presence of Rathbone and Pallette, rather calls to mind ROBIN HOOD, with the same blissfully swooning sense of romance. Despite the easy comparisons with ROBIN HOOD, however, make no mistake that ZORRO stands on its own as a beautifully made four-star classic.

Gale Sondergaard is amusing as Lolita's aunt, and the cast also includes Janet Beecher, George Regas, Chris-Pin Martin, and Robert Lowery.

THE MARK OF ZORRO was made by top craftsmen all the way, starting with director Rouben Mamoulian, who would later direct Power and Darnell in BLOOD AND SAND (1941). ZORRO was beautifully filmed in black and white by Arthur Miller. The costumes were designed by Travis Banton. Alfred Newman wrote the musical score. The screenplay of this 94-minute film was by John Taintor Foote, from an adaptation of the McCulley story by Bess Meredyth and Garrett Fort.

THE MARK OF ZORRO (1940) is available on DVD in a very nice edition from the Fox Studio Classics series. (A word of caution, however, I listened to the Richard Schickel commentary some years ago and found it quite poor.) Avoid the colorized edition!

THE MARK OF ZORRO also had a release on VHS.

Simultaneously I am posting a gallery of images from THE MARK OF ZORRO which are not among the photos included with this post. Enjoy!

THE MARK OF ZORRO is most highly recommended.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...My recent trip to the Lone Pine Film Festival is the topic of my latest article at the ClassicFlix site, and I invite my readers to click on over and check it out!

...There are always interesting things going on at ClassicFlix, such as this enjoyable piece by Kendahl (KC) on "color film noir." There are a couple of titles on her list I still haven't seen! I also enjoyed Ivan Shreve's recent take on BETRAYED (1944) with Kim Hunter and Dean Jagger.

...KC also recently reviewed Olivia de Havilland in GOVERNMENT GIRL (1943) at her site A Classic Movie Blog, and her take was very much like mine -- it's an odd movie, although we each found it intriguing, in part because of de Havilland's seemingly uncomfortable performance.

...Coming soon from the TCM Vault Collection: ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS (1939) on DVD and Blu-ray. Also coming to Blu-ray from TCM: REMEMBER THE NIGHT (1940), which has previously been released on DVD.

...Last week I shared Raquel's list of upcoming books on classic film at her blog Out of the Past. This week I'm sharing another great list she put together of books written by classic film bloggers. Both lists are great resources for those who love to read about classic movies.

...A few days ago I recorded THE STRANGER RETURNS (1933) on TCM; I'd missed the chance to see it at the TCM Classic Film Festival and look forward to catching up with this film which stars Miriam Hopkins, Franchot Tone, and Lionel Barrymore. This post by John McElwee of Greenbriar Picture Shows has me even more interested in seeing it.

...Coming in November from the Warner Archive: Jack Webb's PETE KELLY'S BLUES (1955) on Blu-ray.

...Last week Kristina had a beautiful gallery of Brenda Marshall photos at Speakeasy, some of which I'd never before seen.

...A new BEWITCHED pilot about Samantha's granddaughter?! No...just no. They tried it with Lisa Hartman in TABITHA in the '70s, let's not try again. BEWITCHED is a show I never tire of watching, thanks to Elizabeth Montgomery and its great cast, and I'll stick with it, thanks.

...At A Shroud of Thoughts Terry traces the history of the film ARSENIC AND OLD LACE (1944), which was not released for nearly three years after it was filmed. Cary Grant and Priscilla Lane starred, with Frank Capra directing.

...Glenn Erickson has reviewed THE HUNTED (1948) starring Preston Foster and Belita; I liked it more than he did, but I was interested to read his take.

...At least for the moment, Dish Network has dropped TCM and other Turner stations. Will McKinley has the scoop at Cinematically Insane, including Dish viewers suddenly finding their TCM replaced by the Fox FXM network.

...This week's YouTube find: TIME TABLE (1956), directed by and starring Mark Stevens. As always, movies can disappear from YouTube at any moment so check it out soon if it's of interest!

...CBS plans to launch a classic TV digital subchannel.

...Attention Southern Californians: The first three Fridays of November at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art will be devoted to Edgar G. Ulmer. It's been an Ulmer year in the L.A. area, with HER SISTER'S SECRET (1946) screened at the TCM Classic Film Festival and BLUEBEARD (1944) shown at UCLA. I'm hoping I'll be able to see DETOUR (1945) and THE STRANGE WOMAN (1946) at LACMA on November 7th.

...Sincere condolences to TCM host Ben Mankiewicz and his family on the passing of Ben's father Frank Mankiewicz at the age of 90.

Have a great week!

Tonight's Movie: Boy Meets Girl (1938) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

BOY MEETS GIRL (1938), starring James Cagney and Pat O'Brien, is part of a "wave" of Cagney films recently released on DVD by the Warner Archive.

BOY MEETS GIRL is a fairly loud, raucous type comedy -- think of THE FRONT PAGE (1931) or HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940) with fast-talking screenwriters instead of fast-talking reporters. Interestingly enough, O'Brien, who plays one of the screenwriters, also starred in THE FRONT PAGE.

The plot is a bunch of nonsense in which Cagney and O'Brien make a movie star out of the infant son of an unwed (sort of) mother, played by Marie Wilson. Cowboy star Larry Toms (Dick Foran) is none too happy about sharing the screen with an infant. Meanwhile a British extra (Bruce Lester) falls in love with the baby's mother, and producer C. Elliott Friday (Ralph Bellamy) tries to keep his job.

Cagney's character has zero depth and is simply a nonstop goof, while O'Brien has a touch more nuance playing a character with a troubled marriage, though his wife is never once seen on screen. Still, there are enough good actors and amusing moments poking fun at the film industry to make this movie worth catching, and with its nonstop action there isn't time for it to be dull.

Although there are a handful of fun scenes on the Warner Bros. lot which open up the story and provide a peek at the studio in its heyday, this is very much a filmed stage play; you can even spot the moments where the Act One and Two curtains came down. The original play by Sam and Bella Spewack opened on Broadway in 1935 with Jerome Cowan and Allyn Joslyn in the parts played by Pat O'Brien and James Cagney in the film; George Abbott directed.

Bellamy is delightful as the dimwitted filmmaker who doesn't know trumpets from trombones and is trying to save "Young England" (a movie) in the editing room. (Look for John Ridgely in a near-wordless scene as an editor conferencing with Bellamy.) And one of the funniest performances in the film comes from Ronald Reagan, who has one scene as a radio announcer at a movie premiere; he tries to save an interview with Susie which is veering ever further out of control.

In small roles look for Rosella Towne as a nurse and Peggy Moran as a New York operator. I had trouble believing the commissary cashier was Carole Landis -- she's only seen in profile -- but that's what IMDb says. Other roles are played by Frank McHugh, Peggy Singleton,and Curt Bois.

The movie was directed by Lloyd Bacon and filmed by Sol Polito.

As is typically the case for Warner Archive films, it's a fine-looking DVD which provides a good viewing experience. The DVD includes the trailer.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from Amazon and other online retailers.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Outlaw Gold (1950) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

With OUTLAW GOLD (1950) I've now seen all four films starring Johnny Mack Brown in the nine-film Monogram Cowboy Collection, Vol. 1, from the Warner Archive.

This is one of the weaker Brown entries in this set, nothing really special or unique about it, but it's still pleasant viewing, a nice, old-fashioned Western.

Brown's genial, competent persona makes for enjoyable company. Now that I'm out of his films I'm looking forward to acquiring more; they're just right when there's time to enjoy a short, undemanding film at the end of a long day.

This time around Johnny Mack is an undercover marshal, aided by an older undercover deputy, Sandy (Milburn Morante). They're on the trail of a huge missing shipment of gold.

Johnny and Sandy come to the aid of Kathy (Jane Adams) after her father (Steve Clark) is shot. Sandy takes a job helping Kathy run her newspaper business, which enables him to hear all the latest gossip and track down leads. Meanwhile Johnny must clear himself of a trumped-up charge that he shot Kathy's father and then track down his suspects in the case of the missing gold.

A cliched scene where Kathy drives a runaway wagon is almost too predictable, threatening to veer the movie into paint-by-the-numbers melodrama, but for the most part it's an enjoyable, if ultimately forgettable, short Western. Although IMDb says the running time is 56 minutes, I believe the Warner Archive DVD I watched ran closer to 51-52 minutes.

Jane Adams was on screen for a decade, from the early '40s through early '50s, usually in bit roles or as the leading lady in "B" Westerns such as OUTLAW GOLD. She just passed on this year, at the age of 95. Her late husband, Major General Thomas Turnage, had headed both the Selective Service and the Veterans Administration. An interview with Jane is available at the Western Clippings site; she said, "My life has been a great adventure."

OUTLAW GOLD was written by Jack Lewis and directed by Wallace Fox. The movie was filmed by Gilbert Warrenton at the Iverson Ranch. The supporting cast includes Myron Healey, Marshall Reed, and Hugh Prosser.

Previous films reviewed from this set: Johnny Mack Brown in OKLAHOMA JUSTICE (1951), MAN FROM SONORA (1951), and TEXAS LAWMEN (1951), plus Rod Cameron in CAVALRY SCOUT (1951).

Still to come in the future: reviews of the set's films starring Jimmy Wakely.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD collection. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered at the Warner Archive website.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Tonight's Movie: The Saint's Double Trouble (1940)

THE SAINT'S DOUBLE TROUBLE (1940) is a minor entry in RKO's Saint series.

George Sanders plays a dual role, as the crime-solving Saint, Simon Templar, and also as Duke Bates, the head of a diamond smuggling ring.

The story, which involves diamonds smuggled into the U.S. in a mummy, is not the easiest in the world to follow, as it's often unclear which character is the real Saint. This seems to have been a deliberate story-telling device by the filmmakers, to keep the audience guessing, but I simply found it frustrating, as I wanted to know who to root for.

The film's other main drawback is that despite the presence of Bela Lugosi -- and of course Jonathan Hale as the Saint's friendly nemesis, Inspector Fernack -- the cast is extremely bland.

This was one of just four films leading lady Helene Whitney appeared in; she and the Saint seem to have had some sort of past romantic relationship but it's not explored in any depth. The next couple films will have Wendy Barrie, who also appeared with Sanders in the early FALCON films, and hopefully those movies will be a bit livelier.

The cast also includes Donald MacBride, John F. Hamilton, Thomas W. Ross, Elliott Sullivan, Byron Foulger, Edward Gargan, and Pat O'Malley.

The most interesting thing about the film is a scene with primitive special effects showing both of Sanders' characters onscreen at the same time; the second George Sanders in the scene is a back projection! It's quite odd-looking, and it's fascinating how far special effects had come by the time of Olivia de Havilland playing twins in THE DARK MIRROR (1946), in which the effects are almost seamless.

Whether he's playing the Saint or the Falcon, Sanders is always pleasant company in his RKO mysteries, but this one is a lesser effort.

This was one of three SAINT films directed by Jack Hively. The screenplay of this 67-minute film was by Ben Holmes, and the cinematographer was J. Roy Hunt.

THE SAINT'S DOUBLE TROUBLE is available on DVD in the Warner Archive's George Sanders Saint Movies Collection. I previously reviewed the first two films in the set, THE SAINT STRIKES BACK (1939) and THE SAINT IN LONDON (1939).

THE SAINT'S DOUBLE TROUBLE has also been released on Region 2 DVD. It had a VHS release as a TCM double feature paired with THE SAINT IN LONDON (1939).

THE SAINT'S DOUBLE TROUBLE can also be seen from time to time on Turner Classic Movies.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Return of the Gunfighter (1967) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

One of the things I most appreciate about the Warner Archive is that it makes available lesser-known but really interesting Westerns.

Examples of this are recent releases of GUNSMOKE IN TUCSON (1958) and RATON PASS (1951), movies I'd never heard of which proved to be quite entertaining.

Yet another example is an earlier Archive release, RETURN OF THE GUNFIGHTER (1967), a TV-movie which marked one of the great Robert Taylor's last screen appearances.

The Robert Buckner screenplay is based on a story Buckner cowrote with Burt Kennedy, who wrote some of Randolph Scott's best Westerns, and the movie is good stuff. This 98-minute film, which was released theatrically in Europe, was directed by James Neilson, shot by Ellsworth Fredricks at Old Tucson.

When I read it was a TV-movie I wasn't expecting all that much, but RETURN OF THE GUNFIGHTER is a quality Western; the story is pleasingly familiar, anchored by Taylor's compelling performance as an aging gunfighter seeking justice for the murder of friends.

Taylor plays Ben Wyatt, recently released from a Yuma prison after being cleared of murder. The weary Ben would like to live in peace, but it seems there's always someone ready to draw on him ("Why won't they leave me alone?").

Upon discovering the murder of his closest friend and his wife, Ben searches for their daughter Anisa (Ana Martin), who is relieved to see the man she calls "Padre" and views as a second father.

Along the way Ben has also picked up Lee Sutton (Chad Everett), who is on the run from Frank Boone (Michael Pate) and his family; Ben and Lee clash, but Lee reminds Ben of his younger self and he continues to look out for him. The kindness Ben offers Lee, perhaps against his better judgment, will prove to be key in the path the young man chooses in life.

Ben and Anisa travel to Lordsburg to search for her parents' killers...who turn out to include Lee's brother (Lyle Bettger).

This was simply a really good, satisfying movie which I would rank near the top of the Westerns I've seen this year in terms of enjoyment, perhaps surpassed only by the several Anthony Mann Westerns I saw at UCLA. The film doesn't really have anything new to say, but isn't that sometimes one of the good things about watching a Western?

What matters is the way the story is presented, and this was sure a good one, from the tight script with its strong Burt Kennedy influence to the acting to the extensive location exteriors to the evocative score by Hans J. Salter. Then add in some of the all-time great Western villains in Pate and Bettger, and you've got yourself quite a little movie. Everything works.

All that said, the truly key thing which elevates this film above the ordinary is the performance of Robert Taylor. His bright blue eyes in his now weathered face, his authoritative deep voice, his ease with a horse, the way he wordlessly conveys sadness and a desire to escape from troubles yet meets the responsibility he feels to Anisa and Lee -- well, he simply commands the picture.

The final scene, as he walks away by himself, inevitably calls to mind John Wayne at the end of THE SEARCHERS (1956), or even the ending of ANGEL AND THE BADMAN (1947), as the older man frees two young people to live in peace. There's a wealth of Western history which gives the shot so much more meaning than it has as simply part of the story, and knowing that Taylor would all too soon pass on adds yet another layer of poignance.

Indeed, he's so good here that it seems sadder than ever that this wonderful actor didn't have the chance to act for many more years.

The supporting cast includes John Crawford (later Sheriff Ep Bridges on THE WALTONS), Willis Bouchey, Rodolfo Hoyos Jr., Mort Mills, John Davis Chandler, Henry Wills, Boyd "Red" Morgan, and Harry Lauter.

The widescreen Warner Archive DVD looks great except for just a scene or two which are a little more fuzzy. The DVD includes the trailer.

Western fans will love this one. Highly recommended.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered at the Warner Archive website.

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