Saturday, January 31, 2015

TCM in February: 31 Days of Oscar Highlights

It's hard to believe that the first month of 2015 has already come to an end and it's now time for 31 Days of Oscar on Turner Classic Movies!

As has been the case in years past, TCM has a special 31 Days of Oscar microsite filled with information on this month's offerings. The schedule is also available online.

This month's prime time schedule will highlight Oscar-nominated films chronologically, with films from the 1920s and early '30s airing the evening of February 1st and films from the last few years shown on March 3rd.

There are many outstanding movies airing this month, although I do miss the opportunity to explore lesser-known films during Oscar month. That said, February is a great time for those who are newer to classic movies to catch up on some wonderful titles.

Here are a few personal recommendations and notes of interest on the February schedule:

...I've never seen WINGS (1927), the very first Best Picture, and just learned that the cast includes Jobyna Ralston, who I have liked so much in Harold Lloyd films. WINGS, which was directed by William Wellman, airs Sunday evening, February 1st. Charles "Buddy" Rogers, Richard Arlen, Gary Cooper, and Clara Bow costar.

...I'm really delighted that LITTLE WOMEN (1933) is airing in prime time on Monday evening, February 2nd. This is a favorite film I'm long overdue to review here. With Frances Dee, Katharine Hepburn, Jean Parker, and Joan Bennett playing Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, the film is utter perfection.

...One of the earliest and best Astaire-Rogers films, TOP HAT (1933), airs on February 3rd.

...There's even more classic Fred and Ginger on the 4th, with SWING TIME (1936). If Victor Moore hadn't been in this it would be my favorite of their 10 films.

...I can't recommend THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938) too many times. I consider it one of the greatest movies ever made, and it contains the best musical score of all time, composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold. It airs February 5th.

...The film version of WUTHERING HEIGHTS (1939) may be only part of the book, but what a movie! The ending never fails to make me cry. Merle Oberon, Laurence Olivier, Geraldine Fitzgerald, and David Niven star. The date is February 6th.

...It's great to see Anthony Mann's THE NAKED SPUR (1953) on the schedule February 7th. It was nominated for Best Story and Screenplay. James Stewart, Janet Leigh, and Robert Ryan star in an excellent Western.

...I haven't seen GASLIGHT (1944) since I was a teenager. I hope to rectify that this year! Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotten, and Angela Lansbury star, on February 8th.

...Last weekend I reviewed the WWII film BOMBARDIER (1943) for the Randolph Scott blogathon. It's not a perfect film, but I'm always interested to see morale-boosting films made during the war. It's on February 9th. Later in the evening is one of the finest war films ever made, John Ford's THEY WERE EXPENDABLE (1945), starring John Wayne, Robert Montgomery, and Donna Reed.

...As much as I enjoy it, I was a bit surprised to see JULIE (1956) on the schedule on February 10th. Turns out this Doris Day film was nominated for both Screenplay and Song. Doris Day stars along with Louis Jourdan and Frank Lovejoy. Love Doris having to pilot a passenger plane at the end of the movie!

...Ronald Colman and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. top a perfect cast in one of the very best swashbucklers, THE PRISONER OF ZENDA (1937), airing February 11th. Madeleine Carroll, David Niven, Mary Astor, and Raymond Massey costar. The film was nominated for Art Direction and Musical Score, but I bet there are many film fans besides myself who believe that Douglas Fairbanks Jr. should have rated a nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He almost steals the film with his lively portrayal of Rupert of Hentzau.

...THE GUNFIGHTER (1950), starring Gregory Peck as a man who can't escape his quick-drawing reputation, airs on February 12th.

...I just saw LIBELED LADY (1936) on a big screen last night. For those not lucky enough to see it in a theater, it's on TCM on Valentine's Day! The stars are William Powell, Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy, and Jean Harlow. Perfection!

...On February 15th Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake strike sparks in THE BLUE DAHLIA (1946), based on a Raymond Chandler story, with a nicely depicted Southern California setting.

...Doris Day and Rock Hudson star in the classic romantic comedy PILLOW TALK (1959) on February 16th.

...The classic gangster film WHITE HEAT (1949) will be shown February 20th. James Cagney, Virginia Mayo, and Steve Cochran are especially outstanding. Edmond O'Brien costars as the G man the audience roots for.

...Fans of Rod Taylor who missed THE TIME MACHINE (1960) during his memorial tribute a couple of days ago will have another chance to see it on February 22nd.

...Warner Bros. filmed A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM (1935) with an all-star cast including James Cagney, Dick Powell, Olivia de Havilland, Anita Louise, and Mickey Rooney. A unique bit of trivia is that Hal Mohr's shimmering cinematography was a write-in nomination -- and he won! The movie airs February 24th.

...Later on the 24th, Rene Clair's fantasy gem IT HAPPENED TOMORROW (1944) will be shown. Dick Powell stars as a man who receives newspapers with tomorrow's headlines today. Linda Darnell costars.

...CHARIOTS OF FIRE (1981), about runners in the 1924 Olympics, is one of the films I like the most out of the "newer" titles airing on TCM this month. It will be shown February 26th.

...THE NARROW MARGIN (1952), nominated for Best Writing, is on February 28th. This noir gem has become one of my favorite films. Charles McGraw, Marie Windsor, and Jacqueline White star.

...It's musicals day on March 1st, and you can't go wrong with GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 (1933), Fred and Ginger in SHALL WE DANCE (1937), or Fred and Rita in YOU WERE NEVER LOVELIER (1942). All are great favorites of mine, especially the latter film.

...The disaster classic SAN FRANCISCO (1936) will be shown March 2nd. Clark Gable, Jeanette MacDonald, and Spencer Tracy define star power in a wonderful movie.

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

In related news, Lou Lumenick has interviewed TCM head programmer Charlie Tabesh about 31 Days of Oscar; they also discuss the lack of enthusiasm of some fans for the newer films which air on TCM during the 31 Days of Oscar festival.

Previously: Quick Preview of TCM in February: 31 Days of Oscar.

The Black Maria Hosts Libeled Lady (1936) at the Silent Movie Theatre

Last night my husband and I enjoyed a wonderful evening chatting with friends and watching a favorite comedy, LIBELED LADY (1936), at the Silent Movie Theatre in Los Angeles.

The free invitation-only screening was hosted by the classic film website The Black Maria. (2020 Update: The Black Maria website no longer exists, and I have removed the non-working links.)

Black Maria's Jill Blake, Carley Johnson, and Wade Sheeler were on hand to greet guests and share the news that they hope this inaugural screening will be the first of several around the country in the months to come.

As explained on the website, "each screening promises a film with special significance to Black Maria staff, as well as featuring food, drink, music, local artists, writers and more!"

The next Black Maria screening will be later this year in Atlanta.

Classic film fans from around the country had donated to help make the evening's festivities possible, and it was a class affair all the way, starting with free popcorn and sodas for all and ending with a reception on the theater patio featuring food, drink, and terrific music from swing violinist Elana James and her combo.

Jean Harlow expert Darrell Rooney, co-author of HARLOW IN HOLLYWOOD, introduced the movie with a brief talk. I had seen him speak at UCLA in 2011, and it was great to see him again.

LIBELED LADY is one of my all-time favorite comedies, which I reviewed when I saw it at UCLA in 2012. It is never too soon to see it again, particularly in the company of such an appreciative audience! The entire cast, which includes Harlow, William Powell, and Spencer Tracy, is wonderful, but on this viewing I was particularly struck by just how amazing Myrna Loy is, wearing fabulous gowns designed by Dolly Tree.

Matt Patterson was present representing the Warner Archive, handing out free DVDs to the guests, and Turner Classic Movies also helped sponsor the event, providing items for the fantastic gift baskets which were raffled off at the close of the evening.

It's always great having the chance to catch up with fellow classic film bloggers. I enjoyed seeing many old friends as well as renewing my acquaintance with Emily of The Vintage Cameo and finally meeting Kim of I See a Dark Theater in person for the first time. Everyone was having such a great time that the theater finally had to kick us out so that the crowd could file in for the Friday night midnight movie!

Many thanks to everyone at the Black Maria, as well as their donors, for a marvelous evening enjoying film and friendship!

2020 Update: LIBELED LADY is now available on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive.  My review of the Blu-ray is here.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Happy Birthday, Dorothy Malone!

Oscar-winning actress Dorothy Malone turns 90 today.

Malone was born in Chicago on January 30, 1925, and grew up in Dallas.

Malone started out in small roles in the early '40s, breaking out of the pack of bit players with a brief yet very memorable role as a bookstore clerk who banters with Humphrey Bogart's Philip Marlowe in the classic THE BIG SLEEP (1946).

Malone proved to be equally good as "girl next door" types, as she was portrayed in countless '40s studio publicity photos, or in more sultry or hard-edged roles. In the decade after THE BIG SLEEP, Malone appeared in over 30 films, including a significant number of Westerns.

Film historian Blake Lucas, in his recent review of the Western THE NEVADAN (1950) at 50 Westerns From the 50s, called her "an icon of the genre." I thought that was a beautiful and quite apt description.

Malone snagged a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her flashy role as a troubled woman in Douglas Sirk's WRITTEN ON THE WIND (1956).

After WRITTEN ON THE WIND Malone continued to work steadily in both films and television, hitting it big again with the TV series PEYTON PLACE in 1964. In 2009 the Los Angeles Times interviewed Malone, who was then retired and living in Texas, when the series was released on DVD.

Malone had two daughters with her first husband, actor Jacques Bergerac, who passed away last summer. In the 2009 Times article, one of her daughters reported that Malone continued to receive fan mail from around the world and said, "It just brightens her day."

Dorothy Malone films reviewed at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings: HIGHER AND HIGHER (1943), THE FALCON AND THE CO-EDS (1943), ONE MYSTERIOUS NIGHT (1944), FLAXY MARTIN (1949), THE KILLER THAT STALKED NEW YORK (1950), THE NEVADAN (1950), LAW AND ORDER (1953), THE LONE GUN (1954), PUSHOVER (1954), TALL MAN RIDING (1955), WRITTEN ON THE WIND (1956), QUANTEZ (1957) (also here), TIP ON A DEAD JOCKEY (1957), THE LAST VOYAGE (1960), and FATE IS THE HUNTER (1964).

Some of the notable Malone films not yet reviewed here include ONE SUNDAY AFTERNOON (1948), SOUTH OF ST. LOUIS (1949), COLORADO TERRITORY (1949), SADDLE LEGION (1951), TORPEDO ALLEY (1952), JACK SLADE (1953), LOOPHOLE (1954), YOUNG AT HEART (1954), BATTLE CRY (1955), and THE TARNISHED ANGELS (1957). I anticipate reviewing several of these in the coming months.

Best wishes for a very happy birthday to an actress whose work has brought this viewer a great deal of pleasure over the years.

January 2016 Update: Here are review links for TWO GUYS FROM TEXAS (1948), SOUTH OF ST. LOUIS (1949), COLORADO TERRITORY (1949), LOOPHOLE (1954), and BEACH PARTY (1963), plus a new review of FLAXY MARTIN (1949).

January 2017 Update: Here's a review of THE BIG SLEEP (1946), in which Dorothy had her breakout role.

January 19, 2018 Update: Dorothy Malone has passed away at the age of 92.

Update: I've now reviewed JANIE GETS MARRIED (1946), SADDLE LEGION (1951), BATTLE CRY (1955), PILLARS OF THE SKY (1956), THE TARNISHED ANGELS (1957), and WARLOCK (1959).

Update: Since this was first written, Malone's birthday has been updated on various websites to January 29th, 1924. A photo of her final resting place in Dallas confirms the year 1924.  That said, her obituary in the Dallas Morning News, which appears to have been written by the family, gives her birthdate as January 30, 1924.

The Latest TCM Classic Film Festival Announcements

TCM has now announced a number of interesting additions to the 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival schedule.

Personal appearances just announced for the festival: Ann-Margret will introduce a 50th anniversary screening of THE CINCINNATI KID (1965), William Daniels and Ken Howard will be at 1776 (1972), and former NASA astronaut James Lovell will introduce the previously announced 20th anniversary restoration of APOLLO 13 (1995).

Although I generally prefer classic-era films, I very much hope to attend the APOLLO 13 screening, which is in my Top 20 favorite films of the last quarter century. It would be worth it just to see beautifully scored launch sequence on a big screen for the first time in 20 years! But the entire movie is terrific, and I especially like the performances of Ed Harris and Gary Sinise as the men "on the ground" spearheading the rescue effort. "Failure is not an option!"

While I admit I'm not especially interested in the storyline of the film THE CINCINNATI KID, it's got a great cast and I might give it a try in order to see Ann-Margret. I admire her and especially enjoyed her in VIVA LAS VEGAS (1964). I also thought she was terrific as Blanche in a TV production of A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (1984).

I'd especially love to see the restorations of a pair of favorite Warner Bros. musicals, 42ND STREET (1933) and CALAMITY JANE (1953), and I'd love to see David Ladd at the screening of a restored print of THE PROUD REBEL (1958), also starring his father Alan Ladd and Olivia de Havilland. I saw David's sister Alana a couple of years ago at a screening of THE GREAT GATSBY (1949).

TCM has been trying to persuade Doris Day to attend the festival for quite some time. I tend to doubt she'd come, but if she did attend I'm quite sure that her appearance would cause the most excitement in the festival's history!

The festival's premiere restorations will also include Disney's PINOCCHIO (1940) and the crime film RIFIFI (1955), which I saw in a gorgeous print at UCLA last summer. I can't recommend that one highly enough.

Visit the festival site for the complete list of films announced to date.

I'll be sharing more festival information as it's released!

Previous 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival Posts: TCM Announces 2015 Festival Dates and Theme; TCM Classic Film Festival Announcements; The Sound of Music (1965) to Open 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Quick Preview of TCM in April

Turner Classic Movies recently posted the online preview for its April schedule.

The April Star of the Month is Oscar-winning actor Anthony Quinn.

Quinn's films will be shown on Wednesday evenings, with titles ranging from some of the early films in which he played small roles, such as KNOCKOUT (1941) and LARCENY, INC. (1942), to his Best Supporting Actor Oscar-winning appearances in VIVA ZAPATA! (1952) and LUST FOR LIFE (1956).

Some of Quinn's earliest roles were in his father-in-law Cecil B. DeMille's films, and while those are not included in the schedule, one of the most intriguing titles is a film he made with his wife, Katherine DeMille, BLACK GOLD (1947). Quinn plays a Native American training a horse for the Kentucky Derby in a movie directed by Phil Karlson.

The Friday Night Spotlight focuses on longtime MGM special effects artist A. Arnold Gillespie. That's the kind of series I really love to see featured on TCM.

I didn't realize that Gillespie's autobiography had been posthumously published in 2012.

April will also feature ROBERT OSBORNE'S 20TH ANNIVERSARY TRIBUTE (2015), filmed at the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival. I'm really looking forward to watching that since I wasn't at that event.

April also includes tributes to Joe E. Brown, Marlon Brando, Walter Huston, Jane Russell, Michael Curtiz, Harold S. Bucquet, Troy Donahue, Spencer Tracy, Doris Day, Esther Williams, Howard Keel, Diana Wynyard, William Holden, Ann Sheridan, Celeste Holm, and Sophia Loren.

Themes include ministers, Billy the Kid, films with "Johnny" in the title, hitchhikers, and adaptations of Alexandre Dumas, plus a day of the ANDY HARDY series.

Easter Sunday's lineup includes BEN-HUR (1959) and EASTER PARADE (1948), as well as Paramount's BLUE SKIES (1946) starring Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby, with songs by Irving Berlin. (Update: BLUE SKIES has been pulled from the schedule and replaced with 1942's HOLIDAY INN.)

I'll have a detailed look at the April schedule at the end of March. In the meantime, February will bring the 31 Days of Oscar Festival, and the March Star of the Month is Ann Sothern.

March 31st Update: For additional information, please visit TCM in April: Highlights.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Tonight's Movie: The Oklahoman (1957)

It was a looooong day today, and by the time I finally sat down to watch a movie late this evening, only the soothing voice of Joel McCrea would do. THE OKLAHOMAN (1957) proved to be very satisfying Western entertainment.

THE OKLAHOMAN is an Allied Artists film which has overtones of McCrea's earlier classic STARS IN MY CROWN (1950). Whereas in STARS IN MY CROWN McCrea played a small-town parson raising his orphaned nephew, in THE OKLAHOMAN he's a widowed doctor raising his little girl, Louise (Mimi Gibson of HOUSEBOAT).

Like the STARS IN MY CROWN minister, McCrea's Dr. John Brighton is a force for good in his community. Just as the minister prevented a black man from being forced to sell his land in STARS IN MY CROWN, "Dr. John" comes to the aid of Charlie (Michael Pate), an Indian, when Cass Dobie (Brad Dexter) tries to force Charlie to sell -- it seems that Charlie has a fortune in oil on his land.

Although there are thematic similarities with McCrea's earlier film, depicting both the blessings and the problems of rural small-town life, THE OKLAHOMAN stands on its own as quite a well-done movie. It's a character-driven relationship film with good performances, starting with McCrea's upright, thoughtful doctor who's not afraid to back down from a battle.

Esther Dale gives a lovely performance as Mrs. Fitzgerald, an elderly widow who offers the doctor and his baby girl a home; she provides office space for the doctor and mothering for the baby, and in return she gains a family. The peppery Dale was a winning presence in movies for over a quarter of a century, with notable roles including Edward Arnold's secretary in EASY LIVING (1937) and the grandmother raising MARGIE (1946).

Barbara Hale, with her long dark hair and confident, mature persona, is appealing as a widow with her eye on the doctor. Gloria Talbott plays Maria, Charlie's pretty daughter, who helps Mrs. Fitzgerald care for Louise but whose presence in the doctor's home causes "talk" after Mrs. Fitzgerald passes on.

The cast is filled with familiar faces, including Verna Felton, Ray Teal, Anthony Caruso, and I. Stanford Jolley. Look for Diane Brewster (Samantha Crawford on MAVERICK) as the friend who helps deliver McCrea's baby at the start of the film.

One of the movie's only flaws is a fistfight sequence where McCrea's stuntman faces the camera and is very clearly not Joel McCrea! It's always a little confusing when that happens in a movie. MONTANA (1950) with Errol Flynn is another film seen in recent months where that was an issue.

The film has a nice outdoorsy look, filmed on Southern California movie backlots and ranches. It was shot in widescreen by Carl E. Guthrie.

THE OKLAHOMAN was directed by Francis D. Lyon. Like so many other '50s Westerns, including McCrea's excellent WICHITA (1955), the movie was written by Daniel B. Ullman. It runs 80 minutes.

THE OKLAHOMAN is available in a really lovely widescreen DVD from the Warner Archive.

It also had a release on VHS in 1993.

A final note, the foreign posters for this film, with McCrea carrying Talbott, are unintentionally amusing as there is no such scene in the finished movie!

Joel McCrea fans will especially like this one. Recommended.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Sinners' Holiday (1930) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

James Cagney made his film debut in SINNERS' HOLIDAY (1930), released this month by the Warner Archive.

SINNER'S HOLIDAY was also one of the very first films in Joan Blondell's filmography. Both actors had starred on Broadway in the short-lived PENNY ARCADE in the spring of 1930, then came to Hollywood to reprise their roles in the film version, retitled SINNER'S HOLIDAY and released in October of that year.

This rough-edged depiction of carnival life would make an interesting double bill paired with the carnival film NIGHTMARE ALLEY (1947) -- particularly as both films starred Blondell, filmed 17 years apart.

The rather nasty Ma Delano (Lucille LaVerne) runs a penny arcade. Her son Harry (Cagney) gets mixed up with Mitch (Warren Hymer), who runs an illegal booze business, and late one night Harry kills Mitch.

Harry persuades his girlfriend Myrtle (Blondell) to provide an alibi, and he and his mother, who knows the truth, are happy to see carny worker Angel (Grant Withers) arrested for the murder. The only problem in their plan is that Harry's sweet sister Jennie (Evalyn Knapp) loves Angel -- and she saw Harry commit the murder.

The movie, directed by John G. Adolfi, is only moderately entertaining, but it successfully conveys a rough carnival atmosphere, and Cagney and Blondell's charisma wakes the film up in fits and starts. It's only 60 minutes long so the plot moves along quickly enough to keep it reasonably interesting. Fans of Cagney and Blondell will want to check it out in view of its significant place in their long careers.

Aside from foreshadowing Blondell's later role in the more intense carnival film NIGHTMARE ALLEY, SINNERS' HOLIDAY is also the first film in which Cagney is strangely obsessed with his mother, as he famously was in WHITE HEAT (1949).

An interesting footnote regarding leading man Grant Withers is that early in 1930, the year this film was made, he eloped with 17-year-old Loretta Young. Their marriage was annulled soon after.

The print on the Warner Archive DVD looks on the "old" side, only in the sense it's not a razor-sharp, shimmering print. It's a film from 1930, and it looks like it. The picture and sound are otherwise in fine shape. 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 at the Warner Archive website.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...Turner Classic Movies officially announced Jennifer Dorian as the channel's new GM, as well as the promotion of Genevieve McGillicuddy. Will McKinley offers analysis at Cinematically Insane.

...It's been a busy few days at TCM, where it was also announced that Oscar-winning actress Sally Field will cohost the next season of the Saturday evening "Essentials" franchise. Here's more from USA Today.

...A previously "lost" film starring Harry Houdini, THE GRIM GAME (1919), has been added to the lineup of this spring's TCM Classic Film Festival.

...Please visit ClassicFlix for my latest column, a tribute to actress Claudette Colbert.

...Kristina's got terrific photo galleries of Joan Taylor and Randolph Scott at Speakeasy.

...Also at Speakeasy: Kristina collaborates with Mike from Mike's Take on the Movies for a new video, "Film Books We Rely On, Volume 3." This series is really fun, and I always end up searching Amazon for used books after watching their latest installment!

...Here's a fun post by Phoebe Green at Shadowplay showing that the same style of water glass was used in half a dozen scenes in 42ND STREET (1933).

...New at the Film Noir Foundation's video archives, an interview with Barbara Hale filmed in 2014. I haven't had time to watch it yet and really look forward to it.

...Speaking of the Film Noir Foundation, Kim has a report at I See a Dark Theater on attending part of last week's Noir City San Francisco Festival.

...FORCE OF ARMS (1951), starring William Holden and Nancy Olson, was one of the top runners-up to make my list of Favorite Discoveries of 2014. Watching this lovely tribute video to the movie, I wonder if it should have made the top 12! What a wonderful movie.

...Coming from the Criterion Collection this April, a new Eclipse set, "Silent Ozu: Three Crime Dramas."

...Ozu's AN AUTUMN AFTERNOON (1962) is coming out on Blu-ray from Criterion next month. DVD Beaver has a review. I bought this one on DVD not long ago and really look forward to watching it.

...Here's another great "Favorite Discoveries" list at Rupert Pupkin Speaks, this time from The Nitrate Diva.

...If you're snowed in this week, how about making Nigella Lawson's vanilla fudge? Looks amazing...

...THE DAWN OF TECHNICOLOR 1915-1935, by James Layton and David Pierce, sounds like a fascinating history. Carley Johnson has an advance review at The Black Maria.

...Greenbriar Picture Shows has terrific stills from the Robert Taylor film THE POWER AND THE PRIZE (1956).

...The South Dakota State Historical Society Press can't keep up with orders for the annotated edition of the Laura Ingalls Wilder autobiography PIONEER GIRL, published last month. The editor is Pamela Smith Hill. I have an older edition. (Update: Actually, I was reminded today that the older PIONEER GIRL is a biography...but I did read the PIONEER GIRL manuscript over two decades ago. I'm fuzzy now on exactly how I obtained it!)

...For those who live in or plan to visit North Carolina, an exhibit of DOWNTON ABBEY costumes, "Dressing Downton," will run at the Biltmore House from February 5 to May 25, 2015.

...Attention Southern Californians: This Friday at the Aero, a 75th Anniversary screening of FANTASIA (1940). It's also the Aero's 75th anniversary year.

...Notable Passings: Assistant director and production manager Richard McWhorter has passed away at the age of 100. He worked on many notable productions...Actor-Editor Frank Mazzola, who appeared onscreen in two James Dean films, has died at 79...Rush Limbaugh's longtime "Chief of Staff," nicknamed H.R., has passed away at the age of 57. Christopher "Kit" Carson had battled brain cancer for four years...The great baseball player Ernie Banks has died a week short of turning 84. His joyous "Let's play two!" is one of the great lines of all baseball history.

Have a great week!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Dynamite (1929) at UCLA

The second film on tonight's double bill in UCLA's Cecil B. DeMille series was DYNAMITE (1929), a pre-Code melodrama.

Like the first film of the evening, MADAM SATAN (1930), DYNAMITE was directed by Cecil B. DeMille. Both of these MGM films starred Kay Johnson, were partly written by Jeanie Macpherson and Gladys Unger, had costumes by Adrian, and sets designed by Cedric Gibbons and Mitchell Leisen, with Leisen also serving as assistant director.

DYNAMITE is a sprawling tale which begins by telling two completely separate stories. We're first introduced to Hagon Derk (Charles Bickford), who has been unjustly convicted of murder and sentenced to die. His little sister Katie (Muriel McCormac) sobs as they are parted, and the viewer rightly guesses that a man with such feelings for a child is unlikely to be a murderer.

The story then completely changes gears and we meet Cynthia Crothers (Johnson), a seemingly shallow society belle who must marry by her 23rd birthday in order to inherit her grandfather's millions. Cynthia is engaged to Roger (Conrad Nagel) -- the only problem being that Roger is already married! Roger's wife Marcia (Julia Faye) has a boy toy (Joel McCrea) on the side, but she's holding out for big bucks before she's willing to give Roger a divorce.

After Cynthia's story went on for quite a while I suddenly realized I'd momentarily forgotten how the movie started -- what would the man in jail have to do with Cynthia?

The stories intersect when Cynthia reads that Hagon is looking for a way to raise funds to support his sister after his death. Cynthia arranges a jailhouse wedding to Hagon; he gets $10,000 to keep his sister out of an orphanage, and she receives access to her inheritance so she can buy off Marcia and marry Roger after her new husband's death on the gallows.

Fate deals Hagon and Cynthia a surprise when his name is cleared at the last minute. Cynthia, learning she must actually be living with her husband in order to collect her millions, leaves her fabulous digs to move in temporarily with Hagon and Katie. Hagon and Cynthia are as different as can be, with Hagon earning a rough living as a coal miner, but Cynthia gradually grows to respect her "in name only" husband.

Cynthia and Hagon's feelings for one another continue to grow, thwarted at times by misunderstandings. And then comes the fateful day when Roger arrives to take Cynthia away. Roger insists that they first find Hagon at work in the coal mine to tell him face to face that Cynthia is leaving with Roger. And then the mine begins to collapse...

This film was completely enjoyable, if improbable at times, with memorable visuals -- would could forget the women racing while spinning in circles at the country club field day or Hagon's reaction to Cynthia's dazzling bathroom and big bowl of bath salts?!

DYNAMITE packs a lot of story into its 126 minutes, yet it left me wanting even more; I would have enjoyed seeing more of the gradual development of Cynthia and Hagon's feelings, especially as their communication was hampered by his brusque nature. Like many good films, it leaves you mulling over the characters; could two people from such disparate backgrounds really make a go of a marriage, and which lifestyle would they choose?

I really enjoyed both actors, even if I desperately wished that Bickford -- in one of his very first films -- had been given a haircut! It was a nice chance to see an actor who had so many great character roles as a leading man.

Nagel has the chance to play a complex character who is a bit deeper than your average playboy. His final line, "That's that," packed a wallop (pun intended, for those who have seen the film).

DeMille's former paperboy, Joel McCrea, is gorgeous in a small role as Marcia's boyfriend. He'd played small roles beginning in 1927 and wasn't yet much of an actor; his first line sounds quite awkward, but young McCrea would learn very quickly!

Look for Russ Columbo as the prisoner singing during the jailhouse wedding.

DYNAMITE was filmed in black and white by J. Peverell Marley.

It's worth nothing that both of this evening's films were on the lengthy side, with MADAM SATAN running 116 minutes, but neither film lagged or wore out its welcome. It was a long evening, especially as it started off with a 12-minute promotional short for THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, but the late night in Westwood was well worth it. I had a terrific time.

Previous DeMille films seen on a big screen: MADAM SATAN (1930), CLEOPATRA (1934), THE CRUSADES (1935), THE BUCCANEER (1938), and THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1956).

Tonight's Movie: Madam Satan (1930) at UCLA

Tonight I returned to UCLA for another evening in the ongoing Cecil B. DeMille series, a wonderful MGM pre-Code double bill consisting of MADAM SATAN (1930) and DYNAMITE (1929).

I first heard of MADAM SATAN a while back from Raquel at Out of the Past. Although I picked up the remastered DVD from the Warner Archive, I hadn't watched it yet, and I jumped at the chance to see this Cecil B. DeMille film on a big screen.

MADAM SATAN is one of the most deliriously crazy things I've ever seen, and I loved every minute. I watched much of it with my jaw dropped and all of it with a smile on my face.

The movie doesn't know quite what it wants to be; it's part bedroom farce, part musical, and part disaster movie, yet it all comes together in its insane way to work as a whole. The only other film I can think of which is such a successful hybrid of multiple genres is HISTORY IS MADE AT NIGHT (1937).

Our heroine is Angela (Kay Johnson) -- note her name has "Angel" in it, the opposite of the film's title. The reserved Angela is dismayed to realize her husband Bob (Reginald Denny) is not being true to her; Bob seems to be bored with marriage and feels Angela is less of a "pal" and more of a "wife" since their marriage.

Angela eventually figures out Bob is seeing the very un-genteel Trixie (Lillian Roth), though Bob's best friend Jimmy (Roland Young) tries to pass Trixie off to Angela as his own wife. This leads to some very funny moments with doors opening and closing when all four people end up at Trixie's apartment. Angela vows to Trixie that she's going to win back her husband.

Next comes the centerpiece of the film, a wild masked ball Jimmy throws aboard a zeppelin! The exterior and interior shots of the zeppelin are mind-blowing; the art directors were Cedric Gibbons and future director Mitchell Leisen, who also served as DeMille's assistant director. The fantastic designs are up there with the sets of FEMALE (1933) and FOOTLIGHT PARADE (1933) for sheer awesomeness.

The party gets underway with a musical ode to "Electricity" that had me watching in stunned, er, shock. What the heck? It was delightfully crazy, with some of the shots looking as though they must have inspired the elaborate production numbers Busby Berkeley would choreograph just a couple years later. The originality and creativity were something else.

And the Adrian costumes! Some of the actresses are billed by their costumes: "Fish Girl," "Miss Conning Tower," "Call of the Wild," and "Spider Girl." Mary Carlisle was "Little Bo Peep"; I wish I'd seen her appearance at this film at the Egyptian Theatre last year. She had just turned 100 years old, and a friend Tweets that Mary stayed to watch the entire 126-minute movie!

Into this wild gathering comes the dazzling, French-accented Madam Satan, who immediately lures Bob away from Trixie. Bob is enthralled by Madam Satan and promptly manages to be alone with her; things are getting white hot indeed when they're interrupted by Jimmy. Little does Bob know this seductive woman is his own previously very demure wife!

Act 3 comes when a violent storm causes the dirigible to become unmoored and the revelers must abandon ship; the design for the emergency parachute system for the guests is, once more, something else! I couldn't help thinking how cold it must have been for the party-goers to fly through the air in such flimsy costumes. The special effects here are pretty good even though some of it is a bit primitive.

The lead actors are all excellent, with Roland Young especially amusing as the much-put-upon best pal. The cast also includes Martha Peterson as Angela's singing maid. Boyd Irwin is the captain of the dirigible. Also look for Allan "Rocky" Lane on the dirigible, and Katherine DeMille's in there somewhere too.

An interesting side note, leading lady Kay Johnson was married to director John Cromwell and was the mother of Oscar-nominated actor James Cromwell.

MADAM SATAN was beautifully shot in black and white by Harold Rosson. (I read at one site that the costume party was originally filmed in early color and hope to learn more about that.) Like other notable DeMille films, it must be seen to be believed, and if possible on a giant screen!

I enjoyed this film tremendously, and although it's only January, I suspect this film may end up on my "Favorite Discoveries of 2015" list.

Previous DeMille films seen on a big screen: CLEOPATRA (1934), THE CRUSADES (1935), THE BUCCANEER (1938), and THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1956).

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