Saturday, October 31, 2015

TCM in November: Highlights

There's hope that temperatures here in Southern California might drop into the 70s next week, just in time for November! As thoughts begin to turn toward Thanksgiving, it's time for a look at the November schedule on Turner Classic Movies.

Norma Shearer is the November Star of the Month. 22 Shearer movies will be shown on Tuesday evenings this month. I'll have a closer look at the Star of the Month schedule here in a couple of days. (Update: Please visit TCM Star of the Month: Norma Shearer.)

There's much to be thankful for this month on Turner Classic Movies! Here's a look at a few of the highlights; click any hyperlinked title for more information.

...There are some wonderful birthday tributes on TCM this month, starting off with a November 2nd tribute to the late Ann Rutherford. The day's lineup includes two Andy Hardy films, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (1940), in which she plays flighty Lydia, and FOUR GIRLS IN WHITE (1939), a "B" film about nurses I enjoy.

...November 3rd is a day of Robert Mitchum war movies, including the WWII film THIRTY SECONDS OVER TOKYO (1944) and the Korean War story ONE MINUTE TO ZERO (1952).

...Kay Francis stars as Florence Nightingale in THE WHITE ANGEL (1936), reviewed here in September. It airs on November 7th.

...A November 11th birthday tribute to Pat O'Brien features an impressive nine films, including BOMBSHELL (1933) and FLIRTATION WALK (1934).

...I love aviation films, and I've never seen BAILOUT AT 43,000 (1957), starring favorites John Payne and Paul Kelly. I'm really looking forward to this one! Karen Steele (RIDE LONESOME) costars. It's on November 12th. BAILOUT AT 43,000 is part of an entire day of films featuring Kelly, who is always compelling, so be sure to check out the full lineup.

...November 13th features Frank Sinatra and Debbie Reynolds in THE TENDER TRAP (1955), which made my list of Underrated Films of 1955 a few weeks ago.

...November 14th features a three-film primetime tribute to actress Dorothy McGuire, with FRIENDLY PERSUASION (1956), THE ENCHANTED COTTAGE (1945), and THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN (1954).

...I'm especially excited about a six-film tribute to Victor Mature on November 16th. The titles include favorite such as MY DARLING CLEMENTINE (1946), KISS OF DEATH (1947), and EASY LIVING (1949). A very deserved tribute.

...November 17th features films about WWII resistance fighters, including WATCH ON THE RHINE (1943) and ASSIGNMENT IN BRITTANY (1943).

...Carole Landis and Dennis O'Keefe are in the supporting cast of TOPPER RETURNS (1941), airing on November 19th. The original TOPPER (1937), incidentally, will be shown the day after Thanksgiving.

...November 20th will be a 12-film 24-hour tribute to Maureen O'Hara.

...Richard Dix and Jane Wyatt star in THE KANSAN (1943) on November 21st.

...Doris Day and Gordon MacRae charm in the musical BY THE LIGHT OF THE SILVERY MOON (1953), airing very early on November 22nd.

...Ricardo Montalban's birthday is observed on November 25th, with excellent titles including TWO WEEKS WITH LOVE (1950), BATTLEGROUND (1949), and NEPTUNE'S DAUGHTER (1949).

...Thanksgiving falls on November 26th, and TCM will feature several children's classics that day, including Margaret O'Brien and Dean Stockwell in THE SECRET GARDEN (1949) and Elizabeth Taylor in NATIONAL VELVET (1944).

...Stay home on Black Friday, November 27th, and spend it with Cary Grant instead! Seven Grant films will air that day, and they're all terrific; some of the films are particularly likely to appeal to children who are home for the holiday, including BRINGING UP BABY (1938), MR. BLANDINGS BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE (1948), and ROOM FOR ONE MORE (1952).

...Frank Capra's classic LOST HORIZON (1937), starring Ronald Colman, airs on the evening of the 27th. I haven't seen that one in a long time but have always enjoyed it.

...Morgan Conway and the wonderful Anne Jeffreys star in DICK TRACY (1945) on Saturday morning, November 28th.

...One of my favorite Esther Williams movies, EASY TO LOVE (1953), airs early on Sunday morning, November 29th. Set the DVR! Van Johnson and Tony Martin costar.

...The month winds up with an eight-film birthday tribute to Virginia Mayo on Monday, November 30th. Titles will include FLAXY MARTIN (1949), which I just reviewed, and the charming THE GIRL FROM JONES BEACH (1949).

For more details on TCM this month, please visit the complete November schedule.

Have a wonderful month, and early wishes for a very happy Thanksgiving!

A Tribute to Maureen O'Hara

The great Maureen O'Hara passed away last Saturday, October 24, 2015.

O'Hara, who was born in Ireland on August 17, 1920, was 95 years old.

I was out of town the weekend of her passing, hence the delay in this tribute, which is no less heartfelt for being written a week later. Indeed, the past week has provided the opportunity to reflect on her wonderful life and career and all that she left behind, which will be enjoyed for generations to come.

Back in 2008 I named her as one of my favorite actresses, and indeed, several of her movies are threaded throughout my life, watched time and again, and enjoyed more on each viewing, especially MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947), RIO GRANDE (1950), THE QUIET MAN (1952), and THE PARENT TRAP (1961). The beautiful color portrait above is from THE QUIET MAN, a film I never tire of watching.

A look back at just a few of her roles:



THE BLACK SWAN (1941), with Tyrone Power, who was also her costar in THE LONG GRAY LINE (1955):

MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947), with John Payne and Natalie Wood:

SINBAD THE SAILOR (1947) with Douglas Fairbanks Jr.:

RIO GRANDE (1950) with John Wayne, her costar in five films:

THE PARENT TRAP (1961) with Hayley Mills:

I treasure the memory of her appearance before HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY (1941) at the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival, when the audience gave her a prolonged ovation, showering her with our love and appreciation.

Maureen O'Hara will be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery, next to her husband, U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Charles F. Blair Jr., who died in 1978.

Turner Classic Movies will pay tribute to Maureen O'Hara on Friday, November 20th, with a 24-hour marathon showing a dozen of her films.

Obituaries: The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, and Leonard Maltin.

Maureen O'Hara movies reviewed at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings: DANCE, GIRL, DANCE (1940), HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY (1941), THE BLACK SWAN (1942), THE FALLEN SPARROW (1943), MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947), SINBAD THE SAILOR (1947), COMANCHE TERRITORY (1950), FLAME OF ARABY (1951), AGAINST ALL FLAGS (1952) (also here), THE QUIET MAN (1952), THE REDHEAD FROM WYOMING (1953), and WAR ARROW (1953).

Other notable O'Hara films include JAMAICA INN (1939), THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1939), THIS LAND IS MINE (1943), BUFFALO BILL (1944), THE SPANISH MAIN (1945), SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY (1946), SITTING PRETTY (1948), RIO GRANDE (1950), THE LONG GRAY LINE (1955), THE WINGS OF EAGLES (1957), THE PARENT TRAP (1961), and McLINTOCK! (1963), to name just a few.

Related Posts: Birthday tributes in 2010 and 2013; an account of her appearance at the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival; and a post last year celebrating her as TCM Star of the Month.

Update: Here are reviews of JAMAICA INN (1939), RIO GRANDE (1950), THE LONG GRAY LINE (1955), THE RARE BREED (1966), and BIG JAKE (1971).

Happy Halloween

This year's Halloween post features lovely Barbara Bates, who doesn't seem very scared of the spooky-looking masks hanging behind her!

Barbara Bates was born in Denver, Colorado, on August 6, 1925. She had three dozen film and TV credits between 1945 and 1962; she started out in bit roles, including several at Warner Bros., where she also played the title role in JUNE BRIDE (1948).

Barbara then had a very nice run of films at 20th Century-Fox in the early '50s. Later in her film career she made a Columbia Western, APACHE TERRITORY (1958), which was produced by Rory Calhoun, her costar in I'D CLIMB THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN (1951).

A lovely woman and a talented actress, Barbara struggled with mental health issues, which accelerated after her first husband's death in 1967. She died in 1969, a suicide, just 44 years old.

Barbara Bates's charming screen work lives in, including in these films reviewed at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings: ROMANCE ON THE HIGH SEAS (1948), JUNE BRIDE (1948), THE HOUSE ACROSS THE STREET (1949), ALL ABOUT EVE (1950), CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN (1950), I'D CLIMB THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN (1951), THE SECRET OF CONVICT LAKE (1951), LET'S MAKE IT LEGAL (1951), BELLES ON THEIR TOES (1952), and APACHE TERRITORY (1958)

Previous Halloween Posts: Marsha Hunt (2014), Linda Darnell (2013), and and BEWITCHED cast (2012).

Friday, October 30, 2015

Tonight's Movie: The Monolith Monsters (1957)

I have a yen for more '50s science fiction after attending last weekend's Palm Springs Classic Science Fiction Film Festival, and I was inspired to watch THE MONOLITH MONSTERS (1957) by Kristina's recent review at Speakeasy.

Having just seen MONOLITH MONSTERS star Grant Williams in THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957), I liked the idea of seeing him in a somewhat happier role. The title also seemed like a good choice for Halloween Eve!

Thanks to reader John Knight I happened to have the movie here ready and waiting, so it came out of the "to watch" stack and into the DVD player. It proved to be as enjoyable as Kristina indicated. I wouldn't class it as one of the best sci-fi films I've seen, but it was definitely a solid mid-range effort.

The film includes some of the things I enjoy in these types of films, including a touch of romance and the pleasure of watching a team effort, including law enforcement and medical personnel, coming together to solve a big problem. Is there such a thing as a "sci-fi procedural"? That's rather what this film feels like, and for me that's a good thing.

After watching several sci-fi films last weekend, my husband and I decided "Nothing good ever happens in the desert!" and this film bears that out once more. Unlike many '50s sci-fi films, at least there's not any atomic power involved!

After a meteor lands in the desert, Ben (Paul Harvey), a Dept. of Interior geologist, takes a strange-looking black rock back to the office in the small town of San Angelo. When coworker Dave Miller (Williams) arrives at the office the next day, Ben is there, solid as a rock himself, and there are shards of the rock all over the office.

Dave's girlfriend is a schoolteacher named Cathy (Lola Albright), and on a desert field trip one of her students (Linda Scheley) picks up a rock that looks just like Ben's and takes it home. By that night the little girl's parents are dead, her home destroyed, and she's dying herself, in the process of turning into a rock. Dave and Cathy race the little girl to a specialist in Los Angeles.

The doctor figures out how to reverse the process killing the girl, and just in time, as the rocks are multiplying all around San Angelo! Dave and a fellow scientist (Trevor Bardette) work to use the medical analysis from the doctor to stop the monoliths from destroying San Angelo, and possibly the nation!

This 77-minute film has a very different and rather creative story; I don't think I'll soon forget the giant monoliths popping up out of the ground, then falling over and multiplying as the broken pieces scatter and grow new monoliths. Sci-fi director Jack Arnold was one of the story's cowriters, with the final script by Norman Jolley and Robert Fresco.

I did think it odd that there didn't seem to be much state assistance given such a massive problem -- but it seems as though that's often the case in these types of films, in order to keep the story focused on a small number of characters, and they do at least make reference to the governor planning to fly over the area!

There's not any particular depth to the characters or their relationships, but Williams is cute and Albright is lovely and charming; they make good "movie company." As Kristina mentioned in her own review, there are also nice little bits by a variety of familiar faces.

Les Tremayne plays the town newspaper publisher, and there's a very cute scene with William Schallert as a nerdy weatherman who takes forever to answer the question "How long will it rain?" I think I've seen Schallert in three sci-fi films this week!

The little paperboy near the end is Paul Petersen of THE DONNA REED SHOW, and if you don't blink you'll spot Troy Donahue near the end, in one of his first bit roles. The cast also includes Harry Jackson, Richard Cutting, and William Flaherty, with Paul Frees as the narrator.

This was one of three films directed by longtime assistant director John Sherwood; one of his other directing credits was the unusual Western RAW EDGE (1956), where Yvonne DeCarlo and Rory Calhoun compensate for the oddball plotline.

The movie was filmed by Ellis Carter, who had a long career working on a little bit of everything, especially Westerns and sci-fi -- and even the Frank Capra TV special THE STRANGE CASE OF THE COSMIC RAYS (1957).

THE MONOLITH MONSTERS is available on DVD in the Universal Vault Series. It's also part of a Universal sci-fi DVD set.

Today at Disneyland: Almost Halloween!

Thanks to attending two film festivals this month, there hasn't been much time to enjoy Disneyland in the last few weeks! We had a nice afternoon and evening in the park taking in the Halloween Christmas begins to sneak into the park.

Some Halloween Time views on Main Street U.S.A. this evening:

Christmas decorating has begun in the further reaches of the park, with New Orleans Square looking ready for the festive season ahead:

They have to start early to get everything done, as it's a weeks-long process.

The Christmas season at the park begins two weeks from today, November 13th, and runs through Epiphany on January 6th.

The Mark Twain will be closing for an extended time period beginning on January 10th, along with everything else on the Rivers of America, so we took a ride tonight in case we don't have time in the next few weeks.

Louis Armstrong performed right here in the 1962 DISNEYLAND AFTER DARK special; you can currently see his section of the show on YouTube.

Views from the Mark Twain:

The wonderful PRINCESS AND THE FROG and TOY STORY windows at the Emporium on Main Street.

Two more windows are yet to be unveiled!

Happy Halloween from Disneyland!

Previous Halloween Time Posts and Photos: September 29, 2006, September 30, 2006, October 21, 2006, September 28, 2007, October 12, 2007, October 17, 2008, October 9, 2009, October 15, 2010, the 2011 Annual Passholder Private Party (October 17, 2011); October 21, 2012, September 13, 2013, October 18, 2013, September 12, 2014, and September 18, 2015.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Tonight's Movie: The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) at the Palm Springs Classic Science Fiction Film Festival

Grant Williams plays Scott Carey, THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957). This was the third of the five "new to me" titles seen at last weekend's Palm Springs Classic Science Fiction Film Festival.

As is the case with so many other sci-fi films of the era, the movie reflects the anxieties of the new nuclear age, as Scott is covered by some sort of radioactive mist while on a boat trip.

Weeks later, Scott's clothes start getting loose, and then he gets smaller and smaller...doctors halt the shrinking, but only briefly, and soon Scott is living in a doll's house. Eventually he's the size of a tiny bug, trapped in his basement, where he forages for crumbs, battles a tarantula, and tries not to be washed away by a leaky hot water heater.

The movie's effects are quite good, utilizing giant props to show Scott's ever-reducing size. The film is gripping but absolutely unrelenting -- there are no rays of sunshine in Scott's life once the changes start taking place. Scott's wife (Randy Stuart) is supportive, but he pushes her away as he turns toy-sized; the family's pet cat is a fearsome monster for a miniature man; Scott loses his job, while people stalk his house for a glimpse of the freak; and finally he is all alone, struggling for survival.

I appreciated what the movie accomplished with the unique effects and the experimentation, but I was utterly exhausted by the end and admit I spent the last 10 or 15 minutes simply wishing for it to be over. I did think the last scene was very lovely, as Blake Lucas has mentioned here, although perhaps it was a bit out of the blue for spirituality or faith to enter the picture at the very last moment.

THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN is, in essence, 81 minutes spent watching a man's life circling the drain...just about literally. The unique story and creative staging wasn't enough to sustain the film for me long term; other than the uplifting final seconds, it's a pretty sad experience.

This film is greatly loved by several of this blog's very appreciated commenters, who have given me some of my best movie tips, so I regret not giving it an unreserved thumbs up, but I think it's a matter of personal taste more than an issue of the quality of the film's execution. For me, I missed things like the joy of the teamwork in films like THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953) or THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951) or the suspense and romance of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956).

If those who love the film would like to share what makes it special for them in the comments, by all means please do!

Richard Matheson wrote the screenplay, based on his book THE SHRINKING MAN. He got the idea for the story from a scene where Ray Milland puts on the wrong hat in the comedy LET'S DO IT AGAIN (1953). Matheson was also the author of BID TIME RETURN, which turned into the beloved SOMEWHERE IN TIME (1978).

This is one of a couple films William Schallert turned up in last weekend; here he plays Scott's doctor. The cast also includes Paul Langton, Raymond Bailey, April Kent, Diana Darrin, and Billy Curtis.

THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN was directed by Jack Arnold and filmed by Ellis Carter.

THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN is out on DVD. It can be streamed via Amazon. It's also out on VHS.

I'm hoping to try Grant Williams and William Schallert in another 1957 sci-fi film, THE MONOLITH MONSTERS, soon. (Thanks to John Knight!)  Kristina just reviewed it at Speakeasy and it looks like it's probably more my speed, with community teamwork and a touch of romance while dealing with "monster issues."  Lola Albright costars.

Coming soon: Reviews of two movies I loved, THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951) and THEM! (1954). I thought they were both really great!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Tonight's Movie: The Forty-Niners (1954) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

THE FORTY-NINERS (1954), Bill Elliott's last Western, is part of the three-disc, eight-film Wild Bill Elliott Western Collection released this month by the Warner Archive.

Until a couple of weeks ago I'd never seen a Bill Elliott Western, so I started off by reviewing FARGO (1952) and THE HOMESTEADERS (1953) in the Warner Archive's Wild Bill Elliott Western Double Feature.

When it came time to open up the new eight-film collection tonight, I decided to start at the end, with THE FORTY-NINERS, due to the presence of Virginia Grey and Harry Morgan in the supporting cast.

THE FORTY-NINERS is a pretty good little "law enforcement Western." Elliot plays Sam Nelson, an undercover U.S. marshal looking for the killers of a fellow marshal. The trail leads him to Alf Billings (Morgan), who makes a living of sorts cheating at cards. Sam saves Alf from some irate gamblers, and Alf eventually leads Sam to the killers, played by John Doucette and Lane Bradford.

Grey plays Doucette's alcoholic wife Stella, who was Alf's old flame. Alf starts to think about turning over a new leaf so he can take Stella away from her miserable husband, and his new conscience comes in handy when Sam runs into trouble dealing with the two bad men.

With Elliott's resonant voice providing ongoing narration -- right up to giving the date of a character's execution at movie's end -- the film feels a bit like a Western DRAGNET, which is pretty ironic given the presence of DRAGNET costar Morgan! It's interesting to also note that after THE FORTY-NINERS Elliott's last few films were detective movies.

I was amused, when I had finished writing this, to come across a review by Dan Stumpf at Mystery File which makes the very same DRAGNET comparison. Stumpf, incidentally, calls the film "a perfectly fine Western."

While I tend to prefer the more light-hearted and charming "B" Western heroes such as George O'Brien, Tim Holt, or even Dick Foran, the DRAGNET comparison made Elliott work for me in this as the "just the facts, ma'am" marshal. I think it's the strongest of the three Elliott Westerns I've seen to date, which also benefits from having the always-fine Morgan in a large role.

The script of this 71-minute film is by Daniel B. Ullman, who wrote countless Westerns for both "A" and "B" level films. It was roughly around this time that he started transitioning to bigger pictures, such as the excellent Joel McCrea film WICHITA (1955).

THE FORTY-NINERS was directed by Thomas Carr and shot by Ernest Miller.

Virginia Grey doesn't appear until a good 34 minutes or so into the movie, but she does a nice job as the unhappy wife trapped in a marriage to a nasty man. The cast also includes I. Stanford Jolley and Harry Lauter.

There was at least one very mild little jump in the print, which could have been something that's been there for decades, but for the most part the widescreen print looked just fine. There are no extras.

It's a treat to have another great set of good-looking "B" Westerns to enjoy thanks to the Warner Archive!

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 from the Warner Archive Collection at Amazon or from other online retailers.

Tonight's Movie: The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953) at the Palm Springs Classic Science Fiction Film Festival

It's safe to say that I fell in love with THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953) at last weekend's Palm Springs Classic Science Fiction Film Festival. What a delightful movie!

This 80-minute film, showcasing the work of Ray Harryhausen, was pretty much a perfect '50s sci-fi film. It reached its most sublime point when the young Lee Van Cleef (below) showed up in the final moments as an army sharpshooter who has just one chance to save New York by shooting a radioactive isotope at the fearsome beast -- from atop a flaming roller coaster! Talk about off the charts fun and creativity -- and so great seeing it with an appreciative audience!

Paul Christian (aka Paul Hubschmid) stars as Professor Tom Nesbitt, who sees a giant monster at the Arctic Circle following a nuclear test. Nesbitt survives a monster-caused avalanche and is sent to New York for treatment. Naturally, his doctor (Frank Ferguson) and everyone else thinks the professor's claims of seeing a giant monster are the result of severe stress, as he'd just witnessed a colleague's death in the avalanche.

Tom tries to convince the world's foremost paleontologist, Professor Thurgood Elson (Cecil Kellaway), to investigate but Elson's initially a skeptic. The professor's lovely assistant Lee (Paula Raymond of THE TALL TARGET) is more open-minded and shows Tom a huge collection of drawings of dinosaurs, and Tom picks out a "Rhedosaurus" as a match for what he'd seen at the Arctic.

Meanwhile strange things are happening up and down the coast, from the Arctic to Massachusetts, including boats being sunk and a lighthouse crushed. The survivor of one of the boat wrecks (Jack Pennick, one of John's Ford's regulars) picks out the very same Rhedosaurus "mug shot" that Tom had chosen, and we're off to the races to find the creature.

Everything works in this film, from a pretty good, logical script, based on a story by Ray Bradbury, to the solid cast, to the amazing work by Harryhausen. Incidentally, I had no idea before last weekend that Bradbury and Harryhausen were lifelong friends.

The movie includes a great tour of the Warner Bros. backlot streets and also features the roller coaster at Pacific Ocean Park, which was also seen in the climaxes of WOMAN ON THE RUN (1950) and MAN IN THE DARK (1953). The movie's got a little bit of everything -- even an appearance by the world's busiest dress extra, Bess Flowers, sitting behind Tom and Lee at the ballet!

It's worth noting that while it might have been a fun monster movie which made me smile, I also found it moving when the monster invades New York City and the policemen and soldiers run towards the monster while everyone else flees; one determined cop shoots ineffectually at the creature with his pistol. In this post 9/11 world, it's touching to be reminded of the valor of good men, even if they're fighting a mythical Rhedosaurus!

Like many '50s sci-fi films, the cast might not have featured first-rank stars, but they were all very competent. I was unfamiliar with Paul Christian and thought he did fine in the lead. He's backed by the ever-reliable Kenneth Tobey of THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951) and IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955), playing one of the military men involved in the hunt.

King Donovan, whom I'd seen earlier in the day as Jack in INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956), here plays Dr. Ingersoll. The cast also includes Donald Woods, Steve Brodie, Ross Elliott, and James Best, plus the unmistakeable voice of Merv Griffin on the radio.

THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS was directed by Eugene Lourie and shot by John L. Russell. The strong score was by David Buttolph.

THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS is available on DVD and also in a brand-new four-film new Blu-ray classic sci-fi collection. (October 2017 Update: This movie has also just been reissued on DVD by the Warner Archive.)

Highly recommended.

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