Sunday, January 31, 2016

TCM in February: 31 Days of Oscar Highlights

It doesn't seem possible, but January 2016 has already come to a close! Which means it's time for 31 Days of Oscar on Turner Classic Movies!

This year each Oscar-nominated film shown is linked to the next movie by a cast member, with the very last film of the 31 Days linking back to the first film!

By its nature, the February schedule on TCM is typically short of lesser-known "discoveries," but it's filled with excellent films. It's always a particularly good month for anyone to catch up with previously unseen classics!

Here are a few highlights from this month's packed schedule! Click any hyperlinked title to read the related review.

...On Monday, February 1st, I highly recommend Doris Day and Howard Keel in CALAMITY JANE (1953). It was such a treat to see this colorful, tuneful movie with an appreciative audience at last year's TCM Classic Film Festival!

...THE HUMAN COMEDY (1943), showing on February 2nd, is classic MGM Americana. The Nitrate Diva paid tribute to it in May 2014. The cast includes Mickey Rooney (never better), Van Johnson, Donna Reed, Frank Morgan, Marsha Hunt, James Craig, and Butch Jenkins.

...LITTLE WOMEN (1933) is one of those movies I can't recommend often enough. Katharine Hepburn, Frances Dee, Joan Bennett, and Jean Parker play the March sisters. It airs February 3rd. (It's on my list of "old favorites" to revisit and review here!)

...Another of Katharine Hepburn's best films was STAGE DOOR (1937), showing on February 4th. The amazing cast includes Ginger Rogers, Gail Patrick, Ann Miller, Lucille Ball, and Eve Arden.

...February 5th is one of those days it's very difficult to pick what to recommend! The schedule includes the Technicolor stunners LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN (1945) and HEAVEN CAN WAIT (1943); the latter was directed by Ernst Lubitsch, and his gem THE SMILING LIEUTENANT (1931) is also on the schedule. And so is IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934)..and so is MERRILY WE LIVE (1938). A marathon might be in order!

...Anyone who hasn't yet seen the Rene Clair delight IT HAPPENED TOMORROW (1944), starring Dick Powell and Linda Darnell, should make it a point to catch it in the wee hours on February 7th. It's a delightful comedic fantasy which may have inspired the Kyle Chandler TV series EARLY EDITION.

...TCM is showing two versions of THE LETTER on February 11th, the 1929 version with Jeanne Eagels and the 1940 version with Bette Davis.

...My DVR is set to record Louis Hayward, Joan Bennett, and George Sanders in THE SON OF MONTE CRISTO (1941) early on February 12th.

...Although I tend to worry when many "newer" films are shown on TCM, I do plan to record HOOPER (1978), which I haven't seen since it came out. I recently reviewed a biography of stuntman-actor Jock Mahoney and read that Brian Keith's character, "Jocko," was based on his old friend Mahoney. Mahoney's stepdaughter Sally Field and daughter Princess O'Mahoney both appear in the film. HOOPER is shown on February 13th.

...You simply can't do better than John Ford's STAGECOACH (1939) on February 15th!

...One of the highlights this month is the February 17th TCM premiere of FRENCHMAN'S CREEK (1944), starring Joan Fontaine and Arturo de Cordova. I saw it at UCLA two years ago, as part of a tribute to de Cordova. Incredible Technicolor! (Side note, in March TCM will have an evening of films based on Daphne Du Maurier novels; in addition to FRENCHMAN'S CREEK, Joan's sister Olivia de Havilland stars in MY COUSIN RACHEL. Strangely, they're not also including Joan's REBECCA!)

...HIGHER AND HIGHER (1943), showing on February 18th, is an old favorite I've loved since childhood. It stars a very young Frank Sinatra, and the amazing cast includes Mel Torme, Marcy McGuire, Jack Haley, Barbara Hale, Victor Borge, Michele Morgan, and Dooley Wilson, and watch for Dorothy Malone and Elaine Riley in bit roles. The score includes "A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening" and the Oscar-nominated "I Couldn't Sleep a Wink Last Night." Pure fun.

...Noir bliss on February 19th: Charles McGraw in THE NARROW MARGIN (1952) and Dennis O'Keefe in T-MEN (1947).

...I didn't think the Cinderella film THE SLIPPER AND THE ROSE (1976) was especially good, but it does have a lovely Oscar-nominated song by the Sherman Brothers, "The Slipper and the Rose Waltz." It airs February 21st.

...The night of February 22nd has a run of favorite films, starting with Joel McCrea and Jean Arthur in THE MORE THE MERRIER (1943), then McCrea in Hitchcock's FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940), Fred Astaire and Joan Leslie in THE SKY'S THE LIMIT (1943), and Robert Montgomery and Maureen O'Sullivan in HIDE-OUT (1934). Make a date for another marathon and watch them all!

...The plot of BLUES IN THE NIGHT (1941) might be a bit murky, but what a title song! It's hard to believe it didn't win Best Song, until you check out the competition, which included "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" and "Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy," not to mention the lovely "Baby Mine" from Disney's DUMBO (1941). It's shown on February 24th. Stars include Priscilla Lane, Lloyd Nolan, Richard Whorf, and Jack Carson. (Update: BLUES IN THE NIGHT is Caftan Woman's "One for February" pick!)

...THE LONGEST DAY (1962) is one of the best WWII films ever made, with its all-star cast successfully creating "real" characters. Unforgettable performances by Robert Mitchum, John Wayne, Jeffrey Hunter, Richard Todd, and more. It's on February 25th.

...I really enjoy THE YOUNG IN HEART (1938), which will be shown on February 26th. It's a delightful romantic comedy with a stellar cast including Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Paulette Goddard, Janet Gaynor, Richard Carlson, and Roland Young. And get an eyeful of the Flying Wombat!

...Leap Day titles include Cary Grant, Jean Arthur, and an amazing cast in Howard Hawks' ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS (1939).

...The sci-fi classic THEM! will be shown on March 1st. James Whitmore, James Arness, and Joan Weldon star, with a great supporting cast, not to mention terrific L.A. location shooting.

...The final day of the festival, on March 2nd, includes the colorful Jane Powell-Farley Granger musical SMALL TOWN GIRL (1953). This is the one with Bobby Van's "human pogo stick" dance!

For more on TCM in February, please visit the special 31 Days of Oscar microsite or the complete schedule.

Additionally, TCM's 31 Days of Oscar promo reel is on YouTube.

Tonight's Movie: Flesh and the Devil (1926)

Last year I wrote the final review for my 2014 10 Classics list on February 1st. My last review for the 2015 10 Classics list will beat that by one day. Perhaps 2016 will be the year I finish this annual project by New Year's Eve!

The final film seen from my 2015 list was the Greta Garbo-John Gilbert silent film FLESH AND THE DEVIL (1926). FLESH AND THE DEVIL also starred Barbara Kent, enjoyed last year in the wonderful LONESOME (1928).

FLESH AND THE DEVIL was an elegant, beautiful film which continued to deepen my appreciation of silent cinema; it contained moments which will long linger in my memory.

Gilbert and Lars Hanson play Leo and Ulrich, soldiers who have been friends since childhood. Ulrich's sweet little sister, Hertha (Kent), crushes on Leo and dreams of attracting his romantic attention.

Leo instead falls for Felicitas (Greta Garbo), not realizing that she's married. We're shown a lingering (and rather hot) love scene, just before Felicitas's husband (Marc McDermott) comes home unexpectedly and catches Felicitas and Leo together in her bedroom.

There's a duel, and then things get really complicated when Leo is banished to serve in the army in Africa for five years. Felicitas, who had pledged to wait for Leo, sets her sights on wealthy Ulrich...

In essence it's the simple tale of a wicked woman coming between two friends, while a good woman looks on helplessly and prays. But, as is so often the case, it's the telling that makes the difference.

There are some incredible visuals, such as Leo lighting a match for Felicitas in a dark garden; Gilbert was actually holding a tiny spotlight, and it's movie magic the way it lights up their faces.

The duel is done entirely in silhouettes, foreshadowing the look of some scenes in NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955) decades later. All that is seen is the guns fired and the seconds running to the two men...fade to Felicitas trying on a widow's veil, smirking. In that moment, thanks to Garbo's expressions, we first begin to comprehend Felicitas was not just a woman carried away by passion, but something rather more evil.

The full extent of Felicitas' cold heart is seen in church, when she ignores the cautionary sermon of the pastor (George Fawcett), instead fixing her makeup and then ostentatiously taking a nap. When it's time for Communion, she turns the cup so that she'll be drinking exactly where Leo just drank, as she glances toward him, taunting him.

The ending is rather wild but nonetheless appropriate, as Hertha's prayers are answered in an unexpected way.

My favorite scene of all was when Leo and Felicitas say farewell before he leaves for Africa, just because it looks so striking; it's dusk and cold, the pavement is wet and the lamplighter walks by lighting the street lamps. Exquisite.

The gorgeous photography was by William Daniels, with direction by Clarence Brown. The film runs 112 well-paced minutes.

FLESH AND THE DEVIL is available as part of the TCM Archives Garbo Silents Collection. That Silents Collection is also included within the Greta Garbo Signature Collection, which is a much better deal, many more films for about the same price as buying the silents alone!

The film on this DVD contains a superb score by Carl Davis. Extras include a commentary track, featurette, and an alternate ending. I read the director didn't care for the alternate ending, but seeing it left me a more satisfied viewer.

I'm especially glad that my 10 Classics lists have pushed me to try more silents over the last few years, as it's wonderful to have an entirely new world of movie watching opening up before me!

Book Review: Jock Mahoney: The Life and Films of a Hollywood Stuntman

The career of stuntman-actor Jock Mahoney is fully captured in JOCK MAHONEY: THE LIFE AND FILMS OF A HOLLYWOOD STUNTMAN by Gene Freese, published by McFarland & Company.

Although I'd heard his name for years, not least because he was the stepfather of Oscar-winning actress Sally Field, Jock Mahoney is someone I've just begun to appreciate relatively recently.

I'm discovering that in addition to being a talented stuntman, Mahoney was an engaging actor. I thoroughly enjoyed him in the Western SHOWDOWN AT ABILENE (1956), which prompted my interest in reading his biography; in addition to liking his performance, Mahoney's talent as a stuntman was on full display in that film. He made a couple of flying leaps which really wowed me!

I've seen Mahoney in a variety of smaller roles, and I enjoy being able to now pick out his face in early bit roles, even possibly spotting him doubling for more famous actors. I still have some of his starring roles ahead of me to see for the first time, including JOE DAKOTA (1957) and SLIM CARTER (1957).

Mahoney had a busy career as a working stuntman and actor for decades, but given that he wasn't in the top ranks of movie celebrities, I was all the more impressed with the level of detail with which Frees was able to reconstruct Mahoney's life.

Frees includes considerable details on Mahoney's early years as a high school and college athlete and his work as a lifeguard and athletic instructor at the Pacific Coast Club in Long Beach. (Coincidentally, I recently linked to an interesting article on the history of the Pacific Coast Club.) Frees was also able to reconstruct Mahoney's service record as a Marine during WWII and then the beginnings of his career as a stuntman on Charles Starrett Westerns; having made the acquaintance of director Derwin Abrahams, Mahoney taught an actor to ride a horse in a week, and the rest was history.

Mahoney initially felt he didn't have the talent to act and saw stunt work as a way to have a career in the film industry, but as author Frees notes, Mahoney had screen presence from the very start. He gradually worked his way up through the Western ranks as a stuntman, bit player, and supporting actor; offscreen he dated actresses such as Yvonne DeCarlo and Peggy Stewart before marrying Margaret Field. Chapters in the book are devoted to Mahoney's time as a stuntman, his work on the TV series RANGE RIDER and YANCEY DERRINGER, his years as a Universal Western star, his time as TARZAN, and more.

Mahoney passed away in 1989. With his subject dead for over two decades, Frees relied on numerous older articles and interviews, weaving quotes smoothly into his narrative. He also interviewed many people who met or worked with Mahoney, including people who were children at the time such as Don Reynolds, Peter Ford (son of Glenn), and Beverly Washburn. Sally Field's thoughts on her relationship with her stepfather, which had its ups and downs, were gleaned from past interviews.

JOCK MAHONEY: THE LIFE AND FILMS OF A HOLLYWOOD STUNTMAN is a very interesting read and a must for the bookshelf of any dedicated fan of Hollywood Westerns.

JOCK MAHONEY: THE LIFE AND FILMS OF A HOLLYWOOD STUNTMAN is a softcover which is 214 pages long, including the index. It's illustrated with photos printed directly on the book's non-glossy pages; for the most part the print quality of the photos is quite good.

Thanks to McFarland for providing a review copy of this book. The book may be ordered from McFarland at the company website or via their phone order line (800-253-2187). It may also be purchased from other sources including Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Actress Elaine Riley Has Died at 98

Actress Elaine Riley, the widow of Richard "Chito" Martin, has died at the age of 98.

Riley, who was born January 15, 1917, died on December 7, 2015.

I learned of Riley's passing thanks to my friend Jerry's post on DIAL RED O (1955) as part of this weekend's Allied Artists Blogathon. At the time I reviewed the film myself earlier this month I was unaware of Riley's death.

Here she is smiling at Bill Elliott in DIAL RED O:

London's Daily Telegraph ran a nice obituary.

Riley appeared in small roles in numerous films which have been reviewed here, with a few representative examples being HIGHER AND HIGHER (1943), THE FALCON AND THE CO-EDS (1943), and THE BIG CLOCK (1948).

As time went on she won some larger roles, appearing as the leading lady in several Hopalong Cassidy Westerns such as THE DEVIL'S PLAYGROUND (1946), FALSE PARADISE (1948), SINISTER JOURNEY (1948), and STRANGE GAMBLE (1948).

She also starred in RIDER FROM TUCSON (1950) with Tim Holt and her husband, Richard Martin, and in THE HILLS OF UTAH (1951) with Gene Autry. Here she is with Holt in RIDER FROM TUCSON:

She guest starred on numerous TV series throughout the '50s, including multiple episodes of the Hopalong Cassidy and Gene Autry TV shows. She retired from acting after appearing on an episode of Rod Cameron's series CORONADO 9 in 1960.

Riley had a very long, happy marriage to Martin, best known as Tim Holt's genial sidekick in the series of RKO Westerns beloved by many. Here she is with both Holt and Martin in another shot from RIDER FROM TUCSON:

As I related in a tribute to Martin, Riley described meeting her husband to Western historian Boyd Magers: "But certainly one of the most exciting things that happened to me was the first day I was on the set at RKO when I saw Richard Martin come through a door. That's the most exciting thing that ever happened to me...About ten minutes later, over my right shoulder, I heard this voice...and there he stood. I thought, of all these people, why is this happening?"

A few months later they got to know one another on location in Carmel. They were married from 1946 until his passing in 1994, living for much of that time on Balboa Island here in Orange County, California.

For more background on Elaine Riley, an article by the East Liverpool Historical Society from her hometown in Ohio is of interest; the Society has posted more photos and news articles on her here.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Deep in My Heart (1954) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

DEEP IN MY HEART (1954), MGM's musical biopic of composer Sigmund Romberg, was recently released on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive.

Although over the years I've seen excerpts, DEEP IN MY HEART was one of a small number of MGM musicals still on my "to watch" list. I was glad to finally catch up with it; I found it flawed but enjoyable, with some excellent sequences and one number which is so good it makes the film a "must see" for those who love musicals.

DEEP IN MY HEART starts brilliantly, with the MGM studio orchestra playing music by composer Romberg, and eventually the camera swings around to reveal the composer himself conducting, as played by Oscar-winning actor Jose Ferrer.

The film for the most part tells the story of Romberg's career briskly, with his various colleagues played by winning screen personalities including Merle Oberon, Walter Pidgeon, Paul Henreid, Paul Stewart, Jim Backus, and Douglas Fowley. The swift depiction of Romberg's rise to success leaves plenty of room for a variety of MGM's greatest musical stars to perform the music from his shows.

The film does hit a lull midway through, as Romberg romances Lillian Harris (stiffly played by Doe Avedon). These scenes at a resort bring the movie to almost a screeching halt and could have been pared way down, reducing the film's 132 minutes to a more manageable length.

Otherwise director Stanley Donen keeps things moving along nicely, focusing on the performances of Romberg's music.

The timing for me to see this film was perfect, as I just watched NEW MOON (1940) a few days ago. Tony Martin and Joan Weldon perform NEW MOON's "Lover, Come Back to Me." Unfortunately the NEW MOON sequence was pared down; originally it was also to have had Weldon singing "One Kiss," but happily that's included as an audio outtake. That same year, incidentally, the multitalented Weldon starred in the sci-fi classic THEM! (1954).

Other highlights include Jane Powell and Vic Damone singing music from MAYTIME; Gene Kelly and his brother Fred dancing together, a real treat; Ferrer singing and dancing with his real-life wife Rosemary Clooney to "Mr. and Mrs."; Ann Miller dancing to "It"; and Howard Keel singing "Your Land and My Land."

The highlight of the film and the sequence which demands to be seen -- and then seen again -- is Cyd Charisse and James Mitchell performing "One Alone" from THE DESERT SONG. Charisse initially sings the song, dubbed by Carol Richards; Richards, a great vocal match for the dancer, also sang for Charisse in BRIGADOON (1954), IT'S ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER (1955), and SILK STOCKINGS (1957).

Charisse and Mitchell then perform one of the most jaw-droppingly sensual dances ever put on film. They may have been fully clothed but...! The Eugene Loring choreography and the dancing by these two greats is simply stunning, a true masterpiece. Kudos also to Helen Rose, who designed Charisse's white gown.

The Warner Archive Blu-ray  of DEEP IN MY HEART is an outstanding print which anyone who loves musicals would be thrilled to have in their collection. The Eastmancolor cinematography was by George Folsey.

The Blu-ray includes all the extras from the movie's previous DVD release, including the trailer, the short THE STRAUSS FANTASY, a Tex Avery cartoon, and audio and video outtakes.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from Amazon, Movie Zyng, and other online retailers.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Loophole (1954)

NOTE: This post on LOOPHOLE (1954) is one of my contributions to the Allied Artists Blogathon being hosted by Toby at 50 Westerns From the 50s. The blogathon will be held January 29-31, 2016. I've also written about QUANTRILL'S RAIDERS (1958) for the blogathon. Be sure to visit Toby's site for lots of interesting links to posts about Allied Artists movies!

It was love from the first stylish shots of the Allied Artists film noir LOOPHOLE (1954) -- wow, a Van De Kamp's Bakery, complete with windmill! The movie is packed with location shooting in the L.A. and Malibu areas, filmed in glorious black and white by William Sickner.

Actor-Writer Warren Douglas wrote the screenplay for LOOPHOLE; coincidentally Douglas also wrote the Western DRAGOON WELLS MASSACRE (1957), an Allied Artists film I reviewed a few days ago, which had a great part for LOOPHOLE star Barry Sullivan.

In DRAGOON WELLS MASSACRE Sullivan played a bad guy who turns out to have a good heart. In LOOPHOLE, Sullivan stars as Mike Donovan, a good guy persecuted as though he's bad.

Donovan, a WWII veteran, is the chief teller at a bank. One day when the bank examiners come for an audit, a ringer (Don Beddoe) sneaks in among the examiners, and he easily walks away with nearly $50,000.

As the bank is closing Friday afternoon, Mike can't get his account to balance, and as he frets over it, everyone else leaves for the weekend. He goes home without reporting the missing money, worrying over it all weekend, and first thing Monday he and his wife Ruthie (Dorothy Malone) go to his boss to tell him about the inexplicable loss. (There's something kind of quaint about the wife going along to discuss her husband's job problem with his boss...that struck me as a little odd, though needless to say this was a major problem and she wanted to support her husband.)

The boss believes Mike, but the bank's bond company puts a detective (Charles McGraw) on the case, and the detective refuses to believe that Mike is innocent. He hounds Mike incessantly, and when Mike loses his job, he makes sure Mike can't work anywhere else. (I've seen more than one reviewer compare McGraw's investigator to Inspector Javert! He's relentless...and clearly a disturbed man.) Mike and Ruthie lose their home, but they work together on their own to solve the mystery.

LOOPHOLE is a great-looking noir with a top cast; in addition to the fine trio of lead actors, Mary Beth Hughes appears as the femme fatale.

My only issue with the movie is that it's really difficult watching two nice people kicked, kicked again, and kicked some more. That aspect didn't make for relaxing viewing, especially as McGraw is so convincing as a dogged tormentor! His last shot in the movie is downright creepy.

I found a piece McGraw biographer Alan K. Rode wrote about LOOPHOLE, posted at Noir of the Week, and recommend it. It includes some background on the history of Allied Artists.

At the time Alan wrote the article, LOOPHOLE wasn't available on DVD. Happily LOOPHOLE is now available in a very nice-looking DVD print from the Warner Archive. There are no extras.

LOOPHOLE was directed by Harold D. Schuster. It runs 80 minutes.

April 2018 Update: I had the wonderful opportunity to see LOOPHOLE in a gorgeous 35mm print at the Noir City Film Festival.

Tonight's Movie: Christmas Eve (1947) - An Olive Films DVD Review

George Raft, George Brent, and Randolph Scott star in CHRISTMAS EVE (1947), just released on Blu-ray and DVD by Olive Films.

In a story with vague echoes of BEAU GESTE (1939), three orphans who had been raised by kindly Matilda (Ann Harding) return home to help her on Christmas Eve. Her shady nephew Phillip (Reginald Denny) is trying to have her declared incompetent so he can control her fortune.

None of the men have done much with their lives. Michael (Brent) is a ne'er-do-well playboy, though reuniting with Aunt Matilda inspires him to finally propose to his girlfriend (Joan Blondell). Mario (Raft) is an escaped con living in South America who barely survives a run-in with a Nazi. Jonathan (Scott) is a penniless cowboy who no sooner arrives at the train station than a young lady (Dolores Moran of TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT) ropes him into posing as her husband as she tries to expose a baby mill racket.

CHRISTMAS EVE, originally released on Halloween 1947, is quite an odd film. For starters, though she has convincing old-age makeup, Ann Harding (born 1901) was younger than Randolph Scott (born 1898), a month older than George Raft, and a little over two years older than George Brent (born 1904)! One wonders why an older actress along the lines of, say, Ethel Barrymore wasn't cast in the part.

The screenplay by Laurence Stallings is slow and muddled, particularly in the section introducing Brent's character, which meanders all over the place and never really gets anywhere.

The movie picks up some speed as it goes; Raft's section has more action, as well as an appearance by Virginia Field (who looks a bit like Eleanor Parker in this)...and it turns out he's a better man than it first appears.

It's ironic that Scott was the eldest of the three actors, yet looks the youngest! His section is the lightest of the bunch; it's completely unbelievable, but the cornball "cowboy talk" way he goes on about wanting to adopt three little baby girls is a lot of fun, and by golly, he does adopt them, too! (I have no idea how that worked out legally, but that's the least of the movie's problems.)

There's a nice reunion at the end; the sons may not have made much of their lives, but hey, they're family! And two of them now have prospective wives, although it's still unclear how they're going to support them (not to mention the trio of orphaned babies). Maybe Matilda will give each of them some money, since they chase off Phillip.

They all sit down to Christmas dinner in the final moments, which despite the movie's title is about as Christmasy as the movie gets, other than the preparation of some special Christmas punch.

The supporting cast includes Clarence Kolb, Douglass Dumbrille, John Litel, Dennis Hoey, Joe Sawyer, Marie Blake, and Molly Lamont.

CHRISTMAS EVE was directed by Edwin L. Marin and filmed by Gordon Avil. It runs 90 minutes.

This may not have been a very good movie, but I'm always appreciative when any classic-era film becomes more easily available to watch -- especially when it has a cast like this. I was glad to be able to check off watching another film in the careers of personal favorites like Scott, Brent, and Blondell thanks to this Olive Films release.

The Olive Films DVD print is soft in spots and not one of their sharper-looking releases in terms of visual quality, but it's certainly a better print than I have seen aired on TV in the past, so I suspect this might be about as good as it gets. Those TV prints also had the opening credits cut up, apparently by a company that owned the TV distribution rights at one point, but the credits look good here. There are no extras.

A side note, I was curious that the DVD plays on my no-frills standard definition TV in windowboxed format, with bars on all four sides of the picture, rather than fullscreen like most DVDs.

Thanks to Olive Films for providing a review copy of this DVD.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Quantrill's Raiders (1958)

NOTE: This post on QUANTRILL'S RAIDERS (1958) is one of my contributions to the Allied Artists Blogathon being hosted by Toby at 50 Westerns From the 50s. The blogathon will be held January 29-31, 2016. I'll also be writing on the film noir LOOPHOLE (1954). Be sure to visit Toby's site for lots of interesting links to posts about Allied Artists movies!

QUANTRILL'S RAIDERS (1958) is an Allied Artists CinemaScope Western starring Steve Cochran, Diane Brewster, Leo Gordon, and Gale Robbins.

Gordon plays the legendary Civil War "raider" Quantrill as an edgy man with a hair-trigger temper, to put it mildly. Cochran is an undercover Confederate officer whose orders are to find Quantrill and get Quantrill and his men to get rid of a Union armory in Lawrence, Kansas.

The Union Army moves the arsenal out of Lawrence but Quantrill ignores orders and plans to attack the town anyway. This leaves Cochran's military man with quite a quandary: Allow Quantrill to do his evil deeds, burning houses and probably killing women and children, or blow his own cover and warn the people of Lawrence, despite the fact it's a Union town. The fact that he's smitten with Sue (Brewster), his boarding house landlady, adds to his dilemma.

QUANTRILL'S RAIDERS has a strong cast but weak material. I enjoy all four leads very much, but the 68-minute script by Polly James was fairly lackluster.

I liked the sweet romance of Cochran and Brewster, Gordon's portrayal of Quantrill as a man about one second away from spontaneous combustion, and Robbins' lively appearances as Quantrill's girl, but these were all very brief moments in a fairly dry action film. There's a lot of riding around on horseback, but not enough story and character development.

The movie had the benefit of widescreen color photography, with much of it shot outdoors by William P. Whitley, but it's strictly a "backlot and movie ranch" look, fairly dull. (Incidentally, I know I've seen the exterior of Diane Brewster's house in other movies, though I can't think of them offhand!)

The part's not much but I have a soft spot for Steve Cochran, especially when he's playing a hero or an ambiguous character such as in this film, rather than a flat-out villain.

Gordon and Brewster had appeared together as a married couple the previous year in BLACK PATCH (1957), but here their characters don't interact. Gordon's role is showy, while Brewster is simply a sweet leading lady in this one.

Robbins' scenes bring the film needed spark, but her role is all too brief. This same year Robbins would also do a fine job in the Western GUNSMOKE IN TUCSON (1958).

QUANTRILL'S RAIDERS was directed by Edward Bernds.

This film is available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Tonight's Movie: The Walls Came Tumbling Down (1946)

Lee Bowman stars as a New York newspaper columnist trying to solve a priest's murder in Columbia Pictures' THE WALLS CAME TUMBLING DOWN (1946).

Bowman plays Gil Archer, who arrives at a rectory to visit his old friend, the priest, only to learn that the priest's body was discovered minutes earlier. It's an apparent suicide, although that should be unthinkable for a priest.

Archer is convinced it was murder and is soon entangled with a mysterious brunette (Marguerite Chapman, MR. DISTRICT ATTORNEY) and some oddball characters, played by George Macready, Edgar Buchanan, and J. Edward Bromberg. Everyone is searching for a pair of Bibles, which had apparently been in the priest's possession; legend has it that the Bibles will provide clues to the location of a lost Da Vinci painting of Joshua at the Battle of Jericho.

I've always been partial to Lee Bowman, who the previous year starred in one of my favorite musicals, TONIGHT AND EVERY NIGHT (1945). He's fun to watch in this as the columnist turned detective.

Another plus is the film has a nice sleek black and white look, filmed by Charles Lawton Jr.

That said, I was hoping for a little more from this film. The general plot premise is intriguing, and there are some nicely staged scenes, including a rainy late-night grave digging, but the movie as a whole is on the tepid side.

The script by Wilfred H. Petitt, based on a book by Jo Eisinger, has the cast of characters basically revolving from set to set, continually coming into contact as they try to figure out who has the Bibles; it's fairly talky and yet, despite that, it's not always easy to understand everyone's motives.

Even with a second murder in the mix and goons threatening Archer's life, it's not very suspenseful. There's also not much electricity between Bowman and Chapman, although he's suddenly taken to thinking of her romantically in the last couple of scenes.

The film is enjoyable enough for fans of the cast and A-/B+ type '40s mysteries, but the script of this 82-minute film needed a little more spark to it, and the actors could possibly have also brought a little more sizzle between the lines to their performances.

Lee Patrick enlivens the proceedings as Archer's secretary. It's a nice coincidence that she was the secretary in THE MALTESE FALCON, and here again she works for someone named least he had the good luck not to suffer the fate of Miles Archer!

Jonathan Hale also does a nice job as a police detective. The cast also includes Elisabeth Risdon, Moroni Olsen, Miles Mander, and Katherine Emery.

THE WALLS CAME TUMBLING DOWN was the last film directed by Lothar Mendes, who retired after this film. He lived until 1974, dying in London. An interesting side note is that in the '20s Mendes had been married to actress Dorothy Mackaill (SAFE IN HELL).

THE WALLS CAME TUMBLING DOWN is available in a very nice print via a Sony Choice DVD. There are no extras.

Favorite Film Discoveries of 2015

I'm pleased to announce that my list of Favorite Film Discoveries of 2015 has now been posted at Rupert Pupkin Speaks!

It's always a challenge to condense an entire viewing year down into a dozen favorites, but I'm very happy with the final list and the great viewing experiences represented on it.

There are a few more "honorable mentions" at the end of my post. All of those titles, as well as the films on the main list, can be searched here at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings for more information. Just put any title in the search box in the upper lefthand corner of the page.

I hope many more film enthusiasts will have the chance to enjoy some of the movies which I especially loved in 2015.

As always, sincere thanks to Brian for the invitation to participate in this annual event and for sharing my list at his blog.

Previous Favorite Discoveries Lists: Favorite Film Discoveries of 2013 and Favorite Film Discoveries of 2014.

Additional guest posts at Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Five Underrated Comedies, Five Underrated Westerns, Five Underrated Mystery/Detective Films, Five Underrated Action/Adventure Films, Five Underrated Thrillers, Five Underrated Films of 1955, and Five Underrated Films of 1945.

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