Thursday, June 30, 2016

TCM in July: Highlights

It's summertime! Time to take it easy and relax with some great movies, and happily there's an especially wonderful month ahead on Turner Classic Movies.

Olivia de Havilland is the July Star of the Month. She'll be honored every Friday evening of July, starting on July 1st. I'll have more on TCM honoring the great Olivia's centennial birthday posted here tomorrow. (Update: Please visit TCM Star of the Month: Olivia de Havilland.)

Also on the July TCM schedule: The TCM Spotlight series TCM Presents Shane (Plus a Hundred More Great Westerns). Keith Carradine hosts every Tuesday and Wednesday this month. Here's a promo video, and TCM has also put together a special microsite with a detailed schedule.

My biggest question about the Westerns series: Where are the Budd Boetticher-Randolph Scott Westerns? It's hard to imagine a series celebrating Westerns without SEVEN MEN FROM NOW (1956), THE TALL T (1957), RIDE LONESOME (1959), or COMANCHE STATION (1960). There must be a reason they're not being shown, as it's such a glaring omission; they've aired in the past, but perhaps TCM has lost the right. More musings on the Westerns series titles and omissions follow at the end of this post! (Important Update: Many thanks to Caftan Woman for pointing out in the comments that RIDE LONESOME shows up on the the schedule July 6th; somehow I missed that when I checked over the schedule!)

Here are some of the great highlights ahead this month on TCM, with special note paid to the Westerns. Click any hyperlinked title to read the corresponding film review and learn more about the cast.

...The July 2nd prime time theme is "Musical Americana," including THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! (1974), SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS (1954), and ON THE TOWN (1949). It sounds funny, but SEVEN BRIDES was one of my three favorite movies from the first time I saw the barn-raising dance in THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT!, before I even saw the whole movie! And the rest of the movie, needless to say, did not disappoint.

...The Independence Day lineup includes the usual but always-welcome titles, THE MUSIC MAN (1962) and YANKEE DOODLE DANDY (1942).

...The Westerns series begins on July 5th. It kicks off with "The Early Years," then celebrates the films of John Ford and John Wayne in the evening, with a lineup of STAGECOACH (1939), THE SEARCHERS (1956), FORT APACHE (1948), SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON (1949), and 3 GODFATHERS (1949).

...On July 6th the early morning theme is Randolph Scott Westerns, with a lineup of eight titles; I've previously reviewed half of them: BADMAN'S TERRITORY (1946), RETURN OF THE BADMEN (1948), CANADIAN PACIFIC (1949), and FORT WORTH (1951). The evening will feature five Sam Peckinpah Westerns, starting off with Scott and Joel McCrea in the classic RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY (1962).

...CROSS-COUNTRY ROMANCE (1940), showing on July 9th, is a charmer starring Gene Raymond and Wendy Barrie. It was also on in June, so if you missed it, here's a second chance. It's only 69 minutes long.

...BRIEF ENCOUNTER (1945) was a highlight of the recent TCM Classic Film Festival. I just got the Criterion DVD and plan to write about the film once I revisit it on my TV. Definitely check out this David Lean classic starring Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson, airing July 11th.

...The July 12th Westerns lineup begins with "epic Westerns," including the most epic of them all, HOW THE WEST WAS WON (1962). ('Tis a puzzlement why they're showing THE BIG SKY instead of THE BIG COUNTRY, though...) The evening lineup is fantastic: four Anthony Mann Westerns, THE NAKED SPUR (1953), THE MAN FROM LARAMIE (1955), THE LAST FRONTIER (1955), and DEVIL'S DOORWAY (1950).

...July 13th features singing cowboys, including films with Tex Ritter, Dick Foran, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, and Jimmy Wakely, plus MONTANA MOON (1930), a Johnny Mack Brown film in which Cliff Edwards sings. The evening has five films directed by John Sturges, including HOUR OF THE GUN (1967), THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960), BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (1955), THE LAW AND JAKE WADE (1958), and ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO (1953). Overnight there's a showing of Nicholas Ray's THE LUSTY MEN (1952).

...A day of beach movies on July 14th includes a classic of the genre, WHERE THE BOYS ARE (1960).

...I don't miss many opportunities to recommend one of my favorite comedies, Preston Sturges' THE PALM BEACH STORY (1940), with brilliant performances by Claudette Colbert, Joel McCrea, Rudy Vallee, and Mary Astor. It's on Sunday, July 17th.

...A Red Skelton tribute on July 18th includes a favorite MGM musical, LOVELY TO LOOK AT (1952). This remake of ROBERTA (1935) may be considered relatively minor as MGM musicals go, but it's totally entertaining and has many great moments, including spectacular dances by Marge and Gower Champion. Howard Keel, Kathryn Grayson, and Ann Miller also star.

...Spaghetti Westerns are featured on July 19th -- a topic I know nothing about, so I'll leave it to others to make recommendations! On July 20th there will be eight Glenn Ford Westerns, including 3:10 TO YUMA (1957) and THE FASTEST GUN ALIVE (1956), followed by a lineup of films John Wayne made with Howard Hawks and Andrew McLaglen. This includes the can't-miss Hawks film RIO BRAVO (1959).

...The Ronald Colman version of THE PRISONER OF ZENDA (1937) airs July 21st. Swashbucklers don't come any better. Madeleine Carroll, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Raymond Massey, Mary Astor, and David Niven costar.

...John Ford's superb THE LONG GRAY LINE (1955), starring Tyrone Power and Maureen O'Hara, airs on July 25th. I just caught up with this for the first time a few months ago. Don't wait as long as I did!

...July 26th the theme is Western comedies, including a pair of films I've recently reviewed here, TWO GUYS FROM TEXAS (1948) and CALLAWAY WENT THATAWAY (1951). The classic of the comedy lineup is James Garner's SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF! (1969) which only gets funnier on each successive viewing. That night the theme is "Great Barroom Brawls," including SHANE (1953).

...The Westerns series wraps on July 27th with "True Stories?" including QUANTRILL'S RAIDERS (1958), and ending with "Revisionist Westerns." Wrapping up a Westerns series with the infamous HEAVEN'S GATE (1980) doesn't seem to do justice to the genre...but maybe that's just me.

...July 29th there's a nine-film tribute to Nancy (Davis) Reagan, including her fine performance as a kind therapist helping traumatized Gigi Perreau in SHADOW ON THE WALL (1950)

...The month ends on July 31st with one of the last couple Jeanette MacDonald-Nelson Eddy films I need to see, BITTER SWEET (1940). George Sanders costars.

Final thoughts on the Westerns series: There's a lot I'd have liked to see included in a Westerns series, like a George O'Brien RKO Western, a George Montgomery Western, Wellman's WESTWARD THE WOMEN (1951), and more of John Ford, including WAGON MASTER (1950) and RIO GRANDE (1950). You can never show too many John Ford Westerns!

The extra expense of licensing films from 20th Century-Fox and Universal is doubtless the reason we're missing key films like Ford's MY DARLING CLEMENTINE (1946), Mann's WINCHESTER '73 (1950), and Tourneur's CANYON PASSAGE (1946). It also leaves out most Universal Westerns in general, including Audie Murphy and Joel McCrea films; any '50s Westerns fan can wax eloquent on the importance of Universal Westerns to the genre, so it's a big piece of the puzzle missing.

Wellman's YELLOW SKY 1948), a Fox film, is another one I'd have shown. I can't complain about the number of John Wayne films being shown, but still, I'd have added in ANGEL AND THE BADMAN (1946). There are also titles I'd have discarded in favorite of more worthy entries.

All that said, the series is a great idea and definitely has something for everyone, so it should be very enjoyable...and it would be great if it sparked an interest in Westerns in some viewers not so familiar with the genre. Perhaps if there's enough interest there will be a sequel series at a future date.

For more on TCM in July, please visit the complete schedule. Also, a reminder that TCM Backlot members can now page through the Now Playing guide online.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Tonight's Movie: The Girl of the Golden West (1938) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Jeanette MacDonald stars as THE GIRL OF THE GOLDEN WEST (1938). It's part of the four-movie, four-DVD Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy Collection, Volume One, available from the Warner Archive.

This is the third film I've reviewed from the set, following the sublime NAUGHTY MARIETTA (1935) and ROSE-MARIE (1936).

THE GIRL OF THE GOLDEN WEST isn't quite on the level of those films, lacking as many good musical numbers, but it's still prime Jeanette and Nelson. I find that I invariably smile watching a MacDonald-Eddy film. They make me happy, and what more could one ask in a movie?

Jeanette plays Mary, a simple girl of the mountains who owns the local tavern. Sheriff Jack (Walter Pidgeon) wants to marry her, but on her annual trip to Monterey Mary is taken with a dashing lieutenant (Eddy) -- who isn't a lieutenant at all, he's actually a bandit named Ramerez.

Mary falls wildly in love, and she continues to protect her sweetheart from the sheriff even after she learns the truth about his identity. Will Ramerez reform, and will he and Mary live happily ever after? What do you think?

As mentioned, the movie could have used some more memorable music, but there are still some wonderful moments, including Jeanette singing "Liebestraum" and "Ave Maria" (the latter with the St. Luke's Choristers of nearby Long Beach, California). There's also some terrific Romberg-Kahn music at a fiesta, including "Senorita" and "Mariache."

One of my only regrets about the movie is they didn't find a spot for Pidgeon, a fine singer, to participate in a song.

Jeanette is absolutely lovely and winning as Mary, sustaining her "hick" accent throughout. She's such a charmer, she darn near carries the whole movie on her back on the basis of her appeal.

I generally think Eddy is a much better actor than he gets credit for, but I didn't find this role as interesting as his parts in other MacDonald-Eddy films. Still, he and Jeanette are always a great team, and it's a particular joy to hear them sing together, such as the lovely scene at movie's end.

The deep cast includes H.B. Warner as a padre, Monty Woolley as the governor, and Buddy Ebsen as Mary's pal. Also in the cast: Charley Grapewin, Billy Bevans, Leo Carrillo, Leonard Penn, Cliff Edwards, and Olin Howland.

THE GIRL OF THE GOLDEN WEST was directed by Robert Z. Leonard. It was filmed in black and white by Oliver T. Marsh. The running time is a slightly longish 121 minutes. I think at least five minutes could have been pruned without missing much.

I'll be reviewing the final film in the collection, MAYTIME (1937), at a future date. I've also reviewed three of the four films in Volume II: SWEETHEARTS (1938), NEW MOON (1940), and I MARRIED AN ANGEL (1942), with a review of BITTER SWEET (1940) still ahead. Both sets are highly recommended.

THE GIRL OF THE GOLDEN WEST is a fine print with good sound quality. The disc includes the trailer.

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 the WBShop.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Marine Raiders (1944) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Pat O'Brien, Robert Ryan, and Ruth Hussey star in MARINE RAIDERS (1944), recently released on DVD by the Warner Archive.

Ryan plays Captain Dan Craig, who quickly falls in love with an Australian officer named Ellen Foster (Hussey, who's delightful but doesn't seem very Australian!).

After a whirlwind few hours together Danny wants to marry Ellen, but his commanding officer, Major Steve Lockhart (O'Brien), thinks Dan is an easy mark for romance after having had a particularly brutal combat experience. He arranges to have Dan, injured in a strafing attack, shipped back to the U.S. before he can marry Ellen.

Dan is bitter, but he and Steve work side by side training new Marines, until finally they're sent back to Australia, where Dan and Ellen reunite before the men are shipped back to combat.

The film ends with Ellen saying a prayer to bless all the troops, and the audience is left to wonder with her who will make it back.

The script is pretty run-of-the-mill as WWII films go, but the film is elevated by the sincere playing of the leads, particularly Ryan and Hussey. They're supported by fine actors including Barton MacLane, Frank McHugh, Richard "Chito" Martin, and Martha Vickers.

There are many better WWII films, but I nonetheless enjoyed it. Fans of the actors or WWII films will find it worth a look.

J.R. Jones' biography of Ryan mentions that O'Brien was a mentor to Ryan early in his career. Ryan wondered if he'd have trouble succeeding in the film business due to his introverted nature, but O'Brien pointed out that his friend James Cagney was one of the most private actors in the business. Ryan said "That was all I needed to know. I became a Cagney."

Ryan left Hollywood to serve in the Marines himself immediately after completing this picture.

MARINE RAIDERS is an RKO film which was directed by Harold D. Schuster. It was filmed in black and white by Nicholas Musuraca. The running time is 90 minutes.

The Warner Archive DVD is a good-looking print. There are no extras.

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

Tonight's Movie: Crack-Up (1946) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

CRACK-UP (1946) is an interesting, if not wholly successful, RKO film noir with a terrific cast. It's available from the Warner Archive.

The movie begins with art critic George Steele (Pat O'Brien), who's seemingly drunk or has lost his mind, breaking into a museum. Steele says he's just been in a terrible train wreck. But when Detective Cochrane (Wallace Ford) investigates, he learns there were no train wrecks, that night or any time recently.

At the suggestion of the somewhat mysterious Traybin (Herbert Marshall), Cochrane lets George go home in the custody of his girlfriend, Terry (Claire Trevor). George, unsure who to trust, begins to piece together what happened, including re-enacting his fateful train trip. Gradually he realizes he's become the target of someone forging great works of art...

This movie is another in a seemingly endless string of mid '40s "psychological noir." I was amused that there's even an argument about Dali-esque modern art, given the role Dali played in the previous year's Hitchcock film, SPELLBOUND (1945). Links to reviews of a few other psychological noir films may be found at the SPELLBOUND link.

For those of us who love "train movies," CRACK-UP checks off that box as well, and the train sequences are as good as the best of Hitchcock or Lang, calling to mind films like Lang's MINISTRY OF FEAR (1945). The foreboding atmosphere in each of these scenes is outstanding.

The film also has some smart dialogue. Knowing someone's been killed and wary of what Terry's role in the mess might be, George asks her what her racket is, and she snarkily retorts "I'm outta my head. I drive around in cars picking up psychopathic killers." Trevor doesn't have a lot to do in the film but be supportive, but when she lets fly with dialogue like that you're glad she's around to liven things up.

This 93-minute film loses its way a bit in the last half hour, going on too long and leaving the identities of all the good and bad guys unclear until the very end. I think the film could have simultaneously been more snappy and less murky. Still, it's got a lot going for it and is certainly worth seeing, especially if one enjoys film noir or the excellent lead actors.

Speaking of lead actors, it was intriguing that O'Brien and Marshall are cast against type -- sitting down to the movie, one would expect Marshall to be the art critic. However, O'Brien's "everyman" quality comes to seem like perfect casting when he delivers his lecture on art and "knowing what you like," as the audience learns he's a bit of a rebel in museum circles.

O'Brien had a good run of films in the mid to late '40s, including a couple of my personal favorites, SECRET COMMAND (1944) and RIFFRAFF (1947).

The cast also includes Ray Collins, Dean Harens, Damian O'Flynn, Mary Ware, and Erskine Sanford.

CRACK-UP was directed by Irving Reis and filmed in black and white by Robert de Grasse.

CRACK-UP was a very nice print. There are no extras.

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

Tonight's Movie: Dinky (1935) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

DINKY (1935) is an enjoyable family film from the Warner Archive.

DINKY stars Jackie Cooper and Mary Astor. My interest in seeing it was initially snagged by the thought that a film with Mary Astor is usually a film worth seeing!

Astor plays Martha Harris, an executive secretary whose son, the unfortunately nicknamed Dinky (Cooper), boards at a military academy.

Martha is framed by her boss to take the fall for his embezzlement, and when she's sent to jail for two years, her attorney Tom (Roger Pryor) arranges for Dinky to think his mother is temporarily working in Chicago.

Thanks to some fellow students who are unkind snobs, Dinky learns the truth about his mother's situation. Dinky gets the full story from Tom, after which Dinky decides he'd prefer to move from the academy to the orphanage next door, where he's made friends and feels more welcome.

Tom and the kind head of the academy (Henry Daniell) arrange for Dinky to write his mother on school stationery so she'll be happy thinking he's still at the academy. The end result is that both Dinky and his mother try to fool each other about where they are. Everyone means well, but the movie perhaps illustrates the old maxim about honesty being the best policy.

Fortunately Tom is working hard to clear Martha's name, and I'm sure it's no surprise that all comes right at the end of 65 minutes.

DINKY is a well-paced, entertaining little movie, with the prison storyline adding some contrasting spice to all the kids in the picture.

The movie is enjoyable thanks especially to pros like Astor, Cooper, and Daniell. Pryor was always a rather bland actor, but his appearances in this film are welcome, as his character is invariably kind and helpful.

The children in the movie include Edith Fellows and a very young Richard Quine. Fellows is such a natural, I wished she'd had the larger role of Dinky's crush, played by Betty Jean Hainey.

This Warner Bros. movie was directed by Howard Bretherton and D. Ross Lederman. It was filmed in black and white by Arthur Edeson.

The Warner Archive DVD looks fine. There are no extras.

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

Upcoming Disney Books

Here are some great-looking Disney books coming out this fall!

The book I may be most excited about is MAPS OF THE DISNEY PARKS: CHARTING 60 YEARS FROM CALIFORNIA TO SHANGHAI by Kevin and Susan Neary and Vanessa Hunt.

Hunt coauthored the superb POSTER ART OF THE DISNEY PARKS.

MAPS OF THE DISNEY PARKS is due out October 18th.

I'm also very enthused about WALT DISNEY'S SILLY SYMPHONIES: A COMPANION TO THE CLASSIC CARTOON SERIES which will be published September 27th.

It's by Russell Merritt and J.B. Kaufman. Kaufman is the author of a number of excellent Disney histories including SOUTH OF THE BORDER WITH DISNEY and SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS.


THE WALT DISNEY STUDIOS is by Disney's Becky Cline and Steven Clark. (Update: This book was pulled back for unknown reasons shortly after publication and is only available from third-party vendors, typically at high prices.) (August 2019 Update: After three years, the book has been updated and is now available again -- I just bought a signed copy at the D23 Expo!)

Looks like some great reading ahead for Disney fans.

May 2017 Update: A new book list!

Updates: Here are new book lists from September 2018 and March 2020.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Tonight's Movie: The Affairs of Susan (1945)

THE AFFAIRS OF SUSAN (1945) is a delightful film showcasing the comedic talent of Joan Fontaine.

Fontaine plays Susan, a sheltered young girl living on an island. She meets Roger (George Brent), a Broadway writer-producer, when he comes to the island seeking solitude to work on his latest project.

Roger is enchanted by Susan's unaffected honesty. In short order they marry and she becomes a Broadway star, but her inability to play the social game, being bluntly honest with all comers, leads to an early end to the marriage.

Susan then has romances with timber tycoon Mike (Don DeFore), intellectual writer Bill (Dennis O'Keefe), and politically connected Richard (Walter Abel). Through her relationships Susan gradually matures. She considers marrying each of her suitors, but in the end all roads lead back to a fresh start to her marriage to Roger.

One might not think that a "divorce comedy" in which a woman strings along four different men could be charming, but it very much is, thanks to a well-written script from an Oscar-nominated story and the deft playing of the strong cast.

Front and center is Fontaine, once again displaying her chameleon-like acting as Susan. Fontaine's ability to completely inhabit her characters, including varying her vocal qualities and body language, strikes me as more remarkable with each film I see. She has a wonderful role in this, taking her character from innocent girl to Broadway misfit to a woman who attracts men like flies, but secretly wants just one.

Fontaine is particularly delightful in the early scenes, where Roger can't quite believe she's not starstruck or interested in being an actress. Her frank, immediate avowal of love for Roger is memorable, particularly the way she says "I certainly will" when he proposes -- before he's even kissed her!

Brent is perfectly cast as Roger, who comes to realize that he hasn't been fair in his expectations of Susan, and who patiently waits for her return. The other actors are all good, particularly DeFore, whose character would be a catch if only Susan weren't already in love with Roger.

Mary Field has a good part as Susan's maid, and Rita Johnson has one of her patented "smiling but vicious" roles as a jealous actress.

THE AFFAIRS OF SUSAN was directed by William A. Seiter and filmed in black and white by David Abel. Fontaine's great wardrobe was designed by Edith Head. The movie runs 110 minutes.

Like so many Paramount films, THE AFFAIRS OF SUSAN is not on DVD. Hopefully at some point in the future Universal, which owns the rights, will make this and many other Paramount films more easily available for viewing.

At this writing, THE AFFAIRS OF SUSAN is available on YouTube; anyone interested in seeing it should make haste, as films have a way of disappearing from YouTube on short notice.

There's also a Lux radio version with Fontaine, Brent, and DeFore which may be heard here.

Quick Preview of TCM in September

Turner Classic Movies recently released its September schedule.

The September Star of the Month is Gene Hackman. Hackman's films will be shown on Friday evenings in September.

September will also feature a new installment of Treasures From the Disney Vault. The September 8th Disney lineup includes TREASURE ISLAND (1950), THOSE CALLOWAYS (1964), DAVY CROCKETT AND THE RIVER PIRATES (1956), and DISNEYLAND AROUND THE SEASONS (1966).

September will feature multi-film tributes to Preston Sturges, Peter Lawford, Claudette Colbert, Gary Cooper, Lauren Bacall, Grace Kelly, Greer Garson, John Cromwell, Dick Powell, and June Allyson.

Jeanne Crain receives a two-film primetime tribute on Sunday evening, September 4th.

September themes include teachers, horse races, and films with the word "return" in the title. There are many comedies on the September schedule, and there's also a day of all the Falcon Mystery films!

I'll be sharing more detailed information on the September schedule around the end of August.

The current June Star of the Month is Marie Dressler, to be followed by the Olivia de Havilland centennial tribute in July. August is the annual Summer Under the Stars festival.

July 3rd Update: The October schedule is already posted, with Christopher Lee the Star of the Month.

August 31st Update: For more on TCM in September 2016, please visit TCM in September: Highlights.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Murder, She Baked: A Chocolate Chip Cookie Mystery (2015)

I had planned to spend this evening seeing GIANT (1956) at the Academy, but a last-minute complication kept me at home.

Instead I enjoyed watching Hallmark's MURDER, SHE BAKED: A CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE MYSTERY (2015), starring Alison Sweeney.

MURDER, SHE BAKED initially ran on Hallmark's Movies & Mysteries Channel. In some quarters there are folks who like to put down Hallmark films, which are generally positive and family friendly, as lightweight or sugary. The truth is that, just like any other movies, Hallmark quality is varied, from not so good to solid entertainment to outstanding.

MURDER, SHE BAKED was recommended to me by family members who felt it compared very well with the novel by Joanne Fluke. I found it quite engaging, and I suspect that my fellow classic film fans would enjoy a well-made "cozy" mystery film series such as this one.

In fact, the concept of mystery movies series, which has been revived by Hallmark over the past year, calls to mind favorites series of old such as The Falcon, The Saint, Boston Blackie, or Michael Shayne. Other movie series currently airing on the network include the Garage Sale Mysteries (Lori Loughlin), Aurora Teagarden Mysteries (Candace Cameron Bure), Flower Shop Mysteries (Brooke Shields, with Beau Bridges as her dad), and the Gourmet Detective (Dylan Neal and Brooke Burns).

Sweeney, known to soaps fans as Sami on DAYS OF OUR LIVES, plays Hannah Swensen. Hannah owns a bakery & cafe in the small town of Eden Lake, Minnesota.

Hannah gets the shock of her life when her milkman (Ron Cermak), a longtime friend, is murdered behind her shop. Hannah's cafe is naturally a way station for town gossip and bits of news, and she begins to research the case on her own, which doesn't thrill Bill, her policeman brother-in-law (Toby Levins), or Mike (Cameron Mathison), a widowed big city detective sent to help Eden Lake with the case.

Along with working on the mystery, Hannah tentatively begins to develop a friendly relationship with Mike (at left in photo), and she also begins dating Norman (Gabriel Hogan, at right in photo), a kind dentist who's new in town.

Sweeney, who also served as a producer, makes Hannah likeable and real, whether she's talking to her cat or smoothing out a poor introduction to Mike. I particularly enjoyed her bantering relationship with Mike (Mathison), which successfully matches wary edginess with friendly interest.

Sweeney and Mathison are surrounded by a good supporting cast, which also includes Barbara Niven and Lisa Durupt as Hannah's mother and sister.

The movie is also a visual delight, from the scenes around Lake Eden (filmed in British Columbia) to the colors of Hannah's bakery boxes -- and of course, the beautiful cookies on display in her shop.

MURDER, SHE BAKED: A CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE MYSTERY was directed by Mark Fluke and filmed by Adam Sliwinski. Minus commercials, the film runs approximately 85 minutes.

MURDER, SHE BAKED: A CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE MYSTERY will be released on DVD on July 5, 2016.

Numerous books have been published in Fluke's series, and to date there are three more TV films in the MURDER, SHE BAKED series, which I'm looking forward to watching: A PLUM PUDDING MYSTERY (2015), A PEACH COBBLER MYSTERY (2016), and A DEADLY RECIPE (2016).

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Tonight's Movies: Prairie Law (1940) and Stage to Chino (1940) - Warner Archive DVD Reviews

It's been a busy few days, which made it the perfect time to relax with more films from the Warner Archive George O'Brien Western Collection.

This time around I watched two more of O'Brien's films with Virginia Vale, PRAIRIE LAW (1940) and STAGE TO CHINO (1940). I'd seen this pair in the past, and like most of O'Brien's Westerns, they hold up very well on further acquaintance.

PRAIRIE LAW is an engaging, well-scripted tale in which O'Brien plays Brill Austin, who helps a bunch of homesteaders who have been tricked into buying land without access to water. One of the settlers is lovely Priscilla (Vale), and the pair are soon bantering and flirting in between dealing with water rights, cattle rustlers, and a fraudulent election to move the county seat.

I previously reviewed this one in 2014, and this time around I liked it just as much, if not more, than I did then. O'Brien and Vale are always fun to watch, and there's some genuinely amusing dialogue. One of my favorite bits involves a jury simultaneously conducting deliberations and participating in a shootout!

An added plus is that, as was often the case in these films, George O'Brien handled his own stunts in an extended fight sequence, including a backwards somersault and flipping someone over his shoulder.

The excellent cast includes Slim Whitaker, J. Farrell MacDonald, Dick Hogan, Cy Kendall, Paul Everton, Lloyd Ingraham Henry Hall, Monte Montague, and Hank Worden. Look for a young Darryl Hickman as a homesteader's son.

PRAIRIE LAW was directed by David Howard. It was filmed in black and white by J. Roy Hunt and the uncredited Harry J. Wild. The running time is 59 minutes.

While in PRAIRIE LAW Vale's character mostly roots from the sidelines, she has a strong role in STAGE TO CHINO as Caroline McKay, the spunky owner of a stage line. Caroline is trying to secure a mail contract, but she's being plotted against by her own uncle (Carl Stockdale) and by Dude Elliott (Roy Barcroft), who owns much of the town.

O'Brien plays Dan Clark, an undercover postal inspector, who's aided by a traveling salesman (Hobart Cavanaugh).

As I mentioned in my 2015 review, STAGE TO CHINO was Vale's favorite of her half-dozen films with O'Brien, and it's easy to see why. She had a good role, even driving a stagecoach, and in addition to that, she designed her own wardrobe! Tired of off the rack dresses from the studio wardrobe department, she made sketches and chose the fabric for dresses the wardrobe department made up for her; the dresses then went into the studio's inventory and were reused. Vale said, "I've seen them time and time again in Westerns."

O'Brien has some especially great stuntwork in this one, swinging from a chandelier and also transferring from one moving stagecoach to another, which Vale -- who was also in the shot -- later confirmed O'Brien did himself.

The STAGE TO CHINO cast includes Glenn Strange, William Haade, Harry Cording, Martin Garralaga, and Ethan Laidlaw, plus music from Nora Lou Martin and the Pals of the Golden West.

STAGE TO CHINO was directed by Edward Killy and filmed by J. Roy Hunt. It runs 59 minutes.

PRAIRIE LAW and STAGE TO CHINO are good-looking prints. There are no extras.

With this latest pair of films I've now seen seven of the nine films which comprise the George O'Brien Western Collection. Links to previous reviews of films in this set: LAWLESS VALLEY (1938), RACKETEERS OF THE RANGE (1939), TIMBER STAMPEDE (1939), TROUBLE IN SUNDOWN (1939), and BULLET CODE (1940).

The George O'Brien Western Collection is one of my all-time favorite Warner Archive releases. Fingers crossed that a final set of O'Brien's RKO Westerns will be released in the future, including the two remaining films he made with Laraine (Johnson) Day, BORDER G-MAN (1938) and PAINTED DESERT (1938), plus GUN LAW (1938) with Rita Oehmen, who was the mother of Charmian Carr of THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965)

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 the WBShop.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Tonight's Movies: James A. FitzPatrick Traveltalks Shorts, Volume 1 - A Warner Archive DVD Review

I've been fascinated with James A. FitzPatrick's Traveltalks shorts since I was first exposed to them many moons ago in THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT, PART II (1976).

I'm absolutely delighted that 60 of Fitzpatrick's Technicolor shorts have been compiled by the Warner Archive in a three-disc set, James A. FitzPatrick Traveltalks Shorts, Volume 1. These shorts give brief Technicolor looks -- typically around eight minutes -- at interesting places around the world. I'm hoping for several more volumes to be released in the future!

THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT, PART II memorably cut together FitzPatrick's classic signoff, "And so we say farewell to..." In this set FitzPatrick says hello and farewell to cities and countries all over the globe, including Japan, Europe, Australia, Mexico, Canada, and countless spots throughout the United States.

There are many aspects which make these shorts interesting. The earliest Technicolor Traveltalks, in 1934, predated the first three-strip Technicolor feature film, BECKY SHARP (1935). Two 1934 shorts are included in the set, SWITZERLAND THE BEAUTIFUL (1934) and IRELAND: THE EMERALD ISLE (1934).

Winton Hoch, who worked at Technicolor helping to develop the three-color system, got his start as a cinematographer shooting Traveltalks. His work in this set includes BEAUTIFUL BANFF AND LAKE LOUISE (1935), YELLOWSTONE PARK: NATURE'S PLAYGROUND (1936), and HONG KONG: HUB OF THE ORIENT (1937), among others.

In the '40s Hoch moved into shooting feature films. He would eventually win the Oscar for John Ford's SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON (1949); I'll be reviewing the Warner Archive's brand-new YELLOW RIBBON Blu-ray here in the near future.

Oscar-winning British cinematographer Jack Cardiff also developed his skills shooting for the Traveltalks series, including this set's PARIS ON PARADE (1938).

I often think while watching these shorts how amazing it must have been for audiences of the mid '30s to see faraway places in vivid color for the first time. Shorts such as MODERN TOKYO (1935), ORIENTAL PARADISE (1936), and FLORAL JAPAN (1937) also provided U.S. audiences their last tranquil glimpses of Japan before the start of the Second World War.

During the war years, the shorts would focus on the U.S. and also further our "Good Neighbor" policy, looking at points south such as Mexico, before returning to Europe in the post-war years.

One of my favorites in the set is LOS ANGELES "WONDER CITY OF THE WEST" (1935), which includes looks at various movie studios. FitzPatrick even shakes hands with Walt Disney.

The shorts are fascinating windows in time -- including, on occasion, aspects which might now be considered a bit politically incorrect. The title RED MEN ON PARADE (1941) -- set in Gallup, New Mexico -- is not one likely to be used these many years later. Kudos to the Warner Archive for including such shorts without regard for the odd phrase or attitude which may seem jarring now but are historically valuable.

As far as I can tell at a glance, the shorts in the set are presented in chronological order, though many titles are skipped for unknown reasons. (I am guessing some of them might need work done before they can be released.) The shorts included in this set span a dozen years, starting in 1934 and running through 1946.

Some of the shorts have light scratches, mostly notable during the opening credits, while others look terrific throughout.

The set I received consisted of silver-backed pressed discs.

Hopefully many more Traveltalk shorts will be forthcoming from the Warner Archive!

Update: I have now reviewed Volume 2 and Volume 3.

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

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