Saturday, December 31, 2016

Tonight's Movie: The People Against O'Hara (1951) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

A stellar cast distinguishes the MGM film THE PEOPLE AGAINST O'HARA (1951), available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

Spencer Tracy plays Jim Curtayne, a lawyer who is attempting to kick his habit with the bottle under the watchful eye of his daughter Ginny (Diana Lynn).

Ginny has put off marrying her boyfriend Jeff (Richard Anderson) in order to try to keep her father on the straight and narrow. Curtayne has attempted to lessen the temptation to drink by giving up his stressful criminal law practice for civil work.

However, when financially strapped friends (Arthur Shields and Louise Lorimer) from the "old neighborhood" need help when their son Johnny O'Hara (James Arness) is arrested for murder, Curtayne takes the case.

The stress of the murder trial is too much for Curtayne, as he struggles to stay sharp and not use alcohol as a crutch. Johnny is convicted, but Curtayne has a chance at redemption when he cracks the mystery behind Johnny's silence about his whereabouts on the night of the murder; Curtayne works with the police and the D.A. to nab the real killer (Eduardo Ciannelli).

While I wasn't taken with Tracy's storyline, I liked the overall noir feel to this combination crime and legal drama, which was filmed in black and white by the great John Alton. Alton shot RAW DEAL (1948), THE BIG COMBO (1955), and other great noir titles. It's also of note that the same year THE PEOPLE AGAINST O'HARA was released, Alton shot the Technicolor ballet for AN AMERICAN IN PARIS (1951), for which he would win an Oscar.

Pat O'Brien plays the homicide detective on the case, and his initial scene in the police station, with Emile Meyer hovering at his side, is a thing of noir beauty as filmed by Alton. It's a perfect look in every way, and there were many similarly great-looking scenes, particularly near the end of the movie.

The cast is simply phenomenal, reason enough for a classic film fan to watch it. John Hodiak is likeable as the ethical D.A., and the same can be said for O'Brien as the police detective. There are countless other great faces scattered throughout, like Ann Doran and Regis Toomey as cops, Frank Ferguson as a reporter, Henry O'Neill and Ned Glass as judges, and even a young Charles Bronson as one of a family of insolent brothers visited by Curtayne.

William Schallert, playing an ambulance doctor, has just one line at the end, but it's a doozy. Jack Kruschen, Mae Clarke, and even John Ford's favorite accordionist Danny Borzage are also on hand. Yvette Duguay plays Johnny's girlfriend, who can't reveal that she's Johnny's alibi, because her much older mobster husband (Ciannelli) will kill them both.

THE PEOPLE AGAINST O'HARA was directed by John Sturges. It runs 102 minutes.

All in all, this isn't a great film, but it's solid, with the strong cast and stylish looks overcoming the drearier aspects of the "Will he or won't he pick up the bottle?" storyline.

The DVD is a nice-looking print, and the disc includes the trailer.

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

TCM in January: Highlights

Happiest Wishes for a wonderful 2017!

Turner Classic Movies kicks off the year celebrating Oscar-winning actress Jane Wyman as the January Star of the Month.

45 Wyman films will be shown on TCM each Thursday in January, starting on the 5th. I'll have more information about the Jane Wyman lineup posted here next week. (Update: Please visit TCM Star of the Month: Jane Wyman.)

Those who rely on the Now Playing guide should note that the original schedule for January 27th will be pre-empted in order to pay tribute to the late Debbie Reynolds. A dozen Reynolds films will be shown on the 27th beginning at 3:00 a.m. Pacific Time/6:00 a.m. Eastern.

Here are a few more noteworthy titles from TCM's January schedule! Click any hyperlinked title for my review.

...Ring in the New Year with a dozen Hitchcock films on January 1st! My favorites include STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951), SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943), and MARNIE (1964). MARNIE, starring Sean Connery, Tippi Hedren, and Diane Baker, is one of Hitchcock's more controversial titles, but I really love it, finding it extremely compelling.

...Ray Milland's birthday will be marked on January 3rd with half a dozen excellent movies, ranging from the blissful comedy of THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR (1942) to the heavy drama of THE LOST WEEKEND (1945) to Hitchcockian suspense in DIAL M FOR MURDER (1954).

...Every Tuesday night the theme is "Stars Behind Bars." The seven titles on January 3rd include Burt Lancaster in BRUTE FORCE (1947), although for me the most interesting thing about BRUTE FORCE is its trio of leading ladies: Ann Blyth, Yvonne DeCarlo, and Ella Raines.

...It's Loretta Young's birthday on January 6th, and I'm always happy when TCM honors her special day! This year four of her films will be shown, including the excellent pioneer drama RACHEL AND THE STRANGER (1948), costarring William Holden and Robert Mitchum, and the fast-paced pre-Code TAXI! (1932) with James Cagney.

...I never miss the chance to plug one of the most delightful discoveries I made last year, COVER UP (1949) starring Dennis O'Keefe and Barbara Britton. The talented O'Keefe cowrote the excellent script. I'm surprised TCM doesn't show this Christmastime mystery in December! COVER UP will be shown January 7th.

...Last year I had the chance to see a favorite comedy, TO BE OR NOT TO BE (1942), at UCLA. This tremendously funny film, directed by Ernst Lubitsch, will be shown on TCM on January 8th. Jack Benny and Carole Lombard star.

...Also airing on the 8th, Woody Allen's HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (1986), with the late Carrie Fisher in a supporting role.

...One of my favorite pre-Codes, FEMALE (1933), is part of a January 9th lineup celebrating a new TCM book from Running Press, MOVIE NIGHT MENUS. FEMALE stars Ruth Chatterton and George Brent -- and some amazing set designs.

...For a definition of film noir, look no further than THE KILLERS (1946), starring Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner, Edmond O'Brien, Charles McGraw, and William Conrad. Movie bliss. It's shown on the 11th.

...A great lineup of "divorce"/reunion comedies on January 12th includes MY FAVORITE WIFE with Cary Grant and Irene Dunne, THE EX-MRS. BRADFORD (1936) with William Powell and Jean Arthur, and PRIVATE LIVES (1931) starring Robert Montgomery and Norma Shearer.

..."A Night With Cleopatra" on January 13th includes the amazing 1934 DeMille film starring Claudette Colbert. There are four other Cleopatra films airing that night, but this is the one to see. Riveting and unforgettable are just two of the adjectives to describe it.

...I just saw the Busby Berkeley musical DAMES (1934) on a big screen last month. It's great fun, and happily it's on TCM January 15th.  Joan Blondell, Dick Powell, and Ruby Keeler star,

...Writer-director Damien Chazelle, the filmmaker behind the new musical LA LA LAND (2016), is the Guest Programmer on January 18th. His choices include films which influence LA LA LAND, IT'S ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER (1955), MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944), and THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG (1964). I anticipate reviewing FAIR WEATHER and CHERBOURG here in the fairly near future.

...There's a primetime Saint marathon on January 20th! Seven of the Saint mystery films will be shown, starting with Louis Heyward, who's very interesting in THE SAINT IN NEW YORK (1938), followed by four of the films starring George Sanders and two with Hugh Sinclair.

...Dana Andrews is honored with four films shown in prime time on January 21st: BOOMERANG! (1947), FALLEN ANGEL (1945), WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS (1956) and BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT (1956). FALLEN ANGEL is my favorite of a strong group of movies.

...THE SECRET GARDEN (1949) on January 25th is an excellent rendition of the Frances Hodgson Burnett classic, starring Margaret O'Brien and Dean Stockwell.

...TCM celebrates two big favorites, Joan Leslie and Tim Holt, on Thursday, January 26th. Leslie was born on January 26th, 1925, while Holt's birthday falls a few days later, on February 5th. Half a dozen of Leslie's films will be shown, followed by four starring Holt. It just so happens I haven't seen any of the Leslie films on the schedule, so I have some catching up to do there! I've previously reviewed two of the Holt films, STORM OVER WYOMING (1950) and BORDER TREASURE (1950). BROTHERS IN THE SADDLE (1949) with Steve Brodie is supposed to be quite good.

...It's always a good time to watch GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 (1933), showing on the 29th. Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler, and Dick Powell star, with amazing numbers choreographed by Busby Berkeley.

...A primetime evening in Vegas on January 30th includes several really entertaining films: MEET ME IN LAS VEGAS (1956), a musical with Cyd Charisse and Dan Dailey; THE LAS VEGAS STORY (1952) with Victor Mature and Jane Russell; VIVA LAS VEGAS (1964) with Elvis and Ann-Margret; and PAINTING THE CLOUDS WITH SUNSHINE (1951). I'm really delighted TCM included the last film in the lineup, as I found it delightful. The cast includes Virginia Mayo, Dennis Morgan, Tom Conway, Gene Nelson, and Virginia Gibson.

For more listings, please consult the complete schedule at the TCM website.

Happy 2017!

Happy New Year!

Here's lovely Joan Caulfield to help wish all my readers a very happy 2017!

Best wishes to all for a very happy New Year!

Previous classic film New Year's photos: Joan Leslie, Anita Louise, Dorothy Patrick, and Mona Freeman.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Lulu Belle (1948) - An Olive Films DVD Review

Dorothy Lamour stars as social-climbing LULU BELLE (1948), now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Olive Films.

Lulu Belle is singing in a tavern when she spots young lawyer George Davis (George Montgomery) as an easy mark. In no time at all George has dumped his girlfriend, sold his practice, married Lulu Belle, and moved with her to a nice hotel in New Orleans.

Their money begins to run out, but boxer Butch Cooper (Greg McClure) is all too willing to pay the hotel bills for Mr. and Mrs. Davis, and George starts to wonder what's going on. He's a little slow on the uptake.

Soon Lulu Belle has moved on from Butch to starring in a fancy club run by Mark Brady (Albert Dekker), and then she moves up to being the mistress of wealthy Harry Randolph (Otto Kruger) -- whose wife (Charlotte Wynters) is none too pleased. George, meanwhile, has long ago been tossed to the sidelines, but Lulu Belle can't quite get him out of her mind.

The awkwardly constructed screenplay, based on a play coauthored by Charles MacArthur, tells the story in flashbacks, after George has been arrested for the attempted murder of Harry.

I generally love lesser-known films and am delighted when a title like this comes to DVD, but it must be said that this one is pretty boring. In other hands, with a better script and more dynamic performers, this story of a woman willing to love 'em and leave 'em in the interest of getting ahead could have been a compelling story. Unfortunately, LULU BELLE is anything but.

Longtime readers know of my fondness for George Montgomery, but he almost fades off the screen in this one as the wimpy, put-upon husband.

Lamour seems considerably older than Montgomery, though in reality the age difference was just 18 months, and while I'm disposed to like her, here she's as flat as Montgomery. The most interesting thing about her in this is her elaborately done hair, designed by Helen Hunt; the intricate rolls at times seem to use more hair than any woman could possibly have!

Una Merkel occasionally livens things up, while Addison Richards comes off best as an even-tempered police inspector. Most of the other characters are sleazy and unsympathetic, and not in an interesting way.

LULU BELLE was directed by Leslie Fenton and filmed in black and white by Ernest Laszlo. It runs 86 minutes.

For the most part the Olive Films DVD is a beautiful print. There's an odd cut near the end, with the end card apparently spliced on from a TV print.

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

Tonight's Movie: Shanghai Express (1932) at the TCM Classic Film Festival

SHANGHAI EXPRESS (1932) is one of the films on my 2016 list of 10 Classics to see this year.

I've actually now seen SHANGHAI EXPRESS twice, first at the TCM Classic Film Festival at the end of last April, and again thanks to the TCM Universal Vault Series DVD.

I enjoyed the film tremendously at the TCM Festival, but after seeing 15 films there in 3-1/2 days, it was a title I felt I needed to see another time before writing about it. This was no hardship, as I liked it so much I was happy to watch it twice in a few months' time! SHANGHAI EXPRESS is pure bliss for anyone who loves "train movies," and I definitely count myself on that list.

The TCM Festival screening was the first one of the day, and although I was near the front of the line, when I entered the theater there was already quite a crowd of Spotlight passholders, who are guaranteed seating. The packed audience was shown a beautiful digital restoration.

The movie was introduced by Jeremy Arnold, who briefly interviewed Nicholas von Sternberg, son of the film's director, Josef von Sternberg, seen below:

von Sternberg had positive memories of Marlene Dietrich, including sitting on her lap when he was a little boy. He joked that his father was nicknamed "Midnight Joe" because of his perfectionist father's long film days. Given that the movie was filmed roughly 85 years ago, it was rather remarkable hearing from someone who had known both star and director well.

The director's desire to get every detail correct certainly paid off with SHANGHAI EXPRESS. Thanks to von Sternberg, along with cinematographers Lee Garmes and the uncredited James Wong Howe and costume designer Travis Banton, the movie has so much style that it's almost a character in and of itself! The film is a must-see for those who want to experience great moviemaking of the '30s.

The movie runs a fast-paced 82 minutes, telling the story of a disparate group of travelers journeying by train from Peking to Shanghai. In some ways the movie rather reminds me of a Western, as journeys by wagon train, stagecoach, and the like are often the basis for the story in Westerns, and many of the character "types" seen in such stories are similar. That said, Western characters never had the glamour of Marlene Dietrich and Anna May Wong!

Dietrich plays Madeline, a woman of "easy virtue" who is nicknamed Shanghai Lil. ("It took more than one man to change my name...") Rather like the Claire Trevor character in the Western STAGECOACH (1939), the other travelers find the presence of Lil and Hui Fei (Wong) scandalous.

One traveler, however, reacts far differently when he sees her: "Doc" Harvey (Clive Brook), a British Army doctor, had had an affair with Madeline five years ago. Doc and Madeline find they are still desperately attracted, but can they accept and trust each other?

As the train makes its precarious journey through war-torn China, the passengers find their lives in danger from a warlord (Warner Oland) who had previously been traveling incognito on the train.

It's all gorgeous, suspenseful, and builds to a highly satisfactory resolution in every way.

I've not made a secret that I'm not a particular fan of Dietrich; I strongly disliked her in a couple of roles such as A FOREIGN AFFAIR (1948), while tolerating her in more low-key, less mannered parts such as STAGE FRIGHT (1950) and NO HIGHWAY IN THE SKY (1951). SHANGHAI EXPRESS, however, might have made a believer of me. She's perfect in this exotic role, acting as much with her physical movements as with her dialogue.

Wong is equally fascinating as a tough, laconic woman who is all too used to being treated with disrespect. I also loved Clive Brook as the lovelorn, gallant Doc. I want to make it a point to check out more of his movies; I did see him in ON APPROVAL (1944) at the 2014 TCM Fest.

The supporting cast includes Eugene Pallette, Lawrence Grant, Emile Chautard, Forrester Harvey, and Louise Closser Hale. The latter plays an annoying woman but I worried about the safety of the little dog she was smuggling on the train all the way through my first viewing!

Highly recommended.

More reviews from this year's "10 Classics" list coming soon!

September 2019 Update: I was fortunate to see this film again today at the Aero Theatre!

November 2022 Update: Here's a review of a remake, PEKING EXPRESS (1951), which starred Joseph Cotten and Corinne Calvet.

Christmastime at Disney California Adventure

A few days before Christmas I was able to make a couple of brief trips to the Disneyland Resort to enjoy more of the holiday season.

The lively Viva Navidad celebration has become one of my favorite parts of the season at the parks.

There are more pictures from Viva Navidad in posts from 2013, 2014, 2015, and even more from 2015.

This year Disney California Adventure also introduced a Festival of Holidays theme. These Indian dancers, the Blue 13 Dance Company, were there to mark the celebration of Dinali.

The next evening we went to Disney's Grand Californian Hotel, where there's a huge tree in the lobby.

Details from the tree:

We had a wonderful buffet dinner at the hotel's Storyteller's Cafe, which was festively decorated for the season:

Some of the holiday desserts on hand:

I hope to be back at Disney California Adventure next week for the Three Kings Day celebration which is part of Viva Navidad.

Previous 2016 Disney Christmas posts: Disney California Adventure: Festival of Holidays and Today at Disneyland: Thanksgiving Eve 2016.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

A Tribute to Debbie Reynolds

The back-to-back deaths of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds have brought forth deep emotions from many film fans, myself included.

Growing up as a child of the '70s, the most important movies in my life were MGM musicals and STAR WARS. In a little over 24 hours, the mother-daughter pair who were among the brightest stars of both have left us. I've found my eyes welling with tears multiple times over the last couple of days.

SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952) was the very first MGM musical I ever saw on a big screen at a revival theater. I was about nine years old, and the movie had a huge impact on my life, helping cement my early love for musicals. (For those who want to celebrate Debbie's life seeing this film on a big screen themselves, TCM and Fathom Events will host nationwide screenings on January 15th and 18th.) One of the first things I thought of when I heard of Debbie's passing was her singing "Good Morning." She and costars Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor light up the screen in that infectiously joyous number.

Everything about SINGIN' IN THE RAIN lingers in the mind, even moments as short as Debbie sing-songing "Here we are! Sunset and Camden!" when she wants Don Lockwood to get out of her car.

But there was so much more to her career. When I think of Debbie, a kaleidoscope of images cross my mind: Singing "Aba-Daba Honeymoon" with Carleton Carpenter in TWO WEEKS WITH LOVE (1950); performing (albeit dubbed) "I Wanna Be Loved By You" with Carpenter in THREE LITTLE WORDS (1950); singing the title song in one of my favorite childhood movies, THE TENDER TRAP (1955); her unforgettable rendition of "Tammy" in TAMMY AND THE BACHELOR (1957); singing "A Home in the Meadow" in HOW THE WEST WAS WON (1962); and I especially remember the lifeboat scenes and ending reunion with Harve Presnell in THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN (1964), which my parents let me stay up and watch when I was quite young.





In recent years, SUSAN SLEPT HERE (1954) has become one of my favorite movies to watch at Christmastime. Watching Debbie's transformation from unruly teen to young woman in love is a delight; I laugh just thinking of moments such as her reacting to home movies of glamorous Anne Francis.

Some of those favorite movie scenes are gathered in the new TCM Remembers tribute video.

Seeing Debbie and her UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN costar Harve Presnell in a stage production of ANNIE GET YOUR GUN in the late '70s is a treasured memory; it was a huge thrill to watch her perform live. As I recall, she might have gotten a bit overexuberant with her ad libbing, but she was obviously having a grand time on stage, and the audience did as well.

For my children, Debbie was not just the star of the MGM movies they watched on VHS and later DVD, but the voice of the title character in CHARLOTTE'S WEB (1973) -- which I somehow missed myself as a child -- and the star of Disney Channel's HALLOWEENTOWN (1998) and ensuing movies.

And, of course, she became known to all not just for her own stellar career, but as the mother of "Princess Leia."

Debbie's passing the day after her daughter is tragic for her family, including Carrie's brother Todd and daughter Billie, who must simultaneously cope with the loss of not one but two beloved family members. At the same time there's something beautiful about Debbie, who has been in poor health, immediately going to be with the daughter with whom she shared so much.

This beautiful photo of a very young Carrie watching her mother perform onstage has been making the rounds of social media today:

While we all grieve the passing of these two very special performers -- and also give thanks for the joy they leave behind -- how lovely it is to think of mother and daughter reunited so quickly.

Debbie Reynolds movies reviewed at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings: JUNE BRIDE (1948), TWO WEEKS WITH LOVE (1950), I LOVE MELVIN (1953), GIVE A GIRL A BREAK (1953), THE AFFAIRS OF DOBIE GILLIS (1953), SUSAN SLEPT HERE (1954) (also here), THE TENDER TRAP (1955) (also here), HIT THE DECK (1955), and TAMMY AND THE BACHELOR (1957).

Other notable Debbie Reynolds films not mentioned above include ATHENA (1954), THE CATERED AFFAIR (1956), BUNDLE OF JOY (1956), THE MATING GAME (1959), THE RAT RACE (1960), THE PLEASURE OF HIS COMPANY (1960), MY SIX LOVES (1963), THE SINGING NUN (1966), HOW SWEET IT IS! (1968), and ONE FOR THE MONEY (2012).

December 30th Update: TCM will honor Debbie Reynolds with a day-long tribute on January 27th.

January 26th Update: TCM Tribute to Debbie Reynolds on January 27th.

2017 Update: A visit to Debbie's final resting place at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills.

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