Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Tonight's Movie: The Sun Comes Up (1949) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Jeanette MacDonald stars in her last film, THE SUN COMES UP (1949), available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

THE SUN COMES UP, costarring Lloyd Nolan, Claude Jarman Jr., and Lassie, was the capstone to MacDonald's very fine two decades in films. This was only the second film she starred in after 1942, the other being THREE DARING DAUGHTERS (1948). Reviews of a number of MacDonald films follow at the end of this post.

THE SUN COMES UP is based on a story by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (THE YEARLING). Jeanette plays Helen, a widowed concert singer who suffers a second devastating loss with the death of her teenage son (Dwayne Hickman).

Helen retreats to the relative seclusion of a mountain community, grudgingly taking along her son's beloved dog, which she blames for the boy's death. A local orphan named Jerry (Jarman) who hires on to do odd jobs becomes attached to both the dog and its owner, dreaming of being adopted, but he's heartbroken because of Helen's reluctance to form another attachment. She tries to keep Jerry at arm's length despite her growing fondness for the boy.

It takes a pair of additional near-tragedies and the nudging of Helen's landlord (Nolan) for her to reset her priorities and allow love back into her life.

This is in some ways a rather sad story, not simply because of Helen's double losses but due to the heartache suffered by Jerry, who desperately wants a family. Jerry's near-brushes with death in the last third of the film are a little hard to watch.

(And speaking of hard to watch, how about a scene where Helen drives a dozen or so orphans in her convertible, as they dangerously hang all over the car?!)

Fortunately the filmmakers leavened the film with some wonderful comic bits by Percy Kilbride, as a painfully honest storekeeper, and Margaret Hamilton as one of the locals. Kilbride in particular is wonderful as the laconic, wise Mr. Williegood; his interactions with Jeanette really make the movie.

As ever, Jeanette is marvelous, whether she's handling drama, comedy, or music. What an immensely talented lady! She was 45 here, and she looks absolutely stunning in the movie's beautiful Technicolor.

Nolan doesn't show up until the final third of the film, but he's always a welcome presence and makes the most of his relatively limited role.

I don't think I'd seen this film since watching it on the big screen at L.A.'s Vagabond Theater when I was a teen, and I very much enjoyed returning to it. Despite the sad moments, on the whole it's a worthwhile and heartwarming film which I recommend.

The supporting cast includes Lewis Stone, Hope Landin, Esther Somers, Ida Moore, and Barbara Billingsley. Orphans are played by Teddy Infuhr, Timmy Hawkins, Charles Bates, and Mason Alan Dinehart, among others.

THE SUN COMES UP was directed by Richard Thorpe. It was filmed by Ray June, with some beautiful locations in Santa Cruz, California. The running time is 93 minutes.

The Warner Archive DVD is an especially lovely Technicolor print. The disc includes the trailer.

THE SUN COMES UP is one of five MGM films of the '40s starring Lassie. The other films were LASSIE COME HOME (1943), SON OF LASSIE (1945), HILLS OF HOME (1948), and CHALLENGE TO LASSIE (1949). CHALLENGE TO LASSIE has just been released on DVD by the Warner Archive, and I anticipate reviewing it here in the near future.

Previous reviews of Jeanette MacDonald films: THE LOVE PARADE (1929), MONTE CARLO (1930), THE SMILING LIEUTENANT (1931), ONE HOUR WITH YOU (1932), NAUGHTY MARIETTA (1935), ROSE-MARIE (1936), SAN FRANCISCO (1936), SWEETHEARTS (1938), THE GIRL OF THE GOLDEN WEST (1938), NEW MOON (1940), and I MARRIED AN ANGEL (1942).

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: The Arizonian (1935)

Richard Dix stars as a marshal cleaning up a crime-ridden frontier town in THE ARIZONIAN (1935), a well-done RKO Western.

Preston Foster costars with Dix, half a dozen years before they made another good Western I've previously reviewed, THE ROUNDUP (1941).

Dix plays Clay Tallant, who rescues saloon singer Kitty Rivers (Margot Grahame of TWO IN THE DARK and NIGHT WAITRESS) when her attempt to leave Silver City is blocked by men working for Sheriff Jake Mannen (Louis Calhern).

Mannen may be a sheriff, but he's a very bad man, and since he wants Kitty he's determined to keep her around. Tallant, who seems modeled on Wyatt Earp, ends up as town marshal, in direct competition with Mannen to control the town.

When the sheriff's men are out to get Tallant, he receives help from an unlikely source, outlaw Tex Randolph (Foster). Randolph admires Tallant's guts and doesn't like the unfair odds when Mannen's men gang up on the new marshal.

Tallant's got other problems, in that he's fallen hard for Kitty, but his younger brother Orin (James Bush) fell in love with her first...

THE ARIZONIAN is from a story and screenplay by Dudley Nichols. Around the time Foster's outlaw was befriending Dix's marshal in the saloon, I realized the situation seemed very familiar...a couple minutes later it dawned on me that my favorite George O'Brien "B" Western, THE MARSHAL OF MESA CITY (1939), was a loose remake.

THE MARSHAL OF MESA CITY is 13 minutes shorter and tells the story much more economically, along with changing the leading lady from saloon singer to schoolmarm; however, several of the key incidents from the original film appear in the remake, including the memorable smoky shootout.

In addition to the appealing relationship between Dix and Foster -- which I only wish had been given more screen time -- the movie has a number of other fine things to distinguish it, starting with Calhern's performance as evil personified. Viewers won't soon forget his actions in the final minutes of the movie.

Grahame is a fine leading lady, and there's an especially nice part for Etta McDaniel (sister of Hattie and Sam), who's given the chance to be a strong heroine near the end of the movie and makes the most of it.

Joe Sawyer is a slimy standout as one of Calhern's gang. The movie also stars Willie Best, Francis Ford, J. Farrell MacDonald, Ray Mayer, and John Alexander.

THE ARIZONIAN was directed by Charles Vidor and filmed by Harold Wenstrom. It runs 75 minutes.

THE ARIZONIAN is not available on DVD or VHS. It has been shown on Turner Classic Movies.

The clip available on the TCM website has a great shot of Vasquez Rocks as it begins. The movie was also shot at Iverson Ranch.


Monday, February 27, 2017

The 2017 UCLA Festival of Preservation Opens Friday

The 2017 UCLA Festival of Preservation opens this Friday evening, March 3rd.

The Festival of Preservation is a month-long biennial series celebrating the work of the UCLA Film and Television Archive. All screenings take place at UCLA's Billy Wilder Theater, located at the Hammer Museum in Westwood.

The schedule is posted at the Archive website.

I've had a wonderful time at the last three festivals. Last year I saw a half dozen films which provided some very special experiences, especially the marvelous comedy BACHELOR'S AFFAIRS (1932) and a memorable screening of HER SISTER'S SECRET (1946).

I'll be on hand opening night, when there's a wonderful opportunity to see Ernst Lubitsch's sublime comedy TROUBLE IN PARADISE (1932) on a big screen.

TROUBLE IN PARADISE will play with I TAKE THIS WOMAN (1931), in which big city girl Carole Lombard marries cowboy Gary Cooper. Can't wait!

GOOD REFERENCES (1920) and THE POOR NUT (1927) on March 4th sound interesting as well, with Constance Talmadge in the first film and Jean Arthur in the second. I've made some wonderful discoveries at past festivals, which encourages me to continue trying completely unknown films such as these.

I also hope to be on hand March 10th for a second chance to see UCLA's print of HE WALKED BY NIGHT (1948), which I saw as part of the 2014 Anthony Mann Festival.

HE WALKED BY NIGHT is playing with the rare noir OPEN SECRET (1948), a film about anti-Semitism starring John Ireland and Jane Randolph.

March 20th has also caught my eye: a double bill of Chester Morris and Genevieve Tobin in INFERNAL MACHINE (1933), paired with Preston Foster and Wynne Gibson in SLEEPERS EAST (1934). Preston Foster in a train movie on the big screen? Yes, please!

Anyone who hasn't yet seen the Argentinian noir THE BITTER STEMS (1956), aka LOS TALLOS AMARGOS, has a chance on March 4th. It's on a double bill with the Mexican film SHE-DEVIL ISLAND (1936).

There are many more interesting evenings on the festival schedule. Consult the complete list for details.

The last couple of screenings, including Robert Cummings and Susan Hayward in THE LOST MOMENT (1947) on March 27th, will overlap with the 19th Annual Noir City Hollywood festival. We are truly blessed with many wonderful big screen opportunities in the L.A. area! I'll have more information on Noir City posted here in March.

A look back: The 2011 UCLA Festival of Preservation, The 2013 UCLA Festival of Preservation, and The 2015 UCLA Festival of Preservation.

Update: Here is Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times on the festival.

Update: Leonard Maltin shares thoughts on the festival.

Update: Here's a review of I TAKE THIS WOMAN (1931), which was seen along with the previously reviewed TROUBLE IN PARADISE (1932). More reviews: A double bill of GOOD REFERENCES (1920) and THE POOR NUT (1927); OPEN SECRET (1948), seen with the previously reviewed HE WALKED BY NIGHT (1948); THE MAD GAME (1933), 365 NIGHTS IN HOLLYWOOD (1934), and Classic Animated Paramount Shorts; MAMBA (1930) and CHEER UP AND SMILE (1930); INFERNAL MACHINE (1933) and SLEEPERS EAST (1933).

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Cowboy From Brooklyn (1938) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Dick Powell stars as the COWBOY FROM BROOKLYN (1938), available on a remastered DVD from the Warner Archive.

I first saw this film over seven years ago, in 2009, and found it "exceedingly silly" at the time. It still is, but I think I enjoyed it quite a bit more this time around, having become much more familiar with the entire cast in the intervening years. For instance, this time around I got the joke of singing cowboy Dick Foran playing a would-be cowboy singer who can't carry a tune!

Powell plays Elly Jordan, a stranded traveler who earns his meals singing at a Wyoming dude ranch. A New York agent (Pat O'Brien) and his assistant (Ronald Reagan) are vacationing at the ranch and believe Elly is a real-deal singing cowboy. They sign Elly to a contract and launch him on a big career, only to discover Elly's not only not a cowboy, he has an animal phobia and can't be around horses! Complications abound.

The first half of the movie is the strongest, thanks to scenes such as Elly and ranch sweetheart Jane (Priscilla Lane) singing Mercer and Whiting's "Ride, Tenderfoot, Ride." For me that one charming scene makes the entire movie worthwhile.

Priscilla as cowgirl Jane is stuck saying things like "git" and "reckon" for the entire movie, but she's mighty cute doing it. Based on the trailer, which is included on the DVD, most of Ann Sheridan's supporting role as O'Brien's sister was left on the cutting room floor.

I also enjoyed bits such as Warner Bros. stalwarts John Ridgely and Jeffrey Lynn having small roles as reporters; Lynn would appear with Lane in several films, receiving his big break in FOUR DAUGHTERS (1938), released later that year.

The cast also includes Emma Dunn, Hobart Cavanaugh, Johnnie Davis, Rosella Towne, Mary Field, Granville Bates, Elisabeth Risdon, James Stephenson, Dennie Moore, and Candy Candido.

COWBOY FROM BROOKLYN was directed by Lloyd Bacon and filmed in black and white by Arthur Edeson. It runs 77 minutes.

The DVD is a nice-looking print.

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 Amazon and other online retailers.

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...IMDb has won the first legal round against the California law prohibiting the website from publishing actors' birthdates. A judge granted a temporary restraining order preventing the law from taking effect, ruling that the law probably violates the First Amendment and that IMDb is likely to win at trial.

...The ClassicFlix movie rental site, where I've been a columnist for the past three years, is undergoing major changes. The company is easing out of the rental business, which now operates behind a password log-in as "ClassicFlix Underground," serving only current and past customers. However, the company is instead going into the DVD and Blu-ray production business; early titles will include Shirley Temple in MISS ANNIE ROONEY (1942), Bette Davis in ANOTHER MAN'S POISON (1951), Ray Milland and Paulette Goddard in THE CRYSTAL BALL (1943), and BFI prints of the Anthony Mann film noir titles RAW DEAL (1948) and T-MEN (1947). A Mann boxed set is said to be in the works for future release. Watch ClassicFlix for the new site and more information coming soon.

...John McElwee of the terrific blog Greenbriar Picture Shows has a new book out, THE ART OF SELLING MOVIES. You can learn more from KC's review at A Classic Movie Blog and in a roundup on three new film books by Leonard Maltin.

...At Out of the Past, Raquel has reviewed the latest book from Robert Wagner and Scott Eyman, I LOVED HER IN THE MOVIES.

...The L.A. Times has created a fun animated map of LA LA LAND (2016) locations.

...Speaking of LA LA LAND, some people love it (we'll soon find out how it's treated by the Academy), while other musical fans have been disappointed by the relative amateur status of stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as musical performers. I came in somewhere in between, finding it oversold but mostly enjoyable. Jessica, a big musicals fan, has written a post at Comet Over Hollywood explaining what she loves about the movie. I feel she's on target.

...The Niles Film Museum up north in Fremont, California, has a Buster Keaton Weekend coming in late March.

...I'm very much opposed to MLB's decision to ditch the intentional walk in favor of an immediate walk based on a dugout signal. It will save minimal time while irritating traditionalists such as myself, and more importantly, baseball fans know that intentional walks don't always go as planned, so the potential for memorable moments is now removed. Check out the video of intentional walks gone wrong here. I don't know what those in charge of baseball are drinking these days, but the proposal to start extra innings with a runner on second base is even worse. Why are these suddenly issues after over a century?!

...Happy birthday to actress Mary Carlisle, seen at right, who just turned 103 on February 3rd! Carlisle's film MURDER IN THE PRIVATE CAR (1934) was reviewed here last fall.

...Bob Hope's family wants to sell the family estate in Toluca Lake and give the proceeds to charity, to fulfill the wishes of Bob and Dolores Hope. They're fighting a campaign to designate the house as a historic landmark.

...In my reviews I often mention Bess Flowers, the "dress extra" who appeared in extra and bit parts in hundreds of films. Classic Movie Treasures recently published a brief piece, "Who Was Bess Flowers?"

...The Landmark Regent Theater in Westwood is closing after 50 years.

...The schedule for the 19th Annual Noir City Hollywood festival is now available, and it's completely amazing. I'll have full details posted here in March.

...Notable Passing: Sad news today, actor Bill Paxton has died suddenly due to complications from heart surgery. Paxton's long career included APOLLO 13 (1995), one of my very favorite films of recent decades, and TOMBSTONE (1993), TWISTER (1996), and many more films and TV shows. I especially enjoyed him in the early days of Marvel's AGENTS OF SHIELD. I'd forgotten that he was present in the audience at a TCM Classic Film Festival screening of STEAMBOAT BILL, JR. (1928) at the 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival, which was captured by friends in an unobtrusive "selfie."

...More Notable Passings: As a fan of the original TV series BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (1978-79), I was very much saddened to learn of the passing of Richard Hatch, who starred as Captain Apollo (seen here in a photo with costar Jane Seymour). He was 71. Hatch also starred in the 2004-2009 GALACTICA reboot, playing a completely different character...Film critic Richard Schickel recently passed on at 84. I frankly have mixed feelings about Schickel's work and opinions, but he was undeniably an important figure and I will always be very appreciative of his early '70s series THE MEN WHO MADE THE MOVIES, which captured my imagination as a young child and helped spur my interest in classic films.

...And More Notable Passings: Longtime TV producer Bruce Lansbury, Angela's younger brother, has passed away at 87. He worked in TV from THE WILD, WILD WEST in the '60s to his sister's long-running MURDER, SHE WROTE in the '90s...Cinematographer Gerald Hirschfeld has died at 95. His credits included TWO-MINUTE WARNING (1976), which I watched earlier this month, along with FAIL-SAFE (1964) and YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974), among other titles...Screenwriter John Gay has died at 92. In addition to feature films such as RUN SILENT RUN DEEP (1958) and SEPARATE TABLES (1958), he wrote a number of good TV-movies such as BERLIN TUNNEL 21 (1981), THE LONG SUMMER OF GEORGE ADAMS (1982), and IVANHOE (1982)...Steven Spielberg's mother Leah Adler, longtime owner of the Los Angeles restaurant The Milky Way, has died at 97.

...For even more classic film links, please visit my February 7th roundup.

Have a great week!

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Tonight's Movie: The Great O'Malley (1937) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Pat O'Brien stars as a rigid policeman, THE GREAT O'MALLEY (1937), available from the Warner Archive.

New York Police Officer James O'Malley knows the legal code inside and out, and he drives the citizens of his district crazy with his inflexible nitpicking. He tells off his own mother (Mary Gordon) for "throwing garbage" when she tosses some bread crumbs to birds!

Thanks to O'Malley's strict focus on the letter of the law over context and substance, John Phillips (Humphrey Bogart) is late to work, loses his job, and becomes a desperate man who ends up in jail.

O'Malley's captain (Donald Crisp) attempts to teach him a lesson by assigning him to school crossing guard duty, where he gets to know Phillips' little girl Barbara (Sybil Jason). Thanks to developing a fondness for Barbara and her teacher (Ann Sheridan), O'Malley decides to try to set things right for Barbara's father, getting him parole and a job.

Over the last couple of years I've been enjoying working my way through Pat O'Brien's filmography, but though I generally like Warner Bros. films of the '30s, in all honesty this is one of their sillier titles. If watching O'Brien be an absolute jerk for over half a movie is your idea of fun, then this is the movie for you! His character is simply insufferable, and due to the prolonged time it takes him to wake up and smell the coffee, this is not an especially pleasant film to watch.

It's fun to see the young Bogart and Sheridan, and Jason is a fairly cute tot, but the bottom line is that this isn't one of the more interesting films from Warner Bros.

The supporting cast also includes Frieda Inescort, Hobart Cavanagh, and Craig Reynolds.

THE GREAT O'MALLEY was directed by William Dieterle and filmed in black and white by Ernest Haller. It runs 71 minutes.

THE GREAT O'MALLEY is a good 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: Death Al Dente: A Gourmet Detective Mystery (2016)

I often like to spread out watching series films, but I found the GOURMET DETECTIVE films so much fun that once I started, I couldn't stop!

This Hallmark Movies & Mysteries TV-movie series begins with THE GOURMET DETECTIVE (2015), followed by THE GOURMET DETECTIVE: A HEALTHY PLACE TO DIE (2015).

DEATH AL DENTE: A GOURMET DETECTIVE MYSTERY (2016) is the third film, with a fourth to follow sometime in 2017.

Like the other films in the series, DEATH AL DENTE was written by star and co executive producer Dylan Neal; I learned from an article that cowriter Becky Southwell is Neal's wife.

This time around San Francisco PD Detective Maggie Price (Brooke Burns) and celebrity chef turned police department consultant Henry Ross (Neal) are solving the murder of a local restaurant owner (Ben Wilkinson).

Suspects abound but Maggie and Henry methodically winnow the list. As their respect for one another grows, they also begin to realize their relationship may become more than professional.

The beginning of Henry and Maggie's romance in the latter part of the film was very rewarding, having watched their relationship evolve over the course of three movies. I'm really looking forward to seeing what's next for them.

There's always a nice mix of action and laughs in these films, with a congenial cast which once again includes Christine Willes and Ali Skovbye as Maggie's mother and daughter, plus Samantha Ferris, Matthew Kevin Anderson, Marc Senior, and Brenda Chrichlow as her colleagues at the SFPD.

DEATH AL DENTE was directed by Terry Ingram.

I'm very much looking forward to the next film in this delightful series.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Tonight's Movie: The Gourmet Detective: A Healthy Place to Die (2015)

Last night I reviewed THE GOURMET DETECTIVE (2015), the first film in a Hallmark Movies & Mysteries series.

Dylan Neal stars as celebrity chef Henry Ross, with Brooke Burns costarring as San Francisco Police Detective Maggie Price.

THE GOURMET DETECTIVE: A HEALTHY PLACE TO DIE (2015) is the second TV-movie in the series, and I found it as engaging as the first.

Henry is scheduled to give a presentation at a cooking conference at a luxury resort, and when his assistant Lucy (Shannon Chan-Kent) has to cancel out of using her suite, Henry offers it to Maggie when her boss (Samantha Ferris) insists she take a vacation.

No one will be surprised that someone attending the conference ends up dead, and Maggie and Henry are soon on the case.

Matthew Kevin Anderson and Marc Senior return as Maggie's colleagues on the force, with Christine Willes as her mom and Ali Skovbye as her daughter.

Suspects in the murder include Hallmark Channel regulars Brendan Penny (CHESAPEAKE SHORES) and Crystal Lowe (SIGNED, SEALED, DELIVERED).

I found this film quite enjoyable. Henry and Maggie still bicker, but their relationship has also become warmer, as they each continue to learn to appreciate one another. The supporting regulars are all charming, and the "foodie" background is a real plus.

THE GOURMET DETECTIVE was directed by Scott Smith. Lead actor Dylan Neal cowrote the script with two partners; Neal was also an executive producer.

Up next in the series: DEATH AL DENTE: A GOURMET DETECTIVE MYSTERY (2016). Another title will air sometime in 2017.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

TCM Launches Noir Alley on March 5th

TCM made an exciting announcement today: Sunday, March 5th, is the launch date for the new TCM franchise, Noir Alley.

Eddie Muller of the Film Noir Foundation will host a film noir every Sunday morning at 7:00 a.m. Pacific Time/10:00 Eastern.

The series launches with THE MALTESE FALCON (1941) on the 5th, followed in succeeding weeks by DETOUR (1945), ACT OF VIOLENCE (1948), and TENSION (1949).

Eddie and Ben Mankiewicz filmed a cute ad on Eddie's new set.

TCM has also launched a @NoirAlley account on Twitter. Follow it for all the latest news on the series, and Tweet using the hashtag #NoirAlley. There is also a Noir Alley Facebook page. Both social media accounts "will feature a constantly refreshed collection of special content, including exclusive videos from Eddie Muller."

The TCM press release quotes Eddie as saying "Film noir offers more than just entertainment. They serve as a vital part of both film and American history and I’m honored to have the opportunity to share these cinematic treasures – from the well-known classics to the unsung gems waiting to be rediscovered – with TCM's community of movie lovers."

The enthusiasm of both Eddie and Alan K. Rode has encouraged me to delve deeper and deeper in film noir, with rewarding results. I'm delighted Eddie will have an expanded opportunity to share his great knowledge and love for the genre with new audiences thanks to TCM. I look forward to congratulating him at the upcoming Noir City Film Festival!

Speaking of Noir City, the schedule just went live this week, and it's completely amazing. I'm going to be spending a lot of time in Hollywood next month! I'll be posting more on the schedule here in March.

Tonight's Movie: The Gourmet Detective (2015)

Dylan Neal stars as THE GOURMET DETECTIVE (2015) for the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Channel.

THE GOURMET DETECTIVE is the first film in a series; two additional films have aired to date, with a fourth planned for 2017.

Neal not only stars in the film, he served as one of the producers and cowrote the film with Becky Southwell, based on a mystery series by Peter King.

Neal plays Henry Ross, a celebrity chef who happens to be at a banquet when one of his colleagues suddenly dies -- possibly deliberately poisoned by seafood. Henry is recruited to serve as a consultant to San Francisco PD Detective Maggie Price, and his keen eye for detail, along with his knowledge of the culinary scene, helps Maggie crack the case.

Neal brings considerable depth to quirky Henry, who's also a past chess champion able to advise Maggie's teenage daughter Abby (Ali Skovbye) when she plays in a tournament. He isn't afraid to be a tad obnoxious, picking up the mess inside Maggie's car or advising her to eat "real food," but he's also quite charming -- especially when he shows up to cook breakfast for Maggie, her daughter, and her mom (Christine Willes).

Fully up with the times, Henry's also a food blogger, aided by his assistant Lucy (Shannon Chan-Kent).

Brooke Burns (THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR) has a tougher role as the uptight Maggie, who challenges Henry from the moment they "meet cute" when she attends his cooking class while on a date. Balancing a stressful job and single parenting, she's on the impatient side and doesn't suffer fools -- or bossy chefs -- gladly, but she gradually warms up to Henry as she comes to appreciate his talents.

The cast also includes Samantha Ferris, Matthew Kevin Anderson, and Marc Senior as Maggie's coworkers at SFPD. All three characters are fun, providing some nice moments of comic relief.

THE GOURMET DETECTIVE was directed by Scott Smith and filmed by James Liston.

Although set in San Francisco, the movie was filmed in Canada, like the majority of Hallmark films.

Fans of classic-era detective series should watch for this one. It's a fun film which can be enjoyed by the entire family.


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Branded (1931)

BRANDED (1931) is a relatively minor Buck Jones Western, though even lesser Jones Westerns have their compensations.

In this one Buck plays the unfortunately named Cuthbert Chauncey Dale, who understandably prefers to go by Tom!

Tom and his pal Swede (John Oscar) are erroneously arrested for the robbery of a stagecoach. They escape and head for the ranch Tom has inherited, but it's out of the frying pan and into the fire, as at one point Tom is accused of rustling.

Ironically, Tom is befriended by the actual stage robber (Wallace MacDonald), who aids Tom and Swede when the going gets tough.

Although I didn't find this one of Jones's more interesting films, there are still some special aspects, including a beautifully staged death scene near the end of the movie.

There are also some fantastic shots of Vasquez Rocks and the Iverson Ranch.

I didn't find leading lady Ethel Kenyon very likeable, but she had an interesting offscreen life. Her first two husbands were Charles Butterworth and director A. Edward Sutherland, before she found longtime happiness in a marriage which lasted over a half century.

There's an interview with Kenyon at the Western Clippings site in which she remembers a few things about the film, including that Jones "seemed very nice."

BRANDED was directed by D. Ross Lederman. It was filmed by Elmer Dyer and Benjamin Kline.

BRANDED is available on DVD from Sony Choice. It's a good print, albeit with the usual "Gail Pictures" title card found on so many Columbia films of the era. You can learn more about that at IMDb.

I rented the movie from ClassicFlix, where there are big changes ahead; the rental section of the site, now called ClassicFlix Underground, is going to be restricted to current and past members, but the company is launching a new Blu-ray line.

2020 Update: This film is now also available in a nine-film Buck Jones DVD set.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

I continue making my way through the Fast and Furious series, intending to be caught up by the time the newest film, THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS (2017), is released this April.

FAST & FURIOUS 6 (2013) is tremendous fun, as good or better than the previous series high point, FAST FIVE (2011).

The series just keeps getting better. The movies have come a long way from the relatively simple street racing of the earliest films; we’re in superhero territory now, and while much of the film may be unbelievable, it’s all grand fun, the perfect mix of action, comedy, and drama...and as a bonus, it's partly set in my favorite city, London. The film may not be "art," per se, but you won't find a better popcorn movie.

This time around Agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) needs the help of retired criminal Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his team in order to take out a criminal (Luke Evans) who's pulled a sophisticated heist with fast cars. The fate of much of the free world may hang in the balance. Or something like that.

The bait for Dom and his "family" is that Hobbs has evidence that Dom's old love Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), thought dead, is still alive. If the gang helps Hobbs, they'll not only find Letty but receive full pardons.

Dom's sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) and ex-cop Brian (Paul Walker) are now parents, but Mia immediately supports Brian aiding Dom in order to "bring Letty home." Also answering the call are Tej (Ludacris), Han (Sung Kang), Gisele (Gal Gadot), and Roman (Tyrese Gibson).

There's just one problem, in that when the Torretto gang goes off to war, they neglect to protect those left behind: Mia, baby Jack, and Dom's girlfriend Elena (Elsa Pataky).

In a dozen years’ worth of movies we’ve gotten to know the large cast and their relationships, and compelling new characters have been added. Could there be a more perfect addition to the cast than Dwayne Johnson as Agent Hobbs? There was a scene 18 minutes in where he took a large gun to a vending machine which had me laughing till I cried.

On one level the movie is completely unbelievable, whether it's characters flying through the air and landing unhurt or a plane trying to take off on what must be the longest runway in the world, based on how long it takes the crew to bring it down.

On another level, though, there's a great deal of down-to-earth heart, camaraderie, and emphasis on family. The continuity and traditions of a dozen years' worth of movies to this point make the movies about much more than just wrecking an unbelievable number of cars. I especially enjoy that grace is always said before meals in these films; indeed, the movie closes with a prayer of thanksgiving, ending with the delightful final line “Thank You for fast cars!”

Not all the characters make it through, and it's sad to see them go; in fact, one meets his end in a “tag” scene mid closing credits, which was a stunner.

It will be hardest of all to say goodbye to Brian with FURIOUS 7 (2015), necessitated by Walker’s tragic death, but by all accounts it is handled beautifully.

FAST & FURIOUS 6 was directed by Justin Lin and filmed by Stephen Windon.

Parental Advisory: FAST & FURIOUS is rated PG-13 for extensive non-graphic (but lethal) cartoon violence, as well as some language and sexuality.

FAST & FURIOUS 6 is available on DVD, Blu-ray, or Amazon Instant Video.

The FAST & FURIOUS 6 trailer is at IMDb.

Previous reviews in this series: THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS (2001), 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS (2003), FAST & FURIOUS (2009) and FAST FIVE (2011). A related film, THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT (2006), takes place after FAST & FURIOUS 6 and will be reviewed in the future along with FURIOUS 7.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Battleground (1949) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

The classic WWII film BATTLEGROUND (1949) is now available on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive.

In a nice coincidence, this film about the siege of Bastogne in late 1944 was on my list of 10 Classics to see in 2017. I just posted the final review from my 2016 list last night, and now my 2017 list is off and running!

BATTLEGROUND is an MGM film directed by William A. Wellman from an Oscar-winning script by associate producer Robert A. Pirosh.

The film is about a section of the 101st Airborne which is trapped in the area of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. The Germans are so close they have even infiltrated the Allies in stolen uniforms. It's constantly snowing, rations are low, and poor flying conditions are preventing relief supplies from being dropped.

The men lean on their friendships and remember their families back home as they struggle for survival. Some will make it through, but many won't.

The movie's look, with the soldiers constantly against a snow white background, is unforgettable, and there are actors to match: Van Johnson, John Hodiak, George Murphy, Ricardo Montalban, Marshall Thompson, James Whitmore, Don Taylor, Herbert Anderson, Leon Ames, Jerome Courtland, Richard Jaeckel, and many more. Their performances are believably low-key, yet they're in the midst of high drama.

It's a tough film to watch, especially as several of the actors' characters don't survive, yet it's so well made you can't quit either. Thinking of the men who actually went through the experience in real life is sobering. It's a great relief when the film's 118 minutes are up and the unit is able to march back from the front.

Much of the movie must have been filmed in soundstages, but it feels authentically cold and miserable. It's a dark, gritty film with superb black and white photography by Paul C. Vogel; his work almost has a documentary look. Vogel deservedly won an Academy Award.

It's interesting to note that some of the cast were no strangers to WWII movies. Johnson, for instance, had starred in THIRTY SECONDS OVER TOKYO (1944), and he and Hodiak were both in COMMAND DECISION (1948) the year before BATTLEGROUND.

Movies like BATTLEGROUND, COMMAND DECISION, or TWELVE O'CLOCK HIGH (1949) seem to have been a way to help the country work through feelings of trauma in the years immediately following the war, while simultaneously paying tribute to those who served.

The BATTLEGROUND Blu-ray is a beautiful print. It imports a trailer, cartoon, and Pete Smith short from the original DVD release.

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

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