Sunday, January 28, 2018

Tonight's Movie: They Met in Bombay (1941) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Clark Gable and Rosalind Russell star in MGM's THEY MET IN BOMBAY (1941), available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

Gable and Russell are quite appealing in this minor yet diverting entertainment. Shades of TROUBLE IN PARADISE (1932), the duo play competing jewel thieves who go into partnership after making off with a fabulous necklace belonging to the Duchess of Beltravers (Jessie Ralph).

After escaping Bombay on a ship captained by Peter Lorre -- and then fleeing from him after a double-cross -- Gerald (Gable) and Anya (Russell) find themselves in China. Gerald's latest money-making scam involves obtaining a British soldier's uniform -- and before you know it, he's roped into helping evacuate British and Chinese citizens when the Japanese invade. Gerald's heroism earns him high military honors; is it time to leave a life of crime behind? And is it even possible?

The movie suffers from an erratic tone, shifting from light crime comedy and witty repartee to more heavy-handed wartime battle scenes, but Gable and Russell hold viewer attention throughout. It's amusing to note that Gable and Russell are described in a telegram as 35 and 25, respectively, when Gable was actually about 40 and Russell 33 when this was filmed. Either way, both actors are at their most attractive and congenial in this film.

The movie is a bit of an oddity for its era in that, while Gerald and Anya make a show of sleeping in separate cabins on Lorre's ship, the pair are clearly living together in China without being married.

On the other hand, they can't keep living a happy life of crime under the Production Code, hence Gerald's conversion to war hero in the final act, with the promise of marriage on the horizon.

The film could have stood trimming a couple of its 92 minutes, but all in all it's a pleasant watch for fans of the lead actors, despite its uneven storytelling. It's almost two different movies for the price of one!

The fine supporting cast includes Eduardo Ciannelli, Reginald Owen, Matthew Boulton, Luis Alberni, Jay Novello, Philip Ahn, Keye Luke, Richard Loo, and Victor Sen Yung.

The movie was directed by Clarence Brown, with black and white photography by William H. Daniels. Russell's fabulous gowns were designed by Adrian.

Except for a few scratches here and there, which are heaviest as the opening credits begin, this is a very nice print. The trailer is included on the disc.

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 Store at Amazon or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Tonight's Movie: A Very Merry Mix-Up (2013)

It's now closer to Lent than Christmas, but I was so busy in December that I've decided to keep right on enjoying some of the Christmas movies I didn't have time for last month!

Spurred on by my great enjoyment of A CHRISTMAS TO REMEMBER (2016) and CHRISTMAS UNDER WRAPS (2014), I decided to watch another Hallmark Channel Christmas film, A VERY MERRY MIX-UP (2013).

A VERY MERRY MIX-UP has some of the same warm overtones and plot devices as the Christmastime favorite WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING (2009), while putting its unique spin on its story of a lonely woman falling in love with both a man and his family.

Brooklyn antique store owner Alice (Alicia Witt) has just become engaged to businessman Will (Scott Gibson), despite her unspoken uncertainty. Will sends her on a flight ahead of his to meet his family for Christmas, intending to follow as soon as he completes a big business deal.

A series of airport disasters knock Alice's phone out of commission and lead her to unexpectedly meet Matt (Mark Wiebe), who thinks Alice's fiance Will is his brother Billy (Justin Mader).

After a hospital detour due to another accident, Matt takes Alice home and she gets to know Matt and Billy's warm parents (Susan Hogan and Richard Fitzpatrick) and grandfather (Lawrence Dane). She relaxes as she feels accepted by and happy with her new fiance's family, though she's disconcerted by her attraction to Matt.

Alice has trouble connecting with Will but isn't too concerned as he's due to arrive soon. Then Billy gets home...and he's not Alice's Will! Alice is embarrassed to realize she's been having a wonderful time with total strangers.

Eventually Will arrives and locates Alice, and she goes home to meet his parents (Judah Katz and Mimi Kuzyk). As she gets to know his family and realizes the things which are really important to Will, all Alice's original uncertainties about their differences now come into sharp focus...but what to do? One guess.

This was quite an enjoyable film. Witt's Alice is just slightly ditzy, especially at the outset, but that impression of her character wanes as she fits in so beautifully with Matt's tradition-loving family. She joins in with cookie baking, game playing, and going for late night walks with gusto. Things at Will's house are decidedly different, though Alice does her best to connect with everyone.

Wiebe is charming as Matt, who feels a pull toward Alice from the first time he sees her in the airport, and all of the senior family members in both families are well played. I hadn't seen Kuzyk (HILL STREET BLUES) in anything in many years, and she was quite amusing as Will's "different" mother.

A VERY MERRY MIX-UP was directed by Jonathan Wright and filmed by Russ Goozee.

I'll be writing about some additional Hallmark films here in the future. I continue to believe that many Hallmark movies, with their enjoyable stories and attractive casts and settings, will also appeal to my fellow classic film fans, and I hope my readers will try some of them out in the future. Put this one on the list to look for on Hallmark Channel next Christmas season!

A VERY MERRY MIX-UP is available on a single-title DVD or as part of a four-film collection. It can also be purchased as a digital film from Amazon. A 30-second ad may be seen on YouTube.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Tumbleweed (1953)

I've had the Audie Murphy Western TUMBLEWEED (1953) in my "watch" stack for quite some time now. I was inspired to get it out this week by my friend Kristina, who just saw it and was enthused. It delivered as promised, a nice solid Western.

Murphy plays Jim Harvey, who is guiding a wagon train for Seth (Ross Elliott) and Sarah (Madge Meredith) Blanden and Sarah's sister Laura (Lori Nelson), along with several men. When Indians attack the train, Jim tries to use the fact he'd saved the life of one of their tribesmen to negotiate, but he's held prisoner while most of the wagon train is massacred. Only the women survive by hiding among the rocks along with Sarah's baby.

Sarah doesn't believe Jim risked his life to try to help them, and her brother-in-law Lam (Russell Johnson) whips the townsfolk into a frenzy, inciting a lynch mob against Jim for dubious reasons. Only the calm sheriff (Chill Wills) is able to keep Jim alive.

Jim is later helped by the Indian (Eugene Iglesias) whose life he'd saved, along with a farm couple (Roy Roberts and K.T. Stevens) who also have faith in Jim. Meanwhile Laura must decide whether to fall into line with her sister and brother-in-law or trust in Jim, who must find a way to clear his name...

This is a compact 79-minute film which does a nice job telling its story in a brisk, entertaining fashion. The cast is quite enjoyable; in addition to the actors already named, the movie features Lee Van Cleef and I. Stanford Jolley as part of the sheriff's posse and Lyle Talbot as a townsman.

Part of the fun of a movie like this is enjoying the different spins on a familiar theme. I especially liked Roberts and Stevens (seen with Murphy above at left), who we learn have special reasons for wanting to help Jim. They provide him with a horse who's as smart as he is ugly, becoming an important ally for Jim.

The movie is as much a love story between man and horse as it is between Jim and Laura, who clearly love each other yet never manage to kiss before the final fadeout! Murphy is good, as always, as a somewhat tightly wound hero who must contend with a long line of life-threatening problems, and Nelson looks lovely in Technicolor.

The movie was directed by Nathan Juran and filmed by Russell Metty. The majority of the film was shot outdoors, with locations including Southern California's Vasquez Rocks and Red Rock Canyon, plus Death Valley further north.

Like too many Murphy Westerns, TUMBLEWEED has not been released on DVD in the United States. It's had a Region 2 release in Europe.

90th Annual Academy Award Nominations

The 90th annual Academy Award nominations were announced this morning.

The complete list of nominees may be found here.

It's nice to see some deserved recognition, such as Saoirse Ronan of LADY BIRD (2017) for Best Actress, Gary Oldman for Best Actor in DARKEST HOUR (2017), COCO (2017) for Best Animated Film, and BABY DRIVER (2017) for Best Editing.

That said, it's hard for me to take seriously a slate of nominees which doesn't bother to give a single nomination to WIND RIVER (2017), which had a superb lead performance by Jeremy Renner and outstanding cinematography by Ben Richardson.

I saw many more new films than usual last year, but between the Oscars always making some baffling choices and the ceremony itself tending to feel more like a political rally, my interest is limited to looking over the nominations and letting it go at that. As usual on Oscar night, I'll be celebrating my love of movies by...watching a movie!

Winners will be announced on March 4th.

Previous Oscar nomination posts: 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017. There was no Oscar post in 2009.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Nutcracker: The Motion Picture (1986) - An Olive Films Blu-ray Review

NUTCRACKER: THE MOTION PICTURE (1986) was released on Blu-ray and DVD by Olive Films just before Christmas.

Thanks to a busy Christmas season I'm just now catching up with this seasonal favorite, which is also known as PACIFIC NORTHWEST BALLET'S NUTCRACKER.

I was interested in seeing the movie due to my love for dance and the Tschaikovsky music, as well as the fact it was directed by Carroll Ballard, best known for THE BLACK STALLION (1979).

NUTCRACKER was shot by Stephen H. Burum as essentially a theatrical production put on film, framed with some oddball sequences and unattractive special effects. The soundtrack was recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra.

I probably should have been warned off by the fact that the production was designed by Maurice Sendak of WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. NUTCRACKER can always be a little "out there," as it's a fantasy with a broken Nutcracker, a Mouse King and such -- but this rendition is quite dark, with frankly creepy sexual overtones I didn't care for.

The ballet is the creation of the toymaker Drosselmeyer (High Bigney), taking place in a miniature theatre he builds, and he and his surroundings are downright ugly, kind of a negative assault on the senses.

The big group numbers are more traditional and some are quite appealing to watch; the Waltz of the Flowers is a superb standout, combining exquisite costuming and dancing. If only the movie were that beautiful for its entire 89 minutes!

Young Clara is danced by Vanessa Sharp, with Patricia Barker as an older Dream Clara. (The ballet seemed to be a dream within a dream within a dream...I lost track!) Julie Harris provides some narration, but most of the soundtrack is simply music; the sound quality is good.

The picture is fairly grainy at times, with miniaturized characters in special effects sequences coming off quite poorly. I suspect that's more how the original movie looked than any fault of the Blu-ray. There are no extras.

It's rather a shame this film was such a misfire...I think I'll go watch the Kirkland-Baryshnikov version from years ago as a palate cleanser!

Thanks to Olive Films for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.

Tonight's Movie: The Red Danube (1949) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Walter Pidgeon heads a fine cast in THE RED DANUBE (1949), available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

I feel THE RED DANUBE, set in Rome and Vienna, fits into the "European postwar film noir" subgenre also occupied by films such as BERLIN EXPRESS (1948) or THE DEVIL MAKES THREE (1952).

I doubt the filmmakers left the MGM lot, but the movie captures a bleak, unsettled time in war-ravaged Europe as the Allies tried to sort out lingering issues. The plot was inspired by Operation Keelhaul, part of the Yalta agreement, when Allied soldiers were forced to repatriate Soviet citizens found in their zones. These Russians very often had no desire to return to the Soviet Union, and some were executed as unfaithful Communists.

A pair of British officers, Col. Nicobar (Pidgeon) and his aide Major McPhimister (Peter Lawford), find themselves having to turn over a young Russian ballerina (Janet Leigh), found in the British zone of Vienna, to the Soviets. This is particularly painful for McPhimister, as he has quickly fallen in love with the girl.

She later escapes and the British soldiers throw the book away and attempt to hide her with the help of a nun (Ethel Barrymore)...but a Russian colonel (Louis Calhern) is on her trail and won't give up.

The cast also includes a bright and chipper Angela Lansbury as a WREN who works with Pidgeon and Lawford. Lansbury and Leigh were about 23 and 21, respectively, when the movie was filmed. The cast also includes Alan Napier, Robert Coote, Melville Cooper, Francis L. Sullivan, and Janine Perreau.

THE RED DANUBE is a somewhat interesting and even educational film about a brief time in postwar history, although it runs too long at 119 minutes. A tighter script and editing might have resulted in a better film if it were about 15 minutes shorter; I grew impatient for the wrap-up in the final half hour.

That said, the movie does have its rewards, including Pidgeon's atheist military man, bitter at losing a son and an arm, having deep religious discussions with the Mother Superior. That doesn't seem like something likely to be found in a modern film. That said, reducing or eliminating that angle also might have resulted in a better-paced movie.

The film was shot in black and white by Charles Rosher (SCARAMOUCHE). Most of the film has a stark, drab look, but Rosher periodically inserts loving tight closeups of the glowing young Leigh and Lawford, who bring some beauty and romance to what is for the most part a rather tough film.

This was one of a half dozen releases Leigh was in in 1949, including LITTLE WOMEN (1949), which also starred Lawford; Leigh and Lawford also later worked together on a minor romantic comedy, JUST THIS ONCE (1952).

The screenplay by Gina Kaus and Arthur Wimperis was based on the novel VESPERS IN VIENNA by Bruce Marshall. Producer Carey Wilson also did uncredited work on the script.

The movie was directed by George Sidney. Miklos Rozsa composed the score.

The Warner Archive DVD is a remastered print which looks very good, even downright outstanding at certain points. The only extra is 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 or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...It's been quite a while since my last link roundup. Here we go with some catching up!

...Friday evening I rewatched Van Heflin in GRAND CENTRAL MURDER (1942), which I reviewed here in 2007. Kind of a silly plot, but the movie looks great and has a marvelous cast, including Virginia Grey, Sam Levene, and Cecilia Parker; you can guess it will be a fun film when names like Tom Conway and Stephen (aka Horace) McNally don't even show up until around tenth billing! Even further down in the credits are marvelous character actor faves like Millard Mitchell, Frank Ferguson, and Arthur Space. The first time I saw the movie was thanks to TCM; it's now available from the Warner Archive.

...The annual O Canada Blogathon is coming up! It will be hosted by Kristina of Speakeasy and Ruth of Silver Screenings from February 9-11. I'm signed up to write about the Russell Hayden-Adele Mara "B" Western ("Northerner"!) RIDERS OF THE NORTHWEST MOUNTED (1943).

...Another great-looking blogathon is on tap for February: The Singing Sweethearts Blogathon, celebrating Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, will take place at Pure Entertainment Preservation Society from February 12-14.

...TCM's FilmStruck streaming service will be going international. TCM is teaming with Warner Bros. on the venture, which will be branded FilmStruck Curzon in the UK.

...A very exciting series is coming to the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York next month: Martin Scorsese Presents Republic Rediscovered: New Restorations from Paramount Pictures. The series takes place February 1-15, with a second part scheduled for August 9-23. Paramount is currently restoring the Republic library, which will be "returned to wide distribution." Kino Lorber has been releasing some great-looking restored Republic titles of late, with the wonderful Ray Milland Western A MAN ALONE (1955) among the titles coming this year. Toby Roan of 50 Westerns From the 50s has worked on commentaries for some of the Kino releases, including the upcoming SINGING GUNS (1950), and says "the quality of the material coming out of Paramount is incredible."

...Speaking of Toby, he's providing the commentary for Kino's February release of the silent film THE COVERED WAGON (1923), which I anticipate reviewing here next month.

...A batch of pre-Codes is on the way from the Warner Archive in early February, including Loretta Young and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in I LIKE YOUR NERVE (1931) and Warren William, Joan Blondell, and Genevieve Tobin in GOODBYE AGAIN (1933). Check out the Archive's pre-order page for upcoming titles.

...For those who love "Malt Shop Novels" by authors such as Anne Emery, Lenora Mattingly Weber, Rosamund du Jardin, and Betty Cavanna, the New York Times recently ran an article on Image Cascade, which has been republishing the books for the last two decades.

...Fantastic news: THE MAN WHO CHEATED HIMSELF (1950), which I loved at last year's Noir City Hollywood Festival, has now been restored by the Film Noir Foundation and UCLA. It will screen on Turner Classic Movies in June, to be followed by a Blu-ray release from Flicker Alley, with extras produced by the Film Noir Foundation. Flicker Alley and the FNF did a fantastic job on their Blu-ray releases of TOO LATE FOR TEARS (1949) and WOMAN ON THE RUN (1950) so this is great news all the way around. THE MAN WHO CHEATED HIMSELF stars Lee J. Cobb, Jane Wyatt, and John Dall and features great San Francisco locations, which I visited last summer (photos here).

...Coming in May from Rowman & Littlefield: THE ESSENTIAL JAMES GARNER by Stephen H. and Paul J. Ryan. "This book looks at the key feature films, made-for-television movies, and television episodes of Garner’s career...The authors also highlight the best episodes of Garner’s two iconic television shows, MAVERICK and THE ROCKFORD FILES."

...Coming to public television's MASTERPIECE THEATRE in May, the BBC's new production of LITTLE WOMEN. Emily Watson plays Marmee, Michael Gambon is Mr. Laurence, and Angela Lansbury portrays Aunt March. Dylan Baker, who memorably played suspected murderer Colin Sweeney in several episodes of THE GOOD WIFE, is an interesting casting choice as Mr. March.

...I periodically link to the Mystery File blog and encourage my readers to check it out regularly, as periodically there are some interesting film reviews, such as CRIME WAVE (1954), SEVEN WAYS FROM SUNDOWN (1960), and A GENTLEMAN AFTER DARK (1942).

...Attention Southern Californians: The series Working Girls: America's Career Women on Screen opens at UCLA on Friday, February 2nd and runs through March 24th. The series will run concurrently with the ongoing Michael Curtiz retrospective. Titles include WORKING GIRL (1988), SHE MARRIED HER BOSS (1935), BABY FACE (1933), DESK SET (1957), THE BEST OF EVERYTHING (1959), and 9 to 5 (1980).

...Notable Passings: Bradford Dillman, whose career in films and TV spanned four decades, has passed on at 87. His passing comes less than a month after the death of his PIRANHA (1978) costar Heather Menzies. Director Joe Dante Tweeted a nice photo of Dillman and Menzies on the set along with Kevin McCarthy...Mouseketeer Doreen Tracey passed on at 74. I was fortunate to meet her at a Destination D event back in 2010; a couple of photos are at the link...Actress Heather North recently died at 71. North starred with Kurt Russell in Disney's THE BAREFOOT EXECUTIVE (1971), voiced Daphne in the SCOOBY-DOO cartoons, and appeared in DAYS OF OUR LIVES. Her husband was the late soap opera producer-director Wes Kenney...Actor Rance Howard, the father of Ron and Clint Howard, died in late November at the age of 89...A belated tip of the cap to actor John Hillerman, who was so memorable on the ELLERY QUEEN (1975-76) and MAGNUM, P.I. (1980-88) TV series. Hillerman passed on in November at the age of 84.

Have a great week!

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Battle Cry (1955) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

Aldo Ray and Nancy Olson head an excellent cast in BATTLE CRY (1955), recently released on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive.

BATTLE CRY is a film I've been wanting to catch up with for quite a while now. I love the cast, and it came highly recommended by both my father and my friend Blake Lucas. It did not disappoint!

Watching it this weekend was all the more appropriate given that one of the stars is Dorothy Malone, who passed on yesterday. Today I enjoyed a Malone double bill in her honor, also watching her in the Tim Holt Western SADDLE LEGION (1951). Incidentally, BATTLE CRY still has a number of surviving cast members, including Olson, Tab Hunter, L.Q. Jones, Allyn Ann McLerie, and Tommy Cook.

BATTLE CRY was directed by Raoul Walsh from a screenplay by Leon Uris, based on his novel. It's the story of a green class of Marine recruits who go through training in San Diego right after Pearl Harbor. Over the course of just under two and a half hours we get to know the men and see how the war impacts their relationships, which are begun, ended, or tested due to wartime upheaval and travels.

The film moves somewhat episodically through the different men's stories. Danny (Hunter) briefly has a fling with an officer's wife (Dorothy Malone) he meets at the USO, but soon comes to his senses and returns to his loyal sweetheart (Mona Freeman) back home.

Quiet Marion (John Lupton), an aspiring writer, meets a mysterious girl (Anne Francis) on a boat, later learning shocking news about her, and Ski (William Campbell) is crushed by a Dear John letter from his girlfriend (Susan Morrow). I especially liked Lupton's character, a bookworm who goes his own way and eventually strikes up an unlikely friendship with the unit bully, Joe (Perry Lopez).

Eventually the film lands on the best story, which it tells in the greatest depth: Love 'em and leave 'em lumberjack Andy (Ray), who laughs at the idea of being a one-woman man, falls head over heels for a sweet war widow (Olson) in New Zealand.

If there was any actor in a uniform more adorable than Ray in this film and the same year's THREE STRIPES IN THE SUN (1955), I don't know who it could be. He's completely winning, paired with Olson, an actress who can do no wrong. I would have been satisfied with a movie which was only about their characters, although it's to the movie's credit that the rest of it continues to be enjoyable even when we leave their story from time to time.

The cast is rounded out by Van Heflin as the commanding officer and James Whitmore as a sergeant, with Raymond Massey briefly turning up as Heflin's superior. Fess Parker is also on hand as one of the Marines, occasionally strumming a guitar in the background.

The entire cast does well, including Malone, whose character throws caution to the wind and breaks out of her "responsible club woman" mold due to her attraction to Danny. Her shock when she realizes their fling will come to an end is quite affecting. Malone's character disappears once the men ship out of San Diego, but she's not forgotten.

Freeman is also appealing as Danny's hometown love, who has her suspicions about Danny's behavior when he was in San Diego but continues to love him anyway. Freeman and Hunter surmount an incredibly fake beach set in order to play a moving love scene.

I've read a couple reviews which felt that viewers are shortchanged by the abbreviated battle scenes, but those scenes being limited is one of the reasons I liked it. It's not so much a war film, though of course the war is always present, but rather it's a film about navigating relationships during a time in everyone's lives like no other. In theme and tone it rather reminded me of Robert Wise's UNTIL THEY SAIL (1957), which like much of this film is focused on the romances of soldiers in the Allied forces who are stationed in New Zealand.

BATTLE CRY was effectively scored by Max Steiner.

The movie was shot in CinemaScope and WarnerColor by Sid Hickox. The Warner Archive Blu-ray print looks terrific. The disc includes the trailer as the lone extra.

I really enjoyed this film, and while it's still early days, I wouldn't be surprised if it were to end up on my annual list of Favorite Discoveries. Recommended.

May 2020 Update: The Warner Archive has now also reissued this film on DVD.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

Tonight's Movie: Saddle Legion (1951)

It seemed fitting to watch a movie this weekend in honor of Dorothy Malone, who passed away yesterday.

Thanks to my friend Jerry for reminding me that Dorothy was in a Tim Holt Western I hadn't seen yet, SADDLE LEGION (1951), which is available from the Warner Archive in the Tim Holt Western Classics Collection Vol. 3.

SADDLE LEGION is a typically good-looking Holt Western, largely filmed at the Jack Garner Ranch in Southern California's San Jacinto Mountains. The Holt films regularly filmed there, as well as much further north in Lone Pine.

Dave (Holt) and Chito (Richard Martin) sign on as cowhands with Fred Warren (Cliff Clark). They uncover a plot by several crooks to fool Warren into thinking his cattle have a deadly disease, after which the bad guys plan to make off with the herd.

The villains include perennial Western baddie Robert J. Wilke; seeing his familiar face always makes me smile. Wilke appeared in a number of Holt's Westerns.

Dorothy Malone plays a frontier doctor who comes to share Dave and Chito's suspicions about the herd's "disease" and helps to unravel the mystery. Malone makes the most of her scenes in this short film, which runs only an hour long. It's nice to see her confidently playing a character who was groundbreaking for the era, decades before Jane Seymour's DR. QUINN made it to TV.

Also in the cast is Movita as a saloon dancer who flirts with Chito. Movita had played Tehani in MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY (1935). She also appeared in the Holt Western THE MYSTERIOUS DESPERADO (1949).

The cast also includes Robert Livingston, Mauritz Hugo, James Bush, Stanley Andrews, Dick Foote, and Monte Montegue.

SADDLE LEGION was briskly filmed by Lesley Selander, with attractive black and white filming by J. Roy Hunt. The Warner Archive print is really beautiful.

Incidentally, I have no idea why the movie was named SADDLE LEGION. Sometimes it seems like the studio was desperate to come up with Western titles and used anything!

I have several more Dorothy Malone films in my "to watch" stack and hope to review another of her films soon.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Notable Passings: Dorothy Malone and Jean Porter

Very sad news today for classic film fans: Oscar-winning actress Dorothy Malone has passed away at the age of 92.

She would have been 93 on January 30th.

Malone would doubtless be beloved to Golden Era fans if only for one scene, wherein she plays the bookstore clerk who memorably flirts with Humphrey Bogart in THE BIG SLEEP (1946):

Her career, of course, was much more than that, including her Academy Award winning role in Douglas Sirk's WRITTEN ON THE WIND (1956) and her work in so many enjoyable Westerns and film noir titles, such as SOUTH OF ST. LOUIS (1949)...

...and PUSHOVER (1954), below with Phil Carey:

For more on Dorothy Malone's career, I invite my readers to visit a birthday tribute I wrote three years ago.

Survivors included her two daughters from her marriage to actor Jacques Bergerac (GIGI).

Obituaries may be found at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety.

A few days ago the death of effervescent actress Jean Porter was announced. She was 95.

Porter, the widow of director Edward Dmytryk, was in a number of MGM films of the '40s, including THE YOUNGEST PROFESSION (1943) and TWICE BLESSED (1945), and she had a terrific supporting role in the film noir CRY DANGER (1951).

Porter also had typically bubbly roles as "the girl next door" to Guy Madison in TILL THE END OF TIME (1946) and as Shirley Temple's best friend in THAT HAGEN GIRL (1947).

She was survived by two daughters and a stepson.

An obituary was published by The Hollywood Reporter.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Undertow (1949)

I've been meaning to watch UNDERTOW (1949) for quite a while now. It's a Universal Pictures film noir with an appealing cast. I finally pulled it off the shelf thanks to my friend John Knight including it on his list of 2017's Favorite Discoveries at the Rupert Pupkin Speaks blog.

For me it's hard to beat a movie starring Scott Brady and John Russell, who costarred the same year in a favorite little Western, THE GAL WHO TOOK THE WEST (1949), along with Peggy Dow and Dorothy Hart as the leading ladies. Both actresses have short filmographies and I hope to eventually work my way through both lists!

For those who may be unaware, Brady is the younger brother of noir icon Lawrence Tierney (DILLINGER, BORN TO KILL). Brady himself was a reliable noir lead with titles like the classic HE WALKED BY NIGHT (1948) as well as I WAS A SHOPLIFTER (1950) among his credits.

Brady plays Tony Reagan, a recently discharged vet who plans to go into business with a deceased buddy's father at a lodge outside Reno. First, though, he needs to fly from Reno to Chicago and reunite with his long-unseen fiancee Sally (Hart).

There's only one problem: Sally's Uncle Jim, a bigtime mobster, turned down Tony marrying Sally years ago. Sally suggests that they elope but Tony plans to be up front and ask Jim's permission again; however, before he can do that, he's framed for Jim's murder. His only help comes from Ann (Dow), a nice Chicago-area teacher he'd briefly met in Reno, and his old pal on the Chicago police force, Detective Reckling (Bruce Bennett).

The movie is a brisk 71 minutes and it's pretty easy to guess whodunit, although I admit I was confused by one character initially seeming to be on Tony's side even when on camera alone. Shouldn't we have been clued in to the fakery in those moments? Of course, then it wouldn't have been such an interesting reveal later on in the movie...

The four leads are all good, with particular kudos to the fresh-faced, earnest Dow in her film debut. She only made eight additional films, including THE SLEEPING CITY (1950), HARVEY (1950), and YOU NEVER CAN TELL (1951); she retired after 1951 for marriage and motherhood, raising five sons in Oklahoma.

Hart similarly was out of films by the mid-'50s, after which she moved to New York and worked with the United Nations; she had one son.

I always enjoy Bennett, who was in the terrific MYSTERY STREET (1950) right after this one. Even more fun: A detective who walks in and discusses evidence with Bennett is one Roc Hudson, in his second film. It looks like this was the only film in which his name was spelled that way, if IMDb is accurate.

Character actors who pop up in the film include Thomas Browne Henry, Almira Sessions, Marjorie Bennett, and Francis Pierlot. The telegraph clerk was Anne P. Kramer, who was married at one point to director Stanley Kramer.

UNDERTOW was directed by William Castle. It was filmed in black and white by Irving Glassberg and, per IMDb, the uncredited Clifford Stine.

UNDERTOW is available on DVD from the TCM Vault Collection as a single title or in the Dark Crimes: Film Noir Thrillers Vol. 2 collection.

Update: UNDERTOW has been released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber in April 2023, as part of the Dark Side of Cinema XII Collection.  My review of the Blu-ray may be read here.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Tonight's Movie: All the Brothers Were Valiant (1953) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Robert Taylor, Stewart Granger, and Ann Blyth star in the seafaring adventure ALL THE BROTHERS WERE VALIANT (1953), available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

Thanks to recent discussion in the comments here I intend to review Taylor and Granger's Western THE LAST HUNT (1956) in the fairly near future. Before watching that for the first time, however, I wanted to return to ALL THE BROTHERS WERE VALIANT, which I hadn't seen in over a dozen years.

ALL THE BROTHERS WERE VALIANT tells the story of Joel Shore (Taylor), a seaman from 19th century New Bedford, Massachusetts. Joel returns home from a long voyage to discover his brother Mark (Granger) didn't come back from his last voyage and is presumed dead. Joel also finds Priscilla (Blyth), the beautiful granddaughter of his friend Captain Holt (Lewis Stone), all grown up and eager to marry him.

Joel is named captain of Mark's old ship and takes his bride Priscilla with him on his next whaling voyage, which is anticipated to last at least a couple of years. When the ship arrives in the South Pacific, who should turn up but Mark. Unfortunately things don't go well between the brothers...Mark had routinely taken away Joel's toys when they were children, and now he wants two things which are much more important, his ship and his wife.

There is much to like about this film, starting with the stirring theme music by Miklos Rozsa; I'd go so far as to say it might be worth watching the film at least once just for the score! The film was beautifully shot in Technicolor by the Oscar-nominated George Folsey, and the Warner Archive DVD looks especially good. I suspect it may be a remastered print but could not find confirmation.

When I first saw the movie years ago it was one of the first Taylor films I'd seen, and I found his character a little too stoic compared to the more flamboyant Granger. Viewed now, with more context, I really appreciate Taylor's restrained performance. Both actor and character have a quiet confidence which contrasts effectively with Granger's animated persona.

Blyth is enjoyable as Priscilla; I especially liked her exuberance in a scene where she climbs to the ship's crow's nest for the first time. Her character is young and innocent enough that it's believable she's able to be somewhat manipulated by Mark. Blyth looks beautiful in Technicolor, wearing dresses by Walter Plunkett.

Where the movie falls short is in its central conflict between Joel and Mark. I like Granger tremendously in films such as KING SOLOMON'S MINES (1950), SCARAMOUCHE (1952), and GUN GLORY (1957), but here he's entirely too believable as a total heel, to the point I grew weary of his character's screen time.

Mark is briefly sympathetic in a mid-movie romantic flashback sequence with Betta St. John, playing an unnamed native girl; however, that sympathy only goes so far -- what kind of man marries a woman and doesn't know her name? Unfortunately the flashback sequence goes on so long it becomes tedious and rather grinds the 95-minute movie to a halt.

Mostly, the viewer just wants Mark to go away and leave Joel and Priscilla to be happy again. Mark is a bad boy without much rhyme or reason; I suppose he was just born that way, but his special brand of evil isn't all that interesting.

Honestly, the movie would have been a lot more fun if it had simply been Joel and Priscilla's adventures at sea! All in all it's a film I enjoy and found worth watching a second time, but it's not wholly successful.

It is worth noting that the special effects for this film are quite good; a whaling sequence obviously uses process shots and a tank, but it's done particularly well. Likewise a storm scene manages to be quite believable despite being filmed on a soundstage. Location scenes were filmed in Jamaica.

The movie was directed by Richard Thorpe. Harry Brown's screenplay was based on a novel by Ben Ames Williams.

The supporting cast includes Keenan Wynn, Lewis Stone, James Whitmore, Leo Gordon, Michael Pate, Kurt Kasznar, Peter Whitney, James Bell, and John Doucette.

For more on this movie, please visit a typically thoughtful analysis by Jacqueline at Another Old Movie Blog.

The Warner Archive DVD 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 Amazon or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

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