Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Desire (1936)

Last year I picked up the four-film Universal Hollywood Icons Marlene Dietrich Collection for a few dollars on Amazon. It was certainly a deal, at under $2.50 a movie.

This weekend, inspired by a Twitter recommendation, I pulled the set off the shelf and popped DESIRE (1936), a romantic comedy starring Dietrich and Gary Cooper, into our DVD player. To say it was delightful is an understatement. It was produced by Ernst Lubitsch and directed by Frank Borzage, leading me to wonder how I had missed seeing it previously!

(Well, honestly, I probably missed it because I used to be more resistant to watching Dietrich films, but I'm getting over that, and a film like DESIRE is part of the reason why.)

Dietrich plays Madeleine, a jewel thief who pulls off an elaborate heist of an expensive pearl necklace, confounding both a jeweller (Ernest Cossart) and a psychiatrist (Alan Mowbray) she involves in her scheme.

As she escapes from Paris to Spain Madeleine is forced by circumstances to hide the necklace in the pocket of unsuspecting engineer Tom Bradley (Cooper), a vacationing American. Misadventures with both his car and the necklace follow, as the couple fall in love.

Will Madeleine trust Tom enough to tell him the truth, and can he free her from the clutches of her crooked confederates (John Halliday and Zeffie Tilbury)? What do you think?

This was such a fun film, from the ingenious robbery, which leaves doctor and jeweler babbling at each other as the light only slowly dawns on them, to the final dinner table confrontation between Tom and Carlos (Halliday). There's a bit with a gun in that scene which is absolutely priceless.

Some classic film fans like to say that "Paris by Paramount" was better than the real thing, and this film is certainly a great exemplar of that. The set designs for both Paris and Spain, along with Dietrich's Travis Banton gowns, are all stunningly beautiful. The film is a feast for the eyes as well as being rib-ticklingly amusing and romantic.

DESIRE was filmed by Charles Lang and the uncredited Victor Milner and runs 95 minutes.

A side note: The physical discs themselves in this Universal set are quite visually pleasing, designed in a beautiful shade of pink. It's not often I pay much attention to the DVD design but I really appreciated the set's appealing look.

DESIRE is also available at a higher price as a single-title DVD release in the Universal Vault Collection.

2021 Update: DESIRE will be released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber in August 2021.  Extras will include two separate commentary tracks.  My review of the Blu-ray is here.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (2017) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

The excellent documentary BOMBSHELL: THE HEDY LAMARR STORY (2017) is now available on Blu-ray and DVD from Kino Lorber.

BOMBSHELL was written and directed by Alexandra Dean. I found it to be extremely well done, in the upper echelon of documentaries I've watched in the last few years.

There probably isn't any film fan who hasn't heard by now of of the unusual story of Hedy Lamarr, who in addition to being one of the most gloriously beautiful actresses ever in films was an inventor who came up with the concept of "frequency hopping," hoping to help the military during WWII. Although the Navy turned down using her plans, created to help protect torpedoes from enemy destruction, frequency hopping now forms the basis for wi-fi, Bluetooth, and other technologies.

Although I've always been quite a fan of the actress, I wondered if there would be enough material, particularly on her inventions, to fill an 88-minute documentary. There definitely is, thanks in large part to the discovery of tapes of a phone interview the actress gave in her later years, in which she comments extensively on her life as well as her inventions.

Hedy has quite a number of interesting stories to tell, including escaping from her first husband, a munitions manufacturer in Nazi Austria; having been in danger under Hitler due to her Jewish heritage, she (perhaps protectively) ignored that part of her background once in Hollywood, while giving her all to the war effort once the U.S. was involved, including war bond tours and volunteering at the Hollywood Canteen.

Other notable times in her life included dazzling Louis B. Mayer into a $2000-a-month contract, despite not speaking a word of English; studying books on fish and birds in order to advise Howard Hughes on airplane wing design; and of course, frequency hopping, on which she worked with composer George Antheil.

Film and newsreel footage and the Lamarr interview tapes are supplemented with well-chosen "talking head" interviews; in addition to her children, interviewees included film historians Jeanine Basinger and Jan-Christopher Horak and the late Robert Osborne, who was a friend of Lamarr's.

The only aspect missing in the film is covering her career in greater depth; some films are looked at in detail, including those she produced, while others are quickly glossed over or ignored. She really was a much finer actress than given credit for at the time, and I would have enjoyed the film acknowledging that, but it's hard to find a documentary which covers absolutely everything on a topic, and this is really a minor quibble regarding a fine film.

Lamarr's life, though fascinating, was not without great sadness: Failed marriages, including an ex-husband who walked away from relationships with their children; what she called a "failed adoption," sending a difficult child to boarding school, where he was quasi-adopted by a school staff member; drug use, probably facilitated by MGM in order for her to function during long work hours; and mental health issues. As she aged and lost the beauty for which she was famous, she turned to plastic surgery and ultimately cut herself off from significant people in her life, becoming something of a hermit who wanted to be remembered as the beauty she had once been.

Blu-ray extras include a trailer, outtakes, and an interview with the director.

A special note: I'll be hosting a giveaway of a copy of this recommended Blu-ray in the near future. Stay tuned for details! (Update: Click here to enter. Must enter by June 15th, 2018!)

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.

Tonight's Movie: Stolen Holiday (1937) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Kay Francis stars in STOLEN HOLIDAY (1937), available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

I've been enjoying working my way through the Warner Archive's collection of Kay Francis films and found STOLEN HOLIDAY quite entertaining. It's an 80-minute film directed at a good pace by Michael Curtiz; it also happens to be the first of many films in which Curtiz directed Claude Rains.

Regular Francis costar Ian Hunter rounds out the cast. Hunter might not have been the most charismatic star on the Warner Bros. roster but I've always had a soft spot for him, perhaps owing a bit to his casting as King Richard in one of my very favorite movies, THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938).

Kay plays Nicole Picot, a fashion model approached by Russian con man Stefan Orloff (Rains). Orloff wants Nicole to host a dinner for some financiers with him; he believes she'll help lend him "class" and believability and persuade them to back him.

Nicole doesn't realize that Stefan's business isn't legal and as his success grows, she's grateful to him for getting her started in her own fashion business -- and ultimately repays every penny.

Nicole falls in love with Anthony (Hunter), but when trouble with the law looms for Stefan and he asks Nicole to marry him, hoping that his wedding to the dazzling and popular Nicole will help deflect legal scrutiny, she feels obligated to agree.

STOLEN HOLIDAY is what might be thought of as a typical Kay Francis movie, where she suffers nobly in glorious gowns by Orry-Kelly, beautifully filmed in black and white by Sid Hickcox. Kay has a great scene early in the film where she engineers an "entrance" into a charity ball, descending a staircase with her gown flowing behind her, which is breathtaking.

Her relationship with the Rains character has an interesting dynamic, not based in love but deep friendship and trust, which sadly is ultimately broken. (The Rains part of the story was inspired by a true-life scandal.) I also liked her comfortable relationship with Hunter; their characters have fun together and the actors seem to be having a genuinely good time as well.

STOLEN HOLIDAY may not be a classic, but it succeeds in doing what it sets out to do, entertain its audience. I had a good time watching it.

The supporting cast includes Alison Skipworth, Walter Kingsford, Alexander D'Arcy, and Charles Halton.

The Warner Archive print is somewhat soft, with periodic streaks and speckles, but is otherwise smooth and watchable, with a strong soundtrack. The 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 the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

On Memorial Day

Remembering today, with deepest gratitude, the brave men and women who have given their all for our nation and our freedom.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Under the Gun (1951) at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival

UNDER THE GUN (1951) was another not-on-DVD film shown at this year's Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival.

Half of the dozen films shown at this year's festival aren't on DVD. (One of those films, THE MAN WHO CHEATED HIMSELF, will be out from Flicker Alley later in 2018.) Additionally, one of the six films available for home viewing was a beautiful new restoration which looks worlds better than anything else currently available, so the festival is a terrific opportunity for film noir fans in more ways than one.

UNDER THE GUN was the first film shown on Sunday, introduced by historian Foster Hirsch. As I mentioned in my festival overview, I really enjoy the way Hirsch points to visuals and themes to be watching for in movies, and he also poses questions and invites the audience to share our opinions with him after the movie. Along with Alan K. Rode and Eddie Muller, Hirsch adds a great deal to the audience's appreciation of each film.

UNDER THE GUN is a bit unusual in that lead actor Richard Conte, as mobster Bert Galvin, can't even be called an anti-hero. He's an out-and-out villain, leaving the audience to root for a pair of supporting actors, Audrey Totter's nightclub singer in distress and John McIntire's dogged sheriff.

Galvin spots Ruth (Totter) singing in a Florida nightclub and insists she come with him to the Big Apple, where she'll find fame and fortune. Ruth is reluctant but Galvin won't take no for an answer, so she decides to take him up on the offer.

Early in the road trip north, however, Galvin takes care of some business and offs someone, claiming it was self-defense. The authorities are ready to let Galvin go, but Ruth finds she can't go along with it and tells the authorities what really happened, leading to Galvin being sent up the proverbial river.

At this point the film becomes somewhat like prison films of old (HELL'S HIGHWAY, anyone?), complete with sweat box punishment and a work crew. This section of the film was the least interesting to me, as prison films simply don't appeal to me that much.

Galvin works his way up to being a prison trustee who monitors the work crew with a gun. It transpires that if a trustee shoots an escaping prisoner, the trustee is released from prison, and thanks to Galvin shooting a friend (Sam Jaffe) -- it's a long story -- he's soon a free man. This isn't good news for Ruth.

This wasn't one of my favorite films of the festival just because of the prison angle, but at the same time it had some unique and interesting aspects which definitely made it worthwhile. In the film's favor, it runs a quick 83 minutes, and it has some terrific Florida locations. I especially appreciated Shepperd Strudwick's turn as Galvin's Southern attorney, chosen so as not to alienate the locals, and McIntire, always really good, is excellent here as the sheriff.

Though Totter is missing for a big chunk of the movie, I liked her character's guts, both telling the truth about the killing early on, and then standing up to Galvin when he's holding her hostage at the end of the movie, telling him he can shoot her but she's not going with him another step. Yay Audrey!

UNDER THE GUN was directed by Ted Tetzlaff, who also directed a personal favorite of mine, RIFFRAFF (1947). It was filmed in black and white by Henry Freulich and John Herman.

Coming soon: A review of another film I saw for the first time at the festival, FLAMINGO ROAD (1949).

Tonight's Movie: Hope and Glory (1987) - An Olive Films Blu-ray Review

HOPE AND GLORY (1987) is a semi-autobiographical film about the London Blitz during WWII, written and directed by John Boorman.

It was released on Blu-ray and DVD late last month by Olive Films.

The story is told from the perspective of young Bill (Sebastian Rice-Edwards), who lives in the London area with his parents (Sarah Miles and David Hayman), older sister Dawn (Sammi Davis, later in the HOMEFRONT TV series), and little sister Sue (Geraldine Muir).

Some of Bill's experiences were inspired by writer-director Boorman's own childhood in WWII. In an episodic series of sequences, we follow Bill's reactions as war is declared, his father enlists, Dawn falls in love with a soldier and has a baby, and the family endures regular air raids.

Bill's mother attempts to send him and Sue to relative safety with family in Australia, but finds she can't be separated from her children. Ultimately, after one air raid too many, the family relocates to live with grandparents in the country, which provides an idyllic interlude.

Other than a couple scenes which were a little too crass, as well as troubling scenes of children engaged in dangerous play (i.e., with live ammunition!), this was generally a pleasant film which I enjoyed watching. No particular actor stands out, but they all work together as a cohesive and believable ensemble. Dawn's love-hate relationship with her mother (which called to mind the recent LADY BIRD) and the wide-eyed reactions of Bill and Sue seemed particularly authentic.

I do find it a bit perplexing that this leisurely memoir received multiple Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Director, and Screenplay, and wonder a bit if that was due to the relative uniqueness of the subject matter in the late '80s. While I may not have found it Oscar caliber, I did find worth seeing; those who share my interest in WWII will particularly want to take a look at it.

As a side note, one of the most interesting scenes for me was a Christmas sequence in which the family carefully listens to the King's speech, almost willing him along to slowly spit out the final words of his speech, then commenting that he did much better that year and didn't stutter. I found that rather interesting, over two decades before that topic was tackled in the Oscar-winning film THE KING'S SPEECH (2010).

HOPE AND GLORY was filmed by Philippe Rousselot. It runs 113 minutes.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated PG-13 for cursing and partial nudity. The air raid scenes are intense but not graphic.

The widescreen Olive Films Blu-ray is a nice-looking disc. There is quite a bit of grain in the picture but it seems appropriate to the look of the era. The sole extra is the movie trailer.

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

Tonight's Movie: Race Street (1948) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

George Raft and William Bendix star in the crime film RACE STREET (1948), available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

This film was released four years ago as part of the Archive's Film Noir Collection; it's always a good time for a fresh reminder that all Warner Archive films are "made on demand," so this title remains just as easily available today as when it was first released.

RACE STREET features a classic MANHATTAN MELODRAMA (1934) type theme, with Raft as shady San Francisco businessman Dan Gannin and Bendix as his lifelong friend Barney, a cop.

Dan is newly in love with Robbie (Marilyn Maxwell), a war widow, and he's just opening a fancy nightclub where his sister (Gale Robbins) is the featured performer. Dan plans to be a respectable businessman going forward, but then a new racketeering mob moves into town and kills Dan and Barney's childhood friend Hal (Harry Morgan, billed here as Henry).

Barney pleads with Dan to let him get to the bottom of the murder, but Dan's determined to investigate it himself. Meanwhile, the racketeers show up at Dan's apartment and begin pressuring him for protection money.

Is this a great film noir or crime film? Not really; there's nothing particularly unique or dynamic about it, but I liked the film nonetheless. It's a solid story with a couple nice twists and turns, which moves along in a brisk 79 minutes. I quite enjoyed it, a nice movie for a lazy Sunday afternoon, and my fellow film noir fans may also find this one worth checking out.

Raft is his usual stoic, deadpan self, but he's surrounded by a lively cast including Bendix, Maxwell, and Robbins. There are also a few good location shots of San Francisco, a definite plus. (There are also copious back projections in the driving scenes.) Robbie's apartment building was filmed at the Stanford Court Hotel, which is still there.

Bendix pops up with regularity, determined to solve the crime while keeping Raft out of trouble, and he and Maxwell keep things interesting. Robbins gets to sing a few numbers, although one of them is oddly filmed, as if she's floating over the nightclub. I'm not sure what that was all about! Her singing partner is played by Cully Richards.

One of the bad guys is played by former cowboy star Tom Keene, who switched to using the name Richard Powers in the mid '40s. Frank Faylen turns up as the top man in the racket -- or so we initially think -- and look for character actor Charles Lane as an untrustworthy telephone switchboard operator.

RACE STREET was directed by Edwin L. Marin. It was filmed in black and white by J. Roy Hunt.

The Warner Archive print of this film is solid; however, the soundtrack is somewhat muffled. I had to play William Bendix's opening narration twice to catch it all, and on the whole it's a weaker soundtrack than is normal for an Archive DVD. 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 or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

Tonight's Movie: A Lost Lady (1934) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Barbara Stanwyck shines as A LOST LADY (1934), released last month by the Warner Archive.

In this enjoyable 61-minute soap opera Stanwyck plays Marian, who loses her fiance (Phillip Reed) in shocking fashion less than 48 hours before their wedding.

Marian convalesces from the tremendous emotional upheaval in the country, filmed at scenic Lake Arrowhead, where she meets a kindly older gentleman, Dan (Frank Morgan); eventually they agree to marry and the union is a happy success despite the fact that Marian doesn't love her husband.

Marian turns down the romantic overtures of her husband's young associate Neil (Lyle Talbot), putting him back on the straight and narrow, but she has a more difficult time when arrogant Frank (Ricardo Cortez) crash lands in her yard and in her heart.

Frank pursues Marian despite knowing she's married, and she eventually agrees to go away with him, but life -- and a dawning realization of what's really important -- intervenes.

I quite enjoyed this fast-paced story, one of the "women's pictures" so popular in the early '30s. Stanwyck carries a majority of the film's scenes, managing to be likeable for most of the film, though I did become a bit exasperated by her choices in the middle part of the movie's hour, which threaten to ruin multiple lives.

It's somewhat unique seeing Morgan in a leading man role, and he's so sympathetic that he makes Cortez look all the more a selfish cad. I enjoy Cortez in many films but here I just wanted him to go away!

Talbot has a particularly good part as someone who gets over his crush on Marian and matures into a better man and a supportive colleague for her husband.

A LOST LADY was directed by Alfred E. Green and Phil Rosen and filmed by Sid Hickox. Stanwyck's gowns were designed by Orry-Kelly.

Dennis O'Keefe can be briefly glimpsed dancing in the first scene, and look for future cowboy star Bill Elliott sitting behind Stanwyck at a polo match.

The Warner Archive DVD is slightly soft but on the whole a good-looking print without major defects. 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 or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Tonight's Movie: In Search of Ozu (2018) on FilmStruck

As regular readers are aware, earlier this year the FilmStruck streaming service expanded its offerings from foreign, indie, and Criterion Collection films to also include a "TCM Select" line of rotating classic films from the Warner Bros. library.

In all honesty, while it's attractive, FilmStruck hasn't been something I "need," simply because of my extensive personal film library, including many Criterion Collection films. However, I'm interested in things the service provides which aren't available elsewhere, such as the attractively curated collections of titles with brand-new FilmStruck intros by hosts such as Alicia Malone, Eddie Muller, and Ben Mankiewicz, and more importantly, long-form programming which can only be found on FilmStruck.

The new documentary IN SEARCH OF OZU (2018), about the great Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu, is a terrific example of the kind of unique presentation which could cause me to become a permanent FilmStruck subscriber. I activated my free month-long trial this weekend in order to watch this documentary, which I understand is currently only available on FilmStruck.

IN SEARCH OF OZU was written and directed by Daniel Raim, who was also behind the excellent documentary HAROLD AND LILLIAN: A HOLLYWOOD LOVE STORY (2015).

Filmed in Japan last year, the 46-minute documentary explores carefully stored museum pieces from Ozu's films, using them as the springboard to consider his career, particularly the color films made in the latter years of his filmography.

The film's consideration of graphic design and the use of color in these films is fascinating; while he variously had art and set decorators and production designers, to a large extent Ozu served as his own production designer, influencing the look of his films in countless ways. He was much more than a director; he was a visual stylist.

Ozu designed and handwrote many of the title sequences for his films. He hand painted some of the cups seen in his movies, which still exist today, and coordinated wardrobes to complement carefully chosen posters and artwork. Ozu also personally designed the street signs for businesses such as the bars his characters frequent.

One of the museum treasures we're shown is a beautiful red tea kettle chosen by Ozu; it's jokingly referred to as the "teleporting tea kettle" because of the way it randomly turns up in various shots.

Another fascinating artifact was the "crab legs" low tripod from which he shot so many low angle scenes.

After collaborating with others on scripts, Ozu would write the complete movie scripts out in notebooks using handwritten Japanese characters; he then color coded the pages for different characters and to match numbered storyboards. Ozu would "see" a film more as a series of visuals than as written words; peeking into his creative process via these notebooks is quite fascinating.

The film has additional insights provided by Japanese film historians, along with Ozu's nephew and the producer of his last film, AN AUTUMN AFTERNOON (1962).

So that potential viewers understand what the film does and doesn't cover, the film touches briefly on Ozu's personal life, particularly his close relationship with his mother, and discusses in efficient fashion how his career evolved over the decades, but it's not an in-depth look at his complete career; for example, it doesn't delve into Ozu's longstanding collaborations with actors like Setsuko Hara and Chishu Ryu, and it doesn't review most of his films in extensive detail. And since the focus is on Ozu's use of color and design, his black and white films are only mentioned briefly.

That explained, IN SEARCH OF OZU does an excellent job keying viewers in on some of the things which made Ozu's films so memorable and visually striking. My favorite Ozu films are his color films, for just this reason, so I particularly appreciated and enjoyed the documentary. I highly recommend it both for those who already love Ozu and those who are just discovering his movies, as it provides a guide to interesting aspects to watch for in his films.

A clip from the documentary may be seen at the Criterion site.

Regarding the FilmStruck service, I'm not sure if it was a transient issue or something more problematic, but I did have trouble streaming FilmStruck on my TV via my Roku, as it constantly paused to buffer. After 15 minutes of interruptions I switched to watching the documentary on my iPad and had no problems at all.

For those wishing to try FilmStruck, visit the FilmStruck website to sign up for a free two-week trial subscription. The regular monthly fee, including TCM Select films, is $6.99; adding the Criterion Channel brings the monthly cost to $10.99. For those willing to make a long-term commitment, the annual fee of $99, including the Criterion Channel, saves subscribers $32 per year.

For related links, here are my past reviews of Ozu films: LATE SPRING (1949), EARLY SUMMER (1951), TOKYO STORY (1953), EQUINOX FLOWER (1958), GOOD MORNING (1959), LATE AUTUMN (1960), and THE END OF SUMMER (1961).

The 2018 Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival: Sunday

All too soon it was Sunday, the final day of this year's Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival! Our fun weekend absolutely flew by.

There are only three films shown on Sunday, with the final 4:00 p.m. screening making it easy for those of us in driving distance to make it back home at a reasonable hour. First, though, a day of great viewing!

The morning kicked off with another not-on-DVD film I'd never seen, UNDER THE GUN (1951), a prison film starring noir favorites Richard Conte and Audrey Totter, with good support from Shepperd Strudwick and John McIntire. The introduction was provided by Foster Hirsch, who once again provided notable things to be watching for in the film, such as the glimpses of freedom in the background of the shots filmed at the prison camp.

UNDER THE GUN was an interesting film, though not one of my favorites of the festival, as prison movies don't do that much for me. Still, I really enjoyed the cast and the unique look of the location shooting in Florida. Look for a separate review of this film here in the near future. (Update: Here it is!)

Next up was a real treat, my first chance to see an all-time favorite film noir, KISS OF DEATH (1947), on a big screen, starring Victor Mature and Coleen Gray.

In the time since I last saw the movie I had the wonderful opportunity to interview Coleen and later had the honor of attending her memorial service. I've also had the chance to meet Victor Mature's lovely daughter Victoria, so watching the movie at the festival felt even more personal and special for me, all the more so as Victoria was there with us to view the movie and speak about her father.

Victoria, wearing a dress her mother wore on one of her first dates with her father, shared memories of the father she knew, who by then was retired and spent time driving his daughter to school and enjoying the golf course. She also brought a wonderful clip reel of her dad fighting lions, dancing, and doing other fun stuff in some of his movies!

Victoria is an opera singer -- in fact, she graduated from our youngest son's university, UC San Diego -- and shared that she had found sheet music with lyrics for Alfred Newman's "Street Scene," music which is heard at the conclusion of KISS OF DEATH as well as in several other Fox film noir classics, including her father's CRY OF THE CITY (1948). The audience enjoyed an impromptu performance of Victoria singing "Street Scene," another festival highlight for me.

The day's final film was a Library of Congress print of FLAMINGO ROAD (1949), starring Joan Crawford, Sydney Greenstreet, Zachary Scott, and David Brian. Unusually for the festival, this print was on the dark side and broke once, but was happily repaired so we could continue watching; although the print was sub-par, it was no less enjoyable! It was my first time to see the film, and I enjoyed it tremendously; it's a top-drawer Crawford soap opera. I hope one day to see the nitrate print which screened at UCLA in February!

This was the fifth film of the festival which was a first-time watch for me; it was a wonderful opportunity seeing so many great films for the first time in a theater. Be on the lookout for a review of FLAMINGO ROAD here in the near future. (Update: Here is the review!)

I can't say enough good things about the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival; I intend to return for the festival's 20th anniversary in 2019, and I hope to see more of my readers there next year!

Friday, May 25, 2018

Tonight's Movie: The Red House (1947) at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival

One of the most interesting screenings at the recent Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival took place on Saturday, May 12th: The world premiere of the UCLA restoration of THE RED HOUSE (1947).

The restoration was funded by Martin Scorsese's Film Foundation. My understanding is it will be presented at the 2019 UCLA Festival of Preservation at UCLA's Billy Wilder Theater.

THE RED HOUSE had fallen into public domain and thus is all over YouTube as well as available in myriad DVD copies, but I think I can state with confidence that none of those prints look anywhere near as good as the beautiful print screened at the Palm Springs Cultural Center. It was a memorable film, one of the highlights of this year's festival.

THE RED HOUSE was written and directed by Delmer Daves, based on a novel by George Agnew Chamberlain. The movie might be termed "Gothic noir," or perhaps "Gothic farmhouse noir." It mixes bright, sunny scenes with beautiful young people with a dark, overbearing creepiness and warnings not to ever go into the nearby woods...  It's quite an effectively done film.

Orphaned Meg (Allene Roberts) has been lovingly raised by Pete (Edward G. Robinson), a farmer, and his sister Ellen (Judith Anderson). Meg has some suppressed memories, however, which begin to bubble back to the surface after Pete hires one of her schoolmates, Nath (Lon McCallister) to help with the farm chores. Nath enrages Pete by taking a shortcut home through the dark woods; the experience doesn't go so well and Nath must turn back to the farmhouse to spend the night. Meg, meanwhile, starts having feelings that there's something about the woods she should remember.

The only person allowed in the woods is Teller (Rory Calhoun), hired by Pete to keep others away. Bad boy Teller attracts the attention of Nath's girlfriend Tibby (Julie London); Nath, meanwhile, slowly becomes more interested in Meg, who is also falling for him.

Nath, Meg, and Tibby decide to go exploring in the woods, looking for a mysterious house they believe is there...which eventually proves to be an important part of Meg's past.

I'll stop there so as to preserve the mystery, but suffice it to say this is a very well-done and engrossing 100 minutes with terrific atmosphere. It was beautifully filmed (by Bert Glennon) in Sonora and Columbia, California; the striking locations, such as the river where the teenagers go swimming, give the film a fresh, unique look.

McCallister (HOME IN INDIANA) and Roberts (THE SIGN OF THE RAM, UNION STATION) are appealing as a pair of goodhearted young people, and the young Calhoun and London are simply stunning. As an EMERGENCY! fan dating from childhood, it was great fun for me to see London in such a significant role, filmed when she was about 20.

The Robinson and Anderson parts aren't anything out of the norm for either of them, but they do their usual fine jobs and their performances are key to sustaining the film's mood.

The cast also includes Ona Munson, recently reviewed here in THE HOT HEIRESS (1931), as McCallister's mother, Harry Shannon as the doctor, and Arthur Space as the sheriff. The score was by Miklos Rozsa.

Click any of the above photos for a closer look. Below are a few additional stills, which help give a sense of the film's striking visuals, with its beautiful cast and locations:

It is to be hoped that eventually this beautiful print will make its way to DVD and Blu-ray, but in the meantime watch for it to show up in revival houses over the next couple of years.

Coming soon: An overview of the final day of the festival and a review of UNDER THE GUN (1951), starring Richard Conte and Audrey Totter.

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