Friday, August 31, 2018

Tonight's Movies: Helen's Babies (1924), Sweet and Low-Down (1944), and Scotland Yard (1941) at Cinecon

Thursday evening I attended the opening night of the Cinecon 54 Classic Film Festival at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, California.

The evening kicked off with a reception in the theater courtyard, including a live music combo. Many familiar faces from the Los Angeles classic film community were spotted in the crowd, including film historian Michael Schlesinger, dance historian Debra Levine, and the UCLA Film & Television Archive's Jan-Christopher Horak.

Also on hand was former child actress Cora Sue Collins, who will be honored later in the festival with a screening of her very first film, THE UNEXPECTED FATHER (1932). She was photographed here at the reception, wearing green and black.

Festival honoree Diana Serra Carey, otherwise known as Baby Peggy Montgomery, was unable to travel to Southern California for the festival, so Scott Lasky went to visit her in Northern California. They recorded a video so that Diana could greet her fans.

Diana briefly shared memories of making the first movie shown last evening, the silent film HELEN'S BABIES (1924), which was filmed when she was five years old. She remembered working with Edward Everett Horton as a wonderful experience and also shared that she was in awe of Clara Bow's beauty, saying Clara seemed as though she were from another world. Her recollections, though brief, were all positive; she clearly appreciated the opportunities she had at a young age, and she also appreciated that so many of us continue to be interested in her work.

In turn the audience at the Egyptian sang "Happy Birthday" in honor of Diana's centennial this October. A recording of our singing will be sent to her along with a copy of the film.

HELEN'S BABIES was presented with Lasky conducting the Famous Players Orchestra. I counted 19 musicians along with the conductor. Needless to say, that was quite a treat in and of itself!

The movie was the premiere of a Library of Congress restoration, and it was quite entertaining. Harry (Horton) is the author of a book on raising children, so when he arrives in town for a visit, his sister Helen (Claire Adams) and her husband (Richard Tucker) decide it's the perfect time to take a little getaway trip, leaving their daughters Toddie (Montgomery) and Budge (Jean Carpenter) in Harry's capable hands.

The reality is that Harry only wrote the book because his publisher said it would sell, but he really knows nothing about children and doesn't even seem to like them much...and Toddie and Budge would drive the most experienced child expert to distraction! They don't mean to be naughty...they just can't help it, whether they're climbing trees, helping their uncle unpack his trunk, or chasing after a dog.

Fortunately babysitting "Helen's babies" also leads Harry to get to know the very lovely neighbor (Bow) next door!

This amusing film was filled with funny bits, and Montgomery was really quite good at a very young age, with some delightful reaction shots. I was impressed with how natural she was, particularly in a sequence where she tries to repack a box of Harry's collars.

This was my second Clara Bow film, having seen her in GET YOUR MAN (1927) a couple of years ago, and she also has a nice comedic touch. I was glad I got to see it, especially with live music!

Although IMDb lists the original running time as 85 minutes, the print screened was 63 minutes. I didn't notice any obvious continuity problems; indeed, the running time seemed just right!

HELEN'S BABIES was directed by William A. Seiter and filmed by William H. Daniels, who would each have careers extending far into the sound era.

The second film of the evening was SWEET AND LOW-DOWN (1944), a 76-minute 20th Century-Fox film directed by Archie Mayo and filmed by Lucien Ballard.

The lamebrain plot concerns Benny Goodman (playing himself) adding a talented trombone player named Johnny (James Cardwell) to the band. Johnny, who has a mile-wide chip on his shoulder despite his lucky break, flirts with band singer Pat (Bari, who was dubbed by Lorraine Elliott) and falls for wealthy Trudy (Darnell).

Cardwell, in his second film, was utterly unlikeable; one wonders if so many of the studio's leading men were tied up with wartime service that they didn't have anyone else!

The reasons to see this film are Benny Goodman, Linda Darnell, and Lynn Bari. The movie was worthwhile for almost non-stop big band music from Goodman and his orchestra, plus a Mozart quintet for good measure, and I thoroughly enjoyed that aspect.

The print shown was absolutely pristine, with Darnell and Bari looking glorious in black and white on the big screen. (Incidentally, it got me wondering how many times Bari played a band singer at Fox, that was a regular assignment for her!) It may not have been a good film, but it had enough going for it that I enjoyed it.

The supporting cast included Dickie Moore, Allyn Joslyn, and Jack Oakie.

SWEET AND LOW-DOWN is available on DVD in the Fox Cinema Archives line.

The final film of the evening was SCOTLAND YARD (1941), a real rarity from 20th Century-Fox starring Nancy Kelly, John Loder, Henry Wilcoxon, and Edmund Gwenn.

I was particularly interested in seeing it due to my interest in Kelly, the older sister of MAVERICK star (and personal favorite) Jack Kelly. Her films previously reviewed here include FRONTIER MARSHAL (1939), HE MARRIED HIS WIFE (1940), FLY-BY-NIGHT (1942), and DOUBLE EXPOSURE (1944); her best-known films are probably JESSE JAMES (1939) and THE BAD SEED (1956). She's convincing here as an Englishwoman, with a very light British accent.

This 68-minute movie is a crime story set against the backdrop of the London Blitz during WWII. As the film begins, Inspector Cork (Gwenn) of Scotland Yard is on the trail of dashing master criminal Dakin Barrolles (Wilcoxon), who escapes after stealing a car from a quarreling upper-class couple, Sir John Lasher (Loder) and his wife Lady Sandra (Kelly). Barrolles also makes off with a locket which contains pictures of the couple.

Barrolles heads off to fight for Britain -- he may be a crook, but he's also a patriot! -- and when he's wounded and his face disfigured, he's identified as Sir John due to the locket, and a plastic surgeon makes him look exactly like Sir John...who is also in the military and is MIA.

Barrolles goes "home" with Lady Sandra, who can't quite believe her "husband's" new romantic attitude towards her. Barrolles meanwhile starts to think about using his -- or Sir John's -- position at a bank to pull off the crime of the century. But there are Nazi agents afoot, headed by Craven (Leo G. Carroll).

The movie was goofy -- I mean, Wilcoxon turning into Loder partway into the film was kind of a hilarious concept -- but in a good way. The movie had a nice sense of humor, and there were several good laughs along with suspense and a touch of romance. It proved to be the best kind of "B" film, fast-paced and completely entertaining. The audience seemed to enjoy it; I definitely did. Seeing it was worth not getting home from Hollywood till well after midnight!

SCOTLAND YARD was directed by Norman Foster and filmed by Virgil Miller. It does not appear to have ever had a release on DVD or VHS.

Cinecon's goal is to screen rarely seen films, and they surely accomplished that wonderfully on opening night, with three very well-chosen movies. I had a great time!

I'll be returning to the festival for two days later this weekend, so look for further coverage here next week.

Previously: Cinecon Classic Film Festival Opens in Hollywood August 30th. (This post contains links to all Cinecon 54 coverage.)

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

TCM Announces 2019 Festival Dates and Theme

Over the last few years Turner Classic Movies has made major announcements regarding the TCM Classic Film Festival in late August, and this year was no exception!

Today TCM announced its 2019 festival dates and theme. The festival returns to Hollywood from April 11-14, 2019, with the theme "Follow Your Heart: Love at the Movies."

The festival website says "Whether it’s in the afternoon, at first sight or in the air, the TCM Classic Film Festival will celebrate love in all of its forms. As we come together for the 10th Annual Festival, and the 25th anniversary of TCM, there will be many-splendored moments to revel in romance and obsessions, delight in faithful friendships and surrender to the enduring allure of the silver screen with fellow classic movie lovers."

TCM shared a promo video on Twitter, which is fun as I know several people seen in the video!

The prices for festival passes are holding steady again this year. This will mark the third consecutive year without an increase in pass prices. Click the link in this paragraph for complete pricing details.

For anyone considering going, please check out my overview of the 2018 Festival and all the links included in that post, including those for past festival coverage.

Anyone considering attending should also monitor TCM's festival website and the TCM Twitter feed for regular updates. And, as always, I'll be sharing festival information here as it develops!

My hotel room is booked, and I'm thrilled at the prospect of another wonderful time spent with TCM and friends in Hollywood -- hope to see many of you there in 2019!

October 26, 2018 Update: TCM Classic Film Festival Announcements.

November 30, 2018 Update: Latest TCM Classic Film Festival Announcements.

March 1, 2019 Update: New TCM Classic Film Festival Announcements.

March 27, 2019 Update: The 2019 TCM Classic Film Festival Schedule.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Latest Westerns Column at Classic Movie Hub

My third Western Roundup column was posted today at Classic Movie Hub.

My new column discusses what I like to call "snowy Westerns," with particular attention to DAY OF THE OUTLAW (1959), which I recently watched for the first time.

I hope my readers will click over to Classic Movie Hub and check it out! I especially enjoyed writing this column and hope any unfamiliar titles mentioned will provide inspiration for new Western viewing.

Previously: June 2018 Western Roundup Column; July 2018.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Kiss Me Kate (1953) at UCLA

Yesterday was a wonderful day for musicals at UCLA's Billy Wilder Theater, as the Fosse, Fosse, Fosse! retrospective celebrated its final weekend.

The movies kicked off with a mid-afternoon screening of WHITE CHRISTMAS (1954) in 35mm. While not quite as sharp as the digital print I saw in 2013 -- which was one of my better experiences with a digital screening -- the print was lovely and I was delighted to finally see it in the 35mm format.

The screening began with some introductory comments noting that UCLA's Fosse series had been based on a Harvard Film Archive retrospective, and WHITE CHRISTMAS had been scheduled based on Harvard's scholarship. However, this proved to be a contentious issue, as questions were raised regarding Fosse's involvement; WHITE CHRISTMAS was apparently programmed at Harvard based on little more than IMDb listing Fosse as an uncredited choreographer. The credited choreographer was Robert Alton.

UCLA consulted experts on the topic; dance historian Debra Levine researched the film at the Academy's Margaret Herrick Library and found nothing regarding Fosse working on the film, while Michael Curtiz biographer Alan K. Rode found a single sheet of paper in the Paramount archives indicating that Fosse was on the set. There was rumor that late in his life Alton said Fosse had assisted him, and that seems to be the state of the research at this point. Hopefully it will be definitively clarified in the future. UCLA went ahead with the screening just to show a nice print of a wonderful movie, with the proviso that Fosse may -- or may not! -- have been involved.

The screening was much more lightly attended than a typical evening screening at the Billy Wilder Theater; perhaps too many people were enjoying a summer afternoon to want to head for a dark theater to celebrate Christmas in August! For my part, it was absolutely wonderful watching it and I'm thrilled I had the opportunity.

Trivia postscripts: While watching the "Choreography" number in WHITE CHRISTMAS I suddenly recognized a dancer with long blonde hair from THE PAJAMA GAME (1957). Fun what can be noticed when you see movies a few days apart! I also noticed a blooper with Vera-Ellen and a coffee pot early in the film which I hadn't picked up on before.

The evening program consisted of a double bill of KISS ME KATE (1953) and MY SISTER EILEEN (1955) and was well attended. Barrie Chase -- who incidentally was in WHITE CHRISTMAS -- was on hand in the audience last night, along with Andy Parks, son of Larry Parks and MY SISTER EILEEN star Betty Garrett. A seat was reserved for George Chakiris (another WHITE CHRISTMAS cast member), but he didn't attend.

Fosse acts and dances onscreen in both KISS ME KATE and MY SISTER EILEEN. Additionally, he choreographed the section of "From This Moment On" in KISS ME KATE which he danced with Carol Haney; the rest of that film's dances were done by Hermes Pan. Fosse choreographed all of MY SISTER EILEEN, billed onscreen as Robert Fosse. I reviewed MY SISTER EILEEN here in 2012.

Debra Levine opened the evening with an interesting slideshow presentation in which she used screen shots from "From This Moment On" to show how different moves and poses (including "The Star," "The Shlump," and tilted heads) became part of Fosse's signature style, turning up again in numbers such as "Steam Heat" in THE PAJAMA GAME. I really enjoyed her talk, which concluded with a brief tribute to the original Kate, Patricia Morison, who died last May at 103. (One small goof: Jeanne Coyne did not marry Gene Kelly until several years after she danced in KISS ME KATE.)

I saw KISS ME KATE twice in 3D at the Tiffany Theater on Sunset Boulevard in the late '70s or early '80s, with the old-fashioned red and blue 3D glasses. The 35mm print we watched last night, from the British Film Institute, was a flat print from the "left" of the two 3D cameras. I was reminded of my past 3D experiences every time someone threw something at the screen!

KISS ME KATE is a delightfully fun movie, filled with great musical numbers and humor. It's the story of a divorced couple, Fred (Howard Keel) and Lilli (Kathryn Grayson), starring in a new musical production of Shakespeare's THE TAMING OF THE SHREW.

Ann Miller and Tommy Rall lead the supporting cast as fellow actors, with Keenan Wynn and James Whitmore playing gangsters who become involved with the theatrical company, to great comic effect. Their farewell song, "Brush Up Your Shakespeare," is wonderfully fun.

Keel does a great job capturing Fred's egocentric hamminess, with Grayson likewise terrific as the "shrewish" Lilli. Incidentally, in recent years I realized that her hair and makeup as "Kate" make her a dead ringer for Eleanor Parker in the previous year's MGM production of SCARAMOUCHE (1952)!

I'm not sure if I noticed before that the framed photos on Fred's living room piano include a photo of Keel and Grayson in SHOW BOAT (1951); there's also what looks like a photo from ANNIE GET YOUR GUN (1950), which Keel starred in.

There are so many wonderful numbers in KISS ME KATE, including Ann Miller's amazing tap number "Too Darn Hot" near the start of the film; Keel and Grayson's duets "So in Love" and "Wunderbar"; Miller and Rall's "Why Can't You Behave" and "Always True to You in My Fashion"; Miller, Rall, Fosse, and Bobby Van performing "Tom, Dick or Harry"; and best of all, the previously mentioned "From This Moment On," one of my all-time favorite dances from an MGM musical.

KISS ME KATE was directed by George Sidney and filmed by Charles Rosher. The supporting cast includes Kurt Kasznar, Ron Randell, Ann Codee, Claud Allister, and Willard Parker. It runs 109 minutes.

KISS ME KATE has been released on DVD multiple times, including in a Cole Porter Collection, a TCM Greatest Classic Films Collection, and a single-title release.  (2020 Update: It's now also been reissued on DVD by the Warner Archive Collection.)

It's also been released on Blu-ray and VHS, and it can be rented for streaming.

The musical fun continues this weekend as I will be seeing the Fathom Events 60th Anniversary presentation of SOUTH PACIFIC (1958) today.

Related post: Tonight's Movie: Kiss Me Kate at UCLA (1958).

Friday, August 24, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Four Fast Guns (1960)

FOUR FAST GUNS (1960) was reviewed last month by Toby at 50 Westerns From the 50s.

Toby's enthusiasm inspired me to pull out my Darn Good Westerns Vol. 2 set and give the movie a look myself this week. I'm quite glad I did, as I found it a superior "B" Western -- no classic, to be sure, but creative and entertaining filmmaking on a shoestring budget.

James Craig plays gunslinger Tom Sabin, who kills a "town tamer" in self-defense and then takes his job in the unruly town of Purgatory. The local drunk (Edgar Buchanan) who sleeps in the sheriff's office warms to Sabin and helps him when needed.

Saloon owner Hoag (Paul Richards) doesn't want the town cleaned up and mails letters to three gunmen, offering a substantial fee to the man who succeeds in taking Sabin out. One of the men, Quijano, is played by Richard Martin of the Tim Holt Westerns, sort of an edgier spin on his womanizing Chito character; I was amused by the scene where he burst's into a lady's bath so she can read him the letter. This was Martin's last film.

Another of the gunmen is surly "Farmer Brown" (Blu Wright), and the last of the men, Johnny Naco (Brett Halsey), proves to be quite a surprise for Sabin, spinning the plot into unexpected directions in the film's final minutes.

Complicating matters throughout all of the above is Hoag's wife Mary (Martha Vickers), who finds herself falling for Sabin.

This film may have had a small budget but it has an engaging style. The economical yet dramatic presentation of Sabin's encounters with the first two hired gunmen called to mind the way Budd Boetticher staged the gunfights in SEVEN MEN FROM NOW (1956); sometimes not showing everything is more effective than putting it all on the screen. The movie is also very well-paced, running just 72 minutes.

I've always liked James Craig, who had a knack for working with children in MGM films such as LOST ANGEL (1943), OUR VINES HAVE TENDER GRAPES (1945), and BOYS' RANCH (1946). His 1944 MGM film GENTLE ANNIE, incidentally, is another unique Western which is worth seeking out.

Craig looks considerably more worn here than in his MGM days, just as he did in another good role in another good low-budget Western, MAN OR GUN (1958). While Craig's genial demeanor of his earlier films occasionally makes an appearance here, world-weariness, sadness, and a certain edginess dominate.

Martha Vickers is interesting as the saloon owner's wife with a yen for Sabin, though I felt that the script gave her short shrift in terms of helping us to understand why she married Sabin and has stuck with him, when he's clearly not a good man. Hoag and Mary are in the same scenes yet they virtually never interact, which is curious; possibly that's meant as a commentary on their relationship, or lack thereof. Mary's somewhat underdeveloped character is my only significant criticism of the film.

Vickers is best known for her spectacularly good performance as the disturbed Carmen Sternwood in THE BIG SLEEP (1946); I also fondly recall her from the musical THE TIME, THE PLACE AND THE GIRL (1946), which introduced me to the lovely song "Oh, But I Do." As with Richard Martin, this was Vickers' last feature film.

FOUR FAST GUNS was directed by William J. Hole Jr. and filmed in widescreen black and white by John M. Nickolaus Jr.

FOUR FAST GUNS is also available from VCI as a single-title DVD release.

Western fans should like this one. Recommended.

Tonight's Movie: Black Sheep (1935)

Edmund Lowe and Claire Trevor star in BLACK SHEEP (1935), an enjoyable shipboard drama with dashes of romance and comedy.

Lowe plays John Dugan, a professional gambler who becomes acquainted with Janette Foster (Trevor), an actress, while sailing from Europe to New York.

Both are down on their luck financially, which means they're sailing in second class. They slip into a first class salon, where they witness two wealthy men (Eugene Pallette and Jed Prouty) taking a young man named Fred (Tom Brown) for a ride in a poker game; Dugan and Foster determine to help him get his money back.

Fred is a nice yet immature young man with some significant problems, including being indebted to wealthy kleptomaniac Millicent Bath (Adrienne Ames). Dugan untangles Fred's issues and sets him on the path of "right living," in the process falling in love with the helpful Foster -- and unexpectedly learning that he's related to Fred.

This film was a nice surprise, well scripted and with strong performances by Lowe and Trevor, who are well matched and have a good bantering chemistry.

The shipboard setting is most appealing; after train films, movies set on ocean liners are some of my favorites! The film has very nice set decoration and music, including "In Other Words, I'm in Love" sung by Dick Webster.

Ames, who was Mrs. Bruce Cabot at the time, is quite striking as one of the villains of the piece, and her stealing for thrills rather than financial need was an interesting twist. Ames and Cabot divorced in 1937; sadly she died of cancer just a decade later, age 43.

The BLACK SHEEP supporting cast includes Herbert Mundin, David Torrence, Billy Bevan, Ford Sterling, Wade Boteler, and Bess Flowers, who appears in two scenes as a passenger and faints dramatically at the sight of a mouse.

BLACK SHEEP was directed by Allan Dwan, from a script by Dwan and Allen Rivkin. It was filmed by Arthur Miller. The running time is 76 minutes.

BLACK SHEEP is available on DVD from Fox Cinema Archives. It's a very nice print.

BLACK SHEEP is the kind of movie one hopes to discover when trying out an unknown film; while not a classic, it provides enjoyable, well-crafted entertainment.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Brides Are Like That (1936)

Earlier this week Turner Classic Movies paid tribute to actress Anita Louise during its annual Summer Under the Stars festival.

I participated in the Louise celebration by watching a recording I'd previously made of BRIDES ARE LIKE THAT (1936). BRIDES ARE LIKE THAT is a Warner Bros. "B" film which interested me chiefly due to the presence of its leading lady; I was also a bit intrigued by the whimsical title. Not too surprisingly, Anita Louise ended up being the chief reason anyone should watch this brief bit of fluff.

Louise plays Hazel, who's in love with Bill (Ross Alexander). Bill, unfortunately, can't hold down a job, to the despair of his wealthy Uncle Fred (Joseph Cawthorn), who threatens to disown him.

As the movie begins, Bill is dismayed to learn that Hazel has just become engaged to steady, reliable Dr. Randolph Jenkins (Dick Purcell, billed here as Richard). Unfortunately "Doc," as Bill calls him, is also a stuffy bore, and it's clear he and Hazel are not destined to live happily ever after.

Bill eventually wins Hazel away from Doc, but financial challenges continue for the couple due to Bill's irresponsibility.

Louise is lovely and sweet, and fortunately she's on screen for most of the 67-minute movie. A Thanksgiving dance sequence is particularly fun due to her pretty costuming.

Unfortunately Alexander, reviewed earlier this year in HERE COMES CARTER (1936), has a grating screen presence, and combined with his shiftless character he's completely exasperating. His professions of love come off as a used car salesman's pitch, although Louise sells being blissfully happy with him.

All in all, it's not a film I'll long remember, but despite my annoyance with the leading man I found it a pleasant hour thanks to Anita Louise and a lively, fast-moving story.

Gene and Kathleen Lockhart play Hazel's parents. The cast also includes Mary Treen, Joseph Crehan, Milton Kibbee, and Robert Emmmett Keane.

BRIDES ARE LIKE THAT was directed by William C. McGann and filmed by Sid Hickox. The screenplay by Ben Markson was based on the play APPLESAUCE (1925) by Barry Conners.

The movie was remade as ALWAYS A BRIDE (1940), starring George Reeves and Rosemary Lane. I happen to have a copy and need to pull it out for a look!

This film isn't available on DVD or VHS, but it's shown from time to time on Turner Classic Movies. The trailer is on the TCM website.

Tonight's Movie: Eyes of the Underworld (1942)

This week I took a short jaunt out of town, and while I was away I watched a handful of lesser-known movies. Reviews of my vacation viewing will be appearing here over the next couple of days.

First up: Richard Dix and Wendy Barrie starring in EYES OF THE UNDERWORLD (1942), available at this writing on YouTube. It's a fast-paced "B" movie from Universal Pictures.

Dix plays Richard Bryan, the popular police chief of Lawndale. (Lawndale's location is never made clear, but the film may have been referring to the city in Los Angeles County.) Although Chief Bryan has been a success for three years, he harbors a troubling secret which causes him to push away his devoted secretary Betty (Barrie), who's in love with him, and announce his resignation.

Edward Jason (Don Porter) arrives in town, investigating a car theft ring. Not even Chief Bryan knows about Jason, who has concerns that some in local law enforcement may be part of the ring. What's more, Jason quickly falls for Betty himself.

The film moves quickly, with a 61-minute running time, satisfactorily resolving both the crime and Chief Bryan's problems.

Dix's Bryan is a widower, and there's a nice "makeshift family" circle depicted including his son Mickey (Billy Lee), his faithful driver Benny (Lon Chaney), and Betty. Barrie makes the most of her role, playing a warm-hearted and spunky gal. Her best moment is a funny scene in which she shatters a figurine to show her exasperation with Bryan.

Porter has a substantial role and is engaging enough that one feels a bit sorry about his unrequited crush on Barrie, as she's only got eyes for Dix.

As a side note, there's some interesting historical context worked into the opening montage -- the cars stolen have particular value due to the dearth of rubber for tires since there's now a war on. The movie was released about 10 months after Pearl Harbor.

There's a good supporting cast including Lloyd Corrigan, Joseph Crehan, Wade Boteler, and Marc Lawrence. The movie was directed by Roy William Neill and filmed by George Robinson.

The YouTube print I watched was soft but quite watchable. Anyone interested should make haste to see it, as things have a way of coming and going on YouTube.

EYES OF THE UNDERWORLD is nothing special, but it's a pleasant hour thanks to the appealing lead actors and brisk storytelling.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Damn Yankees (1958) at UCLA

The second film on last night's Bob Fosse double bill, following THE PAJAMA GAME (1957), was DAMN YANKEES (1958).

Despite my love for both musicals and baseball, I'd never seen DAMN YANKEES. Honestly, I was partly put off by the cursing in the title -- which seems to have been purely for '50s shock value, as the movie isn't even about the Yankees! -- as well as the Faustian storyline.

You couldn't ask for a better way to try a new movie than on UCLA's big screen, but as it turned out, my instincts were correct; I didn't like this one. In fact, other than a couple dance numbers, I thought it was as bad as THE PAJAMA GAME is wonderful. Most of the score is completely forgettable, and the dreary story was told with a mostly low-energy, boring cast and unimaginative staging. Even things like Joe referring to his wife as "old girl" annoyed me...and Jean Stapleton? Ugh.

Middle-aged Joe Boyd (Robert Shafer) is obsessed with his favorite team, the hapless Washington Senators, and he makes a deal with the devil (Ray Walston) to be transformed into a young hitting star for the team, known as Joe Hardy (Tab Hunter).

Joe and the Senators rocket to success, but Joe wants to exercise the "out" clause and return to his life with his wife Meg (Shannon Bolin). The devil's accomplice, Lola (Gwen Verson), tries to change Joe's mind.

There are two memorable songs, Verdon's "Whatever Lola Wants" and the baseball players' "Heart," and there are a couple of good dances, particularly Verdon and Bob Fosse's "Who's Got the Pain." I noted, however, that Verdon and Fosse's "Let's put on a show!" type number isn't integrated into the musical as seamlessly as "Steam Heat" at a similar point in THE PAJAMA GAME.

I stopped looking at the screen during Ralston's "Those Were the Good Old Days," with a series of visuals celebrating great crimes of the past. Ugh. It was just too ugly for me to appreciate.

Verdon was peppy and Hunter was sweet, but I didn't like Walston's character and the rest of the cast was as forgettable as most of the movie.

Obviously this musical has its fans so, as the saying goes, "Your mileage may vary"! I'm glad I tried it and had the chance to see a couple good dances but I'm probably done with this one, since there are dozens of musicals out there I like better.

This film was directed by George Abbott and Stanley Donen and filmed by Harold Lipstein, with choreography by Bob Fosse. It runs 111 minutes.

It's available on DVD and VHS.

May 2019 Update: This film will be reissued on DVD by the Warner Archive.

Tonight's Movie: The Pajama Game (1957) at UCLA

A big crowd was on hand in Westwood last night for another evening in UCLA's retrospective Fosse, Fosse, Fosse!

Last night's double bill was a pairing of THE PAJAMA GAME (1957) with DAMN YANKEES (1958).

While I'd never seen DAMN YANKEES before, I've loved THE PAJAMA GAME most of my life, beginning with falling in love with the original Broadway cast album on LP. In fact, it took me a while to get used to Doris Day singing on the movie soundtrack because I was so used to hearing Janis Paige in the role!

I saw the film in a theater on two occasions as a teenager, once at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's Leo S. Bing Theater and another time at a FilmEx screening in Century City. In more recent years, however, I haven't been aware of it being shown in classic film theaters or festivals, and we were told in the introduction that that's because of very tangled rights issues, which Warner Bros. is currently working to try to clear up. In order to show the movie last night, UCLA had to write checks to 11 different parties!

Although I've seen the film a few additional times over the years thanks to DVD and VHS, it had still been a very long time since I last watched it, at least a decade. I thus approached the movie with it feeling rather fresh and new -- and fell in love with it all over again. In fact I don't think I stopped smiling for the duration of the movie!

The oddball plot about a union fighting for a 7 and a half cent an hour raise at a pajama factory isn't really all that important, although the unique setting is a plus; what I really love is the romance and the endless string of hummable tunes, including "I'm Not At All in Love," "Hey There," "Once a Year Day" (filmed in Hollenbeck Park), "Steam Heat," and "Hernando's Hideaway," to name just a few. In fact I was struck last night with how much music there is compared to the dialogue.

I'd be hard-pressed to name a favorite song or moment, although I'd probably end up picking "Hey There," first for John Raitt's dictaphone duet and second for Day's reprise, as red train crossing lights outside her window give the number an otherwordly glow.

Stars Day and Raitt are incredibly appealing and have wonderful chemistry, and they're backed by a  supporting cast including Carol Haney, Eddie Foy Jr., Reta Shaw, and Barbara Nichols.

The movie was codirected by George Abbott and Stanley Donen, filmed by Harry Stradling Sr., and choreographed by Fosse. It runs 101 minutes.

In addition to the DVD release, it's available to stream on Amazon Instant Video. There is no extra charge for Amazon Prime members.

I can't say enough how happy it made me seeing this film again. I've seen nearly 200 films so far this year and this experience ranks at or near the very top of the list. Pure joy, and most highly recommended.

June 2019 Update: THE PAJAMA GAME is being reissued on DVD by the Warner Archive.

January 2021 Update: THE PAJAMA GAME is being released on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive.  My review of the Blu-ray is here.

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...Wonderful news for fans of two great Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals: In coming weeks Fathom Events will host screenings around the country of SOUTH PACIFIC (1958) and THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965). The 60th Anniversary presentation of SOUTH PACIFIC will take place on August 26th and 29th, with THE SOUND OF MUSIC following on September 9th and 12th. It would be hard to beat the 70mm screenings I saw of each film at the Egyptian Theatre back in 2012, but my love for these films just may reel me in! Click on the Fathom Events links to check for locations.

...Gal Gadot of WONDER WOMAN (2017) looks likely to play actress-inventor Hedy Lamarr in a Showtime miniseries, though at this writing the deal isn't finalized. Gadot, who also appeared in some of the Fast and Furious movies, was also just announced as a member of the voice cast of Disney's RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET: WRECK-IT RALPH II (2018), coming to theaters in November.

...Great news from Capitolfest, which takes place each summer in Rome, New York, and is regularly attended by several of my friends: Next year Capitolfest 17 will jointly honor Joel McCrea and Frances Dee. The festival will take place August 9-11, 2019. The festival's main focus is silent and early sound films; titles will be announced beginning at the end of this year. Tickets are here. It's certainly tempting to think about traveling to NY next summer!

...Thinking about attending the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood next year? Christy has just published a whole lotta pics from the 2018 fest at Christy's Inkwells, which will hopefully entice new attendees. Newcomers will find they instantly have people to talk to as everyone in the lines loves classic films! Based on recent past history, the 2019 dates and them should be announced by the end of August.

...Nerdist recently published a nice joint interview with Turner Classic Movies hosts Ben Mankiewicz, Alica Malone, Dave Karger, and Eddie Muller.

...After checking out Margot's review of HIGHWAY 301 (1950) at her blog Down These Mean Streets, I'm even more interested in seeing it. Steve Cochran and Virginia Grey star.

...My friend Raquel does an amazing job curating lists of upcoming film books a few times a year. Her latest list is now up at Out of the Past. I'm especially excited about Jeremy Arnold's new book CHRISTMAS IN THE MOVIES: 30 CLASSICS TO CELEBRATE THE SEASON, coming October 9th from TCM and Running Press. Jeremy is a very knowledgeable film historian -- and also quite a nice guy! -- and the TCM-Running Press books are usually beautifully produced, with glossy photos on heavy paper.

...Also of particular note for me on Raquel's list: EDMOND O'BRIEN: EVERYMAN OF FILM NOIR by Derek Sculthorpe from McFarland, which was due out last month but doesn't seem to be available yet; MADE IN MEXICO: HOLLYWOOD SOUTH OF THE BORDER by Luis I. Reyes from Applause Books, due September 19th; OLIVIA DE HAVILLAND AND THE GOLDEN AGE OF HOLLYWOOD by Ellis Amburn from Lyons Press, due out September 1st; and CLARENCE BROWN: HOLLYWOOD'S FORGOTTEN MASTER by Gwenda Young for University Press of Kentucky, to be published on October 22nd. There are many more interesting titles on Raquel's list so be sure to read the entire thing, and many thanks to Raquel for putting this list together and sharing it with everyone!

...And congratulations are also due to Raquel for having her article on the wonderful silent film LONESOME (1928) published on the Library of Congress website!

...The Justice Department is reported to be reviewing film distribution rules which have been in place in the United States since 1948. Along those same lines, there's word that Amazon may be looking to acquire the Landmark theater chain.

...Andy Wolverton shares thoughts on DVD and Blu-ray collecting, and the inevitable storage issues, at Journeys in Darkness and Light. While you're visiting Andy's site, check out some of his other posts, such as a new review of THE MAN FROM LARAMIE (1955).

...For Marvel fans: Marvel's 10th Anniversary Film Festival will take place on IMAX screens at select theaters from August 30th to September 6th, 2018. 20 films will be shown in order during the festival's first five days, followed by two days of "origin" and "team-ups" films and a final day of movies voted for by fans. Click on the accompanying photo for a closer look at the schedule.

...Attention Southern Californians: Disney's El Capitan Theatre will be hosting "Throwback" screenings of a personal favorite, ENCHANTED (2007), from September 6th to 9th, 2018. I have a ticket! This film, starring Amy Adams and Patrick Dempsey, inexplicably tends to be a bit ignored among Disney musicals, and there's no better place to see a Disney movie than the El Capitan, a beautifully restored vintage theater; a concert of Disney music on the big Wurlitzer organ usually precedes each screening.

...More for Southern Californians (or film fans who can travel to L.A. for Labor Day Weekend!): Be sure to check out my preview of the Cinecon Classic Film Festival, which runs August 30th through September 3rd in Hollywood.

...Notable Passings: Dancer-Choreographer Miriam Nelson, who was married to Gene Nelson from 1941 to 1956, has passed away at the age of 98. She's pictured here dancing with Gene. Though Miriam's career was focused on dancing, she also had small roles in a number of films, including playing Edward G. Robinson's secretary in DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944). On Twitter Doris Day's Animal Foundation posted a photo tribute to Doris's friend of many decades...Cinematographer Richard H. Kline has died at 91. His father was Benjamin Kline, who filmed many minor "B" films, Westerns, and TV shows. Richard Kline's credits included STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE (1979) and BODY HEAT (1981).

...More Notable Passings: Boot Hill reports the recent passing of actress Meg Randall (seen at left), news the site picked up from Laura Wagner of Classic Images. Randall played Kim Parker Kettle in three MA AND PA KETTLE movies, was Helen in the noir classic CRISS CROSS (1949), and appeared with George Montgomery in LAST OF THE BAD MEN (1957). She was 91...Screenwriter Shinobu Hashimoto, a frequent collaborator with director Akira Kurosawa, has died at 100. His credits included RASHOMON (1950), SEVEN SAMURAI (1954), THRONE OF BLOOD (1957), and THE HIDDEN FORTRESS (1958)...Composer Patrick Williams has passed on at 79. He scored many TV series including THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW and THE BOB NEWHART SHOW...The great trombonist Bill Watrous died in early July at the age of 79.

...For additional recent links on classic movies and more, please check out my July 22 link roundup.

Have a great week!

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