Thursday, October 31, 2019

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween!

This year we are celebrating the day with a cute photo of Ann Rutherford selling made-to-order jack-o-lanterns. It looks like it was probably photographed in the late '30s.

Have a fun day!

Previous Halloween posts, in reverse chronological order: Janis Paige (2018), Ella Raines (2017), Veronica Lake (2016), Barbara Bates (2015), Marsha Hunt (2014), Linda Darnell (2013), and the BEWITCHED cast (2012).

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Hop-a-long Cassidy (1935) on Location in Lone Pine at Classic Movie Hub

My latest post is now available at Classic Movie Hub!

This month's column looks at the very first Hopalong Cassidy film, HOP-A-LONG CASSIDY (1935), and its locations in the Alabama Hills outside Lone Pine, California.

The movie was screened at this year's Lone Pine Film Festival, after which I participated in a tour of the movie's locations. My article includes lots of photos of the Alabama Hills!

Please click on over to Classic Movie Hub to read more.

For more on this year's Lone Pine Film Festival, my preview of the festival was posted at Classic Movie Hub last month, and my post-festival overview may be found right here.

Previous Classic Movie Hub Western Roundup Column Links: June 2018; July 2018; August 2018; September 2018; October 2018; November 2018; December 2018; January 2019; February 2019; April 5, 2019; April 30, 2019; May 2019; June 2019; July 2019; August 2019; September 2019.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Support Your Local Gunfighter (1971) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

James Garner stars in SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL GUNFIGHTER (1971), recently released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber.

SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL GUNFIGHTER was inspired by the success of SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF! (1969), reviewed here earlier this month. The films share the same director, Burt Kennedy, and cinematographer, Harry Stradling Jr., along with several of the same cast members, but other than that, the films are unrelated.

Whereas SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF! was written by William Bowers, this time around the script was by James Edward Grant. Grant did some fine work over many years, including one of my favorite John Wayne films, ANGEL AND THE BADMAN (1947), but GUNFIGHTER is not one of his better efforts. The best line is even stolen from another John Wayne film, TALL IN THE SADDLE (1944)!

This time around Garner plays Latigo Smith, who as the film begins sneaks off a train filled with ladies of "easy virtue," including Goldie (Marie Windsor). He lands in the town of Purgatory, where through a series of circumstances he finds himself posing as the business manager of a famous gunfighter, Swifty Morgan. The only problem is that "Swifty" is a phony; he's really just a drunk named Jug May (Jack Elam)...and the real Swifty (Chuck Connors) is on a train headed toward Purgatory.

Latigo also gets involved with the trigger-happy Patience (Suzanne Pleshette), who dreams of leaving Purgatory for a finishing school in New York. When she finally kisses Latigo, what thrills her most is that she's kissing a man who's set foot in New York!

I've seen SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL GUNFIGHTER almost as many times as SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF!, always hoping that I'll finally find it as funny as the earlier movie, but it just never gets there. SHERIFF is one of my favorite comedies, and on this viewing I set out to figure out exactly why GUNFIGHTER falls short. I believe I've hit on some answers.

First, the humor in general is less creative and more juvenile. Instead of focusing on smart gags like the painted "door" of the jail or Garner's bemused reactions to the madness around him, as occurred in SHERIFF, in the later film we get childish scenes such as a dog using Garner's leg as a "fire hydrant" early in the movie. I'm sorry, that's just not funny, nor is some of the other humor; this film is also missing some of the great dialogue of the earlier movie. Grant simply wasn't able to catch the same lightning in a bottle that Bowers nailed, comedically speaking.

In GUNFIGHTER's Latigo Smith, Garner plays a character who in many ways is unattractive, in terms of both character and looks. (Yes, looks! Garner was at his absolute most handsome in SHERIFF, but those sideburns in GUNFIGHTER were a terrible mistake.) Latigo is a lazy chiseler and a gambling addict, and one of his major issues is how to remove an unfortunate tattoo from his chest. Compare and contrast with Garner's SHERIFF character who is constantly busy solving problems, albeit in unusual ways, and making the town a better place.

Similarly, in the earlier film Joan Hackett's character is...exuberant...but she's also smart; she just happens to end up in some crazy situations! Pleshette's Patience, on the other hand, comes off as plain nuts for much of the film.

That's not to say there's absolutely nothing good about the movie. It's got James Garner, which is certainly worth something, and it's mildly amusing, which are two reasons I have gone back to it every now and again. Chuck Connors is particularly deserving of kudos for his small role as the real gunfighter.

All in all, there are surely worse ways to spend an afternoon, even if the movie's not on a level with SHERIFF, which I view as one of the funniest films ever made. It's pleasant hanging out with the great cast of faces, and it's especially fun that John Dehner was cast as a villain, given that he guest-starred opposite Garner and played the villain in the greatest MAVERICK episode of them all, "Shady Deal at Sunny Acres."

Returning from the earlier film, along with Garner and Elam, are Harry Morgan, Kathleen Freeman, Henry Jones, Willis Bouchey, Walter Burke, Gene Evans, Dick Haynes, and Bill and Danny Borzage. Joan Blondell, Ben Cooper, Herb Vigran, Dub Taylor, and Ellen Corby are also on hand this time around.


The Kino Lorber Blu-ray is a very good-looking print. The disc includes two deleted scenes, a commentary track by Michael Schlesinger, the trailer, and four additional trailers for Westerns available from Kino Lorber.

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

Tonight's Movie: Idiot's Delight (1939) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Clark Gable and Norma Shearer star in IDIOT'S DELIGHT (1939), available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

This filming of Robert Sherwood's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1936 play was the third and last of three movies in which Gable and Shearer costarred. Their first film together was A FREE SOUL (1931), with Gable in a supporting role, followed by STRANGE INTERLUDE (1932).

In IDIOT'S DELIGHT Gable plays Harry Van, a song-and-dance man who after service in World War I spends many years earning a hardscrabble living in the lower rungs of the entertainment business. Harry's current gig is a little more plush, touring Europe and performing with half a dozen lovely chorines (who include Virginia Grey, Paula Stone, and Virginia Dale).

Harry and the girls are forced to leave their train and head for a hotel when borders are closed due to the pending war. Among the other hotel guests is an obviously phony "Russian countess" (Shearer) Harry believes he recognizes from a short-lived fling during a Midwest engagement many years before...

I was prepared to like this film, given the lead actors, and was surprised to find the movie is an endless gabfest. It was the rare film where coincidentally I looked at the clock exactly 47 minutes in and was amazed to realize the movie still had an entire hour to go. Robert Sherwood's script, based on his play, is way too dull and talky. If actors like Gable, Shearer, Edward Arnold, and Charles Coburn can't breathe life into a film there's a problem.

The highlight, amidst the talk-talk-talking in the hotel, is Gable and his chorus performing "Puttin' on the Ritz" for their fellow hotel guests. I first saw an excerpt from this number in THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! (1974) as a child and consequently have seen that one sequence many times since. It's the liveliest moment in the movie, and Gable acquits himself surprisingly well as a good-natured song-and-dance man.

Otherwise, much of the movie consists of Gable staring at Shearer while his character tries to figure out if she's actually the American woman he remembers from his past. She frankly becomes tiresome in short order, prancing about with her phony accent and wig.

There's considerable talk about war, with a munitions manufacturer (Arnold) and a pacifist (the always-annoying Burgess Meredith) both staying at the hotel and military planes stationed next door. The movie was such a yawner that the more profound implications of their discussions scarcely registered, but I did find it interesting that Arnold's munitions maker was cast as a villain, rather than, say...Hitler.

In fact, it was also interesting that the film seemed to have a more isolationist "We don't want to relive WWI" attitude than other films made in the year or two before the U.S. entrance into the war, such as (among others) CONFESSIONS OF A NAZI SPY (1939) or THE MAN I MARRIED (1940). The movie skates around discussions of actual countries and current issues addressed by those films, in favor of a "War is bad" message, without recognizing that sometimes it's also necessary.

The movie comes to an end as bombs fall while Gable and Shearer gather 'round the piano, one of two endings shot; there was a different ending for European markets. Although meant to be profound, this concluding scene lacks the weight of the "bombs falling" ending of the following year's FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940). To the contrary, the ending of IDIOT'S DELIGHT comes off as a very strange moment.

IDIOT'S DELIGHT was directed by Clarence Brown and filmed in black and white by William Daniels. The movie was made with the usual MGM gloss, including gowns by Adrian.

The cast also includes Joseph Schildkraut, Pat Paterson (who was Mrs. Charles Boyer), Fritz Feld, Peter Willes, and Laura Hope Crews.

A side note: A bright spot for me was discovering Paula Stone among the chorines. She was the leading lady of the very first Hopalong Cassidy movie, HOP-A-LONG CASSIDY (1935), which I recently saw at the Lone Pine Film Festival. I'll have an article on that film featured at Classic Movie Hub in the near future. Stone was also in a couple Dick Foran Westerns, including TRAILIN' WEST (1936). Stone is seen in this photo just to the right of Gable, with Gable's longtime '40s flame Virginia Grey at the far right.

The Warner Archive DVD is an older print with the Turner logo at the beginning, but I thought it was fine, without major flaws and with good sound. The disc includes the trailer.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Tonight's Movie: The Trackers (1971) - A Kino Lorber DVD Review

THE TRACKERS (1971) is a TV-movie recently released on DVD by Kino Lorber.

THE TRACKERS is one of a trio of early '70s TV Westerns now available from Kino Lorber, along with THE DAUGHTERS OF JOSHUA CABE (1972), reviewed here a few days ago, and THE BOUNTY MAN (1972) with Clint Walker, which will be reviewed here at a future date.

Ernest Borgnine and Julie Adams play Sam and Dora Paxton, farmers who are on a shopping trip to town when raiders hit their farm. The Paxtons' teenage son (William Katt) is killed and their daughter Becky (Connie Kreski) is missing.

A posse fails to find the girl, and the local sheriff (Jim Davis) and a scout (Arthur Hunnicutt) the sheriff hires to help in the search are of limited help. Sam writes to an old friend who is a U.S. Marshal for help, but the man is unable to come. In his place he sends Deputy Marshal Ezekiel Smith (Sammy Davis Jr.) with his highest recommendation.

The ungrateful Sam is offended by the idea of working with a black man to track his daughter, but Dora will accept any help offered and eagerly answers the Deputy Marshal's questions. Sam grudgingly accepts the Deputy Marshal's offer of help, in order to placate his grieving wife, and the men set off on their search.

The racial angle provides an unusual spin to this story which is somewhat reminiscent of THE SEARCHERS (1956). Unfortunately, the racial animus aggressively expressed by Sam makes him so unlikeable and goes on for so much of the movie that it can be hard to watch at times.

It's probably not a surprise that the men eventually coming to terms is a major theme of the story, but Sam's previous behavior has been so obnoxious that it's almost unbelievable when he has a significant shift in attitude late in the film.

Julie Adams, looking appropriately worn and sporting what might have been her native Arkansas accent, is always a welcome screen presence. Most of the actors don't have enough screen time in the movie's 73 minutes to really develop characters, but faces like Davis, Hunnicutt, Leo Gordon, and Ross Elliott give the film more weight than it otherwise might have had.

In the end THE TRACKERS is not a particularly good film, being difficult to watch at times for the stated reasons, but Western fans will find it worth a look just to check out the cast.

The film was written by Gerald Gaiser from a story by Sammy Davis Jr. and Aaron Spelling; Davis and Spelling were also two of the film's three producers.

The film was directed by Earl Bellamy and shot by Tim Southcott. The score by Johnny Mandel did not impress, with the orchestrations sounding too modern for the film's time period; at times the music was also too jaunty, seeming mismatched with what was happening on screen.

The picture is a bit iffy at times, with a thin colored line across the top of the screen at one point, but it's about what one would expect for a TV-movie of its time period which has probably been sitting on a shelf for decades. I think it's great that Kino Lorber is making these films available once more.

The disc includes a gallery of trailers for three additional films available from Kino Lorber; the trailers do not have separate menu listings but run one immediately after the other.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this DVD.

Tonight's Movie: Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019)

Today I saw MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL (2019), the sequel to MALEFICENT (2014), reviewed here last night.

As the new film opens, Aurora (Elle Fanning), who was declared Queen of the Moors by her Fairy Godmother Maleficent (Angelina Jolie), has just become engaged to Prince Philip (Harris Dickinson, replacing Brenton Thwaites of the first movie).

Maleficent, always wary of humans despite her love for the very human Aurora, is skeptical of the match but agrees to attend an engagement dinner hosted by Philip's parents King John (Robert Lindsay) and Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer).

While Philip's father is genuinely thrilled that Philip and Aurora's marriage should help cement peace between the humans of his kingdom and the fairy folk of the Moors, it's unknown to all that Queen Ingrith has some very nasty plans afoot...starting with the destruction of her future daughter-in-law's beloved Godmother.

MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL is worthwhile, though I didn't find it as good as the earlier film; for a quick comparison, I'd term it a pleasant 2-1/2 star entertainment compared to the first film's solid 3 stars.

As in the first film, it's largely Jolie's show, and she runs away with every scene she's in. The subtitle, MISTRESS OF EVIL, while catchy, is inaccurate; Maleficent may look scary and have a "reputation," but in truth she's the protector of those who cannot save themselves from evil.

Jolie's Maleficent does have occasion to, one might say, let her inner "green Hulk" emerge, but she also has some lovely comedic moments, such as the scenes where her loyal servant Diaval (Sam Riley, returning from the first film) coaches her on etiquette and the art of small talk. The humorous banter between Maleficent and Diaval provides highlights in both films. I also continue to find her emotional connection with Aurora quite moving.

Fanning is a sweet and lovely Aurora, who also has the requisite spunk when needed, and Dickinson is an improvement on his predecessor in the role of Philip, showing greater maturity.

Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville, and Juno Temple also reprise their roles as the trio of Good Fairies who are Aurora's "Aunties"; if only the CGI caricatures didn't look quite so creepy!

There's an attempt to give Pfeiffer's character some motivation, but it's fairly weak tea, and it's completely lacking when it comes to her evil servant (Jenn Murray). It's true evil often doesn't have a reason, it simply is, but she was so unpleasant that I didn't enjoy watching her at all.

In this and other regards the film suffers in focusing too much on war rather than character. I commented regarding the first film that the battle scenes could have been trimmed, and here they were allowed to grow even more excessive, at the expense of quieter moments examining people and relationships. An attempt to shoehorn in the problems of an entirely new set of characters with whom Maleficent shares much in common is not entirely successful either.

The film is notably longer than the previous movie, 118 minutes to the first film's 97, and I think the story could easily have not only been somewhat reshaped but trimmed. It's interesting to note that while Linda Wolverton wrote the first film, here she was joined by two additional writers, Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue. We can't know who contributed what, but given Wolverton's solid track record one does wonder about "too many cooks."

A couple of scenes in particular were way over the top, notably the attempt to gas the fairy folk at the wedding. This being Disney, it's not a spoiler that all's well that ends well, but I'm sure I'm not the only person who thought uncomfortably of the Holocaust, which is not where you want your mind to go when enjoying a Disney film.

While it's perhaps easier to articulate what the negative issues were, despite those problems I did have quite a nice morning at the movies watching this film. The performances of Jolie, Fanning, and Riley are all excellent, and there are some real crowd-pleasing moments for their characters in the final scenes, in particular. I'm glad I spent part of my weekend watching this pair of movies.

MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL was directed by Joachim Ronning and filmed by Henry Braham.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated PG. As with the first film, there are a few moments which could easily disturb young children, but it's family friendly in other regards.

A trailer is on YouTube.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Maleficent (2014)

Disney's MALEFICENT (2014) was released theatrically over half a decade ago, but until now I hadn't caught up with it.

The studio's SLEEPING BEAUTY (1959) is my favorite animated cartoon, and in the past I wasn't particularly anxious to see a live-action film focused on the villain of the story.

At this year's D23 Expo I saw a clip from the new MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL (2019) which I found quite intriguing, so I decided it was time to give the original MALEFICENT a look at long last. And I'm pleased to report that I quite enjoyed it.

MALEFICENT was written by Linda Wolverton, who wrote the animated classic BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1991) and cowrote THE LION KING (1994).

Inspired both by Disney's cartoon version and the original SLEEPING BEAUTY story by Charles Perrault, MALEFICENT is an inside-out telling of the classic fairy tale. In this rendition, Maleficent is a kind fairy who is horribly betrayed by Stefan (Sharlto Copley), a peasant who longs to be king. He achieves his dream, but at a great price, as Maleficent curses his only child, Princess Aurora.

The broad outlines of the story continue in familiar fashion, yet with additional changes. The good fairies who hide and care for the infant Aurora in the forest are generally nice but also quarrelsome nitwits. Maleficent's loyal servant Diaval (Sam Riley), who travels far and wide in the form of a crow, soon finds where Baby Aurora is being raised.

With the fairies being somewhat ineffectual, Maleficent watches over and grudgingly protects the child she derisively nicknames "Beasty" for years, and she gradually comes to love her. And when the nearly grown Aurora (Elle Fanning) meets the woman she believes is her Fairy Godmother, that love is returned.

Maleficent wants to revoke her curse on Aurora...but how? Unfortunately, she was all too effective in making it irrevocable. Is young Prince Philip (Brenton Thwaites) the answer?

Jolie is magnificent as Maleficent, in a performance which is by turns moving, fiery, and wickedly funny. Jolie is an extremely charismatic performer, and as she's in the majority of the movie's scenes, that goes a long way to carry the film.

Fanning convincingly radiates joy as Aurora; the scene where she meets Maleficent and says she knows she's the Fairy Godmother who's watched over her her entire life is quite moving. There's another nice twist near the end of the film, as Maleficent grieves for the sleeping Aurora. The screenplay is rather clever giving the old story some fresh spins.

In a nice touch, Aurora as a very young child is played in a couple of scenes by Jolie's blonde daughter Vivienne Jolie-Pitt; I recall reading at the time that it was perhaps the only way to have a child that young in the movie who would smile at the scary-looking Maleficent!

Thwaites is pleasant but a bit of a dweeb as Prince Philip, though I think in the end that's perhaps what the filmmakers were going for. (He was recast in the new film, played by Harris Dickinson.) Riley comes off better as Maleficent's messenger; they share some nice bantering scenes.

The good fairies are played by Lesley Manville, Juno Temple, and Imelda Staunton, the latter recently reviewed here in DOWNTON ABBEY (2019). They are fine, if a little annoying, as the human-sized fairies in the forest, but the CGI versions of the characters seen elsewhere in the film are a little creepy.

I also could have stood for the multiple battle scenes to be pared down, but that's my only other real complaint. While I think those scenes could have been shorter, the movie runs a refreshingly brisk 97 minutes; the last few minutes are the credits, so the movie itself is closer to an hour and a half, which in this day and age counts as a short film.

Speaking of the end credits, Lana Del Rey sings "Once Upon a Dream" while they roll, paying tribute to Disney's earlier animated classic.

MALEFICENT was directed by Robert Stromberg and photographed by Dean Semler.

Parental Advisory: MALEFICENT is rated PG. There are some scary-looking, fiery battles and a couple of emotionally upsetting moments which may disturb sensitive young children, but otherwise it's family friendly.

A trailer is here.

MALEFICENT is available in a Blu-ray/DVD combo set, or as a single-title DVD.

I expect to see the new MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL this weekend, so look for that review here soon. (Update: Here is the review.)

Hallmark Christmas Movie Reviews

'Tis the season for Christmas least on Hallmark Channel and other cable channels!

And personally, I watch them year 'round so it's always a good time to think about Christmas movies.

Over the years I've reviewed a number of Hallmark Christmas movies. I thought that this year I would gather the links in one place so readers can use these links as ideas for possible Christmas viewing. Most or all of these films will be shown on Hallmark Channel or Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Channel over the next two and a half months.

Simply click on one of the channel links above and search any title for the air date(s).

Alternatively, check the Christmas movie schedule at It's a Wonderful Movie, an essential information site for anyone who enjoys Hallmark movies.

The Christmas reviews are listed in order by year aired. I may add to the list as the season continues.
















Finally, it's not a Hallmark film, but anyone who has Netflix may want to check out this cute movie, which debuted last Thanksgiving:


Happy Christmas movie viewing!

Update: More reviews, starting with A VETERAN'S CHRISTMAS (2018)

SNOWED-INN CHRISTMAS (2017), a Lifetime film made with a pair of frequent Hallmark stars:

THE CHRISTMAS CHRONICLES 2 (2020), which airs on Netflix:

BAKING ALL THE WAY (2022) from Lifetime Channel:

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