Saturday, November 30, 2019

TCM in December: Christmas Movies

It's the last day of November, and that means it's time for my annual guide to Christmas movies on this year's Turner Classic Movies schedule!

Starting on December 1st, TCM will be showcasing Christmas movies on Sundays, with an extensive daytime lineup along with a "double feature" in prime time.

Additional films are scattered throughout the month, with many films airing from December 22nd straight through Christmas Day.

Please click on any link below for an extended review. In the case of several films which will be shown multiple times, reviews are only linked the first time the title is mentioned.

December 1st:


December 2nd:

KING OF KINGS (1917 and 1961 versions)
BEN-HUR (1925 and 1959 versions)

December 8th:


December 11th:


December 15th:


December 16th:

LITTLE WOMEN (1933 and 1949 versions)

December 22nd:


December 23rd:


December 24th:


December 25th:


Christmas titles shown on TCM vary a bit from year to year for a variety of reasons. Among the films which haven't turned up on the TCM schedule this Christmas season are HOLIDAY INN (1942), CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT (1945), NEVER SAY GOODBYE (1946), COVER UP (1949), TRAIL OF ROBIN HOOD (1950), and DESK SET (1957), along with WHITE CHRISTMAS (1954), which I don't recall ever being shown on TCM. I list these films simply to provide additional ideas for home viewing.

This year Noir Alley will be debuting the marvelous REPEAT PERFORMANCE (1947) on December 28th and 29th. This magical film has a New Year's Eve setting which makes it perfect for this time of year. Joan Leslie, Louis Hayward, Richard Basehart, and Tom Conway head an excellent cast.

As is often the case, New Year's Eve on TCM will be spent with the THIN MAN series and the THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! musical compilation films.

For more information on TCM's December 2019 schedule, please also visit the online TCM schedule, along with my posts TCM in December: Highlights, TCM Star of the Month: Joan Blondell, and Quick Preview of TCM in December.

Merry Christmas!

Tonight's Movie: Frozen II (2019)

It's hard to believe half a dozen years have passed since the release of Disney's FROZEN (2013), an outstanding animated musical whose popularity hasn't slacked a bit with the passage of time, at least if the number of little girls dressed as Anna or Elsa at Disneyland is anything to go by.

The entire voice cast returns for FROZEN II (2019), an excellent film which is part sequel, part origin story. As the film begins, we see Young Anna (Hadley Gannaway) and Young Elsa (Mattea Conforti) with their parents (Evan Rachel Wood and Alfred Molina), learning a bit of their family history.

After the opening title credit the film jumps to present day, where the parents have been dead for several years and Elsa (Idina Menzel) is hearing a haunting tune no one else can hear. Suddenly the kingdom of Arendelle begins experiencing strange occurrences, including an earthquake and disappearing water and fire.

Elsa, her sister Anna (Kristen Bell), Anna's sweetheart Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), Olaf the enchanted snowman (Josh Gad), and Sven the reindeer venture to an enchanted forest, where they will confront the girls' family history and attempt to save Arendelle's future.

The problems the group faces may be slightly convoluted at times, but it's nonetheless an interesting film which continues to spotlight a pair of unique, strong female characters. The intrepid Elsa is a force to be reckoned with, while the more overtly emotional and exuberant Anna likewise proves her mettle.

Kristoff is pushed a bit to the side, but FROZEN has always been first and foremost the story of Elsa and Anna's relationship, and Kristoff shows up when it counts. The style of Kristoff's solo "Lost in the Woods" likewise seems somewhat out of keeping with the tenor of the rest of the film, coming off more as teenybopper music than a Broadway-style show tune. I discovered that others have commented on this, including an article at Gizmodo.

The rest of the songs by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez are strong, though I confess a preference for the catchier tunes of the original film. (While Elsa's anthem "Let It Go" has become rightfully famous, my favorite song from that film is the lilting "For the First Time in Forever.") "The Next Right Thing," "Into the Unknown," and "Show Yourself" all provide stirring moments, with Elsa again having an emotional high point with "Show Yourself."

The film is visually stunning, to the extent it could probably be enjoyed with the soundtrack turned off. The sets and costumes, the icy diamonds which sometimes float through the air, Elsa's ice horse, and so much more combine for an exquisitely beautiful viewing experience.

All in all, while I had slight reservations here and there, FROZEN II joins its predecessor as a top-drawer animated Disney musical, and I look forward to revisiting it in the future.

FROZEN II was directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee from Lee's screenplay, based on a story by five contributors including herself and Buck. The running time is 103 minutes.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated PG.

A trailer may be found here. Additional trailers are available at the film's official website.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Charley Varrick (1973) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

The top-notch heist film CHARLEY VARRICK (1973), directed by Don Siegel, is now available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber.

I first saw this film, which stars Walter Matthau in the title role, at the 2017 Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival. For various reasons I hadn't been sure going in whether or not I'd like it, and as it turned out I found the movie mesmerizing. My reaction on revisiting it today, two and a half years later, was the same. It's a terrific film, with intricate plotting and a top-notch cast.

Charley and his gang, including wife Nadine (Jacqueline Scott) and younger Harman Sullivan (Andrew "Andy" Robinson), regularly replenish their funds hitting up small-town banks. A robbery in sleepy Tres Cruces, New Mexico, goes awry when people start shooting.

(A fun note guest Andrew Robinson shared with the audience at the Lyons Festival: The car hood popping open during the getaway was not in the plans, but the cameras kept rolling and they improvised.)

Charley and Harman make their getaway, discovering they have miraculously stolen three quarters of a million dollars. Harman is overjoyed, but Charley quickly deduces it's actually bad news; that kind of money shouldn't have been in a bank that small, and it's very possibly "off the books" money stashed away by the Mafia.

Charley's guess is correct, and hit man Molly (Joe Don Baker) is quickly on the trail of the money and the people who have it. Charley, meanwhile, coolly maps out a survival strategy, setting up an elaborate chess game with his mob pursuer, who presents a much bigger problem than law enforcement.

I think I actually liked the film even more the second time around, as I better understood the payoffs for Charley's different moves, including some of the red herrings he throws onto the trail.

I'm not particularly a Matthau fan, but he's simply perfect for this role. (I also really enjoyed him this year in another Kino release, the 1965 film MIRAGE.) Matthau carries the majority of the film, and it's a lot of fun watching him do his thing. As the story develops, the movie gradually flips how Charley is viewed by the audience; he starts out as murderous robber but becomes an antihero as he goes up against crooks who are even more lethal than he is. The audience ends up rooting for Charley because Molly is such a nasty piece of work.

The cast is filled with terrific faces, starting with Robinson as Charley's hapless, none-too-smart sidekick. Robinson also shared in his 2017 interview that he received stunt pay working on Siegel's films -- he was also in DIRTY HARRY (1971) -- and that a rough sequence he filmed with Baker was not one of his favorite acting experiences. The interview may be seen in two parts at the Film Noir Foundation website.

The wonderful William Schallert is the Las Cruces sheriff, and Marjorie Bennett plays the trailer park busybody. Monica Lewis, Sheree North, and Felicia Farr are a trio of ladies affiliated with the mob. That's Kathleen O'Malley (Prudence in John Ford's WAGON MASTER) playing Jessie, the sheriff's dispatcher early in the film.

Also on hand are Benson Fong, Bob Steele, Woodrow Parfrey, John Vernon, Norman Fell, Rudy Diaz, and Tom Tully, in his last feature film.

CHARLEY VARRICK runs 111 minutes. It was written by Howard Rodman and Dean Riesner, based on a novel by John Reese, THE LOOTERS. It was filmed by Michael C. Butler.

Kino Lorber didn't stint on the extras for this release. In addition to a commentary track by the always-worthwhile Toby Roan, there's a recent 72-minute documentary, THE LAST OF THE INDEPENDENTS (2015), which includes interviews with Andrew Robinson, Jacqueline Scott, and Don Siegel's son, actor-director Kristoffer Tabori.

There are additional featurettes, TV spots, the trailer, and a glossy eight-page booklet with an essay by Nick Pinkerton.

Kino Lorber has also released CHARLEY VARRICK on DVD.

Fans of heist films will enjoy this very entertaining film and Kino Lorber's excellent release.

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

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Happy Thanksgiving!

Best wishes to all my readers for a blessed Thanksgiving!

Here's a very young Loretta Young in a studio publicity shot. I'm always amazed at how many holiday photos the studios produced for fan magazines and the like.

My gratitude to everyone who visits this blog, I am thankful for each one of you! Enjoy a wonderful holiday!

Previous Hollywood Thanksgiving photos: Jeanne Crain, Angela Greene, Ann Blyth, Marsha Hunt, Hedy Lamarr, and Phyllis Thaxter.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Christmas in July (1940) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Kino Lorber has recently had a lineup of particularly good new releases, several of which I'll be reviewing here in the near future.

One of those films is CHRISTMAS IN JULY (1940), which was released this week by Kino Lorber alongside the British Christmas film THE HOLLY AND THE IVY (1952); the latter film will also be reviewed here soon.

CHRISTMAS IN JULY technically isn't a Christmas film, but one of its main themes is about the happiness which comes from helping others, making it particularly good viewing at this time of year. It's a short little 67-minute classic written and directed by the great Preston Sturges.

CHRISTMAS IN JULY is the story of Jimmy (Dick Powell), an office clerk who believes he's won a fortune in a contest by creating a new ad slogan for a coffee company.

Jimmy has been stuck in a dead-end job and suddenly has enough money to marry his sweetheart Betty (Ellen Drew) and make life better for his family and friends. The day of his win holds many more surprises which won't be spoiled here; along the way Sturges' script explores additional themes such as the importance of hope and the pitfalls of celebrity.

Powell and Drew are excellent, with Powell particularly moving as a frustrated man who suddenly finds himself living a joyous dream, with money to spend and bright job prospects ahead. The pretty Drew's career wasn't especially splashy but she worked steadily and gave excellent performances in a number of films, including JOHNNY O'CLOCK (1947), which reunited her with Powell, and STARS IN MY CROWN (1950) with Joel McCrea. CHRISTMAS IN JULY is another strong performance from Drew.

The film is a who's who of great character faces, including Raymond Walburn, Franklin Pangborn, William Demarest, Rod Cameron, Ernest Truex, and Ferike Boros.

The movie was filmed in black and white by Victor Milner.

I first reviewed this film here in 2008 and saw it again at the 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival. This is a good one to return to every few years, so I was delighted to watch it again thanks to this beautiful new Kino Lorber release. The print is lovely.

The interesting audio commentary by film historian Samm Deighan delves into Sturges' films and their themes; she also comments on other aspects, such as the very realistic strain underlying Jimmy and Betty's relationship. (That angle was frankly a surprise to me the first time I saw the film, as it's portrayed in a different tone than one tends to see in that era.) It's a thoughtful and well-researched commentary which added to my enjoyment of the film.

Additional extras are the trailer and a gallery of trailers for other films available from Kino Lorber.

Another lesser-known Sturges film released the same year, THE GREAT MCGINTY (1940), will be released by Kino Lorber in January.

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

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

New Western Roundup Column at Classic Movie Hub

My new column was posted today at Classic Movie Hub.

This month's post is "Western Film Book Library - Part 2," a sequel to a column published in July.

Please click on over to Classic Movie Hub for a discussion of some of my favorite books on Westerns!

Thanks for reading, and Happy Thanksgiving!

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; October 2019.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Tonight's Movie: The Goldwyn Follies (1938) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

The colorful musical THE GOLDWYN FOLLIES (1938) is available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

Although I love musicals, I was unfamiliar with this film until I recently read a post on it by Jessica Pickens at Comet Over Hollywood. I was intrigued and caught up with it today; I can report I found it visually stunning, if only moderately entertaining in other regards.

Adolphe Menjou plays movie producer Oliver Merlin, whose latest films haven't done well. While on location he overhears Hazel Dawes (Andrea Leeds, STAGE DOOR) commenting on the silliness of the scene she's just watched filming, and he decides to hire Hazel as a sort of "everywoman" he dubs "Miss Humanity" who will help him stay in touch with what the general public wants to see.

Hazel falls in love with an unknown singer, Danny (Kenny Baker, who would later appear in THE HARVEY GIRLS). The only problem with this is Oliver thinks he's in love with Hazel...

That's pretty much it as far as the plot. The rest of the film strings together a bunch of musical and comedy numbers of varying quality. There's Vera Zorina (seen here) and the American Ballet, choreographed by George Balanchine; opera singer Helen Jepson; Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy; and the odious Ritz Brothers, who also appeared in ON THE AVENUE (1937). The less said about them the better, other than I'll never understand how they made it into the movies.

Of particular note are two Gershwin songs, "Our Love is Here to Stay" and "Love Walked In," which made their first appearances in this film. I also especially enjoyed Jepson singing an excerpt from LA TRAVIATA and Zorina's "Water Nymph" ballet.

Nothing about the musical numbers especially impressed me, but they're worthwhile, and the film should be seen at least once simply to take in the stunning Technicolor photography by Gregg Toland. The color is really something else!

There are other moments here and there which make the movie worth checking out, such as Alan Ladd in an early bit role playing a singer auditioning for a part. The idea of Ladd as a singer amused me.

For those wondering, Leeds did not do her own singing in her duets with Baker, but was dubbed by Virginia Verrill.

THE GOLDWYN FOLLIES was directed by George Marshall and the uncredited H.C. Potter. It runs 122 minutes.

The supporting cast includes Ella Logan (later of Broadway's FINIAN'S RAINBOW), Nydia Westman, Phil Baker, Bobby Clark, and Jerome Cowan.

THE GOLDWYN FOLLIES was released on a retail DVD a number of years ago, then reissued by the Warner Archive in 2015. Unlike most Warner Archive DVDs, it has subtitles and an illustrated chapter menu which were carried over from the original DVD release. The print is beautiful, with excellent sound.

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.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Every Which Way But Loose (1978)

This year I've enjoyed a few films starring or directed by Clint Eastwood, including ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ (1979), BRONCO BILLY (1980), and revisiting SULLY (2016).

Since I enjoyed all of those titles I got to thinking I should check out more Eastwood films, and I started with EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE (1978).

I remember seeing the advertisements for this when I was a kid -- the orangutan was kind of hard to miss -- but I had never seen the movie before. It proved to be mildly amusing, though nothing special.

The movie is almost plotless. As it begins, we see Philo Beddoe (Eastwood) getting off work driving a truck, but little else is heard of his job after that point. Philo lives with an orangutan (!) named Clyde; his buddy Orville (Geoffrey Lewis) lives next door with his ornery mother (Ruth Gordon).

Philo becomes interested in Lynn (Sondra Locke), who sings at talent night at the Palomino Club, and when she leaves town abruptly, Philo and Orville -- and Clyde! -- hit the road to search for her. (Job, what job?!) Along the way they meet Echo (Beverly D'Angelo) working at a roadside produce stand, and Echo and Orville become an item.

That's pretty much the story right there. As the movie meandered on, it suddenly hit me that it was an updated version of a Beach Party movie; it had music, a goofy motorcycle gang, characters living free from responsibility, and not much plot. All it needed to complete the analogy was Vincent Price or Bob Cummings in the cast!

Price and Cummings are not in the movie, but there are a couple great old character faces who have screen time, George Chandler and Hank Worden.

I liked the movie's music, with Eddie Rabbitt singing the title song and appearances by Mel Tillis and Charlie Rich. I also enjoyed some of the great "vintage" shots of the San Fernando Valley, such as a look at a Bob's Big Boy under the opening credits.

There were some cute bits with Clyde but all in all the film is only mildly entertaining. I do hope to catch the sequel, ANY WHICH WAY YOU CAN (1980), in the near future. Although I wasn't impressed, it's fun getting to know the movies behind the posters after all these years.

EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE was directed by James Fargo from a script (such as it is) by Jeremy Joe Kronsberg. The movie was shot by Rexford Metz.

EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE is available on DVD as a single title or in the 4 Film Favorites: Clint Eastwood collection. It also had a release on VHS.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Swing Time (1936)

Some of my very earliest movie memories are of watching Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers on local television (KTTV in Los Angeles, to be exact!). They've been part of my life for just about as long as I can remember.

I was also fortunate to see several of their films, including SWING TIME (1936), in L.A. theaters growing up; they're part of my happy memories of going to "old" films at the Vagabond or the Leo S. Bing at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Like MGM musicals, I saw these films so many times that in recent years I've focused on seeing other films, especially "new to me" movies. It's thus especially fun to return to an old favorite like SWING TIME after a number of years, seeing a very familiar film through fresh eyes.

SWING TIME is widely considered one of the best (and perhaps the best) Fred & Ginger film. I'm not sure if it's my favorite, mostly because I find supporting actor Victor Moore so annoying (he's on a par with Hugh Herbert for me), but it's definitely high on the list. The Jerome Kern-Dorothy Fields score and the dances simply don't get any better than they are in this movie.

SWING TIME is a bit slow out of the starting gate, more lightweight rom com than musical, as Lucky (Astaire) is due to marry wealthy Margaret (Betty Furness). Lucky's show biz pals sabotage his plans on his wedding day, but Margaret's father says he'll approve a new wedding date if Lucky can make good on earning $25,000.

Once Penny (Rogers) appears things pick up considerably, no pun intended: Lucky visits the dance studio where Penny is an instructor and pretends he can't dance, prompting the first great number of the movie, "Pick Yourself Up." From this point on, roughly half an hour into the 103-minute movie, it fires on all cylinders.

From there on out, you've got the Oscar-winning "The Way You Look Tonight," the "Waltz in Swing Time," and "A Fine Romance," as well as Astaire's great solo, "Bojangles of Harlem," with its remarkable effects. (And yes, the blackface may be uncomfortable by modern standards, but at the time it was filmed it was honoring both the American minstrel tradition and Astaire's friend Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. Context is important, rather than looking back with current sensibilities.) For my money, the greatest of all the musical numbers in the film comes last, "Never Gonna Dance."

I would not only term "Never Gonna Dance" the greatest of Fred and Ginger's dances, I'd stack it against any musical number, anywhere, as one of the greatest ever put on film. The stunning Art Deco set with reflecting floor, Ginger's elegant gown (by Bernard Newman), the Kern-Fields song, the overwhelming emotions as they believe they've lost their chance at love...and most of all, the dancing, it's simply spectacular magic. Only Astaire and Cyd Charisse "Dancing in the Dark" in THE BAND WAGON (1953) ranks alongside it for me.

The plot's a lot of gossamer silliness as Lucky tries to get out of earning $25,000 so he won't have to marry Margaret, because he's now in love with Penny...but it doesn't really matter, because that last hour-plus of the movie is filled with musical glory.

The presence of one of my favorite '30s character actresses, Helen Broderick, helps make up for Victor Moore being in the movie, especially when she puts him in his place. The cast also includes Eric Blore, Georges Metaxa, and Landers Stevens. Bess Flowers and Dennis O'Keefe are said to be among the extras, but I didn't spot them.

SWING TIME was directed by George Stevens, who certainly made some diverse films in his long career, including SHANE (1953). The movie was filmed by David Abel, who had worked from the days of silents. He retired after THE AFFAIRS OF SUSAN (1945) and lived until the early '70s.

I watched the lovely Criterion Collection Blu-ray released earlier this year, which I recently purchased on sale. The disc has many extras, and there's also a booklet with an essay by Imogen Sara Smith, illustrated with stills from "Never Gonna Dance."

SWING TIME has been released on many other occasions, including the DVD set Astaire & Rogers: The Complete Collection and on VHS.

Highly recommended.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Woman in Hiding (1950) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

This fall has been a wonderful time for Ida Lupino fans, thanks to Kino Lorber. Having previously released the four-film Ida Lupino Filmmaker Collection, consisting of films directed by Lupino, Kino has now released WOMAN IN HIDING (1950) on Blu-ray.

Lupino stars in the title role in WOMAN IN HIDING, a Universal Pictures film which was previously released on DVD in the TCM Vault Collection.

It's a well-done "woman in peril" film with a crackerjack opening, as Lupino drives a wildly careening car underneath the opening credits, culminating in the car flying off the road into a river.

The viewer soon learns that Deborah Chandler Clark (Lupino) survived the crash but is hiding from her homicidal hubby Selden Clark (Stephen McNally), having fled from him on their wedding night. Unbeknownst to Deborah, hubby anticipated her escape and cut the brake line.

Selden had previously pushed Deborah's father (John Litel) off a catwalk at the Chandlers' company (!), then married Deborah so he could own the business. Deborah learns all this when she and Selden arrive at their honeymoon destination only to find Selden's mistress Patricia (Peggy Dow) waiting there, very unhappy that Selden married someone else and ready to let Deborah know just what a mess she's walked into.

While on the road hiding from Selden, Deborah meets Keith Ramsey (Howard Duff), a veteran still finding his way back into civilian life; he's a "college man" but currently working at a bus depot magazine stand while he figures out his future.

Keith initially thinks Deborah is emotionally unstable and wants to help her husband find her so that Deborah will get the "care" she needs...will he realize his mistake too late?

There's nothing especially unique about the film, but Lupino is always compelling. Additionally, I love Universal films of this era, which are typically well plotted and packed with interesting casts; in addition to the Lupino and other actors previously mentioned, there's even Peggie Castle in a bit role as a waitress who works alongside Lupino in a diner. It's simply a very enjoyable 92 minutes of suspenseful melodrama.

Lupino and Duff married the year after this film was released. Curiously, I felt that Duff looks somewhat younger than Lupino here, but in reality he was half a decade older! I suspect it may be due to the shorter early '50s hairstyle which had an "aging effect" on so many actresses of this era. She was only about 31 when this was filmed.

WOMAN IN HIDING was directed by Michael Gordon. Roy Huggins of MAVERICK and THE ROCKFORD FILES fame adapted James Webb's SATURDAY EVENING POST story, which was then turned into a screenplay by Oscar Saul.

The black and white photography was by William Daniels.

The supporting cast includes Taylor Holmes, Don Beddoe, Irving Bacon, and Angela Clarke. If IMDb can be believed, Tony Curtis is the voice of the bus driver, Dave Shaw, played by William Val. I'll have to take another look and listen!

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray looks quite nice. Extras on the Blu-ray are a commentary track by Kat Ellinger and a gallery of four trailers for other films available from Kino Lorber.

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

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Rebecca (1940) at the Egyptian Theatre

Last night was another very special evening in Hollywood, thanks to the American Cinematheque: A screening of David O. Selznick's personal 35mm nitrate print of REBECCA (1940).

The REBECCA showing, which was a complete sellout, was part of a weekend of nitrate films at the Egyptian Theatre. Director Christopher Nolan (DUNKIRK) was present to introduce the movie.

I've seen REBECCA on a big screen multiple times over the years, including at the Tiffany Theater in the late '70s and at the TCM Classic Film Festival in 35mm in 2015, but this viewing was extra-special. The nitrate print was absolutely pristine.

There's something truly unique about nitrate, which I've heard described as being the closest viewers can get to having actually been on the set. A nitrate print has a richness to it that almost makes it feel like a living thing, and knowing that exact print has been viewed by others throughout many decades is awe-inspiring. In a sense, last night all of us in attendance became part of the history of that nitrate print.

Since REBECCA is one of my favorite films directed by Alfred Hitchcock, the evening was pretty much perfect for me. For those curious, I'd class REBECCA in my Top 5 Hitchcock films, along with FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940), THE LADY VANISHES (1938), NOTORIOUS (1946), and SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943). REBECCA was the director's first American-made film.

The story of somewhat mysterious, wealthy widower Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier) and his shy and adoring young second wife (Joan Fontaine) is well known to most classic film fans, so I won't reiterate it here; I encourage any classic film fans who haven't yet seen this film to bump it high up on the "to watch" list!

Although the screenplay by Joan Harrison and Robert E. Sherwood was forced by the Production Code to make a key change from the classic novel by Daphne Du Maurier, it's exemplary classic film era moviemaking in every way, very much deserving of its Academy Award for Best Picture. The movie runs two hours and 10 minutes yet never seems too long, and I happily return to it every few years.

The casting of the role of the Second Mrs. de Winter is almost as famous as Selznick's hunt for Scarlett O'Hara, but in both cases he got it right. Joan Fontaine is simply splendid in the role; every nuance is pitch perfect. It's a performance which has grown on me more with each viewing; in recent years I've picked up on some interesting unspoken undercurrents as played by Fontaine and Olivier, who is also perfectly cast as Maxim.

As for the supporting cast, they don't come any better. Other actresses have tackled the role, but Oscar-nominated Judith Anderson is the Mrs. Danvers for all time. George Sanders plays the late Rebecca's oily "cousin," Reginald Denny is Maxim's loyal aide, and Gladys Cooper and Nigel Bruce are Maxim's sister and brother-in-law. Florence Bates, Leo G. Carroll, and Sir C. Aubrey Smith round out the players. As good as "modern" movies can be, casts like this simply don't exist in this day and age.

The Oscar-winning cinematography was by George Barnes, and the musical score was by Franz Waxman.

REBECCA has been released on DVD multiple times, including by the Criterion Collection and as part of the Alfred Hitchcock Premiere Collection. It's also been released on Blu-ray and VHS.

Some more shots taken last night:

We're very lucky that two of the four theaters capable of screening nitrate prints are in Los Angeles, the other being UCLA's Billy Wilder Theater.

Christopher Nolan speaking before the movie (click on the photo to enlarge it):

REBECCA is most highly recommended.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Tonight's Movie: The Right Stuff (1983) at the American Legion Hollywood Post 43 Theatre

Earlier this week we celebrated Veterans Day with a very special event at the American Legion Hollywood Post 43 Theatre. The occasion was a screening of the modern classic THE RIGHT STUFF (1983), held in conjunction with the American Cinematheque.

The gorgeous Post 43 theater, which has a superb sound system, was an inspired choice for the showing of a beautiful 35mm print. The movie couldn't have looked or sounded any better than it did on Monday evening, where it was appreciated by a near-sellout crowd.

Prior to the film, Alan K. Rode interviewed the film's director and screenwriter, Philip Kaufman, who among other things shared memories of flying with Chuck Yeager.

Actress Veronica Cartwright, who played Betty Grissom in the film, was introduced from the audience. Cartwright was also one of the stars of Kaufman's remake of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978).

The movie's theme was, of course, perfect for a Veterans Day celebration. Post 43 is celebrating its centennial this year. Before continuing with a discussion of the film, here are photos of Monday night's beautiful American Legion venue on Highland Avenue, located just south of the Hollywood Bowl:

THE RIGHT STUFF is a longtime favorite of mine which I'd not seen in a theater since its original release. I was thrilled to watch the movie with a packed, enthusiastic audience who applauded the first appearances of several cast members, including Cartwright and modern-day cult favorite Jeff Goldblum.

There are very few films which run over 3 hours -- 193 minutes to be exact -- and can be said to fly by (no pun intended, but it fits!). The film is mesmerizing from its earliest scenes, with Sam Shepard channeling Gary Cooper as he plays the remarkable Yeager, the test pilot who breaks the sound barrier.

The film never lets up, as the stories of the Mercury 7 astronauts merge with Shepard's when future astronauts Gordon Cooper (Dennis Quaid) and Deke Slayton (Scott Paulin) arrive at the dusty California air base where Yeager's been flying for years; the cocky young pilots are a contrast to the "old school" test pilots Yeager and Scott Crossfield (Scott Wilson).

Eventually we meet the other Mercury 7 astronauts chosen at the end of an arduous (and at times funny) process, including straight arrows John Glenn (Ed Harris) and Scott Carpenter (Charles Frank), Air Force pilot Alan Shepard (Scott Glenn), ornery Gus Grissom (Fred Ward), and reticent Wally Schirra (Lance Henriksen).

Kaufman's screenplay and the film's actors somehow pull off a tone which manages to be both irreverent and patriotic. The astronauts realize they're in the middle of a big PR game and milk it for all it's worth, participating in the creation of their own public images while privately cracking jokes about it. At the same time, when the helmeted astronauts walk toward the camera accompanied by Bill Conti's soaring, Oscar-winning theme, it's tremendously stirring, and later scenes of their various triumphs in space are quite beautiful and moving.

There are so many memorable moments, beautifully filmed by Caleb Deschanel, from Yeager and his wife Glennis (Barbara Hershey) horseback riding to Glenn telling his wife (Mary Jo Deschanel) she doesn't have to let Vice President Johnson (Donald Moffat) into their house to the astronauts demanding that the designers put a window on the capsule, which they rename a "spacecraft." Cartwright shines in a scene when she realizes she won't get the chance to meet Jackie Kennedy. Moments big and small string together and combine into an unforgettable movie.

The one sequence I've never quite understood is the fan dance with Sally Rand (Peggy Davis) near the conclusion of the movie; it's used as a way for the astronauts to take a sort of curtain call, juxtaposed with Yeager's latest death-defying flight, but I've always found it an odd choice.

The supporting cast includes Pamela Reed, John Dehner, Kim Stanley, Royal Dano, David Clennon, and Harry Shearer. Chuck Yeager appears in scenes at Pancho's Bar on the desert air base.

As the movie concluded, there was extensive applause for many names in the end credits, all very much deserved. THE RIGHT STUFF is highly recommended.

THE RIGHT STUFF is available on Blu-ray, DVD, and VHS.

It was also released on a 30th Anniversary Blu-ray, which is the version I own.

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