Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to all my readers!

Here's the beloved Doris Day ringing in the New Year in 1951. We lost Doris this past year, but thankfully she left her music and movies with us to enjoy forever.

I hope everyone who reads this enjoys a very happy and healthy 2020 filled with favorite things!

Previous classic film New Year's photos: Joan Leslie, Anita Louise, Dorothy Patrick, Mona Freeman, Joan Caulfield, Esther Williams, and Ann Blyth.

Monday, December 30, 2019

TCM in January: Highlights

Happy New Year! And very best wishes to all my readers for a happy and healthy 2020.

This month on Turner Classic Movies Patricia Neal will be the January Star of the Month. 16 of Neal's films plus a short are scheduled to screen over the course of Tuesday evenings this month. Please note there will not be a separate Star of the Month post this month.

On Wednesday evenings this month's TCM Spotlight will be focused on the Roaring 20s. Nearly two dozen films will look at gangsters, Prohibition, speakeasies, and flappers over the course of January.

The January Noir Alley titles will be THE BIG SLEEP (1946) on January 4th and 5th, BIG NIGHT (1951) on the 11th and 12th, THE CAPTIVE CITY (1952) on January 18th and 19th, and TRY AND GET ME (1950), also known as THE SOUND OF FURY, on January 25th and 26th.

Here are a few more titles of interest from the January schedule. Please click any hyperlinked title for an extended review.

...New Year's Day features sci-fi films including the entertaining and colorful WORLD WITHOUT END (1956). The cast includes Hugh Marlowe, Rod Taylor, and Nancy Gates.

...I SHOT JESSE JAMES (1949) is a very interesting Western written and directed by Samuel Fuller, starring John Ireland, Preston Foster, and Barbara Britton. It's on in the early morning hours of January 3rd. Worth checking out.

...Anthony Mann's excellent "French Revolution noir," THE BLACK BOOK (aka REIGN OF TERROR) (1949) airs later in the day on January 3rd. Robert Cummings and Arlene Dahl lead a terrific cast.

...The superb KISS OF DEATH (1947), starring Victor Mature, Coleen Gray, Richard Widmark, and Brian Donlevy, airs on TCM late on Saturday evening, January 4th. This is a big favorite of mine which I've seen numerous times over the last several years.

...I recently revisited the Billy Wilder comedy THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR (1942) when it was released on Blu-ray by Arrow. For anyone who won't have the chance to see that excellent disc in the near future, the movie is airing on TCM January 5th. Ginger Rogers and Ray Milland star, with a delightful supporting turn by Diana Lynn. Lynn, who was also a gifted pianist, also had a wonderful part in another great comedy a couple years later, THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN'S CREEK (1944).

...I know very little about it, but there's a documentary titled SCANDAL: THE TRIAL OF MARY ASTOR (2018) airing twice on January 6th, along with several films starring Astor. TCM has more details posted at their site.

...The first evening of Patricia Neal's Star of the Month films on January 7th include THE FOUNTAINHEAD (1949) with Gary Cooper and a pair of films with Ronald Reagan, JOHN LOVES MARY (1949) and THE HASTY HEART (1950).

...I love that TCM regularly celebrates the January 9th birthday of actress Anita Louise. Nine of her films will be shown that date. I particularly enjoyed FIRST LADY (1937), also starring Kay Francis and Preston Foster, and PERSONAL MAID'S SECRET (1935), a gem of a "B" film which runs just 58 minutes.

...January 10th is one of those days to sit on the couch in front of the TV and not move! The schedule includes two of my all-time favorite films, ARMORED CAR ROBBERY (1950) and ANGEL AND THE BADMAN (1947); a pair of very enjoyable Warner Bros. films with Zachary Scott, DANGER SIGNAL (1945) and FLAMINGO ROAD (1949), and an evening of Douglas Sirk films including ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS (1957). Enjoy!

...Marion Davies is delightful in the silent comedy SHOW PEOPLE (1928), a Hollywood tale which I saw with a live orchestra at the 2018 TCM Classic Film Festival. It's on January 13th.

...NOAH'S ARK (1928) is a fascinating mashup of WWI film and Biblical epic; it's also part silent, part talkie. George O'Brien stars, directed by Michael Curtiz. The air date is January 15th.

...I've never seen AFFAIR WITH A STRANGER (1953), but with Victor Mature and Jean Simmons in the leads, I definitely need to give it a look. It will be shown January 16th.

...Another fantastic day on TCM on January 19th includes the great noir BORN TO KILL (1947), the classic comedy ALL ABOUT EVE (1950), and an entire evening of Harold Lloyd's silent shorts!

...There's another great film from Anthony Mann on January 20th, THE TALL TARGET (1951). Dick Powell plays a New York police detective desperately trying to stop the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in 1861. The action is set on a train, and the lighting, as filmed by Paul Vogel, is superb.

...A day of Conrad Veidt films on January 22nd includes ABOVE SUSPICION (1943), a WWII suspense film with Joan Crawford and Fred MacMurray as newlyweds tasked with a mission from the British Foreign Office while honeymooning in "Southern Germany" (Austria). Based on a novel by Helen MacInnes, it's not a perfect film, but I found it pleasantly entertaining when I watched it nearly a decade ago.

...There are a pair of entertaining Westerns on January 23rd, Tim Holt's STORM OVER WYOMING (1950) and THE PAINTED DESERT (1931) starring William Boyd and a young Clark Gable.

...NIGHT WAITRESS (1936) is one of a large number of "B" films I've watched which were directed by Lew Landers, who knew how to get the most out of his material and make it as entertaining as possible. Margot Grahame and Gordon Jones star on January 25th.

...Deanna Durbin receives a prime time tribute on January 26th, with showings of THREE SMART GIRLS (1936) and IT'S A DATE (1940), along with the short she made with Judy Garland, EVERY SUNDAY (1936).

...A lineup of titles featuring plastic surgery includes HOLLOW TRIUMPH (1948), aka THE SCAR, starring Paul Henreid and Joan Bennett. It's quite entertaining; check it out on the 30th.

For more information on TCM in January 2020, please visit the complete schedule along with my previous post Quick Preview of TCM in January.

Wishing everyone a great year of movie viewing in 2020!

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Adventure (1945) - A Warner Archive DVD

Clark Gable and Greer Garson star in ADVENTURE (1945), available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

ADVENTURE was Gable's first film after serving in World War II, and the poster art was well known for the line "Gable's back and Garson's got him!" Alas, that may be the most memorable thing about this confusing, slow-moving 125-minute film.

Gable plays Harry Patterson, a bosun in the Merchant Marine. After his ship is torpedoed Harry and the surviving crew, including his pal Mudgin (Thomas Mitchell), arrive in San Francisco.

Harry chances to meet Emily (Garson), a reserved librarian who's his polar opposite. The two clash repeatedly -- in part as she's jealous of his flirtation with her roommate Helen (Joan Blondell) -- then abruptly decide they're in love and head for Reno to get married.

Despite the marriage, Harry doesn't want to be tied down and is soon off to sea, while Emily reconsiders the wisdom of their impulsive wedding. Is it enough to have a husband she'll only see for a few days a year? Meanwhile at sea, Harry is discovering that what he wants from life has changed due to his marriage...and back home, Emily discovers she's going to have a baby.

I knew from my reading over the years that ADVENTURE was a film considered to have problems, but given the excellent cast and the director (Victor Fleming), I nonetheless anticipated that the film would be a mildly entertaining diversion of the 2-1/2 star variety. To my surprise, it wasn't even that good.

This is one of those films where you can't help wondering what on earth the filmmakers were thinking and why some of the bright people at MGM who turned out so many good films couldn't find a way to do more with this one. At the very least, they could have edited the interminable opening half hour way, way down; the movie should be a good half hour shorter than the final cut. There's a lot of confusing mumbo jumbo in that first 30 minutes about saving souls which goes pretty much nowhere, and the film also manages to make a ship being torpedoed completely devoid of drama or excitement.

The film is so slow-paced that Garson doesn't even show up in the film until 24 minutes in, and when she does appear she and Gable spend at least 20 minutes bickering. When I started fighting to stay awake at the 45-minute mark, I was incredulous to realize that there was an hour and 20 minutes of movie still to go.

In the movie's defense, it does pick up speed after that first miserable 45 minutes, starting around the time that Emily takes Harry and Helen to visit her childhood home in the country. Once Emily and Harry's relationship is front and center it becomes more interesting, though the film unfortunately fights to keep them conflicted and apart for as long as possible. The last hour of the movie saves it from being a complete waste, but this is no more than a two-star movie, or maybe 1-1/2.

I don't think there's any problem with Gable and Garson's chemistry, as some of my past reading has suggested, simply their material. I do think Gable and Garson would have done much better together if the script had been more lighthearted, taking advantage of the wonderful twinkle in each of their eyes when they're having fun; I don't count the attempts at comedy in this film as anything genuinely funny.

The supporting cast includes the lively Lina Romay, who also sang with Xavier Cugat's band in films such as YOU WERE NEVER LOVELIER (1942). Philip Merivale, Tom Tully, Richard Haydn, Harry Davenport, and John Qualen are also in the film. Small roles are played by Audrey Totter, Barbara Billingsley, Morris Ankrum, Esther Howard, Ray Teal, and Pierre Watkin.

A great many people worked on the story and script, including Adela Rogers St. John, Casey Robinson, and Sam Zimbalist. Definitely too many cooks trying desperately to save a sinking ship, or something like that.

The film was shot in black and white by Joseph Ruttenberg.

ADVENTURE was released by the Warner Archive several years ago, but since everything from the Archive is available "on demand," older titles continue to remain as easily available as new releases.

The Warner Archive DVD includes the trailer. The print and sound quality are fine.

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, December 28, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Little Women (2019)

This morning I saw the brand-new, highly praised version of LITTLE WOMEN (2019) which was written and directed by Greta Gerwig.

It's a handsomely produced film which I quite enjoyed, and in due course I plan to place the movie alongside the five (!) other film versions of Alcott's story which are on my DVD shelves. That said, I feel the movie has been overpraised by critics, who I sometimes think may fall into a trap of being so thankful for a well-made, "different" movie that they overhype it and ignore the flaws -- LA LA LAND (2016) being but one notable example in recent years.

It's of note that the producers of this new version include some of the same names attached to the exceptionally fine 1994 version, including Denise Di Novi and the '94 screenwriter, Robin Swicord.

Writer-director Gerwig clearly worked hard to find a new and fresh way to tell a familiar story which would be different from the '94 film, as well as the several other prior versions, using "non-linear" storytelling. Unfortunately, what this current film then gains as a curiosity factor it loses with the lack of an emotional through-line and relationship development. While the shifting of the story back and forth through time occasionally allows for effective "how we got from there to here" comparisons, particularly with Beth's illness and later death, more often there are missed opportunities.

I'm sure the story needs little introduction, and indeed, that's one reason the film took a very different storytelling tack. Rather than beginning with Meg (Emma Watson), Jo (Saoirse Ronan), Beth (Eliza Scanlen), and Amy (Florence Pugh) growing up during the Civil War, the movie begins later in their lives, when Jo is a struggling writer in New York, Meg is a wife and mother of twins, and Amy is traveling in Europe with Aunt March (Meryl Streep), where she's reunited with her next-door neighbor from Concord, Laurie (Timothee Chalomet).

The movie jumps back and forth in time for all of its 134 minutes, until finally landing at the finale with all of the characters gathered at Plumfield, the school Jo opened in the mansion left to her by Aunt March. I had no trouble following along, as I might be more familiar with Alcott's novel than any other, not to mention having seen so many film versions, but I wondered if anyone new to the story -- if there is such a person! -- would have some difficulty keeping up.

Ronan, reviewed by me in BROOKLYN (2015) and LADY BIRD (2017), is a gifted actress who is one reason among many to see the film. Her fiery Jo is perhaps more conflicted than any interpretation I've yet seen.

However, Jo's relationship with Professor Bhaer (Louis Garrel) is one example of where any relationship development is lost. In this film, Bhaer is depicted as a critic of Jo but not a supporter; he tells her he doesn't care for her gory newspaper stories, but while he honors her with a frank opinion, he doesn't build her up -- other than lending her books -- nor does he suggest writing what's in her heart. That is shown to come completely from inside Jo as she comes to terms with Beth's passing.

Likewise, when the professor shows up in Concord near the end, it's not because he was deeply moved by her new manuscript and has showed it to a publisher; he simply dropped in to see her. The filmmakers clearly wanted to give Jo that popular word "agency" and place her completely in charge of her book's development and publication, including negotiating financial terms. And given that Jo's main scene with the Professor ends in a quarrel, why are we supposed to believe she loves him when he suddenly shows up out of the blue at her home?

This lack of relationship development is similarly seen in her sisters' romantic relationships, I suspect because of the filmmakers' desire to focus so strongly on the women and not have them "defined" by their relationships with men.

Consequently, when Amy tells Laurie she's always loved him, how do we know this? Scenes such as Laurie visiting Amy every day she stays with Aunt March during Beth's illness are completely gone, and so is any foreshadowing such as the scene in the '94 version where Laurie promises the child Amy to kiss her before she dies. (It's also a bit awkward that in the "adult" scenes, Chalomet still appears childlike next to Pugh's very adult Amy, despite Chalomet being exactly a week older than Pugh in real life.) The sequence with Amy staying with Aunt March instead entirely focuses on the two female characters, with Aunt March encouraging the idea that Amy must marry well; this sequence thus loses the chance to build up Amy's relationship with Laurie and hint at what is to come.

The low-voiced Pugh is particularly worth seeing with a very different interpretation of Amy, who has a steely edge to her along with her love of beauty; when she burns Jo's manuscript it's not so much a flight of angry passion but a very calculated move to hurt. It was unfortunate, though, that this Amy, of all Amys, didn't get to play a scene in Europe with Amy letting Laurie know in no uncertain terms he needs to turn his life around; other than a line about him working for his grandfather, her disappointment is briefly communicated with her walking away from him in disgust when she sees him drunk at a dance. When Laurie returns to Amy after Beth's death, we have no idea that he's worked to improve himself for her.

I was also left wondering how we know that Meg is happy. She tells John (James Norton) she's happy because she's his wife, yet there isn't a single scene with a warm fireside family moment to contrast with scenes depicting exhaustion and the frustration of longing for things they can't afford. We hear Meg's words of affirmation, but where are the actions to back it up?

Finally, Scanlen's Beth is little more than a cipher spoken of by others. I found Chris Cooper's portrayal of Mr. Laurence one of the best in the movie, but since we never get very far inside Beth's head, he's the one who lends the most emotion to their scenes.

I have enjoyed every version of LITTLE WOMEN I've seen for different reasons, so I try not to get too much into direct comparisons of the various productions. That said, last year I revisited the 1994 version at UCLA and was blown away to be reminded just how good it was. The '94 film is perhaps the closest to this new version in terms of having something of a "revisionist" feel in terms of feminism and reducing or eliminating the Christian principles threaded throughout the novel, with its references to PILGRIM'S PROGRESS and the like.

Given these similarities, I note that while, as I wrote last year, the '94 film "wrecked" me, leaving me composing myself in the bathroom before I could drive home, I sat through this one dry-eyed. I'm not sure that's ever been the case for me before when seeing any version of LITTLE WOMEN. It was interesting intellectually but didn't touch me emotionally.

Having spent time on my criticisms, I enjoyed the film for its cast and the beautiful settings; like the '94 film, the movie does a good job depicting the warm love of family, along with more practical issues such as just how cold it was in an uninsulated house during a Massachusetts winter. I also like, particularly at this stage of my life, the opportunity to understand more of Marmee's perspective; she's well played here by Laura Dern.

There's a nice sequence with Jo and Beth on the beach which I only recall being part of the 1978 TV version, and I also thought it was a fresh choice to have the film end at a point further forward in time than the novel, taking a peek at what would be the setting for LITTLE MEN (though the film does ignore that most of the students at the school were boys).

I also found the script entertaining simply because it was different; the film may not have greatly moved me, but I did enjoy taking in and analyzing the choices made. Despite its length, the movie was never dull and will merit future viewings, which I suspect will yield further insights.

The cast also includes Bob Odenkirk as Mr. March, with Tracy Letts as Jo's publisher and Jayne Houdyshell as Hannah, the housekeeper.

LITTLE WOMEN was filmed by Yorick Le Saux and scored by Alexandre Desplat.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated PG. It is completely family friendly.

The trailer is here. There is also an official website.

"Noir-Tinged Westerns" at Classic Movie Hub

My latest column was posted today at Classic Movie Hub!

My December post takes a look at what I like to call "Noir-Tinged Westerns." I discuss four favorite films of 1947-48 which are darker than the average Western, starring a trio of great actors: Robert Mitchum, Joel McCrea, and Dick Powell.

Please click over to Classic Movie Hub to check it out.

Thanks very much for reading, and Happy New Year!

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; November 2019.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Jumanji: The Next Level (2019)

Two Christmases ago our family enjoyed the funny and inventive comedy JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE (2017). Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson led a good cast in the tale of four teenagers sucked into a video game who find themselves in new, adult bodies -- the game characters -- and then must work together to stay alive and find their way back home.

This Christmas everyone's back in a sequel, JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL (2019), and I'm glad to say it's as much fun as the first film.

This time around Spencer (Alex Wolff) is feeling insecure and his relationship with Martha (Morgan Turner) has hit a wall. When Spencer returns home from college for a break, he finds himself strangely tempted to get out the Jumanji video game tucked away in his basement and then disappears.

Spencer's friends Martha, Bethany (Madison Iseman), and Fridge (Ser'Darius Blain) decide they must also enter the game to bring Spencer back, but surprises are in store.

Spencer's elderly grandpa Eddie (Danny DeVito) and Eddie's friend Milo (Danny Glover) are also sucked into the game, and almost no one ends up with the expected avatar body,..for instance, Grandpa is in the body of Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson). Only Martha returns as her game character from the previous movie, Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan). And where did Spencer end up, anyway?

Along with the returning Jack Black and Kevin Hart, Nick Jonas reprises the role he played briefly in the earlier film, and Awkwafina (OCEAN'S EIGHT, CRAZY RICH ASIANS) is on hand as a brand-new character.

The explanation up to this point probably sounds like Greek to anyone who's not seen the first movie, and it's honestly a bit difficult to explain, but it's easy to understand watching the film. It's all good fun, with a lot of enjoyable humor as the characters periodically swap bodies and deal with various crises while trying not to use up all their game lives.

Johnson and Gillan (Nebula from the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY Marvel films) particularly shine in the leading roles. As I've said before, Johnson is a true Movie Star who can carry the weight of a film single-handedly on his massive shoulders, but happily there's no need for that thanks to the good cast. Bebe Neuwirth (FRASIER) even pops up in a closing scene.

The bottom line is anyone who enjoyed the prior film will have fun seeing this one as well, as it's more of the same.

JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL was directed by Jake Kasdan, who also directed the earlier film. The movie also had the same cinematographer, Gyula Pados. The running time is 123 minutes.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated PG-13 for foul language. I frankly wish they had toned it down a notch. There are also a couple ribald or gross discussions, but nothing especially disturbing in terms of visuals. On the positive side, as with the first film there's an emphasis on teamwork and friendship.

A trailer is here.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Trapped (1949) - A Flicker Alley Blu-ray Review

I can't recall the last time I watched a film three times in a single year, but that was the case with TRAPPED (1949), a deliciously entertaining crime film.

Last March I saw a 35mm print restored by the Film Noir Foundation and the UCLA Film & Television Archive on the opening night of this year's Noir City Hollywood Festival. Just a few weeks later I enjoyed the film a second time at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival in Palm Springs.

I've now watched TRAPPED again on the beautiful Blu-ray just released by Flicker Alley. Flicker Alley has a terrific track record releasing restored versions of the previously lost film noir titles TOO LATE FOR TEARS (1949), WOMAN ON THE RUN (1950), and THE MAN WHO CHEATED HIMSELF (1950). TRAPPED now joins that list with Flicker Alley's new combination Blu-ray/DVD set, a "must have" for film noir fans.

I make no claims that TRAPPED is a four-star classic, but it is highly entertaining for a host of reasons, from the cast to the plot twists to the fantastic shots of Hollywood and the Greater Los Angeles area in the 1940s. As Alan K. Rode points out in the commentary track, when was the last time you saw someone make a U-turn in front of the Chinese Theatre?!

TRAPPED was directed by Richard Fleischer, the man behind two of my all-time favorite crime films, ARMORED CAR ROBBERY (1950) and THE NARROW MARGIN (1952). As with those films, in TRAPPED Fleischer tells a compact story in energetic fashion while making the most of location shooting despite a tight budget for Eagle-Lion Films. It's a most enjoyable 78 minutes.

The movie starts off in "docu-noir" style with a visit to the Treasury Department, and then viewers are launched into the specifics of a case of counterfeit bills circulating in Los Angeles. The feds spring convict Tris Stewart (Lloyd Bridges) from jail after he agrees to help on the case; Tris had been in possession of the counterfeit plates at issue before being incarcerated.

Tris instead makes an escape from the agents, but little does he know that that was part of the plan from the outset. Agents are following his every move and have also bugged the apartment of his girlfriend Meg (Barbara Payton), who's living in L.A. under an assumed name, Laurie.

Meg/Laurie works as a nightclub cigarette girl, where John Downey (John Hoyt) has been making a play for her. However, Meg's only interested in her boyfriend Tris...and actually, Tris is Downey's interest too. It turns out that Downey may not be quite who he seems.

As mentioned, the film has great L.A. scenery, shot in black and white by Guy Roe. Southern Californians in particular will enjoy the film for its historic shots of mid-Century L.A.

The cast in this is such a pleasure, starting with Payton, who is simply stunning. Her looks and performance in this make the viewer a bit sad for what might have been; the actress's hard living would lead to deteriorating looks and the end of her film career just a few short years later, with her last movie being MURDER IS MY BEAT (1955).

Hoyt often played villains, such as the industrialist in WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE (1951), which I revisited at this year's TCM Classic Film Festival. Hoyt has a chance to shine in a rare leading role as the mysterious Downey; in his early nightclub scenes he manages to simultaneously convey sophistication and sleaze, an interesting combination. Although he doesn't seem to be the type who'd be handy with his fists, Hoyt also makes us believe that -- despite the overly obvious use of a stunt double in one fight scene.

Bridges is also very good, having the chance to play a leading role after having spent most of the '40s in bit and supporting roles. At times we see glimpses of the more evil character Bridges would play in the following year's TRY AND GET ME (1950).

The strangest thing about TRAPPED is that Bridges' character disappears from the film about 2/3 of the way through, packed off back to jail. Rode researched that issue extensively and couldn't find any documentation or logical reason for Bridges to have left the production; he speculates in the commentary that perhaps Bridges became ill. James Todd, whose character Sylvester is a confederate of Bridges' Tris, becomes the chief villain at this point, who has a very memorable shootout with feds in a Red Car barn.

Also in the film are Russ Conway, Robert Karnes, Tommy Noonan, Rory Mallinson, Ken Christy, Frank Sully, and Harry Antrim. Fans of THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951) will recognize Douglas Spencer, THING'S reporter, as the drunk who's had custody of the counterfeiting plates.

The excellent extras on this disc include an informative commentary track by the Film Noir Foundation's Rode, who discusses the film with historian Julie Kirgo. There's a very good 16-minute featurette discussing various aspects of the film which features Rode, the Film Noir Foundation's Eddie Muller, and Mark Fleischer, son of the director; there's also a 12-minute featurette with Fleischer sharing memories of his late father.

The glossy 24-page souvenir booklet is a particular treasure, featuring the director's sketch of the map route for the climactic Hollywood car chase, as well as his storyboards for the Red Car barn shootout.

I enthusiastically recommend this release and hope my readers will enjoy both the film and the Flicker Alley set as much as I have.

Thanks to Flicker Alley for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray/DVD set.

TRAPPED may be purchased at the Flicker Alley website as well as through retailers such as Amazon.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Christmas Day Wishes

Best wishes to all for a very happy Christmas!

Here's a marvelous late '30s photo of Marsha Hunt juggling her Christmas gifts.

Marsha recently celebrated her 102nd birthday and is greatly loved by so many of us. I hope she's enjoying a wonderful holiday.

Merry Christmas!

Previous Christmas Day photo posts: 2012 (the Lockhart Family), 2013 (Priscilla Lane), 2014 (Martha Hyer), 2015 (Andra Martin), 2016 (Betty Grable), 2017 (Loretta Young), and 2018 (Alice Faye).

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Tonight's Movie: The Holly and the Ivy (1952) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

The British Christmas film THE HOLLY AND THE IVY (1952) was very recently released on Blu-ray and DVD by Kino Lorber.

I first saw this film in 2011 thanks to a Region 2 DVD, and I just had the pleasure of revisiting it on Kino Lorber's Blu-ray. I think I enjoyed it even more on this second viewing.

The film was written by Anatole de Grunwald, based on a play by Wynyard Browne. It's the story of a British country vicar, the Rev. Martin Gregory (Ralph Richardson), and his adult children, who are wrestling with significant issues at Christmastime yet feel unable to confide in their father. The Reverend is perfectly nice but his son and daughters are intimidated by the fact he's a parson, feeling he may not be able to understand their "real world" issues.

Jenny (Celia Johnson) wants to marry her secret fiance David (John Gregson), who is about to take a job in South America, yet feels she cannot leave her widowed father alone, especially as he is becoming a bit frail.

Jenny wishes her sister Margaret (Margaret Leighton) would move home from London and live with their father, but Margaret seems caught up in life in London, where she writes for a fashion magazine; indeed, Margaret has rarely been seen by the family in recent years. Little do they know the reason why. Margaret does show up for Christmas, rather worse for the wear in terms of fortifying herself for the visit with alcohol.

Son Michael (Denholm Elliott), a soldier known as Mick, seems to have the least to worry about, yet even he has his problems, such as having had to wangle a compassionate 48-hour Christmas leave after having been caught AWOL. He also needs to find a way to tell his father he's not interested in going to Cambridge when he leaves the army.

Also on hand for the family holiday are distant cousin Richard (Hugh Williams), who is Margaret's godfather; kindly, dreamy Aunt Lydia (Margaret Halstan); and embittered Aunt Bridget (Maureen Delany), who cared for her late mother and became an "old maid," similar to the path Jenny may find herself following.

I have a hard time understanding Jenny's determination to put her commitment to her father ahead of her responsibility to the man she's pledged to marry, but I suppose that does contribute to make her as "human" as her more obviously flawed brother and sister.

A bigger issue for me, as it was the last time around, is Johnson being very obviously older than her character; it would have been wise to rewrite the part slightly so that she was closer to her actual age.

There's a wonderful contrast of bits of Christmas music wafting through the background with the heartfelt drama being experienced by the characters. There are brief moments of theatrical staginess, but for the most part genuine emotion comes through on the screen as secrets are disclosed and characters arrive at new understandings of one another.

One of the things I appreciated is that while some of the conversations are heavy, the film manages not to be weighted down by these scenes; it manages a lightness of tone for multiple reasons, including the aforementioned Christmas music, the support and advice from Richard and Aunt Lydia, and the fact that the Gregorys are all, in the end, decent people who want to do right; they just haven't learned to communicate well. In the end there is hope and optimism for the future.

It's been nice to see this film become better known to American audiences over the past couple of years. Last year Jeremy Arnold included the film in his book on Christmas movies, which was followed by screenings on Turner Classic Movies in both 2018 and 2019. This year the film has also screened theatrically in both the Los Angeles area and at the AFI Theatre in Maryland. It's a worthwhile film deserving of greater exposure.

THE HOLLY AND THE IVY was directed by George More O'Ferrall and filmed in black and white by Ted Scaife. It runs 83 minutes. The brisk running time is another thing which keeps the film's subject matter from feeling too weighty.

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray has an excellent picture and sound. The disc includes four trailers for Christmas-themed films (or films which have significant Christmas sequences) which are also available from Kino Lorber. More importantly, there's a thoughtful commentary track by Jeremy Arnold, whose tracks are among my favorites. Along with discussing the cast, Arnold talks about the film's structure and themes and why he feels the translation from play to screen works well. I very much enjoyed a second pass through the movie listening to Jeremy's thoughts.

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

Merry Christmas!

Best wishes to all for a very Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Season's Greetings: The Color Edition, Vol. II

It's that busy time of year, wrapping up work and Christmas preparations! Things are just about ready for Christmas, so the pace of blogging should be picking up as we relax and enjoy the season over the next couple of weeks.

Here's a sequel to my 2017 post Season's Greetings: The Color Edition, with more festive publicity photos of classic film stars enjoying the holiday season.

Joan Leslie:

Rita Hayworth:

Doris Day:

Annette Funicello:

Martha Hyer:

Debbie Reynolds:

Anne Francis:

Maureen O'Hara:

Previous Season's Greetings Photo Posts: 2013, 2014, 2016, and 2017.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

TCM Remembers 2019

The annual TCM Remembers video has been released this weekend by Turner Classic Movies.

The video may be seen on Twitter or YouTube, or simply click the embedded video link below:

I was quite surprised to learn from the video of the passing of Dianne Foster. The only obituary I could find online after watching the video was at Boot Hill. (Update: That blog has since been deleted.)

As I've shared here in the past, her son is a local oral surgeon who has treated all of our children. After I made the connection thanks to some reading, my husband had the opportunity a couple of years ago to chat with him and confirm the relationship. Her son said she still received fan mail!

I was happy to see the inclusion of actresses like Julie Adams, Peggy Stewart, Fay McKenzie, and Allene Roberts, while I was puzzled by the omission of Nancy Gates. Perhaps they will add her this week, as I suspect they may update the video to also include Anna Karina, who just passed on at 79. (December 29th Update: I'm informed that there is now a new version of TCM Remembers airing on TCM which includes both Nancy Gates and Anna Karina. Thanks to TCM for updating the video!)

It was especially wonderful to see that Rudy Behlmer, Ron Hutchinson, and Bob Dorian were honored in this video. They each did so much to preserve film history and share the love of classic movies! And the ending with Stanley Donen and Doris Day was perfect.

Great thanks to TCM for always doing such a thoughtful and moving job with these annual tributes.

Past TCM tribute posts: 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Quick Preview of TCM in March

A few days ago I previewed the February schedule for Turner Classic Movies, and now the channel's March schedule is available as well!

As usual, the first days of March are actually the conclusion of February's "31 Days of Oscar." The March schedule then gets underway on March 3rd, a day earlier than usual due to Leap Day.

The March Star of the Month is Joe E. Brown. Over 20 Brown films will be shown on Wednesday evenings.

I'm not a particular fan of the actor but I admire TCM providing a "deep dive" into Brown's career. Even better news is that the Brown lineup will include Betty's Grable's 20th Century-Fox musical PIN UP GIRL (1944). It's been shown on TCM in the past, but Fox musicals don't make it onto the schedule on a regular basis so that's great news.

As a matter of fact, there's a second Betty Grable Fox musical airing on TCM in March, THE SHOCKING MISS PILGRIM (1947), shown as part of a centennial celebration of the 19th Amendment. And there's even more Fox musical goodness with the delightful THREE LITTLE GIRLS IN BLUE (1946), starring June Haver, Vera-Ellen, Vivian Blaine, and George Montgomery.

Also of particular note: TCM is showing the very good Universal Pictures Western RAILS INTO LARAMIE (1954), starring John Payne and Dan Duryea. (February 29th Update: RAILS INTO LARAMIE dropped off the final March schedule. Let's hope it is shown on TCM in the future!) (March 19th Update: RAILS INTO LARAMIE is now back on the 3/31 late night schedule!)

The TCM Spotlight for March is "Life at Sea," focusing on all kinds of movies set on ships and submarines. I've seen many of the films in this series, and it's a terrific lineup.

After taking February off for Oscar month, Noir Alley returns on March 7th with Robert Montgomery's RIDE THE PINK HORSE (1947) from Universal Pictures. It's a terrific Noir Alley month which also features yet another Betty Grable film, Fox's I WAKE UP SCREAMING (1941) plus ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS (1958) and one of my all-time favorites, CRIME WAVE (1954). CRIME WAVE is seen here with Sterling Hayden and Gene Nelson.

Also of interest is a screening of the documentary BE NATURAL: THE UNTOLD STORY OF ALICE GUY-BLACHE (2018), recently released on DVD by Kino Lorber.

Filmmakers receiving multifilm tributes next March include Bette Davis, Troy Donahue, Steve McQueen, Maureen O'Hara, Sterling Hayden, Charlton Heston, and Reginald Denny, who receives a prime time salute. "A Mankiewicz Weekend" is also on the schedule.

Although the films are scattered throughout the schedule, it's a particularly good month for Robert Montgomery's many fans, as TCM is showing a number of his movies.

March themes include war nurses, crime sprees, Wyatt Earp, gambling, and baseball.

As usual, there's an Irish-themed lineup for St. Patrick's Day including three films directed by John Ford.

Please click any hyperlinked title in this post for my detailed review. I'll be posting more on the March schedule here around March 1st!

Joan Blondell is currently the December Star of the Month, with Patricia Neal scheduled for January and 31 Days of Oscar in February.

Update: For more on TCM in March 2020, please visit TCM in March: Highlights.

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