Saturday, February 29, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Massacre River (1949) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

MASSACRE RIVER (1949) is an Allied Artists Western available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

Guy Madison plays Larry Knight, a Calvary trooper stationed at a frontier fort. Larry has a bright future ahead; Kitty (Cathy Downs), the daughter of Larry's commanding officer (Art Baker), has turned down a proposal from Larry's best friend Phil (Rory Calhoun) in order to marry Larry; what's more, Larry is soon recommended for promotion.

Everything falls apart when Larry meets tough saloon girl Laura (Carole Mathews) and begins two-timing Kitty, who is out of town. After Larry is forced to shoot Burke Kimber (Steve Brodie) to save Laura's life, he resigns from the military and sends Kitty a "Dear Jane" letter.

Things go from bad to worse when Kitty's brother Randy (Johnny Sands), another close friend of Larry's, goes gunning for Larry over how he's treated Kitty, and Laura must shoot Randy...and that's not the end of the consequences for all involved.

Despite the title, which implies an exciting action film, this Western is more soap opera than anything else, and it's not especially enjoyable at that. Madison's Larry is increasingly unlikeable as he makes a series of poor decisions, and it's almost impossible to see why he loves Laura, played with a hard edge by Mathews. The lack of much emotion from Madison and especially Mathews makes it difficult to work up sympathy for either character.

Interest in the film rises somewhat in the last third of the film, as the handsome and personable Calhoun moves forward to deal with fallout from Larry's choices, but it's the kind of film which leaves you shaking your head at the end, wondering what the point was. The movie has a good cast and locations, including Canyon de Chelly National Monument in Arizona, but the script and direction are surprisingly flat and uninvolving despite the film being a brisk 78 minutes long.

The lead trio of actors were all involved in better Western projects, especially favorite Rory Calhoun, to whom I paid tribute on his birthdate in 2017. Please visit that post for suggestions of some excellent Calhoun Westerns.

Guy Madison was Calhoun's closest friend offscreen. While Madison appeared in other Western films, his best-known Western work was as TV's Wild Bill Hickok, a role so closely associated with the actor that it's noted on the plaque where he's interred at Forest Lawn Cathedral City.

Leading lady Cathy Downs had played the title character in John Ford's MY DARLING CLEMENTINE (1946), and she was in two lesser-known but excellent Westerns, PANHANDLE (1948) and SHORT GRASS (1950); she also appeared in THE SUNDOWNERS (1950) with Robert Preston. Last year we paid our respects at her gravesite at Woodlawn Cemetery.

The movie was directed by John Rawlins. It was filmed by Jack MacKenzie; according to IMDb it was originally released in Sepiatone, but this print was in black and white.

The Warner Archive DVD is a nice, crisp print. I did feel that the soundtrack was on the mushy side; I had to turn up my TV to a higher level than normal in order to clearly make out all of the dialogue.

For additional thoughts on this film, please visit a 2017 review at Jeff Arnold's West.

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 Amazon and other online retailers.

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...A new book from Bear Manor Media: ADVENTURES IN HOLLYWOOD by Bob Koster, son of the late director Henry Koster. I've seen Bob speak multiple times, including at a 2018 screening of his father's Deanna Durbin film THREE SMART GIRLS (1936), and he's very knowledgeable about his father's career. I photographed him with Mitzi Gaynor at the 2013 TCM Classic Film Festival.

...Director William Wellman was born on Leap Day in 1896. This morning I celebrated his birthday with an extended Twitter thread filled with links and photos.

...Leonard and Jessie Maltin have announced the second edition of MaltinFest, to be held this year from May 1st through 3rd at the TCL Chinese 6 Theatres multiplex on Hollywood Boulevard.

...VCI Entertainment is releasing some interesting classic-era Mexican films, including UNA FAMILIAR DE TANTAS (1949), aka A FAMILY LIKE ANY OTHER, and Pedro Armendariz in EL BRUTO (1953), aka THE BRUTE.

...My friend Kristina has a post on her Favorite Film Discoveries of 2019 at Rupert Pupkin Speaks. I'm looking forward to catching GUNFIGHT AT COMANCHE CREEK (1963) with Audie Murphy soon. There are a couple other titles on her list which particularly caught my eye as well. Incidentally, I've submitted my own Favorite Discoveries list and will be sharing it here once it's up! (March 5th Update: Here is the link to my list, which was posted today!)

...A few days ago I enjoyed reading a wonderful tribute to character actor-writer Leo Gordon at Jeff Arnold's West.

...More announcements of upcoming Blu-ray releases from Kino Lorber Studio Classics: Rock Hudson in Douglas Sirk's TAZA, SON OF COCHISE (1954) on May 26th and Alastair Sim in AN INSPECTOR CALLS (1954) on May 5th.

...Last week I mentioned a digital restoration of PANDORA AND THE FLYING DUTCHMAN (1951), starring Ava Gardner and James Mason, which has been screening in West Los Angeles. According to, it will be available on Blu-ray later this year from the Cohen Media Group.

...I enjoyed Glenn Erickson's thoughtful review of CANYON PASSAGE (1946) at CineSavant. I anticipate reviewing the new Kino Lorber Blu-ray release in the next few weeks. It will be released on March 10th.

...Jessica Pickens just wrote about Robert Montgomery and his work in John Ford's THEY WERE EXPENDABLE (1945) for the TCM Tumblr page.

...Attention Southern Californians: MARY POPPINS (1964) will be screened at the El Capitan Theatre on March 4th. It will be preceded by a special presentation by the Walt Disney Archives...On Tuesday, April 14th, Kimberly Truhler of GlamAmor will be giving a presentation at the Hollywood Heritage Museum on some of the costumes to be seen in films which will screen at that week's TCM Classic Film Festival. Kim has done this for several years but it hasn't fit with my previous festival week work schedules, so I'm happy to say I'll be attending this year!

...Notable Passings: Diana Serra Cary, known in her childhood as Baby Peggy Montgomery, has passed on at the age of 101. Her book THE HOLLYWOOD POSSE has been on my shelf since around the time it was published in 1975; it was one of the first film books I read. At a 2018 Cinecon Festival screening of her film HELEN'S BABIES (1924) I was in the audience singing "Happy Birthday" which was recorded and sent to her to celebrate her centennial birthday.

...More Notable Passings: Ben Cooper (seen at left), who appeared in many Westerns including JOHNNY GUITAR (1954), has died at 86...Claudette Nevins, who worked steadily in episodic television for over 30 years, passed on at 82. More information on her career is at her website...Soap opera creator Lee Phillip Bell has died at 91. Survivors include her daughter, Emmy-winning actress Lauralee Bell, and daughter-in-law Colleen Bell, the current director of the California Film Commission.

...For additional recent links of interest to classic film fans, please check out my February 22nd roundup.

Have a great week!

Friday, February 28, 2020

22nd Annual Noir City Hollywood Festival Opens March 6th

The 22nd Annual Noir City Hollywood Festival opens at the Egyptian Theatre next Friday evening, March 6th.

The festival, hosted by Eddie Muller and Alan K. Rode of the Film Noir Foundation, will take place over 10 consecutive days, concluding on Sunday, March 15th.

28 films will be shown, with at least 18 of the films to be shown in 35mm (one film is yet to be announced).

Most of the screenings will take place at the Egyptian, including weekend matinees and marathons. On Monday, March 9th, the festival moves for one evening to the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, while the Tuesday evening screenings will take place at the restored American Legion Post 43 Theatre, a few blocks away from the Egyptian.

This year's festival pairs "A" and "B" U.S. titles with films from several different countries, including Mexico, Argentina, Sweden, Japan, and Germany.

I've attended opening night of this festival for ten years in a row as of this year, and it will be my eleventh year to attend overall. I've already purchased tickets to attend on half a dozen of the film's 10 days. The festival promises to be a great time mixing new discoveries with old favorites.

Here's a day-by-day look at this year's lineup; click any hyperlinked title for my past review.

Opening night on March 6th features the Argentinian film THE BEAST MUST DIE (1952), aka LA BESTIA DEBE MORIR, shown in 35mm, along with a digital print of Rita Hayworth in GILDA (1946). I've heard great things from friends about THE BEAST MUST DIE, which stars Laura Hidalgo (right), and I haven't seen GILDA on a big screen since I was a teenager and saw it at the Vagabond Theater.

The screenings on March 7th begin earlier in the evening than usual, at 5:00 p.m., with an M-themed triple feature: A digital print of the original German version of M (1931), followed by a 35mm print of M (1951) and a digital print of THE BLACK VAMPIRE (1953), known as EL VAMPIRO NEGRO in its native Argentina.

There's a 1:00 Sunday matinee on March 8th, featuring a pair of 35mm prints: THE DEVIL STRIKES AT NIGHT (1957), also known as NACHTS, WENN DER TEUFEL KAM in Germany, and the rarely seen and very enjoyable "B" film FLY-BY-NIGHT (1942). Both films were directed by Robert Siodmak. I'm really looking forward to FLY-BY-NIGHT on a big screen!

The Sunday evening program on the 8th features a digital print of the Korean film THE HOUSEMAID (1960), also known as HANYO, along with a 35mm print of Nina Foch in MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS (1945).

On Monday, March 9th, the festival moves for an evening to the Aero Theatre, where playwright-director David Mamet will be interviewed by Eddie Muller. Mamet's HOUSE OF GAMES (1987) will be shown in 35mm. An unannounced "surprise second feature" will also be screened.

Tuesday the 11th will be a military-themed evening hosted by Alan K. Rode at the American Legion Post 43 Theatre, featuring 35mm prints of ACT OF VIOLENCE (1949) and SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT (1946). I really like both these films and the venue, although I probably will take the night off since I saw ACT OF VIOLENCE at the 2018 Noir City Festival and SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival last spring.

On Wednesday, March 11th, this year's Miss Noir City, Victoria Mature -- seen in the poster at top of this post -- will appear in person to introduce a digital print of her father's British-made film THE LONG HAUL (1957). THE LONG HAUL costars Diana Dors (seen with Mature at right). Later in the evening the German film BLACK GRAVEL (1961), aka SCHWARZER KIES, will be shown, also in a digital print.

I'm really looking forward to March 12th, a 35mm double bill of THE NAKED CITY (1948) paired with the Argentinian film HARDLY A CRIMINAL (1949), also known as APENAS UN DELINCUENTE. It's been over a decade since I last saw THE NAKED CITY, and it will be my first time to see it in a theater; I really enjoyed HARDLY A CRIMINAL at Noir City half a dozen years ago.

Friday the 13th features a digital print of the classic GUN CRAZY (1950), shown with a 35mm print of the Japanese film PALE FLOWER (1962), known in Japan as KAWAITA HANA.

On Saturday, March 14th, a five-film marathon begins at 2:00, with every film shown in 35mm: OUT OF THE PAST (1947), THE GUILTY (1947), HIGH TIDE (1947), THE PROWLER (1951), and TRY AND GET ME (1950). I intend to attend the first four films in the marathon; I've never seen THE PROWLER before, and it will be my first time to see OUT OF THE PAST on a big screen! THE GUILTY, which features Bonita Granville in a dual role, was enjoyed at the 2015 UCLA Festival of Preservation, and I saw HIGH TIDE at the 2013 UCLA Festival. It will be good to revisit each of these rare films.

A 1:00 matinee on Sunday, March 15th, features a 35mm print of Jennifer Jones and Joseph Cotten in PORTRAIT OF JENNIE (1948), which I saw in the late '70s at the Tiffany on Sunset Boulevard. It's being shown with a digital print of the Swedish film GIRL WITH HYACINTHS (1950), aka FLICKA OCH HYACINTER.

The festival concludes on Sunday evening with a 35mm print of THE SPIRITUALIST (1948), also known as THE AMAZING MR. X, starring Turhan Bey and Lynn Bari. It will be shown with a digital print of the Mexican film IN THE PALM OF YOUR HAND (1949), aka EN LA PALMA DE TU MANO. If I have the stamina for two four-film days in a row, I'll be at both double bills that day!

It's nice that this year we get a month to regroup before the start of the TCM Classic Film Festival on April 16th! Stay tuned to this blog for more coverage of both festivals.

Key posts on past Noir City Hollywood Festivals: A Visit to the Noir City Film Festival (2010); A Visit to the 13th Noir City Film Festival (2011); First Preview of 14th Annual Noir City Film Festival; Schedule Announced for Noir City 14 in Hollywood; Final Week of Noir City 14 Schedule Announced; A Visit to the 14th Annual Noir City Film Festival (2012); Schedule Announced for Noir City 15 in Hollywood; A Visit to the 15th Annual Noir City Film Festival (2013); Schedule Preview of Noir City 16 in Hollywood; A Visit to the 16th Annual Noir City Film Festival (2014); 17th Annual Noir City Film Festival Opens in Hollywood This Friday; A Visit to the 17th Annual Noir City Film Festival (2015); 18th Annual Noir City Film Festival Opens in Hollywood This Friday; A Visit to the 18th Annual Noir City Film Festival (2016); 19th Annual Noir City Film Festival Opens in Hollywood March 24th; A Visit to the 19th Annual Noir City Film Festival (2017); 20th Annual Noir City Festival Opens in Hollywood April 13th; A Visit to the 20th Annual Noir City Film Festival (2018); 21st Annual Noir City Hollywood Festival Opens March 29th; A Visit to the 21st Annual Noir City Film Festival (2019).

Update: A Visit to the 22nd Annual Noir City Film Festival.

Update: 2020 Noir City Hollywood Film Festival Cancelled Beginning March 12th.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

A Tribute to Joan Bennett

Note: Actress Joan Bennett was born 110 years ago today, on February 27, 1910.

I paid tribute to Bennett here nearly a decade ago, on the 101st anniversary of her birth.

This year I honor Bennett with a post adapted from my 2016 article for ClassicFlix. Today's tribute includes recommendations for 10 favorite Bennett performances, all of which are available on DVD. Please click any hyperlinked title to read an extended review.

Joan Bennett's film career, which spanned decades, is interesting in that it was divided into several distinct chapters, marked by changes in her appearance and the types of roles she played. What never changed, however, was the keen intelligence she brought to each part, along with her striking beauty.

Joan was born February 27, 1910, into an acting family which included her father, theatrical star Richard Bennett, and her older sister, Constance; Constance Bennett was, of course, a great film star in her own right.

In the '30s Joan was a blonde ingenue starring in pre-Code dramas such as ME AND MY GAL (1932) with Spencer Tracy. As the '30s continued she was the heroine in musicals, comedies, and Westerns opposite the likes of Bing Crosby, Cary Grant, and Randolph Scott.

Midway through the film TRADE WINDS (1938) Joan's character disguises herself by changing from blonde to brunette, and the change was so successful that Joan kept her hair dark for the remainder of her career.

As a brunette Joan starred in adventure films such as GREEN HELL (1940), a wonderful "jungle" movie with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and George Sanders, and in the Alexandre Dumas tales THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK (1939) and THE SON OF MONTE CRISTO (1940).

More significantly, in 1941, Joan began a five-film collaboration with director Fritz Lang, which included classics such as MAN HUNT (1941) (seen at left), THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW (1944), and SCARLET STREET (1945).

Joan was a memorable femme fatale in the latter two films; she was notably unafraid to play parts which weren't traditional leading lady roles, whether it was the sleazy user Kitty of SCARLET STREET or the mean, unhappily married woman who might have murdered her husband in THE MACOMBER AFFAIR (1947), opposite Gregory Peck.

Unlike some actresses, Joan was also willing to play the mother of a young woman when she was still in her 30s, starring with James Mason in the superb crime film THE RECKLESS MOMENT (1949). Joan's performance as a mother attempting to cover up the fact that her daughter (Geraldine Brooks) accidentally killed a man was probably her very best. I'm still waiting for a U.S. DVD or Blu-ray release!

Joan was also the mother of Elizabeth Taylor in FATHER OF THE BRIDE (1950) and FATHER'S LITTLE DIVIDEND (1951), which reunited Joan with her ME AND MY GAL costar of nearly two decades before, Spencer Tracy.

Off the screen, Joan was married several times, and was the mother of four girls. She was first married at age 16, with her eldest daughter Adrienne (later known as Diana) born a few days before Joan turned 18. A second marriage in the '30s lasted a few years and produced another daughter, Melinda.

In 1940 Joan married producer Walter Wanger; they had two daughters, Stephanie and Shelley, with Joan's youngest child born when she was 38, less than a year before she also became a grandmother!

Unfortunately Joan had to weather a notorious scandal in 1951, when Wanger, believing Joan was having an affair with agent Jennings Lang, shot Lang. Wanger spent four months in jail, and the marriage managed to survive until 1965. Joan's final marriage dated from 1978 until her passing on December 7, 1990, at the age of 80.

Below is a selection of ten Joan Bennett films providing a good overview of her career.

LITTLE WOMEN (1933) - Joan played the youngest March sister, blonde, vain Amy, in this evergreen classic directed by George Cukor. Frances Dee, Katharine Hepburn, and Jean Parker play Meg, Jo, and Beth, with Douglass Montgomery as Laurie. Fun trivia: Elizabeth Taylor, Joan's daughter in FATHER OF THE BRIDE (1950), also played Amy, in MGM's 1949 remake, and the two women shared a February 27th birthdate.

BIG BROWN EYES (1936) - Joan plays a manicurist-turned-reporter whose boyfriend, a police detective, is played by Cary Grant; they work together to crack a ring of jewel thieves and solve a baby's murder. It's a minor film, but directed with flair by Raoul Walsh, and is a good exemplar of Joan's '30s roles.

THE MAN I MARRIED (1940) - This film is not very well known, but it should be. It's a powerful anti-Nazi film released by 20th Century-Fox less than 18 months before Pearl Harbor. Joan plays a New York art critic who takes a leave of absence to visit her husband's family in his native Germany, where the full import of what it means to live under Nazi rule gradually sinks in. Carol watches helplessly as her husband (Francis Lederer) becomes enthused about the Nazi party; she's had enough when she watches him swept up by a Nazi rally. She tells the American reporter (Lloyd Nolan) who comes to her aid "I've seen men go mad over football games, but nothing like this!"

CONFIRM OR DENY (1941) - This is a more minor WWII film than THE MAN I MARRIED, but it's still very enjoyable and a personal favorite. Joan plays a government teletype operator who goes to work for an American reporter (Don Ameche) at Consolidated Press, where they struggle to continue publishing the paper during the London Blitz. This is one of a couple of 1941 releases in which Joan played a Brit; a fun bit of trivia is this film costars Queenie Leonard, who taught Joan her Cockney accent for Fritz Lang's MAN HUNT the same year.

GIRL TROUBLE (1942) - Joan reunited with Don Ameche in this giddy comedy where she plays a wealthy woman who temporarily finds herself short of funds when her assets are frozen in England due to the war. She rents her luxury apartment out to a Venezuelan businessman (Ameche) who mistakes her for the maid; she goes along with his misimpression so she can sleep for free in the maid's quarters, and chaos ensues! Some of it is pretty silly but there are also some "laugh out loud funny" moments. To top off the fun, Joan is especially gorgeous in this one -- no wonder she remained a brunette!

THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW (1944) - My favorite of her collaborations with Fritz Lang, Bennett plays the title character, whose portrait is admired by lonely professor Edward G. Robinson. After meeting he goes to have a drink with her, and then goes to her apartment; before he knows what's happened, he's killed her jealous lover in self-defense! Joan is marvelous as the femme fatale in this moody crime film, and for good measure the movie costars the great Dan Duryea (seen in photo) as a blackmailer.

SCARLET STREET (1945) - SCARLET STREET reunited Joan, Edward G. Robinson, Dan Duryea, and director Fritz Lang for another film noir which is even darker than THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW. A depressed working man (Robinson) who dreams of being an artist falls for Kitty (Bennett), who colludes with her no-good boyfriend (Duryea) to drain Robinson of his funds. Joan was again unafraid to plumb the depths of a crass character who might have been beautiful but, among other things, lived like an utter pig (check out her kitchen!). Like THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW, it has an unforgettable -- but very different -- ending.

SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR (1947) - This was Joan's last film with director Fritz Lang. I really enjoy this gothic melodrama, in which she plays a woman who impulsively marries a near-stranger (Michael Redgrave) while on vacation in Mexico. When she arrives at his home she learns he hasn't mentioned some significant things to her, such as the fact he has a son, and more importantly she's puzzled by her new husband's hot-and-cold behavior.  Joan is quite likeable in this; after her hasty marriage, she deals with the surprises which come her way with grace, remaining committed to her marriage, though she suspects it might be the death of her.

HOLLOW TRIUMPH (1948) - Joan plays the secretary and lover of a doctor (Paul Henreid), who falls in love with the doctor's doppelganger (also Henreid), a crook on the run from the mob. The crook's plans to bump off the doctor and replace him, the perfect way to hide in plain sight, are complicated by their love affair and the fact she knows there's a set of a little problem regarding the location of a scar. One wonders why a woman of her character's beauty and smarts is content to settle for a love affair, but once again Joan presents a wonderful combination of terrific intelligence and stunning good looks.

FATHER OF THE BRIDE (1950) - Joan just turned 40 when this film was released. It's a sparkling family comedy in which she and Spencer Tracy are the parents of beautiful young Elizabeth Taylor, seeing her through the whirlwind of an engagement and wedding to her fiance (Don Taylor). Vincente Minnelli directed this and the very good sequel, FATHER'S LITTLE DIVIDEND (1951), in which Joan and Spencer become grandparents.

This post is adapted from an article originally published by ClassicFlix in 2016.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Classic Movie Hub: Seven Ways From Sundown (1960)

My latest Western RoundUp column is now available at Classic Movie Hub!

This month I take a "close-up" look at a single Western, SEVEN WAYS FROM SUNDOWN (1960), starring Audie Murphy and Barry Sullivan.

Please click over to Classic Movie Hub to check it out, and thanks very much for reading!

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; December 2019; January 2020.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Little Women (1933) at the Egyptian Theatre

This afternoon I attended a wonderful 35mm screening of LITTLE WOMEN (1933) at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood.

I have particularly special memories of a past viewing of this film. The first time I saw it I was a teenager; it was Christmas week of 1976 at the Vagabond Theater, on a double bill with SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS (1954). That evening spent with two of my all-time favorite films remains a glowing movie memory decades later.

In the years since I've seen three other versions theatrically; I also saw MGM's 1949 version at the Vagabond, and then of course there were the more recent 1994 and 2019 adaptations. I'm also fond of the 1978 TV-movie. The 2017 BBC version is on my DVD shelf, but I've not yet seen it.

I've always loved the colorful MGM '49 version, with its splendid cast, and when I saw the 1994 version a little over a year ago, I was profoundly moved; I'd forgotten just how good it was. The 2019 version was an entertaining curiosity but relatively unsuccessful in my eyes, with poor character development.

As is often the case with my most favorite films, I almost find it difficult to put into words just what makes the movie so special. I can begin by saying that when I returned to the '33 version today, it cemented my belief that of the many adaptations of LITTLE WOMEN, 1933 is my favorite; if I could have only one film version of the story, this would be it.

This version is perfect from start to finish; it captures the book just as I imagined it when I first read (and re-read!) it, and it also feels the most like I felt when I visited the Alcotts' home in Concord, Orchard House.

It's probably superfluous to say much about the familiar story, which concerns Meg (Frances Dee), Jo (Katharine Hepburn), Beth (Jean Parker), and Amy (Joan Bennett) growing up during and after the U.S. Civil War.

This script for this version, by Sarah Y. Mason and Victor Heerman (and a host of uncredited names) flows perfectly. It doesn't attempt to cover every moment seen in the later films (Meg's hair burning before the party, Amy burning Jo's manuscript, Amy and Laurie falling in love), yet, especially compared to the jumbled storytelling of the most recent version, it feels complete. Everything feels organic, flowing seamlessly from one moment to the next, with the right amount of foreshadowing; for instance, we see moments such as Jo and Laurie (Douglass Montgomery) bickering early on which causes Jo's later romantic rejection of Laurie to make total sense.

And frankly, the movie is such an emotional experience to me as it is that I'm not entirely sorry some of the more difficult moments were excised from this telling, particularly Amy burning Jo's story and her subsequent fall through the ice.

Each performance feels to me as if the character has jumped off the pages of my well-worn copy of the novel. Hepburn's hoydenish, passionate Jo is truly the essence of the character, but the other actors deserve kudos as well. I love Dee's demure, thoughtful Meg and Bennett's spoiled Amy, and Parker is without a doubt my favorite Beth. Her final scenes with Hepburn are exquisitely played.

I used to find Montgomery's Laurie the weak link in the cast, but he's honestly grown on me over time, and I had no issues with his portrayal today; after having seen Timothee Chalamet's oddly childlike performance recently, Montgomery's take on the part looked all the better.

This is one of those movies where I was so completely immersed that when it ended I realized my brain hadn't drifted anywhere outside the screen and the story. And how many times today did I think "Oh, this is one of my favorite parts"?

I tend to cry when I'm moved by beautiful things, so I was definitely teary watching the film today; indeed, I found myself tearing up in anticipation of favorite scenes. The one which always especially reduces me to puddles is when Beth goes to thank Mr. Laurence (Henry Stephenson) for the piano.

I also love looking around the screen at things like Walter Plunkett's costumes and the set decorations; for instance, I noticed a detail for the first time today that I think is a bit harder to take in on a small TV screen. A sketch of the family which is first seen just before the telegram arrives about Reverend March being hospitalized later appears on the wall in Jo's room in New York. Then when Jo returns home, the sketch is hanging under the window in Beth's room during her final days.

Something else which made this viewing a little different is that in the years since I last saw it, we've been privileged to become friendly with Wyatt McCrea, the grandson of Frances Dee and Joel McCrea. I've seen other films with his grandparents in recent years -- such as McCrea's THE OUTRIDERS (1950) just a couple weeks ago -- but this one is such a favorite, it was a bit amazing to watch it and think "That's Wyatt's grandmother!" How incredibly special to have been part of this, close to nine decades ago; everyone on screen is gone now, yet as the years tick by, their work continues to touch hearts.

A fun side note: My friend Jane recently reminded me of an interview with Frances Dee in an old Films of the Golden Age magazine. Frances recounted calling up Katharine Hepburn in their later years to say hello and the name "Frances McCrea" didn't immediately click in Hepburn's mind, so Frances said "Kate, it's Meg!" and that clicked with Hepburn immediately.

LITTLE WOMEN runs 115 minutes. It was directed by George Cukor. It was filmed by Henry Gerrard, who was only 35 when he died the following year.

Those who've seen the 1949 version will find that it closely follows this earlier version, using the same script, with additions by Andrew Solt, plus the same musical score by Max Steiner. Walter Plunkett designed the costumes for both films.

LITTLE WOMEN is available on DVD. It also had a release on VHS, and it turns up periodically on Turner Classic Movies. (2023 Update: LITTLE WOMEN is now available on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive Collection. My Blu-ray review is here.)

Most highly recommended.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Reap the Wild Wind (1942) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Cecil B. DeMille's REAP THE WILD WIND (1942), which boasts a wonderful cast -- not to mention a famous battle with a giant squid! -- is available in a truly gorgeous Blu-ray print from Kino Lorber.

REAP THE WILD WIND may not be a great film, but it's quite enjoyable, and I find myself returning to it every few years. I first reviewed the movie on my blog in January 2009, and I saw it again in January 2015 as part of a UCLA series honoring producer-director DeMille.

This weekend I caught up with Kino Lorber's Blu-ray release from last fall, and I'm pleased to say I've never seen the film look so spectacularly good. As much as I love 35mm, the print I saw at UCLA was a bit rough at reel changes.

I was very impressed with the Blu-ray print; surely leading ladies Paulette Goddard and Susan Hayward never looked quite as beautiful as they do in this film, photographed in Technicolor by Victor Milner and William V. Skall. The Blu-ray shows the ladies off to perfection, right down to the roses in their cheeks, and everything else in the film looks wonderful as well.

Goddard stars as Loxi Claiborne, who lives in the Florida Keys of the 1840s; with her father deceased, it's Loxi who runs her family's shipwreck salvage business. King Cutler (Raymond Massey) is taking salvage business from Loxi and others in the community, as he always manages to arrive at shipwrecks first; little does anyone know that he arrives first because he causes the wrecks!

Loxi falls in love with a ship's captain, Jack Stuart (John Wayne), whose career has been interrupted by a Cutler-caused wreck; she's also attracted, though she's reluctant to admit it, to lawyer Steve Tolliver (Ray Milland), who runs a shipping business. Loxi and Jack's plans to wed are thwarted on more than one occasion, and then Jack unfortunately decides to throw in with Cutler rather than work for his rival Steve...

At the same time, Loxi's sweet cousin Drusilla (Hayward) is herself in love -- with King Cutler's brother Dan (Robert Preston). Dan sincerely loves Drusilla, but his brother's penchant for wrecking ships will ultimately lead to multiple tragedies.

The film is a bit odd in that Wayne and Milland's characters change significantly over the course of the story. Wayne's Jack Stuart starts out as a nice guy who appears to be a perfect match for the adventurous Loxi. Milland's Stephen, meanwhile, is a dog-toting dandy who is more taken with Loxi than she is with him.

Over the course of the movie, however, Wayne's character transforms into a frustrated man willing to work with someone who's pure evil, while Milland's Steve proves to be a quick thinker who is also good with his fists -- and more admirable and deserving of Loxi's love than Jack. This flip-flop really threw me the first time I saw the movie; it still surprises me a bit after multiple viewings, but at least I know to expect it now and the transitions thus make a little more sense.

Goddard seems to be channeling Scarlett O'Hara at times, with men on a string and her lack of concern for social niceties; she even says "Fiddle-dee-dee!" at one point. That said, it's hard to imagine Scarlett dressed down for sailing adventures like Goddard's Loxi, and Loxi is entirely more likeable than Scarlett. Among other things, Loxi genuinely cares about Drusilla, who one might say is the Melanie to Loxi's Scarlett. (Ironically, both actresses had tested to play Scarlett in the 1939 film!)

I especially love Hayward as Drusilla in this, and my biggest regret about the film is simply that I wished there had been more of her and Robert Preston in the movie.

With the film set in the 1840s and made in the 1940s, there are a couple wince-worthy moments, particularly when King Cutler tries to sell Jack on sailing a slave ship to Africa, but in the end that scene has the effect of underscoring how truly bad Cutler is.

That's brought home even more in Massey's final scene with Preston, which is a bit of a jaw-dropper, even knowing that Massey is playing a total reprobate.

The film is a bit overlong at 123 minutes, but that battle with the giant sea squid takes some time! The movie, incidentally, won the Oscar for Best Special Effects.

In the end, it's not a perfect film, but it's quite entertaining and, as described above, something I enjoy watching every few years. It's a good exemplar of big, colorful moviemaking of its era, and the Kino Lorber Blu-ray is definitely the best way to see it.

The cast also includes Charles Bickford, Lynne Overman, Louise Beavers, Martha O'Driscoll, Janet Beecher, Hedda Hopper, Victor Kilian, Elisabeth Risdon, Walter Hampden, and J. Farrell MacDonald.

The screenplay was by Alan Le May, Charles Bennett, and Jesse Lasky Jr., from a magazine story by Thelma Strabel. The score was by Victor Young. Costumes were designed by Natalie Visart.

Extras on the Blu-ray consist of the movie trailer, a trailer gallery for seven additional films available from Kino Lorber, and an extensive, enjoyable image gallery. I wish we'd been treated to a featurette or commentary for this film, but I can't complain too much given how much I enjoyed the beautiful print.

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

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...Earlier this month I wrote about a number of new announcements for this spring's TCM Classic Film Festival. Last week TCM made a few more announcements. I'm especially excited about Piper Laurie appearing at a screening of Douglas Sirk's HAS ANYBODY SEEN MY GAL (1952) and a two-film tribute to Disney animator Floyd Norman, featuring THE SWORD IN THE STONE (1963) and ROBIN HOOD (1973). (March 5th Update: TCM announced today that ROBIN HOOD has been withdrawn from the festival schedule.)

...Thanks to Toby at 50 Westerns From the 50s for the alert that VCI Entertainment is releasing two Buck Jones serials on Blu-ray: GORDON OF GHOST CITY (1933) and THE PHANTOM RIDER (1936). (I got VCI's DVD release of the Jones serial THE ROARING WEST at Christmas.) Toby will be providing commentaries for the first chapter of each serial.

...Kino Lorber has been making daily Twitter announcements of upcoming releases. These include a 4K restoration of THE SHAKEDOWN (1929), a silent William Wyler film which I saw at the 2018 Cinecon Festival; Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard in THE CAT AND THE CANARY (1939); and May 12th releases of a pair of three-film sets, Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema II and the Barbara Stanwyck Collection. The noir set titles, a couple of which were previously released on DVD by TCM Vault, are THUNDER ON THE HILL (1951) with Claudette Colbert and Ann Blyth, which I reviewed in 2013, THE PRICE OF FEAR (1956) with Merle Oberon and Lex Barker, and THE FEMALE ANIMAL (1958) with Hedy Lamarr and Jane Powell. The Stanwyck films, which were released as part of a DVD set a decade ago, are INTERNES CAN'T TAKE MONEY (1937) and THE GREAT MAN'S LADY (1942) with Joel McCrea, plus THE BRIDE WORE BOOTS (1946) with Bob Cummings.

...Released last fall from the University of Kentucky Press: FILM'S FIRST FAMILY: THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE COSTELLOS by Terry Chester Shulman.

...Thanks to Stephen Vagg for letting me know about a profile he wrote of actress Helena Carter. Carter has been reviewed here in films such as SOMETHING IN THE WIND (1947), RIVER LADY (1948), and FORT WORTH (1951). I enjoyed learning more about her.

...In January I shared a column from CNET about solo moviegoing. Here's a different take on the same topic. It also discusses that the opportunity to focus on something uninterrupted during a theatrical film is good for brain health.

...At Journeys in Darkness and Light my movie pal Andy writes about his introduction to B Westerns, specifically George O'Brien in LAWLESS VALLEY (1938). I really enjoyed his description, and I appreciate the link to my review of the movie!

...Coming October 20th from Scott Eyman: CARY GRANT: A BRILLIANT DISGUISE. Can't wait!

...UCLA has announced three Mary Pickford silents will be remastered and released theatrically: THE LITTLE AMERICAN (1917), AMARILLY OF CLOTHES-LINE ALLEY (1918), and THE LOVE LIGHT (1921).

...Attention Southern Californians: THE CLOCK (1945), a romantic WWII drama starring Judy Garland and Robert Walker, will be a 35mm matinee screening at the Egyptian Theatre on Sunday, March 1st. Vincente Minnelli directed...A digital restoration of PANDORA AND THE FLYING DUTCHMAN (1951), starring Ava Gardner and James Mason, is playing at the Laemmle Royal in West Los Angeles through February 27th. The Laemmle Royal is also hosting a screening of RIO BRAVO (1959) with Angie Dickinson present on Tuesday, February 25th. I've never been to that theater; unfortunately it looks like there isn't any parking available so that's a possible issue as far as being able to attend screenings there...

...More for Southern Californians: The Noir City Hollywood schedule is now available. I'll have a detailed look at the schedule for the festival, which opens March 6th, in a separate post here in the future...Overlapping with the Noir City schedule is a 35mm screening of Betty Grable in THE SHOCKING MISS PILGRIM (1947) at UCLA's Billy Wilder Theater on Sunday afternoon, March 8th. I sure hope that one is going to screen again somewhere soon, as I'll be seeing the even more rarely screened, not-on-DVD FLY-BY-NIGHT (1942) at Noir City that afternoon.

...Notable Passings: Kellye Nakahara, who played Nurse Kellye Yamoto on the long-running TV series M*A*S*H (1972-83), has passed on at the age of 72...Biographer A.E. Hotchner has died at 102. Among many other books, he cowrote Doris Day's autobiography.

...For additional recent links of interest to classic film fans, please check out my February 15th roundup.

Have a great week!

Friday, February 21, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Black Angel (1946) - An Arrow Academy Blu-ray Review

The very special film noir BLACK ANGEL (1946) has just been released on Blu-ray by Arrow Academy.

I first saw this film in 2011, and in the years since I've been fortunate to see it in 35mm at the Noir City Film Festival in Hollywood and the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival in Palm Springs.

BLACK ANGEL not only stands up to repeat viewings, it's one of those films which seems to grow richer each time I see it. It was thus a real joy to watch the film again, thanks to Arrow Academy's beautiful new Blu-ray print, which was restored from original film elements.

The screenplay for BLACK ANGEL was written by Roy Chanslor; like so many great noir titles, the script was based on a story by Cornell Woolrich. Woolrich is the writer behind such favorite films as PHANTOM LADY (1944) -- which has some thematic similarities to BLACK ANGEL -- NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES (1948), NO MAN OF HER OWN (1950), and REAR WINDOW (1954), to name just a few.

The plot concerns the murder of Mavis Marlowe (Constance Dowling, seen at right), the estranged wife of alcoholic pianist Marty Blair (Dan Duryea).

Kirk Bennett (John Phillips), who found the body, is promptly convicted of Mavis's murder. Kirk's wife Cathy (June Vincent) steadfastly believes in her husband's innocence, and Cathy convinces Marty to work with her to find the real killer.

Marty and Cathy manage to hire on as a pianist-singer act in a nightclub owned by Marko (Peter Lorre), their chief suspect. From there the plot takes a number of turns, with the biggest being an unexpected development just before Kirk is scheduled to be put to death.

I love everything about this film: The lead performances by Duryea and Vincent; the music; the stylish direction by Roy William Neill; Vincent's marvelous wardrobe by Vera West; and the unexpected resolution.

The movie is a two-track story, with one aspect focused on solving the murder and the other track depicting Marty's redemption; he leaves the bottle behind and falls in love with Cathy, then eventually realizes the impossibility of their relationship having a future, as Cathy continues to love her husband.

I've always been struck that in the wrong hands this film could have been either a maudlin tearjerker or completely annoying, but thanks to the script, direction, and especially Duryea's superb, sensitive performance, BLACK ANGEL is a richly rewarding and authentically moving experience. With several viewings under my belt, it strikes me that Duryea deserved an Oscar nomination.

His performance is all the more remarkable when one considers that he learned several piano pieces just for the movie; as just one example, Alan Rode points out in his commentary track that in the nightclub audition scene, Duryea and Vincent are performing "live." (Based on the commentary track info, IMDb's reference to Vincent being dubbed is incorrect.)

Vincent had a long career, beginning in movies in 1943 and continuing with TV guest appearances until 1976. She tended to play minor roles in "A" films, such as Deanna Durbin's CAN'T HELP SINGING (1944), with larger parts in "B" films such as MARY RYAN, DETECTIVE (1949).

Vincent is so good here that it's a bit curious to me that she didn't receive more lead roles as a result; I really like her performance in this. She's pitch perfect, evolving from quiet housewife to a determined woman with the confidence to pull off a successful nightclub act.

In addition to a strong performance, Vincent is quite beautiful in this, with lovely hairstyles and a first-rate wardrobe. I also love her hats! Vincent's appearance makes me think a bit of Jean Wallace in another great noir from about a decade later, THE BIG COMBO (1955).

BLACK ANGEL was filmed in black and white by Paul Ivano. It runs a perfectly paced 81 minutes.

The supporting cast includes Broderick Crawford as the detective working on the murder case; the cast also includes Wallace Ford, Mary Field, Freddie Steele, Ben Bard, Hobart Cavanaugh, and Marion Martin.

The plentiful extras on this new Blu-ray edition include an excellent commentary track by Alan K. Rode; a featurette on the film with historian Neil Sinyard; the original trailer; and an image gallery with stills and more.

The final edition of this Blu-ray will include a limited edition booklet with an essay by Philip Kemp. The booklet and reversible case cover art were not included in the advance promotional copy of the set which I reviewed.

A few more stills from this favorite film:

A highly recommended film and Blu-ray release.

Thanks to Arrow Academy for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.

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