Friday, July 31, 2020

TCM in August: Summer Under the Stars Highlights

It's August, and that means it's time for the annual Summer Under the Stars festival on Turner Classic Movies! 

For an "at a glance" look at this month's stars, check out the preview posted here a few weeks ago, or head on over to the TCM festival microsite.

A couple notes of interest: This year's schedule includes Natalie Wood, who was bumped from last year's schedule in order to honor Rita Moreno.

The schedule includes a 24-hour tribute to the late Olivia de Havilland, who passed away last weekend.  The actress will be honored on August 23rd, replacing her good friend Bette Davis on the schedule.  I like to think that Miss Davis would approve.

As I suspect most TCM viewers are well aware, TCM's usual features, including Noir Alley, Silent Sunday Nights, and Saturday morning "B" movies and cartoons, take a vacation during August but will return in September.

Below are a few recommendations from a schedule packed with appealing titles.  Please click any hyperlinked title for my past review.

...The month kicks off with a day of Barbara Stanwyck films on August 1st.  I'm particularly fond of EAST SIDE, WEST SIDE (1948), which has a superlative cast including James Mason, Van Heflin, Cyd Charisse, Ava Gardner, Nancy Davis (Reagan), and William Conrad.

...I've enjoyed many of the Rock Hudson films showing on the 2nd, but I'd like to call attention to a film I've not yet seen which looks particularly fun: THE GOLDEN BLADE (1953), an adventure film costarring Piper Laurie.

...Rita Hayworth is a star especially dear to me, as her musicals were part of my falling in love with classic movies.  I never miss a chance to recommend one of my all-time favorite films, YOU WERE NEVER LOVELIER (1942), in which she costarred with Fred Astaire.  It's pure escapism, set to the music of Jerome Kern, and it's especially welcome viewing this particular year.  Rita's day is August 3rd.

...The days featuring character actors are always a good opportunity to show an interesting cross-section of films.  S.Z. "Cuddles" Sakall will be featured on August 4th, and I particularly recommend EMBRACEABLE YOU (1948), which is shown on TCM relatively infrequently.  Dane Clark and Geraldine Brooks star, and there's a nice supporting role for Lina Romay, who sings with Xavier Cugat's orchestra in YOU WERE NEVER LOVELIER the preceding day.

...One of my favorite days on the schedule is August 5th, celebrating Ann Miller.  There are some wonderful musicals being shown that day, and I'm looking forward to REVEILLE WITH BEVERLY (1943), which I've been meaning to catch up with for years now.

...I'm delighted that TCM is showing the wonderful romantic comedy THIRTY DAY PRINCESS (1934) as part of an August 7th tribute to Sylvia Sidney.  This film, which is something of a forerunner to PRINCESS O'ROURKE (1943) and ROMAN HOLIDAY (1953), also stars Cary Grant.

...Norma Shearer Day on August 10th includes the classic pre-Code melodrama THE DIVORCEE (1930), costarring Chester Morris and Robert Montgomery.

...Lana Turner is celebrated on August 12th.  I'd like to recommend one of her lesser-known films, LATIN LOVERS (1953), because it's such fun, colorful escapism.  Ricardo Montalban and John Lund costar, along with some spectacular set designs and gowns designed by Helen Rose.

...THE HONEYMOON MACHINE (1961) is an amusing romantic comedy being shown as part of Steve McQueen's August 14th day on the schedule.  Paula Prentiss and Jim Hutton costar.

...August 15th is one of my favorite days on the schedule, honoring Nina Foch.  Her roles weren't always large, but she made the most of them, notably in EXECUTIVE SUITE (1954), for which she nabbed a Best Supporting Actress nomination.  One of her best roles came in the short but quite memorable thriller MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS (1945).

...As he does many years, fan favorite Cary Grant has a day on the schedule, on August 16th.  The lineup is terrific; I'd particularly like to point out a lesser-known Grant film, CRISIS (1950), in which he plays a brain surgeon whose services are demanded by a dictator (Jose Ferrer) with a brain tumor.

...Maureen O'Hara is the honoree on August 17th.  I've enjoyed most of the films on the schedule, and a relatively unsung film of interest that day is THE FALLEN SPARROW (1943), which costars John Garfield, Patricia Morison, and Martha O'Driscoll.

...The wonderful August 20th schedule celebrating William Powell includes one of my all-time favorite comedies, LIBELED LADY (1936), also starring Myrna Loy, Jean Harlow, and Spencer Tracy.

...I love the day of Diana Dors films on August 21st!  MAN BAIT (1952) is a fun film starring George Brent and Marguerite Chapman which I included in a past list of enjoyable Lesser-Known Westerns and Noir films.  I also want to mention her film with Victor Mature, THE LONG HAUL (1957), which I saw at this year's Noir City Film Festival -- and as a matter of fact, that was the last film I saw in a theater this year.

...Natalie Wood's day on August 22nd includes one of my favorites from her "adult" performances, LOVE WITH THE PROPER STRANGER (1963), costarring Steve McQueen.

...There are many wonderful films being shown as part of the Olivia de Havilland tribute on August 23rd, including PRINCESS O'ROURKE, mentioned previously in this post; it's an underrated, charming romantic comedy costarring Robert Cummings, Jack Carson, and Jane Wyman.  I'd also like to particularly mention one of my more recent discoveries from her filmography, LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA (1962), in which her mentally challenged daughter (Yvette Mimieux) finds love with a young man (George Hamilton) as they vacation in Italy.

...NOCTURNE (1946) is an engaging whodunit starring George Raft and Lynn Bari, with a good script and L.A. locations.  It was produced by Joan Harrison, subject of the recent biography PHANTOM LADY: HOLLYWOOD PRODUCER JOAN HARRISON, THE WOMAN BEHIND HITCHCOCK by Christina Lane.  It will be shown as part of George Raft's day on August 24th.

...August 25th is one of my favorite days on the schedule, honoring actress Anne Shirley.  I would happily watch the entire schedule!  Two films I particularly enjoy are SORORITY HOUSE (1939) and UNEXPECTED UNCLE (1941).

...August 27th is another favorite day, filled with the films of Claudette Colbert.  I'd call it a "stay home from work and watch movies all day" day, except so many of us are already at home this year!  WITHOUT RESERVATIONS (1946) is an underrated romantic comedy with John Wayne, but you really can't go wrong with anything on the schedule.

...I haven't seen THE CONSPIRATORS (1944) in a decade.  It's being shown on Paul Henreid's day on August 28th.  He stars in this stylish film with Hedy Lamarr, Sydney Greenstreet, and Joseph Calleia.

...Eva Marie Saint turned 96 on Independence Day!  I feel fortunate to have seen her in person on multiple occasions.  She'll be honored by TCM on August 29th with a lineup that includes ON THE WATERFRONT (1954).

...Charlton Heston Day on August 30th includes the highly diverting SKYJACKED (1972).  It's great fun, with a terrific supporting cast including Yvette Mimieux, Jeanne Crain, and Walter Pidgeon.  Some of the onscreen behavior, including Heston smoking a pipe while piloting the plane during takeoff, is fascinating from the perspective of nearly half a century later.

For more on TCM in August 2020, please check out the complete schedule, the TCM Summer Under the Stars site, and my Quick Preview of TCM in August: Summer Under the Stars

TCM's promotional video for August is here, and a Twitter thread of TCM employee recommendations for the month starts here.
Happy Summer Under the Stars Month!

Classic Movie Hub: Yvonne DeCarlo Westerns

My newest Western Roundup column has now been posted at Classic Movie Hub.

This month I look at Westerns starring one of my favorite actresses, Yvonne DeCarlo.

Please click over to Classic Movie Hub to check it out, and thanks very much to everyone 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; February 2020; March 2020; April 2020; May 2020; June 2020.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Tonight's Movie: The Duel at Silver Creek (1952) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

There are a number of terrific Blu-ray collections being released this summer by Kino Lorber, but the one I'm most excited about might be the Audie Murphy Collection. 

 The set, releasing on August 4th, includes the excellent NO NAME ON THE BULLET (1959); RIDE A CROOKED TRAIL (1958), which I'll soon be watching for the first time; and THE DUEL AT SILVER CREEK (1952), a real favorite of mine which I first reviewed here in 2014.

THE DUEL AT SILVER CREEK has me smiling with anticipation from the moment the colorful opening credits sequence begins.  Few things in the movies were as beautiful as the opening titles for Universal Pictures Westerns!

Murphy plays the Silver Kid, a fast-drawing young gambler whose father was murdered by claim jumpers.

The Silver Kid might seem to be an unlikely candidate for deputy sheriff, but Marshal Lightning Tyrone (Stephen McNally) needs backup when his own quick draw skills are hampered by an injury to his hand.  Tyrone correctly senses that there's more to the young man than gambling and helps give him a positive purpose and a way to legally avenge his father's killing.

The Silver Kid is also drawn to pretty young Dusty (Susan Cabot), who's had a crush on the older Lightning for too long.  The Silver Kid helps Dusty realize that Lightning sees her as a kid sister and that he's instead interested in a newcomer to town, glamorous Opal Lacy (Faith Domergue).  The Silver Kid, meanwhile, definitely doesn't see Dusty as a sister.

There's a satisfying storyline regarding the claim jumpers, culminating in an outstanding gunfight sequence with excellent stunt work; my favorite moment is when Murphy rides up to a window, leaps off his horse and crashes through the window, gun a-blazing.

I also especially appreciated a shootout between Lightning and Johnny Sombrero (Eugene Iglesias), which builds to an unexpected conclusion, including Johnny giving Lightning some unexpected news regarding Opal.

The movie is very well directed by Don Siegel, who keeps up a terrific pace over the film's 77 minutes while bringing out interesting nuances in the characters' relationships.  

One of the things I enjoy the most about this film is that it flips our expectations of the relationship between Lightning and the Silver Kid; Lightning initially mentors the Silver Kid, yet in time we come to see that as good as Lightning is, he's blinded at times by his emotions, while the Silver Kid coolly assesses people and situations and takes care of business.

I really like McNally, who had a good run in Universal films, and he and Murphy have nice chemistry.  For his part, Murphy was developing into a fine actor whose work, even at this early stage of his career, is consistently underrated.  He has great timing and a memorable way with his lines.

I also love the relationship between the Silver Kid and Dusty, which generates considerable heat in relatively brief screen time.  Murphy and Cabot were very well teamed and would go on to costar in two more top-notch Westerns, GUNSMOKE (1953) and RIDE CLEAR OF DIABLO (1954).

Domergue excelled at playing disturbed women, with the film noir WHERE DANGER LIVES (1954) and the Western ESCORT WEST (1958) being further examples.  Her first sequence as Opal is unexpected and shocking; while her character doesn't get to do anything that surprising in the rest of the film, Domergue is nonetheless compelling as a manipulative woman hiding homicidal tendencies underneath her very beautiful exterior. 

The supporting cast includes Lee Marvin, Gerald Mohr, James Anderson, Walter Sande, Griff Barnett, Harry Harvey, and Jeff York. 

The movie was filmed in Technicolor by Irving Glassberg at Southern California locations, including Iverson Ranch.  The script was by Gerald Drayson Adams and Joseph Hoffman, from Adams' story.

In addition to my 2014 review, I also wrote a little about this film in my 2018 column on "Universal Gems" for Classic Movie Hub.

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray picture looks terrific, with a sharp picture, and has excellent sound. The disc includes a commentary track by Westerns expert Toby Roan; the trailer; and trailers for two additional films available from Kino Lorber.

Western fans will love this one, and I suspect this "darn good Western" might win over newcomers to the genre as well.  Recommended.

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

Monday, July 27, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Girl Crazy (1943) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney light up the screen in GIRL CRAZY (1943), just released on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive.

GIRL CRAZY is a film I saw many times on TV growing up -- on L.A.'s KTTV Channel 11, to be exact! -- so it's a movie I know well. However, I hadn't seen it in years; I loved that it was quite familiar, yet there was enough distance from my last viewing that it simultaneously felt quite fresh.  What a treat to revisit it!

The story concerns Danny Churchill Jr. (Rooney), the son of a wealthy publisher (Henry Daniell).  

Danny Jr. is gaining a reputation as an unserious party boy, and after his nightclub photos appear in the papers a few times too many, Dad transfers him from Yale to the all-male, isolated Cody College in the west, far from girls and the New York night scene.

Danny is initially unhappy with the school's rigorous schedule and feels like the proverbial fish out of water on the campus, but he's sweet on local postmistress Ginger Gray (Garland), who also happens to be the granddaughter of the college president (Guy Kibbee).

When the state legislature threatens to close the college due to low enrollment, it's up to Danny and Ginger to find a way to save the school.

The plot's pleasant enough, but the viewers are there for are Judy and Mickey, Tommy Dorsey & His Orchestra, the songs of the Gershwin brothers, and a grand finale choreographed by Busby Berkeley.  That's entertainment!

Judy was as lovely in this film as she ever was on screen, and, it goes without saying, what a performer!  She truly could do it all, including comedy, melancholy drama, and knockout singing and dancing.

My favorite scene in the film is when Garland dances "Embraceable You" with dance director (and future film director) Charles Walters, seen here. They move so beautifully together, and when you add in the gorgeous music and my memories of having met "Chuck" a couple of times, I get a big lump in my throat watching this dance. It's just wonderful in every way.

Then you've got Judy singing "But Not for Me" and "Bidin' My Time," a June Allyson specialty in the opening nightclub scene ("Treat Me Rough"), and the fabulous Berkeley finale set to "I've Got Rhythm," and truly, who could ask for anything more? 

Rooney also does a good job, carefully walking the line between being sympathetic and amusing versus obnoxious, and he has wonderful chemistry with Garland.

The supporting cast includes Gil Stratton Jr. (last seen here in HOT ROD from 1950), Frances Rafferty, Nancy Walker, Rags Ragland, Robert E. Strickland, Irving Bacon, and Howard Freeman.  

Peter Lawford and Don Taylor can be spotted in the background among the school's students.  The nightclub showgirls include future Western leading lady Karin Booth and Hedy Lamarr lookalike Inez Cooper.

This 99-minute film was directed by Norman Taurog.  It was filmed in black and white by William Daniels and Robert Planck.

The Blu-ray includes the extras which were also on the film's original DVD release, including an introduction by Mickey Rooney, the trailer, a commentary track by Judy Garland biographer John Fricke, a cartoon, a short, and an outtake. The movie print and sound are excellent.

GIRL CRAZY is recommended for pure movie musical joy.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the WBShop.

Quick Preview of TCM in October

Turner Classic Movies recently released a preview of the October schedule.

The October Star of the Month is Peter Cushing. Over 20 of Cushing's films will be shown on Monday evenings in October.

The TCM Spotlight will focus on "30 Years of the Film Foundation."

Continuing in September will be the "Women Make Film" series, which will begin in September and run through early December.

Noir Alley films in October are WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS (1950), THE RACKET (1951), DESTINATION MURDER (1950), MACAO (1952), and THE SEVENTH VICTIM (1943).

Filmmakers receiving multifilm tributes in October include David Janssen, Buster Keaton, Andy Griffith, Carole Lombard, Jan Sterling, Van Heflin, Jean Harlow, Lon Chaney, Constance Bennett, the Marx Brothers, and the teaming of Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon.

October themes include U.S. Presidents, elections, London, Paris, Hungary, Dr. Kildare, and "nuclear nightmares." And of course, this being October there are plenty of spooky films on the schedule; TCM is showing several evenings of "Fright Favorites."

There are still a number of blank spots on the schedule, so it will be interesting to see what else may turn up in the future. I'll have a closer look at the October schedule posted here at the end of September.

In the meantime, the final night honoring Tony Curtis as the July Star of the Month is this evening. Summer Under the Stars is coming in August, with Dorothy Dandridge scheduled as the September Star of the Month.

Update: For more information on the TCM schedule for October 2020, please check out TCM in October: Highlights.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Tonight's Movie: The Virginian (1946) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Last month I reviewed Alan Ladd in WHISPERING SMITH (1948) from the new Western Classics I collection released by Kino Lorber.

Tonight I returned to the set to watch Joel McCrea as THE VIRGINIAN (1946). I hadn't seen this film since 2010 and have looked forward to revisiting it.

I'd forgotten over the past decade that THE VIRGINIAN's story is mostly seen through the eyes of Molly Wood (Barbara Britton), an Eastern schoolteacher newly arrived in the frontier town of Medicine Bow.

Molly longed for a more adventurous life than she'd have in her hometown, but even so, she's not quite sure what to make of the wild Western town or its inhabitants, who include a cowboy known only as the Virginian (McCrea) and his pal Steve (Sonny Tufts).

Molly and the Virginian start off on the wrong foot, but he's smitten with pretty Molly and persistent in courting her. Molly gradually unbends, discovering that the Virginian is an honorable man; however, she's dismayed when he must mete out frontier justice, first when Steve is caught cattle rustling and later when he's challenged to a shootout by evil Trampas (Brian Donlevy).

Much like WHISPERING SMITH, THE VIRGINIAN isn't a great Western, but it's solid and enjoyable entertainment. The main issue working against the film is that the screenplay by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett (THE THIN MAN) could have done a better job developing the story and title character, as except for key scenes of conflict, we don't know much about the interior life of the Virginian; instead the audience mostly sees him through Molly's eyes, only learning about him gradually.

That formula works to an extent, but the story is truncated, with references to some events we don't see, so the character development is on the thin side. At 87 minutes, this is a movie which could easily have stood another 10 minutes or so to more fully develop the character of the Virginian and his relationship with Molly. Instead, we're left with something of an enigma when it comes to the leading man.

The longest section of the film focusing on the Virginian is unfortunately also the most disturbing part of the movie, when the Virginian has to deal with the fact his old pal Steve is on the wrong side of the law. I frankly find this part of the film difficult to watch.

The rest of the movie I quite enjoy. Britton's initial rejection of the Virginian may be overdone -- I mean, he's Joel McCrea! -- but I like Britton, who starred in a favorite mystery, COVER UP (1949), and I appreciated that the movie is different from the norm in its focus on the leading lady. McCrea, of course, is always a pleasure to watch.

Donlevy, dressed all in black, is terrific as the sardonic, nasty Trampas, and Tufts is sympathetic as Steve, a nice guy who makes some really bad choices. I especially enjoyed Fay Bainter and Henry O'Neill as the settlers responsible for hiring Molly. The fine cast also includes Tom Tully, William Frawley, Nana Bryant, Paul Guilfoyle, Marc Lawrence, Willard Robertson, Vince Barnett, and Ann Carter.

The movie was directed by Stuart Gilmore, and the beautiful Technicolor photography was by Harry Hallenberger, with most of the exteriors shot on Southern California ranches. The Goodrich-Hackett script was based on Howard Estabrook's adaption of the classic Owen Wister novel.

The last time I saw this film was on VHS, so while I can't compare the Blu-ray to DVD releases of the past decade, it was a big upgrade for me which I really enjoyed watching. The print is crisp, with a strong soundtrack.

Extras on the disc include a commentary by Lee Gambin and Rutanya Alda, the trailer, and an additional trailer for another Joel McCrea Western.

A fun postscript: Last year at a fundraiser for McCrea Ranch I won posters for THE VIRGINIAN in a raffle! You can read about that event in a column I wrote for Classic Movie Hub.

Still to come is a review of the final film in this Western set, WHEN THE DALTONS RODE (1940) starring Randolph Scott.

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

Olivia de Havilland Dies at 104

Word is breaking this morning that the great Olivia de Havilland has left us.

She died in Paris this weekend, just weeks after turning 104.

While her obituaries will understandably focus on GONE WITH THE WIND (1939), I'm especially grateful for her performance as Maid Marian in one of my all-time favorite films, THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938). That film is at the top of any list I would make of perfect movies.

Though some actors of the '30s remain with us, including 102-year-old Marsha Hunt, it's hard not to feel that this passing marks, in a significant way, the closing of an era.

Miss de Havilland was a woman of faith, and this morning I am particularly remembering an interview she gave several years ago on how she prepared to give Scripture readings at the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Paris.

At this sad time, Errol Flynn's moving line from THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON (1941) comes to mind as the most appropriate thing a classic film fan can say today, with deepest gratitude: "Walking through life with you, ma'am, has been a very gracious thing."

Previously: Happy Birthday to... (2009), Happy Birthday to Two Amazing Ladies (2013), Happy 99th Birthday to Olivia de Havilland (2015), TCM Star of the Month: Olivia de Havilland (2016), and Happy 101st Birthday to Olivia de Havilland (2017).

2021 Update: A Tribute to Olivia de Havilland, an update of my 2016 centennial tribute for ClassicFlix.

Reviews of Olivia de Havilland films: THE IRISH IN US (1935), GOLD IS WHERE YOU FIND IT (1938) (also here), THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938), FOUR'S A CROWD (1938), HARD TO GET (1938) (also here), WINGS OF THE NAVY (1939), DODGE CITY (1939), RAFFLES (1939), MY LOVE CAME BACK (1940), HOLD BACK THE DAWN (1941) (also here), THE MALE ANIMAL (1942), IN THIS OUR LIFE (1942), THANK YOUR LUCKY STARS (1943), PRINCESS O'ROURKE (1943), GOVERNMENT GIRL (1943), DARK MIRROR (1946), THE PROUD REBEL (1958), LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA (1962), and AIRPORT '77 (1977).

Update: Here are more reviews, for SANTA FE TRAIL (1940) and THE STRAWBERRY BLONDE (1941).

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (1944) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

The classic adventure film ALI BABA AND THE FORTY THIEVES (1944) was released on Blu-ray last week by Kino Lorber.

Like ARABIAN NIGHTS (1942), another new Kino Lorber release reviewed here two weeks ago, ALI BABA stars Jon Hall, Maria Montez, and Turhan Bey in a Technicolor spectacle from Universal Pictures.

I really enjoyed ARABIAN NIGHTS, and I'm happy to say that I liked ALI BABA AND THE FORTY THIEVES even more.

Like ARABIAN NIGHTS, the story, written by Edmund L. Hartmann, is about a "hidden caliph," but it's more coherent and a little lighter on its feet than the earlier film. And with a couple more years and another film to her credit -- WHITE SAVAGE (1943), again with Hall -- Montez gives a more relaxed and natural performance. She's still not a great actress, but she's more than good enough for this role.

As the film begins, the Mongols have invaded Baghdad. The caliph (Moroni Olsen) is killed due to the betrayal of Prince Cassim (Frank Puglia), but the caliph's young son Ali (Scotty Beckett) escapes and stumbles across the cave of the "forty thieves."

The thieves, including Old Baba (Fortunio Bonanova) and Abdullah (Andy Devine), adopt Ali, naming him Ali Baba, and when he grows up the thieves, now "forty and one," terrorize the Mongols.

As the story unfolds, eventually the thieves kidnap Princess Amara (Montez), who is expected to be the bride of the Mongol ruler Kahn (Kurt Katch). Only later does Ali realize that Amara is the childhood friend (played by Yvette Duguay in the opening scenes) he had pledged to wed himself.

Along the way there are many exciting action scenes, with Amara's loyal servant Jamiel (Turhan Bey) joining forces with the thieves in a plan to overthrow Kahn and restore Ali to the throne.

I found this film a lot of fun; just as with ARABIAN NIGHTS, it must have been wonderful escapism for wartime audiences when it was released in January 1944. It certainly feels especially good to me right now being able to disappear into Universal's Technicolor wonderland for 87 minutes.

I like Jon Hall in these films quite well; he's good-humored and handsome, although it must be admitted that in this film he threatens to be overshadowed by the heroics of Bey, an actor I'm really coming to appreciate this year. Bey was delightful in the comedy OUT OF THE BLUE (1947) and had a much smaller part in ARABIAN NIGHTS. His performances in OUT OF THE BLUE and ALI BABA cause me to be interested in seeking out more of his work.

Andy Devine has quite a nice part in this as Ali's "nursemaid," assigned by Old Baba to take care of the young boy. It's a nicely written and acted part, balancing comedy with a couple moments which are quite touching.

The vigorous score by Edward Ward is a real plus, as is the Technicolor cinematography of W. Howard Greene and George Robinson. Numerous desert scenes were filmed on location in California's Red Rock Canyon State Park.

ALI BABA AND THE FORTY THIEVES was directed by Arthur Lubin.

Like ARABIAN NIGHTS, the ALI BABA AND THE FORTY THIEVES Blu-ray disc includes the trailer, a gallery of trailers for three additional films available from Kino Lorber, and a commentary track by Phillipa Berry. The film looks and sounds terrific. It's a most enjoyable release.

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

Tonight's Movie: Wonder Bar (1934) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Busby Berkeley meets pre-Code melodrama in WONDER BAR (1934), available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

The entire 84-minute film is set in the Wonder Bar in Paris, owned and hosted by Al Wonder (Al Jolson).

The movie is sort of a musical GRAND HOTEL with a terrific cast of stars. Inez (Dolores Del Rio), half of the Wonder Bar's star dance team, loves her partner Harry (Ricardo Cortez), but he's a snake who's planning to run away to America with Liane (Kay Francis)...who is married to wealthy Renaud (Henry Kolker). Liane desperately needs to retrieve some jewelry she'd given Harry before her suspicious husband realizes she didn't lose it, as she'd claimed.

Meanwhile, Al and bandleader/singer Tommy (Dick Powell) both pine for lovelorn Inez.

Comedy bits with a pair of Americans (Guy Kibbee and Hugh Hubert) and their wives (Ruth Donnelly and Louise Fazenda) provide brief moments of levity, especially when uptight Mrs. Pratt (Fazenda) unbends to flirt with a gigolo (Bill Elliott, not yet known as "Wild Bill").

Director Lloyd Bacon keeps everything moving along at a good clip, with the melodrama, comedy, and musical numbers evenly balanced.

The film, photographed by Sol Polito, is a visual stunner, from Berkeley's massive production number with mirrors to the Art Deco set design to the women's gowns.

The establishing shots of the Wonder Bar sign were so gloriously beautiful that I actually rewound for a few seconds just so I could take it in a second time!

Last weekend I saw Kimberly Truhler's online presentation The Style of Sin: Kay Francis and especially enjoyed taking some good looks at Francis's amazing white gown by Orry-Kelly, with its plunging neckline on both the front and back of the dress.

Thanks to her role as a nightclub performer, Del Rio gets more costume changes, and they look terrific as well, though I felt they were overshadowed by the Francis gown.

The Busby Berkeley number with the mirrors, which features dancer Hal Le Roy, is a typically inventive Berkeley routine, filled with fascinating geometric designs and "How did they do that?" moments which could never actually be staged or appreciated in the movie's actual nightclub...but I'm glad the filmmakers didn't worry about such things or we would have been robbed of seeing some remarkable musical sequences.

A Jolson blackface number is far less appealing. Besides the discomfort the routine may cause a modern viewer, I simply didn't care for the "heavenly" theme and didn't find it as creative as the film's earlier big Berkeley production. And in any event, a little Al Jolson goes a very long way for me.  That said, it's interesting to note that his very first number in the film was performed live, with the studio orchestra playing on set as the nightclub orchestra.

This film could easily have been included in one of the Archive's later Forbidden Hollywood collections, as several things flag it as "pre-Code," beginning with a man cutting into a dance...and dancing off with the man, rather than the woman. A dance number with Cortez repeatedly whipping Del Rio is startling, to say the least, and the neat resolution of a murder, with the perpetrator living happily ever after, is yet another clear indicator that we're in the pre-Code era.

The supporting cast includes Henry O'Neill as the Wonder Bar's loyal, capable maitre'd and Robert Barrat as a suicidal patron. Fifi D'Orsay, Merna Kennedy, and Spencer Charters round out the cast. Dennis O'Keefe is said by IMDb to be in the chorus but I didn't spot him.

This was one of the Warner Archive's earliest releases, from its first year in business back in 2009. Like some of the other early releases, its original plain blue cover has been upgraded to a much more attractive design based on the movie poster.

The print and sound are quite good, which is probably why it was chosen as one of the line's early releases. The disc includes the trailer.

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

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...I've been tracking the scheduling of upcoming theatrical releases closely. Last week Disney pulled the plug indefinitely on its big screen release of MULAN (2020), after having previously rescheduled it twice; originally slated to come out in March, it was pushed to July and then August. The studio says it is "pausing" its release plans "as we assess how we can most effectively bring this film to audiences around the world." Disney is also delaying currently scheduled STAR WARS films by a year. I anticipate more schedule changes will be announced by Disney and other studios in the weeks to come.

...Another film I'm tracking, Kenneth Branagh's DEATH ON THE NILE (2020), was pushed back two weeks, from October 9th to October 23rd. It's a follow-up to Branagh's MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (2017), which Branagh both directed and starred in as Hercule Poirot.

...I'm delighted that my friend Karen Burroughs Hannsberry, an expert on film noir and pre-Codes, has recently embraced Westerns. She writes at Shadows and Satin about watching Robert Mitchum in the terrific BLOOD ON THE MOON (1948). It's part of the excellent "Western noir" series currently streaming on the Criterion Channel.

...Disney animator Ruthie Tompson celebrated her 110th birthday last week! She was interviewed by the Hollywood Reporter. She's anxious for the pandemic to end so she can have a Dodger dog and root for the Dodgers. Tompson is a survivor of the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, as is 105-year-old actor Norman Lloyd, who had an interview with Todd McCarthy published last week by Deadline.

...Leonard Maltin reviews some classic comedy releases recently released on Blu-ray and DVD, including Buster Keaton's THE CAMERAMAN (1928), now out from the Criterion Collection.

...Speaking of Leonard Maltin, this was announced yesterday: King of the Movies: The Leonard Maltin Game.

...Jessica Pickens has written about a favorite Elvis movie, BLUE HAWAII (1961), for her blog Comet Over Hollywood.

...The Metzinger Sisters cover Fay Wray and Ralph Bellamy in ONCE TO EVERY WOMAN (1934) at Silver Scenes. I recently recorded this when it premiered on Turner Classic Movies and look forward to checking it out.

...Theresa Brown wrote a nice post for TCM Tumblr on black actress Bernice Pilot and the film THE LAW IN HER HANDS (1936).

...Last week I read about a great-looking new cookbook, CHICANO EATS: RECIPES FROM MY MEXICAN-AMERICAN KITCHEN by Esteban Castillo. The peeks I've seen at the colorful layouts make it look like it will be as much fun to read as it will be trying the recipes.

...Coming soon: THE ART OF STAR WARS: GALAXY'S EDGE by Amy Ratcliffe.

...Kino Lorber is having a sale through August 3rd.

...I give Disney's El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood points for creativity, looking for ways to generate an income during our current "situation": They are now offering Concessions To Go for your "movie night at home."

...Tomorrow afternoon, July 26th, Silent Revue Toronto is hosting a free online screening of the wonderful silent version of PETER PAN (1924). It stars Betty Bronson as Peter Pan and Mary Brian as Wendy (as seen here).

...As he's done since March, silent film accompanist Ben Model continues to host a free Silent Film Watch Party every Sunday afternoon at noon Pacific time/3:00 Eastern.

...Notable Passings: Singer-actress Annie Ross, whose screen career spanned six decades, has died at 89. Marc Myers paid tribute at JazzWax...Dancer Zizi Jeanmaire has died at 96. Her films included HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN (1952), ANYTHING GOES (1956), and BLACK TIGHTS (1961). Her husband, choreographer Roland Petit, died in 2011...It was announced today that TV talk show host Regis Philbin has passed away at the age of 88. While I didn't watch the New York incarnation of his long-running talk show, I occasionally watched him on A.M. LOS ANGELES with Cyndy Garvey "back in the day."

...For additional recent links of interest to classic film fans, please check out my July 18th roundup.

Have a great week!

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Brooklyn Orchid (1942) - A ClassicFlix DVD Review

BROOKLYN ORCHID (1942) is the first of three films in the new ClassicFlix release The Complete Hal Roach Streamliners Collection, Volume 3: The Taxi Comedies.

I've been enjoying getting to know the Streamliners over the last few weeks thanks to these ClassicFlix volumes, beginning with TANKS A MILLION (1941) and HAY FOOT (1942) in Volume I and DUDES ARE PRETTY PEOPLE (1942) in Volume 2.

I have more ahead to enjoy in those sets, but first I wanted to try out Volume 3 and BROOKLYN ORCHID. William Bendix and Joe Sawyer play Tim McGuerin and Eddie Corbett, working class guys who have worked their way up to ownership of a thriving Brooklyn cab company.

Tim has a beautiful home, a butler, and a wife named Sadie (Grace Bradley) who's attempting to forget her past as a stripper and break into high society, but Tim and Eddie are still rough-hewn types who remember their roots. They have a pool table in their executive office, and when Sadie gives a fancy party, they escape the pianist (Leonid Kinskey) and go fishing in their tuxedos.

Instead of catching a fish, Eddie reels in a young woman named Lucy (Marjorie Woodworth) who had attempted suicide. She places her future in the hands of her rescuers -- which will be hard to explain to Sadie or Eddie's fiancee Mabel (Florine McKinney).

Like all of the Streamliners, BROOKLYN ORCHID is a short film, just 50 minutes long. While I didn't find it as funny as the military comedies and Western I sampled from Volumes 1 and 2, I still found it fairly amusing and enjoyed it. Like the films in the previous sets, it was pleasant light entertainment short enough to squeeze in at the end of a busy day.

I particularly enjoyed the chance to see Grace Bradley (Mrs. William Boyd) in a juicy role; she's quite good as the social-climbing Sadie, with her exaggerated mannerisms and put-on high-class accent. This trio of "taxi" films, which also included THE MCGUERINS FROM BROOKLYN (1942) and TAXI, MISTER (1943), were Bradley's cinematic swan song after a decade in the movies; after TAXI, MISTER she retired to support her beloved husband in his long-running career as Hopalong Cassidy.

This was William Bendix's second film and first credited role. According to a biographical sketch by my friend Ivan Shreve for Radio Spirits, the "taxi" films led to Bendix landing the radio show THE LIFE OF RILEY (1944); he would star in the radio and TV versions of RILEY from 1944 to 1958. The same year BROOKLYN ORCHID was released Bendix began his regular onscreen association with his friend Alan Ladd in THE GLASS KEY (1942).

BROOKLYN ORCHID was directed by Kurt Neumann. It was filmed in black and white by Robert Pittack.

The print and sound quality are quite good. The disc includes five trailers for ClassicFlix releases.

Like the other volumes in the ClassicFlix Silver Series, the initial discs are pressed; when supplies run low they may then be released MOD (manufactured on demand).

I'll be reviewing additional films from all three referenced Streamliner sets as I watch my way through them.

Additional Streamliner sets are on the way, with Volume 4: Musicals due out in August and Volume 5: Pitts & Summerville Plus Other Rarities coming in October.

Thanks to ClassicFlix for providing a review copy of this DVD.

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