Monday, November 30, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Five Star Christmas (2020)

I find that this year I'm especially wanting to watch warm and cozy Christmas movies, and FIVE STAR CHRISTMAS (2020) from the Hallmark Channel filled that wish perfectly.

The three adult children of Ted Ralston (Robert Wisden) arrive home for Christmas to a big surprise: Their dad has turned their family home into a bed and breakfast. It's gorgeous but unsettlingly unfamiliar...and unfortunately Ted is struggling financially as he hasn't had enough guests to offset the expensive renovations.

When Beth Thompson (Laura Soltis) shows up, Ted's oldest daughter Lucy (Bethany Joy Lenz) suspects that's she's a famous travel blogger known to be in the area, traveling incognito. A five-star review from the critic could make all the difference in Ted saving the business and the family home.

Lucy doesn't want the B&B to appear empty or without staff, so on the spur of the moment she recruits her brother Will (Blair Penner) and his wife Suzanne (Barbara Patrick) to be "guests," while Grandpa (Jay Brazeau) pretends to be the handyman and youngest sister Amber (Grace Beedie) is the cook, "Chef Francesca." When Grandma (Paula Shaw) shows up, she acts the role of a guest as well.

Jake Finlay (Victor Webster), a handsome geologist on assignment in the area, checks in as well, and suddenly the B&B has two paying guests. Jake and Lucy hit it off, but their developing relationship is complicated by the family's elaborate ruse.

This film, with its large cast and multiple subplots, struck me as a little different from the "norm" for Hallmark; in fact, it perhaps could have stood being just a few minutes longer just to fit more of the romance into the overall story.

Initially the film seemed a bit over the top, trying too hard to be funny, and the family maintaining all of the deceptions was a little exhausting. I think that aspect won't be so tiring next time I see the film, as I'll know where it's all going.

The movie quickly settled into something more special, as it gave the characters a chance to breathe and get out from under the silliness, and the script did an excellent job working in some foreshadowing without being obvious about it, which led to some nice emotional payoffs at the end. It all built to a warm and satisfying conclusion which left me happily teary-eyed.

I'd add that there were some very nice "Christmas moments"; I don't think I've seen a taffy pull in a Hallmark movie before!

Lenz creates a fully rounded character in Lucy; she's bossy, but we come to understand why, and we also see her good heart. Webster is quite appealing and has a hilarious moment near the end (a singer he's not, but that made it all the better).

Among the supporting cast I especially enjoyed Beedie as Amber, a college student whose stint as the B&B cook leads her to realize what she really wants to do with her life.

Alfonso H. Moreno wrote the screenplay, from a story by Stephen Witkin and Michael Elliot. The movie was directed by Christie Will Wolf and filmed by Amy Belling, with British Columbia standing in for Connecticut.

I really enjoyed this one and will look forward to watching it again in future Christmas seasons.

Update: This film is now available on DVD.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Clear All Wires! (1933) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Lee Tracy plays fast-talking international news reporter Buckley Joyce Thomas in CLEAR ALL WIRES! (1933), available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

We first meet Thomas interviewing a desert leader (Mischa Auer) in Morocco, while the world awaits the fate of the "kidnapped" journalist. Thomas's "rescue" (he was never actually kidnapped) makes headlines. Thomas, it turns out, excels at self-promotion and isn't above exaggerating or faking stories, either about himself or his subjects.

After a brief stop in Paris, where Thomas is reunited with a pair of old flames, Dolly (Una Merkel) and Kate (Benita Hume), it's off to Moscow for Thomas and his righthand man (James Gleason), ironically nicknamed Lefty.

Thomas, having been fired while in Moscow, plots a big story to get his job back, covering the assassination of "the last Romanoff" in his own hotel room -- actually orchestrating the whole thing himself! Unfortunately things don't go as planned and Thomas ends up imprisoned by a Soviet commissar (C. Henry Gordon).

That doesn't sound too complicated, but I honestly found it quite hard to follow the Moscow section of the film, between Thomas's machinations and the political intrigue. The most interesting thing to me about this section of the film was simply realizing that the movie was released only 15 years after the Russian Revolution; what seems like "history" to us in 2020 was still relatively fresh news at the time the movie was made.

I have a soft spot for Tracy, albeit in limited doses, and I anticipated a Tracy film with the snappy title CLEAR ALL WIRES! (1933) would be a lot of fun. Alas, it was only middling; the second half of the film, in particular, grew tiresome and made for an increasingly long 78 minutes.

There are some fun lines scattered throughout, with Merkel having some very pre-Code dialogue; the screenplay was by Sam and Bella Spewack (KISS ME KATE), based on their play. Unfortunately the film never loses a stagebound feel, with a majority of the action set in a couple of hotel rooms.

Merkel brightens up every scene as Thomas's old girlfriend Dolly, who's currently having a fling with his boss (J.H. Stevens). James Gleason is always welcome, and Akim Tamiroff shows up in just his second film, playing a Moscow hotel clerk Thomas bribes to give him a room reserved for another reporter (Alan Edwards).

This was the Hollywood debut of British actress Benita Hume, who was lovely as the quiet, lovestruck Kate, but frankly not especially memorable, especially in the shadow of Merkel's dizzy blonde.

Hume would marry Ronald Colman in 1938; after his passing two decades later, she married George Sanders in 1959. Her marriage to Sanders lasted until her death in 1967.

This was the last film directed by George W. Hill, who was married to screenwriter-director Frances Marion from 1929 to 1931. Sadly, Hill killed himself in 1934.

The Warner Archive print is slightly soft, in the manner of many films of this era, but all in all quite acceptable, and the soundtrack was also good for a film of this vintage. I had no difficulty making out Tracy's staccato line deliveries.

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.

Tonight's Movie: Niagara Falls (1941) - A ClassicFlix DVD Review

Today I enjoyed watching NIAGARA FALLS (1941), which is part of the latest Streamliners release from ClassicFlix, The Complete Hal Roach Streamliners Collection, Vol. 5.

The set is subtitled Pitts & Summerville Plus Other Rarities.

Pitts and Summerville play Emmy and Sam Sawyer, who have wed after a courtship of two decades; Sam had an oil well come in and they can finally afford a honeymoon at a Niagara Falls hotel.

The couple meet Margy (Marjorie Woodworth) and Tom (Tom Brown), who have had a series of unfortunate encounters on the highway leading to the hotel, culminating in a car accident.

Sam believes Sam and Margy are married and is determined to help the battling couple reconcile, locking them in a hotel room overnight. In reality Tom is a traveling salesman who's a bachelor with no interest in marriage, while Margy aspires to having a husband and 20 children.

This being a 43-minute comedy, one can perhaps guess what will happen after Margy and Tom have spent the night locked in a hotel room together.

This was an amusing little movie which I thought was one of the better Streamliners, though I've enjoyed all of them to varying degrees.

The film's success probably rests in part with director Gordon Douglas, who had graduated from shorts to "B" films before moving into "A" pictures later in the '40s. He would go on to direct a variety of entertaining films, including SHE'S BACK ON BROADWAY (1953) and FORT DOBBS (1958), both starring Virginia Mayo, and solid crime films such as WALK A CROOKED MILE (1948) and BETWEEN MIDNIGHT AND DAWN (1950).

The screenplay by a trio of writers (Paul Gerard Smith, Hal Yates, and Eugene Conrad) gets the job done, and there are some good supporting players including Rand Brooks, Edward Gargan, Chester Clute, Leon Belasco, and Gladys Blake.

A fun side note: Thanks to the Streamliners series, Marjorie Woodworth is to date my most-viewed actress of 2020! I'm not sure I'd even heard of her a year ago. This film provided her with a good part, and it was also nice to see Tom Brown, familiar from so many films of the '30s. He would leave the screen for four years during the mid '40s due to wartime army service.

NIAGARA FALLS was filmed by Robert Pittack.

This was one of the best Streamliners DVD prints seen to date, a nice crisp picture with good sound.

I've now reviewed one or two films from each of the five ClassicFlix Streamliners sets and have really enjoyed this series of releases. I'll be posting additional Streamliners reviews in the future as I complete my viewing of each collection.

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

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Weekend Movie Fun: The Freshman (1925) at the Hollywood Legion Theater Drive-In

Tonight I did something I haven't done since the last night of the Noir City Hollywood Festival on March 11, 2020 -- I went to a movie!

The occasion was a screening of Harold Lloyd's THE FRESHMAN (1925), sponsored by Retroformat Silent Films at the new Hollywood Legion Post 43 Drive-In Theater. Post 43, located on Highland Avenue, is pictured above, as seen from the parking lot entrance.

The drive-in theater is set up in the parking lot behind the Post 43 building. Spots are chosen in advance based on car size, and arrival times for the 30 cars are staggered to help with parking.

As cars enter (above), passengers select candy and soda preferences off signs, to be delivered to the car after parking. There is plenty of assistance directing cars to maneuver into their spots.

Here's a reverse look towards the entrance from our parking space. Cliff Retallick, who provided live musical accompaniment, was stationed on the back of a pickup truck at the right of the photo. (Click on any photo to enlarge it for a closer look.)

We were told it was one of the first times that a silent movie had been shown at a drive-in with live accompaniment, and it was believed to be the first time ever it had happened in Hollywood, heart of the movie industry. Cliff Retallick, seen below, always does an amazing job improvising his scores, and tonight was no exception.

Our concession delivery arrived in a sturdy cardboard box:

Unlimited popcorn refills are available during the first half hour or so of the movie. Just scan the QR code on your phone and more popcorn will be delivered. It's magic!

Upon arrival you also receive a little light you can turn on and set on your dashboard if you need help; those were placed in a basket as we left.

Here's the projection booth at the back of the lot. Both picture and sound (through an FM channel on our car radio) were excellent! As I mentioned in a recent link round-up, the American Legion is now raising funds to install 35mm projectors in the booth along with the current digital system, which will greatly expand the drive-in screening options.

A coming attraction I sure wish I could see:

Harold Lloyd's granddaughter Suzanne had been scheduled to host the screening but unfortunately had an issue arise which prevented her from attending. Though that was too bad, I'm fortunate to have seen her speak several times in the past, and the movie, which I first reviewed here in 2014, was terrific.

It was my husband's first time to see the film start to finish, and though we couldn't hear the laughter of numerous friends scattered throughout the parking lot, there was such a joyous vibe watching a movie among fellow classic film fans for the first time in months! When the movie ended everyone flashed their headlights as the means of applauding Cliff Retallick.

There was definitely a surreal element to it all; I don't recall going to a drive-in since the handful I attended when I was very young, in the late '60s or possibly the early '70s. If you'd told me a year ago that attending a drive-in movie would be a highlight of my year, well...I'd never have believed it. But that's 2020 for you!

I mean, this came up on my phone navigation system at some point after we entered L.A. County...what a year.

Fortunately drive-in screenings are not impacted by L.A. County's new round of lockdowns, as long as they're over before the curfew goes into effect.

Seeing Harold Lloyd and Jobyna Ralston on the big drive-in screen with Cliff Retallick's live music was an absolutely wonderful experience, and we hope to attend more drive-in screenings at Post 43 in the future.

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...There are many good Thanksgiving weekend sales of interest to classic film fans, including at the Warner Archive and McFarland Books sites.

...Coming to Blu-ray from Kino Lorber in April 2021: BATTLE HYMN (1957), starring Rock Hudson, Dan Duryea, and Martha Hyer.

...Also coming from Kino Lorber in 2021: THE PINK JUNGLE (1968), starring James Garner and George Kennedy.  I'm not familiar with this one at all.

...If I'd only known when my kids were collecting them: An unopened first edition set of Pokemon cards just sold at auction for $360,000.

...The latest "foodie" documentary I'm enjoying on Netflix: CHEF'S TABLE: BBQ (2020).

...There's a new Dave Brubeck CD, LULLABIES, on my wish list.  It was released in September.  More info was recently published by Marc Myers at JazzWax; he says "The warmest and most relaxing holiday album of the season isn't a holiday album at all.  It's a new release from the late Dave Brubeck..."  Brubeck recorded the tracks for his grandchildren in 2010, two years before his passing.

...Thanks to Williams-Sonoma, fans of THE MANDALORIAN can order Baby Yoda's favorite snack...for a steep price.  (And no, I'm not talking about the frog eggs...)

...New cookbook coming from Nigella Lawson in April 2021: COOK, EAT, REPEAT: INGREDIENTS, RECIPES, AND STORIES.

...I need to check out MY FAVORITE BRUNETTE (1947), starring Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour.  This review by Caftan Woman makes it sound quite fun; I didn't know Alan Ladd has a cameo!  Happily I picked it up on Blu-ray in a recent sale at the Kino Lorber site.

...This book by James L. Neibaur looks interesting: DIRECTED BY WILLIAM BEAUDINE: AN OVERVIEW,  It was published last spring by Bear Manor Media.  Beaudine had over 380 directing credits, including TV series episodes.

...Coming to the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco: "The Walt Disney Studios and World War II," opening December 4th.

 ...Notable Passings: David McCrea, the second-born of Joel McCrea and Frances Dee's three sons, passed away on November 13, 2020, two days before his 85th birthday.  David was the father of Wyatt McCrea, who has done so much to preserve the family legacy at McCrea Ranch...Sandy Dvore, who designed title sequences for many TV series including THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY, THE WALTONS, NORTH AND SOUTH, and SPENSER: FOR HIRE, has died at 86...Bill Murray's older brother Ed, whose experiences as a golf caddy helped inspire CADDYSHACK (1980), has passed away.  The film was cowritten by another of the five Murray brothers, Brian Doyle-Murray; Doyle-Murray also appeared in the film along with his brother Bill.

 ...For additional recent links of interest to classic film fans, please check out my November 21st roundup.

Have a great week!

Friday, November 27, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Ladies Should Listen (1934) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Earlier this month I reviewed the first two films in the new Cary Grant Collection released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber.

Grant starred with Joan Bennett in both of those movies, BIG BROWN EYES (1934) and WEDDING PRESENT (1936).

The final film in the collection is LADIES SHOULD LISTEN (1934), a romantic comedy which is one of relatively few Cary Grant films I've never seen. It proved to be an enjoyable 61 minutes, and I'm glad to have caught up with it at long last.

Grant plays Julian, a businessman recently returned to Paris. Julian's romantic life is a bit of a mess; he's pursuing Marguerite (Rosita Moreno), who turns out to be married to Ramon (Rafael Corio); in turn he's pursued by Susie (Nydia Westman), the ditzy daughter of a wealthy man (George Barbier). Susie's interest in Julian upsets his good friend Paul (Edward Everett Horton), who's in love with Susie himself.

Unknown to Julian, his apartment building's lovely switchboard operator, Anna (Frances Drake), has fallen in love with him. In a story which somewhat foreshadows BELLS ARE RINGING (1960), Anna efficiently works behind the scenes pulling strings to set everything in his life right.

This was a short and sweet little film cowritten by Frank Butler and Claude Binyon. Binyon's name caught my eye as he wrote and/or directed several entertaining films, including HOLIDAY INN (1942), and he had a long association with Fred MacMurray, with NO TIME FOR LOVE (1943) being a favorite romantic comedy.

While LADIES SHOULD LISTEN isn't a top-drawer film, it's an entertaining hour and has some good moments and clever lines scattered throughout. Released just weeks after enforcement of the Production Code began in July 1934, it feels as though a handful of the lines slipped past the censors during the transition; Susie can hardly wait to be alone with Julian and lets everyone know it.

Grant was on the ascent in this era, a star on the way to superstardom in just a few short years. The same year as LADIES SHOULD LISTEN he starred with Sylvia Sidney in the charming romance THIRTY DAY PRINCESS (1934).

Frances Drake appeared in two dozen films from 1933 to 1942, including playing Robert Montgomery's wife in FORSAKING ALL OTHERS (1934) and Richard Carlson's fiancee in THE AFFAIRS OF MARTHA (1943). While Drake and Grant have muted chemistry, she's lovely, with soulful eyes, and is pleasant to watch.

A fun bonus: Watch for a scene when Anna speaks with another telephone operator, Adele. Adele was played by Clara Lou Sheridan, very soon to be renamed Ann.

The movie was directed by Frank Tuttle and filmed by Henry Sharp. Costumes were designed by Travis Banton.

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray print isn't the sharpest image, though it doesn't have overt damage such as major scratches or skips. While it's the weakest print in the set, it's still quite acceptable, and I found it a pleasure to check out this cute little Cary Grant movie for the first time.

The extras on this disc are trailers for two additional Cary Grant films available from Kino Lorber.

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

Tonight's Movie: Love Me Tonight (1932) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

One of the really great musicals and pre-Codes, LOVE ME TONIGHT (1932), is now available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber.

I first made the acquaintance of this film as a teenager when my family audited a musicals course at UC Irvine. I've never forgotten how delighted and entranced I was by my first viewing. I was later fortunate to see it in 35mm at the Vagabond Theater in Los Angeles, where I had many great classic movie experiences in the late '70s and early '80s.

I'm a very "spoiler-friendly" viewer, but this film is such a treasure to watch as it unspools that it almost seems like a shame to say much about it. If at all possible I recommend a classic film fan who's not yet seen the movie approach it "cold" and delight in the superb cast, wonderful set pieces, hilarious (and sometimes risque) dialogue, and marvelous Rodgers & Hart score.

LOVE ME TONIGHT is a comedic fairy tale in which Maurice (Maurice Chevalier), a Parisian tailor, travels to a castle in the countryside to collect a sizeable debt from his client, Viscount Gilbert de Vareze (Charlie Ruggles).

Gilbert needs to buy time to get the money from his uncle, the Duke (Sir C. Aubrey Smith), and asks Maurice to stay at the castle for a few days, but passes him off as a baron since the Duke hates tradespeople.

Maurice meets Gilbert's relative, the restless Princess Jeanette (Jeanette MacDonald), a 22-year-old widow previously married to an elderly man and currently being courted by hapless Count de Savignac (Charles Butterworth).

Maurice and the very proper Jeanette initially tangle, but she gradually unbends and they fall in love. But will it matter when she finds out that "the son of a gun is nothing but a tailor"?

There is so much joy to be found in this film, beginning with the opening sequence of Paris coming to life in the morning and continuing soon after with the famed staging of "Isn't It Romantic?" The song, which never fails to move and enchant me, begins in Maurice's tailor shop, passed from person to person -- even sung by a marching army! -- until the Princess in the countryside hears the song and begins singing it, magically connected to the man she hasn't yet met but will soon come to love.

The movie has one of the great supporting casts ever, with Ruggles, Smith, and Butterworth joined by the young Myrna Loy as man-hungry Countess Valentine; when asked if she could go for a doctor, Valentine replies "Yes, bring him right in!"

The screenplay is filled with gems like that, another favorite being "Madame Dutoit has been insulted" and the always rib-tickling, droll Butterworth responding "At her age? Remarkable." We even get Smith singing a bit of "Mimi," which is quite fun.

I also love the three aunts (Elizabeth Patterson, Ethel Griffies, and Blanche Frederici), who comment on the unfolding action and give the movie much of its fairy tale element, including casting a spell. They seem to foreshadow the three good fairies of another Disney animated film -- my favorite -- SLEEPING BEAUTY (1959). As a matter of fact, some of the scenes also seem to have influenced another favorite Disney animated musical, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1991).

Chevalier and MacDonald are a marvelous team; they made three other excellent films together, all with director Ernst Lubitsch, including the marvelous THE MERRY WIDOW (1934) -- but LOVE ME TONIGHT remains my favorite, a blissful 89 minutes.

LOVE ME TONIGHT was directed by Rouben Mamoulian and filmed by Victor Milner. The costumes were designed by greats Travis Banton and Edith Head.

Kino Lorber's Blu-ray, from a brand-new 4K master, looks and sounds as good as one might hope.

It carries over an audio commentary by Miles Kreuger from Kino's DVD release of years ago, along with a couple of song excerpts. The disc also includes production and censorship document galleries, screenplay excerpts of deleted scenes, the trailer, and a trailer for another Mamoulian film available from Kino Lorber, SONG OF SONGS (1933).

LOVE ME TONIGHT is pure movie joy, and the Kino Lorber Blu-ray is highly recommended.

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

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Happy Thanksgiving!

Best wishes to all my readers for a blessed Thanksgiving!

Here's Alan Ladd getting ready to carve a Thanksgiving turkey.

This year I give thanks for many things, including all of you who support this blog, and I also pray that 2021 will be a happy, healthy year for everyone!

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Tonight's Movie: A Veteran's Christmas (2018)

This year, for obvious reasons, many of us are a bit worn out as we approach the holiday season. I don't think there could be a better balm for a pandemic-weary soul than watching A VETERAN'S CHRISTMAS (2018) from the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Channel and spending time in the warm and welcoming town of Rivers Crossing.

Marine Captain Grace Garland (Eloise Mumford) is newly arrived back in the United States after a lengthy deployment working on search and rescue missions in Afghanistan.

It's a challenging transition, as Grace is mourning being separated from her longtime K9 partner, named Christmas, and the only family she has left is her brother. After buying a used car, Grace is headed to a new job in Cincinnati when the car breaks down and crashes into a snowbank.

The silver lining in Grace's very bad day is that she's crashed next to the home of the town judge, Joe Peterson (Sean Faris). Joe is a helpful, friendly man who not only introduces Grace to his uncle (Richard Waugh), the town mechanic, but he offers to let her stay in a small cabin on his property while she's waiting for her car to be fixed.

Joe seemingly knows everyone in town, and before she knows it Grace is sucked into the life of Rivers Crossing as everyone prepares for Christmas. Grace gets to know Joe's family and friends as she helps with decorating, goes to church, ice skates, and helps distribute Christmas trees to her fellow vets at the local army base.

Joe's friend Cooper (Jacob Blair), the sheriff, even offers Grace a job heading the county's search and rescue department. It all seems perfect, as Grace and Joe are developing feelings for one another...the only fly in the proverbial ointment is that Joe's ex-fiancee Marnie (Miriam McDonald) has just returned to town and might want to try to to pick up where their relationship left off.

Faris and Mumford, who previously costarred in CHRISTMAS WITH HOLLY (2012), look relatably like people any of us might have as friends, and they have excellent chemistry; his quirky, positive personality perfectly offsets Grace's initial reticence and tentativeness as she begins to re-acclimate to civilian life.

Joe initially almost seems too good to be true, but as the movie goes on both Grace and the viewer realize he's the real deal. The pair have an immediate connection and easy way of bantering, such as when Grace asks as they leave church, "Are you aware of the deep concern in this parish over your marital status?"

And as an aside, it's so nice to see going to church presented as something that's part of the regular rhythm of life for these stands out because that seems increasingly rare in modern-day films.

Mumford is particularly good in a deeply felt performance, as Grace deals with the loneliness of being separated from her dog and her military unit; she does a wonderful job conveying Grace unwinding and her pain receding as she begins to feel happy with Joe and at home in Rivers Crossing. Grace's last scene is quite predictable, but the emotions were completely earned and deeply felt.

Amanda Lisman is particularly charming as Joe's sister Katie, a whirlwind who first meets Grace when she shows up with with dresses for Grace to try on and borrow to wear to church. She was a ray of sunshine, and I hope Lisman will do more for Hallmark in the future. At the time the movie aired Lisman was interviewed by Ruth Hill.

A VETERAN'S CHRISTMAS hits all the expected notes in a Hallmark Christmas film, but as I've written here before, the joy is in the journey and discovering the unique things filmmakers bring to a Christmas movie. In this case the story is particularly compelling, and my time in Rivers Crossing was over far too quickly.

The movie was written and directed by Mark Jean. It was filmed by Russ Goozee, with Ontario, Canada, standing in for Rivers Crossing, USA.

A VETERAN'S CHRISTMAS is available on DVD. It is also airing on the Hallmark Channel during the Christmas season.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Classic Movie Hub: More Hidden Gems

My newest Western RoundUp column, Hidden Gems, Vol. 2, is now posted at Classic Movie Hub!

This month's post is a sequel to Hidden Gems, Vol. 1, which was published last January. Once again I look at three lesser-known but very enjoyable Westerns. I hope any Western fans who haven't yet made the acquaintance of these films will enjoy them also.

The movies featured are ROUGHSHOD (1949), DRAGOON WELLS MASSACRE (1957), and FOUR FAST GUNS (1960).

Please visit Classic Movie Hub for more, 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; February 2020; March 2020; April 2020; May 2020; June 2020; July 2020; August 2020; September 2020; October 2020.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Big Brown Eyes (1936) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Cary Grant and Joan Bennett star in BIG BROWN EYES (1936), which is part of the new three-film Cary Grant Collection available from Kino Lorber.

The Grant Blu-ray set also contains WEDDING PRESENT (1936), reviewed here earlier this month, and LADIES SHOULD LISTEN (1934), which will be reviewed at a future date.

I hadn't seen BIG BROWN EYES since I reviewed it here back in 2008, and I'd forgotten just how enjoyable it is. With a top cast energetically directed by Raoul Walsh, I found it a much stronger film than WEDDING PRESENT.

Walsh and Bert Hanlon wrote the zippy script, based on stories by James Edward Grant. The fast-paced 77-minute story finds police detective Danny Barr (Grant) and his manicurist-turned-reporter girlfriend Eve (Bennett) hunting for stolen jewels and a baby killer.

Walsh keeps the movie interesting, with unusual angled shots (filmed by George Clemens) and fast-paced editing (by Robert Simpson); quick cuts back and forth among patrons speaking at a barber shop are an effective way to move the story forward at a couple of points.

Grant and Bennett are a good team, trading fast-paced quips and making the viewer feel that they care for one another, even when they're arguing. Grant's character here is quite a bit more likeable than in WEDDING PRESENT, and Bennett is particularly engaging as a go-getter who's every bit as effective rounding up the crooks as her boyfriend.

A fun note, this was a Bennett sisters day, as earlier in the day I watched Joan's sister Constance in TWO-FACED WOMAN (1941).

BIG BROWN EYES is populated with a variety of interesting types, starting with Walter Pidgeon as an urbane private detective, complete with bowler hat and umbrella, who beneath the suave, educated exterior is actually a murderous jewel thief. The always-engaging Lloyd Nolan plays another crook, who seems more interested in flowers than in shady deals.

Additional bad guys are played by Douglas Fowley, Alan Baxter, and Henry Brandon, who two decades later played Scar in the John Ford classic THE SEARCHERS (1956). The cast is rounded out by familiar faces such as Isabel Jewell, Joe Sawyer, Marjorie Gateson, and Fred "Snowflake" Toones.

This was a fun film which I quite enjoyed, and I'm looking forward to checking out the final film in the set.

The Blu-ray is a very good print with a strong soundtrack. The disc includes a commentary track by Nick Pinkerton and two trailers for other films available from Kino Lorber.

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

Tonight's Movie: Two-Faced Woman (1941) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas costar in Garbo's last film, TWO-FACED WOMAN (1941), available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

Douglas also starred with Garbo in her previous movie, the classic Ernst Lubitsch comedy NINOTCHKA (1939).

While TWO-FACED WOMAN, directed by George Cukor, isn't on the level of NINOTCHKA, I found it entertaining, and perhaps better than its reputation suggests.  It's gotten short shrift from some, being in the shadow of NINOTCHKA and written off as Garbo's final, rather innocuous film, but I was pleasantly surprised.

TWO-FACED WOMAN is an edgy marital comedy which reminded me in tone of the same year's MR. AND MRS. SMITH (1941).  Garbo and Douglas play Karin and Larry, who marry in haste but then wonder if they're meant to be together for the long haul.

Karin is a non-drinking, non-smoking, non-dancing ski instructor who loves the simple, outdoorsy life.

Larry is a New York magazine editor who quickly returns to the big city from the resort where he met his wife.  As Larry becomes re-acclimated to his former life, he sends Karin increasingly distant telegrams.  She decides to surprise him in New York, only to realize that he may be having a fling with Griselda (Constance Bennett), a playwright.

To save face in front of Larry and his colleagues (Roland Young and Ruth Gordon), Karin pretends to be her own identical twin sister, Katherine -- which allows her to adopt a completely different personality, not to mention be incredibly blunt with Griselda.  

Larry realizes almost from the start that Katherine is actually his wife, but he goes along with the pretense as he enjoys his wife's new, free-spirited incarnation. 

There are some wonderful moments, most especially when Karin, who doesn't know how to dance, finds herself on the dance floor as "Katherine" and ends up creating a dance, performed with the film's choreographer, Robert Alton.  It's a delightfully happy sequence which put a smile on my face.  The famous tag line for NINOTCHKA was "Garbo laughs!"  Perhaps here it should be "Garbo dances!"  For me that scene was worth the price of admission, so to speak.

I also enjoyed the Garbo and Douglas as their characters pull together, then push back multiple times as they move toward her big "reveal" (which really isn't one) and reset their marriage.

The supporting cast is superb, starting with the always-excellent Constance Bennett, who has a habit of screaming to let out frustration and stress.  In a hilarious ladies' room scene, Garbo exits and Bennett walks up to a mirror and screams -- startling a pair of young ladies, one of whom is Gloria DeHaven!

Roland Young is always welcome, and Ruth Gordon does a nice job as Larry's sympathetic (if sometimes confused) secretary, Miss Ellis, who tries her best to help Karin.  Robert Sterling also costars, but it's a throwaway part of no consequence.

The frenetic ski scenes which open and close the movie are a bit over the top, although I appreciated the rather modern elliptical storytelling at the opening of the movie, in which one minute Larry is having a ski accident and then next he and Karin are returning from their honeymoon.  Otherwise it's quite smoothly done by Cukor and company, running a just-right 90 minutes.

The black and white cinematography was by Joseph Ruttenberg.  Garbo's gowns were created by Adrian.  

The Warner Archive DVD is a nice print; it's a bit soft at some points, but overall it's quite good, without noticeable scratches or jumps.  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 Amazon or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

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