Monday, April 12, 2021

Tonight's Movie: The Redhead From Wyoming (1953) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Maureen O'Hara stars as THE REDHEAD FROM WYOMING (1953), part of the brand-new Western Classics II collection from Kino Lorber.

I first saw this film on VHS a decade ago, while the other two films in the set will be completely new viewing for me; they are PILLARS OF THE SKY (1956) with Jeff Chandler and GUN FOR A COWARD (1957) with Fred MacMurray.

I seem to have a theme this week of liking films better on second acquaintance; that was the case a few days ago with Carole Lombard and William Powell in MAN OF THE WORLD (1931), and I was also pleased to also discover that I enjoyed THE REDHEAD FROM WYOMING more than I remembered.

Maureen O'Hara plays Kate Maxwell, who's brought to a frontier town and set up in a saloon by Jim Averell (William Bishop). Averell aspires to both wealth and being governor of Wyoming. Both Kate and Jim were inspired by real people who came to a bad end, but otherwise there's not much similarity.

Kate soon learns that Jim is making money cattle rustling, using her as a potential fall woman, so she tries to drum up support behind Jim's back from Duncan (Alexander Scourby), a rancher. Meanwhile she's romantically attracted to Sheriff Stan Blaine (Alex Nicol), who returns her interest but doesn't act, thinking Kate and Jim are involved.

THE REDHEAD FROM WYOMING is admittedly a pretty standard range war film, but I'm glad to say that I had a good time returning to it. Perhaps it's due in part to all the Westerns I've seen in the intervening ten years, but watching the movie tonight felt like sitting down and spending 77 minutes with familiar friends.

Last time around I found the film too run of the mill, with none of the male actors particularly impressive; in fact, I chatted with someone about how much better it would have been with Joel McCrea as the sheriff. However, this time, instead of wishing for what could have been, I instead liked the film for exactly what it was.

O'Hara is fiery, Nicol is nicely laconic, and there are a host of familiar faces, most prominent among them Dennis Weaver, Jack Kelly (MAVERICK), Palmer Lee (Gregg Palmer), and Jeanne Cooper. 

I especially appreciated some nice staging of the final action sequence; Jim's comeuppance, as he approaches what appears to be many bodies lying in the street after a gun battle, is particularly delicious.

The screenplay by Polly James and Herb Meadow, based on James's story, makes O'Hara's character morally ambiguous; for instance, she keeps quiet about Jim using her brand for rustling for most of the film.  While I think that diminished my sympathy on the last go-round, this time I simply felt it made her interesting, as I tried to keep up with her plotting playing the men in her life against one another.  

Sometimes O'Hara's supremely confident temperament as Kate threatens to become too strident, but then she reels it back in. Kate is a woman looking out for herself in a tough world...but ultimately she's tired of the power games and would rather settle down with a good man.

Newcomers to the genre might be fairly unimpressed, as I was last time, but I think many Western fans will find THE REDHEAD FROM WYOMING a pleasant, action-packed outing of the solid 2-1/2 star variety. I enjoyed it and will return to it in the future.

THE REDHEAD FROM WYOMING was directed by Lee Sholem and filmed by Winton C. Hoch (SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON). The movie's exteriors were filmed in the Agoura area.

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray print is sharp and clear, with a strong soundtrack.

Extras are a commentary track by Samm Deighan, the trailer, and trailers for two additional films starring Maureen O'Hara which are available from Kino Lorber.

For those interested in the previous Western Classics I collection, here are links to reviews for WHEN THE DALTONS RODE (1940), THE VIRGINIAN (1946), and WHISPERING SMITH (1948).

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

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Gallant Sons (1940) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

A fine cast elevates GALLANT SONS (1940), a minor but enjoyable MGM murder mystery. It's available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

This "B" film is sort of a spin on MGM's Mickey-Judy "Let's put on a show!" movies, except it's "Let's solve a murder mystery by putting on a show!" Mickey and Judy's costar in a couple of films, June Preisser, is even along for the ride.

"Natural" Davis (Ian Hunter), who runs a high-class gambling establishment, is accused of murder, thanks in no small part to newspaper editor Barton Newbold (Minor Watson).

The two men's sons, Johnny (Gene Reynolds) and By (Jackie Cooper), who are best friends, become estranged when Johnny's father is convicted and sent off to prison.

Johnny goes to live with Clare (Gail Patrick), who loves Natural, and her daughter Kate (Bonita Granville). Eventually, Johnny and By reunite to work together to solve the crime, along with Kate and a group of their friends (Tommy Kelly, Leo Gorcey, William Tracy).

In just 76 minutes the intrepid young sleuths deduce the murderer and find a creative way to pressure his confession. The screenplay by Marion Parsonnet and William R. Lipman is fun, and the cast is engaging. Cooper, Reynolds, and Granville were three of Hollywood's best young actors, and they make the most of the material.

I love the elegant Gail Patrick, who's warm and appealing here, and I've always had a soft spot for Ian Hunter. Hunter played King Richard in my beloved THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938) and was good in a number of Kay Francis films; I most recently reviewed him in CALL IT A DAY (1937). I feel he's a somewhat overlooked actor, not major star material yet always attractive and dependable -- one of the faces which helps make classic Hollywood films so enjoyable.

GALLANT SONS was directed by George B. Seitz. It was filmed by Sidney Wagner and the uncredited George J. Folsey.

GALLANT SONS was first released by the Warner Archive Collection in 2012, but as their DVDs are manufactured on demand, it remains as easily available today as the year it was first issued.

The disc has a solid print and sound quality. The lone extra on the DVD is 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 any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

Book Review: Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise

The excellent CARY GRANT: A BRILLIANT DISGUISE is the latest book from esteemed biographer Scott Eyman.


I also especially admired JOHN WAYNE: THE LIFE & LEGEND, which was reviewed here in 2014.

Needless to say, I was enthused to read his book on Cary Grant when it was released last fall, and it did not disappoint. It's only taken me this long to gather my thoughts for a review due to the press of work and other commitments, as well as the book being such a meaty read at 556 pages, including index. It's an important book which makes a valuable contribution to cinema history.

Hopefully, now that the initial rush of media coverage has died down, my review will serve to draw some attention back to this title and encourage those who'd been thinking of reading it but haven't yet done so to pick it up. While I'm not entirely sure how the book left me feeling about Cary Grant -- indeed, I'm not sure how Cary Grant felt about Cary Grant! -- it's a highly readable and worthwhile volume.

Grant, of course, was one of classic Hollywood's greatest stars. By the time I was first aware of his work he had already retired, following WALK DON'T RUN (1966), but he was a favorite of my mother's and I grew up watching many of his films on local television from the time I was quite young; he's remained a top favorite ever since. Thanks to the accessibility of classic films on TV in my childhood years, I suspect there are many who could say the same.

It was thus quite a thrill in my life when Grant narrated the Disneyland Christmas Candlelight Procession which I performed in with my high school choir in the late '70s. During rehearsal he was just yards away and every bit as handsome as he appeared on film. As we stood singing the "Hallelujah Chorus" he smiled directly at me and the effect was overpowering. He was then a silver-haired gentleman in his mid-70s but absolutely dazzling.

Grant's performing persona has always been powerful, but over the years there's been little insight available into what made him "tick" behind the scenes.

I often find the "early years" section of a film-related biography somewhat less interesting reading, being anxious to get to information on films I've enjoyed; there is indeed lots of interesting detail about the making of Grant's films, but I was pleased to discover that Eyman's book grabbed me from the very first pages. Given that he was writing about a century ago, with the key players no longer with us, Eyman cobbles together an impressive level of detail, combining primary source research with quotes from a range of old interviews into a fluid narrative.

For instance, having been aware as a teenager that Grant shared my great love for the Los Angeles Dodgers, I was struck by interesting bits such as Archie Leach, as Grant was then known, transferring his liking for his native England's cricket to baseball.  Sitting amidst crowds of people in baseball stands helped him pick up U.S. "English" as a young man.

In Grant's case, his early years are perhaps more key to understanding him than the average person; a difficult childhood was capped by the fact he believed his mother had died, only to learn years later that she was alive and had been hospitalized for mental illness.

Working on his own from a young age, he moved to the U.S. and struggled for survival as an acrobat, even stilt-walking at Coney Island. Even in those New York years, as vaudeville performer Archie Leach, Grant was building the foundation of his future career. An early roommate was future movie costume designer Orry-Kelly, and he became acquainted with a number of future entertainment stars who were then on the vaudeville circuit. The physical skills Leach acquired as an acrobat would also serve him well performing in movie comedies.

Upon moving to Hollywood, the newly renamed Cary Grant left the name Archie Leach behind, but not his insecurities; it's as though the man encompassed two personas, the Archie Leach of his rough-and-tumble youth and the elegant film star Cary Grant, and he was afraid he would never quite measure up to the latter.

Indeed, Eyman notes that unlike some actors, Grant avoided roles which were too close to the real Archie: "...with occasional exceptions, Grant wanted to put as much space between Archie Leach and the construct known as Cary Grant as possible."

Grant's entire life seems to have been filled with this kind of warring dichotomy. While hugely successful, the struggles of his poor early years led to him being known as a man who was tight with money, to say the least, yet there were also times he could be quite generous.

Grant's personal relationships, particularly with women, were often complicated, and he had a number of failed marriages; on the flip side he loved children -- among other things, there's a charming anecdote from former child actress Karolyn Grimes about Grant playing with her on the set of THE BISHOP'S WIFE (1947) -- and was extremely loyal to friends such as Ingrid Bergman. As for the oft-married romantic idol's possible relationships with men, Eyman presents the known facts and lets readers draw their own conclusions, which I felt was the correct approach.

In the book Grant comes across as interesting but self-absorbed and not necessarily always likeable. Behind the glamorous, romantic persona, the real man often seems brittle and rather emotionally empty -- at least until the last years of his life and the joy of becoming a father, which seems to have given him a deep level of happiness previously missing in his life.

It can be disappointing to read a biography and learn that someone whose work we admire wasn't always as likeable off the screen. While I felt a bit of that, I don't think it was really a surprise, based on what I previously knew of Grant, and Eyman makes Grant's issues, anchored in his early years, understandable. Additionally, the book is so readable and informative that it was a pleasure to feel that for the first time I knew as much about Cary Grant the man as it's possible for anyone to know.

Beyond that, whatever he was off screen, Grant's film achievements continue to stand for all time, brilliant and undated, continually waiting to be discovered by a new generation.

As mentioned above, this is a thick read; the body of this hardback's text runs 481 pages, followed by extensive end notes, bibliography, and index. As one would expect from a writer of Eyman's caliber, this is a very well-documented book. There is a section with 56 black and white photographs printed on glossy pages.

Recommended.

Thanks to Scott Eyman and Simon & Schuster for providing a review copy of this book.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Man of the World (1931) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

MAN OF THE WORLD (1931) is a pre-Code drama starring Carole Lombard and William Powell.

It's available on Blu-ray as part of the Carole Lombard Collection I from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. I've previously reviewed the other two films in the set, FAST AND LOOSE (1930) and NO MAN OF HER OWN (1932).

One of the things which makes this set interesting is that two of the films in the set team Lombard with her future husbands. NO MAN OF HER OWN costarred Clark Gable, the man Lombard would marry seven years after the film's release. They were married from 1939 until her untimely death in January 1942.

MAN OF THE WORLD stars William Powell in the title role. He and Lombard married a few months after the film was released, divorcing two years later, in 1933. However, they remained friendly and a few years after their divorce starred in the classic screwball comedy MY MAN GODFREY (1936).

In MAN OF THE WORLD Powell plays Michael Trevor, an American expatriate living in Paris. A former newspaperman, he is now a con artist of sorts who blackmails wealthy Americans, collecting money by pledging to "help" them keep their name out of a gossip sheet -- which he also secretly publishes. He's aided in his racket by Irene Harper (Wynne Gibson), who carries a torch for him, and Fred (George Chandler), who plays a variety of roles.

Lombard plays Mary Kendall, who is visiting Paris with her uncle (Guy Kibbee) and hometown sweetheart, Frank (Lawrence Gray). They meet when Michael targets her wealthy uncle, who is grateful for his "help."

With Frank away for a few days on business, Mary and Michael spend time together and fall in love. Michael confesses his sordid lifestyle to Mary and pledges to reform. She's steadfast in her love, but is a happy ending possible?

I first saw MAN OF THE WORLD on DVD in 2008, and at that time I wasn't very impressed with it, as noted in my original review. I found it too dreary and melancholy, describing it as being for Powell and Lombard completists only.

13 years later, I was pleased to discover that I enjoyed MAN OF THE WORLD much more. When I originally saw it I don't think the film was what I was expecting, but having seen hundreds of additional films in the intervening years, this time I think I was much more "tuned in" to the pre-Code milieu. Yes, it's a melancholy tale, but I found it absorbing and quite worthwhile on this viewing.

I also delighted in things like George Chandler having a substantial role as Powell and Gibson's fellow con artist, "the best American tour guide in Paris." In a career with over 450 credits, so often Chandler has very brief parts, playing nameless reporters and the like, so it was fun to see him in this; his character adds a touch of lightheartedness to the generally serious proceedings.

MAN OF THE WORLD is still the least of the three films in the set, but I found it a much more worthwhile experience on this viewing, which proves the value of circling back to films periodically and watching them in a new context. The story is played with elegance and sensitivity, runs a well-paced 74 minutes, and has a refreshingly "un-pat" ending.

The other two films in the collection are quite enjoyable, though, as noted in the review, Lombard only plays a supporting role in FAST AND LOOSE, which is a Miriam Hopkins vehicle. NO MAN OF HER OWN is a top-drawer pre-Code romance. Together, these three films provide excellent insight into Lombard's work in the early '30s.

MAN OF THE WORLD was written by Herman J. Mankiewicz, based on his own story. It was directed by Richard Wallace and Edward Goodman, with cinematography by Victor Milner.

The Blu-ray print and sound quality are quite good for a film of this vintage. I was particularly impressed with the clarity of the soundtrack, as often early sound films have what I describe as "mushy" dialogue or too much static. This soundtrack is quite crisp and easy to understand.

A commentary track by Samm Deighan is the lone Blu-ray extra.

Coming soon: Reviews from Kino Lorber's brand-new Carole Lombard Collection II, which features HANDS ACROSS THE TABLE (1935) and THE PRINCESS COMES ACROSS (1936), both costarring Lombard with Fred MacMurray, and LOVE BEFORE BREAKFAST (1936), also starring Preston Foster.

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...

...Festival producer and host Alan K. Rode has announced that the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival, which usually takes place in Palm Springs in May, is scheduled for October 21st through 24th. After the past 13 months, the prospect of attending this festival and the Lone Pine Film Festival this fall fills me with joy.

...Leonard Maltin has reviewed Tex Avery Screwball Classics Vol. 2 and the Bugs Bunny 80th Birthday Collection.

...Newly announced Blu-ray news from Kino Lorber: Joining the previously announced Cecil B. DeMille film THE PLAINSMAN (1936) on July 20th is DeMille's UNCONQUERED (1947), starring Gary Cooper and Paulette Goddard. Nick Pinkerton provides a commentary track. Also out from Kino Lorber on July 20th: A two-film set with 633 SQUADRON (1964) and MOSQUITO SQUADRON (1969).

...Kino Lorber's previously announced upcoming releases of SHENANDOAH (1967) and ALIAS JESSE JAMES (1959) have had a July 27th release date announced. Kino's latest "coming soon" announcements are THE SPIDER WOMAN STRIKES BACK (1946) and ALL MY SONS (1948).

...Coming in June, hosted by Silver Screen Classics: The 2021 Swashbucklathon, celebrating the swashbuckler in classic film.

...The Warner Archive Collection has announced its May Blu-ray releases. The most significant news is that THEY WON'T BELIEVE ME (1948), which has had 15 long-missing minutes restored and debuts at next month's Virtual TCM Classic Film Festival, will have its Blu-ray release the very same month. I am so looking forward to seeing the entire film for the first time!

...Additional May Warner Archive Blu-ray releases include MR. BLANDINGS BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE (1948), ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO (1950), ATHENA (1954), THE TENDER TRAP (1955), and BACHELOR IN PARADISE (1961). That's a group of films I'm really looking forward to seeing on Blu-ray.

...Jeff Arnold's West takes a look at one of my very favorite Westerns, RIDE LONESOME (1959) starring Randolph Scott. He says it's "as close to the ideal Western as you can probably get. Short, simple, powerful, it sticks in the memory." I agree completely.

...The Hollywood Legion Theater, which has been running a successful drive-in for much of the pandemic, is reopening its beautiful indoor theater tonight, April 10th, with Patricia Ward Kelly introducing SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952). The reduced-capacity screening has been announced as a sellout.

...At Hamlette's Soliloquy Rachel has reviewed Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake in SAIGON (1947). I'm fortunate to have a "gray market" copy of this film, which as far as I know has never seen the light of day on any format. I'd sure love to see it come out in an authorized Blu-ray print!

...Please join me in sending prayers and good wishes to one of the nicest people in the classic film blogosphere, Caftan Woman, who has just undergone a long-awaited kidney transplant. At latest report she is recovering well. Hoping this is the start of wonderful new things for her!

...Notable Passings: Actress Gloria Henry, known to many as the mother on TV's DENNIS THE MENACE (1959-63), has passed away at the age of 98. She was in films from 1947; Toby notes at 50 Westerns From the 50s that she was in THE STRAWBERRY ROAN (1948) with Gene Autry and RANCHO NOTORIOUS (1954) with Marlene Dietrich. She was in several other interesting films including Autry's RIDERS IN THE SKY (1949), seen here, and AL JENNINGS OF OKLAHOMA (1951) with Dan Duryea. The Tinseltown Twins have posted a tribute...Biff McGuire, a steadily working actor whose film and TV career spanned over six decades, has died at 94. His stage career included two Tony nominations. McGuire is survived by his wife of over 60 years, British actress Jeannie Carson...Mark Elliott, whose voice is familiar from movie trailers, including many for Disney, has died at 81...Actor James Hampton, whose acting credits included MACKINTOSH AND T.J. (1975) with Roy Rogers, has died at 84. He also played the title role in the ROCKFORD FILES episode "The Aaron Ironwood School of Success" in 1975.

...For additional recent links of interest to classic film fans, please check out my April 3rd roundup.

Thursday, April 08, 2021

Tonight's Movie: O'Malley of the Mounted (1936)

It's been a while since I've watched a George O'Brien Western, so tonight I watched O'MALLEY OF THE MOUNTED (1936), released by 20th Century-Fox.

A group of outlaws are conducting raids along the Canada-U.S. border. Constable O'Malley (O'Brien) proposes to his superior that he go undercover to solve the case.

O'Malley, now known as Duke Kinnard, is thrown in jail with gang member Bud Hyland (James Bush). They conveniently are able to escape, and O'Malley then successfully infiltrates the gang, headed by Red Jagger (Stanley Fields).

O'Malley/Kinnard suggests a plan for the gang to rob a Canadian bank, where of course the Mounties will be waiting to make arrests.

There are minor complications in the film's 59 minutes, but the most serious issue is that O'Malley is attracted to Hyland's sister Edie (Irene Ware), who of course thinks he's an unscrupulous outlaw.

I watched the film in a fairly rough public domain print which didn't have the greatest soundtrack, but any print is better than no print when it comes to a George O'Brien movie!

That said, while O'Brien's "B" Westerns are typically quite strong, this one is relatively minor. The print didn't help matters, but I think even if it had been crystal clear, the story's simply not as well crafted as the typical O'Brien Western.

I particularly didn't feel much of a connection between O'Brien and Ware's characters; O'Brien had good chemistry with most of his leading ladies, but he and Ware fail to strike sparks.

Still, an hour spent with an O'Brien Western -- or in this case, a "Northerner" -- is always a good time for me, and I'm also always happy to watch a "Mountie" film.

The movie was directed by David Howard, who worked on a majority of O'Brien's Westerns throughout the '30s. Howard was just 45 when he passed away in 1941, the year after O'Brien left the screen for service in World War II.

O'MALLEY OF THE MOUNTED was filmed by Frank B. Good. The screenplay by Daniel Jarrett and Frank Howard Clark was based on a story by William S. Hart, who starred in a silent version of the story in 1921.

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Tennessee Johnson (1942) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

Van Heflin stars as our nation's 17th President, TENNESSEE JOHNSON (1942), available on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive.

The film traces Johnson's life from his days as an illiterate young tailor, taught to read and write by his future wife, librarian Eliza Cardwell (Ruth Hussey).

Johnson becomes a local activist and soon rises through the electoral ranks. As a Southerner loyal to the union, he was chosen as Abraham Lincoln's Vice-Presidential nominee for his second term in office, replacing Hannibal Hamlin.

Of course, Lincoln's second term was tragically cut short, and Johnson found himself President, presiding over angry Washington debates on Reconstruction and how to treat the conquered South. Johnson was impeached and acquitted for violating a law forbidding him to fire Cabinet members; the law was later declared unconstitutional.

As with any film of this type, it's best to view it as "inspired by true events"; the broad outlines of the story are true, but it's historical fiction. However, a good movie like this will often inspire the viewer to dig further into history and discover some of the actual facts; that's been the case with me, as I've found myself doing quite a bit of reading on Andrew and Eliza Johnson this week!

I particularly note that while most of the film was set in the 1860s, I found it surprisingly relevant. Though I don't wish to turn this into a political discussion, I'd be remiss not to mention that a modern-day viewer watching TENNESSEE JOHNSON may have a bit of the feeling that "the more things change, the more they stay the same." One will find echoes of our own recent politics in the story of a rough-edged populist outsider at odds with Congress. This gives a film which is itself nearly 80 years old, depicting events another 80 years previous to that, quite an interesting kick.

Van Heflin is compelling as Johnson, in what I thought was a rather "different" performance from him. In his early years especially, Heflin's Johnson is uncertain and almost weak, but with Eliza's encouragement he works hard to better himself and gains confidence.

Johnson's life had a mixture of unfortunate moments, such as his swearing in as Vice President while inebriated -- a painful scene to watch -- along with gallantry; the scene where he learns that Lincoln has been shot and overrides attempts to keep him from going to Lincoln's side is quite moving.

I have always found Hussey a delightful actress, and she's very appealing here as Andrew's steadfast wife.

Curiously, the film portrays only one of the Johnsons' children, eldest daughter Martha (Lynne Carver). Their other four children are not mentioned.

It's interesting that Heflin and Hussey appear in the majority of the film's 103 minutes in old age makeup; their younger selves disappear at just under the half hour mark, when the film suddenly jumps forward three decades in time.

This was not hinted at in the film's publicity stills, which focus on the early scenes, and it was a bit disappointing to me; although the makeup created by Jack Dawn is good, it might have been better to have another set of actors portray the young Johnsons and then have more age-appropriate actors for the bulk of the film. That said, I suppose older character actors wouldn't have had the same box office pull.

Speaking of older character actors, Lionel Barrymore is highly effective as Johnson's Washington nemesis, Thaddeus Stevens. The deep supporting cast also includes Marjorie Main, Regis Toomey, Morris Ankrum, Grant Withers, Noah Beery (Sr.), J. Edward Bromberg, Russell Hicks, Montagu Love, Robert Warwick, and Russell Simpson.

There are even more familiar faces in the deep cast, including small parts played by up-and-coming actors Dane Clark and Jim Davis.

TENNESSEE JOHNSON was directed by William Dieterle. It was filmed in black and white by Harold Rosson. The script by Wells Root and John L. Balderston was based on a story by Alvin Meyers and Milton Gunzburg.

The Warner Archive Blu-ray looks very good, with a crisp, clear soundtrack.

Blu-ray extras are a July 1943 radio broadcast of the story with Gary Cooper and Ruth Hussey; a Tom and Jerry Cartoon, "Baby Puss" (1943); the short Heavenly Music (1943); and the trailer.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Raya and the Last Dragon (2021)

Disney's latest animated film, RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON (2021), opened theatrically in "open" states on March 5, 2021.

Here in Southern California movie theaters were still closed on that date, but we had the option to pay a $30 "Premier Access" fee and watch the film on the Disney+ streaming service.

While we didn't take advantage of the Premier Access option for MULAN (2020) last year, preferring to wait a few months until it joined the "free" selections, we splurged and split the cost of RAYA with our daughter. It's not like we've bought more than a couple drive-in movie tickets in the past year, anyway!

I was glad we went ahead and enjoyed the movie in March, as RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON proved to be both visually stunning and entertaining.

In a rather complicated story set in the ancient land of Kumandra, dragons sacrificed themselves to save humanity from the Druun monsters, who had a nasty habit of turning people into statues.

Centuries later, humans have divided themselves into five tribes, each named for a part of a dragon (Heart, Fang, Talon, Tail, and Spine). The tribes are suspicious of one another, which isn't the best situation when the Druun start causing trouble again.

Raya (Kelly Marie Tran, THE LAST JEDI), daughter of the head of the Heart tribe, attempts to locate the last dragon rumored to exist, Sisu (Awkwafina), which might enable them to reunite the tribes and banish the Druun. Along the way she's aided by several people she meets, including a "Con Baby" (Thalia Tran) managing to subsist living in the streets with an animal gang.

Raya's quest is complicated by Namaari (Gemma Chan, CRAZY RICH ASIANS) of the Fang tribe, who thwarts Raya's attempts to work cooperatively.

I enjoyed this film very much, though I'll mention at the outset that one of my only issues with the film was the almost overwhelming initial plot exposition. Since I was watching at home, I actually turned to the detailed plot description at IMDb a couple of times just to make sure I was "getting" it all! That was unusual for me and thankfully won't be an issue on a future rewatch.

That said, the film's kinetic style reminded me favorably of INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE (2018), which deservedly won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film a couple of years ago. The fast cuts and pace hold the attention, and I also liked the way the film labeled the locations; that helpful gesture seemed to acknowledge the filmmakers knew they throw a lot of information at the audience early in the film.

The movie is visually gorgeous from the start all the way through the end credits; my only criticism there is I didn't care for Namaari's androgynous, almost "punk" style. On the other hand, I found Baby Noi both cute and hilarious, and most of the movie is absolutely beautiful.

The comedic actress Awkwafina has turned up in quite a bit of my viewing over the last couple of years, appearing in CRAZY RICH ASIANS (2018), OCEAN'S EIGHT (2018), and JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL (2019).

Although it's not really a negative, for some reason I had the expectation that the "last dragon" would be stately and elegant. Instead, Awkwafina's Sisu is a fast-talking, humorous character not too dissimilar from Robin Williams' Genie from ALADDIN (1992).

And I also note that, like ALADDIN, I feel RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON could have worked extremely well as a musical.

The supporting voice cast of RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON also includes Sandra Oh, Daniel Dae Kim, Izaac Wang, Alan Tudyk, and Benedict Wong.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated PG. The dialogue sometimes includes pointlessly coarse language, as has been the case with other recent Disney animated films, but the issues in that regard are fairly minor. Positives are themes of family love, teamwork, and consideration for others.

The trailer does quite a good job of capturing all of the aspects, pro and con, which I've described above. Any negatives are outweighed, in my eyes, by an entertaining, uplifting story and impressive animation. I enjoyed this film quite well and will watch it again in the future.

RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON was directed by Don Hall, Carlos Lopez Estrada, and Paul Briggs. It was written by Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim.

The film runs 107 minutes, but that includes a lengthy end credits sequence, so in terms of story the film is several minutes shorter. The credits are lovely, and I recommend sticking with them to enjoy the art.

The end credits conclude with an unusual card acknowledging the "unprecedented" "making of this movie from over 400 individual homes" due to the pandemic.

RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON will be available to all Disney+ subscribers at no extra charge beginning on June 4, 2021.

As a postscript, Disney recently announced that the next Pixar animated film, LUCA (2021), will not be shown theatrically at all. Instead it will be available to Disney+ subscribers at no extra charge starting on June 18, 2021.

Monday, April 05, 2021

Tonight's Movie: No Man of Her Own (1932) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Last September I reviewed FAST AND LOOSE (1930) from Kino Lorber's Carole Lombard Collection I. It was a fun film with Lombard in an early role supporting leading lady Miriam Hopkins.

With Kino Lorber's Carole Lombard Collection II coming out this week, it's a great time to circle back to last summer's previous set to watch another of the films, NO MAN OF HER OWN (1932).

In NO MAN OF HER OWN Lombard stars opposite her future husband, Clark Gable, whom she would marry in 1939. I first saw the movie back in 2009; I remembered enjoying it but little about the plot.

I'm happy to say that I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting the movie, which I discovered has some plot similarities to a favorite Robert Montgomery film of a couple years later, HIDE-OUT (1934). Both films also happen to feature Elizabeth Patterson as the heroine's mother.

Gable plays Jerry "Babe" Stewart, a high-level card shark who leaves New York City for small-town Glendale when things start to get uncomfortably hot in New York. Among other things, Jerry is being frequently tailed by a police detective (J. Farrell MacDonald).

Love 'em and leave 'em Jerry is thrown for a loop when he meets Connie (Lombard), a smart and sassy librarian. Before he knows what's hit him, Jerry finds himself marrying Connie, and they return to the big city together.

Jerry finds a "make work" job at a brokerage office so that Connie will think he's going to work each day, while he continues to gamble at night. Eventually Connie catches on that Jerry's a cheater running a racket swindling expensive marks at the poker table, and she puts her foot down.

Jerry is initially ready to call it quits with Connie, but on second thought realizes maybe he'd rather stay married and live an upright life. But how?

This proved to be a delightful 85 minutes, between Gable's charisma and Lombard's effervescent charm. They have marvelous chemistry, and I especially like the ways the movie never quite goes where one expects.

For instance, when Connie finds evidence of the previous women in Jerry's life in his apartment, she dumps their stuff with wisecracks instead of being offended. Similarly, when one of those women (Dorothy Mackaill) turns up at the apartment, instead of having a showdown, the women end up having a heart-to-heart chat.

I also like the way the viewer isn't quite sure what Jerry is up to in the film's final minutes, then his plan is gradually unveiled.

This is the kind of storyline which could easily have turned into a tear-laden melodrama, but instead it's romantic and light on its feet. I enjoyed the film a great deal and don't plan to wait a dozen years before I revisit it again!

NO MAN OF HER OWN was directed by Wesley Ruggles and filmed by Leo Tover. There are some interesting names among the writing credits; the story was cowritten by future director Edmund Goulding, which in turn was inspired by a novel by Val Lewton, the future producer of "B" horror classics.

The supporting cast includes Grant Mitchell, Charley Grapewin, Tommy Conlon, George Barbier, and Paul Ellis.

Kino Lorber's Blu-ray looks great for a film of this vintage, and the soundtrack is excellent. The lone extra on the disc is a commentary track by Nick Pinkerton.

Still to come: I'll be revisiting MAN OF THE WORLD (1931), the final film in Carole Lombard Collection I, which teams Lombard with the actor she was married to before Clark Gable, William Powell.

I'll also be reviewing the three films in the new Carole Lombard Collection II: HANDS ACROSS THE TABLE (1935), THE PRINCESS COMES ACROSS (1936), and LOVE BEFORE BREAKFAST (1936).

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

Sunday, April 04, 2021

A Birthday Tribute to Rosemary Lane

Today I'm paying tribute to actress-singer Rosemary Lane, who was born in Indiana April 4, 1913.


Dates vary for Rosemary's birth year; I'm using the date from her grave marker.

Rosemary was one of the lovely and talented Lane sisters, who included Leota (born 1903), Lola (born 1906), and Priscilla (born 1916).


While Leota's film career never took off, Rosemary, Lola, and especially Priscilla found success in Hollywood, both separately and together.


Like Priscilla, Rosemary was a singer with Fred Waring and appeared with him in her first film, VARSITY SHOW (1937). She would go on to appear in 20 more films between 1937 and 1945, when she retired from the screen.

Here's Rosemary with Dick Powell in VARSITY SHOW:


My favorite of Rosemary's films might be HOLLYWOOD HOTEL (1937), which she appeared in with her sister Lola. Rosemary was also reunited with Dick Powell in this film, and they share a charming duet, "Fish Out of Water," which may currently be heard here. I love this still from the number:


Rosemary, Priscilla, and Lola teamed with actress Gale Page playing sisters in four beloved films: FOUR DAUGHTERS (1938), FOUR WIVES (1939), FOUR MOTHERS (1941), and DAUGHTERS COURAGEOUS (1939); the latter film has the same cast as the other three films but is a completely different story.

Clockwise from top left are Gale Page, Rosemary, Priscilla, and Lola:


The three Lanes, Lola, Rosemary, and Priscilla:


The quartet, including Gale Page, in FOUR WIVES:



And in FOUR MOTHERS:


Rosemary with her leading man in the DAUGHTERS series, Eddie Albert:


With Claude Rains in DAUGHTERS COURAGEOUS:


Rosemary was married to makeup artist Bud Westmore from 1941 to 1954, when they divorced. They had one child.  It was her only marriage.


Rosemary died November 25, 1974.  She was buried at Forest Lawn Glendale, where her grave marker, which Wikipedia indicates was not placed until 2012, reads "Singing With the Angels."


Rosemary Lane's career was relatively brief, but she was a delightful screen presence who made significant contributions to some wonderful films from Hollywood's Golden Age.

Rosemary Lane films previously reviewed at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings: VARSITY SHOW (1937), HOLLYWOOD HOTEL (1937), GOLD DIGGERS IN PARIS (1938), FOUR DAUGHTERS (1938), BLACKWELL'S ISLAND (1939), DAUGHTERS COURAGEOUS (1939), FOUR WIVES (1939), AN ANGEL FROM TEXAS (1940), FOUR MOTHERS (1941), and CHATTERBOX (1943).


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