Monday, May 31, 2021

Tonight's Movie: The Final Countdown (1980) - A Blue Underground Blu-ray Review

World War II meets science fiction in THE FINAL COUNTDOWN (1980), which has just been released by Blue Underground in a limited edition Blu-ray.

I've been curious about this film for some time now, so I jumped at the opportunity to review it. I'm happy to say I found the film thoroughly entertaining, and the Blu-ray is an especially fine set which is a "must" for fans of the film.

Captain Matthew Yelland (Kirk Douglas) commands the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier U.S.S. Nimitz, which is conducting routine patrols off Hawaii in 1980.

A bizarre electrical storm, unlike anything seen before, temporarily knocks out the crew, and when they come to, things are strange. Very strange, including Jack Benny's voice on the radio. That's written off as nostalgia programming, but the crew can't make any normal communications with the outside world...and then they spot mint condition Japanese Zero planes.

As the evidence mounts, the captain and crew ultimately realize that, hard as it is to believe, they've gone back in December 6, 1941.

This was quite a fun film, both in terms of watching the crew's dawning realization of what's happened, and then the ethical dilemma faced by the captain. Civilian analyst Warren Lasky (Martin Sheen), an observer on board, suggests the Nimitz has a chance to prevent great loss of life and have history turn out much more positively. 

But what really happens when you completely change the course of history, including who lives and who dies?

Longtime readers know I'm not a particular fan of Douglas, but I felt he hit just the right notes as the captain, disbelieving but professional at all times, taking steps to secure the ship and crew and making logical decisions as he gathers additional information. For me this was one of his more enjoyable and likeable performances.

Fortunately for the captain, Commander Richard Owens (James Farentino) is a naval historian working on a book on Pearl Harbor. Owens and Lasky have interesting discussions debating doing something vs. nothing, but it's the captain who must decide whether to act.

The ending is somewhat telegraphed in advance, but it's also very well done. I was left satisfied...though I was also left with questions about whether that kind of electrical storm has happened to anyone else...

Charles During plays a (fictitious) senator whose yacht is strafed by the Japanese. He and his secretary (Katharine Ross) are picked up by the Nimitz, and they're very confused about all the modern equipment. The senator, in fact, wonders if FDR has been keeping a top secret program from Congress -- but even so, it's hard for him to believe what he sees.

The cast also includes Ron O'Neal, Victor Mohica, and Soon-Tek Oh, who was a familiar face on TV in this era.

The film was written by Peter Powell, David Ambrose, and Thomas Hunter, based on a story the three men wrote along with Gerry Davis. The film's running time is a just-right 103 minutes. It's such a relief to watch a "newer" film like this and discover it's not a bloated 150-minute running time!

THE FINAL COUNTDOWN was directed by Don Taylor, who earlier in his career was an actor (FATHER OF THE BRIDE). It was filmed by Victor J. Kemper, with location shooting taking place on board the actual U.S.S. Nimitz. Viewers are treated to a fairly extensive tour of the ship over the course of the film, and it's a fascinating environment.

I'll add that there are many great shots of planes landing on the carrier, and no matter how many times you see it, it's always a thrill watching one successfully hook the cable and stop!

This limited edition set comes with a 4K Ultra High Definition disc as well as a regular Blu-ray; the latter is what I reviewed.

Also included in this fine set is a soundtrack CD of John Scott's score from Screen Archives Entertainment. Blu-ray extras include a commentary track with cinematographer Victor Kemper, carried over from a prior DVD release; multiple trailers and TV spots; poster and stills galleries; and featurettes. The set also comes with a multipage booklet which includes the CD track list.

Topping things off, there's reversible cover art for the plastic case, and a cardboard slipcover with a lenticular hologram which makes the U.S.S. Nimitz appear to move as it's shifted back and forth; it's very cool, perfect for the film.

This is a very good, enjoyable film, released in an A+ set. Recommended.

Thanks to Blue Underground and MVD Entertainment Group for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray collection.

Tonight's Movie: Athena (1954) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

The MGM musical ATHENA (1954) was released on Blu-ray last week by the Warner Archive Collection.

ATHENA is a goofy yet very enjoyable musical which I first had the good fortune to see on a big screen as a teenager, circa the late '70s. Like so many other movies in that era, I saw it at the Vagabond Theater in Los Angeles.

It had been many years since I last saw it, and revisiting it on the new Blu-ray was quite a treat. The movie's pastel colors look absolutely lovely, and the sound is also excellent.

The story for this film about a family of "health nuts" was originally created by Esther Williams and director-choreographer Charles Walters, intended as a vehicle for Williams, but as is clear from the cast names on the pictured Blu-ray cover, that didn't happen. In fact, MGM didn't even give them a story credit.

Instead the screenplay by Leonard Spigelgass and William Ludwig stars Jane Powell and Debbie Reynolds as two of the seven Mulvain sisters, who live in a nifty indoor-outdoor style home and run a health food store.

Athena (Powell) falls for seemingly stuffy lawyer Adam Calhorn Shaw (Edmund Purdom), the scion of a Massachusetts political family (with an inexplicable British accent).

Adam's client, popular crooner Johnny (Vic Damone), immediately falls for Athena's younger sister Minerva (Reynolds).

Athena's oddball way of life, which includes belief in numerology and mystical pronouncements from her grandmother (Evelyn Varden), threatens to derail Adam's burgeoning political career. Can true love and vegetarian eating conquer all?

There's really not a great deal of conflict in this easy-going 95-minute film, which is pure silly fun with an agreeable cast who are all very familiar to fans of MGM musicals.

Powell and Reynolds had previously costarred with Louis Calhern, who plays their grandfather here, in TWO WEEKS WITH LOVE (1950); Powell and Damone had costarred in RICH, YOUNG AND PRETTY (1951). The following year the two ladies would reteam with Damone for HIT THE DECK (1955).

The movie was also a reunion for Powell and two of her fellow brides from SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS (1954), Virginia Gibson and Nancy Kilgas. (A bit of trivia: In 1957 Gibson and Kilgas both also appeared together in FUNNY FACE along with fellow "bride" Ruta Lee.) The other sisters in ATHENA are played by Jane Fischer, Cecile Rogers, and Dolores Starr.

The original score by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane is bright and cheerful, including catchy tunes like "Vocalize" and "I Never Felt Better." Damone gets to sing Martin and Blane's "The Boy Next Door" from MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944), here reworked as "The Girl Next Door."

The leads are all charming, particularly Reynolds and Damone, with their relatively angst-free courtship; they take one look at each other and it's all over but the wedding bells!  They're cute as the proverbial buttons.

The cast includes Linda Christian as Adam's uptight fiancee.  Christian was then Mrs. Tyrone Power; it's interesting to note that she was briefly married to ATHENA's leading man, Purdom, in the early '60s.

Henry Nakamura of WESTWARD THE WOMEN (1951) is engaging as Adam's butler. Nakamura had a relatively brief film career, 1951-58, but he always did a nice job, and I wish his career had been longer.

The supporting cast also includes Ray Collins, Carl Benton Reid, Steve Reeves, and Kathleen Freeman. Look for "dress extra" Bess Flowers who has a rare speaking role in a party scene.

ATHENA was directed by Richard Thorpe. It was filmed in CinemaScope and Eastmancolor by Robert Planck.

Blu-ray extras imported from the Warner Archive's previously released remastered DVD are the trailer and three musical outtakes. The Blu-ray also has a song selection menu.

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

TCM in June: Highlights

It's time for a look at the June schedule for Turner Classic Movies!

Cyd Charisse is the June Star of the Month on Tuesday nights beginning on June 1st. I'll have a separate Star of the Month post available here on the morning of the 1st. (Update: Please visit TCM Star of the Month: Cyd Charisse.)

The June Noir Alley schedule will feature POSSESSED (1947) on June 5th and 6th, WALK A CROOKED MILE (1948) on the 12th and 13th, THE BLUE GARDENIA (1953) June 19th and 20th, and SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943) on June 26th-27th. The latter showing ties in with a weekend-long Alfred Hitchcock marathon.

The Noir Alley titles are all good to excellent; I'd particularly like to recommend the lesser-known WALK A CROOKED MILE, a procedural teaming L.A. FBI agent Dennis O'Keefe with Scotland Yard agent Louis Hayward on an international case involving top secret nuclear information. The "early CSI" techniques seen in the film are quite interesting.

The TCM Spotlight for June focuses on juvenile delinquents. Another special note: TCM pays tribute to Norman Lloyd on June 14th.

Here are a few highlights from the June schedule. Please click any hyperlinked title to read a complete review.

..."Deadly Domiciles" are the theme of the day on June 3rd, including Ronald Reagan in the fun "B" film NINE LIVES ARE NOT ENOUGH (1941).

...An evening of three Jane Austen films on June 4th features SENSE AND SENSIBILITY (1995), PERSUASION (1995), and PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (1940). I recently posted a photo gallery tribute to the latter film.

...One of the Saturday morning "B" films on June 5th is the entertaining EXPERIMENT ALCATRAZ (1950), starring John Howard and Joan Dixon. It features interesting San Francisco locations and an unusual story.

...June 7th features the type of "only on TCM" programming I especially appreciate, a prime time tribute to actress Florence Rice. Seven of Rice's films will be shown; I'm especially looking forward to VACATION FROM LOVE (1938), a film I've never seen costarring Dennis O'Keefe.

...Eleanor Parker receives a multifilm tribute on June 8th, including a favorite romantic comedy, THE VOICE OF THE TURTLE (1947) with Ronald Reagan. It's shown on TCM under its alternate TV title, ONE FOR THE BOOK.

...June 9th is the first of two days featuring a complete run of MGM's Andy Hardy movie series; this day includes A FAMILY AFFAIR (1937), YOU'RE ONLY YOUNG ONCE (1937), and THE HARDYS RIDE HIGH (1939), among others. The series continues on June 29th.

...A Judy Garland birthday tribute on June 10th includes a pair of films I've enjoyed revisiting on Blu-ray over the last couple of years, THE PIRATE (1948) and SUMMER STOCK (1950). Wonderful MGM entertainment!

...Kay Francis stars as a gold digger in the enjoyable RKO "B" film PLAY GIRL (1941) on June 11th. It's one of those films which isn't necessarily all that good, yet it's fast-paced and quite entertaining. James Ellison costars.

...The genial musical comedy LOVE AND LEARN (1947) airs on June 14th. It stars Martha Vickers, Jack Carson, and Janis Paige, who had previously costarred in the very enjoyable THE TIME, THE PLACE AND THE GIRL (1946). A pleasant score adds to the enjoyment.

...Margaret O'Brien, Charles Laughton, and Robert young star in THE CANTERVILLE GHOST (1944) on June 15th. As a side note, I had the Lux Radio Theater production on LP as a kid and used to listen to it regularly. You can find it on YouTube, with O'Brien and Laughton joined by Tom Drake in Young's role.

...James Cagney stars as a PICTURE SNATCHER (1933) on June 17th. Cagney plays an ex-con restarting his life in the newspaper business who creates a sensation when he sneaks a photo during a Death Row execution. Ralph Bellamy and Patricia Ellis costar.

...Later on the 17th I'm looking forward to recording 13 WEST STREET (1962), an Alan Ladd film I've not yet seen.

...Edward Arnold plays a blind detective with a remarkable guide dog in EYES IN THE NIGHT (1942). A top supporting cast includes Donna Reed, Reginald Denny, Ann Harding, Allen Jenkins, and Stephen (billed as Horace) McNally. It's on June 18th.

...Father's Day on June 20th includes many of the standard titles for this date, including William Powell in LIFE WITH FATHER (1947) and Spencer Tracy in FATHER OF THE BRIDE (1950).

...A favorite 20th Century-Fox musical, MOON OVER MIAMI (1941), will be featured in prime time on June 21st. (Side note: This was one of the first movies I reviewed here, and the review is so short I hope to do a more lengthy post at some future point.) It's always exciting when TCM showcases a 20th Century-Fox film, as they cost more for the channel to license.  It's part of an evening of "Sun-Drenched Summer Classics."

...June 22nd features crime films from 1939, including THE ROARING TWENTIES (1939) starring James Cagney, Priscilla Lane, Humphrey Bogart, and Jeffrey Lynn.  Also of special note that day is TELL NO TALES (1939) starring Melvyn Douglas and Louise Platt.

...The very enjoyable pre-Code GIRL MISSING (1933), starring Glenda Farrell and Mary Bryan, is part of a day of "memorable honeymoons" on June 24th.

...The centennial of Jane Russell's birth is on June 21st. Four nights later, on June 25th, she'll be celebrated in prime time, with a lineup of THE OUTLAW (1943), THE PALEFACE (1948), and HIS KIND OF WOMAN (1951). Russell is the subject of a brand-new biography by Christina Rice which I hope to review this summer.

...June 26th and 27th is "Hitchcock Binge-Watch Weekend."  Almost everything is worth checking out -- I'm not sure about FRENZY (1972) or FAMILY PLOT (1976) -- enjoy!

...THE STEEL FIST (1952) is an interesting little Monogram "B" in which Roddy McDowall works to flee a Communist country. Kristine Miller costars. It's on June 28th.

...A tribute to Olivia de Havilland begins on the evening of June 30th, continuing into July 1st, which would have been her 105th birthday. de Havilland passed away last year shortly after turning 104. Films will include the excellent HOLD BACK THE DAWN (1941), for which de Havilland received a Best Actress Oscar nomination. Charles Boyer and Paulette Goddard costar.

For more on TCM in June 2021, please visit my Quick Preview of TCM in June and TCM Star of the Month: Cyd Charisse. TCM's June schedule will be available on the site beginning June 1st.

Happy TCM movie viewing!

On Memorial Day

Remembering today, with heartfelt gratitude, the brave men and women who have given their all for our nation and our freedom.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Sedona, Arizona: Angel and the Badman (1947) Locations

This weekend I've been working on organizing photos from our recent road trip!

I'll be dividing the photos into roughly a dozen posts covering various topics; the majority will be related to movie locations.

I'm going to start off with a look at the Sedona, Arizona locations for one of my favorite films, ANGEL AND THE BADMAN (1947).

We began our day in Flagstaff, Arizona, where our son graduated from Northern Arizona University a few years ago. Sedona is roughly a 45-minute drive from Flagstaff.

Flagstaff, which is at an elevation of 7,000 feet, is filled with pine trees...

...and as you drop to Sedona's 4300-foot elevation, the terrain becomes a mix of trees with interesting rock formations, such as this one.

Our first stop in Sedona was at the Sedona Heritage Museum.

My husband had previously made contact with one of the docents, and she kindly marked up a city map with various film-related locations of interest which was a huge help to us during our stay in Sedona.

She also gave us a tour of this telegraph office building, which is seen in ANGEL AND THE BADMAN. It's currently located outside the museum.

This Western street set at the foot of Sedona's Coffee Pot Rock was first constructed for ANGEL AND THE BADMAN, then was used for many additional Westerns -- STATION WEST (1948) was just one -- and came down after 3:10 TO YUMA (1957).

The telegraph office building can be seen toward the left of the "screen cap" above, slightly to the right of Coffee Pot Rock. There's another great photo of it as it looked on the street set at the Arizona Memory Project.

This plaque explains the building's history. It dates from the 1890s and has been moved multiple times, first to the movie street set and eventually to the Sedona Heritage Museum.

Besides being a movie location in its own right, it currently houses displays about Sedona's Western film history.

Details on the building can easily be matched up with this screen shot from ANGEL AND THE BADMAN. This is the scene early in the film where Penny (Gail Russell) and her father (John Halloran) deliver Quirt (John Wayne) to the telegraph office.

Later in the film Laredo (Bruce Cabot) and his henchmen walk in the front door, seen here.

An ANGEL AND THE BADMAN display inside the telegraph office building:

Below are displays on Sedona's film history. The "Sedona West" sign refers to a housing tract which is now located at the former Western street set site. Many of the streets in the area are named for movies which were filmed there; the street signs seen here reflect a few of the names. We later took extensive photographs of the street signs in that area, which will be the topic of another post.

Another view of the telegraph office interior:

The building also houses a diorama of the original town set:

John Wayne walked down the street set near the end of the movie, with Coffee Pot Rock towering behind him.

Here's how the exact same area, now a housing development, looks today:

Another view of Coffee Pot Rock:

Elsewhere in Sedona you can easily locate Courthouse Butte...

...and nearby Bell Rock:

Here are Wayne and Russell with Courthouse Butte and Bell Rock in the background:

I'll share more about the Bell Rock area in a later post.

This color photograph of Gail Russell on the set is nice as it ties in with my own color photos, demonstrating that in some ways not much has changed in the area in the ensuing decades.

Related Posts: A Visit to Valhalla Cemetery; A Visit to Pacific View Memorial Park; Classic Movie Hub: John Wayne Favorites.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Horizons West (1952) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

HORIZONS WEST (1952) is one of a number of interesting Westerns released on Blu-ray this year by Kino Lorber.

HORIZONS WEST, which came out a couple of weeks ago, is a colorful Universal Pictures film about a pair of brothers newly returned to Texas after the Civil War.

Neil (Rock Hudson), who was adopted by the Hammonds (John McIntire and Frances Bavier), looks forward to returning to ranching alongside his foreman and friend, Tiny (James Arness).

Neil's older brother Dan (Robert Ryan) resents having served on the losing side of the war and especially resents not having much money.  He's out to make it in the fastest way possible, and in so doing he ultimately replaces the nasty local power broker (Raymond Burr), becoming evil himself in the process.  Soon it's brother pitted against brother, with Neil taking the side of justice.

I first saw this film in 2010, and as has become a pattern here of late, I enjoyed it more on this revisit.  I still have issues with it, but I usually find it helps knowing what to expect going in; there are also a number of factors which balance out the problems.

The list of things I enjoy starts with the beautiful opening credits and the film's gorgeous Technicolor, as filmed by Charles P. Boyle.  There's just nothing like the colorful look of Universal's opening credits sequences, which also happen to list a significant number of fine actors who make the film worthwhile.

Julie Adams, who plays Burr's wife, is absolutely gorgeous; her character is also intriguing, as she shifts her allegiance from her husband to the new power player in town, Dan. Unanswered questions hang over her and her relationship with her husband, but she's so beautiful we don't care too much about her character being relatively unexamined.

Hudson and most of the cast are all quite likeable, while Ryan is stuck playing an angry man we never really understand.  Some bitterness after war's end, sure, but what in his background led him to flip to becoming such a greedy, extremely bad person?  In this case the lack of understanding matters much more than with Adams' character, because it's Dan's actions which propel the story.

While Ryan's character becomes tiresome, he's surrounded by so many good actors -- also including Dennis Weaver, Tom Powers, John Hubbard, Walter Reed, Rodolfo Acosta, and Douglas Fowley -- that it's worth seeing the movie through, all the more as it's so visually pleasing.  It's only a middling film in my book, yet in the end it's one worth checking out.

The movie has a story and screenplay by Louis Stevens and runs a quick 81 minutes.  It was directed by Budd Boetticher.  Earlier this year I reviewed Boetticher's WINGS OF THE HAWK (1953), which also starred Julie Adams.

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray is a strong print with excellent sound.  Extras include the trailer, three additional trailers for films available from Kino Lorber, and a commentary track by Westerns expert Toby Roan.

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

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