Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Tonight's Movies: Mission: Impossible II (2000) and Mission: Impossible III (2006)

This weekend my daughter and I enjoyed catching up with both MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE II (2000) and MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III (2006).

Somehow two years passed between watching the original MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (1996) and the second film, so we watched the third film right away for good measure!

Possible spoiler alert: Please note that in order to discuss the roles of characters in the ongoing series, I've discussed which films they appear in below.

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE II was my favorite of the two M:I films seen this weekend, particularly due to its somewhat lighter tone. (Everything's relative in a MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movie...) I especially enjoyed the way the movie simultaneously reaches forward and back, with significant nods to older films in a story which deals with "gain of function" virus research, a concept which has unfortunately become all too familiar over the last 18 months.

In this second film, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is tasked by his boss (Anthony Hopkins) to team with a beautiful lady thief, Nyah (Thandie Newton), to retrieve a deadly manmade virus stolen by former agent Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott). Nyah and Sean were once an item, so a resumption of their romance will perfectly position Nyah as the inside agent. One problem: Ethan has fallen hard for the lady he must ask to be intimate with her ex.

The screenplay by Robert Towne (CHINATOWN) fairly obviously lifts big sections of NOTORIOUS (1946), right down to a racetrack sequence and the heroine being poisoned, with an envelope serving the same function as the key to the wine cellar in Hitchcock's movie.

The film also has a blatant callback to the "I will find you!" waterfall scene from LAST OF THE MOHICANS (1992). Recognizing the inspirations from movies past was rather fun.

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE II was directed by John Woo and filmed by Jeffrey L. Kimball. The film's score was by Hans Zimmer. Locations included Australia and Dead Horse Point State Park in Utah. The running time was 123 minutes.

Rather surprisingly, given the intensity of Ethan and Nyah's romance, she is never mentioned in MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III, which opens with Ethan being engaged to a nurse named Julia (Michelle Monaghan). Julia herself later disappeared from the series until the seventh film, when she briefly returns for a moving reunion with Ethan.

Julia thinks Ethan works for a transportation company, but instead he's disappearing on missions such as rescuing an agent he trained, Lindsey Ferris (Keri Russell), who's been kidnapped by a particularly vicious arms dealer, Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

Later Ethan and his team (Ving Rhames, Maggie Q, and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) must also kidnap Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman), but unfortunately one of Ethan's bosses (Billy Crudup and Laurence Fishburne) can't be trusted, which ultimately puts Julia's life in jeopardy...

M:I III has some good action set pieces and is also lightened by the presence of Simon Pegg as computer expert Benji, a role he's gone on to play in subsequent films. I also enjoyed Maggie Q as Agent Zhen and wish she appeared in the later movies.

I did feel M:I III was less relaxing to watch than the first film because of the sadism of Hoffman's character and the jeopardy to Ethan's love, but all in all it was worthwhile.

Off the screen Cruise has always struck me as an oddball I'd steer away from, but there are other movie stars I enjoy yet probably wouldn't care for in real life. There's certainly no denying his onscreen magic. He's front and center a vast majority of the time, and his charisma is is hugely important to the success of the films, along with the action set pieces, in which he's known for often doing his own stunts.

Cruise is surrounded with good casts in each of the M:I movies. Along those lines, I'm really looking forward to MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 7, which will costar Hayley Atwell, Marvel's AGENT CARTER. In the meantime, I look forward to watching the fourth and fifth films in the series.  

A note on both this weekend's M:I films: The use of masks in these movies always feels like a bit of a "gotcha!" cheat. I wish they would skip using this device, as besides being an unfair storytelling crutch, these scenes are even more "impossible" to believe than many of the other goings-on. I had to laugh at a mask of Hoffman's face being 3-D printed right in the middle of a mission!

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III was directed by J.J. Abrams, who cowrote the screenplay with Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci. The cinematography was by Dan Mindel, and the score was composed by Michael Giacchino. Locations for this film included Italy and China. Running time was 126 minutes.

Parental Advisories: MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE II and MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III are both rated PG-13. III in particular is pretty dark, as will be immediately apparent from the pre-credits opening sequence. It's definitely not for children.

I own both films on DVD as part of the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 5-Movie Collection. They are also available in other formats.

Previous MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE reviews: MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (1996) and MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - FALLOUT (2018).

September 1st, 2021 Update: It was announced today that the release date of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 7 (2022) is being pushed back from May 2022 to September 2022.  The movie's original May release date will be filled by Cruise's TOP GUN: MAVERICK (2022) which was originally scheduled for November 2021.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Tonight's Movie: The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)

The second film watched on last weekend's "action movie day," following THE ICE ROAD (2021), was THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT (2006).

Over the last five years I've seen all of the other films in the Fast and Furious franchise, from the original THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS (2001) of two decades ago to this year's F9: THE FAST SAGA (2021). F9 had originally been scheduled for a 2020 release but was delayed due to COVID; a 10th film is currently anticipated for 2023.

Spoiler Alert: In this review I'll be discussing the death and later reappearance of a supporting character in the long-running series, as this aspect is key to understanding where TOKYO DRIFT falls in the saga's timeline. Anyone who is brand-new to the films and wants to approach them completely fresh may wish to watch the movies before reading further.

THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT was the third Fast and Furious film. It's a spinoff which came out midway between the release of 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS (2003) and the series' big reboot in FAST & FURIOUS (2009).

Although released third chronologically, storywise the events of this film were later "retconned" to fall between FAST & FURIOUS 6 (2013) and FURIOUS 7 (2015). FAST & FURIOUS (2009), FAST FIVE (2011), and FAST & FURIOUS 6 are thus all "prequels" to THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT. More on that aspect will be discussed below.

In TOKYO DRIFT Lucas Black plays Sean Boswell, a troubled teen whose latest racing escapade results in him being sent by his hapless divorced mother (Lynda Boswell) to live in Tokyo with his miilitary man father (Brian Goodman).

Lucas's father, an army major, expects Sean to have a curfew and attend school, but within a short time frame Sean is back to his old habits. After befriending Twinkie (Sean Moss, aka Bow Wow), a self-described military brat at his school, both boys fall in with a gang of street racers headed by Han (Sung Kang). After Sean crashes Han's car, Han unexpectedly becomes a mentor to Sean, including teaching him about drift racing.

Sean also makes an enemy of D.K. (Brian Tee), a racer whose uncle (Sonny Chiba) is in the Yakuza. Sean's attraction to D.K.'s girlfriend (Nathalie Kelley) creates problems, and after Han's shocking death in a street race, Sean eventually must face D.K. in a race himself, drifting around dangerous hairpin turns.

TOKYO DRIFT, which runs 104 minutes, builds to a satisfying conclusion featuring a cameo appearance by a very familiar face from the other Fast and Furious films.

This is an engrossing film which works well as a coming of age story set against the interesting backdrops of drift racing and Tokyo. Stylewise, it's akin to the simpler storytelling of the first two films in the series, which focused on more realistic street racing and crime, before the characters evolved into something akin to movie superheroes.

As played by Black, Sean is a screw-up, but he retains a likeability, and viewers come to understand that he's been caught between two parents who don't seem to have had much interest in raising him. His father, while giving him a home, can't even be bothered to meet him at the airport or clean his things out of the bed-sized cubby he's providing in his tiny Tokyo apartment. It's thus all too easy for Sean to start spending time with people who share his passion for fast cars.

The movie is somewhat unique in that the character of Han, who some consider to have first appeared in director Justin Lin's film BETTER LUCK TOMORROW (2002), was later written in as one of Dominic's team in the three previously mentioned Fast and Furious films released from 2009-13.

It's all a bit complicated, in the best soap opera tradition, but to further recap Han's history, at the end of FAST & FURIOUS 6, a tag scene reveals that Han's death in the TOKYO DRIFT race had been engineered by Jason Statham, making his first appearance in the series as Deckard Shaw.

Fast-forward to this year's F9: THE FAST SAGA, and we learn that Han wasn't dead at all, his disappearance having actually been planned by top spy "Mr. Nobody" (Kurt Russell). 

Even better, F9 finds Sean and Twinkie showing up in the series for the first time since TOKYO DRIFT, becoming part of the group of racing spies headed by Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel).

The tag scene of F9 deliciously features Han dropping in to see Deckard Shaw. To be continued...

For those wanting to know more about Sung Kang and Han's history, I recommend an interview he did with the Hollywood Reporter, which includes his musings on how the series evolved over time from "B" racing movies to "Oscar winners like Helen Mirren and Charlize Theron coming to play with us."

As Sung Kang also notes, Oscar-nominated director Christopher Nolan is among those who have expressed a particular fondness for TOKYO DRIFT over the years. 

I was also interested to come across a three-star review by the late Roger Ebert, who wrote TOKYO DRIFT "delivers all the races and crashes you could possibly desire, and a little more," while calling the film "surprisingly fresh and intriguing" and expressing admiration for the way the film works in "details of Japanese life." I would add that the establishing shots of Tokyo by Stephen F. Windon are great "eye candy," though most of the movie was actually filmed in Southern California.

TOKYO DRIFT was the first film in the series directed by Lin, who would go on to direct four additional Fast and Furious films to date, including this year's entry.  It was written by Chris Morgan.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated PG-13, which strikes me as correct. Issues include some bad language and a disturbing death.

A trailer is here.

This film is available on DVD and Blu-ray. It can also currently be rented for streaming via Amazon.

Previous reviews in this series: THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS (2001), 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS (2003), FAST & FURIOUS (2009), FAST FIVE (2011), FAST & FURIOUS 6 (2013), FURIOUS 7 (2015), THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS (2017), FAST & FURIOUS PRESENTS: HOBBS & SHAW (2019), and F9: THE FAST SAGA (2021).

Update: I just learned that Sonny Chiba passed away a few days ago at the age of 82.

New Western Roundup Column at Classic Movie Hub

My latest Western RoundUp column has just been posted at Classic Movie Hub!

For this month's column I've written about James Garner's interesting Wyatt Earp film HOUR OF THE GUN (1968), directed by John Sturges. Jason Robards costars as Doc Holliday.

Please click over to Classic Movie Hub for the review. As always, thanks 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; November 2020; December 2020; January 2021; February 2021; March 2021; May 2021; June 2021; June 2021 (No. 2); July 2021.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Book Review: Mean...Moody...Magnificent! Jane Russell and the Marketing of a Hollywood Legend

MEAN...MOODY...MAGNIFICENT! JANE RUSSELL AND THE MARKETING OF A HOLLYWOOD LEGEND is an excellent biography of the actress by Christina Rice. It was published this summer by the University Press of Kentucky.

Rice, who also authored the very interesting ANN DVORAK: HOLLYWOOD'S FORGOTTEN REBEL, spent half a decade researching Russell's life. The deep research and the author's engaging writing style combine for a "must read" biography.

I especially enjoyed the look at Jane's pre-stardom life growing up in the San Fernando Valley. Considering that the people she was writing about are long gone, Rice provides a remarkable level of detail about Russell's background. Russell's family, including four boisterous younger brothers, helped make sure that she remained level-headed even after Hollywood came calling.

The book particularly made me contemplate the vagaries of fate, as a photograph of Jane led to an audition with director Howard Hawks and eventual movie stardom, beginning with THE OUTLAW (1943), produced by Howard Hughes. Jane's life was, of course, completely changed by this series of events. How many others might have become stars but for a missed chance? As the title suggests, the book is a fascinating look at the creation of a Hollywood star.

The book begins with an excellent story about the advice Hawks gave Jane after she was unhappy about a photography session with the news media. He told her not to ever do anything against her better judgment: "You're in charge of you. No one else." Along with her family and religious faith, that wise advice helped keep her feet on solid ground.

For reasons detailed in the book, Russell's film career was initially slow getting off the ground, though her longtime employer, producer Hughes, successfully kept her name in the news for years.

Starting out with no experience but learning from some of the best in the business, Russell grew into a remarkably adept movie personality. By her third film she was credibly more than holding her own doing comedy opposite Bob Hope in THE PALEFACE (1948). She also had wonderful chemistry with leading men including Robert Mitchum, Victor Mature, Jeff Chandler, and Clark Gable, and best of all was her pairing with Marilyn Monroe in the delightful GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES (1953).

As Rice points out, at times Russell's life was a series of contradictions. Despite her religious beliefs, Russell had an abortion which left her unable to conceive again (the father was rumored to be John Payne); after that event she recommitted to her faith. Eventually an adoptive mother of three, she put much of her considerable energy into adoption advocacy.

Russell's life may have looked glamorous to outsiders yet was filled with challenges. Her longtime marriage to pro football player Bob Waterfield was an up-and-down relationship which at times veered into domestic violence; she also endured the unexpected death of her 47-year-old second husband less than three months after their marriage. Her daughter Tracy attempted suicide as a teen; in the '70s son Buck was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. Alcoholism and drunk driving would also be issues at points in Jane's own life. She passed away in 2011.

Through it all, Jane still comes across as a spunky and confident woman whose offscreen persona seems to have been quite similar to the friendly woman seen on the big screen. I especially enjoyed new-to-me details about Jane's private life, such as the description of the Mid-Century Modern home she designed, and I also appreciated learning more about her side career singing Christian music.

While Jane often speaks for herself in the book thanks to quotes from her 1985 autobiography, the author's research goes far beyond that, including interviews, periodicals, Los Angeles Public Library files, and even DVD commentary tracks.

MEAN...MOODY...MAGNIFICENT! is 392 pages including an index, end notes, bibliography, and filmography. It contains 94 black and white photos. While I picked up on a couple minor typographical errors, they were nothing out of the ordinary in current-day publishing. This is a very nicely produced, attractive book in addition to being a pleasure to read.

I thoroughly enjoyed MEAN...MOODY...MAGNIFICENT!  I learned a great deal about Jane Russell and  enthusiastically recommend it.

Thanks to the University Press of Kentucky for providing a review copy of this book. 

The above photograph of author Christina Rice was taken by me at the book's June launch event at Larry Edmunds Bookshop in Hollywood.

Tonight's Movie: The Ice Road (2021)

From time to time my oldest daughter and I enjoy sharing a day of action movies, and this weekend we enjoyed such a "marathon" for the first time since COVID hit.

We had a great time watching four films yesterday, beginning with THE ICE ROAD (2021). Scroll to the end of this post for a preview of the other titles, as well as links to past action movie marathon reviews.

THE ICE ROAD is an original Netflix film starring Liam Neeson as weathered big rig driver Mike McCann.

Mike is inseparable from his brother Gurty (Marcus Thomas), a vet who has significant issues stemming from PTSD. Despite his problems, Gurty is nothing short of genius level when it comes to mechanic skills.

After being fired from their latest job due to Gurty's hot temper, the brothers land work with Jim Goldenrod (Laurence Fishburne) driving emergency supplies to the site of a diamond mine cave-in in Northern Canada. Time is of the essence for the delivery needed to make the rescue possible, as air will run out for the trapped miners after three days.

It's a very dangerous job driving big rigs over a road literally made of ice, but Mike is hoping to use the high pay to make a down payment on a big rig so he and his brother can go into business for themselves.

Three big rigs set out on the trek; in addition to Mike and Gurty's truck, one truck is driven by Goldenrod and the other by young Tantoo (Amber Midthunder), whose brother (Martin Sensmeier) is one of the trapped miners. She's accompanied in her truck by Tom (Benjamin Varnay), an insurance company rep.

No one will be surprised that, thanks to both nature and people with nefarious intentions regarding the mine, things don't go as smoothly as hoped for the drivers in this 109-minute film.

A Twitter acquaintance likened the movie to a "live action comic book," while the constant perils made me think of watching a series of movie serial cliffhangers, one after the other. There were also some serial-quality cartoony villains and aspects of the film were predictable or unbelievable, but hey, it's a Liam Neeson action movie!

Despite (because of?) the "Perils of Neeson" qualities, I had a good time watching this film, as it delivered pretty much what I was expecting. You name it, it happens: Cracking ice, jackknifed rigs, an avalanche, a collapsing bridge, and saboteurs, to name just the most significant problems.

As ever, Neeson does his "beaten down but definitely not out" thing to perfection, and he and Thomas sensitively convey their brotherly relationship. When Neesom at one point said "Now I'm angry," I might have let out a cheer.

Potential spoiler alert: Fishburne's role is somewhat closer to a cameo than a costar, as he exits the film surprisingly early. I enjoyed Midthunder as the gutsy, somewhat embittered young driver; her character's relationship with her endangered brother is a nice complement to the depiction of the Neeson-Thomas brothers.

The movie was written and directed by Jonathan Hensleigh. I especially enjoyed the movie's icy "look," filmed by Tom Stern in Manitoba, Canada. The unique ice road setting definitely provided added interest.

Parental Advisory: This film is not being shown theatrically in the U.S., but IMDb lists a rating of PG-13. There is some bad language and non-bloody yet sometimes disturbing violence; I found one death in particular was unexpected and shocking. The rating strikes me as appropriate; young children might be troubled by some story aspects. Positive themes include family loyalty and a determination by the lead characters to help those in need.

A trailer is here.

Coming this week: Reviews of the other films seen yesterday, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE II (2000), MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III (2006), and THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT (2006).

Previous action movie marathon reviews: 2016, 2017, and 2018.

Previous Liam Neeson action film reviews: UNKNOWN (2011), NON-STOP (2014), and THE COMMUTER (2018).

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...Flicker Alley has announced a really interesting Blu-ray set scheduled for release this fall: IN THE SHADOW OF HOLLYWOOD: HIGHLIGHTS FROM POVERTY ROW. It features four films: MIDNIGHT (also known as CALL IT MURDER) (1934) with Sidney Fox, Humphrey Bogart, and O.P. Heggie; BACK PAGE (1934) with Peggy Shannon; WOMAN IN THE DARK (1934) with Fay Wray and Ralph Bellamy; and THE CRIME OF DR. CRESPI (1935) starring Erich von Stroheim. As I read the list I was thinking these are the types of films I miss seeing at UCLA or Cinecon -- and what do you know, THE CRIME OF DR. CRESPI has a commentary track by Jan-Christopher Horak, who recently retired as the head of the UCLA Film & Television Archive. I hope to review this set later this year.

...William Randolph Hearst's former Beverly Hills estate has just sold for $47 million. The New York Post has photos.

...Coming in November from TCM and Running Press: HOLLYWOOD VICTORY: THE MOVIES, STARS AND STORIES OF WORLD WAR II by Christian Blauvelt.

...Speaking of upcoming books, Raquel Stecher's "New and Upcoming Classic Film Books" posts are always of great interest, and her latest list is now available! A joint memoir by Ron and Clint Howard, THE BOYS: A MEMOIR OF HOLLYWOOD AND FAMILY, sounds like a "must read."  I'm intrigued by a few other titles as well. Incidentally, I'll be reviewing Scott Eyman's book on 20th Century-Fox.

...Glenn Erickson's latest CineSavant reviews include the new Kino Lorber Blu-ray release of UNION PACIFIC (1939)...At Watching Classic Movies, KC has reviewed the Warner Archive's I WOULDN'T BE IN YOUR SHOES (1948)...Caftan Woman takes a look at BRIGADOON (1954) for the 5th Annual Van Johnson Blogathon...The Van Johnson Blogathon's hostess, Michaela of Love Letters to Old Hollywood, discusses "Six Underrated Van Johnson Films." I liked the four I've seen...Jocelyn of Classic Film Observations and Obsessions reviews the wonderful film A CANTERBURY TALE (1944) (with Sheila Sim, seen here) as part of her ongoing "50 Years of Film in 50 Weeks" project...At Classic Movie Hub, Danilo Castro has reviewed Robert Mitchum and Faith Domergue in WHERE DANGER LIVES (1950).

...The "Pioneer Woman," Ree Drummond, will star with longtime soap actor John McCook in the movie CANDY COATED CHRISTMAS (2021) for the Discovery+ streaming service.

...Kimberly Williams-Paisley and Ashley Williams discuss their upcoming pair of Hallmark Christmas movies with People. The real-life sisters plays sisters in the movies, which will have interconnected stories taking place simultaneously.

...Notable Passings: Longtime ALL MY CHILDREN star Michael Nader, who also played "Dex" Dexter on DYNASTY in the '80s, has passed away at 76...I was sorry to learn from the Boot Hill obituary site that film historian Scott Allen Nollen has died at 58. I reviewed his book THREE BAD MEN: JOHN FORD, JOHN WAYNE, WARD BOND in 2013. His other titles included biographies of Glenda Farrell, Takashi Shimura, and Chester Morris. I corresponded with him periodically over the years, most recently 18 months ago, and found him a very nice gentleman. My condolences to his family.

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

Monday, August 23, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

The MGM musical TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME (1949) is now available on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive.

I've always been fond of this film, which I saw on TV several times growing up; I was also fortunate to see it on a big screen at L.A.'s Tiffany Theater, circa late '70s.

The plot isn't anything spectacular, and the score (mostly by Roger Edens, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green), while catchy, is middling; by today's standards some lyrics also haven't aged well. That said, the pleasing cast in a colorful film with a baseball theme has always worked for me, drawing me back to the film many times over the years -- and it now looks better than ever, thanks to the Warner Archive.

TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME stars Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra in the second of their three films together; they had previously made ANCHORS AWEIGH (1945), while ON THE TOWN (1949) would be released eight months after TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME.

In TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME Kelly and Sinatra play Eddie O'Brien and Dennis Ryan, infielders on the World Champion Wolves baseball team in the early 1900s. The two men also pair up for a vaudeville song-and-dance act in the offseason.

As the new season is getting underway, the team is introduced to the new owner -- and the men are all greatly surprised when K.C. Higgins turns out to be a woman named Katherine (Esther Williams). K.C. soon proves she knows baseball inside and out, and what's more, she's got a great throwing arm.

Dennis initially has a crush on K.C., while he's simultaneously pursued by enthusiastic Shirley (Betty Garrett); Eddie and K.C. clash but eventually recognize they've developed feelings for one another. Meanwhile, gangster Joe Lorgan (Edward Arnold) wants Eddie to throw games...

Kelly and Stanley Donen cowrote the story for the screenplay by Harry Tugend and George Wells, and they also did the choreography. BALL GAME led to Kelly and Donen codirecting ON THE TOWN, followed by SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952) and IT'S ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER (1955).

As mentioned, the story of this 93-minute film is fairly flimsy. The movie's other biggest issue is that I find Kelly's arrogant Eddie hasn't worn well over the years, and Eddie becoming involved with mobsters makes him even less likeable.

I used to think that Kelly wasn't especially well-matched with Williams but have revised that opinion; Williams has such a strong personality herself that it's just what's needed to take Eddie down a peg or two. (The actors are said to have clashed somewhat offscreen as well.) The bubbly, confident Williams is absolutely delightful in this, even with just one brief but charming swimming scene. Her line readings are note perfect, with great timing, and she even sings a little; the lady could do far more than swim!

Sinatra's wonderful in every way, handling comedy, dancing, and of course singing with ease. His opening dance number with Kelly impresses me more every time I see the movie; not everyone could pull off some of those moves, even with MGM training, but he's flawless. It's a great pleasure watching these two pros performing together.

I've always had a soft spot for the high-energy Garrett, who I saw a couple times in her one-woman stage show in the late '70s. (Now that I think about it, I also saw Sinatra in concert, circa 1983.) This film at times seems like a dry run for Sinatra and Garrett's roles in ON THE TOWN, but Garrett has a much better wardrobe in this movie!

The gowns by Helen Rose look absolutely stunning on the new Blu-ray, as does every other aspect of the film. I've been extremely impressed with the Warner Archive's MGM musical releases, and this film must surely be tied at the top of the list for brilliant picture quality. The Technicolor absolutely pops, and the picture is so crisp that for the first time in my life I could even make out a seam in the "sky" backdrop at the big clambake sequence. Rather than finding that bit of reality distracting, I was fascinated, including the fact that I was able to notice it.

The clambake, which combines important romantic developments with the songs "Strictly U.S.A." and "The Hat My Dear Old Father Wore Upon St. Patrick's Day," is probably my favorite part of the movie. There are some fun things to pick out in this sequence, including actress-dancer Sally Forrest prominently featured in the chorus of "Strictly U.S.A." Later in 1949 Forrest would star in NOT WANTED (1949), the first of three powerful dramas she made with director Ida Lupino. What an interesting career year! Forrest had also been a chorus dancer in Sinatra's THE KISSING BANDIT (1948) the previous year.

Fans of "recycled" costumes will want to check out a post by The Blonde at the Film, who points out a couple of dresses from THE HARVEY GIRLS (1946) which turn up on chorus girls at the clambake.

I also love the memorable tune about the double-play team of "O'Brien to Ryan to Goldberg," which Kelly and Sinatra perform with Jules Munshin as first baseman Nat Goldberg. It's one of those hummable tunes which stays with you.

Also of note: The final number breaks the "fourth wall," including Williams and Garrett ribbing Kelly and Sinatra with the names Astaire and Crosby. It's an unusual bit but does, as the lyrics suggest, end things "on a happy note."

This was the last feature film directing credit for Busby Berkeley, who would continue to work as a choreographer. The movie was filmed by George J. Folsey. Richard Lane and Tom Dugan costar.

Blu-ray disc extras consist of two deleted musical numbers, which are always especially welcome; the trailer, a cartoon, and a song selection menu.

While not the best of MGM, TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME is a film I've returned to many times over the years, which I think says something about its overall value. Musical fans will definitely want this spectacularly beautiful Warner Archive Blu-ray.

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 Collection Amazon Store or any online retailers where Blu-rays are sold.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Children of Divorce (1927) - A Flicker Alley Blu-ray Review

Clara Bow, Gary Cooper, and Esther Ralston star in the silent melodrama CHILDREN OF DIVORCE (1927), available on Blu-ray from Flicker Alley.

CHILDREN OF DIVORCE was previously released by Flicker Alley in a Blu-ray/DVD combo set which is now out of print. Flicker Alley has recently made the film available via a manufactured on demand (MOD) Blu-ray which is the edition I reviewed.

Bow and Ralston play Kitty and Jean, who meet as lonely children (played by Joyce Coad and Yvonne Pelletier) in a convent school. The girls' divorced parents essentially abandon them to the school to raise, only seeing them on vacations -- and maybe not even then.

Jean pledges to marry young Ted (Marion Feducha), and when Ted grows up (Cooper) he reminds her of her promise. Jean wants Ted to make more of himself than being a wealthy layabout and asks him to go to work first, inadvertently leaving the door open for Kitty to steal in and marry Ted herself one night when he's drunk.

Kitty is herself in love with Prince Vico (Einar Hanson) but refused to marry him because they are both poor. Her decision to reject true love for money, stealing her best friend's sweetheart in the process, leads to tragedy.

CHILDREN OF DIVORCE is filled with poignant moments featuring abandoned children, thwarted love, and more, but despite the ongoing sadness I quite enjoyed the movie, which is well-crafted and features a top cast.

I loved seeing Cooper a few years ago in THE WINNING OF BARBARA WORTH (1926) and enjoyed the chance to see him in another silent film. That said, he really takes a back seat as his character is caught between the two actresses, Bow and Ralston; the somewhat unconventional storyline features them playing women who manage to weather Kitty's betrayal due to the close bond they initially formed as children.

Bow, previously seen by me in HELEN'S BABIES (1924) and GET YOUR MAN (1927), plays a "Jazz baby" flapper whose wild behavior hides her life of pain. Her oft-married mother (Hedda Hopper) viewed her as an encumbrance when she was a child and as a meal ticket once Kitty grows old enough to marry.

Ralston, who was charming as Mrs. Darling in PETER PAN (1924), is equally sweet here as the more reserved Jean. Jean also grew up without the security of parental love, but wealth ("the richest girl in America") has given her the cushion to have, in some ways, an easier life than Kitty.

Throughout their lives, Jean acts as Kitty's protector and conscience. She takes the younger Kitty under her wing in the convent and later refuses to let the unhappy Kitty divorce Ted, not wanting Ted and Kitty's daughter (Mary Louise Miller) to grow up as they did, a child of divorce.

Jean might initially seem unbelievably sweet, but we see that she has a spine of steel, refusing to take what's hers for the asking in order to do the right thing. She gives the audience a sympathetic character to follow throughout the movie, hoping that she'll ultimately find happiness.

Hanson is also quite good as Prince Vico. When we first meet him we assume he's a shallow playboy, but as time goes on it's revealed that Kitty is genuinely his true love. Kitty believed they would come to dislike each other if they married without money, but in refusing him she caused pain for all four parties.

The movie was directed by Frank Lloyd and the uncredited Josef von Sternberg; it was filmed by Norbert Brodine and Victor Milner. The Travis Banton costumes and set design of this Paramount film are all top-notch.

Of note to Western fans: Future cowboy star Bill Elliott is said to be a party guest, in one of his very earliest bit roles; I'll look for him next time!

The Flicker Alley print has a good score performed by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. It's a very nice print; there are what look like a couple of very brief negative defects in a scene near movie's end, but otherwise the film looks quite good.

Disc extras are the 63-minute documentary CLARA BOW: DISCOVERING THE IT GIRL (1999) and an image gallery.

Flicker Alley has also created a set of "online extras" including a look at the film's fashions by Karie Bible, an article on Kitty and Jean's relationship by Beth Ann Gallagher, an essay on the movie itself by Nora Fiore (the "Nitrate Diva"), and more.

CHILDREN OF DIVORCE is a well-made film, nicely presented by Flicker Alley. Recommended.

Thanks to Flicker Alley for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.

CHILDREN OF DIVORCE may be purchased at the Flicker Alley website (fulfilled by Movie Zyng) as well as through retailers such as Amazon.

Tonight's Movie: The Gilded Lily (1935) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

THE GILDED LILY (1935), a romantic comedy starring Claudette Colbert, Fred MacMurray, and Ray Milland, is now available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber.

Colbert plays Marilyn, a secretary who takes time every Thursday to meet her friend Pete (MacMurray), a reporter, for popcorn and a chat.

It's clear that Pete's in love with Marilyn and is hoping she'll come to feel the same way, but instead she falls for Charles Gray (Milland), an unemployed man she meets on the subway.

Marilyn and Charles have a whirlwind romance, but Charles is keeping important information from Marilyn: The truth is he's a member of the British nobility, with a fiancee back in England. He's sincere in his feelings for Marilyn but makes an unforgiveable mistake: Instead of telling Marilyn the truth when he sails for England to break things off with his fiancee, he lies and tells her he's headed south to train for a new job.

As Charles leaves the country, Pete breaks a newspaper story about a member of the British nobility having been in the U.S. incognito, not realizing that he's writing about the man Marilyn loves. When she finds out the truth about Charles, she's crushed and understandably feels played for a fool. Pete, angry on Marilyn's behalf, uses the newspaper to exact some revenge on Charles, and in the process Marilyn becomes a celebrity.

MacMurray and Milland were both rising stars when cast opposite Colbert; the film was quite early in MacMurray's career, while Milland had over two dozen credits, slowly working his way up from bit parts into romantic leads. They're each so appealing that the movie's only real flaw is that Claude Binyon's screenplay is forced to create conflicts between Colbert and Milland that are a bit hard to believe. The characters are so head over heels for one another in the early scenes that their breakup gives the film a rather sad undercurrent.

That said, there's a lot of great stuff in the movie, which made a star of MacMurray. He's wonderful as the man waiting in the wings who quietly campaigns for Marilyn's heart while supporting her decisions, even when they're not what he hopes.

Pete and Marilyn's "bench" scenes are fascinating because while they're not actually doing much of anything but talking and eating popcorn, a world of information is conveyed about the characters and their relationship. We enjoy their easy familiarity, with rituals such as Pete removing his shoes while he relaxes. Marilyn's gradual recognition of her feelings for Pete, the man who is always there for her, is extremely well done.

Likewise, when not stuck with dumb choices by the film's screenplay, culminating in a complete letdown about Charles's real values and feelings for Marilyn, Milland is an utterly charming romantic lead. Like MacMurray, his career was on a sharp upward trajectory after this film.

Having seen some fairly bland leading men at times over the years, most recently in the same year's Mae West film GOIN' TO TOWN (1935), the amount of star power exhibited by both actors opposite the always-stellar Colbert is striking. In some ways, actors either have that magic or they don't, and both MacMurray and Milland definitely had it.

The chemistry between Colbert and both her leading men was such that she would make half a dozen additional films with MacMurray over the next 12 years, as well as two more with Milland in the early '40s. Colbert and Milland's next film together, ARISE, MY LOVE (1940), will be reviewed here in the near future.

As I've written in past tributes to Colbert, years later both actors would say warm things about her; MacMurray described how Colbert patiently helped him learn to act for the camera, while Milland said Colbert was "spiritually lovely inside."

For more on THE GILDED LILY and its role in the careers of both MacMurray and Milland, please check out my original review from 2010.

Fans of Colbert will especially appreciate her letter-perfect performance as Marilyn walks the line between her two relationships, her choices always believable. A scene where Marilyn's celebrity is used to draw visitors to a nightclub has a brilliant moment where she levels with the audience about her ability, or lack thereof, instantly winning their sympathy.

It's also of note that the movie has some interesting things to say about celebrity which haven't dated whatsoever in the ensuing decades. At one point Pete comments that Marilyn is famous simply because she's someone with her name in the paper. The recognition that celebrity is often disconnected from actual achievement still has resonance in the age of the Kardashians, who are famous for being famous and not much else.

THE GILDED LILY was directed by Wesley Ruggles and filmed by Victor Milner. It runs 80 minutes.

The supporting cast also includes C. Aubrey Smith, Luis Alberni, Eddie Craven, Donald Meek, Edward Gargan, Tom Dugan, Warren Hymer, and Forrester Harvey.

The Blu-ray print and sound quality are both solid.  Disc extras include the trailer, a gallery of seven additional trailers for other films available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber, and a commentary track by Kat Ellinger.

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


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