Sunday, October 31, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Four Frightened People (1934) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

2021 has been a great year for fans of Claudette Colbert, thanks to Kino Lorber.

I've reviewed a number of Kino Lorber's recent Blu-ray releases of her films, with a couple more to follow this review, and there's even more great Colbert viewing on the horizon.  Kino Lorber just announced the upcoming Blu-ray release of Colbert's excellent WWII classic SO PROUDLY WE HAIL (1943).

I first saw FOUR FRIGHTENED PEOPLE (1934) in 35mm at UCLA in 2015, where it was shown as part of an excellent Cecil B. DeMille series. I found the movie great fun and was thus very happy to go back to it a half-dozen years later thanks to this new Blu-ray.

I learned at the screening back in 2015 that FOUR FRIGHTENED PEOPLE was not considered a success in its day, which led to director DeMille being "locked in" to directing epics, as his films in that genre were all very successful.

Seen from the vantage point of today, it's quite an enjoyable movie, balancing jungle excitement with a thoughtful theme of each of the four title characters' true selves being revealed via an unexpected adventure.

The movie begins in exciting fashion with the four people hiding on a lifeboat: Judy (Colbert), a shy geography teacher; Arnold (Herbert Marshall), a timid scientist; Stewart (William Gargan), a brash reporter; and flighty yet determined Mrs. Mardick (Mary Boland), a society lady whose latest pet project is teaching family planning.

The foursome are escaping a deadly outbreak of bubonic plague on the steamer on which they'd been traveling. They're fortunate to meet a friendly guide (Leo Carrillo) when they go ashore, but it's a long, tough hike through the jungle to find civilization. Along the way they run into deadly snakes and other jungle animals, dangerous plants, and native tribes.

The repressed Judy eventually loses her eyeglasses and most of her clothes, emerging as the ultimate "jungle babe" to tempt both the men. Although Stewart first seems to have the edge, he turns out to be a blowhard, and it's shy, thoughtful Arnold who steals Judy's heart.

Unfortunately Arnold has a most unpleasant wife (Nella Walker) back home...

This is a delightful Hollywood fantasy which moves quickly, running only 78 minutes. Colbert in particular is excellent as Judy gradually emerges from her shell. 

Boland provides delightful comic relief as she trudges through the jungle carrying her little dog; her last big scene, where jungle tribesmen threaten to kill her because she's taught their wives about family planning, is absolutely hilarious.

The movie was filmed by Karl Struss, including location shooting in Hawaii.

Kino Lorber's Blu-ray is excellent. There are some faint vertical lines in the opening credits, but most of the print looks and sounds great.

Kino Lorber's Blu-ray extras consist of the movie trailer, a 13-film trailer gallery, and a commentary track by Nick Pinkerton.

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

Tonight's Movie: Mary Stevens, M.D. (1933) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

The great Kay Francis stars as MARY STEVENS, M.D. (1933), just released on a beautiful Blu-ray by the Warner Archive.

The Warner Archive Blu-ray print of this classic pre-Code melodrama is sensational, with top-drawer video and audio. I was quite impressed.

I first saw the movie in 2009, and I liked it even more on this second viewing. It's a perfect exemplar of what Kay Francis movies are all about, with Kay suffering nobly while wearing fabulous Orry-Kelly least when she's not in doctor's scrubs!

Mary and her best friend Don Andrews (Lyle Talbot) graduate medical school and open a practice together. They struggle at first, working to make ends meet while serving a poor clientele, but things begin to look up when Don meets a rich politician's daughter, Lois (Thelma Todd).

Don marries Lois and gets a better job while also securing one for Mary. He's oblivious to the fact that Mary loves him until his marriage quickly runs aground. Don and Mary then make plans to wed as soon as Lois goes to Reno...only to have Lois abruptly announce she's not ready to get a divorce because she's pregnant.

Little does Don know he's about to be a father twice over...or is he?

It might sound strange given the amount of tragedy Mary faces in this film, but it's a great deal of fun to watch. It's the quintessential Francis melodrama, moving at a very quick 72 minutes and peppered with some great comic relief thanks to the wisecracking Glenda Farrell as Mary's nurse and best friend.

Given Mary's intelligence in most areas, it's frankly hard to understand what she sees in dithering Don, whose irresponsibility nearly leads to both legal and medical tragedies. He seems to turn his life around once he commits to Mary, but he's made such a hash of his life to that point that he and Mary must both keep paying the price a year or more longer.

Francis is marvelous, making Mary a fully developed character, including that inexplicable hang-up over Don. One minute she's a no-nonsense doctor skillfully handling a knife-wielding, hysterical expectant father and a laboring mother...another minute she's on the floor cooing at a baby...and in yet another scene she's glowing with love, wearing one of those fabulous gowns. The grief Francis conveyes in the movie's final scenes is heart-breaking.

One of the things I also frankly appreciate about the film is that, perhaps contrary to what one might expect from a pre-Code film, it's enthusiastically pro-life. Mary discusses encouraging an unwed patient to have her baby and then lives up to that advice herself.

MARY STEVENS, M.D., was briskly directed by Lloyd Bacon, with "dialogue direction" by William Keighley. The cinematography was by Sid Hickox. The screenplay by Rian James and Robert Lord was based on a story by Virginia Kellogg.

The Warner Archive Blu-ray includes the trailer.

As I wrote a dozen years ago, MARY STEVENS, M.D., is essential viewing for anyone interested in pre-Codes or Kay Francis. Recommended.

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 from any online retailers where Blu-rays are sold.

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween!

Here's lovely Ellen Drew to celebrate the day.

Drew's film and television career began in 1936 and spanned a quarter century. Along the way she starred in a number of fine films including CHRISTMAS IN JULY (1940), JOHNNY O'CLOCK (1947), and STARS IN MY CROWN (1950).

Born in 1914, she passed away in Palm Desert, California, in 2003, age 89.

Have a fun day!

Previous Halloween posts, in reverse chronological order: Martha Vickers, Gale Robbins, Penny Edwards, and Barbara Bates (2020), Ann Rutherford (2019), Janis Paige (2018), Ella Raines (2017), Veronica Lake (2016), Barbara Bates (2015), Marsha Hunt (2014), Linda Darnell (2013), and the BEWITCHED cast (2012).

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Tonight's TV: The Indian Doctor - Series 1 (2010) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

When I read about Kino Lorber's release of the British TV series THE INDIAN DOCTOR (2010-2013), I was immediately intrigued.

The "fish out of water" premise, with the title character (Sanjeev Bhaskar) and his wife (Ayesha Dharker) relocating from India to a small Welsh village, seemed somewhat reminiscent of one of my favorite TV series, NORTHERN EXPOSURE (1990-95).

I've just completed watching Series 1 (2010) and really enjoyed it. The show is set in the early 1960s -- an added plus for me -- and smart, friendly Dr. Prem Sharma (Bhaskar) and his more reticent wife Kamini (Dharker) have just arrived in Wales, where Dr. Sharma is going to work for Britain's National Health Service.

The Sharmas, who are mourning the recent death of their young daughter, face struggles in their new home. While some of the villagers are friendly and appreciative of having a doctor in their midst, others are uncertain about a "foreign" doctor.

In turn, the regal, well-connected Kamini has trouble adjusting and pesters her husband to move on to a more metropolitan area, such as London.

In time, each of the Sharmas finds a mission; Prem uncovers a scandal regarding dangerous working conditions for the local miners, while Kamini strikes up a friendship with rebellious young Dan (Jacob Oakley), son of a miner (Ifan Huw Daffyd). Helping the motherless, troubled Dan fills a hole left in Kamini's life by her daughter's death.

I quite enjoyed Season 1, chiefly for the interesting performances of the two lead actors. Some of the characters, particular the villainous mine manager (Mark Williams), are too cartoony, and the show is also a bit more crass at times than I generally care for.

Those drawbacks are offset by Bhaskar's warm performance as Prem, who tends to avoid discussing the hard things with Kamini, instead burying himself in his work.

The highlight of the show for me is Dharker as the doctor's brainy, lonely -- and I might add very beautiful -- wife. She's initially depicted as somewhat controlling, attempting to arrange Prem's career to her liking. Though quiet in the face of his wife's "managing," Prem also has a stiff spine, and as she realizes they're not going anywhere, Kamini tentatively starts to be friendly with medical receptionist Gina (Naomi Everson), then finds herself increasingly involved in young Dan's life.

Kamini, who is from a well-off family acquainted with rich and powerful Britons, is at times as disdainful of the locals as those who view her as an oddity, but over time the layers are peeled back to reveal a hurting and caring woman. Dharker's performance in particular makes the series worth watching, and I'm very much looking forward to Seasons 2 and 3.

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray set contains the entire series, with each season (from 2010, 2012, and 2013) on its own disc. I thought I'd go ahead and post my review of Season 1 now, and I'll either add updates to this review later or post separate reviews of the ensuing seasons.

I appreciate the wide variety of quality releases Kino Lorber is making available for home viewing, from classic films and documentaries to TV-movies and TV series. THE INDIAN DOCTOR is quite different from the usual TV series, and I recommend it.

Update: Here is a review of Season 2.

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

Tonight's Movie: Larceny (1948) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

In recent months Kino Lorber has released several wonderful "never on DVD" film noir titles, including THE WEB (1947) and ALIAS NICK BEAL (1949), with NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES (1948) coming next month.

Another title I was thrilled to see released on Blu-ray was LARCENY (1948), which I first saw in 2013.

Since that first viewing I also saw LARCENY in 35mm at both the 2014 Noir City Film Festival and the 2018 Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival, but a release for home viewing never happened...until now!

I've found LARCENY thoroughly engaging on each viewing, although it admittedly seems to run out of plot prematurely at the 89-minute mark.

The screenplay is by Herb Margolis, Lou Morheim, and William Bowers; Bowers had a knack for terrific dialogue, including in THE WEB, ABANDONED (1949), and CRY DANGER (1951), as well as the later SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF! (1969). The movie bristles with terrific lines, delivered with flair by lead actors John Payne and Dan Duryea.

Payne plays Rick Mason, a con artist who's part of a gang headed by Silky Randall (Duryea).

The men's latest "mark" is war widow Deborah Clark (Joan Caulfield), who lives in the small town of Mission City, California. Mission City is apparently located near Pasadena, where some of the movie's location shooting was done; Deborah and Rick spend New Year's Day at the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl.

Rick and Silky plan to use Deborah to raise funds for a boys' club in memory of her late husband, after which they'll make off with the dough, but as Rick falls for Deborah he has trouble going through with the plan. When Deborah decides to kick in a large sum of money herself Rick's guilt kicks into overdrive, but if he doesn't follow through, Silky is a dangerous man to cross.

Ultimately the movie doesn't seem to know quite what to do with Payne's no-good ladies' man, who also catches the eye of a waitress (Patricia Alphin) and a secretary (the fabulous Dorothy Hart, who is way underused in this film). That said, I've come to like the ending more with each successive viewing, partly because I know what to expect and partly because it provides a great line for Duryea, who like Hart could have used a bit more screen time.

Shelley Winters is also on hand as Silky's masochistic moll. I'm not the world's biggest Winters fan, particularly when it comes to her more pathetic characters, but I've definitely come to appreciate what she offers in a film like this one or PLAYGIRL (1954), which I just saw for a second time at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival.

LARCENY was directed by George Sherman and filmed in black and white by Irving Glassberg.

Kino Lorber's Blu-ray looks and sounds as good as is typical for the company. It's a great pleasure to watch this film, and I'm so appreciative it's now available for home viewing at long last. Film noir fans should definitely snap this one up.

Disc extras are a commentary track by Eddy Von Mueller and trailers for eight additional film noir titles available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber.

LARCENY is also available from Kino Lorber on DVD.

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...

...Barnes & Noble's annual half-price Criterion Collection fall sale started yesterday! The sale will run through November 29th. A couple weeks ago I took advantage of a flash half-price sale on the Criterion Collection site to pick up the new Blu-ray set containing HIGH SIERRA (1941) and COLORADO TERRITORY (1949).  That would be an excellent sale option for those who don't have it yet!  (P.S. You can read CineSavant Glenn Erickson's take on HIGH SIERRA and COLORADO TERRITORY here.)

...In a review earlier this week I mentioned ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES (1938) will be released on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive Collection in December. Also coming to Blu-ray from the Warner Archive in December: IVANHOE (1952), starring Robert Taylor, Elizabeth Taylor, and Joan Fontaine.

...The University Press of Kentucky is republishing NATALIE WOOD: A LIFE by Gavin Lambert in paperback in November. The book was originally published in 2004. I plan to review it here in coming weeks. As an aside, Lambert's 1973 book GWTW: THE MAKING OF GONE WITH THE WIND was one of the first film books I read or owned.

...My friend Karie Bible has written a lovely essay on "The Hollywood Forever Cemetery Cat" for the Palos Verdes Post. Karie and Close Up the cat will also be featured in an episode of a new PBS TV series, World's Greatest Cemeteries.

...Here's Leonard Maltin on Larry Edmunds Bookshop. It was great to see Jeff of Larry Edmunds manning the book sale table at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival in Palm Springs last weekend!

...Disney has pushed back its Marvel release calendar. ETERNALS (2021) still comes out next week, on November 4th, followed by SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME (2021) the week before Christmas, but there will not be a Marvel film in March 2022 as originally planned. The first Marvel film next year will be DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS in May, followed by THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER (2021) in July and BLACK PANTHER II: WAKANDA FOREVER (2021) in November. THE MARVELS has been pushed back from fall 2022 to early 2023. Additionally, the untitled INDIANA JONES film was pushed back a year, from 2022 to 2023.

...Some of the latest great news from Kino Lorber: The outstanding SO PROUDLY WE HAIL (1943), starring Claudette Colbert, Paulette Goddard, and Veronica Lake, is "coming soon," and CHINA (1943), with Alan Ladd and Loretta Young, will be released January 4th. Also in the works in the Studio Classics line: A set of Fu Manchu movies.

...Hollywood Boulevard's historic Pig 'N Whistle restaurant, where I've enjoyed many meals over the years, has changed hands, and the new owners are treating the building with a distressing lack of care. They've gutted the beautifully restored building, and it turns out they didn't even have proper permits. The city has issued a stop work order, but the horse is already out of the barn, as the saying goes.

...Changes are coming to the Warner Bros. movie ranch.

...I'm intrigued by the new documentary THE RESCUE (2021), about the boys' soccer team rescued from a flooded cave by uniquely skilled cave divers. Retired Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan Tweeted "No documentary I've seen so far this year has stayed with me like 'The Rescue.'" Brian Tallerico of Roger says "It unfolds with stunning precision." A trailer is here. The movie is from National Geographic so hopefully this will turn up on Disney+ at some point.

...I had no idea that Ann Dvorak's biographer, Christina Rice, was married at Ann's former home several years ago. She tells the great story here.

...L.A. LAW (1986-94) is being "rebooted" with original cast members Blair Underwood and Corbin Bernsen in the cast.

...An Indiewire story by Christian Blauvelt and Kristen Lopez on classic film accessibility has some interesting quotes from people like Pola Chagnon of Turner Classic Movies and Bruce Goldstein of New York's Film Forum.

...At Once Upon a Screen, Aurora writes about "Tricks and Treats from Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard"...Over at Speakeasy, Kristina's written about CHRISTMAS IN JULY (1940)...Raquel Stecher did a video review of two Claudette Colbert films released by Kino Lorber, ARISE, MY LOVE (1940) and NO TIME FOR LOVE (1941)...SWEATER GIRL (1942), which Jessica writes about at Comet Over Hollywood, sounds like fun; Jessica describes it as "an unexpected delight!" Eddie Bracken and June Preisser star.

...Also from Jessica: A Halloween cake from "Mickey Rooney's Halloween Party." The recipe originally appeared in a 1941 issue of Modern Screen.

...Here's an interview with TCM's Alicia Malone at Film Inquiry.  The interview was conducted by Lee Jutton.

...Last May I mentioned a pending remake of THE HOMECOMING (1971), the classic TV-movie which kicked off THE WALTONS.  Original HOMECOMING/WALTONS star Richard Thomas will serve as narrator.  The remake has been announced to debut November 28th on the CW Network.

...I'd love to see Alan Rode's featurette on Indicator's new Region 2 Blu-ray release of GRAY LADY DOWN (1978), which has been reviewed by Glenn Erickson. Alan draws on his years in the navy to deliver what Erickson describes as a "forty-minute talk about submarining, historical accidents and disasters, and various rescue systems..." I need to order it at some point!

...Erickson has also reviewed Kino Lorber's new release of THE MAD DOCTOR (1940), starring Basil Rathbone and Ellen Drew.

...Tyler Malone, whom I've had the pleasure of meeting in Lone Pine, has a new article out on the theme of motive in horror films.

...People has a big list of all of this year's upcoming Christmas TV-movies.

...Notable Passings: James Garner's daughter Gigi announced the passing of her mother, Lois, at the age of 98. Lois, who married James Garner in 1956, was widowed when he passed away in 2014...Actress Betty Lynn (seen at right) passed away in North Carolina on October 16th. She was 95. Best known for her role as Thelma Lou on THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW (1961-66), she also appeared in a number of films, including JUNE BRIDE (1948), MOTHER IS A FRESHMAN (1949), and TAKE CARE OF MY LITTLE GIRL (1951)...Singer Ginny Mancini, the widow of composer Henry Mancini, has passed on at 97. Marc Myers has a wonderful, photo-filled tribute at JazzWax; I highly recommend checking it out to learn about her interesting life...Former Miss America Jo-Carroll Dennison, who appeared in small roles in a number of films and was briefly married to Phil Silvers, has died at 97.

...For additional recent links of interest to classic film fans, please check out my October 16th roundup.

A Birthday Tribute to Ruth Hussey

Actress Ruth Hussey was born 110 years ago today, on October 30th, 1911.

Hussey was born in Providence, Rhode Island. An early career in modeling led her to Hollywood, where she found success at MGM.

She appeared steadily in films from 1937 through the early '50s, after which she focused chiefly on television and the theater.

Hussey's warm, intelligent presence is always welcome in classic films. Her movies included an Oscar-nominated role in THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940), seen here with Cary Grant:

She also played Ray Milland's sister in the beloved ghost story THE UNINVITED (1944)...

...and she was Jordan Baker in the 1949 version of THE GREAT GATSBY, seen here with Macdonald Carey as Nick Carraway:

Hussey married Charles Robert Longenecker in 1942, a union which would last until his passing in 2002. They had two sons and a daughter.

Ruth Hussey passed away in Newbury Park, California, on April 19, 2005.

In 2019 I paid my respects at her final resting place at Valley Oaks Memorial Park in Westlake Village, California.

Having seen over 20 of Ruth Hussey's films, I'm deeply appreciative of her work, which will continue to entertain audiences for as long as movies survive.

Ruth Hussey films reviewed at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings: MAN-PROOF (1938) (also here), HOLD THAT KISS (1938), HONOLULU (1938), SPRING MADNESS (1938), RICH MAN, POOR GIRL (1938), ANOTHER THIN MAN (1939), WITHIN THE LAW (1939), FAST AND FURIOUS (1939), THE WOMEN (1939), BLACKMAIL (1939), SUSAN AND GOD (1940), FLIGHT COMMAND (1940), FREE AND EASY (1941), PIERRE OF THE PLAINS (1942), TENNESSEE JOHNSON (1942), TENDER COMRADE (1943) (also here), MARINE RAIDERS (1944), THE UNINVITED (1944) (also here), BEDSIDE MANNER (1945), I, JANE DOE (1948), and THE GREAT GATSBY (1949).

Friday, October 29, 2021

A Birthday Tribute to Geraldine Brooks

The lovely, unique Geraldine Brooks was born in New York City on October 29, 1925.

She only appeared in a handful of classic Hollywood movies in the late '40s before moving on to foreign films and steady work in television. I've seen her in every one of those '40s films, most recently revisiting her in THE RECKLESS MOMENT (1949) at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival, and wish she'd made more.

Here's a photographic look at her early acting career, starting with POSSESSED (1947) with Joan Crawford:

CRY WOLF (1947) with Barbara Stanwyck:

She costarred in EMBRACEABLE YOU (1948) with Dane Clark. Her performance touched me deeply.

AN ACT OF MURDER (1948) with Fredric March...

...and Edmond O'Brien:

THE YOUNGER BROTHERS (1949) with Bruce Bennett:

THE RECKLESS MOMENT (1949) with Joan Bennett:

CHALLENGE TO LASSIE (1949) with Lassie and Ross Ford:

Brooks worked steadily in television, with one notable role coming in the BONANZA episode "Elizabeth, My Love" (1961), in which she played the first wife of Ben Cartwright (Lorne Greene), the mother of his son Adam (Pernell Roberts).

I recently learned that Brooks' sister, Gloria Stroock, was an actress, who among other things played Rock Hudson's secretary Maggie on MACMILLAND AND WIFE (1974-77).

Brooks was married to screenwriter Budd Schulberg from 1964 until her untimely passing. She was only 51 when she died in New York in 1977; she was fighting cancer and succumbed to a heart attack.

Geraldine Brooks films reviewed at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings: POSSESSED (1947), CRY WOLF (1947) (also here), EMBRACEABLE YOU (1948), AN ACT OF MURDER (1948), THE YOUNGER BROTHERS (1949), THE RECKLESS MOMENT (1949), CHALLENGE TO LASSIE (1949).

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