Monday, November 29, 2021

Arlene Dahl Has Died at 96

Beautiful actress Arlene Dahl has passed away. She died Monday, November 30, at the age of 96.

Dahl was born in Minnesota on August 11, 1925.

Her career included a few years at MGM where she appeared in a variety of genres including comedies, crime films, Westerns, and musicals; one of her most notable credits was THREE LITTLE WORDS (1950) with Fred Astaire, Vera-Ellen, and Red Skelton.

I particularly liked a pair of Westerns she made at MGM, AMBUSH (1950) with Robert Taylor...

...and THE OUTRIDERS (1950) with Barry Sullivan and Joel McCrea.

Outside of her MGM work I particularly liked Anthony Mann's "French Revolution noir" REIGN OF TERROR (1949), also known as THE BLACK BOOK, seen here with costar Robert Cummings:

She was also excellent as Rhonda Fleming's troubled sister in SLIGHTLY SCARLET (1956). Fleming passed away a little over a year ago at the age of 97.

Dahl was also a writer and an entrepreneur who sold beauty products.

Dahl is survived by her husband and three children, including her son, actor Lorenzo Lamas, best known for FALCON CREST (1981-90).

It's always very sad when a classic era actor passes from the scene, but I'm grateful she's left behind such an enjoyable body of work which will entertain us for as long as we have movies.

Reviews of Arlene Dahl films at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings: MY WILD IRISH ROSE (1947), REIGN OF TERROR (1949), SCENE OF THE CRIME (1949), AMBUSH (1950), THE OUTRIDERS (1950), NO QUESTIONS ASKED (1951), SANGAREE (1953), WOMAN'S WORLD (1954), and SLIGHTLY SCARLET (1956).

Update: Here's a link to a TCM Remembers video tribute to Arlene Dahl. The network will honor her with an eight-film tribute on February 11, 2022.

Related PostHappy Valentine's Day! (2022).

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Come September (1961) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

The enjoyable romantic comedy COME SEPTEMBER (1961) is now available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber.

COME SEPTEMBER features a delightful cast: Rock Hudson, Gina Lollobrigida, Sandra Dee, and Bobby Darin. Dee and Darin met making the film and married in December 1960, at the ages of 18 and 24.

The movie is a particular favorite of one of our daughters so I've seen it multiple times over the years, but it had been a while and I'd forgotten just how amusing it is. It's a bright, sunny film shot on location in Italy, and it had me smiling frequently as I watched.

Hudson plays wealthy Robert Talbot, who usually spends September at his Italian villa. One year he decides to show up during the summer instead and is shocked to discover that his butler Maurice (Walter Slezak) runs the villa as a hotel when he's not in residence.

Robert has planned to romance his long-suffering girlfriend Lisa (Lollobrigida) -- who unbeknownst to him has accepted a marriage proposal from another man (Ronald Howard). Robert's charm just might woo Lisa back...but then there's the matter of a group of young American girls (including Dee) currently renting rooms in his "hotel." Their uptight chaperone (Brenda de Banzie) will not countenance any potential romantic moves from Robert and Lisa while her charges are under the same roof.

And then just for fun, a whole bunch of American boys (including Bobby Darin and Joel Grey) show up at the hotel too...will Robert ever have time with Lisa alone? Especially once she considers Robert's advice to the young ladies about saving themselves for marriage...

COME SEPTEMBER is no classic but it's an enjoyable piece of entertainment. The interplay between Hudson and Slezak is quite amusing, and I actually laughed out loud a couple of times when Dee attempts to psychoanalyze Hudson. Hudson's reactions to the increasingly baffling conversation are hilarious.

There's also a very funny climactic scene at a train station where Lollobrigida "borrows" a baby to convince a conductor to get Hudson to pay attention to her when he's about to leave town.

All in all, I had a good time watching the movie for the first time in a few years.

COME SEPTEMBER was directed by Robert Mulligan and filmed by William Daniels in CinemaScope. If the Internet is to be believed, Hudson's home in the film was actually owned in real life by Rex Harrison.

The screenplay for this 112-minute film was written by Stanley Shapiro and Maurice Richlin, based on a story by Stanley Roberts and Robert Russell.

The widescreen Kino Lorber print is lovely. Disc extras include the trailer; an 8-film trailer gallery; and a commentary track by David Del Valle and David DeCoteau.

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

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Midnight (1934) - A Flicker Alley Blu-ray Review

One of the Blu-ray sets I've most looked forward to this fall is In the Shadow of Hollywood: Highlights From Poverty Row.

The 2-disc set, which I first mentioned here in a news roundup last August, was released about a month ago by Flicker Alley.

Flicker Alley collaborated with Lobster Films and Blackhawk Films on this collection of low-budget films made outside of the major studios. The four films in the set consist of BACK PAGE (1934), WOMAN IN THE DARK (1934), THE CRIME OF DR. CRESPI (1935), and the film which is the subject of this review, MIDNIGHT (1934), also known as CALL IT MURDER.

MIDNIGHT is admittedly not an entirely successful movie, being on the creaky side, yet at the same time it's just the kind of little-known film I love to explore. Indeed, some of the reasons for that interest in minor films can be found in MIDNIGHT, including an actor several years away from mega-stardom; experimental editing and filming; and a thought-provoking theme conveyed in a fairly brief 76 minutes.

Spoiler Alert
: In order to convey what I found interesting about this film I'm going to go into more detail than usual, up to and including how the movie ends.

MIDNIGHT begins in a courtroom, with the voice of Ethel Saxton (Helen Flint) explaining why she killed a man. The viewer doesn't see Ethel until after we've seen everyone else in the courtroom, including jury foreman Edward Weldon (O.P. Heggie), whose question to the defendant is a key moment which leads to her conviction.

Fast-forward four months, and Weldon continues to believe he's done the right thing, but he's come under great pressure as the public sympathizes with the convicted defendant; even Weldon's family is disappointed in the verdict, which will cause the woman to be executed.

Meanwhile, Weldon's daughter Stella (Sidney Fox, STRICTLY DISHONORABLE) discovers that her beau Gar (Humphrey Bogart) is ending their brief romance and leaving town. She's also shocked to learn that Gar has a gun in his pocket and is seeing another woman. When Stella meets Gar just before he's due to board a train out of town, Gar ends up dead.

While I found Heggie's performance as the upright jury foreman too one-note, the construction of the film is quite interesting. I previously mentioned the unusual beginning to the film. Another notable aspect is a sequence cross-cutting between the convicted woman on death row, Stella arguing with Gar, and the agonized Weldon feeling weighed down with stress or guilt on the night Saxton is scheduled to die.

In a later scene, Stella is questioned by the District Attorney (Moffat Johnston), and the camera switches angles on every question, emphasizing the machine gun pace at which he's firing off questions. There are other odd bits, such as the jury deliberations sequence being filmed only showing the jurors' hands.

Multiple issues discussed in the film remain all-too-relevant today, including the role of the media in sensationalizing stories and swaying the public, along with the politicization of prosecution decisions. The D.A. sees Stella's situation as a potential threat to his career, with the sweet young woman having killed someone possibly casting doubt on the Saxton conviction; he cleverly engineers the situation so that it appears Gar's mob confederates rubbed him out. The randomness of one woman going to the electric chair and another being sent on a vacation to forget the whole thing is a sobering and thought-provoking conclusion.

In terms of performances, the young Bogart is one of those who comes off best, giving off lots of sleazy vibes while also being quite compelling.

I also found Henry Hull interesting as a newspaper reporter who initially seems pretty sleazy himself, worming his way into the Weldon home by paying off Weldon's lazy son-in-law (Lynne Overman), but as the film went on I found his character increasingly interesting. The final shot of the reporter leaving the Weldons' and lighting up a cigarette is memorable.

(Speaking of leaving the home, though, what's with the Weldons' front door opening to the outside of the house, rather than pulling the door inside to open it?)

I found Sidney Fox charming in STRICTLY DISHONORABLE but her performance here, like Heggie, is a bit one-note. Sadly Fox would make two more films in 1934 and then disappear from the screen; she died in 1942.

After seeing the movie I read a review by Danny at which I'm in agreement with. He does a nice job summarizing the film's strong points, and I enjoyed reading it.

MIDNIGHT was directed by Chester Erskine, billed in the opening credits as Chester Erskin. Erskine was also the uncredited script writer, based on a play by Paul and Claire Sifton.

The opening credits had other misspelling oddities, with Henry O'Neill's name misspelled O'Neil, Moffat Johnston's last name misspelled Johnson, and Lynne Overman's first name is spelled Lynn. However, regarding the latter name, when I visited Overman's final resting place at Woodlawn Cemetery in 2019, I noted the name on his crypt was Woodson Lynn Overman, and it appears from perusing IMDb that he was using the spelling Lynn at this early juncture of his career. Beginning with his next film, LITTLE MISS MARKER (1934), he used the spelling Lynne.

The cast also includes Margaret Wycherly, Cora Witherspoon, Granville Bates, and future director Richard Whorf.

The movie was filmed by William Steiner and George Webber.

The print is quite excellent, especially considering the film's age. All four films have commentary tracks; the MIDNIGHT commentary is by Leah Aldridge.

The physical set itself is beautifully produced; the reverse side of the cover features the title cards for each of the four films. In a nice touch, the back of the set's 24-page booklet has "The End" cards from each of the movies. The booklet features glossy stills throughout and is a definite plus.

The booklet essay was written by Jan-Christopher Horak, who retired last year as the head of the UCLA Film & Television Archive. When I first heard about this collection it struck me as the kind of movies I've loved discovering at UCLA -- for example, SOCIETY GIRL (1932) with Peggy Shannon, who's in one of the films in this set; it thus seems very appropriate that Horak was involved, including also contributing the commentary track for THE CRIME OF DR. CRESPI.

I very much enjoyed this first film in In the Shadow of Hollywood: Highlights From Poverty Row and love the concept; I'm looking forward to reviewing the other movies in the set.  I hope that Flicker Alley might one day release sequel collections!

Thanks to Flicker Alley for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray collection. In the Shadow of Hollywood: Highlights From Poverty Row may be purchased at the Flicker Alley website as well as through retailers such as Amazon.

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...There was a really interesting announcement of an upcoming Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber this week: TIME OUT OF MIND (1947), starring Phyllis Calvert and Ella Raines, directed by noir great Robert Siodmak. The movie was based on a novel by Rachel Field (ALL THIS, AND HEAVEN TOO). I'm not familiar with the movie at all and am quite intrigued.

...More Blu-ray titles coming from Kino Lorber: WHITE WOMAN (1933) with Carole Lombard, Charles Laughton, and Charles Bickford; THE GREAT MOMENT (1944) with Joel McCrea and Betty Field, written and directed by Preston Sturges; and a pair of Bob Hope films, MONSIEUR BEAUCAIRE (1946) and WHERE THERE'S LIFE (1947). I saw THE GREAT MOMENT at the Vagabond Theatre in Los Angeles as a teen and remember it being rather strange; the topic is the invention of dental anesthesia!

...I've just learned that actress Sharon Gless has written a memoir, APPARENTLY THERE WERE COMPLAINTS. I first recall seeing Gless guesting on TV series such as THE ROCKFORD FILES and BLACK SHEEP SQUADRON; I also recall a TV-movie called HARDHAT AND LEGS (1980) costarring the late Kevin Dobson. In more recent years I enjoyed her as Jeffrey Donovan's mother on BURN NOTICE (2007-2013). I also fondly recall the time I was sitting in the Orlando airport and heard a very distinctive nearby voice talking on the phone while planning a party. I took a quick glance to confirm my suspicion and sure enough, it was Sharon Gless!

...Jessica has a delightful new interview with actor-dancer-singer George Chakiris at her site Comet Over Hollywood.

...Caftan Woman has reviewed TIGHT SPOT (1955), starring Ginger Rogers and Edward G. Robinson. This is a movie I need to see!

...I absolutely loved the first two episodes of Marvel's HAWKEYE series on Disney+. Here's more from The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), aka Hawkeye, has been one of my favorite Marvel characters since around the time his secret family was introduced in AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (2015). HAWKEYE finds Clint two years after AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019), thrilled to be spending time with his family after losing them for five years during the "Blip," but still grieving the loss of his close friend Natasha (Scarlett Johansson), aka the Black Widow. A meeting with a young fellow archer, Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld), during a Christmastime visit to New York City turns his life upside down. The series' tone is perfect, mixing humor, family sitcom, and Christmas cheer.

...More Marvel news: MARVEL'S WANDAVISION: THE ART OF THE SERIES will be published in February. This book is a must-buy for me. WANDAVISION was one of the most impressive TV series I've seen in years, and ranks as top-tier Marvel.

...Just released is the book THE ART OF ENCANTO. I found the movie ENCANTO (2021) very visually appealing when I saw it yesterday and am likely to be purchasing the book.

...Hearty congratulations to my friend Aurora on the 10th anniversary of her blog, Once Upon a Screen -- and grateful thanks for her very nice mention in her anniversary post! For those who haven't yet enjoyed visiting her site, in addition to classic movies Aurora regularly shares lots of wonderful "old-time radio" links featuring favorite film stars.

...CineSavant Glenn Erickson has reviewed the new book by Joseph McBride, BILLY WILDER: DANCING ON THE EDGE, published by Columbia University Press. The review combined with McBride's excellent past work has put the book on my wish list.

...Erickson's latest Blu-ray reviews for Trailers From Hell include the new Warner Archive Blu-ray of PARTY GIRL (1958) and a quartet of wonderful previously hard-to-find noirish films from Kino Lorber.

...James L. Neibaur has reviewed NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES (1948), which was also one of those hard-to-find films I mentioned Erickson reviewing. I also really enjoyed Jim's take on the original HOPALONG CASSIDY (1935) film, which has good insight's into William Boyd's portrayal of Hoppy.

...Jocelyn has reviewed SPLIT SECOND (1953), directed by Dick Powell, at Classic Film Observations & Obsessions. I really enjoyed this film when I saw it a few years ago. Stephen McNally, Jan Sterling, Alexis Smith, and Richard Egan Star.

...The Film Detective will be releasing four restored SHERLOCK HOLMES films next month: THE FATAL HOUR (1931), THE TRIUMPH OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (1935), SILVER BLAZE (1937), and A STUDY IN SCARLET (1933).  The impressive extras include a new documentary, commentary tracks, and the recreation of a radio show.

...Over at Watching Classic Movies, KC reviews Judy Garland and Van Johnson in IN THE GOOD OLD SUMMERTIME (1949), now available on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive.  Watch this space for a future review of the movie here as well.

...Notable Passings: Soap star Lisa Brown of AS THE WORLD TURNS and THE GUIDING LIGHT has passed away at the age of 67. Brown played opposite Michael Tylo on THE GUIDING LIGHT; I mentioned Tylo's passing here last month...I belatedly learned of the February 2021 death of Christopher Pennock at the age of 76. His many TV roles included Mitch on GENERAL HOSPITAL in the late '70s. He also appeared on DARK SHADOWS...Musician-Composer Dave Frishberg has died at 88. His compositions included a tune beloved by anyone who watched SCHOOL HOUSE ROCK, "I'm Just a Bill," which was performed by Jack Sheldon. My kids watched a SCHOOL HOUSE ROCK DVD when they were young...Stephen Sondheim has died at 91. I'll always be grateful to him for writing the lyrics for one of my favorite musicals, WEST SIDE STORY.

...For additional recent links of interest to classic film fans, please check out my November 20th roundup.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Encanto (2021)

I spent part of "Black Friday" at the movies, seeing the new animated Disney film ENCANTO (2021). ENCANTO is Disney Animation's 60th feature film.

ENCANTO was absolutely charming, an upbeat film with beautiful visuals and a bouncy score by Lin-Manuel Miranda (MOANA).

It's the story of the Madrigal family, who live in a magical house in Colombia. The home appeared out of nowhere as a place of refuge for Alma (Maria Cecilia Botero) and her newborn triplets immediately after her husband was killed in a violent attack.

The casita has sheltered generations of Madrigals, with each Madrigal also receiving a special gift when they come of age. Everyone, that is, but Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz). Her lovely sister Isabela (Diane Guerrero) can spin flowers out of thin air and her giant-sized sister Luisa (Jessica Darrow) has superhuman strength, but Mirabel is completely ordinary.

One day the magic seems to start slipping away from Casa Madrigal, and spunky, empathetic Mirabel wonders if she, ironically, might be the member of the family who is able to find a solution to preserve the magic.

Like other recent Disney films, including FROZEN (2013) and RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON (2021), ENCANTO's focus is on strong women; traditional villains aren't in evidence, with the central conflict gradually revealed to be simply relationships which need work and understanding.

The need for working through family issues is especially true when it comes to Mirabel's long-lost Uncle Bruno (John Leguizamo), who disappeared after his gift of seeing the future became problematic; he's the subject of one of the film's catchiest songs, "We Don't Talk About Bruno."

I found Mirabel a very appealing character; she's quite attractive in her unique way, all the more so because she's a good person. When little Antonio (Ravi Cabot-Conyers) is nervous about his coming of age ceremony, it's Mirabel he turns to for reassurance.

The filmmakers have created a group of distinctive characters. Special kudos go to the film's costume designs, which add greatly to the visual appeal.

ENCANTO is simply a gorgeous, funny, and moving film which I found quite original. I thoroughly enjoyed it and will definitely be buying the Blu-ray to enjoy again in the future.

Trailers may be found here and here.

This 99-minute film was directed by Jared Bush, Byron Howard, and Charise Castro Smith; the screenplay was by Smith and Bush, based on a story by several others, including composer Miranda.

Parental Advisory: ENCANTO is rated PG. There are some mildly scary moments but I found it quite family friendly, with positive messages about family love and working through problems.

ENCANTO was preceded by a lovely seven-minute short, FAR FROM THE TREE (2021), about a little raccoon who wants to go exploring beyond the eye of his watchful mother. It was written and directed by Natalie Nourigat.

Previous new 2021 theatrical reviews: F9: THE FAST SAGA (2021), BLACK WIDOW (2021), JUNGLE CRUISE (2021), FREE GUY (2021), and SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS (2021).

I haven't yet had time to see Marvel's ETERNALS due to a busy schedule, including travel, but I'm hoping to catch it before it leaves theaters! Other films I'm interested in seeing in December include WEST SIDE STORY (2021), SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME (2021), and AMERICAN UNDERDOG (2021).

Christmas at Disney California Adventure

One week ago we spent an afternoon and evening enjoying the Christmas decorations at Disney California Adventure.

Christmas is my favorite time of the year at both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, and having the parks closed for the holiday last year was one of the many difficult things about 2020.

Although Disney opened Buena Vista Street at California Adventure for shopping last year, only a few decorations were up, such as the Elias and Co. window decorations, and they didn't put up the tree.

What joy to see the tree back where it should be this Christmas!

This is my favorite tree in the parks; I love the designs and thoughtful details!

Some of the sights seen in these photos may be familiar to longtime readers from Christmases past; older posts are linked at the bottom.

Radiator Springs looking wonderful!

Hollywood Land:

The model of Claude Coats' Rock Candy Mountain at Trolley Treats on Buena Vista Street: 

Details seen up close:

A different window at Trolley Treats:

Here's a bonus photo from a briefer visit on Thanksgiving Eve. The Toy Soldier drummers usually perform "up close" to the crowds, but this year they're on a Paradise Gardens Park stage further away from the audience:

Coming soon: Thanksgiving Eve at Disneyland.

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