Friday, December 31, 2021

TCM in January: Highlights

Happy New Year! And very best wishes to all my readers for a very happy 2022.

The Turner Classic Movies January schedule went live late on New Year's Eve, Pacific Time, so we can now take a close look at some of the good things ahead this month on TCM.

The January Star of the Month is Kay Francis. She's certainly a favorite of mine! Kay was last a Star of the Month in September 2008.

Three dozen Francis films will be shown spread over four Monday evenings. Please check back here on January 3rd for my Star of the Month post, which will give a complete rundown on the Kay Francis schedule, including review links. (January 3rd Update: Please visit TCM Star of the Month: Kay Francis.)

The wonderful REPEAT PERFORMANCE (1947), which incidentally comes out on Blu-ray and DVD next month, is scheduled for Noir Alley on January 1st and 2nd. Since the movie is set at New Year's, the timing couldn't be more perfect!

This month's other Noir Alley titles are NIGHTMARE ALLEY (1947) on January 8th and 9th, THE MOB (1951) on January 15th-16th, OVER-EXPOSED (1956) on January 22nd and 23rd, and JENNY LAMOUR (1947), also known as QUAI DES ORFEVRES, on January 29th and 30th.

I saw JENNY LAMOUR at October's Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival and highly recommend it.

The TCM Spotlight this month is "True Crime," and there's also a rather unique "Special Theme" focused on "Movie Accents." Saturday evenings will feature epics including LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962) and CLEOPATRA (1963).

Here's an overview of some of the interesting films being shown on TCM this month. Please click on any hyperlinked title to read the corresponding review.

...Kicking off the year with Tim Holt and Richard "Chito" Martin on New Year's Day sounds like a great idea! RUSTLERS (1949) is a strong "B" Western with a cast which includes a young Martha Hyer. The attractive location filming took place in Idyllwild, California.

...I very much recommend LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA (1960), a favorite discovery a few years ago. Olivia de Havilland, Yvette Mimieux, George Hamilton, Rossano Brazzi, and Barry Sullivan star. It will be shown on Sunday, January 2nd.

...The daytime schedule on January 5th focuses on "Theatre Life," with a lineup of terrific films including the classic MGM musical THE BAND WAGON (1953).

...I was impressed with the Dick Powell-Ruby Keeler musical SHIPMATES FOREVER (1935) a decade ago. There are some serious underlying themes, and the Warren-Dubin songs are worked in quite naturally. Frank Borzage directed. It's on January 6th.

...January 7th is a day of films starring Ray Milland. CLOSE TO MY HEART (1951), an adoption drama costarring Gene Tierney, isn't shown particularly often so I especially recommend checking it out.

...The lineup on January 8th includes one of the few films I saw in a theater in 2020, GILDA (1946), starring Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford.

...A day of films starring Constance Bennett on January 11th includes favorites such as TOPPER (1936), costarring Cary Grant, and MERRILY WE LIVE (1938) with Brian Aherne. Billie Burke appears in both films; she was nominated for the Supporting Actress Oscar for her delightfully daffy performance in the latter film.

...The evening of January 14th TCM presents a tribute to Stanley Baker, including HELL DRIVERS (1957). The marvelous cast includes Sean Connery, Patrick McGoohan, and David McCallum.

...I recommend THE ROMANCE OF ROSY RIDGE (1947) on January 16th. It's a wonderful example of the Americana MGM did so well in the '40s. Janet Leigh made her film debut opposite Van Johnson in this post Civil War film.

...January 18th features a seven-film birthday tribute to Cary Grant! Favorites that day include MR. BLANDINGS BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE (1948) and THE BACHELOR AND THE BOBBY-SOXER (1947) opposite Myrna Loy.

...January 19th features a great lineup of Westerns, including RIO BRAVO (1949), which I wrote about last year for Classic Movie Hub. Then stay tuned for an evening of films directed by Frank Capra!

...It's been over a dozen years now since I last saw Robert Taylor in THE POWER AND THE PRIZE (1956). He's seen here with costar Elisabeth Mueller. I don't remember the film especially well and am curious to revisit it. It will be shown as part of a day of office dramas on January 20th.

...Suspicious husbands are the theme on January 21st, including a Doris Day film which is a personal favorite, JULIE (1956). Barry Sullivan and Frank Lovejoy try to help Doris escape her psycho new husband, played by Louis Jourdan.

...The 20th Century-Fox classic A LETTER TO THREE WIVES (1948) will be shown on January 23rd. A great cast, with the movie's best performance probably being that of Linda Darnell. Highly recommended.

...Prime time on January 26th is devoted to "Life on the Farm," beginning with Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray in THE EGG AND I (1947). Other films airing that evening include Zachary Scott and Betty Field in Jean Renoir's THE SOUTHERNER (1945) and Edward G. Robinson and Margaret O'Brien in Roy Rowland's OUR VINES HAVE TENDER GRAPES (1945).

...January 27th's daytime lineup is devoted to films with "men" and "boys" in the title. There are some fun movies showing, including William Boyd in MEN OF AMERICA (1933), which I especially enjoyed seeing after visiting the film's Iverson Ranch location, seen here.

...NORTHERN PURSUIT (1943), with Errol Flynn battling Nazis in Canada's far north, is an enjoyable watch. It's on late on the evening of January 29th.

...January 31st features a tribute to the great costume designer Walter Plunkett, with a lineup of seven films he made for MGM, including the musicals THE GLASS SLIPPER (1955), KISS ME KATE (1953), and ATHENA (1954).

For more on TCM in January 2022, please visit my Quick Preview of TCM in January and TCM Star of the Month: Kay Francis along with TCM's online schedule.

Happy New Year!

Tonight's Movie: International Lady (1941) - A ClassicFlix Blu-ray Review

INTERNATIONAL LADY (1941), released this fall by ClassicFlix, proved to be a fun surprise.

George Brent and Basil Rathbone star as American and British spies on the track of suspected Nazi saboteurs who are damaging planes as they're being delivered from North America to Europe.

Ilona Massey plays singer Carla Nillson, who sends coded messages to her Nazi confederates via songs she performs on the radio. It's a clever bit of casting using the Hungarian-born singer in this role, and the music adds a fun spin to the plot.

I actually wondered a bit if this film might have helped inspire MGM's CAIRO (1942), another early WWII film featuring spies and singing, in that case from Jeanette MacDonald.

Coincidentally Massey's best-known films included the MGM musicals ROSALIE (1937), BALALAIKA (1939), and HOLIDAY IN MEXICO (1946). She also starred in a completely different genre in Universal Pictures' FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943).

INTERNATIONAL LADY provides a considerable amount of enjoyable repartee between Brent and Rathbone, and things get even more fun when Rathbone turns up at a party midway through the film in such a natural-looking disguise that, like the other characters, I didn't even recognize him at first! That sequence is very well done, successfully blending a lighthearted tone with suspense.

The movie also has some great mood and nice period touches, such as the lead characters traveling from Lisbon to New York via a Pan Am Clipper.

The good supporting cast includes Gene Lockhart, Marjorie Gateson, Selmer Jackson, George Zucco, Martin Kosleck, and the Lone Ranger himself, Clayton Moore. Familiar faces including James Millican, Sam McDaniel, Bess Flowers, Ralph Dunn, Trevor Bardette, Rita Quigley, and Lillian Yarbo also turn up.

The cinematography is by two-time Oscar-winner Hal Mohr, who famously was the only write-in candidate ever to win an Academy Award, for the shimmering black and white photography of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM (1935). Two years after this film was released he would win for the gorgeous Technicolor cinematography of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1943).

This 102-minute movie was directed by Tim Whelan from a screenplay by Howard Estabrook, based on a story by Jack De Witt and E. Lloyd Sheldon. The movie was produced by Edward Small Productions and originally released by United Artists.

The ClassicFlix Blu-ray quality is quite good. Some scenes are a tad soft, but for the most part this is a nice crisp print in far better shape than one might expect for such a relatively obscure film.

The soundtrack is fairly solid, though I noticed a lack of sound balancing in the opening London Blitz scene meant the loud sounds of bombs falling drowned out a bit too much of the initial dialogue between Brent and Massey.

Otherwise I understood most of the dialogue, although subtitles would have been welcome to help clarify things here and there, given multiple British and Hungarian accents. It's my assumption that captioning is not provided on some ClassicFlix discs in order to keep costs down.

Along with the Blu-ray reviewed here, ClassicFlix also released INTERNATIONAL LADY on DVD. It's No. 15 in the ClassicFlix Silver Series, which is dedicated to making lesser-known titles available for home viewing.

The Blu-ray includes a gallery of trailers for five additional ClassicFlix releases.

I thought INTERNATIONAL LADY was a fun film. I really enjoy exploring ClassicFlix releases and hope 2022 will bring more interesting titles our way. In the meanwhile, look for future reviews here of the ClassicFlix releases of SILVER QUEEN (1942), BLACK BEAUTY (1946), and more!

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

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to all my readers!

Here's lovely Loretta Young to help us ring in a festive New Year.

Best wishes to all my readers for a very happy and healthy 2022!

Christmas at Disneyland: The Grand Californian

A few days before Christmas we went to dinner at Disney's Grand Californian Hotel, one of our favorite annual Christmas stops.

Like California's Disney parks, the Grand Californian was closed in 2020, so this was our first visit since 2019.

We were so happy the buffet dinner has reopened at the hotel's Storytellers Cafe!  It features all sorts of great entrees, including prime rib, chicken, and pasta.

Here are a few of the delectable desserts the restaurant is serving this Christmas season.

As usual, we also spent some time in the Grand Californian lobby enjoying the gorgeous tree and other decorations.

This group of singers and bell ringers performing meant we couldn't get up close to this year's gingerbread house during our visit, but we enjoyed the music!

Still to come: A final Disneyland Christmas post on the park's first-ever Merriest Nites Christmas party.

Previously: Also: Return to Disneyland: First Signs of Christmas (2021); Christmas at Disney California Adventure (2021); Christmastime at Disneyland: Thanksgiving Eve 2021; Christmas at Disneyland: Nighttime (2021).

More Western Hidden Gems at Classic Movie Hub

My latest Western RoundUp column is now available at Classic Movie Hub!

My new post, Hidden Gems, Vol. 4, takes a look at three underrated Westerns I feel are deserving of a closer look: STRANGER AT MY DOOR (1956), THE QUIET GUN (1957), and GUNSMOKE IN TUCSON (1958).

Please click over to Classic Movie Hub to read it. I hope the column will provide inspiration for some good Western viewing in the coming year.

Thanks very much, and Happy New Year to all!

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Christmas at Disneyland: Nighttime

During the 12 Days of Christmas I'll be sharing a series of photo posts on this year's holiday celebration at the Disneyland Resort.

First up, some nighttime shots from our visit one week before Christmas. What a beautiful evening! Above is the beautiful Mark Twain cruising the Rivers of America near New Orleans Square.

Several of the photos in this post were taken in New Orleans Square, which is one of the most beautifully decorated areas of Disneyland during the Christmas season.

Below is the entrance to Court des Anges, where we used to take family Christmas photos until it was closed to the public. It is now a lobby for Club 33; the last time I was behind that gate was on our 2016 visit to Club 33.

A peek at the decorations in Club 33 through a second-story window:

A sign near It's a Small World. The holiday version of the ride belatedly opened this month after being closed due to flood damage.

Somewhat fittingly, other Disney parks around the world sent parts to help quickly repair the ride and open it in time for most of the Christmas season. I'll share additional Small World photos in another post.

A band performing Christmas carols on the steps of the Main Street Train Station:

A couple of beautifully decorated storefronts along Main Street U.S.A.:

Given that Disneyland was closed by the state for over a year, including all of last year's Christmas season, it made me happier than ever enjoying the holiday there this year!

Still to come: Photos of Christmas at the Grand Californian Hotel and of Disneyland's Merriest Nites Christmas party.

Tonight's Movie: Lullaby of Broadway (1951) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

I was delighted by the Warner Archive Blu-ray release of LULLABY OF BROADWAY (1951), a Doris Day film I have previously owned only on VHS. What an upgrade!

Doris worked hard at Warner Bros. after her starring debut in ROMANCE ON THE HIGH SEAS (1948); this was her seventh film after that movie, and before 1951 was over, three more Day films would be released!

In LULLABY OF BROADWAY Doris plays Melinda Howard, who's been working with a small theatrical company in England for years. She decides to travel to the U.S. to pay a visit to her mother Jessica (Gladys George), whom she hasn't seen in years and believes to be a big theatrical star.

Alas, Jessica is now an alcoholic nightclub performer, a fact her friends (including Billy De Wolfe and S.Z. "Cuddles" Sakall) attempt to hide from Melinda.

Melinda quickly lands a leading role in a Broadway show opposite Tom Farnham (Nelson), a dancer she had met on the ship to New York, but all manner of complications ensue before the expected happy ending.

LULLABY OF BROADWAY isn't top-level Doris Day, but it's still enjoyable, thanks especially to the multi-talented, effervescent Day and the marvelous dancing of leading man Gene Nelson.

Day looks terrific dancing alongside Nelson; they share a creative number utilizing doors which particularly impressed me. Nelson also has a great routine with the Page Cavanaugh Trio which includes an impressive jump. I've really come to appreciate Nelson, who in addition to his musical talents was a very effective leading man in one of my favorite crime films, CRIME WAVE (1954).

The movie gets a bit sluggish at 92 minutes and would have benefited from crisper editing, including the excision of a pointless musical number with a doll which doesn't involve any of the main cast members.

It also might have been a good idea to prune some of the superficial misunderstandings in Earl Baldwin's script and instead dig a little deeper for more heart connecting Melinda with both Tom and her mother. Melinda and Jessica do have a good reunion scene, but it's quite brief.  

LULLABY OF BROADWAY was directed by David Butler, who worked with Day on several occasions, including one of her very best films, CALAMITY JANE (1953).

The movie was shot in Technicolor by Wilfrid M. Cline.

The print ranges from very good to excellent; it doesn't reach the top level of Warner Archive Blu-ray excellence but is still quite a nice print. It probably doesn't help that the movie itself has a rather drab color palette in terms of sets and wardrobe, which gives the Blu-ray less opportunity to shine.

I found the soundtrack a bit iffy in that the musical numbers were noticeably more quiet than the dialogue; I repeatedly raised the volume during the singing and dancing. There were no other issues with the soundtrack as far as crackling or static.

Extras on the Warner Archive Blu-ray are a trailer and a song selection menu; I love that the Warner Archive has been including the song menus on all their musical releases, making it easy to replay highlights.

LULLABY OF BROADWAY may not be at the very top level in terms of the film and print, but there is still much to recommend it, and I'd guess that my fellow Doris Day fans will be happy to add this one to the Blu-ray shelf.

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.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)

December has been a busy time, but last week I was able to slip in an afternoon screening of the latest Marvel film, SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME (2021).

SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME is a sequel to SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017) and SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME (2019), and of course it also builds on other films in which Spider-Man has appeared, including AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019).

I'm somewhat limited in what I can say about the film at this juncture without being spoilery, which is perhaps more of an issue with this film than many Marvel films. I'll start off by mentioning that I'm very glad I'd seen the animated film SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE (2018) and learned about the "multiverse" concept, which I think pretty much everyone knows at this point is a key aspect of this film.

A brief plot description: Peter Parker (Tom Holland) has had his identity as Spider-Man revealed to the world, which has negative repercussions for Peter, his girlfriend MJ (Zendaya), and his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon).

Peter visits Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), wondering if the Sorceror Supreme could erase everyone in the world knowing, except for MJ, Ned, and Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), and...let's just say things don't go exactly as Peter and Doctor Strange originally planned.

It's a very good movie, which is, as the headline for Justin Chang's review in the Los Angeles Times aptly puts it, "a joyous valentine to Spider-Man movies and their fans." Fans will appreciate a number of happy surprises.

The script by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers is mostly good, but there are a couple weak aspects. A key plot device involves Spider-Man perhaps acting his age but not with the wisdom he has ostensibly acquired through his experiences. I would have liked the script to have arrived in the same place via a different route. I'm being deliberately vague but suspect those who have seen the film will be able to guess what I'm describing.

There's also a heavy sequence midway through which I almost felt was too much, especially given what Peter has already been through in his young life.  

Finally, I felt the movie's resolution leaned too heavily on a recognizable plot device from the Christopher Reeve SUPERMAN films. Some might say, "What do you expect, it's a superhero film?" but I would have liked a little more creativity regarding the film's wrap-up.

The cast is excellent, and I especially liked the writing and performance for Zendaya's MJ in this go-round; her character is less edgy and more charming.

Cumberbatch's Doctor Strange seems to have gone backwards somewhat, reverting to the more egotistical personality of DOCTOR STRANGE (2016), which is a bit of a surprise after the wisdom he showed in helping to resolve the fate of the world in AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018) and AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019).  Perhaps that experience caused him to become overconfident once more?

That personality flaw, along with the multiverse concept, seems to be setting up the next film in the cycle, DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS (2022). The final credits tag scene of SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME has a preview which is identical to the MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS teaser trailer. That film will be released on May 6, 2022.

SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME was directed by Jon Watts and filmed by Mauro Fiore. It runs a well-paced 2 hours and 28 minutes.

Parental Advisory: Like all Marvel films, SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME is rated PG-13 for non-graphic violence. And like all Marvel films, it depicts positive concepts such as friendship, loyalty, courage, and teamwork.

The November 2021 trailer for this film may be watched on YouTube.


I wasn't able to make time to see ETERNALS (2021) before it disappeared from local theaters, so I'll probably be seeing it when it makes its debut on Disney+ in mid-January. That will make ETERNALS the first Marvel film since GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014) which I haven't seen first in a theater.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

TCM Remembers 2021

The annual TCM Remembers video was recently released by Turner Classic Movies.

TCM always does a wonderful job paying tribute to filmmakers who have passed away in the preceding year. TCM is particularly good about including lesser-known names who tend to be ignored in other tributes; I was touched by the inclusion of actors such as Joan Weldon, Joyce MacKenzie, Gloria Warren, and Martha Stewart.

In addition to being shown on Turner Classic Movies, this year's video may be watched via YouTube and Twitter. I'm also embedding it here:

My thanks to TCM for always doing such a thorough and moving job remembering people whose work has brought us all great joy.

Past TCM tribute posts: 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020.

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Around the Blogosphere This Week... taking this weekend off for Christmas!

Please check out my December 18th column for the latest roundup of links of interest to classic film fans.

I hope all my readers are enjoying a wonderful holiday.

Merry Christmas to all!

Christmas Day Wishes

Best wishes to all my readers for a very happy Christmas!

Here are a pair of festive publicity shots of dear Ann Rutherford trimming her tree.

It's hard to believe it's been nearly a decade since Ann left us, but she continues to bring joy during the holidays in films such a A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1938) and LOVE FINDS ANDY HARDY (1938).

Merry Christmas to all!

Previous Christmas Day photo posts: 2012 (the Lockhart Family), 2013 (Priscilla Lane), 2014 (Martha Hyer), 2015 (Andra Martin), 2016 (Betty Grable), 2017 (Loretta Young), 2018 (Alice Faye), 2019 (Marsha Hunt), and 2020 (Ann Blyth).

Friday, December 24, 2021

Merry Christmas!

Best wishes to all for a very Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Woman in the Dark (1934): A Flicker Alley Blu-ray Review

Late last month I reviewed MIDNIGHT (1934), aka CALL IT MURDER, from the Flicker Alley set In the Shadow of Hollywood: Highlights From Poverty Row.

Tonight I return to that collection to review another of its four films, WOMAN IN THE DARK (1934). I thoroughly enjoyed this brisk 70-minute film, based on a story by Dashiell Hammett.

Fay Wray stars in the title role as Louise Loring, who stumbles through a dark and windy night to a cabin owned by John Bradley (Ralph Bellamy).

Louise is on the run from wealthy Tony Robson (Melvyn Douglas), who invested in her singing career but then wanted very personal repayment.

John has recently been paroled for manslaughter, and when Tony shows up looking for Louise, things don't go well. Tony is a slimy, evil man who will do surprisingly shocking things to have what he wants, and he wants Louise.

John comes to Louise's defense and ends up in a scuffle which leads him to think he could end up back in jail. He and Louise go on the run while Tony plots to make things very, very difficult for the couple.

Despite the crime-infested plot, WOMAN IN THE DARK has a warm and cozy feel for much of its running time. Bellamy comes off well in hero mode, causing me to wish he'd had this kind of role more often, and Wray is simply wonderful, appealing and incredibly beautiful.

Bellamy and Wray have a good rapport, including a lovely little sequence spending the night in a car as they make their way from the cabin to the apartment of his old cellmate (Roscoe Ates) and his wife (Ruth Gillette). Though their time on the run is relatively short, there's a reason this theme turns up time and again in movies, as it works very well to reveal character and develop a couple's relationship.

Wray's character might have made choices that landed her in a bad situation, but she's also got gumption; there's a great little moment where she fends off a lecherous attorney (Frank Otto) with a cigarette. She also puts herself on the line when she comes up with a plan to try to save John.

Douglas is absolutely evil in this one. Nell O'Day, later a leading lady opposite some of the best "B" Western heroes, does a nice job as a young girl with a crush on John who does her best to help him; the only problem is her father (Granville Bates) is the sheriff, and he hates John.

The cast is rounded out by Joe King, Reed Brown Jr., and Frank Shannon. The movie was directed by Phil Rosen and filmed by Joseph Ruttenberg, with a script by Sada Cowen.

WOMAN IN THE DARK was produced by Select Pictures and filmed at Biograph in New York. It was distributed by RKO.

The print is for the most part excellent. A couple of scenes are just a bit soft but overall I was impressed. The movie comes with a commentary track by Jake Hinkson.

WOMAN IN THE DARK is exactly the kind of movie I was hoping to discover in this set, and I'm looking forward to checking out the other two films, BACK PAGE (1934) and THE CRIME OF DR. CRESPI (1935).

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.

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