Monday, January 31, 2022

Lunar New Year at Disney California Adventure

This weekend we visited the Lunar New Year festival at Disney California Adventure.

The festival has been taking place at the Disneyland Resort for over a dozen years, gradually morphing from a few decorations to a much more elaborate event, complete with entertainment, a parade, and special food booths.

First, though, we took a ride on Web Slingers at the Avengers Campus. This was only our second time to ride it; the first time was last fall at the Oogie Boogie Bash.

The Stark Industries decor seen in the interior ride queue is wonderful!

Then it was on to the festival...

...celebrating the Year of the Tiger.

This was my first time at the festival since 2019. It did take place early in 2020 but I was recovering from knee surgery at the time and missed it. The parks were closed by the state in the first half of 2021 so the festival did not take place last year.

For lunch we enjoyed sampling some of the items from the food booths. We thought the Spicy Chicken and Rice from Red Dragon Spice Traders was excellent!

I also enjoyed the spicy corn on the cob. Three of us also shared a pretzel stuffed with sliced hot dogs, which was much less successful, as the hot dogs were only mildly warm.

Magic Key Holders received these pretty buttons.

Mulan's Lunar New Year Procession is a short but very nice parade which takes place several times a day. This year Tigger is the guest of honor for the Year of the Tiger.

Dale was there too, along with Chip, who evaded the camera.

Mulan and Mushu:

And Goofy!

We had a wonderful day!

For photos of past Lunar New Year celebrations at both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, please visit any of these links: Today at Disney California Adventure: Lunar New Year Procession (February 17, 2019), Today at Disney California Adventure: Lunar New Year Celebration (February 11, 2019), Today at Disney California Adventure: Lunar New Year Celebration (February 5, 2017), Today at Disney California Adventure: 15th Anniversary and Lunar New Year (February 8, 2016); Today at Disney California Adventure: Lunar New Year (February 21, 2015); Today at Disney California Adventure: Lunar New Year (February 1, 2014); Today at Disney California Adventure: Lunar New Year (February 10, 2013); Today at Disneyland: Chinese New Year (January 27, 2012); Today at Disneyland (February 15, 2008).

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Tonight's Movie: Song of the Thin Man (1947) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

SONG OF THE THIN MAN (1947), the sixth and final film in the beloved THIN MAN series, has just been released on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive.

It's rather a shame this was William Powell and Myrna Loy's last time to play Nick and Nora Charles, as it's one of the best films in the series' 13-year run. It has an engaging plot and a truly remarkable cast which is guaranteed to make a classic film fan smile.

Nick and Nora have been invited to a shipboard nightclub by the Thayars (Ralph Morgan and Bess Flowers, with perennial "dress extra" Flowers in a rare credited speaking role).

While they're at the event, conductor Tommy Drake (Philip Friend) and clarinetist Buddy Hollis (Don Taylor) end up brawling; they're on the outs as chanteuse Fran (Gloria Grahame) had left Buddy for Tommy, but then Tommy called it quits with Fran.

Mobster Al Amboy (William Bishop) is pressuring Tommy to repay the $12,000 he owes him. Tommy is about to embark on a concert tour arranged by Mitchell Talbin (Leon Ames) and asks Talbin to advance him the money he needs, but Talbin is strangely reticent.

However, we later notice that Talbin's younger wife Phyllis (Patricia Morison), whom he calls "Baby," is missing her expensive diamond necklace...

Meanwhile the Thayars' daughter Janet (Jayne Meadows) is about to elope with Phil (Bruce Cowling), who runs the nightclub. Her father does not approve.

Before the night is over, Tommy is murdered...and soon thereafter Fran turns up dead as well. Whodunit?

The fast-paced 86-minute mystery is the most coherent and enjoyable of the last few films in the series, and the deep, deep cast provides endless fun. There's Dean Stockwell as a very cute Nicky Jr.; Connie Gilchrist as the Charles's housekeeper; Keenan Wynn as a musician who tries to help Nick solve the case; Clinton Sundberg as a hotel clerk; Esther Howard as the counter server at a waterfront diner; and who should walk in during the final sequence, playing the mobster's wife, but the great Marie Windsor.

There are even more familiar faces sprinkled throughout, including Morris Ankrum, Tom Dugan, James Flavin, and Warner Anderson.

Edward Buzzell directed, with black and white photography by two-time Oscar winner Charles Rosher. The screenplay was by Steve Fisher and Nat Perrin, based on a story by Stanley Roberts. James O'Hanlon and Harry Crane contributed additional dialogue.

The Warner Archive Blu-ray looks and sounds terrific. Fans of the series will be very pleased with this top-notch release.

The Blu-ray carries over the extras from the original DVD: A trailer; the "Passing Parade" short A REALLY IMPORTANT PERSON (1947) with Dean Stockwell; and the Tex Avery cartoon SLAP HAPPY LION (1947).

Links to the previous Warner Archive Blu-ray reviews for this series: THE THIN MAN (1934), AFTER THE THIN MAN (1936), ANOTHER THIN MAN (1939), SHADOW OF THE THIN MAN (1941), and THE THIN MAN GOES HOME (1944).

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.

Quick Preview of TCM in March

The annual 31 Days of Oscar month returns to Turner Classic Movies in March 2022.

Last year TCM didn't celebrate Oscar month until April due to the awards ceremony being pushed back on the schedule.

This year's Oscar ceremony will be held on Sunday, March 27th, so TCM's Oscar month is being held in March for the first time in a few years.

As regular TCM viewers are aware, there don't tend to be many surprises on the schedule during Oscars month, as every film being shown was nominated for or won an Academy Award.

The flip side of the lack of rarities, "B" pictures, and the like is that it's a month of top quality viewing. This makes it an especially good time for newer film fans to catch some great classics, and most longtime film fans, myself included, also have some well-known films they still need to see for the first time.

According to Awards Watch, something unique this year is that there will also be a daily film available on HBO Max under the "Classics Curated by TCM" tab. There will also be "exclusive content available from the Academy."

Awards Watch has a complete preview of the schedule.

As usual, Noir Alley, Silent Sunday Nights, and the other regular TCM franchises take Oscar month off. They will return to the schedule in April.

I'll share more about the Oscar month schedule here around March 1st.

Update: For more on TCM in March 2022, please visit my post TCM in March: 31 Days of Oscar Highlights.

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...The Bay Area edition of the Noir City Film Festival, originally scheduled for this month, has been rescheduled for March 24th-27th. As previously planned, this year's festival moves from its longtime home at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco and will be held at the Grand Lake Theatre in Oakland.

...DOWNTON ABBEY: A NEW ERA (2022), originally due out late last year and then scheduled for March 18th, has had its release date moved again, to May 20th.

...Coming to Blu-ray in April from ClassicFlix: The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 5.

...Surprising news was announced Friday, January 28th: The TCM Shop is closing down as of February 22, 2022. Per an email, their "approved partner" is now Critics' Choice. The email also said they have "exciting plans underway" to sell TCM branded merchandise.

...Ben Mankiewicz recently interviewed actor James Hong for CBS. A video is here. Viewers may not know his name but will surely recognize his face, as he's been in movies and TV since the mid '50s.

...The new remake of NIGHTMARE ALLEY (2022) will be shown in some theaters in black and white.

...The TCM Classic Film Festival made some announcements last week. I was particularly pleased to learn that the Craig Barron and Ben Burtt presentation of THE FLAME AND THE ARROW (1950), originally scheduled for the cancelled 2020 festival, will be happening at this year's fest! Burt Lancaster and Virginia Mayo star, directed by Jacques Tourneur. Other additions to the schedule include Jennifer Jones and Joseph Cotten in the very special PORTRAIT OF JENNIE (1948), directed by William Dieterle; THE GUNFIGHTER (1950) with Gregory Peck, directed by Henry King; and a screening of THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) to celebrate the centennial of Judy Garland's birth.

...After Yvette Mimieux's recent passing, Jessica shared a link to an excellent Forbes piece on LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA (1962) by Will Jeakle. Mimieux is seen here with George Hamilton in a still from the film.

...At Riding the High Country Colin has reviewed SOUTHWEST PASSAGE (1954) with Rod Cameron, Joanne Dru, and John Ireland.

...Theresa of CineMaven's Essays From the Couch has a roundup of great entries for her For the Umpteenth Time Blogathon, held a few days ago. I recognize the names of some favorite films and know some favorite bloggers participated, so be sure to check out some (or all!) of the links.

...Coming to Blu-ray in March from the Warner Archive Collection: A STAR IS BORN (1937), starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March, plus two Lux Radio Theater productions, a 1937 performance with Gaynor and Robert Montgomery, and a 1942 edition with Judy Garland and Walter Pidgeon; CAPTAINS OF THE CLOUDS (1942) starring James Cagney, Dennis Morgan, and Brenda Marshall; and a special two-disc set of the Cinerama film THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM (1962), with both letterboxed and "Smileboxed" formats.

...Coming to Blu-ray in mid-February: Disney's CHIP 'N' DALE RESCUE RANGERS: THE COMPLETE SERIES.

...At Watching Classic Movies KC has reviewed the new Warner Archive Blu-ray releases of NATIONAL VELVET (1944) and IVANHOE (1952).

...Notable Passings: Actor Morgan Stevens has died at 70. He played Paul Northridge, who married Erin Walton in A WEDDING ON WALTON'S MOUNTAIN (1982), and was the son of Richard Kiley and Eva Marie Saint in the excellent A YEAR IN THE LIFE (1986), a miniseries which was followed by a short-lived TV series (1987-88). His other TV work included FAME (1982-84) and MELROSE PLACE (1995). He had not appeared on screen since 1999...Peter Robbins, who voiced Charlie Brown in the TV classics A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS (1965) and IT'S THE GREAT PUMPKIN, CHARLIE BROWN (1966), has died at 65...Jazz pianist Beegie Adair has passed away at the age of 84. Marc Myers pays tribute at JazzWax. I've enjoyed her albums Quiet Christmas and Winter Romance for over a dozen years, and her passing has prompted me to add more of her music to my collection.

...For additional recent links of interest to classic film fans, please check out my January 22nd roundup.

Friday, January 28, 2022

Farewell to Moira Finnie

I was greatly saddened last night to learn of the recent passing of Gina Neylon, known to all online as "Moira Finnie."

Scott McGee of Turner Classic Movies announced that she passed away suddenly of heart failure last week. Alan K. Rode also paid tribute to her last evening.

"Moira" wrote for the late, lamented TCM Movie Morlocks blog. She also had the joy of introducing a movie with Robert Osborne on TCM in 2012, TOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBI (1954).

Moira was a brilliant writer, not just at Movie Morlocks but at her own blog The Skeins (formerly Skeins of Thought). She was also a key moderator at the Silver Screen Oasis, where there is a short thread about her passing.

The links I've shared here over the years to Moira's Movie Morlocks columns went dead when the site shut down, but she transferred at least some of the articles over to The Skeins. I encourage my fellow classic film fans to spend time there delving into her wonderful writing.

I was always delighted when Moira commented on a movie here at my own blog, as she was always so thoughtful and supportive, and her enthusiasm was contagious.

Her writing on the relatively unknown EMBRACEABLE YOU (1948) a dozen years ago is a marvelous example of her ability to capture a film in writing and make the viewer want to see it.

My friend Jane reminded me today of Moira's wonderful 2010 essay on Joel McCrea and Frances Dee. I was particularly glad to revisit it as one of the kind things Moira did for me was send me a copy of Joel and Frances in THE SILVER CORD (1933), many years before it was shown on TCM.

She also provided me copies of rarities such as THE MACOMBER AFFAIR (1947), THE SAXON CHARM (1948), and more. They simply appeared in my mailbox out of the blue, and it was like Christmas!

Moira was a sporadic Twitter user and has not been a regular commenter here for some time, but we periodically corresponded via email or snail mail over the years. Not having heard from her in quite a while, I had been thinking recently that I should drop her a letter and say hello...

This has been a sad month, with Moira's death closely following the unexpected passing of Terry Teachout. I admired both of them greatly, appreciated their recommendations, and loved "talking movies" with each of them. Moira, like Terry, leaves behind so many people whose lives she has touched positively, including my own.

She will be greatly missed.

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Tonight's Movie: The Crime of Helen Stanley (1934)

I watched THE CRIME OF HELEN STANLEY (1934) thanks to the recommendation of film historian Jeremy Arnold.

In a recent Zoom chat Jeremy mentioned that the plot, about an actress shot to death on a movie set, was especially interesting to watch in light of the recent unfortunate Alec Baldwin shooting. It turns out that concerns about on-set guns with live ammunition have been around a long, long time.

I was also intrigued since the film stars Gail Patrick. It's a quick 58-minute watch currently on YouTube.

Patrick plays the title role, a famous movie actress. Helen is unhappy with her sister Betty (Shirley Grey) and former lover, cameraman Lee Davis (Kane Richmond), who have fallen in love.

Helen is also having problems with her business manager (Bradley Page), who can't account for $60,000 of her money. In short, Helen's life is pretty messy, but she's a pro and carries on filming her latest movie.

While filming a nightclub dance sequence Helen is supposed to be shot by an actor (Stephen Chase), but when she drops to the floor, it's for real -- she's dead. (This happens so early in the movie that I don't consider it a spoiler; as seen in the illustrations here, it's featured prominently in the movie's publicity posters and stills.)

Inspector Steve Trent (Ralph Bellamy), who Helen had phoned shortly before being murdered, is quickly on the case. Additional suspects include assistant cameraman Jack Baker (Ward Bond) and Karl, Helen's chauffeur (Vincent Sherman, who went on to be a top director).

I had the nagging feeling I'd seen the story before, and just about the time the movie ended I remembered a similar plot was used in WHO KILLED GAIL PRESTON? (1938), with Rita Hayworth as the murder victim and Don Terry as the detective. The only difference was that instead of the murder taking place on a nightclub movie set, WHO KILLED GAIL PRESTON? took place in an actual nightclub.

The writing credits for the two films are different; THE CRIME OF HELEN STANLEY was written by Harold Shumate from a story by Charles R. Condon, while WHO KILLED GAIL PRESTON? is credited to Robert Kent and Henry Taylor, based on a story by Fred Pederson. However, both movies were made for Columbia Pictures.

IMDb acknowledges GAIL PRESTON is a remake of HELEN STANLEY on a trivia page. I couldn't help wondering if Gail Preston's name was a little tribute to Gail Patrick, the actress who played the murder victim in the original seems rather likely, doesn't it?

While not an especially great "B" film, THE CRIME OF HELEN STANLEY was entertaining enough to be worthwhile, with an interesting movie studio setting, a couple nice L.A. locations, and a fun cast. The only real disappointment was how little was seen of Gail Patrick before her character's demise.

Bellamy's portrayal is interesting in an off-kilter way; Inspector Trent listens to people's alibis and sometimes surprises by immediately dismissing suspects with dubious backgrounds or alibis. He seems to operate quite a bit on instinct. He might not always be the sharpest knife in the drawer, however; why does it take him so long to look at the movie footage of Helen's shooting?

I learned that THE CRIME OF HELEN STANLEY, released in April 1934, was the second of four films in which Ralph Bellamy played Inspector Steve Trent The others were BEFORE MIDNIGHT (November 1933), ONE IS GUILTY (May 1934), and GIRL IN DANGER (September 1934).

The last two films, like THE CRIME OF HELEN STANLEY, costarred Shirley Grey, who played a completely different role in each movie. Two of the films, including this one, were directed by D. Ross Lederman, and the other two were directed by Lambert Hillyer.

It's a fun bit of trivia that a few years later, Bellamy would play detective Ellery Queen in a quartet of movies released in 1940 and 1941.

THE CRIME OF HELEN STANLEY was filmed by Al Seigler. The supporting cast also includes Phillip Trent, Lucien Prival, Helen Eby-Rock, and Frank O'Connor.

This was an enjoyable short watch, and I'll be looking for the other movies in this series.

Update: Here's my review of the first film in the series, BEFORE MIDNIGHT (1933).

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Hell Bent for Leather (1960) at Classic Movie Hub

This month at Classic Movie Hub my Western RoundUp column focuses on the Audie Murphy film HELL BENT FOR LEATHER (1960).

HELL BENT FOR LEATHER, which I recently saw for the first time, was directed by George Sherman. It costars Felicia Farr and Stephen McNally.

The movie also features marvelous widescreen location filming in Lone Pine's Alabama Hills.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Tonight's Movie: The Santa Stakeout (2021)

It's hard to believe it's already been a month since Christmas!

The Christmas season is always so busy that there's never enough time to watch as many Christmas movies as I'd like, so I usually watch more in January and, indeed, all year long.

I just watched THE SANTA STAKEOUT (2021), a new film which aired on the Hallmark Channel this Christmas season.

THE SANTA STAKEOUT stars Hallmark regulars Paul Campbell, whose most recent prior Hallmark Christmas film was CHRISTMAS BY STARLIGHT (2020), and Tamera Mowry-Housley, who appeared in CHRISTMAS COMES TWICE (2020).

Campbell and Mowry-Housley play Denver police detectives Ryan Anderson and Tanya Morris, who are assigned to investigate a series of art thefts just before Christmas.

Ryan and Tasha have recently met for the first time and initially don't get along. When they're assigned to move into a house to keep tabs on the prime suspect (Joe Pantoliano) next door, they gradually reveal more about themselves and become friends, and perhaps something more...

Meanwhile, is ex-con Francis (Pantoliano) just a nice guy caught up in some bad circumstantial evidence, or is he masterminding an impressive series of burglaries?

I found this film very enjoyable. It's a little bit different from the typical Hallmark Christmas film in that the bickering leads are fairly snippy with one another at the outset, and each has lost a significant previous relationship due to commitment to their careers.

That said, even when they are pretty antagonistic early on they made me chuckle, and I was impressed by the way Gregg Rossen and Brian Sawyer's script believably develops the characters and transitions their relationship into something warmer.

Pantoliano's Francis touched me so that I was really worrying that he was the bad guy right along with Ryan and Tasha. Again, the writers came up with a believable resolution to the story which had me smiling.

Incidentally, seeing Pantoliano in this caused me to remember the first time I ever saw him -- playing Maggio in the 1979 TV remake of FROM HERE TO ETERNITY. That was a lot of years ago!

Campbell is excellent as a guy who initially seems to be a bit of a jerk but who is revealed to have hidden interests and talents as he lets down his guard with Tasha; he stops deflecting everything with sarcastic humor and becomes "real" and more thoughtful.

The snappy dialogue was such that I checked early on to see if Campbell had written the script, as his screenplay for CHRISTMAS BY STARLIGHT was quite funny. While he didn't write this one, I was surprised to learn that he wrote not one but two 2021 Hallmark Christmas movies: CHRISTMAS AT CASTLE HEART (2021) starring Lacey Chabert and AN UNEXPECTED CHRISTMAS (2021) with Bethany Joy Lenz. I've heard from friends that the latter film is particularly good and look forward to checking it out.

I thought Mowry-Housley was charming as the ebullient Tasha, and I was also delighted by a brief moment where she beautifully sang. (I think it's probably also her singing on the soundtrack as the movie comes to an end.) Mowry-Housley has been acting since her teens, including starring with her twin sister, Tia Mowry-Hardrict, on SISTER, SISTER (1994-99); Tia has appeared in Christmas movies on both the Hallmark and Lifetime Channels. Mowry-Housley, a Pepperdine University graduate, is married to former Fox News Channel correspondent Adam Housley.

THE SANTA STAKEOUT was directed by Peter Benson and filmed by Geoff Wallace, with Vancouver, British Columbia, standing in for Denver. The running time is 84 minutes.

THE SANTA STAKEOUT was quite enjoyable and will go on my "buy" list when it's released on DVD. Hallmark fans looking for a film which is both funny and genuinely touching should give it a try. It left me with a big smile on my face, and as I've said here before, you can't ask for more than that from a Hallmark Christmas film!

Monday, January 24, 2022

Four Aces Movie Ranch, Them! (1954), and Red Rock Canyon

Last fall we made a couple of interesting stops at movie locations while on our way to the 2021 Lone Pine Film Festival.

We first took a look at the 4 Aces Movie Ranch in Palmdale, an interesting little corner in the middle of nowhere which features a retro-style motel and diner.

IMDb has a list of some of the projects which have filmed at this location; most of them I've not heard of, but there are a couple of familiar titles, such as RACE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN (2009) starring Dwayne Johnson.

Of greater significance to us was the desert immediately across the street from the motel, seen to the right in this photo:

The giant ants of the sci-fi classic THEM! (1954) roamed the desert here in the '50s!

The hills in the distance above match up with the background of this screen shot from the movie. Click on any photo to enlarge it for a closer look.

Further north, we pulled off the highway briefly at Red Rock Canyon State Park, where countless Westerns and other shows have filmed.

One of the most notable Westerns to film out here was William Wyler's THE BIG COUNTRY (1958).

A look at a locations list shows dozens more familiar titles which were partly made at Red Rock Canyon.

Information on hiking in the Red Rock Canyon area may be found here or here.

For more photos of movie locations which may be visited between Los Angeles and Lone Pine, please visit my 2020 post on Halfway House Cafe and Vasquez Rocks.

Update: Here are more photos of Red Rock Canyon from the summer of 2022.

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