Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Tonight's Movie: Francis (1950) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Last month Kino Lorber Studio Classics released a Francis the Talking Mule 7-Film Collection on Blu-ray.

I'd previously only seen one of the films in the set, FRANCIS JOINS THE WACS (1954), a great many years ago, so I was glad to have the chance to dig into these movies at long last, especially given how many interesting actors are featured in each of the movies.

I kicked off my viewing with the very first film, FRANCIS (1950), aka FRANCIS THE TALKING MULE. I'm glad to say I found it good fun, thanks especially to a top cast.

Second Lt. Peter Stirling meets Francis the mule (real offscreen name: Molly) while serving in Burma in World War II. Francis, who delivers Peter to safety when he's hit by enemy fire, can amazingly talk (voiced by Chill Wills) -- an admission which lands Peter in the psychiatric ward for a time.

Peter is released and goes back to work in an intelligence unit, but when Francis gives him helpful tips, Peter ends up making repeat trips to the psychiatric ward -- until Lt. General Stevens (John McIntire) hears Francis talk too.

Meanwhile, lovely refugee Maureen (Patricia Medina), who's been pursuing Peter, may not be all she seems...

Sure, this film -- written by David Stern based on his novel -- is goofy, but it's also a fun 91 minutes. I mean, any comedy with Zasu Pitts as a mental ward nurse has got to be worth a look, right? And it is.

Besides the always-excellent McIntire, the cast includes pros like Ray Collins (CITIZEN KANE), Frank Faylen, Robert Warwick, Eduard Franz, and, as one of the young soldiers, Tony Curtis, who had begun in films the previous year and only had a few small credits to his name at this point.

O'Connor had been a staple at Universal Pictures for a number of years when he was cast in this film. He's just right in an almost surprisingly low-key performance as the soldier who somewhat nonchalantly accepts that he's befriended a talking mule. O'Connor's performance as nice guy Peter provides a good contrast with Wills' sardonic line readings as the title character.

Special mention goes to both Pitts and McIntire, who are particularly funny. Pitts' trademark vacant line readings and almost territorial interest in Peter when Maureen visits the hospital are quite amusing, and the scene where McIntire tries to stave off questions on his own mental state late in the film is great.

All in all this was an entertaining movie and I'm curious to check out the next films in the series, which costar the likes of Piper Laurie, Lori Nelson, Julie Adams, Mamie Van Doren, Martha Hyer, and Clint Eastwood. Plus it was great to read that Zasu Pitts returns as the nurse in one of the later films.

FRANCIS was directed by Arthur Lubin. It was filmed in black and white by Irving Glassberg.

The print for FRANCIS and each of the films in the set is a brand-new 2K master. There's nothing distinctive about the film's look, but the print quality is excellent.

FRANCIS has a commentary track by Lee Gambin. There are no other extras with this film, but I'll note here that every film in this set has a commentary, and five of the seven films also have newly remastered trailers. Anyone who's at all interested in these films will want to acquire this collection.

Look for additional reviews from this set over the course of the summer; I'll be mixing them in with quite a number of other reviews of very interesting releases from Kino Lorber.

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

New at Classic Movie Hub: A "B" Western Sampler

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

This month I take a look at a "sampler" of four "B" Westerns which I watched while on a recent road trip. 

It was a fun batch of movies with stars like Tim Holt, "Wild Bill" Elliott, Jimmy Ellison, Julie Adams, Anne Jeffreys, and Barbara Britton.

Please click over to Classic Movie Hub to check it out, and thanks, as always, for reading!

Previous Classic Movie Hub Western RoundUp Column Links: June 2018; July 2018; August 2018; September 2018; October 2018; November 2018; December 2018; January 2019; February 2019; April 5, 2019; April 30, 2019; May 2019; June 2019; July 2019; August 2019; September 2019; October 2019; November 2019; December 2019; January 2020; February 2020; March 2020; April 2020; May 2020; June 2020; July 2020; August 2020; September 2020; October 2020; November 2020; December 2020; January 2021; February 2021; March 2021; May 2021; June 2021; June 2021 (No. 2); July 2021; August 2021; September 2021; November 2021; December 2021; December 2021 (No. 2); January 2022; February 2022; March 2022; April 2022; May 2022.


Sunday, June 26, 2022

A Visit to Marysvale Cemetery

Our road trip earlier this month took us to some wonderful places, including Lone Pine, a trio of national parks, and a Utah state park.


In the coming weeks I'll be sharing some "Photos From the Road" of various places we visited, and I also have some fantastic movie location photos I'll be sharing either here or in my Western RoundUp column at Classic Movie Hub. Among other things, we found the "Roman riding" location from Rio Grande (1950). Talk about a huge thrill!

First, though, I'll share a very special side trip we made to the little town of Marysvale, Utah, which is on Highway 89 along the way between Bryce Canyon City and Moab.

As we neared Marysvale we were interested to see a sign for the "Boyhood Home" of Robert Leroy Parker, aka Butch Cassidy.


We pulled into the parking lot and snapped a quick photo of the exterior:


Then it was on to Marysvvale Cemetery:


This cemetery is the final resting place of actress Marie Windsor, who was born Emily Marie Bertelsen in Marysvale on December 11, 1919. We found her grave marker almost immediately:


This is one of the nicest grave markers we've seen, honoring both Marie's acting career and her husband Jack Hupp's years playing USC basketball. Hupp was the MVP and captain of the Trojans team in 1936.


It's a lovely spot overlooking the town, with Marie's parents buried nearby. When we arrived there were fresh flowers on both gravesites.


Marie died in Beverly Hills in 2000, the day before her 81st birthday. Her husband, whom she'd married in 1954, died the following summer.

Something unique to this cemetery, which I can't recall commonly seeing at the many cemeteries we have previously visited, is that many of the tombstones have the names of married couples' children on the reverse. Richard was the Hupps' son together, and Christopher was Jack Hupp's son from his first marriage.


Marie Windsor is a key actress for those of us who love both Westerns and film noir. It was a great honor to be able to pay our respects to a woman whose work has brought us so much enjoyment over the years.

Additional photo posts on the final resting places of historic Hollywood figures: A Visit to Forest Lawn Glendale, Part 1, A Visit to Forest Lawn Glendale, Part 2, A Visit to the Forest Lawn Museum, A Visit to Hollywood Forever Cemetery (2014), A Visit to Westwood Village Memorial Park - The Musicians, A Visit to Westwood Village Memorial Park - The Comedians, A Visit to Westwood Village Memorial Park - The Actors, A Visit to Westwood Village Memorial Park - Writers, Directors, and More, A Visit to Holy Cross Cemetery, Part 1, A Visit to Holy Cross Cemetery, Part 2, A Visit to Holy Cross Cemetery, Part 3, A Visit to Desert Memorial Park, Los Angeles National Cemetery, A Visit to Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, Part 1, A Visit to Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, Part 2, A Visit to Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, Part 3, A Visit to Forest Lawn Cathedral City, A Visit to Oakwood Memorial Park, A Visit to Hillside Memorial Park, Part 1, A Visit to Hillside Memorial Park, Part 2, A Visit to Hollywood Forever Cemetery (2019), A Visit to Woodlawn Cemetery, A Visit to Valley Oaks Memorial Park, A Visit to Valhalla Cemetery, A Visit to Pacific View Memorial Park, A Visit to Glen Haven Memorial Park, A Visit to Forest Lawn Glendale (2020), A Visit to Calvary Cemetery, A Visit to Home of Peace Memorial Park, A Visit to Forest Lawn Glendale (2022), Visits to Orange County Cemeteries (Holy Sepulcher Cemetery and El Toro Memorial Park), A Visit to Inglewood Park Cemetery, A Visit to Mt. Sinai Memorial Park, and A Visit to Palm Springs (Coachella Valley Public Cemetery).

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Around the Blogosphere This Week...

...is taking the weekend off while we enjoy a visit with family here from out of state.

Around the Blogosphere This Week will return on Saturday, July 2nd.

I've prescheduled a post for Sunday morning, so please check back tomorrow for new content.

For recent classic film links please visit my June 18th roundup.

Friday, June 24, 2022

Star Wars Celebration: The Mandalorian Experience

A couple weeks ago I shared photos from the Star Wars Celebration convention our family attended in Anaheim on Memorial Day Weekend.


As I mentioned in that post, the day's highlight for me was "The Mandalorian Experience," a special exhibit of costumes and props from the first two series of the hit Disney+ series.


The exhibit began in fairly mellow fashion, with some dark rooms filled with models (such as above), the interior of the Mandalorian's ship, the Razor Crest, and other props.


The props included the bassinet which held "Baby Yoda" (Grogu) the first time the Mandalorian saw him...


...and the infamous "Frog Lady," along with her future children (ostensibly the ones which Grogu didn't eat...!).



Then we walked into a very large room which had as its centerpiece the Mandalorian's new ship, the N1 Starfighter, with an animatronic Grogu turning from place to place to wave at everyone.


Pretty much anything or anyone ever seen on THE MANDALORIAN was in this room, including costumes for all the characters.





Significant props were on hand as well.


Click on any  photo to enlarge it for a closer look.









I saved the best for last: My favorite character, Marshal Cobb Vanth, who's played by Timothy Olyphant of JUSTIFIED and other other TV series.


Marshal Vanth is a significant part of why I think of THE MANDALORIAN, more than anything else, as a "space Western." It's part HAVE GUN, WILL TRAVEL and part THE RIFLEMAN!


The one omission from the exhibit was a costume for Cara Dune, given that actress Gina Carano was unfortunately "cancelled" by Hollywood and Disney, which really needs to stop happening. She was one of my favorite characters so I'm not very happy about her no longer being on the show. They did (grudgingly?) include her marshal's badge, however.


Other than that one complaint, THE MANDALORIAN EXPERIENCE was an amazing exhibit which really did right by fans of the series; as seen above, it was no halfhearted effort but an extensive, elaborate display which really made the day special.  I haven't heard about plans for it to travel but I'd encourage any fan of the series to go see it if there's an opportunity.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Quick Preview of TCM in August: Summer Under the Stars

The lineup for this year's annual Summer Under the Stars festival was announced this week by Turner Classic Movies.

Although we now know the stars to be honored, the schedule itself is still a work in progress, with a number of blank spaces throughout.

I anticipate that the complete schedule will appear soon at TCM's Summer Under the Stars microsite, which as I write is currently blank. In the meantime, a partial preview of the films on the schedule may be found here.

Each of the stars listed below will be honored with a 24-hour marathon in August.

AUGUST 1: ELVIS PRESLEY

AUGUST 2: JEAN ARTHUR

AUGUST 3: SIDNEY POITIER

AUGUST 4: RUTH ROMAN

AUGUST 5: ORSON WELLES

AUGUST 6: AUDREY HEPBURN

AUGUST 7: GENE KELLY

AUGUST 8: MAUREEN O'SULLIVAN

AUGUST 9: WILLIAM HOLDEN

AUGUST 10: GRETA GARBO

AUGUST 11: LAURENCE HARVEY

AUGUST 12: JANE POWELL

AUGUST 13: MARLON BRANDO

AUGUST 14: ELIZABETH TAYLOR

AUGUST 15: RANDOLPH SCOTT

AUGUST 16: RAQUEL WELCH

AUGUST 17: SPENCER TRACY

AUGUST 18: SHELLEY WINTERS

AUGUST 19: TOSHIRO MIFUNE

AUGUST 20: JOAN CRAWFOD

AUGUST 21: CLINT EASTWOOD

AUGUST 22: CONSTANCE BENNETT

AUGUST 23: MICKEY ROONEY

AUGUST 24: JACQUELINE BISSET

AUGUST 25: GILBERT ROLAND

AUGUST 26: VIVIEN LEIGH

AUGUST 27: MARILYN MONROE

AUGUST 28: CARY GRANT

AUGUST 29: MYRNA LOY

AUGUST 30: JACK CARSON

AUGUST 31: PETER SELLERS

I'll have a more detailed look at the August schedule available here around the end of July. In the meantime, Judy Garland continues as the June Star of the Month, with Dana Andrews being honored in July.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Tonight's Movie: American Flyers (1985) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

I've mentioned here before that Kevin Costner is my favorite actor of the last few decades. I was thus happy when the Warner Archive recently released two 1985 Costner films I'd never seen, AMERICAN FLYERS (1985) and FANDANGO (1985).

I'll be reviewing both, and I decided to start with AMERICAN FLYERS, a cycling movie written by Steve Tesich, who also wrote the Oscar-winning screenplay for the cycling movie BREAKING AWAY (1979).

AMERICAN FYERS was directed by John Badham; I saw his film WARGAMES (1983) on first release.

Before watching it I didn't look closely at the AMERICAN FLYERS plot description, assuming it was sort of a "coming of age" bicycling movie. It is, but it also goes to much darker places than I was expecting.

Costner plays Dr. Marcus Sommers, a sports physician who in recent years has been largely absent from the lives of his mother (Janice Rule) and younger brother David (David Marshall Grant).

Marcus resents the way his mother withdrew from his father when he was terminally ill, while David is more understanding of human frailty. David, despite being quite bright, has issues of his own; he hasn't applied himself to school or established a career and is living life as a bit of a lazy goof.

Marcus shows up at the family home in St. Louis out of the blue and almost immediately takes David back with him to Wisconsin. Although they never really discuss the purpose, Marcus gives David a series of medical tests. It transpires that each of them could have a genetic predisposition towards the same inoperable brain aneurysm which killed their father.

Tests done, the brothers then decide to compete in the "Hell of the West" bicycle race in Colorado, and they set off together, accompanied by Marcus's live-in girlfriend Sarah (Rae Dawn Chong).

Along the way, physical conditions are made clear, family relationships are rebuilt, and David is put on the path toward mature adulthood.

I can't say I exactly liked the movie, given the plotline, but it was a fairly interesting 113 minutes, and I was glad to check off another title in Costner's filmography. The movie has exciting racing scenes, and it tries to deal with the downer subject matter in as positive a way as possible, but there are issues with Tesich's screenplay; it's too "elliptical," leaving holes in our understanding of the characters and their actions which aren't satisfactorily filled in. We're ultimately left inferring quite a bit of the story, which didn't work in the film's favor.

In terms of Costner's career, the releases of FANDANGO and AMERICAN FLYERS came the same year as his breakout role as Scott Glenn's kid brother in SILVERADO (1985). In 1987 he starred back to back in THE UNTOUCHABLES (1987) and NO WAY OUT (1987), immediately followed by BULL DURHAM (1988) and FIELD OF DREAMS (1989), and the rest is movie history.

Costner's Marcus is so dour it's almost hard to believe it's the same actor who played the goofy cowboy in SILVERADO that year, and it did give me a deeper appreciation of Costner's talent. Here he's saddled with an unfortunate mustache which ages the 30-year-old actor greatly -- I assume deliberately, in order to make his role as a doctor more believable.

We very rarely get to see what really makes Marcus tick; a brief sunrise scene with Sarah is as close as we get to understanding his feelings more intimately. In the end we're left with a character who is sympathetic but who also remains a bit of an enigma, which is an issue with the script, not the actor.

Grant's not very appealing, but I appreciated his character arc and growth. Among the cast I most enjoyed Chong as Marcus's supportive girlfriend and Alexandra Paul as a young woman who hooks up with David on the road and ultimately shows herself to have sensitivity beneath her dingbat exterior.

John Amos also has a nice smaller role as Marcus's colleague. Fun story: Amos was a friend of one of my high school teachers and came and gave a talk to our class, a couple of years after he starred in ROOTS (1977).

The movie was nicely shot by Donald Peterman, reflected well by the Warner Archive Blu-ray widescreen print. The lone extra is the trailer.

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, June 20, 2022

Tonight's Movie: The Return of Wildfire (1948)

I have a soft spot for "B" (and "C"!) films produced by Robert Lippert, and my favorite to date is THE RETURN OF WILDFIRE (1948).

THE RETURN OF WILDFIRE has an excellent cast, headed by Richard Arlen and one of my personal favorites, Patricia Morison. The movie also stars Mary Beth Hughes, James Millican, Reed Hadley, and Chris-Pin Martin, who all later appeared together in Lippert's RIMFIRE (1949).

The movie also features the famed movie horse Highland Dale, who I wrote about last month in BLACK BEAUTY (1946).

Arlen plays Dobe Williams, a wandering cowpoke who comes to the rescue of Judy Marlowe (Hughes) when she's thrown from a horse in the desert.

Williams gives Judy a ride back to the ranch she runs with her father (Stanley Andrews) and sister Pat (Morison), and he's promptly hired to work on the ranch. The flirtatious Judy has a relationship with ranchhand Frank (Millican), but she also chases after Dobe. Dobe, in the meantime, is more interested in the quieter, more responsible Pat, who returns his interest.

Frank owes a gambling debt to Marty Quinn (Hadley) which must be paid off by arranging for Quinn to buy the Marlowes' cattle to help him corner the market. The Marlowes have other ideas, however, which leads to a saga of murder and betrayal...all in a well-paced 83 minutes.

This was quite an engaging film thanks to the strong cast, good-looking sepia-toned cinematography by Ernest Miller, and some excellent location shooting at Southern California's Vasquez Rocks. I shared photos of Vasquez Rocks, a frequent Western movie location, after I visited in 2020.

The dynamic with the two sisters, one good and one not so good, with similar romantic complications, reminded me a bit of the previous year's Randolph Scott film GUNFIGHTERS (1947), where Dorothy Hart and Barbara Britton played the good and bad siblings.

One of the nicest surprises in THE RETURN OF WILDFIRE is that Morison sings in two scenes, including a really nice number during a campfire scene. Despite her talent, which was utilized in Broadway and touring musicals -- as a child I saw her as the Baroness in a Los Angeles production of THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1972) -- it was a rarity for Morison to sing on screen. At the end of that very same year, 1948, she would star in the original Broadway cast of the classic musical KISS ME, KATE.

Good or bad, Hughes is always an entertaining screen presence, and I've come to appreciate Arlen as a leading man in numerous "B" films, including the Western SECRET VALLEY (1937), which I wrote about for Classic Movie Hub a few years ago.

THE RETURN OF WILDFIRE was directed by Ray Taylor and Paul Landres. According to IMDb, Landres ended up shooting half of the film when Taylor wasn't available, but he did not receive onscreen credit. The screenplay was by Carl K. Hittleman and Betty Burbridge, based on her story.

Mark Thomas McGee's book TALK'S CHEAP, ACTION'S EXPENSIVE: THE FILMS OF ROBERT L. LIPPERT indicates the film was well received by critics and exhibitors, with Variety saying it was "beautifully lensed...has been given twists that lift it above the usual Western filmfare."

Steve at Mystery File liked this one pretty well too last year, saying it was "well played, and with a terrific finish."

THE RETURN OF WILDFIRE is available on a double-feature DVD disc with LAST OF THE WILD HORSES (1948) from VCI Entertainment. LAST OF THE WILD HORSES stars James Ellison along with Hughes, Millican, Hadley, and Andrews; it was partly filmed on location in Oregon.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Tonight's Movie: Bad Boy (1949) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Audie Murphy had his first starring role in BAD BOY (1949), an Allied Artists film available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

Murphy had previously played small parts in TEXAS, BROOKLYN & HEAVEN (1948) and BEYOND GLORY (1948). He was then cast in the title role of BAD BOY, playing delinquent teen Danny Lester.

Danny gets into trouble and instead of jail the judge (Selena Royle) sentences him to a Variety Club ranch run by Marshall Brown (Lloyd Nolan) and his wife Maud (Jane Wyatt), who are assisted by Chief (James Gleason).

Most of the boys at the ranch are grateful to be there and are turning their lives around, but the Browns and Chief can't cut through Danny's resentment. He gets into trouble time and again and alienates the other boys, who are played by good actors including Jimmy Lydon, Dickie Moore, Tommy Cook, and Stanley Clements.

The Browns don't want to give up, and Marshall does some digging into Danny's past, discovering that Danny's stepfather (Rhys Williams) and stepsister (Martha Vickers) destroyed his sense of self-worth and convinced him that he was responsible for the death of his mother (Barbara Wooddell). Will the Browns be able to help Danny turn his life around before it's too late?

I thought BAD BOY was quite a nice movie, somewhat similar to BOYS' RANCH (1946) where Darryl Hickman and Skip Homeier were among the troubled boys.

Nolan is always so good, real and compelling with the simplest dialogue. (The story and screenplay were by Robert Hardy Andrews.) Nolan really makes the movie, but the rest of the cast is fine too, with Wyatt equally appealing as the one person who seems able to reach Danny.

Gleason is disarming as Chief, whose ability to handle the boys in his charge belies his age, and the young actors are all good. I'm not a Clements fan but he has a great scene singing "Dream On Little Plowboy." (IMDb doesn't know whether or not he was dubbed).

As for Murphy, he was not yet the fine actor he would become, but he certainly holds his own, especially given his lack of acting experience. Indeed, he's quite moving in the later scenes in particular.

After this film Murphy moved into Westerns, starting with THE KID FROM TEXAS (1950) and SIERRA (1950), and the majority of his films from that point on would be Westerns. Exceptions included THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE (1951), THE GUN RUNNERS (1958), and the autobiographical film TO HELL AND BACK (1955). Knowing what we now know about how Murphy suffered from PTSD, it's amazing to me he was able to make the latter film and relive his experiences in World War II.

BAD BOY runs 86 minutes. It was directed by Kurt Neumann and filmed in black and white by Karl Struss. The movie was filmed at the Janss Conejo Ranch, which incidentally isn't far from the McCrea Ranch.

The Warner Archive DVD has a good print and sound. There are no extras on the disc.

BAD BOY is an interesting look at the beginning of Audie Murphy's career as well as a solid film in its own right. I enjoyed it.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive DVDs may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection Amazon Store or from any online retailers where DVDs are sold.

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