Sunday, July 31, 2022

TCM in August: Summer Under the Stars Highlights

It's time for the annual August Summer Under the Stars festival on Turner Classic Movies!

Please check out my festival preview for a quick glance at the stars to be honored this month. The complete schedule is at TCM's Summer Under the Stars microsite.

As regular TCM viewers will be aware, August is one of two months of the year, along with Oscars month, when all of TCM's regular franchises take a vacation. Noir Alley, Silent Sunday Nights, and Saturday morning cartoons, serials, and "B" movies will resume in September.

Below are a handful of recommendations from an outstanding lineup. Please click on any hyperlinked title to read a complete review.

...Summer Under the Stars kicks off on August 1st with Elvis Presley, and my top Elvis recommendation is always the summery VIVA LAS VEGAS (1964). Ann-Margret, seen here, is delightful in a costarring role. An upbeat way to start the month!

...Jean Arthur, a huge favorite for many of us, has a full day of films on August 2nd. There are many wonderful titles, but I'll highlight THE DEVIL AND MISS JONES (1941), costarring Robert Cummings and Charles Coburn, which I don't think it shown on TCM very frequently.

...It's been a long time since I've seen BLACKBOARD JUNGLE (1955) but I vividly recall "Rock Around the Clock" on the soundtrack. It's airing on Sidney Poitier Day August 3rd. Glenn Ford also stars.

...August 4th will be the first time Ruth Roman has been celebrating during Summer Under the Stars. I've enjoyed several of the 14 films showing. I particularly recommend TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY (1951), a "couple on the run" film costarring Steve Cochran.

...I've been meaning to watch THE UNFORGIVEN (1960) for quite a while. What a cast: Burt Lancaster, Audie Murphy, Lillian Gish, Charles Bickford, Doug McClure -- and Audrey Hepburn, who will be celebrated on August 6th, It was directed by John Huston.

...It's Gene Kelly Day on August 7th. I've seen every single one of the films showing that day! It's hard to pick favorites to recommend, but two of my all-time faves are SUMMER STOCK (1950) with Judy Garland and BRIGADOON (1954) with Cyd Charisse.

...Maureen O'Sullivan is another actress making her Summer Under the Stars debut with a 14-film day. I've seen about two-thirds of the films shown; although perhaps it's not the best part for her, cast as Ray Milland's perennially disappointed wife, my favorite of the day is THE BIG CLOCK (1948) which I've seen several times. I feel as though the more I see it, the more I get out of it, the mark of a really great film. O'Sullivan's day is August 8th.

...The gem on William Holden Day August 9th is DEAR RUTH (1947), a very funny romantic comedy shown infrequently on TCM. SoldierHolden shows up to meet his penpal Ruth (Joan Caulfield), whose letters were actually written by her little sister Miriam (Mona Freeman, in a very funny deadpan performance).

...I've seen all but one of the films on Jane Powell Day August 12th, and it's one of my favorite days on the schedule. It's a great day to take off work and watch the whole lineup, but I'll particularly recommend A DATE WITH JUDY (1948), one of the first films I reached for when California locked down in 2020. "Comfort movie viewing" at its very finest. Elizabeth Taylor leads a fine cast of costars.

...Elizabeth Taylor will be celebrated on August 14th. I've been meaning to revisit CYNTHIA (1947) for quite a while. It was on TV often when I was growing up and I always enjoyed it. Maybe not the world's greatest storyline, with Taylor playing a sickly girl trying to achieve some independence from her hovering parents (Mary Astor and George Murphy), yet it's quite entertaining.

...On August 15th it's time for some Randolph Scott Westerns! Lots of good ones, including one of my all-time favorite films, RIDE LONESOME (1959). Last year I wrote about visiting one of the movie's Alabama Hills locations for Classic Movie Hub.

...Spencer Tracy's films will be shown on August 17th. I recommend THIRTY SECONDS OVER TOKYO (1944), with Tracy as Lt. Col. James Doolittle. The superb cast includes Van Johnson, Robert Walker, Robert Mitchum, Don DeFore, and many more.

...MEET DANNY WILSON (1951) is a Frank Sinatra film which has yet to have a U.S. DVD or Blu-ray release. (In the meantime, I'm hanging on to my VHS copy!) It's on as part of Shelley Winters Day on August 18th.

...The outstanding police procedural HIGH AND LOW (1963) will be among the Toshiro Mifune films shown on August 19th. Akira Kurosawa directed.

...The "must" Joan Crawford film on August 20th is QUEEN BEE (1955), which was shown at this year's TCM Classic Film Festival. Home viewers won't be able to replicate the gasps of a packed audience, but it's a great deal of melodramatic fun. Barry Sullivan and John Ireland lead a top supporting cast.

...A whopping 15 films starring Constance Bennett will be shown on August 22nd. It's a terrific lineup with many entertaining films. I'd like to call attention to the relatively little-known SMART WOMAN (1948), with Bennett playing a successful trial attorney. ; Brian Aherne and Barry Sullivan costar, and there's a fun turn by Michael O'Shea as Bennett's reporter pal who loves to drop by her place to eat.  Aherne and Bennett were teamed a decade before in the delightful comedy MERRILY WE LIVE (1938) which is also being shown that day.

...I revisited NATIONAL VELVET (1944) this spring for the first time in years and was extremely impressed by it. Mickey Rooney and Elizabeth Taylor lead a fine cast, directed by Clarence Brown. It's part of Mickey Rooney Day on August 23rd.

...I love that Gilbert Roland has a Summer Under the Stars Day! Such a handsome and charismatic actor. His day on August 24th includes UNDERWATER! (1955), with Roland looking mighty fine in the film's many boat and diving scenes. Jane Russell, Richard Egan, and Lori Nelson costar.

...HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE (1953), with Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe, and Lauren Bacall as three women looking for rich husbands, is delightful fun. The men in their lives are played by Rory Calhoun, David Wayne, Cameron Mitchell, and William Powell. It's part of a day of Monroe's films on August 27th.

...You can't go wrong with Cary Grant Day on August 28th! I've seen them all, and it's a great day of entertainment. I'll particularly single out a title here which I wish I'd been able to work into my schedule at this year's TCM Fest, HOUSEBOAT (1958), costarring Sophia Loren and Martha Hyer.  I have a lot of fond memories of this film, another one which aired on TV frequently when I was young.

...The very next day, August 29th, is Myrna Loy Day. I especially recommend PENTHOUSE (1933) a terrific film which was a breakthrough for Loy, reportedly inspiring her casting as Nora in THE THIN MAN (1934). It was directed by THIN MAN director W.S. Van Dyke. Warner Baxter also stars.

...Many more wonderful films air on Jack Carson Day, August 30th. I especially love THE TIME, THE PLACE AND THE GIRL (1946) costarring Dennis Morgan, Martha Vickers, and Janis Paige. It also features the absolutely lovely song "Oh, But I Do." Guaranteed smiles with this one.

Enjoy a wonderful month of Summer Under the Stars movies! Here's a link for TCM's promotional video.

For more on TCM in August 2022, please check out my Quick Preview of TCM in August or TCM's complete online schedule.

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Tonight's Movie: Fiddler's Journey to the Big Screen (2022) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

FIDDLER'S JOURNEY TO THE BIG SCREEN (2022), an 88-minute documentary on the making of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF (1971), was released on Blu-ray last week by Kino Lorber.

Although I didn't see FIDDLER ON THE ROOF on its initial release, I saw it theatrically a few years later, and I've seen it on several other occasions; indeed, it was one of the first films I purchased when we got a DVD player. The LP double album has been a favorite for most of my life, since before I even saw the movie. All of which is to say that I thus found this documentary extremely interesting.

Director Daniel Raim is fortunate that so many people who worked on FIDDLER ON THE ROOF continue to be with us, including lead actor Topol, all three of the older daughters, lyricist Sheldon Harnick, arranger John Williams, and director Norman Jewison.

That said, some of the interviews used were shot quite a while ago; for instance, Topol's was filmed back in 2009. Williams and the three actresses, on the other hand, were all interviewed as recently as 2021. Raim's website describes both the genesis for the documentary and background on when he interviewed each of the participants.

Everyone involved shares interesting memories as the documentary outlines the show's Broadway-to-Hollywood history. I was particularly fascinated by Williams describing how filming a musical comes down to "math problems," working out the number of beats needed to match up to the onscreen action.

It was also amusing to learn that, despite his last name, director Norman Jewison is not Jewish! Of all the participants, Jewison is front and center most often as he recounts being hired to direct the film and the saga of its making.

As a child I was very taken with Michele Marsh as Hodel, so it was a particular treat for me to hear Marsh's memories. I'd add that watching this I was particularly struck that Rosalind Harris (Tzeitel, seen here) is a lovely person, in both looks and personality.

The documentary was written by Raim and Michael Sragow; it was filmed by Aasulv Austad and Sinisa Kukic. It's narrated by Jeff Goldbum.

Raim directed other documentaries I've previously reviewed, such as HAROLD AND LILLIAN: A HOLLYWOOD LOVE STORY (2015), about movie researcher Lillian Michelson and her husband Harold, a storyboard artist; IN SEARCH OF OZU (2018), about the great Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu; and IMAGE MAKERS: THE ADVENTURES OF AMERICA'S PIONEER CINEMATOGRAPHERS (2019). As is the case with FIDDLER'S JOURNEY, each one of these films was interesting and, I would add, important; I love the way Raim has focused his considerable talent on preserving unique and varied slices of film history.

I also appreciate that Raim's documentaries are simultaneously very detailed yet "just the facts." Some documentaries can feel as though the participants' comments are shoehorned into the filmmaker's preplanned theme or vision, but Raim simply lets people tell their stories, trying to record the most accurate history possible, and then he presents it in an interesting format. Patrick Mate's amusing cartoon sketches, which appear in Raim's other films, turn up again as illustrations here.

The extensive extras include Raim's short on production designer Robert Boyle, THE MAN ON LINCOLN'S NOSE (2000); additional interview footage, including reminisces about late cast members Leonard Frey and Norma Crane; an excerpt on FIDDLER ON THE ROOF research from HAROLD AND LILLIAN; and the trailer.

I enjoyed FIDDLER'S JOURNEY TO THE BIG SCREEN very much, and I also look forward to seeing "what's next" from documentary maker Daniel Raim.

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

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...This weekend's roundup is quite short, owing both to a dearth of new classic film release announcements and my own busy schedule this weekend. I anticipate sharing more about today's excursion to Los Angeles here soon.

...Leonard Maltin has a nice overview of some recent film books; here are links for Part One and Part Two. He also includes a book on Walt Disney World on his lists.

...As a train movie enthusiast, I enjoyed this article on "The Glamor of Travel in Classic Films" by Meaghan Walsh Gerard for DVD Netflix.

...CBS recently interviewed Sandy Duncan. Don't think I'd heard anything about her in years so it was great to check in with her. She's certainly faced some significant challenges.

...I enjoyed Raquel's informative article on a pair of films airing this weekend in the Turner Classic Movies "Follow the Thread" series, PARIS FRILLS (1945), aka FALBALAS, and PHANTOM THREAD (2017).

...Notable Passings: Actress Faye Marlowe has passed away at the age of 95. The films in her fairly brief career included HANGOVER SQUARE (1945) and JUNIOR MISS (1945)...Actor Paul Sorvino, the father of actress Mira Sorvino, has died at 83...Tony Dow of TV's LEAVE IT TO BEAVER has passed on at the age of 77...David Warner, memorable to me as Bob Cratchit in the George C. Scott version of A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1984), has died at the age of 80.

...For additional recent links of interest to classic film fans, please check out my July 23rd roundup.

Friday, July 29, 2022

A Birthday Tribute to Stephen McNally

Attorney-turned-actor Stephen McNally was born in New York City on July 29, 1911.

McNally, a graduate of Fordham University Law School, worked as an attorney for a few years before achieving success on the Broadway stage under his birth name, Horace McNally. 

His theatrical roles included playing the doctor in JOHNNY BELINDA, which opened in 1940; in the film, made years later, he switched to the villain's role played on stage by Willard Parker.

He's seen above with Helen Craig in the Broadway production.

McNally continued to act under the name Horace McNally in the first phase of his career, when he played small roles at MGM from 1942 to 1946. His parts included "Doc" White in THIRTY SECONDS OVER TOKYO (1944).

He's seen here with Angela Lansbury in THE HARVEY GIRLS (1946):

When Warner Bros. brought JOHNNY BELINDA to the screen in 1948 and his career moved into higher gear, McNally began using the name Stephen, which was the name of one of his sons. He's seen below in the film with Jane Wyman, who won an Oscar for her performance.

Immediately after JOHNNY BELINDA McNally signed with Universal Pictures and his career took off, playing both leads and major supporting roles in numerous Westerns and crime films. He's seen here in a publicity photo for his role as the detective in one of his first Universal films, the noir classic CRISS CROSS (1949).

Here he's seen in one of his best-known, most memorable roles as villainous Dutch Henry Brown in the classic Western WINCHESTER '73 (1950):

One of my favorite McNally Westerns is THE DUEL AT SILVER CREEK (1952) with Audie Murphy, Susan Cabot (seen here), and Faith Domergue:

Another favorite Western is APACHE DRUMS (1951) with Coleen Gray:

An excellent later film with Audie Murphy was HELL BENT FOR LEATHER (1960):

Stephen and his wife Rita were married in 1941. They had eight children in all, five girls and three boys, some of whom were featured in charming publicity photos over the years:

McNally retired in 1980 and died at his home on N. Hillcrest Road in Beverly Hills on June 4, 1994. He was 82. The Los Angeles Times obituary indicated he was survived by Rita, all of their children, and eight grandchildren.

McNally's funeral was held at the Roman Catholic Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills. He is buried under his birth name, Horace Vincent McNally, at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California. (July 30th Update: I was able to pay my respects today at McNally's final resting place, and my photo has been inserted above.)

Stephen McNally made numerous highly enjoyable films over the course of his career. He's seen above in NO WAY OUT (1950) in which he played the doctor who mentors a younger physician played by Sidney Poitier.

Here are links for McNally's films previously reviewed at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings:



Reviewed in my Western RoundUp column for Classic Movie Hub: WYOMING MAIL (1950), APACHE DRUMS (1950), THE DUEL AT SILVER CREEK (1952), THE STAND AT APACHE RIVER (1953), HELL BENT FOR LEATHER (1960).

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Tonight's Movie: The Godfather (1972)

Well, it only took 50 years, but I finally did it...I watched THE GODFATHER (1972).

THE GODFATHER came out when I was very young, and it's never been something I've been interested in. The classic black posters looked intimidating to me as a young child, and as I got older the story and characters simply didn't sound appealing. Plus I watch very few R-rated movies and felt the film would probably be too violent for my taste as well.

One thing I've learned as a classic film fan, however, is never say never and that my tastes continue ever widening. If someone had told me a decade ago that I'd be spending good money on Marlene Dietrich Blu-rays I'd never have believed it. Two decades ago I wouldn't have believed I'd fall in love with film noir. And so on. One of the wonderful things about movies is that I find as time goes on, it seems like there is more and more of interest to watch, rather than less.

Sometimes things just come together and the movie meets the right moment, and that was the case for me with THE GODFATHER. I was intrigued by little bits of information and scene stills I'd recently seen on Twitter combined with stories my husband shared about the making of the film after watching a new streaming miniseries. I got to thinking about the fact the movie has two favorite actors in supporting roles, Richard Conte and Sterling Hayden, and that I always enjoy Diane Keaton, going back to BABY BOOM (1987). Then James Caan recently passed away and has been on my mind of late.

And so I finally watched THE GODFATHER. And I'm glad to say I really enjoyed it.

Spoiler alert warning for anyone else who hasn't yet seen the film in the last half-century -- please go watch it and then come back, as I'm going to freely discuss all sorts of random plot points and details. However, at the same time I'm not going to spell out the storyline as I often do, assuming many readers have already seen it. In a nutshell: It's about a family involved in the very complicated business of organized crime.

Did I think THE GODFATHER was one of a handful of the greatest movies ever made, as many serious film fans and historians do? No, I didn't. I thought it was extremely well-crafted with excellent dialogue, and I have no trouble saying it's a top-notch 3-1/2 or 4-star movie -- yet it also felt to me somewhat like a high-quality soapy TV miniseries of the '70s or '80s...and indeed, I remember the buzz when the first two films were completely re-edited into a TV miniseries in the late '70s!

I do try to keep context in mind, such as that the film's "all-star cast" feel wouldn't have been the case in 1972, when many of the actors were in the early phases of their careers.

The film's style, with its "elliptical" storytelling, including omitted information and occasional big jumps in time, seems quite modern. On the one hand, that style treats the viewer as intelligent and causes the viewer to do a lot of thinking. I went to Google with some of my questions and discovered that people pour over the film's most minute details like Kremlinologists, trying to divine meaning from seconds of the film. (A question raised by my reading: Sonny and Tom each named a son Frank, and Connie's baby Michael Francis also has a form of the name. Why?)

At the same time, the missing information and being left to infer things on one's own so often can sometimes be frustrating. For instance, why did Michael (Al Pacino) immediately abandon his attachment to Kay (Keaton) and marry Apollonia (Simonetta Stefanelli) during his time in Italy? Did he think he'd never return to the U.S.? Did he love them both? Was Kay just convenient, both before and after Italy? Why did he wait a year to contact Kay when he returned -- grief over Apollonia's death? I'm not asking for everything to be spelled out in detail, but some additional hints would have been helpful.

Here are a number of additional random thoughts on the film, in no particular order:

*For a film about family, the women get very short shrift. I get that the focus is the "family business," which is entirely run by men, but we never see the women's reactions to key events in the film. We have such little insight into who they are as people that it dilutes the power of some scenes in which they do appear, including the famous finale where the door shuts on Kay.

*Along those lines, I would have really liked to know more about Sonny's wife Sandra (Julie Gregg) and Tom's wife Theresa (Tere Livrano), their histories, how they felt about their husbands, the family business, and more, but other than the very brief moments they're seen, the only thing viewers can do is fill in bits of history from the book. Or read Wiki-type web pages which list every detail ever gleaned about the characters. Yes, the movie would have been five hours long including all that...and I guess it speaks well of the film that I wanted to know more.

*The (male) characters that do get more than those few seconds of screen time are all perfectly cast and memorable.

*It was interesting to learn that ON THE WATERFRONT (1954) wasn't Marlon Brando's only great scene in the back of a car. The scene where Vito (Brando) tells Tom (Robert Duvall) that he now knows that Barzini (Conte) was behind the death of Sonny (Caan) is a great one. And once again, we're left to figure out why he now knows it -- that he must have realized the truth from the way Barzini took control of the council of the "five families." I had to replay the meeting and car scenes just to make sure I wasn't missing anything.

*During the five families meeting, I loved the shots of Tom sitting behind Vito, their heads often aligned in exactly the same way, reflecting Tom's unquestioning loyalty.

*My favorite character, in fact, was Tom; I found his "outsider insider" status as Vito's adoptive son to be quite interesting. His courtly manners and eternally calm persona belie the fact he's as ruthless as the rest of the Corleones. I especially liked his interplay with the hotheaded Sonny and the fact that while Sonny would pop off, in the end he respected Tom's opinions and listened carefully. They were a good match.

*Speaking of Sonny, I honestly think killing him off was a big mistake which weakened the film. Sure, it may make dramatic sense as the springboard to a great deal more drama, and I understand that in the end these films are mainly Michael's story, but with Sonny's death a light went out. The remaining lead characters, Michael, Vito, and Tom, are all very "buttoned down" and quiet. Caan's Sonny provided a much-needed contrast and lit up the screen with energy, and his character's absence makes it a less interesting film from that point on. The flatness caused by his absence is one reason I find THE GODFATHER an excellent yet not completely satisfying film.

*That said, the climactic set piece where Barzini and all the family's rivals are wiped out during the baptism of Michael's godson is as great as advertised. I also loved the earlier scene where the declining Vito warns Michael how he'll know the identity of the insider traitor.

*The contrast of Clemenza (Richard Castellano) instructing the driver to be careful of the kids playing when they're leaving the house to kill Paulie (John Martino) is delightful in a black way -- he's just off to "work," completely normal. Of course, the sequence culminates in the perfect line "Leave the gun. Take the cannoli." You may have just bumped off someone who betrayed the family, but don't forget to bring home dessert! (How did the box avoid being blood-splattered, anyway?)  When he's later asked about Paulie, Clemenza offhandedly replies "You won't see him no more." Castellano is terrific in this key supporting role.

*The sequence in the empty hospital where Michael realizes a plot is afoot to try to finish off the badly wounded Vito was an outstanding piece of suspense. I loved the way Enzo the Baker (Gabriele Torrei) bravely repaid Vito for his past assistance.

*I don't think Richard Conte even had any lines in his first scenes at the wedding, but he didn't need any. Talk about making a huge impact simply with his screen presence! I loved him in this, and his casting works exceptionally well for the "shorthand" way the story is told, because the viewer immediately comprehends his power without the need for character development and back story.

*I love Sterling Hayden as a hero, but he also played creeps really well, didn't he?

*The Sicilian sequence serves a function to show Michael embracing the family's roots and gives some additional foundation for his ultimate ruthlessness as he descends into evil -- but it also kind of feels like we switched movies. (And yes, I frankly could have done without the unnecessary wedding night nudity.)

*Now I need to rewatch a favorite film, YOU'VE GOT MAIL (1998), so I can fully appreciate all the references to dialogue from THE GODFATHER.

*For those who may not be aware, Alison Martino, the daughter of Al Martino (Johnny Fontane), has a great Twitter account, Vintage Los Angeles.

*Regarding the violence which was one of the main drivers for me to ignore the film for years, my husband mapped out the problematic scenes for me in advance. I did not actually look at the screen during scenes such as the horse's head or Sonny being gunned down, just listened. Other sequences, such as the finale, I didn't find so bad, perhaps because in 2022, a 1972 R-rated film might seem a little milder?

*Given the long running times of both Part I and Part II, I decided to treat them as the TV miniseries I compared it to earlier and watch an hour or so at a time, that being the easiest way to fit them into my schedule. I watched THE GODFATHER's 2 hours and 55 minutes in three consecutive evenings of late-night viewing. The next film, THE GODFATHER PART II (1974), runs an even longer 3 hours and 22 minutes.

*Does the fact I have had so much to say mean the movie is better than I felt it was? Hmmmm. Thanks to readers who stuck with this all the way to the end!

The huge supporting cast also included Talia Shire, Abe Vigoda, Morgana King, Al Lettieri, Gianni Russo, John Cazale, and many more.

THE GODFATHER won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actor (Brando), and Best Screenplay (Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola, based on Puzo's novel). It received several other nominations, including Francis Ford Coppola as director, Nino Rota for the score, and three nods for Best Supporting Actor: Duvall, Caan, and Pacino. Pacino protested at the time that he should have been in the Best Actor category and I can't fault his thinking on that.

I was surprised Gordon Willis wasn't nominated for his evocative cinematography.

THE GODFATHER is available for home viewing in many formats. I watched "The Coppola Restoration" on Blu-ray.

I anticipate watching THE GODFATHER PART II in the near future and may have even more to say here at that time! Until then, I suspect most of my readers have seen THE GODFATHER, and I welcome comments.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Western Film Locations at Classic Movie Hub

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

This month I share photos of several interesting Western movie locations in California and Utah. The films include John Ford's classics WAGON MASTER (1950) and RIO GRANDE (1950).

Please click over to Classic Movie Hub to check it out, and thanks 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; June 2022.

Monday, July 25, 2022

Tonight's Movie: White Savage (1943) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Last July I thoroughly enjoyed Maria Montez and Jon Hall in the Kino Lorber releases ARABIAN NIGHTS (1942) and ALI BABA AND THE FORTY THIEVES (1944).

It was my first time to see both films, which were two of my favorite movie discoveries of 2021.

Now, thanks again to Kino Lorber, I've just watched Montez and Hall in WHITE SAVAGE (1943), a delightful South Seas fantasy.

WHITE SAVAGE is part of the new three-film Maria Montez and Jon Hall Collection, a Blu-ray set just released by Kino Lorber Studio Classics. The other films in the set are GYPSY WILDCAT (1944) and SUDAN (1945); all three movies were originally released by Universal Pictures.

WHITE SAVAGE grabbed me from the colorful opening credits sequence. It's got a great cast; beautiful sets, matte paintings and costumes; amusing comedy; a spectacular earthquake; and even a short dance by the great James Mitchell -- and it's all over and done in a brisk 76 minutes. I loved it.

When watching a movie like this I like to try and think of the context of the film's release. This movie must have been a blessed distraction for audiences when it came out in the spring of 1943, deep into the World War II years. Audiences fearful for loved ones, worried about the war's outcome, and dealing with the challenges of rationing and shortages could escape for just a little while into a Technicolor paradise.

The screenplay was written by a seemingly unlikely person, future director Richard Brooks, who I associate with more serious films such as CRISIS (1950) and BLACKBOARD JUNGLE (1955). WHITE SAVAGE was Brooks' first full-length screenplay, based on a story by Peter Milne, and in fact he would also go on to write Montez and Hall's COBRA WOMAN (1944).

In WHITE SAVAGE Hall plays Kaloe, a shark hunter who needs the permission of Princess Tahia (Montez) to sail in her waters. Tahia lives on a secluded island, but she and Kaloe fall in love thanks to the matchmaking of young Orano (Sabu). However, it's not all smooth sailing (pardon the pun), as they have serious problems related to her troubled brother Tamara (Turhan Bey) and dangerous businessman Sam Miller (future Oscar nominee Thomas Gomez).

Miller and his henchman Erik (Paul Guilfoyle) have evil plans to steal jewels decorating the bottom of Princess Tahia's sacred swimming pool, but Tahia is confident the god Tangaroa will protect the pool.

Miller, however, is a very determined, evil person, who kills multiple people and frames Kaloe for one of the murders.

Thanks to the cunning of local banker-detective-lawyer-doctor Wong (Sidney Toler, aka Charlie Chan), perhaps Kaloe will find a way to survive...

This was simply great fun, with one of Toler's lines late in the film making me laugh out loud. Montez is perfection, gowned by Vera West, with jewels by Eugene Joseff. For someone who had to learn some of her lines phonetically, she is more than credible, and she and Hall share a sensuous rapport which demonstrates why they were cast together in several films.

This is a delightful confection to sit down and watch without knowing too much more going in. Don't overthink it, just sit back and enjoy this Hollywood fantasy, something we still very much need today in 2022.

Arthur Lubin directed, with the cinematography credit shared by William E. Snyder and Lester White.

The lovely print is from a brand-new 2K master. Sound quality is excellent.

All three films in the set are on one Blu-ray disc. Extras for WHITE SAVAGE are a commentary track by Philippa Berry and a six-film Kino Lorber trailer gallery. The other films in the set also have commentary tracks, and the trailers for those two films are provided as well. I'll be reviewing both GYPSY WILDCAT and SUDAN at a future date.

This is also a good time to mention the brand-new biography of Maria Montez by Tom Zimmerman, THE QUEEN OF TECHNICOLOR: MARIA MONTEZ IN HOLLYWOOD. I'll also be reviewing that book in the future.

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

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