Tuesday, January 31, 2023

TCM in February: Highlights

January is now behind us, and it's time for a close-up look at the February schedule for Turner Classic Movies!

Rita Moreno will be TCM's February Star of the Month. 17 Moreno films will be shown spread across Thursday evenings this coming month.

The Star of the Month schedule will include the TCM premieres of THE FABULOUS SENORITA (1952), with Estelita Rodriguez in the lead, and THE VAGABOND KING (1956) starring Kathryn Grayson. The films will be shown on February 2nd and 9th, respectively.

Additional information on this month's Star of the Month schedule may be found below.

The February Noir Alley films will be HANGOVER SQUARE (1945) on February 4th and 5th, KISS THE BLOOD OFF MY HANDS (1948) on the 11th-12th, LIGHTNING STRIKES TWICE (1951) on the 18th and 19th, and HUNT THE MAN DOWN (1950) on February 25th and 26th.

It's a particularly good month on TCM, with some interesting premieres and a few more films shown which don't turn up on the network with great frequency. I especially love this month's TCM Spotlight, which focuses on screwball comedies every Tuesday evening. Additional "Special Themes" in February include Black History Month and Piano Players.

Below are additional highlights for the coming month. Please click on any hyperlinked title to read my complete review.

...February 1st starts off with a disaster theme featuring earthquakes, shipwrecks, and plane crashes. Favorites on the schedule include SAN FRANCISCO (1936) starring Clark Gable, Jeanette MacDonald, and Spencer Tracy.

...A day of nine Dr. Kildare and Dr. Gillespie films will be featured on February 2nd. I found this series thoroughly entertaining, with many fun guest stars and supporting players.

...The first night of Rita Moreno films on the 2nd. features several '50s films in which she played a supporting role. Movies include SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952), in which she had a small but memorable part as Zelda Zanders, and LATIN LOVERS (1952), in which she dances the samba with Ricardo Montalban.

...A pair of films directed by Ida Lupino are featured on February 5th. I recommend both NEVER FEAR (1949), with Sally Forrest as a young dancer struck down by polio and Keefe Brasselle as her fiance, and THE HITCH-HIKER (1953), a terrifying thriller. For more info on the latter film, here's an article I wrote last file on one of the movie's locations.

...Monday, February 6th, is a slice of Joel McCrea heaven! 10 films will be shown featuring the actor, including several pre-Codes and THE OKLAHOMAN (1957).

...I've seen all five films airing on the first night of screwball comedies on February 7th. They all star Cary Grant, and they're all terrific. I particularly recommend MY FAVORITE WIFE (194) which might possibly be the least known of the movies shown that night. Irene Dunne, Randolph Scott, and Gail Patrick costar.

...February 9th features a day of Alexis Smith films, including ANY NUMBER CAN PLAY (1949) with Clark Gable and an all-star cast. I liked that one a lot.

...The second night of Rita Moreno films, on the 9th, includes a rare TCM showing of THE KING AND I (1956), in which she played Tuptim.

...John Ford's SERGEANT RUTLEDGE (1960) will be shown on February 11th as part of the series in honor of Black History Month. Woody Strode, Jeffrey Hunter, and Constance Towers star.

...Shirley Temple films are not shown very frequently on TCM, but February 12th features a Temple double bill of CURLY TOP (1935) and John Ford's WEE WILLIE WINKIE (1937).

...Valentine's Day features a variety of romances during the daytime hours, followed by the second night of screwball comedies. The half-dozen titles that night include one of the greatest screwball comedies of them all, MY MAN GODFREY (1936), starring Carole Lombard and William Powell.

...An evening of films featuring pianists on February 15th features another film not shown on TCM often, THE EDDY DUCHIN STORY (1956), starring Tyrone Power and Kim Novak.

...The February 16th theme is Los Angeles location filming, including ANCHORS AWEIGH (1945) with Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Kathryn Grayson. The Technicolor shots of the Hollywood Bowl are beautiful!

...I love the daytime theme on the 17th: Gowns by Adrian. The seven-film lineup includes MADAM SATAN (1930) and ZIEGFELD GIRL (1941).

...There's another '30s comedy on Sunday, February 19th: JOY OF LIVING (1938) starring Irene Dunne and Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

...President's Day on February 20th starts off with nine MAISIE films starring Ann Sothern, followed by several Presidential biographies. My favorite of the bios is YOUNG MR. LINCOLN (1939), with John Ford directing Henry Fonda. It's a beautiful film.

...There are more screwball comedies on the 21st including THE LADY EVE (1941) starring Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck. Watching the Fonda films on back-to-back evenings will give the viewer looks at two very different characters!

...The beautiful film SUNRISE (1927), starring George O'Brien and Janet Gaynor, is being shown in primetime on February 22nd. Highly recommended.

...A birthday tribute to Marjorie Main on February 24th includes a pair of excellent "B" pictures, THE AFFAIRS OF MARTHA (1942) and GENTLE ANNIE (1944). Both films have excellent casts and are well worth checking out.

...There are some top-notice films on Sunday, February 26th, including LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA (1962) starring Olivia de Havilland and Yvette Mimieux.

...I'm very fond of CYNTHIA (1947), a minor yet entertaining film being shown as part of a February 27th birthday tribute to Elizabeth Taylor. I watched it many times as a child. Mary Astor and George Murphy play Taylor's parents.

...February ends on a great note with a day of "1930s Westerns" on February 28th, including GUN LAW (1938) starring George O'Brien and Rita Oehmen, who was the mother of Charmian Carr of THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965). Then it's time for half a dozen more screwball comedies including two of the best, THE PALM BEACH STORY (1942) and THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR (1942).

For more on TCM in February 2023, please visit my Quick Preview of TCM in February as well as TCM's online schedule.

Enjoy all the great movies on TCM this month!

Monday, January 30, 2023

Tonight's Movie: Wife vs. Secretary (1936) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

The great trio of Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, and Jean Harlow star in WIFE VS. SECRETARY (1936), released on Blu-ray last week by the Warner Archive.

WIFE VS. SECRETARY is an old favorite I've seen many times. It was one of relatively few films I bought on VHS, when I had small children and a limited movie budget.

Later I acquired it on DVD in the Clark Gable Signature Collection, and now it's out on Blu-ray, which I'm pleased to say looks absolutely lovely. I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting the film for the first time in several years.

Gable worked with both actresses several times in the '30s, and he has excellent chemistry with each. He plays magazine publisher Van Stanhope, with Loy playing his wife Linda and Harlow as his secretary "Whitey."

Van and Linda are deliriously happy, but then Van's well-meaning mother (May Robson) imprudently plants a seed of worry in Linda's mind about Van spending time with his beautiful secretary. Van's father was a ladies' man, you see...

It's all perfectly innocent between Van and Whitey, but they do spend a lot of time together and the newly alerted Linda becomes sensitive to appearances, then downright suspicious about some awkward situations. Can this marriage be saved?

It's a plot that could be annoying, with misunderstandings and a lack of trust at the core, yet the players, who also include James Stewart as Whitey's fiance, are so good that they carry the story along effortlessly.

In addition to the actors' star power and ability, they have a pretty good script to work with, by Norman Krasna, John Lee Mahin, and Alice Duer Miller, based on a story by Faith Baldwin. It fleshes out what might be pat situations, keeping all three characters likeable even when they're arguing, and the screenplay gives Harlow a particularly good confrontation scene with Loy near movie's end.

They're all well directed by Clarence Brown, a sensitive craftsman with many excellent films to his name. The beautiful black and white cinematography was by Ray June. The lovely gowns were by Dolly Tree, who I think dressed Loy better than anyone else in the '30s.

The supporting cast also includes Tom Dugan, George Barbier, Hobart Cavanaugh, Marjorie Gateson, and Gloria Holden.

Disc extras consist of the trailer and the short THE PUBLIC PAYS (1936), part of MGM's "Crime Doesn't Pay" series.

WIFE VS. SECRETARY is a film I've seen at least half a dozen times over the years, and I always enjoy it. How could one not enjoy this cast?! The new Blu-ray release is a recommended acquisition sure to provide a great deal of viewing pleasure in the years ahead.

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 festival returns to Turner Classic Movies in March 2023.

As was also the case last year, TCM's Academy Awards month is being held in March to correspond with the month of the Oscars ceremony. The Academy Awards will be presented in Hollywood on Sunday, March 12th.

The working schedule still has a number of slots  yet to be filled, but we do know that this year the films shown on TCM will be grouped by theme.

Some of the programming themes will be family dramas, historical dramas, sports, reporters, war films, fantasy, and quite a few more.

Regular TCM viewers know there don't tend to be many surprises during Oscars month, as every film shown must have been nominated for an Academy Award, but it's also a month of high-quality viewing.

As usual, the regular TCM franchises such as Noir Alley and Silent Sunday Nights will take Oscars month off.

I'll have more information on 31 Days of Oscar here around March 1st. In the meantime, look for Rita Moreno as the February Star of the Month.

February 28th Update: For more on TCM in March 2023, please visit TCM in March: 31 Days of Oscar Highlights.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Tonight's Movie: Invaders From Mars (1953) - An Ignite Films Blu-ray Review

A newly restored print of the sci-fi classic INVADERS FROM MARS (1953) has just been released on Blu-ray and 4K UHD by Ignite Films.

The print was painstakingly restored by former UCLA Film and Television Archive preservationist Scott MacQueen from the original camera negative and master positives.

I watched INVADERS FROM MARS on the new Blu-ray, and it looks absolutely stupendous. I can also report that while I may no longer be a kid, I nonetheless found this predecessor to INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956) frankly terrifying!

As the movie begins, young David MacLean (Jimmy Hunt) lives with his loving parents, George (Leif Erickson, THE HIGH CHAPARRAL) and Mary (Hillary Brooke).

David shares his scientist father's interest in astronomy -- but nothing prepares David for seeing a flying saucer land near his house one dark and stormy night!

The saucer disappears, but David tells his father where it landed and George goes to investigate; after a prolonged absence -- long enough for Mary to call the police -- George returns to the family in an angry, zombie-like state.

Later David sees his friend Kathy (Janine Perreau) disappear near where the spaceship landed, and when she later reappears she also no longer acts normally, with a creepy, vacant stare...and shortly after her return, her family home burns down.

David notices strange marks on their necks and realizes something is very wrong and it must be connected to the space ship. He struggles to get help...but it's a wild story which is hard to believe, and the brusque police chief (Bert Freed) has those odd marks on his neck too.

Fortunately a doctor (Helena Carter) and a scientist from the local observatory (Arthur Franz) do take David seriously, and soon the military is called in...

I've written here in the past about my childhood fear of sci-fi films; it didn't matter how obvious the special effects, just seeing scenes from sci-fi movies would give me nightmares.

Happily in the past decade I've gotten past that and gained a genuine appreciation for '50s sci-fi; I'm fascinated by how they fit in the atomic era of political fears and scientific discoveries, and I also appreciate that sci-film films tend to have assertive female characters with considerable agency, this film included.

That said, I still found this film particularly unsettling; the way it captures a child's waking nightmare, with initially no one for David to turn to, is sheer genius, I'm frankly surprised that I've not seen this film discussed in the past alongside the similarly themed INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS; my husband suggested perhaps INVADERS has had less attention because it's about a child and has more of a "comic book" look than the black and white BODY SNATCHERS, but I think those aspects make the film even more profound.

Director William Cameron Menzies was also the production designer, and he marries the frightening story with off-kilter visuals which seem straight out of a dream. The crooked wooden fence near the spaceship landing site looks like it's from a fairytale, and the "black and white in color" designs of the police station, with the sergeant's desk dwarfing David, made me think somewhat of Alice's dream in ALICE IN WONDERLAND (1951).

The viewer becomes somewhat more comfortable once David has reassuring adults he can turn to, including Morris Ankrum's Col. Fielding along with Franz and Carter's characters, but just when one thinks everything is okay, there's a whopper of an ending -- so disturbing that foreign markets actually turned down!

It's not exactly a relaxing 78 minutes, but it's quite compelling and something all '50s sci-fi fans should see at least once. The new Blu-ray is certainly an excellent way to check it out.

I've seen child actor Jimmy Hunt in a majority of his films, with my favorites including the Joel McCrea films SADDLE TRAMP (1950) and THE LONE HAND (1953), and he does a great job. Hunt was a very natural, non-"cutesy" actor who completely sells all angles of the story, particularly his despair over seeing his parents turn into cold strangers.

I also enjoyed the chance to see Helena Carter in another film; I saw her most recently in TIME OUT OF MIND (1947) and have been trying to see all of her movies, as she was only in a baker's dozen between and 1953. This was her final movie role. She married on New Year's Even in 1953, a union which lasted until her husband's death in 1997. Carter died in Culver City in 2000.

There are a host of familiar faces in small roles, including Todd Karns (Harry Bailey in IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE), Douglas Kennedy, Barbara Billingsley, John Eldredge, and Walter Sande.

The new Blu-ray does a marvelous job showing off the color photography of John F. Seitz. The accompanying booklet essay by Scott MacQueen explains the film's complicated color negative processing and the difficulties faced when restoring the film. Often preservationists can look abroad for additional prints to work with, but in this case the fact that the film which played outside the U.S. was somewhat different!

Disc extras include the alternate international ending and other footage from that edition; a restored trailer and a new 2022 trailer; a wonderful interview with Jimmy Hunt, as well as interviews with Menzies biographer James Curtis and Menzies' granddaughter; another featurette with participants including directors Joe Dante and John Landis; the 2022 TCM Classic Film Festival introduction of the movie by John Sayles; a restoration comparison; and image galleries.

Ignite has presented a beautiful restoration in a wonderful package. Anyone interested in this film should be sure to add it to their movie library.

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

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Tonight's Movie: South: Ernest Shackleton and the Endurance Expedition (1919) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

The silent documentary SOUTH: ERNEST SHACKLETON AND THE ENDURANCE EXPEDITION (1919) was released on Blu-ray last September by Kino Lorber.

For those unfamiliar with this remarkable true-life tale of adventure and survival, Wikipedia has a fairly good summary. Shackleton's 1914 scientific expedition to the Antarctic abruptly ended in early 1915 when the ship, the Endurance, became trapped in ice.

In November 1915 the Endurance finally sank -- but not before photographer and cinematographer Frank Hurley saved movie footage and heavy glass photographic plates.

Initially marooned on ice floes, the crew used three small boats to relocate to Elephant Island in the spring of 1916; the island at least had more stability than the ice floes but was rarely visited. Shackleton and five other crew members then set out in an open boat to obtain help. The voyage was successful, and on August 30, 1916, a ship made made it through the ice and the crew members on Elephant Island were rescued.

Remarkably, not one man from the expedition died despite the isolation and freezing conditions.
The same could not be said for the expedition's many sled dogs, which are featured prominently in the first half of the documentary; fortunately viewers are spared watching their ultimate fates.

The story of Ernest Shackleton and The Endurance has long fascinated me. My Amazon shopping history tells me it was all the way back in 1998 when I purchased the wonderful book THE ENDURANCE: SHACKLETON'S LEGENDARY ANTARCTIC EXPEDITION by Caroline Alexander.

Around the early 2000s we were fortunate to take our children to the Endurance exhibit at the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum, which featured photographs made from expedition photographer Frank Hurley's glass plates. The photographs were absolutely stunning, looking as crisp and clear as if they'd just been taken.

Hurley's documentary being recently released on Blu-ray was particularly timely as the Endurance was discovered early last year, 107 years after it sank.

SOUTH is a lively, fascinating 88 minutes, which turns a legend of over a century ago into something quite real. Like Hurley's photographs, there's an immediacy to the movie footage which enables the viewer to imagine what it must have actually been like standing there filming.

There's some fascinating wildlife footage, particularly of penguins. The film also underscores just how bleak and cold the circumstances were and makes this survival story all the more remarkable, including the productivity and good cheer apparently maintained during the long months when the crew had no idea if they'd be rescued.

The film is accompanied by a score by Neil Brand, played by the Covent Garden Sinfonia.

Disc extras include a 2002 commentary by Luke McKernan, newsreel recordings, and a 31-minute documentary, SHACKLETON'S BOAT JOURNEY (1999). Audio recordings of Ernest Shackleton also help to bring the story more alive for the modern viewer.

This is a fine package which will be appreciated by those who are interested in the story along with viewers for whom it's completely new subject matter.

Kino Lorber regularly releases documentaries on a variety of interesting topics. Previous reviews of documentaries released by Kino Lorber: OBIT: LIFE ON DEADLINE (2016), HAROLD AND LILLIAN: A HOLLYWOOD LOVE STORY (2015), DAWSON CITY: FROZEN TIME (2016), THE GODDESSES OF FOOD (2016), BOMBSHELL: THE HEDY LAMARR STORY (2017), CHEF FLYNN (2018), LINDA RONSTADT: THE SOUND OF MY VOICE (2019), DIANA KENNEDY: NOTHING FANCY (2019), THE DONUT KING (2020), FIDDLER'S JOURNEY TO THE BIG SCREEN (2022), THE AUTOMAT (2021), and FACING NOLAN (2022).

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...Two weeks ago I shared concerns here about the future of Turner Classic Movies. Perhaps TCM has become aware of TCM fans' worries, as a lengthy "Don't worry, be happy" article featuring interviews with all of the TCM hosts has just been published in Entertainment Weekly. While short on substantial reasons not to fear for the beloved network's future, the positivity is welcome. It's good to hear that the CEO of Discovery-Warner Bros. is a TCM fan.

...There will apparently not be any Warner Archive Collection releases in February, but there's a great release slate ahead in March! Half a dozen Blu-rays are on the way: CAMILLE (1936), CONFESSIONS OF A NAZI SPY (1939), FLAMINGO ROAD (1949), NEPTUNE'S DAUGHTER (1949), I'LL CRY TOMORROW (1955), and THE PRINCE AND THE SHOWGIRL (1957). Regular readers may recall that NEPTUNE'S DAUGHTER is one of my top favorite Esther Williams films. I've been hoping for a Blu-ray!

...Karen has reviewed the Flicker Alley release of EL VAMPIRO NEGRO (1953) at Shadows and Satin; I love this one and should be reviewing the Flicker Alley disc myself soon...Jessica reviewed HOTEL FOR WOMEN (1939) at Comet Over Hollywood; I need to put up with the poor print and catch it in order to see favorite Linda Darnell at the start of her career...Bottom Shelf Movies reviews the upcoming Kino Lorber release IF I WERE KING (1938). My screener just arrived so look for a review here in the future!

...Kino Lorber has announced that its next Dark Side of Cinema set -- Volume XII -- will be released April 4th. UNDERTOW (1949) will have a commentary track by Jason A. Ney, along with the son of actor Scott Brady, while OUTSIDE THE WALL (1950) features a commentary track by Alan K. Rode. The third film in the set is HOLD BACK TOMORROW (1955). At least three more Dark Side of Cinema collections will be coming in 2023!

...Also coming from Kino Lorber on April 11th: THE TRUTH ABOUT SPRING (1965) starring John and Hayley Mills along with James MacArthur.

...The Los Angeles Times published a wonderful article by Mary McNamara on the Hollywood Legion Theater last week. (This article may be paywalled.)

...There's been some notable Blu-ray news from outside the United States this past week. Viavision/Imprint in Australia announced an interesting film noir collection releasing April 23rd with ROPE OF SAND (1949), APPOINTMENT WITH DANGER (1950), THE ENFORCER (1951), BEWARE, MY LOVELY (1952), and JENNIFER (1953). Coming from the same label on April 26th is an adventure set with ARABIAN NIGHTS (1942), A THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS (1945), THE DESERT HAWK (1950), ZARAK (1956), and OMAR KHAYYAM (1957). Extras for these attractive sets include new commentary tracks along with other special features.

...In March Arrow Academy is releasing a UK film noir set with THE SUSPECT (1944), THE SLEEPING CITY (1950), THUNDER ON THE HILL (1951), and SIX BRIDGES TO CROSS (1955). New commentary tracks from Farran Smith Nehme and Imogen Sara Smith are among the extras.

...Toby has some interesting info and a podcast link regarding the upcoming 3D release of SOUTHWEST PASSAGE (1954) at 50 Westerns From the 50s. I first mentioned the pending disc release here last week thanks to news from Glenn Erickson. Rod Cameron, Joanne Dru, and John Ireland star, directed by Ray Nazarro.

...Raquel has posted one of her great lists of upcoming film books at her blog Out of the Past. There are many appealing titles on the list, including the pictured book on British musicals.

...Notable Passings: Former teen actor Lance Kerwin, who was ubiquitous on TV in the '70s, has passed away at the age of 62..Dancer Margie Duncan, who worked as a stand-in for Debbie Reynolds, has died at 92...British actress Sylvia Syms, whose screen career began in the mid-'50s, has passed on at 89. She played the Queen Mother in THE QUEEN (2006).

...For additional recent links of interest to classic film fans, please check out my January 21st roundup.

Friday, January 27, 2023

Last Weekend at Disney California Adventure: Lunar New Year

Today at Disneyland Disney kicked off the company's centennial celebration, "100 Years of Wonder."

I'll be visiting Disneyland next week to take in the new Disney Gallery exhibit and possibly the new fireworks and ride, but for today we'll take a look back at last weekend's visit to the Lunar New Year celebration at Disney California Adventure.

We began our day with a wonderful breakfast at Pym's Test Kitchen (seen above).

It's the Year of the Rabbit, which has given Disney a wonderful excuse to feature Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.

Since it's also the Vietnamese Year of the Cat, Oswald's girlfriend Ortensia the Cat has also been seen in the park.

Some views around the park:

San Francisco Street was festively decorated with lanterns and more:

As we did last year, we shared a chicken dish from the Red Dragon Spice Traders booth...

...along with an entree from the Paradise Garden Grill. Everything was excellent!

Mulan's Lunar New Year procession is wonderfully colorful.

As a huge Oswald fan, I was delighted by the button which was an exclusive gift for Magic Key passholders.

As our day drew to a close we were treated to a sighting of Francisco, one of the "Cats of Disneyland." Francisco can often be found in the Grizzly Rapids area, which is where we spotted him that afternoon. The ride is currently undergoing rehab, and I suspect Francisco is enjoying the temporary peace and quiet!

There's a lot to see at the Disneyland Resort this year; in addition to things mentioned above, there's also a new World of Color show, and in March my daughter and I have tickets to attend a Disneyland After Dark event, "Princess Nite."

For photos of past Lunar New Year celebrations at both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, please visit any of these links, which are in reverse chronological order: Lunar New Year at Disney California Adventure (January 31, 2022), 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).

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