Friday, June 30, 2023

TCM in July: Highlights

It's been quite a week of news regarding Turner Classic Movies, with the latest development being the confirmation that head programmer Charles Tabesh had his layoff rescinded; he will remain with the network.

As for the channel's future, we'll just have to wait and see what develops.

In the meantime, here's a look at TCM in July!

There will not be a traditional Star of the Month in July; instead there will be a series of films featuring '70s movie stars. Some of the actors being featured are Burt Reynolds, Clint Eastwood, and Richard Dreyfuss.

The July Noir Alley titles are DEEP VALLEY (1947) on July 1st and 2nd, IMPACT (1949) on the 8th and 9th, SHOCKPROOF (1949) on July 15th-16th, JULIE (1956) on the 22nd and 23rd, and DESPERATE (1947) on July 29th and 30th.

The Noir Alley titles I've reviewed are all quite worthwhile to varying degrees. I particularly recommend trying out the lesser-known IMPACT which features good performances by Brian Donlevy and Ella Raines, seen here.

The TCM Spotlight on Thursdays will focus on "B" movies. Additional "special themes" are "The South on Film" and "Disability."

Here's a closer look at some of the many fun things on this month's schedule. Click any hyperlink to read an extended review.

...Anyone interested in MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY (1935) should be sure to catch the short PITCAIRN ISLAND TODAY (1935) on July 1st. Later in the day one of the best James Stewart-Anthony Mann Westerns, WINCHESTER '73 (1950), is on the schedule.

...A great weekend of movies includes one of my favorite Judy Garland musicals, THE HARVEY GIRLS (1946), on July 2nd. Check out the entire weekend schedule, there's too much great stuff to mention!

...TCM celebrates Independence Day with a series of musicals including the annual July 4th airings of THE MUSIC MAN (1962) and 1776 (1972).

...A very interesting day of anti-Communism films on July 5th includes the TCM premiere of ARCTIC FLIGHT (1952) starring Wayne Morris. I may be in the minority on this film, but I'm fond of BIG JIM MCLAIN (1952), filmed in Hawaii with John Wayne and Nancy Olson.

..."B" movie night on July 6th includes THE STRANGE MR. GREGORY (1945) starring Edmund Lowe and Jean Rogers. I'll be recording that one! It's also the TCM premiere of MURDER BY INVITATION (1941) starring Wallace Ford and Marian Marsh.

...DANGEROUS WHEN WET (1953) starring Esther Williams was just released on Blu-ray; I'll be reviewing it soon. The movie is on July 9th, and I'm guessing perhaps they'll be showing the new print.

...A day of films on pianists July 10th includes the imperfect but very enjoyable THE MAN I LOVE (1947) starring Ida Lupino. It's also one of a very small handful of films set in my birthplace, Long Beach, California.

...Prime time on July 11th has a Las Vegas theme, including Victor Mature and Jane Russell in THE LAS VEGAS STORY (1952).

...The second night of "B" films on the 13th includes multiple TCM premieres such as IDENTITY UNKNOWN (1945) starring Richard Arlen.

...The Musical Matinee on July 15th is the beautiful THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG (1964).

...Ida Lupino's NEVER FEAR (1949), about a young woman (Sally Forrest) stricken with polio, is part of the Disability series, airing July 16th.

...A murder mystery theme on July 18th includes Hitchcock's enjoyable British film YOUNG AND INNOCENT (1937), starring the uniquely named Nova Pilbeam. It's not on especially often, so check it out.

...I'm especially looking forward to THE PREVIEW MURDER MYSTERY (1936) starring Reginald Denny and Gail Patrick. It's part of the "B" movies airing on July 20th.

...Jean Simmons is a teacher moonlighting as a nightclub accountant in THIS COULD BE THE NIGHT (1957), a delightful film showing on July 21st.

...You've got to love a day of movies with "Moon" in the title! There are some fun films on the list, including Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy in NEW MOON (1940), one of my top favorites among their films together. The date is July 24th.

...I also love the Christmas in July theme on July 25th! The lineup includes CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT (1945) and four other holiday staples.

...The month of "B" movies concludes on July 27th with more TCM premieres including LIGHTHOUSE (1947) starring Don Castle of THE GUILTY (1947) and HIGH TIDE (1947). I am so looking forward to trying out a bunch of new-to-me movies thanks to TCM!

...The month concludes with a July 31st prime time tribute to the great Rita Hayworth. Films include GILDA (1946).

For more on TCM in July 2023, please visit my Quick Preview of TCM in July and TCM's online schedule.

Happy summer movie viewing!

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Criterion Half-Price Summer Sale at Barnes & Noble

The annual Criterion Collection half-price sale at Barnes & Noble begins Friday, June 30th.

The B&N press release said the sale will run through July 28th.

Hope everyone finds something special in this year's sale!

New at Classic Movie Hub: A "B" Western Sampler, Vol. 2

This month I celebrate my fifth anniversary writing the Classic Movie Hub Western RoundUp column. The old cliche is true: Time sure flies!

In my newest column I return to a topic I also wrote about last summer, "B" Westerns. I take a look at a quartet of short movies I watched on a recent road trip to the Sierras.

It was a fun group of films starring Bob Steele, William "Hopalong Cassidy" Boyd, John Wayne, and "Wild Bill" Elliott, with leading ladies including Anne Jeffreys and Cecilia Parker. George "Gabby" Hayes coincidentally turned up in all four films!

Fun things about these movies included a blimp, Ben Johnson in a bit as a messenger, a glimpse of Lone Pine's historic Dow Villa Hotel, and Yakima Canutt warming up for a famed later stunt in STAGECOACH (1939). There are almost always interesting things to see and learn in the most minor of films.

Please click over to Classic Movie Hub to read it -- and sincere thanks to all my readers for supporting my Westerns column for the past half decade!

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; July 2022; August 2022; September 2022; November 2022; November 2022 (No. 2); January 2023 (No. 1); January 2023 (No. 2); March 2023; April 2023; May 2023 (No. 1); May 2023 (No. 2).

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

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

My latest viewing from the Kino Lorber Dark Side of Cinema sets was SPY HUNT (1950), from Volume XIII.

SPY HUNT proved to be an enjoyable 74-minute postwar suspense film, briskly directed by George Sherman.

An espionage story set in Switzerland, SPY HUNT has a bit of a feel of THE LADY VANISHES (1938), between the alpine setting and train sequences. It's not that good, of course, but then few films are. That said, SPY HUNT is a fun watch I'd previously been unfamiliar with.

As the movie begins, Catherine (Marta Toren, DEPORTED) picks up a cigarette thrown onto the ground at a Milan train station. There's a secret formula rolled into the cigarette.

Catherine then follows an elaborate plan to tuck the formula into the collar of one of a pair of black panthers being taken by train to a Paris zoo, escorted by Roger (Howard Duff), who has no clue about the secret message.

The train is intentionally derailed by other agents in Switzerland; the panthers escape and the injured Roger is taken to a hotel owned by a doctor (Walter Slezak). Several parties, played by Philip Dorn, Philip Friend, and Robert Douglas, then show up at the inn planning to hunt for the panthers.

Who is friend or foe?

It helps that the movie has quite a nice supporting cast; I really liked Friend in BUCCANEER'S GIRL and Douglas in HOMICIDE, and was glad to have them turn up in this. Slezak is fun as the genial "doctor by day, innkeeper by night." The supporting cast also includes Kurt Kreuger and Ivan Triesault.

Duff was a bit of a blank slate in this; he wasn't bad but he also didn't bring much to the character, an innocent bystander to the spy shenanigans who admittedly is lightly sketched by the script. In fact, it's almost surprising how mild-mannered he is, given the circumstances in which he finds himself.

Toren is appropriately mysterious as the spy and seems to have things much more together than Duff's character, though in his defense he has no idea what he's walked into.

The script by George Zuckerman and Leonard Lee was based on the novel PANTHER'S MOON by Victor Canning.

I'm not sure that the main cast went further than Southern California mountains, but a combination of process shots and second unit or stock footage all worked together quite effectively to convey a sense of being in the alps. The black and white photography was by Irving Glassberg.

The Blu-ray print from a new 2K master is quite nice, with a strong soundtrack.

Extras consist of a commentary track by Bryan Reesman and Max Evry along with three trailers for other films available from Kino Lorber.

Look for my reviews of the other films in the set, THE NIGHT RUNNER (1957) and STEP DOWN TO TERROR (1958), at a future date.

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

Monday, June 26, 2023

Tonight's Movie: The Mississippi Gambler (1953) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

THE MISSISSIPPI GAMBLER (1953), starring my favorite actor, Tyrone Power, is now available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber.

Power plays Mark Fallon, an honest riverboat gambler in 1850s Louisiana.

Mark and his friend Kansas John Polly (John McIntire) have ups and downs as they save to build their own New Orleans gambling palace.

Mark, meanwhile, falls for Angelique Dureau (Piper Laurie), but she resists a relationship; meanwhile lovely Ann (Julie Adams, billed Julia) falls for Mark, but he sees her only as a friend.

My 2014 review of the Universal Vault DVD was quite extensive, including character analysis and excerpts from Julie Adams' memoir, and this is one of those times where rather than "reinvent the wheel" I'd like to refer readers to it for more information on the film itself. There are also some interesting comments which follow the review.

Revisiting this film was a great pleasure, and I was struck anew by Power's onscreen charisma. There are many other greats who were also wonderful onscreen, but Power had something else again. Every line reading or glance is nuanced, compelling, and totally real.  He breathes life into what could have a less interesting or sympathetic character in other hands.

I've recently seen a couple reviews of this film by people who didn't care for it, but reading their reviews I felt like we watched different movies. Perhaps they don't like Southern romantic melodrama? THE MISSISSIPPI GAMBLER is a very high quality example of same, with the man I consider the movies' greatest star. I'm happy to recommend it.

Kino Lorber's Blu-ray is a new 2K master. I noted that there were some blue streaks in a dance scene, similar to what I remembered from the Universal Vault DVD, but they are transitory; I assume they are flaws inherent to the material. Consequently this isn't the very highest quality Blu-ray, but it's certainly lovely through most of the film and I would think as good a print as we're likely to see at this point.  

THE MISSISSIPPI GAMBLER was directed by Rudolph Mate and filmed by Irving Glassberg. The story and screenplay of this 99-minute film were by Seton I. Miller.

Blu-ray extras consist of the trailer; a gallery of four additional trailers for other films available from Kino Lorber; and a commentary track by Toby Roan.

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

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Tonight's Movie: Oh, Doctor! (1925) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

OH, DOCTOR! (1925) is a cute silent comedy recently released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber.

It's part of a two-film disc which also features POKER FACES (1926) starring Edward Everett Horton and Laura La Plante. Both films were directed by Harry A. Pollard.

I quite enjoyed the silent comedies in Kino Lorber's three-film Reginald Denny Collection a couple of years ago, which interested me in trying out OH, DOCTOR!

Denny plays Rufus Billings Jr., who has been coddled since his premature birth. Hypochondriac Rufus stays with his Aunt Blanche (Lucille Ward), where he's also swindled out of his large future inheritance by three schemers (Otis Harlan, William V. Mong, and Tom Ricketts).

Rufus falls for his pretty nurse, Dolores (Mary Astor), and is inspired to start living a braver life -- though sometimes "foolhardy" is more like it. In turn, Dolores, who comes to love Rupert, concocts a plan to retrieve his future inheritance.

This isn't a great silent comedy by any means, but it's an amusing and enjoyable 63 minutes. Denny is a good comedian, and lovely Astor is so young here, just 18, that she's almost unrecognizable in certain moments.

All in all, it's a fun hour-plus which I was glad I saw, and I'm looking forward to checking out POKER FACES, which will be reviewed here at a future date.  (Update: Here is my review of POKER FACES.)

The movie was shot by Gilbert Warrenton, and Kino Lorber's Blu-ray print looks quite good, especially given the film's age.

The disc includes a commentary track by Adam Nayman. The film's musical score was by Jake Monaco.

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

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...There's no way to sugar-coat this week's news regarding Turner Classic Movies: The channel was gutted with the layoffs of all the top executives, including the head of programming and the head of the film festival; some sources report 70 of 90 staffers were let go by David Zaslav, head of Warner Bros. Discovery. Despite being profitable, TCM's future is clearly a giant question mark. After the news broke, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, and Paul Thomas Anderson initiated a meeting with Zaslav regarding the cuts; Zaslav says TCM will continue "as is" but logically one wonders how that's possible with a skeleton crew and the severe loss of institutional knowledge. It's also hard to imagine how the festival continues, though WBD says no decision has been made. #SaveTCM has been a trending hashtag on Twitter. This article at Indiewire has the latest through today.

...The UK version of TCM is shutting down, and Warner Bros. Discovery is also looking at selling off a big chunk of the studio's music library.

...Some good news from Powerhouse Indicator: The Region 2 Universal Noir #2 collection is on the way this September. The titles are LADY ON A TRAIN (1945), TIME OUT OF MIND (1947), SINGAPORE (1947), A WOMAN'S VENGEANCE (1948), AN ACT OF MURDER (1948), and THE LADY GAMBLES (1949). Collectors may notice that all of these titles are available from Kino Lorber in the United States -- I've reviewed all six here -- but I've found the Powerhouse Indicator unique extras, including new commentary tracks, 120-page booklets, and more, worth "double-dipping."

...Colin's latest review at Riding the High Country is DOMINO KID (1957) starring Rory Calhoun and Kristine Miller. It's one I enjoyed quite well.

...The Criterion Channel's July schedule will include a "British Noir" series featuring a dozen films, along with a new introduction by the great Imogen Sara Smith.

...Thanks to Will McKinley for alerting me to a new Mary Pickford release from VCI, JOHANNA ENLISTS (1918). It will be out July 11th.

...21 BEACON STREET: THE COMPLETE SERIES (1959), starring Dennis Morgan, is now shipping from ClassicFlix.

...Notable Passings: Actor Paxton Whitehead has died at 85. I saw him on stage twice as the police sergeant in THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE at the Ahmanson Theatre in 1981...Broadway composer Sheldon Harnick has died at 99. My favorite of all his shows is SHE LOVES ME, which I've been fortunate to see in multiple incarnations, including twice theatrically starring Pam Dawber -- who I also saw on stage as Mabel in the previously mentioned production of THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE. Harnick was also the lyricist for FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, among other credits.

...Please note there will not be a news roundup next weekend, when I'll be traveling out of state. The column will return on Saturday, July 8th.

...For additional recent links of interest to classic film fans, please check out my June 17th roundup.

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Tonight's Movie: Elemental (2023)

Last week I spent "Discount Tuesday" at my local theater seeing Disney's live-action THE LITTLE MERMAID (2023), and this week I went back to the theater to see the new film from Disney-Pixar, ELEMENTAL (2023).

ELEMENTAL has struggled at the box office for what appear to be a variety of reasons, including poor marketing and perhaps viewers trained during lockdowns to expect Pixar films to run on Disney+ instead of in theaters. That said, I was intrigued by the trailer and thought I'd give it a whirl.

It's a unique story about a city made up of "people" representing four different elements: Fire, water, air, and earth.

Ember (Leah Lewis) is the fiery -- literally and figuratively -- daughter of immigrant parents (Ronnie Del Carmen and Shila Ommi) who run a fire shop serving their community.

Ember doesn't have her parents' patience and flair for customer service, and one day when she rushes to the store basement for a "time out," in her agitation she breaks a water pipe. This leads to Ember meeting Wade Ripple (Mamoudou Athie), a city inspector of the "water" variety.

Ember and Wade hit it off -- his endlessly encouraging patience is a good fit for her much more ornery personality -- but there's a problem: Elements aren't supposed to "mix." What to do?

I enjoyed the colorful, interesting setting which was filled with "eye candy" along the lines of ZOOTOPIA (2016). Every corner of the screen is packed with interesting and amusing things to observe, which makes the movie fun in and of itself.

The plot was simultaneously original and predictable; obviously the idea for a romance between fire and water elements is pretty "out there," but at the same time it all works out in a fairly by-the-numbers way.

I wouldn't say it's top-drawer Pixar, but it was a good, upbeat film and a nice afternoon at the movies, suitable for a wide age range. The film deserves to have a wider viewership, and I hope it finds its audience.

The film runs 109 minutes. It was directed by Peter Sohn.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated PG.

The short CARL'S DATE (2023), featuring characters from Pixar's UP (2009), was shown before the movie. The late Edward Asner recorded his dialogue in 2021. I wasn't a particularly big fan of UP, but since the short also featured my favorite character Dug (Bob Peterson), I found it a fairly cute few minutes.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Tonight's Movie: Where Eagles Dare (1968)

Over the last few years I've gradually been filling in my Clint Eastwood viewing, and this week it was finally time to see one of my husband's favorite Eastwood films, WHERE EAGLES DARE (1968).

It's a World War II movie in which a group of British commandos plus an American Army ranger (Eastwood) are tasked with breaching an impregnable mountaintop castle to rescue an American brigadier general (Robert Beatty). The brigadier general, who has vast knowledge of Allied plans to invade Europe, was captured after his plane crashed.

After the small group of men parachute into Germany, a woman (Mary Ure) emerges from the plane's shadows and jumps in after them. Her presence in Germany is known only to the mission leader, Major Smith (Richard Burton).

Two of the commandos die mysteriously, and as the mission moves forward it becomes clear that much more is going on than "simply" rescuing the brigadier general from the castle.  Smith, in particular, seems to be playing multiple games of chess simultaneously.

I won't go any further than that discussing the plot; suffice it to say it has twists and turns which should be discovered by first-time viewers when watching the film.

I enjoyed the movie quite well, though it had some flaws, the biggest issue being an overly padded running time of 2 hours and 38 minutes.

There are so many shots of people running around the castle firing guns and planting bombs that trimming down those scenes alone could have shaved several minutes from the film. It's a meaty story but it needed to be at least 10 minutes shorter, and maybe more.

Most of the special effects and stunts are good but a couple of the process shots, it must be said, are pretty bad. Other than those awkward scenes, the mountain cable car scenes were fun and reminded me of NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH (1940).

Also "off" are the women's hairstyles, as was the case with many '60s war films and Westerns -- though the anachronistic hair isn't quite as bad as in some other films of the era. (Susannah York in BATTLE OF BRITAIN is but one example.)

What made the movie fun was the intricate plotting, scripted by Alistair MacLean from his own novel. Though perhaps another writer would have been a little more ruthless about trimming down the story...!

I enjoyed the repartee between Burton and Eastwood and also appreciated that a pair of women (Ingrid Pitt, along with Ure) play key roles, demonstrating remarkable bravery. It was fun to watch it all unfold before arriving at a satisfying ending.

The movie is bloodier than some '60s films I've seen, but at the same time not so overdone that it was hard to watch.

The movie was directed by Brian G. Hutton, with Yakima Canutt directing the second unit. The widescreen cinematography was by Arthur Ibbetson.

The large supporting cast includes Michael Hordern and Patrick Wymark.

I watched the film via a nice-looking DVD originally released in 2010.

All in all this was an enjoyable, worthwhile film. And having now watched WHERE EAGLES DARE, can KELLY'S HEROES (1970) be far behind?

Monday, June 19, 2023

Tonight's Movie: Juggernaut (1974) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

The suspense thriller JUGGERNAUT (1974) has just been released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber.

I initially passed over the unfamiliar title on a list of Kino Lorber's new releases -- then took a closer look as I realized it was a thriller which sounded like it had potential.

I decided to give JUGGERNAUT a try pretty much "cold," knowing nothing other than several people tod me they liked it, and I'm glad to say that I thought it was a very good film. I enjoyed it quite well, finding it thoroughly engrossing.

As the movie begins, the cruise ship Britannic begins a trip across the North Atlantic from England to the U.S. Seas are rough and most of the passengers don't feel well. Little do they know that will be the least of their problems.

Soon after the Britannic departs, shipping line owner Nicholas Porter (Ian Holm) receives a call from a man calling himself "Juggernaut," telling him that seven bombs have been placed on the ship.  If Porter doesn't want the ship to blow up, he must pay half a million pounds in ransom. And just to show he means business, Juggernaut sets off a small bomb on the ship as a warning.

Police detective John McCleod (Anthony Hopkins), whose wife (Caroline Mortimer) and children (Adam and Rebecca Bridge) are on the ship -- of course! -- gets to work on the case.

The passengers cannot be evacuated to lifeboats due to the rough seas, but the government warns Porter not to pay the ransom, to the consternation of the ship's captain, Alex Brunel (Omar Sharif).

The government does send a Royal Navy officer who's a bomb expert, Anthony Fallon (Richard Harris), and his team to the Britannic. The seas are so rough that even getting the men onto the ship is a harrowing event, after which they face attempting to defuse the bombs as the ship lurches.

Not mentioned to this point is that the ship has been undergoing work while underway and sensors which would normally help with the rough weather are on the fritz...

I found this movie a thoroughly absorbing procedural, which documents several interesting things at once: Life on a cruise ship, the police investigation, and the attempts to defuse the bombs. At times the movie almost has a documentary feel, such as the shots of the crew scrubbing uneaten dinners off plates (the passengers being too ill to eat). There are some wonderful shots showing the inside of a bomb as Harris works on it, giving the audience a better idea of just how intricate a procedure is underway.

The movie was actually filmed on a ship (the TS Hamburg), which deliberately sought rough seas during production, giving the film great authenticity. It's the kind of realism one just doesn't get from computerized effects.

I thought the movie really captured the early '70s well, encapsulated for me by a close shot of someone using an Instamatic-type camera with a square flash bulb, the same type I had as a young child. It sure brought back a memory of rotating that square flash as it was used up. The drab orange-brown colors on the cruise ship also fit the era.

The movie has an outstanding cast. Harris plays his role with jaunty style, apparently a means of coping with his job stress, while Sharif and Hopkins are each quietly competent as they work and worry.

Other than the annoyance of seasick Mrs. McCleod not keeping her children in their room after the danger of the bombs is known -- one can see a problem due to that coming from a mile away -- the characters are likeable and handle the situation with admirable calm. Indeed, the cruise's social director (Roy Kinnear) gamely works to keep the passengers busy.

In addition to the previously named actors, roles of various sizes are played by the likes of David Hemmings, Shirley Knight, Cyril Cusack, Michael Hordern, Simon MacCorkindale, Julian Glover, Clifton James, Freddie Jones, and Doris Nolan. Nolan's credits stretched from the mid '30s all the way up to TV's BRIDESHEAD REVISITED (1981).

The movie, directed by Richard Lester, runs 109 well-paced minutes. It was written by Richard De Koker (aka Richard Alan Simmons) and filmed by Gerry Fisher.

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray print looks and sounds great. Extras consist of a commentary track by Steve Mitchell and Nathaniel Thompson; the trailer; a TV spot; and a Kino Lorber trailer gallery (9). It's a Special Edition which comes in a cardboard slipcase.

I found JUGGERNAUT to be quite a nice surprise and recommend it.

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

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

The Dark Side of Cinema sets from Kino Lorber continue to be among my favorite Blu-ray releases over the course of each year.

The latest set to be released, Volume XIV, contains ONE WAY STREET (1950), APPOINTMENT WITH A SHADOW (1957), and the film reviewed here, UNDERCOVER GIRL (1950).

UNDERCOVER GIRL is 83 minutes of L.A. noir fun directed by Joseph Pevney, who had a real knack for turning out consistently entertaining movies at Universal Pictures. I've seen 20 or so of his films and with maybe one exception liked them all.

Alexis Smith plays the title role. Her character, Chris Miller, is training at the police academy in New York when she's informed by an L.A. detective, Lt. Mike Trent (Scott Brady), that her cop father (Regis Toomey) had been in league with drug dealers when he was killed.

Chris is recruited to work undercover for Trent in Los Angeles, making connections with mobsters Doc (Edmon Ryan) and Menig (Gerald Mohr). Her cover is almost blown when her New York boyfriend (Richard Egan) shows up in town, but she perseveres.

It's a dirty job in a world filled with disreputable characters. Meanwhile Mike and Chris begin developing feelings for one another...

While UNDERCOVER GIRL isn't the best of the numerous Universal Pictures crime films I've enjoyed, it's entertaining. I think I would have liked it better with a little more interaction between Brady and Smith -- in part so their romantic feelings for one another have more foundation -- and a little less of Smith undercover with the bad guys. But it moves pretty fast and overall is a fun watch.

Smith does a good job embracing her inner hard-edged dame when she transforms from Chris Miller to "Sal Willis," and Brady has become a real favorite. (I was musing the other day that he would have been great in a '50s version of THE BIG EASY!) Egan has a thankless role putting down Chris's career interests and generally getting in her way. Based on stills seen online, he had a scene cut before Chris travels to L.A.

The supporting cast includes Royal Dano, Gladys George, Angela Clarke, and Connie Gilchrist. Gilchrist is always a welcome presence and has a nice two-scene part as a senior policewoman in New York.

Scott Brady's younger brother, Edward Tierney, is seen briefly as a cop. Brady and Tierney's older brother was, of course, Lawrence Tierney.

Carl E. Guthrie filmed the movie in black and white. One of the best shots in the movie is at the very beginning, when Brady's car pulls up to the scene of an L.A. murder; a Coca-Cola sign gleams in the dark over the entrance to a Rexall corner drugstore. It's a thing of beauty, encapsulating a world now gone.

Disc extras consist of a a trio of trailers for other films available from Kino Lorber and a commentary track by Julie Kirgo. I've enjoyed Kirgo's work in the past and look forward to listening soon.

Two more Dark Side of Cinema sets have been announced; Volume XV will be out in July and XVI will be out later in the year.

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

Sunday, June 18, 2023

Tonight's Movie: The Courtship of Eddie's Father (1963) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

THE COURTSHIP OF EDDIE'S FATHER (1963) was just released on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive Collection.

It's the story of newly widowed Tom Corbett (Glenn Ford) and his young son Eddie (Ronny Howard). As the film begins they are each returning to work and school following the unexpected death of their wife and mother.

Tom finds a kindly, if somewhat eccentric, housekeeper, Mrs. Livingston (Roberta Sherwood), and gradually tiptoes into the dating scene.

A woman (Stella Stevens) Tom and Eddie chance to meet on an evening out together ends up hitting it off with Tom's colleague (Jerry Van Dyke), but Tom becomes more serious about Rita (Dina Merrill). Unfortunately Eddie doesn't take a shine to Rita, but he's very fond of the divorcee in the apartment across the hall, Elizabeth (Shirley Jones).

Elizabeth was a friend of the late Mrs. Corbett, but while Tom appreciates her kindness to Eddie, he and Elizabeth have a curiously prickly friendship, running hot and cold.

While Eddie struggles with his father's deepening relationship with Rita, she in turn ultimately reveals herself to Tom as being rather like The Baroness from the later THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965); she suggests that if they are to get married Tom should send Eddie to live with his brother...! An emergency call from Eddie's summer camp helps Tom put his life choices in perspective.

We had this film on VHS when our kids were small, but I shied away from watching it myself, despite liking the cast and having seen most of the other films directed by Vincente Minnelli.

I think I never quite got around to it because, while on the surface it seems like a family comedy, I knew from when my children watched it that it's very much not.

It has funny moments, to be sure, many of them featuring Stella Stevens, but it's actually about a father and son coming to terms with grief and forging a somewhat different relationship in their "new normal."

It does feel as though as couple storytelling steps are skipped; the mother just passed away, yet nothing seems to remain of her presence in the house, other than a framed photograph or two. A scene of Tom sorting her clothes or something similar might have made things feel a bit more complete and less mysterious, especially given there is no explanation for her death.

Other than that, this 118-minute film is quite well-written, with a screenplay by John Gay, based on a novel by Mark Toby. One of the things the movie gets right is the nature of grief and how one must carry on living, but sadness strikes in smaller, unexpected moments. When Eddie becomes hysterical over one of his fish dying, it's really about much more than that.

The film is realistically honest, yet manages to avoid feeling maudlin or manipulative. The script combined with Minnelli's sensitive direction and the performances makes it quite a worthwhile film, and I'm glad I finally watched it.

The role of Tom is perfect for Ford, as he quietly juggles his emotions along with parenting, working, and relationships. It's one of his better performances, and along with the following year's DEAR HEART (1964) is essential Ford viewing.

Jones is also very good as the neighbor who seems to be holding things more together than the grieving widower, only for both Tom and the audience to realize near movie's end that she's also been going through a rough time post-divorce.

As for Howard, one could heap on superlatives. He's quite outstanding and realistic, including being a little annoying at times, but never quite too much. Incidentally, his father Rance plays a summer camp counselor, and his brother Clint is one of the birthday party guests.

As mentioned, Stevens has some good moments as the ditzy yet surprisingly talented former Miss Montana contestant. She has an amusing scene at a bowling alley, and a scene where she plays drums in a nightclub is terrific.

The attractive Warner Archive Blu-ray does a fine job showing off the widescreen color photography of Milton Krasner. It's a new 1080p HD master from a 4K scan of the original camera negative.

Extras on the Blu-ray consist of the trailer; the seven-minute Tom and Jerry cartoon PENTHOUSE MOUSE (1963); and an archival commentary track by Shirley Jones, Dina Merrill, and Stella Stevens. I'm looking forward to listening to it!


Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the Amazon Warner Archive Collection Store, Movie Zyng, or from any online retailers were Blu-rays are sold.

Tonight's Movie: You and Me (1938) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

YOU AND ME (1938), directed and produced by Fritz Lang for Paramount Pictures, was recently released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber.

Morris Department Store is a lovely Art Deco shopping palace owned by benevolent Mr. Morris (Harry Carey Sr.).

Mr. Morris has hired several ex-cons to work in the store, believing it's important for them to have jobs as part of their rehabilitation.

Two of those ex-cons are Joe (George Raft) and Helen (Sylvia Sidney). Helen is aware of Joe's past, but he doesn't realize she also spent time in prison...which she keeps secret when they decide to marry.

Helen isn't supposed to marry until after her parole concludes, and Joe has also expressed negative feelings about women who were in jail. Naturally this leads to complications as Joe becomes suspicious and eventually learns the truth.

Meanwhile Joe is pressured by old "colleagues" into participating in the robbery of the department store...

This is a film with a lot of good -- even unusual -- moments, and it's often quite charming.

My biggest negative issue regarding the movie is that for most of the film's 94 minutes Helen is hiding her secret from Joe, or dealing with the ramifications when he learns the truth. That made it difficult to truly relax and enjoy the movie, constantly in anticipation of the next negative shoe to drop.

Would I like it more on a second viewing, knowing at the outset how the plot will unfold and not being as stressed by it? I'm not sure, but it's possible.

Unusually, the film veers close to being a musical. It opens with "Song of the Cash Register," a chanting tune about having to pay for everything you want in life, and has a couple other musical moments including a torch song sung by Carol Paige. The score was by Kurt Weill and Sam Coslow.

My favorite bit, perhaps because it's lighter in tone, comes when Helen (Sidney) uses a chalkboard and shows a gang of crooks that "crime doesn't pay" in dollars and cents. It's a delightful sequence.

The film was written by Virginia Van Upp, based on a story by Norman Krasna; each has contributed to many films I like. The film was shot in black and white by Charles Lang.

The leads are sympathetic and surrounded by an excellent cast. Some of the ex-cons are played by great faces like Robert Cummings, Roscoe Karns, Jack Pennick, Warren Hymer, and George E. Stone. It's hard to go wrong with a cast like that!

The cast includes Barton MacLane, Cecil Cunningham, Guinn "Big Boy" Williams, Vera Gordon, Egon Brecher, Joyce Compton, and Juanita Quigley. Bit roles are said to have been played by Ellen Drew and Richard Denning, but I didn't spot them.

The print is from a new 2K master. While much of the film looks excellent, there are a few very noticeable moments when large scratches go by, and a couple of scenes are on the soft side. I assume the flaws may be inherent to the material.

There are no dialogue skips, and the rest of the film looks and sounds very good. I have no hesitation in recommending this Blu-ray, it just should be noted up front that it's not pristine.

Disc extras consist of a commentary track by Simon Abrams; a trailer; and a gallery of four additional trailers for other films available from Kino Lorber.

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

Newer›  ‹Older