Monday, July 31, 2023

TCM in August: Summer Under the Stars Highlights

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

For a quick overview of the stars being honored this month, please check out the list in my June preview post.

The complete schedule may be found at TCM's special Summer Under the Stars page.

As always, TCM's regular franchises go on hiatus for August. Noir Alley, Silent Sunday Nights, and other TCM features will return in September.

Below are just a few recommendations from a wonderful month of movies. Click on any hyperlinked title to read an extended review.

...Summer Under the Stars begins on August 1st with Lucille Ball Day. I've seen a majority of the movies being shown and particularly recommend EASY LIVING (1949). She's the secretary for a football team and part of a great ensemble cast which includes Victor Mature, Lizabeth Scott, Lloyd Nolan, Jack Paar, and more. It's a film which deserves a wider audience.

...August 5th is Errol Flynn Day, with many good titles on the schedule. I was impressed with EDGE OF DARKNESS (1943) when I saw it for the first time last year. Flynn and Ann Sheridan play Norwegian resistance fighters during WWII.

...I've seen all but a couple of the movies on Debbie Reynolds Day, August 6th. There are some wonderful titles; I'll mention THE TENDER TRAP (1955), a film I've loved for most of my life. Frank Sinatra, Celeste Holm, and David Wayne costar.

...You can't go wrong with Robert Ryan movies on August 7th! Several classics are in the lineup including the great ON DANGEROUS GROUND (1951) with Ida Lupino.

...August 8th is a great day to stay home and watch movies 'round the clock: It's Joan Blondell Day! Against, I've seen all but two of the titles and entertainment is guaranteed start to finish, including a trio of Busby Berkeley musicals. I recommend a lesser-known title, BROADWAY GONDOLIER (1935), with Powell starring opposite future husband Dick Powell.

...August 9th is one of the best days on the schedule, honoring The Nicholas Brothers. Be sure to catch the Fox musicals DOWN ARGENTINE WAY (1940) and ORCHESTRA WIVES (1942).

...Rhonda Fleming is celebrated on August 10th. I'm especially fond of the Western GUN GLORY (1957) opposite Stewart Granger.

...I'm thrilled one of my favorite actors, Alan Ladd, is being honored on August 11th. I've enjoyed most of the titles, which include three of his films with Veronica Lake. I'll recommend one of his lesser-known films, THE DEEP SIX (1958); it's about a Quaker serving in WWII. Dianne Foster (seen here with Ladd) is his leading lady.

...Hopefully TCM will be showing the restored print of KING SOLOMON'S MINES (1950) on Deborah Kerr Day, August 12th. It looks incredible!

...A day of wonderful films awaits on Greer Garson Day, August 14th. Among her lesser-known films, I'm very fond of SCANDAL AT SCOURIE (1953), which has a touch of an ANNE OF GREEN GABLES feel to it.

...Garson appears opposite Ronald Colman the very next day, August 15th, in the all-time classic RANDOM HARVEST (1942). Don't miss it! There's also a relatively rare TCM showing of LOST HORIZON (1937) that day.

...Check out the gorgeous mid-Century buildings and decor in BACHELOR IN PARADISE (1961), airing on Bob Hope Day, August 17th. Lana Turner and Paula Prentiss costar.

...August 18th is another "stay home and watch movies all day" day, featuring the films of Carole Lombard. Be sure to catch the drama IN NAME ONLY (1939) with Cary Grant and Kay Francis. A favorite!

...I've seen every single movie showing on Fred Astaire Day, August 19th. Watch them all, but take particular advantage of TCM's rare showing ofthe 20th Century-Fox musical DADDY LONG LEGS (1955) with Leslie Caron.

...Another favorite, Barbara Stanwyck, is honored August 20th. It may not be great but I'm quite fond of CRY WOLF (1947) opposite Errol Flynn and Geraldine Brooks.

...It's James Stewart Day on August 21st. I'm quite fond of COME LIVE WITH ME (1941) which he made with Hedy Lamarr.

...On August 23rd, THE LAS VEGAS STORY (1952) is quite fun. It's part of Vincent Price's day; he stars with Victor Mature and Jane Russell.

...My favorite actress, Loretta Young, is honored on August 24th. I've seen every single movie in the lineup, which is heavy with pre-Codes, and they're all good! One of my all-time favorite pre-Codes is MIDNIGHT MARY (1933) opposite Franchot Tone and Ricardo Cortez.

...On Ernest Borgnine Day, August 25th, I recommend THE WHISTLE AT EATON FALLS (1951), a docudrama about a factory fighting for survival. It's quite different and very good.

...August 26th is another great day: Doris Day Day! It's a wonderful lineup; I'm quite fond of MY DREAM IS YOURS (1949) opposite Jack Carson.

...For those looking for a lesser-known Humphrey Bogart title on his special day, August 27th, I recommend CONFLICT (1945) opposite Sydney Greenstreet and Alexis Smith.

...It's Ann Sheridan Day August 28th. Why not celebrate "Christmas in August" with THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER (1942)?

...Woody Strode is honored August 29th. I recommend him in John Ford's SERGEANT RUTLEDGE (1960).

...The month wraps up with John Carradine Day on August 31st. Many wonderful films on the schedule, including five films he made with John Ford. DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK (1939) was probably the first Ford film I ever saw. It's a Revolutionary War story starring Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert. I've loved it since I was very young.

For more on TCM in August 2023, please check out my Quick Preview of TCM in August and TCM's Summer Under the Stars microsite.

Happy Summer Under the Stars!

Tonight's Movie: The Damned Don't Cry (1950) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

One of my favorite Joan Crawford melodramas, THE DAMNED DON'T CRY (1950), is now available on a beautiful Blu-ray from the Warner Archive Collection.

It's worth mentioning right at the top of the review that this is an exquisite black and white print, from a 4K scan of the original nitrate camera negative.

THE DAMNED DON'T CRY has echoes of Crawford's film from the previous year, FLAMINGO ROAD (1949), which also costarred David Brian. I consider both among Crawford's top work of the era.

Crawford plays Ethel Whitehead, an unhappily married -- and very poor -- woman who leaves her husband (Richard Egan) after the death of their child (Jimmy Moss). Ethel is determined to find a better life than the one she's got, so poor that getting her son a bicycle causes a huge row with her husband.

In a story which is also reminiscent of the classic Barbara Stanwyck pre-Code BABY FACE (1933), Ethel moves to the big city and latches on to a succession of men as steppingstones on her climb to the top.

Honest bookkeeper Marty (Kent Smith) wants to marry Ethel, but Ethel is more interested in the man she helps Marty land as a client, mob boss George Castleman (Brian).

Lorna becomes the married Castleman's mistress and with his funding transforms herself from Ethel Whitehead into "oil heiress" and social hostess "Lorna Hanson Forbes," accepted at the top echelons of society.

Ethel/Lorna comes to love George -- along with his money -- but the bloom wears off quickly when he asks her to head west and "ingratiate" herself with rival mobster Nick Prenta (Steve Cochran). She tries to get George to spell out just how far she's expected to go and doesn't hear the answer she's expecting. What's more, once she learns all there is to know about Prenta and his business dealings, George plans to kill him.

The disillusioned Lorna becomes attracted to Nick, who proposes marriage -- though she's dismayed that just like George, he considers killing off his rivals part of being a successful businessman. Being mixed up with mobsters isn't much fun.

Matters come to a head when both Marty and George arrive in the desert...

I first saw this film as part of a "Mid-Century California Noir" series at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2012. It has some great Palm Springs location sequences, including scenes shot at Frank Sinatra's home, Twin Palms, which doubles as Cochran's house.

Everyone in the film is tops, starting with the compelling Crawford. We don't admire all of Ethel's decisions, but we understand them, and even when she cruelly dumps Marty we feel some sympathy for her, knowing her rough background.

I appreciated David Brian far more on this second viewing, having really liked him in FLAMINGO ROAD since first seeing this movie. He's excellent as a man who, like Ethel, has gone from rags to riches -- and he's scary given what he'll do to stay on top.

Cochran is excellent, making a big impression in his relatively brief screen time, and even the somewhat dull Kent Smith does a good job here as the man who sees his business ethics slip away along with his relationship with Ethel.

I also particularly appreciate Selena Royle as Ethel/Lorna's high society "sponsor," Patricia Longworth, who helps her present herself more tastefully and provides an entree into her social circles.

This film is a great example of studio craftsmanship, where every element combines to provide a highly entertaining movie.

THE DAMNED DON'T CRY runs 103 minutes. It was directed by Vincent Sherman and filmed by Ted McCord. The screenplay was by Harold Medford and Jerome Weidman from the Gertrude Walker story CASE HISTORY. An interesting bit of trivia is that the year after this film was released, Walker married actor Charles Winninger.

Extras on the Warner Archive Blu-ray disc consist of the trailer; an archival commentary track by by director Vincent Sherman, imported from the 2005 DVD release; a featurette, "The Crawford Formula: Real and Reel"; and a 1951 Screen Director's Playhouse performance starring Crawford and Frank Lovejoy, who appeared opposite Crawford that year in the film GOODBYE, MY FANCY (1951). I particularly appreciate when the Warner Archive includes radio productions, as the "alternate casting" can be fascinating.

THE DAMNED DON'T CRY is top Crawford. Both the movie and this lovely Blu-ray are recommended.

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.

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Tonight's Movies: Clash of the Wolves (1925) and Where the North Begins (1923) - Kino Lorber Blu-ray Reviews

One of the joys of this year's TCM Classic Film Festival was seeing the silent Rin Tin Tin film CLASH OF THE WOLVES (1925) with live musical accompaniment by Ben Model.

I'm delighted to say that CLASH OF THE WOLVES, which is on the 2004 National Film Registry list, was recently released on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber.

Model's score is also on this Blu-ray, which is a 4K restoration.

Kino Lorber made this a double feature disc with another Rin Tin Tin film, WHERE THE NORTH BEGINS (1923). That film was scanned in 2K from a print from the collection of Jon Mirsalis, who also provides the musical score.

Since I had time to watch both films today and they each feature doggy superstar Rin Tin Tin, I thought I'd review them together.

CLASH OF THE WOLVES also stars silent star Charles Farrell, especially known for his regular teaming with Janet Gaynor.

It's a 74-minute film directed by Noel M. Smith which combines adventure, pathos, and humor.

Farrell plays Dave, a borax prospector in the desert who helps the injured Lobo (Rin Tin Tin) when he has a thorn in his paw; in due course Lobo will return the favor when claim jumpers attack Dave.

Lobo helps Dave and his sweetheart May (June Marlowe) fight the claim jumpers, leading to an idyllic final scene of Dave, May, Lobo, Lobo's mate (Nanette), and Lobo's pups all enjoying canoeing on a lake.

Watching this Warner Bros. film one can see what made Rin Tin Tin movies popular. For instance, there are some exciting shots of Lobo and his mate saving their pups from a fire in the Sierras.

Lobo also comes in for his share of comedic moments, such as when Lobo wears a disguise or taps on a window to get May's attention. I think it says a lot about the movie that I enjoyed it just as much watching it the second time in a handful of months.

CLASH OF THE WOLVES was filmed by Edwin B. Dupar, Alan Thompson, and the uncredited Joseph Walker. Locations included Joshua Tree National Park.

The lone extra accompanying the movies in this two-film set is an audio commentary on CLASH OF THE WOLVES by film historian Anthony Slide.

WHERE THE NORTH BEGINS was Rin Tin Tin's first starring film. An opening title card describes the dog's true history, starting from being rescued from the front lines in World War I.

The movie is a "Northerner," as some of us like to call Westerns set in Canada. Rin Tin Tin plays a puppy who is raised by a pack of wolves. He later saves the life of a French Canadian trapper, Gabrielle (Walter McGrail).

Gabrielle loves Felice (Claire Adams) and they plan to marry and raise a baby orphaned when Gabrielle's friend dies. Of course, the grateful Gabrielle also adopts Rin Tin Tin after the dog saves his life!

The factor of the trading post (Pat Hartigan) wants to marry Felice himself and tries to have Gabrielle killed on a wilderness trail; when that fails he then attempts to frame Gabrielle for theft of furs.

Meanwhile the dog runs away after being accused of attacking the baby, but of course that wasn't true...he's Rin Tin Tin!

I quite enjoyed WHERE THE NORTH BEGINS, just as I did CLASH OF THE WOLVES. It's an engaging drama, and some of the dog footage is rather remarkable. I also loved the ending, which is a bit reminiscent of the dog family in ONE HUNDRED AND ONE DALMATIANS (1961)!

This 75-minute film was also from Warner Bros. It was directed by Chester M. Franklin with exteriors filmed in Canada. The cinematographer is not credited. Of note: The editor was Lewis Milestone, who if Wikipedia is accurate saved the film, which started out as a mishmash of footage with continuity issues.

Both prints, particularly WHERE THE NORTH BEGINS, have scratches and other flaws, which one might expect from movies made a century ago, but overall they look good; the flaws didn't disrupt my enjoyment, and I suspect they couldn't be further improved from their source material.

This is a very enjoyable set which I recommend, especially for fans of silent movies or dogs. These movies might also be good "gateway" films to silents for young viewers who will be entertained by Rin Tin Tin's exploits.

I would love to see more Rin Tin Tin films be released for home viewing in the future!

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

Tonight's Movie: The Anderson Tapes (1971) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Sean Connery stars in THE ANDERSON TAPES (1971), just released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber.

Connery plays Duke Anderson, just released from a ten-year stint in prison.

Duke moves in with his ex-girlfriend Ingrid (Dyan Cannon, THE LAST OF SHEILA), who lives in a luxurious New York City apartment paid for by a sugar daddy (Richard B. Schull).

Almost immediately Duke starts planning the inevitable "one last heist," robbing all the occupants of Ingrid's building. He puts together a team (including Christopher Walken and Martin Balsam) and gets to work on the planning, which includes getting in touch with old mafia contacts.

Unknown to Duke, many of his conversations and activities are being recorded by a variety of interested persons and agencies...

THE ANDERSON TAPES was directed by Sidney Lumet from a screenplay by Frank Pierson, based on a novel by Lawrence Sanders.

The film begins somewhat promisingly, with the focus on surveillance a half century ago being an interesting theme. Today's technology may look different, but the film drives home how pervasive it could be even decades ago.

The first two thirds or so of the movie are reasonably interesting, including the scenes setting up the heist, but the entire thing falls completely apart in the final third.

The editing of the heist sequence is terrible, zipping back and forth in time; again, the more things change, the more they stay the same? Lumet's non-linear storytelling here seems to be foreshadowing Christopher Nolan and movies like OPPENHEIMER (2023). Unfortunately in this case it simply leaves the viewer confused as to what's happening when.

There are also incongruous tonal shifts, with Ralph Meeker and Garrett Morris acting as though they're in a police comedy; meanwhile the members of Anderson's heist team are being picked off one by one. The theme of the tapes also peters out; ultimately they're not nearly as significant as one would expect given that they're referenced in the movie title.

There are some nice bits, including a child's use of a ham radio to call the police for help during the robbery, but despite some good moments, overall I found this film a messy disappointment. The potential is there but the execution isn't.

It's rather interesting that the last two Connery films I've seen both had him playing an unhappy thief; the other film was THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY (1978). Perhaps I should revisit another (better!) Connery-as-thief film, ENTRAPMENT (1999), soon.

Cannon gives the film some verve with her portrayal of Connery's mercenary girlfriend. She's reluctant to feel things for him because her financial survival comes first.

The film's supporting cast includes Margaret Hamilton, Max Showalter (also known as Casey Adams), Alan King, Val Avery, and Conrad Bain.

The movie was filmed in New York locations by Arthur J. Ornitz. The musical score was by Quincy Jones.

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray is a fine print with good sound. Disc extras consist of a trailer and TV spot; a gallery of eight additional trailers for other films available from Kino Lorber; and a commentary track by Glenn Kenny. There's a cardboard slipcase for the plastic Blu-ray case, which comes with reversible cover art cover art.

A note on the rating: This film is rated PG. Given the content and language, I'm surprised it's not rated R, but I find that sometimes older films' ratings don't seem to match up with modern practices. I've found a PG rating in the '70s was sometimes "harder," and I suspect the rating was taken more seriously, whereas today many people seem to think PG means "for the whole family."

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

Book Review: Ernest Lehman: The Sweet Smell of Success

Screenwriter Ernest Lehman wrote the scripts for two of my favorite movies, WEST SIDE STORY (1961) and THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965), along with many other excellent films.

When I learned there was a new biography of Lehman, I was thus very interested to read it. ERNEST LEHMAN: THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS was written by Jon Krampner and published by the University Press of Kentucky.

This biography is an impressive work of research; the end notes alone run for over 50 pages! It provides great insight into Lehman's work alongside his personal life.

Lehman experienced great career success but had a sad life. He was a nervous hypochondriac; had an unfaithful, troubled long-term marriage; was a distant father; and had an eventual remarriage to someone 51 years younger who gave birth to his youngest child when he was 86.

I'm glad for history's sake when the facts of a filmmaker's life are well researched and accurately recorded, but as the book went on that aspect became increasingly hard to read about. There's quite a paradox between his very fine work, with additional films including SABRINA (1954) and NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959), and his sad mess of a home life.

That said, I quite enjoyed the sections which focused on Lehman's writing, such as the fine job he did translating THE SOUND OF MUSIC from stage to screen.

I was long aware of how Lehman rearranged the story placement of a couple songs such as "The Lonely Goatherd" and "My Favorite Things," but I hadn't really thought about the fact that most of the songs "fade to black" afterwards, avoiding any potential awkwardness with the cast resuming dialogue. And in one notable moment when that doesn't happen, Eleanor Parker's character punctures the sweetness of the moment with a sarcastic remark.

It was Lehman who cut the lengthy stage performance of "Do-Re-Mi" in the von Trapp living room to a much shorter but more exciting sequence staged all over Salzburg. Lehman also suggested some notable camera shots such as the camera panning up in the cathedral at the wedding and then dissolving to ringing bells.

Lehman similarly rearranged numbers in WEST SIDE STORY from stage to screen in a way which I felt improved on the original production. His success seemed even more apparent when watching the recent remake of that musical, which returned to the order of songs as they were sung on stage. I feel that Lehman's choices were better in every regard.

In the end, this is a very worthwhile book which provides great insights into the making of a number of classic films, though viewers might find themselves reading hurriedly past Lehman's train wreck of a personal life.

ERNEST LEHMAN: THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS is a hardcover which is 372 pages. The acknowledgments, index, and very extensive footnotes take up around 90 pages, beginning on page 283. (I’d add I always love to see the enthusiastic thanks to retired USC archivist Ned Comstock in books; he was very helpful not only to our daughter when she was at USC but to my husband as well.) The book weighs about a pound and a half.

Thanks to the University Press of Kentucky for providing a review copy of this book.

Saturday, July 29, 2023

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...Coming this fall from Running Press: An updated paperback edition of GEORGE HURRELL'S HOLLYWOOD: GLAMOUR PORTRAITS 1922-1995 by Mark Vieira, author of the recently reviewed WARNER BROS.: 100 YEARS OF STORYTELLING. I'll be reviewing it here.

...At Once Upon a Screen Aurora has written an interesting article on air conditioning in movie theaters. Perfect summer reading!

...Glenn Erickson's latest reviews include favorite NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES (1948), now available on a Region B Blu-ray from Powerhouse Indicator.  New extras includes a commentary track by Farran Smith Nehme and Glenn Kenny.

...In my mailbox this weekend: THE JOHN WAYNE B-WESTERNS 1932-1939 by James L. Neibaur, published by Bear Manor Media. Can't wait to dig in. Look for a review here at a future date!

...An interesting new book from McFarland: FORGOTTEN DISNEY: ESSAYS ON THE LESSER-KNOWN PRODUCTIONS.  Thanks to Keith Buczak for making me aware of it.

...Coming soon to Blu-ray from Kino Lorber: TOPKAPI (1964) starring Peter Ustinov and Melina Mercouri.

...There's lots of info on the latest Warner Archive Collection Blu-rays at The Extras podcast. For anyone who missed it, so far I've reviewed one of those films, THE FASTEST GUN ALIVE (1956).

...J.B. Kaufman's "Movie of the Month" is MONTE CARLO (1930) starring Jeanette MacDonald and Jack Buchanan. I reviewed it back in 2013.

...Notable Passings: Actress Inga Swenson has passed away at the age of 90. Swenson worked on stage, screen and television; I knew her best as the matriarch of one of the families in TV's NORTH AND SOUTH (1985-86)...I was very sorry to learn of the death of Disney historian Jim Korkis, who had been unwell for some time. I've shared some of the articles he wrote for MousePlanet here over the years, and his book WHO'S AFRAID OF SONG OF THE SOUTH? AND OTHER FORBIDDEN DISNEY STORIES is on my Disney bookshelf.

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

Tonight's Movie: Step Down to Terror (1958) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

I had no idea that Alfred Hitchcock's SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943) was remade 15 years later.

That film, STEP DOWN TO TERROR (1958), was released as part of the Kino Lorber Dark Side of Cinema XIII collection. Also in the set are SPY HUNT (1950), which I reviewed last month, and THE NIGHT RUNNER (1957), which I'll be reviewing here in the future.

I recently saw SHADOW OF A DOUBT in April at the TCM Classic Film Festival, so that worked well for me to be able to compare the two movies, which are each based on a story by Gordon McDonnel.

Both films focus on a long-lost relative who returns to his small town. In the case of STEP DOWN TO TERROR, the relative is Johnny Walters (Charles Drake), who returns home to his mother (Josephine Hutchinson), widowed sister-in-law Helen (Colleen Miller of PLAYGIRL and FOUR GUNS TO THE BORDER), and Helen's little boy Doug (Rickey Kelman).

Larry ingratiates himself with his family, who are initially thrilled by his return, but before long his erratic behavior has them puzzled. And then a handsome journalist, Mike (Rod Taylor), shows up at the family home asking questions...

STEP DOWN TO TERROR lacks the scripting talent of the Hitchcock classic, which was written by Thornton Wilder, Sally Benson, and Alma Reville Hitchcock. This version, also by a trio of writers, is far shorter, running just 76 minutes to the original's 108; with its abridged storyline, it almost feels like a 1950s Lux Video Theatre remake.

I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed STEP DOWN TO TERROR. To be sure, it cannot compare with SHADOW OF A DOUBT, which is one of my very favorite Hitchcock films, but while no classic, STEP DOWN TO TERROR is still quite entertaining in its own way. They had me at Rod Taylor!

I enjoyed seeing how the filmmakers did a slightly different spin on the well-known story, with Larry a potential romantic interest for Helen rather than her uncle; other aspects are very much the same. Anyone familiar with SHADOW OF A DOUBT will recognize plot points such as Helen's late-night run to the library or the broken exterior staircase.

Taylor successfully conveys his attraction to Helen in relatively few screen minutes, and I always enjoy seeing Colleen Miller. (I was fortunate to see her in person at a Noir City Festival a few years ago.) Drake is convincing as the weirdo relative.

The cast also includes Jocelyn Brando, Ann Doran, and Alan Dexter. Harry Keller directed, with black and white widescreen photography by Russell Metty.

Metty's cinematography here is fairly run of the mill, but the Kino Lorber print is excellent, as is the sound quality.

Extras consist of the trailer; two additional trailers for other films available from Kino Lorber; and a commentary track by Bryan Reesman and Max Evry. That should be quite interesting, given this film's source material.

I love that despite how many years I've watched classic films, there are always new things to discover; I was fascinated that SHADOW OF A DOUBT had been remade.

As I also liked SPY HUNT, I recommend this set -- but then, I don't think I've seen a Dark Side of Cinema set I haven't loved!

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

Quick Preview of TCM in September

It's time for a short preview of what's ahead on Turner Classic Movies this September!

Dirk Bogarde will be the September Star of the Month. Films starring the London-born actor will be featured on Wednesday evenings.

The September Noir Alley titles are THE SECRET FURY (1950), THE WRONG MAN (1956), OUT OF THE FOG (1941), TWO O'CLOCK COURAGE (1945), and WHIPLASH (1948).

The TCM Spotlight will focus on "Coming of Age," with titles such as A LITTLE ROMANCE (1979), SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS (1961), and JUNGLE BOOK (1942).

September programming themes will include maids, pregnancy, sci-fi "bug" movies, pre-Codes, gambling, football, composers, amnesia, San Francisco, and titles which include the word "Mrs." On September 29th TCM will celebrate National Silent Movie Day with a daytime lineup of silent films.

Filmmakers receiving multifilm tributes in September include Claudette Colbert, Greta Garbo, Frances Marion, Alfred Hitchcock, Leo McCarey, John M. Stahl, Amy Irving, Ellen Drew, Lana Turner, and Stanley Cortez.

I'll have much more on the September lineup posted here around September 1st. In the meantime, the annual August Summer Under the Stars lineup is coming soon!

Update: For more on TCM in September 2023, please visit TCM in September: Highlights.

Friday, July 28, 2023

Tonight's Movie: Oppenheimer (2023)

Along with BARBIE (2023), last week's other big movie release was the biopic OPPENHEIMER (2023).

Tonight I enoyed seeing the three-hour Christopher Nolan epic on a giant 2D IMAX screen with excellent sound.

I liked OPPENHEIMER quite a bit more than the same director's DUNKIRK (2017), the only other Nolan film I've seen, and found it an interesting evening at the movies.

That said, the film has been overpraised and overhyped by Nolan fans who have touted it as a masterwork; it's simply a solid and absorbing -- yet flawed -- biography which I found worth seeing.

Nolan directed and wrote OPPENHEIMER, with his screenplay based on a book by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin. It's the story of the scientist who played a key role in developing the atomic bomb during World War II. Though the movie is told in non-linear fashion, it's otherwise a fairly standard biography.

The extensive Los Alamos scenes, of course, focus on the development of the atomic bomb under the leadership of J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) and Major Leslie Groves (Matt Damon). 

The Los Alamos sequences contrast with Washington scenes set years later which focus on issues regarding the renewal of Oppenheimer's security clearance and later still, the Senate confirmation hearings of Lewis Strauss (an almost unrecognizable Robert Downey Jr.), who held a long-simmering grudge against Oppenheimer.

The confirmation hearing scenes are filmed in black and white, an artistic choice which also helps to differentiate the time periods. Despite the many jumps back and forth in time I found the story engrossing and easy to follow.

There is much to praise about this well-made film but it also has some significant flaws, chiefly related to Nolan's self-indulgent filmmaking.

The first issue is the fact that this movie is three hours long. It does a fairly good job maintaining viewer interest, but the "Trinity test" of the bomb at Los Alamos provides a "false ending" after which the movie shifts to Washington and goes on interminably.

It's especially important to note that for a movie which runs three solid hours, there is exceptionally little insight provided into its lead characters. The fact that it holds the attention despite this is a tribute to Nolan's overall talent, though not used here to its full ability, and an excellent cast who do all they can with the material provided.

The Washington scenes, though they feel tacked on to a too-long movie, are boosted by the outstanding performance of Downey Jr. (IRON MAN), who seems likely to be Oscar nominated. The very gradual reveal of his full character, or lack thereof, is extremely well written and acted.

Unfortunately, though, the Washington scenes also become repetitive. The viewer can take only so many scenes of Oppenheimer staring into space or musing on Whether Building the Bomb Was the Right Thing to Do before it gets old. (A line or two explaining how many American -- and other -- lives were saved when we were able to cancel the invasion of Japan would have been helpful as part of the film's portrayal of the issue.) It also doesn't help that Jason Clarke plays attorney Roger Robb as cartoonishly evil.

Another piece of self-indulgent filmmaking is the portrayal of Oppenheimer's affair with Jean Tatock (Florence Pugh, LITTLE WOMEN). These scenes are largely told with Pugh naked but offer little insight into the characters and their relationship. They are troubled, especially her, and they have sex, but what does it tell us about Oppenheimer? Not much.  Unfortunately the film wastes Pugh's considerable talents.

As we walked to the car after the movie I was musing aloud that if the filmmakers wanted to demonstrate Oppenheimer was a ladies' man they could have done it without nudity, and another couple overheard me and chimed in "We agree!"

Oppenheimer also has a challenging relationship with his wife Kitty (Emily Blunt, THE YOUNG VICTORIA), an alcoholic who is an indifferent-to-poor parent. (At one point Oppenheimer must deliver their baby to friends to care for it, as Kitty can't, and clearly he is too busy.) Oppenheimer and the steely-yet-wounded Kitty remain married, but while Oppenheimer at one point says they've walked through fire together, we're left to ask "Why?"

Murphy and Blunt are charismatic performers, but there is no depth to the portrayal of their marriage, including what attracted them and what has kept them together. Oppenheimer comments that a marriage can be a mystery to those on the outside, but I think viewers are meant to come away with greater understanding. It's a bit ironic that the movie is so well played that the viewer doesn't realize just how little was learned till it's over.

As the movie ended it really struck me that I knew little more about the great scientist than I had when the film begins. What makes him tick? Who knows?

One of the film's strong points is its cast. Along with Downey Jr., Damon gives one of the film's highlight performances, following in the footsteps of Brian Donlevy, who played Maj. Groves in MGM's THE BEGINNING OR THE END (1946) shortly after the war ended. His sparring with Oppenheimer is nicely done and his "can do" military man gives the film needed bursts of energy playing opposite the dour Murphy.

The movie is packed with familiar faces, including a brief appearance by Kenneth Branagh as a scientist. Gary Oldman, who played Churchill in DARKEST HOUR (2017), has a single scene as an impatient Harry S. Truman.

Other faces in the cast include James D'Arcy (AGENT CARTER), Jack Quaid (son of Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan), Tony Goldwyn, Casey Affleck, Tom Conti, Alden Ehrenreich, and Josh Hartnett, to name a few.

The movie was filmed by Hoyte Van Hoytema. The score was by Ludwig Goransson.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated R and fully deserves it due to the previously referenced nude scenes. It's a shame they weren't cut out, which would have dropped the film to PG-13 and made it more accessible to younger viewers.

In the end, OPPENHEIMER is imperfect yet interesting. I'm glad I saw it and feel it's worthwhile, with the noted reservations.

Monday, July 24, 2023

Tonight's Movie: Poker Faces (1926) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

POKER FACES (1926) is an amusing comedy starring Edward Everett Horton.

It's part of a recently released Kino Lorber disc of two silent films directed by Harry A. Pollard.

I reviewed the other film in the set, OH, DOCTOR! (1925), last month. OH, DOCTOR! stars Reginald Denny and Mary Astor.

In POKER FACES Horton plays Jimmy Whitmore, whose boss Mr. Curlew (Tom Ricketts) offers a large bonus if Jimmy successfully helps him land a new client (George Siegmann).

Jimmy's role will include bringing his wife Betty (Laura La Plante) to a dinner with the client at Mr. Curlew's home.

There's just one problem: Jimmy and Betty have had a fight over her desire to go to work in order to afford a new rug, and he can't find her in time for the dinner party. Desperate to land the bonus, he hires an actress (Dorothy Revier) to pretend to be his wife at the dinner party. It's handy that Mr. Curlew hasn't met Betty!

Jimmy and his phony "wife" arrive at the dinner, and shortly thereafter in walks the new secretary Mr. Curlew hired while Jimmy was at the train station to pick up the client: Betty! She's quite surprised to meet Jimmy's "wife" -- and hear they have twins!

The madcap farce builds from there, with the fake Mrs. Whitmore's prizefighter husband (Tom O'Brien) also taking part in the antics.

POKER FACES is a very well-played comedy which I enjoyed. It does run a tad long at 83 minutes and could have stood having a few minutes trimmed, but other than that I found it quite entertaining.

Horton does a good job as the hapless Jimmy, who finds himself in one scrape after another. I especially liked La Plante as his sweet yet feisty wife. Revier, who looks quite a bit like Jobyna Ralston, is also good as the actress.

The movie was filmed Charles J. Stumar. Kino Lorber's print is very good and includes blue-tinted nighttime scenes.

The disc includes a commentary track by Adam Nayman. The musical score was composed by Zach Marsh.

This is a fun set with two enjoyable comedies. Fans of silent films, in particular, should find these films worthwhile.

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

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