Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Tonight's Movie: Convicted Woman (1940)

CONVICTED WOMAN (1940), a Columbia Pictures film, is the best kind of "B" movie, a fast-paced and entertaining 65 minutes.

What's more, it features a charming young Glenn Ford in only his third feature film appearance.

Rochelle Hudson plays Betty Andrews, who is down on her luck and looking for a job. When she applies for a job at a department store she's framed for theft by a lookalike woman. Despite lucking into a fine defense attorney, Mary Ellis (Frieda Inescort), Betty is convicted and sent to prison.

Betty finds prison to be a horror show, with the head matron (Esther Dale) conspiring with pet prisoners such as "the Duchess" (June Lang of LIGHTHOUSE) to mistreat girls who don't pay for protection.

When a prisoner (Mary Field) commits suicide and it's covered up as "pneumonia," Betty is terrified and manages to slip the information to reporter Jim Brent (Ford). His story results in the installation of Betty's reform-minded attorney Mary as the new prison matron.

This film packs a great deal of story and action into a little over an hour and also populates it with interesting characters, including Lola Lane as Hazel, a goodhearted three-time convict who helps Betty.

Hudson plays her role with a nice blend of pathos and increasing toughness mixed with despair as her situation goes from bad to worse. Fortunately Mary, Jim, and Hazel all step up to help her at various points.

Inescort is a great favorite of mine, and I really enjoyed watching her in this. Some of her plans, including beautiful new beds for the prison, seem too "pie in the sky," but she's such an admirable woman and her intentions are so good that the viewer wants to believe!

The entire cast, which also includes Lorna Gray (aka Adrian Booth) and Iris Meredith, is fun to watch. James Millican can even be spotted as a cop early in the film.

The movie was directed by Nick Grinde and filmed in black and white by Benjamin Kline. Joseph Carole's screenplay was based on a story by Alex Gottlieb and Martin Mooney.

CONVICTED WOMAN was shown on Turner Classic Movies last summer as part of the terrific series of "B" films programmed by Jeremy Arnold. To my knowledge it has never been released for home viewing in any format.

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween!

Some of my past Halloween posts have focused on props and costumes which appear repeatedly in studio holiday publicity stills.

Last year I focused on the Universal Pictures giant Jack o' Lantern; this year we'll take a look at the same studio's stuffed black cat!

Here's a photo from a multi-picture session of Ella Raines posing with the cat in 1945:

Joyce Holden posed with it too:

And here's Barbara Bates:

Below are Jane Adams and Patricia Alphin. Not only does the cat show up in this photo, but the pumpkin is the same one used in the preceding photo with Barbara Bates.

The next two photos are from a session with Nan Grey:

The pumpkin above is the same one I featured in last year's Halloween post.

Here's Anne Gwynne with the cat, and last year's pumpkin makes another appearance:

I recognize our friend the cat, but who is the actress? If anyone knows or has a guess, please share in the comments.

Have a happy holiday!

Previous Halloween posts, in reverse chronological order: Anne Gwynne, Peggy Moran, Anne Nagel, Nan Grey, Peggy Ryan, and Gloria Jean (2022), Ellen Drew (2021), Martha Vickers, Gale Robbins, Penny Edwards, and Barbara Bates (2020), Ann Rutherford (2019), Janis Paige (2018), Ella Raines (2017), Veronica Lake (2016), Barbara Bates (2015), Marsha Hunt (2014), Linda Darnell (2013), and the BEWITCHED cast (2012).

Monday, October 30, 2023

Tonight's Movie: The Broadway Melody (1929) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

MGM's history-making THE BROADWAY MELODY (1929) is now available on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive Collection.

MGM famously advertised its first full-length sound musical as "All Talking! All Dancing! All Singing!" The movie would become the first sound film to win the Academy Award as Best Picture.

The film tells the story of sisters Hank (Bessie Love) and Queenie (Anita Page), who arrive in New York hoping to make it big on Broadway.

Hank's boyfriend Eddie (Charles King) had previously arrived in New York and is able to pave the way for the girls to have an important audition. Although they're a sister act, ultimately it's statuesque Queenie who gets a break being featured in a big musical number in a Broadway show. She's also immediately swarmed by men.

Unfortunately, Queenie really loves her sister's boyfriend Eddie, and Eddie's likewise smitten with Queenie, but they each struggle with their feelings as they don't want to hurt Hank...

I love musicals and pre-Codes, but as films go it must be said THE BROADWAY MELODY isn't particularly interesting, and at times it's downright creaky.

The story and musical numbers are each only mildly entertaining, and at 100 minutes, the film is far too long. The film needs a much peppier pace and would have played better with a good 15 minutes shaved from the running time.

I'm a fan of Anita Page and enjoyed her here as sweet Queenie, but while she has screen presence, the rest of the cast is frankly quite bland.

Charles King was a vaudevillian who appeared in a handful of movies before dying in 1944; he's likeable but has no charisma. Bessie Love, who had a decades-long career, was Oscar-nominated here but her character is quite abrasive at times. She reminds me a bit of Bebe Daniels, but is less likeable; ironically Love and Daniels were close friends offscreen.

And who thought it would be funny to have one of the main supporting characters (Jed Prouty) stutter throughout his scenes? They could have saved five minutes of running time right there.

That said, this is a film which is very important to consider in context due to its place in film history. As a child I saw a brief clip from it in THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! (1974) which made the point that this movie was the starting point for all the great MGM musicals to come.

In THE BROADWAY MELODY we literally watch a studio and filmmakers simultaneously figure out how to make a sound film and stage a sound musical. There are smaller "spontaneous" musical numbers which seem abruptly inserted but at least have the advantage of being shot relatively close up, while the theatrical sequences are mostly filmed in a static fashion, from an audience point of view.

It's ironic, but the movie's deficiencies are part of the reason it's important. Viewers can see what the starting point was for movie musicals and understand the achievements of later films in context.

Musicals came a very long way in a short time; for instance, consider what was achieved with the dazzling camera work for Busby Berkeley numbers in Warner Bros. musicals, which were released only four years later!

Or think of THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) one decade after THE BROADWAY MELODY, with its naturally integrated score, musical sequences filmed in close-up, superb sound quality, and Technicolor, just for starter comparisons. (Actually, it's worth inserting a note here that THE BROADWAY MELODY itself originally had a two-strip Technicolor musical sequence, "The Wedding of the Painted Doll," but color prints no longer exist.)

THE BROADWAY MELODY was directed by Harry Beaumont and filmed by John Arnold. The story was by future director Edmund Goulding, and one of the dialogue writers was actor James Gleason. The other dialogue writer was Norman Houston, who one day would write many of the Tim Holt Westerns I love.

The Warner Archive Collection Blu-ray print is a new 1080p HD master from a 4K scan of the best preservation elements. It looks and sounds as good as is possible for a film of its vintage.

Extras consist of five Metro Movietone Revue Shorts; two additional shorts; and a song selection menu, which is always a welcome extra on Warner Archive Blu-rays.

Thanks to the Warner Archive Collection for preserving and making available this unique slice of film and movie musical history.

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.

Book Review: George Hurrell's Hollywood: Glamour Portraits, 1925-1992

Film historian and photographer Mark A. Vieira is a preeminent scholar of Hollywood glamour photographer George Hurrell.

Vieira knew Hurrell and previously wrote HURRELL'S HOLLYWOOD PORTRAITS (1997) and GEORGE HURRELL'S HOLLYWOOD: GLAMOUR PORTRAITS, 1925-1992 (2013).

His newest book, GEORGE HURRELL'S HOLLYWOOD: GLAMOUR PORTRAITS, 1925-1992, is an updated softcover version of the 2013 book. Half of the photographs are new to this book, and the reproduction of every photo has been restored and upgraded since the first volume.

This new book from Running Press is, in a word, exquisite. The photo quality and clarity is as good or better than any book of photographs I've read to date. The photos are absolutely stunning and will be greatly enjoyed by any classic film fan.

Vieira combines the photographs with a detailed narrative telling not only Hurrell's own story, but placing his work in the context of Hollywood history.

I found details about the photographic sessions themselves particularly interesting; for example, a 1937 photo of William Powell, taken in the wake of Jean Harlow's death, takes on additional depth when one realizes the extent of Powell's grief. It's a moving photograph.

This lovely book melds art with film history and thus can be enjoyed on multiple levels. It would make an excellent Christmas gift for anyone who loves classic movies.

GEORGE HURRELL'S HOLLYWOOD is 398 glossy pages including bibliography and index. I did note that some of the indexing I checked out did not match up with the pages and wondered if the page numbers listed were inadvertently held over from the earlier edition.

It's a heavy softcover book which weighs in at about four pounds. The foreword is by actress Sharon Stone.


I also own and have enjoyed Vieira's books HARLOW IN HOLLYWOOD (cowritten with Darrel Rooney) and FORBIDDEN HOLLYWOOD.


Thanks to TCM and Running Press for providing a review copy of this book.

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Tonight's Movie: The Tattered Dress (1957) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

THE TATTERED DRESS (1957) is a gem of a movie which is part of the Kino Lorber Dark Side of Cinema XV collection.

I first saw this film in 2012, thanks to a friend's copy. What a pleasure to return to it now, over a decade later, thanks to Kino Lorber's Blu-ray! I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting it.

To my knowledge, this is the first time THE TATTERED DRESS been made available for home viewing in the U.S., and the same is true of the other movies in the set, MAN AFRAID (1957) and THE GIRL IN THE KREMLIN (1957).

Courtroom drama meets small-town corruption in this film, which I noted one reviewer described as a lower-key TOUCH OF EVIL (1958). It struck me as an apt comparison.

Jeff Chandler plays defense attorney James Gordon Blane, a serially unfaithful husband to Diane (Jeanne Crain) who thinks nothing of blowing thousands gambling. Despite his rocky personal life, he's highly successful in the courtroom, which allows him to fund his vices...and nearly leads to his complete undoing.

Blane has been summoned to a small town in Nevada to defend wealthy Michael Reston (Phillip Reed) for gunning down the young man (Floyd Simmons) who'd supposedly assaulted Reston's voluptuous young wife Charleen (Elaine Stewart).

Blane's defense of Reston angers the murder victim's friend Sheriff Hoak (Jack Carson), who conspires with a vulnerable juror (Gail Russell) to frame Blane for a crime he didn't commit.

The story might be improbable at times -- for instance, would a judge (Edwin Jerome) really allow Blane to yell at a witness for a prolonged period? -- but it's a highly engrossing 93 minutes. The film is well written (by George Zuckerman) and compellingly acted by a fine cast.

I'll refer readers to my previous review for more extensive analysis, but suffice it to say this is a very engrossing film about a group of imperfect yet highly interesting characters. It defines "high-class melodrama."

Chandler is particularly noteworthy for his fearlessness in playing a character who is quite far from a hero. The lead actors are well supported by a deep cast, with Edward Platt and Edward Andrews particularly effective as a reporter and a defense attorney, respectively.

The movie was directed by Jack Arnold, who made a great many sci-fi films and Westerns I've enjoyed. It was shot in black and white CinemaScope by Carl E. Guthrie. The Nevada exteriors were filmed in Palm Springs.

Kino Lorber's Blu-ray print is a new HD master from a 2K scan of the 35mm fine grain. It looks very good most of the time, although there are some patches which are notably softer, particularly an exterior Chandler-Crain scene late in the movie; that said, those moments didn't detract from my enjoyment of the film.

Extras consist of a commentary track by Jason A. Ney; the trailer, newly mastered in 2K; and a gallery of half a dozen additional trailers for other films available from Kino Lorber.

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

Book Review: Kid Noir: Kitty Feral and the Case of the Marshmallow Monkey

When I first heard that the "Czar of Noir," Eddie Muller, had written a children's book, I was surprised, to say the least!

KID NOIR: KITTY FERAL AND THE CASE OF THE MARSHMALLOW MONKEY was published a few weeks ago by TCM and Running Press Kids, and I'm happy to say it's a delight.

Muller, the author of DARK CITY: THE LOST WORLD OF FILM NOIR and EDDIE MULLER'S NOIR BAR, cowrote KITTY FERAL with Jessica Schmidt. The picture book was illustrated by Forrest Burdett.

The story is about Kitty Feral, the only cat detective in town. Kitty says "Trouble hounds me" since partner Mitch the Mutt went missing. Kitty spends the book searching not only for Mitch but for the Marshmallow Monkey of the title.

KITTY FERAL can be enjoyed on multiple levels. For children, it's an entertaining story with engaging illustrations. Additionally, the final page of the book has a concise yet thorough explanation of film noir for young readers.

The book as a whole provides a terrific introduction to the concept of film noir, mysteries, and classic movies, and I hope to share it with my toddler grandsons one day.

For adults, it's tremendous fun picking out all of the book's classic film references; one of the first I noted is the Acme Book Shop, straight out of THE BIG SLEEP (1945). (Alas, the store's clerk is not as congenial as Dorothy Malone!) I laughed out loud at Casper Nighthawk, the Sydney Greenstreet of the animal world.

I particularly loved that the warehouse door framing the sunrise near the end is straight out of THE BIG COMBO (1955). Muller and his collaborators had a lot of great ideas for translating the world of noir to Kitty Feral's world.

Some of the dialogue also contains film titles and references, such as Kitty being told "You're on dangerous ground." There are also visual tributes to filmmakers such as Val Lewton and Orson Welles.

The charming end pages feature posters such as "Nut Crazy" and "The Possum Always Rings Twice," with animals spoofing classic noir titles.

My only criticism is that a single word at a key moment is black on a dark background and hard to read; I initially missed it. If there are subsequent printings, I wonder if perhaps that word could be moved elsewhere on the page.

Otherwise, this book was thoughtfully created and is great fun. I hope we can look forward to more adventures with Kitty Feral in the future.

KID NOIR is 32 glossy pages. Like DARK CITY, the book is in a rectangular format which the author has described as more "cinematic."

Thanks to Running Press and TCM for providing a review copy of this book.

New at Classic Movie Hub: Showdown (1963)

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

This month I'm reviewing SHOWDOWN (1963), which is now available on Blu-ray as part of the new Audie Murphy Collection III from Kino Lorber Studio Classics.

I previously reviewed the other films from the set, HELL BENT FOR LEATHER (1960) and POSSE FROM HELL (1961), here at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings.

Please click over to Classic Movie Hub to read the review, and thanks for reading!

Previous Classic Movie Hub Western RoundUp Column Links: June 2018; July 2018; August 2018; September 2018; October 2018; November 2018; December 2018; January 2019; February 2019; April 5, 2019; April 30, 2019; May 2019; June 2019; July 2019; August 2019; September 2019; October 2019; November 2019; December 2019; January 2020; February 2020; March 2020; April 2020; May 2020; June 2020; July 2020; August 2020; September 2020; October 2020; November 2020; December 2020; January 2021; February 2021; March 2021; May 2021; June 2021; June 2021 (No. 2); July 2021; August 2021; September 2021; November 2021; December 2021; December 2021 (No. 2); January 2022; February 2022; March 2022; April 2022; May 2022; June 2022; 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); June 2023; July 2023; September 2023; September 2023 (No. 2).

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...December releases from the Warner Archive Collection will include ANNA CHRISTIE (1930), TARZAN THE APE MAN (1932), THE GREAT ZIEGFELD (1936), GENTLEMAN JIM (1942), and MADAME BOVARY (1949). All are due out December 12th. As mentioned last week, the Looney Tunes Collector's Choice Vol. 2 set is also on the way that date.

...Variety ran a neat article earlier this month on classic-era Hollywood studio commissaries.

...Coming to Blu-ray from Kino Lorber Studio Classics: Fred Astaire and Betty Hutton in LET'S DANCE (1950). Kino Lorber also recently announced a Blu-ray restoration of a longtime public domain film, SCARLET STREET (1945).

...Apple TV+ has raised the monthly price of its streaming service from $6.99 to $9.99.

...Film historian and author Chris Yogerst has reviewed Scott Eyman's new book, CHARLIE CHAPLIN VS. AMERICA: WHEN SEX, ART, AND POLITICS COLLIDED, for the Los Angeles Review of Books. For Southern Californians, Eyman will be signing books at Larry Edmunds Bookshop in Hollywood on November 8th.

...Also signing books at Larry Edmunds in November is Illeana Douglas. Alan K. Rode will interview her about her new book, CONNECTICUT IN THE MOVIES: FROM DREAM HOUSES TO DARK SUBURBIA.

...I was disappointed by the news that the next MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movie will be delayed from 2024 to 2025. It's also expected to have a name change from MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - DEAD RECKONING - PART TWO. I loved PART ONE (2023), which is out on Blu-ray this coming week.

...Also delayed till 2025 is Disney's live-action SNOW WHITE movie, which looks like an utter train wreck, and Pixar's ELIO. I honestly wouldn't be surprised if SNOW WHITE is permanently removed from the schedule.

...The Criterion Channel streaming service has another great lineup coming in November. Themes include "Women of the West," "Pre-Code Divas," and "November Noir."

...Soap Opera Digest, which began publication in 1975, has announced it will no longer publish a print edition. It's not surprising, given how few soap operas remain on TV.

...At Riding the High Country, Colin has reviewed the gothic noir SO EVIL MY LOVE (1948), which stars Ray Milland. Ann Todd, and Geraldine Fitzgerald.

...KC has reviewed Bear Manor Media's THE ACCIDENTAL STAR: THE LIFE AND FILMS OF WARNER BAXTER at her blog Watching Classic Movies. The author is Dan Van Neste.

...Martin Scorsese has put together an interesting Letterboxd list of "companion films" by other filmmakers to watch alongside his movies. For example, he recommends watching BLOOD ON THE MOON (1948) and THE HEIRESS (1949) along with his new KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON (2023).

...CineSavant Glenn Erickson's latest reviews at Trailers From Hell include the new Kino Lorber Blu-ray release of Michael Powell's THE EDGE OF THE WORLD (1937).

...I revisited two films this past week, THAT WONDERFUL URGE (1948) and LA LA LAND (2016). THAT WONDERFUL URGE is absolutely delightful escapism starring the gorgeous team of Tyrone Power and Gene Tierney. LA LA LAND has numerous issues -- and I found leading lady Emma Stone considerably more annoying on this viewing -- but the color design, Los Angeles area locations, and nods to musicals past continue to make it worth seeing.

...Ordered last week: Foster Hirsch's brand-new book HOLLYWOOD AND THE MOVIES OF THE FIFTIES.

...Notable Passings: Joan Evans, whose films included OUR VERY OWN (1950) and NO NAME ON THE BULLET (1959) (seen here), has died at 89. Evans' interesting life included spontaneously getting married at the home of her godmother, Joan Crawford, the week after she turned 18. Happily, it proved to be a lifelong marriage...Richard Moll, best known as Bull the bailiff on NIGHT COURT (1984-92), has died at 80...Richard Roundtree of SHAFT (1971) fame has passed away at 81...Character actress Elizabeth Hoffman, best known as the mother on SISTERS (1991-96), has passed on at 97.  She played Eleanor Roosevelt in THE WINDS OF WAR (1983) and WAR AND REMEMBRANCE (1988-89). I also remember her from the "volcano movie" DANTE'S PEAK (1997)...I was saddened to learn of the August passing of Rusty Richards of the Sons of the Pioneers at the age of 89. Rusty was a local, from here in Orange County, CA.

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

Friday, October 27, 2023

Quick Preview of TCM in December

It's time for an advance peek at the December schedule for Turner Classic Movies!

TCM's draft schedule is still a work in progress, with numerous blank spots on the schedule, but there's enough information currently available to put together this preview.

The December Star of the Month will be Cary Grant. His films will be shown on all five Friday evenings in December.

During this year's Christmas movie marathon, which takes place from December 17th through Christmas Day, the Grant films shown on December 22nd will feature Christmas sequences. There's a blank space that evening, and I'm hopeful TCM might be able to license THE BISHOP'S WIFE (1947)!

As has sometimes been the case in years past, Christmas evening will be spent with the films of Alfred Hitchcock. TCM's plans for New Year's Eve have not yet been announced.

Noir Alley December titles will be BLACK ANGEL (1946), I WOULDN'T BE IN YOUR SHOES (1948), and BEWARE, MY LOVELY (1952). The first two titles are TCM premieres; BLACK ANGEL is a particular favorite of mine.

BEWARE, MY LOVELY is set during the Christmas season.  Noir Alley will then take the last two weekends of the year off for Christmas and New Year's.

The December TCM Spotlight will focus on "The Essence of Cool." Some of the titles in the series are REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955), BULLITT (1968), and OCEAN'S 11 (1960).

Daytime December programming themes will include invisibility, travel, British films, pirates, animals, jungle adventures, and movies based on books by Booth Tarkington.

Pearl Harbor Day will, as usual, feature World War II films.

Filmmakers honored with multifilm tributes in December will include Douglas Sirk, Mercedes McCambridge, Lena Horne, George Stevens, and the Barrymore family.

There will also be an evening of memorial tributes on December 28th.

Gloria Grahame is coming up next as the November Star of the Month!  I'll have more details on TCM's December schedule posted here at the end of November, including my annual post listing every Christmas title to be shown that month.

Update: For more on TCM in December 2023, please visit TCM in December: Christmas MoviesTCM Star of the Month: Cary Grant, and TCM in December: Highlights.

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Tonight's Movie: Soundies: The Ultimate Collection - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

SOUNDIES: THE ULTIMATE COLLECTION, was released this summer by Kino Lorber in partnership with the Library of Congress.

SOUNDIES is an absolutely stupendous collection of short musical films from the 1940s. The only reason I haven't reviewed it more quickly is the set's size, 200 shorts plus introductions and extras, spread across four discs. It's provided many hours of happy viewing.

Some readers may know about Soundies from the great series Turner Classic Movies hosted in the summer of 2022. For those who are new to Soundies, they are musical shorts, typically about three minutes long, which were produced for coin-operated jukeboxes called Panorams in the 1940s.

Famed jazz and big band musicians such as Duke Ellington, Stan Kenton, Gene Krupa, and Count Basie made Soundies, along with rising performers such as Doris Day and Ricardo Montalban. 

Some of my all-time favorite singers, like Nat King Cole and the Mills Bros., also appeared in Soundies. Liberace, Fats Waller, the King Sisters, Dorothy Dandridge, Gale Storm, and many more great performers can be found in the set as well.

I've been familiar with the concept of Soundies for some years thanks to my late jazz collector father, who actually used to attend L.A.-area screenings hosted by Mark Cantor, one of the historians featured in this set. It was at such a screening, in fact, that my father met Fayard Nicholas of the Nicholas Brothers and got his autograph.

Occasionally my dad would come across a Soundie on YouTube and email me the link, but until this set I had only seen a handful.

The Soundies in this set come from a variety of musical genres including jazz, swing, boogie-woogie, and country. They're grouped into half a dozen "programs" of eight Soundies apiece, which is how they were presented on Soundie machines in the '40s. Most of the Soundies programs were grouped especially for this set, but each disc concludes with a reel of eight songs as originally created to play on a Panoram. Each program contains an interesting introduction which provides context and adds to the enjoyment.

I'd be hard-pressed to name favorites, as it's a succession of good music. Most of the songs chosen for the set are bouncy and upbeat, leaving the viewer in a cheery mood.

It's a fascinating collection which melds musical entertainment with important cultural history. In addition to the enjoyment of watching the shorts, there's also a great deal of listening value; along with watching the movies, the programs can also simply be listened to. It's a movie or a music jukebox, as one prefers!

Print quality varies considerably. Some Soundies, restored from 35mm elements, are pristine; others are rough. As Susan Delson explains in her introduction to Soundies, it was very common for sound and lips not to be synchronized properly, so those flaws are inherent to the material.

I found all of Delson's comments particularly interesting, such as her note that 20% of all Soundies featured black performers; that ratio increases to a third of the Soundies in this set. One of the notable things about Soundies is that they were made by and marketed to a much wider ethnic and racial cross-section of America than feature films of the same era.

In addition to Cantor and Delson, the other historians providing introductions are Ina Archer and Matt Barton.

This four-disc set is accompanied by a glossy 44-page booklet with essays by Cantor, Delson, and Ellen C. Scott, along with a thorough disc-by-disc listing of the music. (Readers with aging eyes may need a magnifying glass; so much information had to be presented in fairly tiny print.) There's also an interview with Cantor and additional interviews with Matt Barton and Mike Mashon of the Library of Congress. The set comes in a cardboard slipcase.

This set provides many hours of watching, reading, and listening enjoyment, and it's also an extremely educational piece of musical, film, and cultural history. Very highly recommended.

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

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Tonight's Movie: Piccadilly (1929) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Anna May Wong stars in PICCADILLY (1929), just released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber in collaboration with the The Milestone Cinematheque.

This British film from the late silent era is a follow-up to Kino Lorber's release of the three-film Anna May Wong Collection which I reviewed earlier in the year.

I was taken by PICCADILLY from its opening moments showing London's Piccadilly Circus with great clarity. As the opening credits then began, displayed on the side of one of London's famous red busses, I was definitely sold on what proved to be a most entertaining film.

Gilda Gray and Cyril Ritchard play Mabel and Vic, the starring dance act at London's Piccadilly Club. Vic is in love with Mabel, but she loves club owner Valentine (Jameson Thomas).

The jealous Valentine fires Vic, but Mabel's solo act doesn't bring in enough customers. Valentine comes up with the idea of hiring Shosho (Wong), a club scullery maid he'd recently fired for dancing on work time, and her "exotic" dance routine is a sensation.

More romantic entanglements ensue when Valentine and Shosho are highly attracted to one another...leaving both Mabel and Shosho's boyfriend Jim (King Ho Chang) distraught.

I found PICCADILLY an electric, engaging watch, particularly when Wong is onscreen. Beyond Wong, the entire film is creatively staged and shot by director Ewald Andre Dupont and cinematographer Werner Brandes.

It's a stylish and compelling 109 minutes melding romantic melodrama and crime film -- and it certainly leaves the viewer wishing the course of Wong's career had been able to evolve differently.

The score by Neil Brand is excellent as well. I was recently disappointed with the score for another silent film, THE SPANISH DANCER (1923), but this film is at the opposite end of the spectrum, I thought the music worked really well. The scoring during the dance routines is especially effective.

The print, in sepia and blue tints, is one of the better silent movie prints I've seen. I was impressed. It was remastered by the BFI National Archive.

It's worth mentioning that a quarter century later Cyril Ritchard would be known as Captain Hook opposite Mary Martin in Broadway's PETER PAN.

And speaking of well-known actors, look for Charles Laughton in his very first feature film, playing a diner ostentatiously annoyed by a dirty plate. He's perfect. Ray Milland is said to be a nightclub patron as well, but I didn't spot him.

Blu-ray extras include a commentary track by Farran Smith Nehme, aka "The Self-Styled Siren"; the sound prologue to a "music and sound effects" version which followed the initial silent release; a discussion panel on Wong from the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival; and a featurette on score.


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

Newer›  ‹Older