Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Allegheny Uprising (1939)

One of my recent viewing goals is to catch up with more previously unseen John Wayne movies. He's one of my favorite actors, but when I'm ready for a Wayne film I tend to go right to one of the many tried and true favorites I've come to love over the years.

ALLEGHENY UPRISING (1939) is part of a Wayne "to watch" list which also includes titles such as A MAN BETRAYED (1941), REUNION IN FRANCE (1942), IN OLD CALIFORNIA (1942), IN OLD OKLAHOMA (1943), THE FIGHTING SEABEES (1944), DAKOTA (1945), TYCOON (1947), WAKE OF THE RED WITCH (1949), and OPERATION PACIFIC (1951), to name a few. It's a good-sized list! Hopefully in the next few months I'll be able to check off having seen more of these. I'll soon be seeing BLOOD ALLEY (1955) for the first time when I review the new Warner Archive Blu-ray.

ALLEGHENY UPRISING reunited Wayne with his STAGECOACH (1939) costar of earlier that year, Claire Trevor. Immediately after this film they also appeared together in DARK COMMAND (1940).

ALLEGHENY UPRISING, a "Western" set in the pre-Revolutionary Colonial era, lacks the artistry of Wayne and Trevor's prior film -- which of course had been directed by John Ford -- but it's a sturdy little movie with a good cast which is worth a look.

There's not a great deal of plot to this 81-minute film. Wayne's Jim Smith leads Pennsylvania settlers against an evil trader (Brian Donlevy) who's sneaking rum to the Indians, which in turn incites the Indians to massacre settlers.

George Sanders is the obdurate British military captain who insists that since the trader has a military pass, the goods are intended for the army and nothing untoward could possibly be happening.

Trevor plays Janie, a tomboy in love with Jim who regularly attempts to follow him into battle.

That's pretty much the story on which a number of battle set pieces are hung. The P.J. Wolfson script (based on Neil H. Swanson's story "The First Rebel") isn't much, but it's a nice outdoorsy film, with much of it shot in the Lake Sherwood area.

Trevor's perpetually animated character gives the film much of its energy, and it's perfectly understandable that she chases after the handsome young Wayne.

In addition to Wayne, Trevor, Sanders, and Donlevy, the supporting players include Chill Wills, Moroni Olsen, Ian Wolfe, Robert Barrat, Wilfrid Lawson, and Eddie Quillan.

ALLEGHENY UPRISING was directed by William A. Seiter. It was filmed in black and white by the great Nicholas Musuraca.

As an aside, the opening credits are particularly stylish, well-scored by Anthony Collins.

ALLEGHENY UPRISING is part of the six-film John Wayne Film Collection. The Amazon pricing on this set is currently a steal! I've previously reviewed two other films in the set, the very enjoyable WITHOUT RESERVATIONS (1945) and BIG JIM MCLAIN (1952).

Stay tuned for more Wayne reviews in the coming weeks!

The 2017 D23 Expo: Highlights, Part 3

Sunday at the 2017 D23 Expo started out much better than Saturday -- if only because we spent our early morning queue time before the show floor opened in the air-conditioned indoors!

My husband bought a day ticket for Sunday; he's a veteran of San Diego Comic Con, but this was his first visit to the D23 Expo. He came in part to see this year's Voices of the Disney Parks panel, where our friend Bob Joles was one of the participants. Bob will be the new voice of the conductor on the Disneyland Railroad when it reopens!

A full-length video of the Voices of the Disney Parks panel is here. I've attended two similar panels in the past, and it's a lot of fun putting faces with the voices one hears on every visit to the parks.

When the doors opened my daughter and I secured ShowPasses for the HERCULES program later that morning and then got in line for the LION KING Celebration. One of this year's improvements was a separate priority seating line for Gold Members for the "big room" panels, who were allowed to bring one guest each. I'm a Gold Member so that was a real plus, and we had great LION KING seats.

The LION KING panel might have been the highlight of my weekend. It began with a jubilant sing-along to "I Just Can't Wait to Be King!"

Participants included producer Don Hahn and co-director Rob Minkoff...

...along with voice actors Ernie Sabella (Pumbaa), seen below with Minkoff, plus Jim Cummings (Ed) and Whoopi Goldberg (Shenzi).

The marvelous climax to the hour was Carmen Twillie, the original movie soundtrack vocalist, coming out to sing "Circle of Life," accompanied by a large choir.

It was simply thrilling. Nothing gets me like great music!

Afterwards we had some time on the show floor. We stopped by this tribute to Fred MacMurray, the first Disney Legend:

And we took a look at this old Disneyland Railroad car:

I spent some birthday money on this limited edition BAMBI print, which I'm going to frame and hang near my computer. Seeing BAMBI at the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival is a very special memory for me.

And then it was time for the HERCULES 20th Anniversary panel! I've only seen HERCULES once, but I found it goofy fun, with some good music like "Go the Distance."

A panel highlight was Susan Egan (Meg) singing one of her numbers while the film rolled with just the instrumental soundtrack.

My fourth panel of the day took place at the smaller Archives stage, with Disney Legend Tony Baxter discussing the creation and history of Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle dioramas. The panel didn't lend itself to photography, but here's the intro card which was onscreen as we entered.

All too soon it was time for the last panel of not only the day but the Expo, a presentation on Oswald the Lucky Rabbit by David Bossert, author of an upcoming book on Oswald.

The hour included the screening of three Oswald cartoon shorts, a great way to end the Expo!

Disney announced at the end of the Expo that the Expo will be returning in 2019. And yes, despite some issues popping up annually, we always have a really good time and plan to be there!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Let Freedom Ring (1939) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Nelson Eddy stars in LET FREEDOM RING (1939), an engaging MGM musical Western available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

LET FREEDOM RING marked a "solo" effort for Eddy without his frequent late '30s costar Jeanette MacDonald. One regrets just a bit that Jeanette wasn't in it, as it would have been a good vehicle for the duo, but even so it's an entertaining film which works quite well just as it is.

Ben Hecht's story and screenplay seem to have been loosely inspired by Johnston McCulley's Zorro. Steve Logan (Eddy) returns to his frontier community after receiving a Harvard law degree. Steve's father (Lionel Barrymore) and sweetheart Maggie (Virginia Bruce) expect Steve to help lead the community against a crooked railroad man named Knox (Edward Arnold), but Steve disappoints them both, appearing to have become a grasping wimp who's interested in doing business with Knox.

Secretly, however, Steve and his sidekick (Charles Butterworth) print newspapers disclosing all of Knox's crooked dealings, trying to stir the townspeople and railroad men against him. The papers are delivered with notes from "The Wasp."

Like TERROR IN A TEXAS TOWN (1958), seen earlier this weekend, the film has a traditional Western theme, with a greedy businessman burning settlers' homes and grabbing their land. The two films, made 20 years apart, serve as a good illustration of how Western themes changed very little over the decades; the fun is always in seeing the unique ways a story is handled. Just as TERROR IN A TEXAS TOWN had an excellent screenwriter in Dalton Trumbo, here we have a solid script from the reliable Hecht.

Hecht may have been inspired by McCulley's classic character, but he does some nice original things with the story, such as creating a weak-looking, shawl-wearing saloon dealer who's deceptively fast with a gun. It's a terrific role for the great character actor H.B. Warner.

The movie was energetically directed by Jack Conway, and along with the Zorro-esque fun there are several rousing musical numbers which really make the movie, concluding with a goosebump-y rendition of "My Country 'Tis of Thee" ("Let freedom ring!"). Movies don't get much better than Nelson Eddy singing at MGM, and this film definitely put me in a happy place.

Virginia Bruce looks quite lovely in this, and she joins Eddy in the final song. The excellent cast also includes faces like Victor McLaglen, Gabby Hayes, Louis Jean Heydt, and Raymond Walburn.

LET FREEDOM RING was filmed in black and white by Sidney Wagner. Bruce's pretty costumes are by Dolly Tree. The film runs 87 well-paced minutes.

The Warner Archive DVD looks and sounds great. The disc includes the trailer.

Musical fans should check out this relatively little-known film for some enjoyable entertainment, including some terrific songs.  I had a good time watching it.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Carbine Williams (1952) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

James Stewart plays the title role in CARBINE WILLIAMS (1952), available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

Williams was a moonshiner who went to prison after a federal agent was accidentally killed during a raid on a still.

Williams was initially a tough case at the prison and ended up on a chain gang, but eventually he was sent to a prison farm, run by Captain Peoples (Wendell Corey). When Peoples discovered that Williams had designed a new kind of repeating rifle, he allowed him to work on it in the prison shop over a period of years.

Williams' invention and simultaneous reform helped lead to his early parole, after which he continued to work on new gun designs. His concept of a repeating rifle was ultimately used by the army in World War II.

I had never seen CARBINE WILLIAMS before and it's a bit of an odd film, though ultimately rewarding. Stewart's character is an angry man for much of the movie, with the same simmering rage as was seen in some of his Anthony Mann Westerns that decade. Morever, his character spends at least the first two-thirds of the 92-minute movie making some really dumb decisions, which makes it difficult to empathize. It's hard to root for an immature man who thinks of his own feelings but not those of his family.

The film becomes a bit of a slog in the middle third, though Stewart pulls the viewer along by the sheer dint of his star power. The film improves once Wendell Corey enters the picture.

Stewart and Corey, who would later team in REAR WINDOW (1954), have an interesting dynamic, as Corey is equally capable of hinting at bubbling rage underneath a tranquil surface. This is particularly apparent in the scenes where Peoples sends Williams to solitary confinement.

At the same time, Corey's character is a smart man who recognizes Williams' interest might be used to help turn his life around. Despite his earlier harsh relationship with Williams, he eventually gives him the freedom to work on his invention on prison grounds. Stewart's reaction in a scene where Peoples tells the prison board that he'll finish Williams' sentence if Williams lets him down is quite moving.

I wouldn't class CARBINE WILLIAMS as one of Stewart's stronger films, but I think it proved worthwhile, and it also opens a window on an interesting piece of history.

The supporting cast includes Jean Hagen as Williams' long-suffering wife and Bobby Hyatt as his son. Williams' parents are played by Carl Benton Reid and Lillian Culver, and one of his brothers is played by James Arness. The large cast also includes Paul Stewart, Rhys Williams, John Doucette, Emile Meyer, Otto Hulett, and Howard Petrie.

CARBINE WILLIAMS was directed by Richard Thorpe and filmed in black and white by William C. Mellor.

CARBINE WILLIAMS was released early in the Warner Archive's history; I noticed the print has the old Turner logo at the start. The picture is quite clear, though originally filmed in a bland, muted visual style. There are no extras.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

The 2017 D23 Expo: Highlights, Part 2

Saturday at the 2017 D23 Expo was a day which was initially challenging but ended up being pretty wonderful.

As I wrote a few days ago, my day began in a three-hour line in the sun which was crowded and uncomfortable.

I was feeling fairly frustrated by the time I finally made it into the convention center, around 20 minutes after the show floor opened, but I felt better when I headed for the Disney DreamStore and found a short line. The DreamStore carries Expo-branded merchandise, and I was able to quickly pick up the items I wanted.

My daughter at this point was still in line for and later attending that morning's Live Action panel. I spent the rest of the morning exploring the show floor, starting with the giant model of Star Wars Land:

The Star Wars Land model was huge. (Click any photo to enlarge for a closer look.) During the weekend it was announced the land's official name will be Galaxy's Edge.

Cutouts provided a look at what the visual perspective will be entering the land at various points:

I also visited the Marvel Studios Pavilion, which featured costumes from upcoming films including BLACK PANTHER (2018):

After that it was time for another huge basement line, this time for Parks and Resorts. Due to the crowds still outside waiting to get in the building, it had been impossible to leave for lunch first, but thankfully my daughter was able to round up pretzels, which had to last us until dinnertime! After all these years I'm resigned to the fact that Disney ignores how bad the convention center food is and doesn't attempt to offer alternatives, but it really reflects poorly on the company that they hold their event in a venue with inedible food.

There weren't any particularly big surprises announced during the Parks and Resorts panel, which can be seen on YouTube. That said, I was perplexed to learn that DCA's Paradise Pier is being renamed and rethemed to "Pixar Pier." Disney just did a beautiful retheming job in the last few years which has been very successful, so I'm not sure what they're thinking. Hopefully it doesn't mean the end of the charmingly redone Silly Symphony Swings.

I was most intrigued by the retheming of Hotel New York at Disneyland Paris to an IRON MAN/Avengers theme. An ultra-immersive STAR WARS hotel was also announced for Florida, but I think it might be a little too interactive (and expensive) to appeal to me.

The best part of the Parks and Resorts panel came at the end, when it was announced that everyone present would receive a pass for a weekend sneak preview of the remodeled Fantasmic! show, which was officially reopening two days later. Many people left the panel with green balloons (it's a long story), which meant the line to receive wristbands for seating at Fantasmic! was rather colorful:

And so, instead of heading home at 7:00, we were off to Disneyland! It meant for a long day but we were able to grab a good meal there and had a really wonderful evening alongside the Rivers of America.

My one criticism of the rehabbed, slightly tweaked show is that changing out PETER PAN for Captain Jack Sparrow and PIRATES was a loser, especially a woman endlessly screaming "Jack!" during the fighting.

Otherwise it looked great and it was wonderful to see the show again now that the river has reopened after a lengthy closure due work on Star Wars Land. It was an unexpected and delightful way to end the day.

Coming soon: The final day of the 2017 D23 Expo.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Terror in a Texas Town (1958) - An Arrow Films Blu-ray Review

TERROR IN A TEXAS TOWN (1958) is a unique, memorable Western which has just been released on Blu-ray by Arrow Films.

The always-interesting Sterling Hayden plays George Hansen, a Swedish seaman who arrives in Prairie City, Texas, only to discover that his father (Ted Stanhope) has just been murdered.

Most of the townspeople are tight-lipped about what happened, although George gleans some details from his father's neighbor (Victor Millan). It seems that wealthy McNeil (Sebastian Cabot) is claiming he has the rights to land surrounding the town, and if the farmers won't be bought out, McNeil's hired gun Crale (Ned Young) will see they end up dead.

George tries to rally the fearful townspeople against McNeil and Crale, but in the end it comes down to him and Crale on a dusty street, where George's only weapon against Crale's gun is his father's whaling harpoon.

This was a very interesting film where, like so many Westerns, there is great pleasure in discovering a fresh spin on a familiar Western theme. We've all seen the lone man who can't rally frightened townspeople (HIGH NOON, anyone?), and we've also seen settlers being forced off their land. But a Swedish sailor with a harpoon? That's different!

The sailing theme is also noteworthy inasmuch as Sterling Hayden was known offscreen for his love of the sea. Continuing with that theme, he looks like the proverbial fish out of water here, always dressed in "city" clothes, but like Gregory Peck's equally out of place sea captain in THE BIG COUNTRY (1958) the same year, George is a man whose "un-Western" appearance is deceptive. He won't back down from doing what's right, even if he has to go it alone.

The thoughtful hired gun with the steel hand is intriguing as well, particularly when he's emotionally undone late in the film after facing a man who wasn't afraid to die. He's completely unnerved by the loss of power over his victim.

The story is presented in a compact 80 minutes, well scripted by Dalton Trumbo, writing under the name Ben Perry. It's a curious piece of history that the film was not only written by a blacklisted screenwriter, but supporting actor Ned Young (Crale) was a blacklisted screenwriter himself, winning the Oscar under a pseudonym that year for THE DEFIANT ONES (1958). TERROR IN A TEXAS TOWN is Young's penultimate acting role, with his last performance coming in 1966. He's very good with a unique spin on a Western villain.

The film was directed by Joseph H. Lewis, who sustains interest throughout. Lewis was a man who knew how to get the most of a script, as seen in films like MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS (1945).

The somewhat off-kilter, noir-tinged aspects of this fairly dark and gloomy film also aren't surprising considering the director's earlier work included GUN CRAZY (1950) and THE BIG COMBO (1955).

The black and white cinematography was by Ray Rennahan. Incidentally, something else unusual about the film is that the opening credits are a preview of the scenes to come later in the film.

My only complaint was that the oddball musical score, by Gerald Fried, mostly consists of shrill trumpet playing which becomes annoying after a while.

The supporting cast includes Frank Ferguson, Byron Foulger, Carol Kelly, Marilee Earle, and Eugene Martin. Glenn Strange, who was in countless Westerns, is seen briefly talking to Hayden on a train.

Extras include a 13-minute introduction by Peter Stanfield, which focuses largely on director Lewis and the context of the film being made during the Hollywood blacklist era. There is also a separate visual analysis by Stanfield, plus a trailer which has sound but no text.

The first pressing from Arrow Films will also include a booklet with an essay by Glenn Kenny; the booklet was not included in the advance copy I reviewed.

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