Thursday, December 31, 2015

TCM in January: Highlights

Happy New Year, and best wishes for a terrific 2016!

Turner Classic Movies is starting off the year in fine style, with Fred MacMurray honored as the January Star of the Month.

Over 30 MacMurray films will be screened on Wednesday evenings, beginning January 6th. I'll have a close-up on the MacMurray schedule posted here next week. (Update: Please visit TCM Star of the Month: Fred MacMurray.)

This month's TCM Spotlight focuses on production designer William Cameron Menzies, with films every Thursday evening. There's a new book on Menzies by James Curtis, who previously authored a well-received biography of Spencer Tracy.

Here are just a few of the terrific things on TCM's January schedule! Click any hyperlinked title for my review.

...New Year's Day viewing includes Joseph Losey's M (1951), in which police and shadowy underworld figures work toward a common goal, finding a child killer (David Wayne). The film has a terrific cast including Howard Da Silva, Steve Brodie, Martin Gabel, Raymond Burr, and Norman Lloyd, and it also makes outstanding use of the famed Bradbury Building in Los Angeles.

...Robert Taylor, Maureen O'Sullivan, and Vivien Leigh star in A YANK AT OXFORD (1938) on January 3rd.

...I enjoyed CRIME BY NIGHT (1944), a "B" mystery starring Jerome Cowan and Jane Wyman, with Faye Emerson and Eleanor Parker in supporting roles. It's part of a day-long birthday tribute to Wyman on January 4th, one day before her actual January 5th birthdate.

...Later on the 4th there's an evening with half a dozen films on the Spanish Civil War. The titles include John Garfield in THE FALLEN SPARROW (1943), which I saw at this year's Noir City Film Festival. The film boasts a trio of terrific leading ladies: Maureen O'Hara, Martha O'Driscoll, and Patricia Morison, seen with Garfield at the left.

...The January 5th schedule is devoted to films about scientists and doctors. The lineup includes two films I've reviewed in the last few months, SISTER KENNY (1946), starring Rosalind Russell, and THE GIRL IN WHITE (1952) with June Allyson.

...Primetime on the 5th is devoted to films restored by the Hollywood Foreign Press Assocation, including THE BIGAMIST (1953) starring Edmond O'Brien, Ida Lupino, and Joan Fontaine, directed by Lupino, and THE RIVER (1951), a Jean Renoir film set in India. Both films are high on my "to see" list; I picked up the latter film in a Criterion sale this year.

...A tribute to Lew Ayres on January 6th includes a title that sounds fun, PANIC ON THE AIR (1936) with Florence Rice. The day includes some other fun titles including RICH MAN, POOR GIRL (1938) and THESE GLAMOUR GIRLS (1939).

...The first night of films featuring the work of William Cameron Menzies includes BULLDOG DRUMMOND (1929), ALICE IN WONDERLAND (1933), and SADIE THOMPSON (1928). The series starts January 7th.

...Actress Joan Leslie didn't receive a special TCM tribute when she passed on last October, so I'm delighted to see TCM honor her with a three-film primetime tribute this month. The featured films on January 9th are YANKEE DOODLE DANDY (1942) with James Cagney, THE HARD WAY (1943) with Ida Lupino, and THE SKY'S THE LIMIT (1943) with Fred Astaire.

...The birthday of Rod Taylor will be celebrated on January 11th. Seven films are on the schedule, including my favorite of the day, the most enjoyable romantic comedy SUNDAY IN NEW YORK (1963).

...The 80th anniversary of the Museum of Modern Art Film Archive is celebrated on January 12, 2016. The films shown were all restored by MOMA; the titles include DON'T BET ON WOMEN (1931) with Jeanette MacDonald, NEVER FEAR (1949), directed by Ida Lupino, and THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938). DON'T BET ON WOMEN was a hit at the 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival, but I didn't get a chance to see it there so I really look forward to it.

...I could happily spend the entire day watching TCM on January 13th, featuring a 10-film birthday tribute to Kay Francis. I've seen a number of the titles, of which my favorite is MARY STEVENS, M.D. (1933), costarring Lyle Talbot, Glenda Farrell, and Thelma Todd. Great soapy pre-Code fun.

...The second night spotlighting the work of production designer William Cameron Menzies is on January 14th. Movies to be shown that night include THINGS TO COME (1936), OUR TOWN (1940), NOTHING SACRED (1937), and GONE WITH THE WIND (1939).

...There's a wonderful "letter" theme on the 15th which includes James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan in THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER (1940), which I recently reviewed for ClassicFlix; Bette Davis in THE LETTER (1940); Marsha Hunt in A LETTER FOR EVIE (1946); CAUSE FOR ALARM! (1951), a "housewife thriller" starring Loretta Young; and LOVE LETTERS (1945) with Joseph Cotten and Jennifer Jones.

...A great primetime tribute to Claire Trevor on the 15th includes excellent films such as STAGECOACH (1939), MURDER, MY SWEET (1944), and RAW DEAL (1948).

...Robert Osborne's Picks on January 19th include SPRINGTIME IN THE ROCKIES (1942), a delightful Betty Grable film I briefly reviewed back in 2006. John Payne, Cesar Romero, Harry James, and Carmen Miranda costar.

...Another "watch all day" theme on January 20th: "Myrna Loy in the '40s." The lineup features a pair of comedies with William Powell, another with Melvyn Douglas, THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (1946), and two winners teamed with Cary Grant, THE BACHELOR AND THE BOBBY-SOXER (1947) and MR. BLANDINGS BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE (1948). The latter film also teamed her again with Melvyn Douglas.

...Preston Foster and Ann Dvorak star in WE WHO ARE ABOUT TO DIE (1936) on January 21st. I'm interested based on the leads alone! It's part of a lineup of films featuring character actor J. Carrol Naish.

...The third evening of William Cameron Menzies films, the evening of the 21st, has a diverse lineup including Hitchcock's FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940), THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES (1942), KINGS ROW (1942), THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (1940), and THE YOUNG IN HEART (1938).

...Character actor Charles Coburn is celebrated in the evening lineup on January 23rd, with titles including THE MORE THE MERRIER (1943) and GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES (1953).

...Richard Widmark, Linda Darnell and Sidney Poitier star in NO WAY OUT (1950) on January 24th. It's a Fox film directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz.

...I'm fond of WESTBOUND (1959), an entertaining Randolph Scott Western directed by Budd Boetticher. It's on the 26th.

...I just realized today that TCM is showing Joan Fontaine in IVY (1947) on January 28th. Fontaine is chilling as a sweet-looking murderess. When I saw the movie at the 2014 Noir City Festival I described her character as "a casually homicidal, narcissistic woman." Fontaine could really do it all. It's an unsettling film but definitely worth a look.

...Jean Muir is the featured actress on January 29th, with titles including AS THE EARTH TURNS (1934), based on a wonderful book by Gladys Hasty Carroll, and a favorite TCM discovery, DESIRABLE (1934) with George Brent and Verree Teasdale.

...Ella Raines is marvelous in PHANTOM LADY (1944), a thriller airing on the 31st.

...The month winds up on the 31st with a two-film primetime tribute to Ray Milland featuring THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR (1942) and THE LOST WEEKEND (1945).

There are many more great titles airing on TCM in January! For complete listings, please visit the schedule available at the TCM website.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

Here's Mona Freeman ringing in the New Year of 1946, the year she would turn 20.

Mona passed away about 18 months ago, at the age of 87. In addition to acting, she was a talented artist. My tribute to her at the time of her passing may be found here.

Best wishes to everyone for a very happy and healthy 2016!

Previous classic film New Year's photos: Joan Leslie, Anita Louise, and Dorothy Patrick.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Iron Man 3 (2013)

It's been a while since I last watched a Marvel film -- only because the intervening time has been spent catching up on the Marvel TV series AGENTS OF SHIELD! Since August I've worked my way through two and a half seasons of SHIELD, which I find tremendously entertaining.

I just saw IRON MAN 3 (2013), in which it's the both best and worst of times for billionaire genius Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.). He's happy in a loving relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), who runs Stark Industries, but the uber-confident Tony suddenly finds himself having anxiety attacks. He's got post-traumatic stress from the Battle of New York (the climax of the previous year's THE AVENGERS), where he dealt with both aliens and a near-death experience; he's also terrified he won't be able to keep his beloved Pepper safe from the evil which lurks in the world.

That fear doesn't stop the typically over-the-top Tony from broadcasting his home address as part of a threat for revenge against the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), whose minions have landed Tony's loyal bodyguard Happy (Jon Favreau) critically injured in the hospital. Before you can blink, choppers firing missiles descend on Tony and Pepper's palatial Malibu estate, an attack they barely survive.

Tony soon learns the Mandarin is the least of his troubles, as a squad of unkillable, fire-breathing people put Tony, Pepper, and Tony's best pal Rhodey (Don Cheadle), now known as the "Iron Patriot," in danger.

As with the other Marvel movies, there's a lot to like in IRON MAN 3, not least Downey Jr.'s quippy performance as a most unusual hero; Tony is prone to both egocentrism and anxiety, but he's also strongly motivated by a sense of justice and wanting to protect those to whom he's close. His anxiety issues are especially understandable when one thinks about the fact that unlike some of the Avengers, Tony has no actual super powers, just an amazing suit and skill set.

As a side note, the evolution of Tony's character seems to be starting to set the stage for next year's CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016) in which Tony faces off with Captain America over government regulation of the Avengers.

I especially enjoyed Tony's relationship with Harley (Ty Simpkins), a young boy he meets during an unexpected "road trip" who helps him out.

All that said, this was my least favorite of the three IRON MAN films, as it had a somewhat darker tone, especially with Pepper in mortal danger, plus Tony and Pepper had very limited screen time together. I seem to be a bit unusual in that IRON MAN 2 is my favorite of the trilogy, though it's been good to hear from a couple folks in the comments to my review of that film who agreed with me!

I also didn't understand how Tony and Pepper were magically able to have their, shall we say "medical issues" resolved so simply at the end of the movie...

IRON MAN 3 was directed by Shane Black from a screenplay by Black and Drew Pearce. The movie was filmed by John Toll. It runs two hours and 10 minutes.

The supporting cast includes Rebecca Hall, Guy Pearce, Miguel Ferrer, and William Sadler. Paul Bettany returns as the voice of Tony's ever-helpful computer, Jarvis.

IRON MAN 3 has been released in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack and as a single-title DVD. It can be streamed on Amazon Instant.

Parental Advisory: IRON MAN 3 is rated PG-13 for violence. As with other Marvel films, there are lots of battles but little blood; that said, I found some of the action more disturbing in this film than in previous Marvel movies.

The trailer is at IMDb.

Previous Marvel reviews: CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011), CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014), IRON MAN (2008), IRON MAN 2 (2010), THOR (2011), THE AVENGERS (2012), GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014), AGENT CARTER (2015), and ANT-MAN (2015).

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Creed (2015)

Children of the '70s can be forgiven if there's an unexpected sense of deja vu when going to the movies this month, with brand-new STAR WARS and ROCKY films simultaneously playing in theaters.

Happily both THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015) and CREED (2015), the newest entries in each franchise, are each worthy successors to the original series. Both films manage to simultaneously be fresh and familiar, with stories blending beloved actors from decades past with talented younger actors.

I've only seen the first three ROCKY films, but CREED, the sixth ROCKY film, flows from them seamlessly; Sylvester Stallone is utterly convincing as Rocky Balboa, nearly four decades on from his first bout with Apollo Creed.

Adonis "Donnie" Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) is the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers, seen in stills and fight footage). Born after Apollo's death and abandoned by his mother, he's eventually located in a juvenile hall by Apollo's widow, Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad), and raised as her son.

As a young man Donnie has a good job in the financial industry but dreams of being a fighter. Donnie ignores his adoptive mother's warnings about the possibility of being killed boxing, as his father was; he quits his job and goes to Philadelphia, intent on persuading his father's competitor and friend, the legendary Rocky Balboa (Stallone), to train him. The aging Rocky owns an Italian restaurant and initially has no interest in becoming involved with boxing again.

Within the familiar structure of a ROCKY movie, building to a climactic fight, Donnie works through his feelings of abandonment and the pressure to live up to his father's reputation, while also romancing a hearing-impaired singer named Bianca (Tessa Thompson). And Rocky, who is missing his late wife Adrian and feeling his best days are behind him, once more feels a sense of purpose and family thanks to the young man who calls him "Unc."

CREED is a well-written film with excellent performances. Though initially dubious when I heard there was yet another ROCKY movie, CREED is a film with new things to say which deserved to be made.

The movie acknowledges Rocky -- and Apollo's -- past in countless ways, yet the story isn't mired there; much of the focus is on the younger generation and their future. Yet while the film's bracing attitude treats the past matter-of-factly and keeps things from feeling overly nostalgic, the movie's single most powerful moment is the perfectly placed use of the original ROCKY theme music, saved for a single moment near the end. Particularly for anyone who saw ROCKY when it first came out, it's a spine-tingling and justifiably tear-inducing moment.

All of the actors, including including some real fighters, are well cast and authentic. Jordan is appealing as Rocky's protege, with Rashad terrific as his feisty adoptive mom.

Stallone, however, towers over all in his return to the role that made him a star. How often is it we get to see an actor play a character over a span of nearly 40 years? (Well, other than in STAR WARS!) He's already been nominated for a Golden Globe as Best Supporting Actor, and an Oscar nomination would also be well deserved.

CREED was directed by Ryan Coogler from a screenplay by Coogler and Aaron Covington. It was filmed by Maryse Alberti. It runs two hours and 13 minutes.

Parental Advisory: CREED is rated PG-13 for violence, language, and brief sensuality.

The trailer is at IMDb.

For more on this film, please visit the positive reviews by Leonard Maltin and Kenneth Turan which encouraged me to try the movie. It's well worth seeing.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Death on the Diamond (1934) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

An excellent cast buoys DEATH ON THE DIAMOND (1934), an engaging little baseball mystery recently released by the Warner Archive.

The movie is a compact 71-minute whodunit in which a string of murders hits the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Cardinals have risen to postseason contenders thanks to adding star pitcher Larry Kelly (Robert Young) to the roster. Mobsters who want the team to lose try to buy off Larry, who turns down their offer in spectacular fashion, after which his teammates start dying. Anxiety builds as one by one players die; the police, a reporter (Paul Kelly), and the team desperately try to solve the mystery as simultaneously the pennant race winds to a close.

Young and Kelly are both good in the lead roles. Young makes a very credible pitcher, jacket worn over his pitching arm while his team's at bat, and Kelly is always an energetic, highly watchable performer.

Lovely Madge Evans is the leading lady, playing the manager's daughter who falls for Larry, and David Landau is wonderful as Pop, the manager. Sadly this was Landau's next-to-last film; a terrific character actor, he was just 56 when he died in 1935. He's buried at Forest Lawn in Glendale.

Nat Pendleton is the catcher, with Ted Healy playing his nemesis, an umpire. A little of Healy usually goes a very long way for me, but he has a really nice scene late in the film.

Classic film fans will also enjoy spotting the many great "faces" who pop up in the movie. You'll find Mickey Rooney as the bat boy, Walter Brennan as a hot dog vendor, Ward Bond as a cop protecting Larry, Dennis O'Keefe as a baseball announcer, Joe Sawyer (billed Joe Sauers) as a player, and James Ellison as a pitcher for the Chicago Cubs.

The game sequences mix second unit photography and back projections, which are pretty good as back projections go. You know they're there, but their use is less obvious than in some movies.

The screenplay for this solid baseball mystery was based on a novel by Cortland Fitzsimmons. Edward Sedgwick directed, with cinematography by Milton Krasner.

I previously reviewed this film in 2011, after it was shown on Turner Classic Movies.

The Warner Archive DVD has a good picture and sound quality. 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.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Die Hard (1988)

Around this time of year I frequently see articles pop up asking the all-important question: "Is DIE HARD a Christmas movie?"

I decided this would be the year I finally saw DIE HARD (1988) for the first time so I could decide the question for myself!

So is DIE HARD a Christmas movie? I suppose it's every bit as much a Christmas movie as an older film like the musical mystery LADY ON A TRAIN (1945)...and what's more, I have to say I found DIE HARD a great deal of fun.

NYPD cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) arrives in L.A. on Christmas Eve to visit his estranged wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) and their two young children. Holly had moved to L.A. for a high-powered job opportunity working at the Nakatomi Plaza high-rise in Century City. (The movie was filmed at the Fox Plaza at 2121 Avenue of the Stars.)

While a chatty limo driver named Argyle (De'voreaux White) waits for McClane in the Nakatomi parking garage, McClane goes upstairs to say hello to Holly and figure out whether he's going to be taking the limo to Holly's house or a hotel.

Holly leaves McClane to wash up in her office bathroom while she puts in an appearance at the company party elsewhere in the building.  While she's there, heavily armed German terrorists led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) take over the building. The terrorists soon kill Holly's boss, Mr. Takagi (James Shigeta), and take Holly and the other employees hostage. Their goal is to break into the company vault and steal hundreds of millions in bonds.

McClane manages to elude the terrorists and, armed only with his wits and his service gun, he tries to figure out a plan of action, with phones cut off, elevators shut down, and doors barricaded.  Some of the biggest suspense in the film revolves around McClane's attempts to alert law enforcement while trapped hiding inside a high-rise fortress; the scene where he gets through to Al (Reginald ValJohnson), a cop sent to check out a report of a problem at the building, is hilarious. (You knew McClane would eventually think of a way, right?!)

I was particularly struck that the movie was simultaneously timely yet not of our era. The "terrorists hit the office" theme resonated strongly, at moments almost a little too disturbing, after recent events here in California and elsewhere.

At the same time, I realized that if this film had been made just a few short years later, after cell phones and the internet were in common usage, it would have been a completely different movie! For instance, shutting down the phone system shuts off all communication -- except for walkie-talkies. No 911 calls from cell phones, no texting to the outside world, no Googling someone's photo on a smart phone...the characters are "flying blind" in a way we don't anymore. We expect that in a movie from, say, the '40s or '50s...while the '80s seem both so near and yet so far.

The '80s seem especially far away when you see a character smoking at LAX...and needless to say, some of the fashions and hairstyles seem to be from a very long time ago indeed!

The movie was both realistic and cartoony. McClane seems like an unusually grounded, human character for this kind of movie, who by the end of the film has been thoroughly pummeled...and I didn't mention yet that he's barefoot, and there's a heck of a lot of broken glass in that building. Ouch!

I loved watching McClane's tactics, such as gradually counting up how many terrorists he's dealing with by marking on his arm with a Sharpie. Sure, a couple of his stunts are unbelievable, but it all works because the character is grounded in a certain reality. Willis's trademark sarcastic wit is also well deployed.

The law enforcement higher-ups from both the LAPD and the FBI, on the other hand, were completely silly, unrealistically unprofessional, with Al the street cop the wise man rolling his eyes at Deputy Police Chief Robinson (Paul Gleason). That said, the Deputy Chief did have a couple of great lines, including a laugh-out-loud funny bit near the end. The FBI agents, both named Johnson, also had some great dialogue.

Bonnie Bedelia's Holly was an admirably staunch heroine, including going toe to toe with Gruber for accommodations for a pregnant employee. De'voreaux White and Reginald ValJohnson both had some wonderful moments. White's limo driver, having realized what was happening thanks to a TV in the limo, has a nice scene when he bravely throws a monkey wrench into the bad guys' master plan; ValJohnson's walkie-talkie conversations with Willis help give the movie some emotional heart and allow McClane to verbalize what he's going through both physically and emotionally. Rickman made a very creepy, dangerous villain.

While the majority of my viewing is of films of an older vintage, DIE HARD was a nice change of pace which I enjoyed quite a bit. I would watch it again, and I might check out the sequels as well.

DIE HARD was directed by John McTiernan and filmed by Jan de Bont. It runs 131 minutes.

Parental Advisory: DIE HARD is rated R for brief nudity, violence, and foul language. The violence is bloody but telegraphed in advance and nothing particularly graphic, other than blood.

DIE HARD is available on DVD in multiple editions. It can be streamed via Amazon Instant.

Christmas Day Wishes

Best wishes to all for a very happy Christmas Day and a wonderful 2016!

Here's Andra Martin looking very happy with what's under her Christmas tree.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas!

Best wishes to all for a very Merry Christmas!!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

This and That

It's been a busy time this past week, with visiting family here -- including a 16-hour trip to Disneyland! -- followed by a heavy work load, not to mention a little movie called STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015).

I saw THE FORCE AWAKENS tonight and thought it was very good; unlike the now-infamous prequels, it felt like a real STAR WARS movie, pleasantly familiar and without the nasty aftertaste. It's quite a solid effort with plenty of humor and heart, if perhaps missing those occasional action and musical punctuation marks which gave audiences of the original films sublime moments of gleeful giddiness.

I intend to review the movie here in the future, but while I will be circumspect about how much I share, I think I will wait a bit, both to better process my reactions and also out of respect for those who want to see it in the first few days knowing absolutely nothing prior to watching it. For those who may be on the fence, yes, I recommend seeing it.

Sunday I look forward to attending the nationwide TCM/Fathom Events screening of MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947), and I hope as many people as possible will join me. It screens across the country Sunday at 2:00 and 7:00 local time, with repeat screenings on Wednesday, December 23rd.

Work should be slowing soon as the year begins its wind to a close. In the meantime, keep your eye on the ClassicFlix site where my brand-new review of Deanna Durbin in the Christmastime musical mystery LADY ON A TRAIN (1945) should be up soon. (Update: Here it is!)

I have numerous posts in the planning stages, including my 2016 "10 Classics" list, TCM's January highlights, a list of this year's Favorite Discoveries for Rupert Pupkin Speaks, movie reviews, and my annual giant Tonight's Movie: The Year in Review post.

Stay tuned, and enjoy the season!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Quick Preview of TCM in March

The March schedule for Turner Classic Movies is now available online.

Merle Oberon is the March Star of the Month.

Over two dozen Oberon films will be shown in March, including classics such as THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL (1935), THESE THREE (1936), and WUTHERING HEIGHTS (1939). Other enjoyable Oberon films on the schedule are THE COWBOY AND THE LADY (1938) and THE LODGER (1944).

The next night of Treasures From the Disney Vault will be on March 9th, a nautical-themed evening which includes 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1954) and LT. ROBIN CRUSOE, U.S.N. (1966).

A particularly fun evening features sisters Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Havilland each starring in a film based on a Daphne Du Maurier novel, Joan in FRENCHMAN'S CREEK (1944) and Olivia in MY COUSIN RACHEL (1952). Joan, of course, caught a huge break starring in Du Maurier's REBECCA (1940), which won a Best Picture Oscar.

March will include multi-film tributes to Jean Harlow, John Garfield, William Holden, Cyd Charisse, Claire Trevor, Joan Crawford, George Brent, Louis King, Nick Grinde, Akira Kurosawa, Steve McQueen, Dirk Bogarde, Warner Baxter, and Jean Muir, who also has several films on the schedule in January.

March themes include Easter, Hawaii, painters, and, of course, St. Patrick's Day!

I'll be sharing information about the March schedule in more detail at the end of February.

Frank Sinatra continues as the December Star of the Month. Fred MacMurray will be Star of the Month in January, and February is devoted to the annual 31 Days of Oscar festival.

Update: For more detailed information on TCM in March, please visit TCM in March: Highlights and TCM Star of the Month: Merle Oberon.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...Happy 90th birthday to Dick Van Dyke! He celebrated in style with a birthday party at Disneyland today which included a "Let's Go Fly a Kite" singalong and a parade. There was also a dance performance and singalong in his honor yesterday at the Grove in Los Angeles.

...This weekend I watched two favorite films set during the Christmas season, LADY ON A TRAIN (1945) with Deanna Durbin and COVER UP (1949) with Dennis O'Keefe, Barbara Britton, and William Bendix. A pair of wonderful movies which make a great change of pace from the usual Christmas favorites. Highly recommended.

...Speaking of lesser-known Christmas movies, over at Another Old Movie Blog Jacqueline reviews Roy Rogers in the fun TRAIL OF ROBIN HOOD (1950). I reviewed this movie about stolen Christmas trees in 2011.

...The Hollywood Reporter ran a wonderful article on Jeanine Basinger, one of my favorite film historians, whose books have been enlightening and inspiring me since I was first a teenage classic film fan. Many of Jeanine's students at Wesleyan University have gone on to work in the film industry, including Joss Whedon and Michael Bay. I love that she's told her students, "Somebody gets those jobs [in the film industry]. Why not you?" I've said that very thing to our daughter, who is slowly climbing up the rungs in Hollywood.

...The L.A. Daily News recently ran an article on actress Marsha Hunt.

...The last few years the Air Force Band has developed a great tradition, performing a "flash mob." This year it took place in Union Station in Washington, D.C., and had a '40s theme to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII.

...Leonard Maltin shared a fun account of some of the famous people who have visited his film class at USC this year. Maltin's class is one of those special USC traditions every student should experience. My daughter did!

...Kirk Douglas celebrated his 99th birthday last week, and announced a $15 million donation for the Motion Picture & Television Fund to build an Alzheimer's facility.

...Live streaming of Broadway shows is an intriguing concept.

...Amazon Prime has debuted a streaming partners program, providing viewing content from Starz and Showtime for a monthly fee.

...Frank Sinatra Jr. recently participated in the unveiling of an historical marker in North Carolina honoring his one-time stepmother, Ava Gardner.

...Attention Southern Californians: On January 11th the Academy is screening a restored print of Clara Bow in GET YOUR MAN (1927) at the Linwood Dunn Theater. The film was reconstructed with stills from the Academy Archives filling in missing scenes. Last month Will McKinley wrote about the restoration's premiere at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The Academy will show THE BLAZING TRAIL (1921) with Mary Philbin along with GET YOUR MAN. Although I rarely tend L.A. screenings on Monday evenings, I may try to attend, as Will's account was very interesting. (Update: I've now purchased a ticket, so if all goes well I'll be there!)

...Notable Passing: As mentioned at the end of my TCM Remembers 2015 post, actress Marjorie Lord has passed on at the age of 97.

...For even more classic film links, please visit last week's roundup.

Have a great week!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Big City Blues (1932) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

BIG CITY BLUES (1932) is one of five films included in the Forbidden Hollywood Volume 9 set of pre-Codes, now available from the Warner Archive.

BIG CITY BLUES, directed by Mervyn LeRoy, is for the most part a fun bundle of pre-Code goodness, though it's somewhat marred by a pair of annoying performances.

Eric Linden plays Bud, who receives a small inheritance and decides to travel from his Indiana home to a new life in New York City. In New York he's steadily bilked out of his funds by "Cousin Gibby" (Walter Catlett), but that's not the worst of it; at a party Gibby throws at Bud's hotel, there's a brawl and a young lady (Josephine Dunn) ends up dead. Everyone scrams, leaving Bud on the hook, so to speak, and he takes off running too.

This is a brisk little 63-minute film which has a lot going for it, but we'll get the negatives out of the way first. I've seen Eric Linden in a few films now and frankly don't find him appealing. The role calls for someone with a certain amount of naivete, but Linden, who was 22 when this was filmed, comes off as childish; what's worse, all his lines, even when he's happy, sound like someone who's whining.

Walter Catlett can surely be amusing in limited doses, but his role as Bud's con artist relation quickly becomes a one-note cliche, dominating the first half with increasingly predictable behavior. Yawn.

On to the good stuff! The movie had my interest from the opening photo credits, with bluesy music playing while a great cast of faces is introduced. You've got Grant Mitchell, particularly fine as an Indiana telegraph operator at the railroad station; tippling hotel detective Guy Kibbee; brawling party guests Humphrey Bogart (!) and Lyle Talbot; deadpan Ned Sparks as another partier; J. Carrol Naish as a bootlegger who delivers drinks to the party; Clarence Muse singing in a nightclub (a pleasant surprise); the voice of Dick Powell (!) on the radio advertising Yum Yum Popcorn (part of the diet of "expectant mothers"!); and yes, that's a young Dennis O'Keefe in white tie watching the dice being rolled (keep an eye on the left side of the screen). O'Keefe had already racked up over two dozen bit roles by the time he was an extra in this!

Best of all, you've got the 25-year-old Joan Blondell as a big-eyed showgirl who's a lot more savvy than young Bud, but she takes a liking to him and ends up trying to help him out of his jam. He's also aided by an older woman (Jobyna Howland) who takes an interest in him.

This is a snappy Depression pre-Code with lots of great dialogue and eyebrow-raising moments. A young woman's reaction to hearing her friend was murdered? "She still owed me $10!" Joan and her pal (Inez Courtney) will show up anywhere there's the promise of a meal (not to mention the chance to make off with free soap bars from a hotel lobby bathroom stashed in their purses). Evalyn Knapp sits out the party reading a book, which I later learned from other bloggers was quite a controversial title; it's just like a pre-Code to slip that into the scene!

The film's fast pace and the many fun people and moments offset the issues with Linden and Catlett, though I admit to leaning on my fast forward button for a brief moment at one point early on, as Catlett launched into bilking money out of Bud...again! The pace picks up considerably once the party is underway, and there's a nice twist in the disclosure of the real murderer.

For more on this movie, visit Cliff at Immortal Ephemera; I remembered his liking for the movie and sought out his post afterwards. Cliff also links to some other interesting posts on the film including Imogen Smith at The Chiseler and Judy at Movie Classics. Additionally, Danny just reviewed the movie at

I previously reviewed one other film from this set, I SELL ANYTHING (1934); be on the lookout for additional set reviews in the future!

The initial sets sold directly from the WBShop site contain pressed discs. The picture (filmed by James Van Trees) and sound quality were very good for a film of this vintage, and the trailer is included on the disc.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD collection. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the WBShop.

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