Sunday, February 28, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Station West (1948) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

STATION WEST (1948) is an outstanding Western now available from the Warner Archive.

STATION WEST was released by the Archive the same week as ROUGHSHOD (1949), which I reviewed a few days ago. Both titles are Westerns which should be much better known, and hopefully they'll find new audiences thanks to now being available on DVD.

STATION WEST is basically a "Western noir," a late '40s subgenre which also included titles such as PURSUED (1947) and BLOOD ON THE MOON (1948). Star Dick Powell transfers his tough guy persona to the West, where he tangles with classic noir types including Jane Greer (OUT OF THE PAST) and Raymond Burr.

Powell plays Lt. John Haven, who arrives in a Western town on an undercover mission; he's charged with solving the murder of two soldiers in a gold heist. Haven poses as a rowdy sort, picking a fight with a soldier (Steve Brodie), in order to ingratiate himself with the town lowlifes. Powell's sarcastic dialogue would have been right at home with one of his film noir characters.

Greer plays a somewhat mysterious saloon owner who flirts with Haven, and she also has the chance to sing "Sometime Remind Me to Tell You." There's actually quite a bit of singing in the movie, as Burl Ives is marvelously cast as a hotel clerk whose singing provides some commentary to the action and gives the film wonderful mood. It's ironic that Greer and Ives get the chance to sing while former musical star Powell doesn't!

There is so much I love about this movie; besides the great dialogue and the music, there's the striking black and white photography in Sedona by Harry J. Wild; the excellent action sequences, including an absolutely brutal fistfight between Powell and Guinn "Big Boy" Williams; and the superb cast, which also includes Agnes Moorehead, Tom Powers, Gordon Oliver, Olin Howlin, John Doucette, and Charles Middleton. Powell's close friend, Regis Toomey, gets a couple of scenes as a detective.

The Frank Fenton-Winston Miller screenplay was based on a novel by Luke Short, whose work also provided the basis for BLOOD ON THE MOON, RAMROD (1947), and several other good Westerns.

STATION WEST was directed by Sidney Lanfield.

Although IMDb says the film runs 87 minutes, the Warner Archive DVD is 80 minutes long; this time matches the print I've previously seen on Turner Classic Movies, and it's also a match for Leonard Maltin's reference guide. Update: Please see the comments for an extended discussion on the film's running time.

I previously reviewed STATION WEST in 2011. The last time I saw this film, in 2014, was in a 35mm print which had sadly seen better days, so it was a great pleasure to watch this film on the Warner Archive's good-looking new DVD.

It should be noted that some of the exterior nighttime scenes are quite dark, but that has also been the case with the previous prints of this film I've seen. In contrast, some of the daytime exteriors are almost too bright, and the picture quality throughout is a bit inconsistent, which again matches what I've seen in the past. Interior closeups of Greer are lovely, and overall the film is clean and highly watchable -- especially when I compare it to the 35mm print I saw where dialogue kept dropping out! There are no extras on the disc.

Highly recommended.

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.

Tonight's Movie: Take the High Ground! (1953) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Richard Widmark and Karl Malden star in TAKE THE HIGH GROUND! (1953), a new release from the Warner Archive.

In this Korean War era military film, Widmark and Malden play Army sergeants who have 16 weeks to turn green recruits into polished, combat-ready soldiers.

As one might expect in this type of movie, there's a lot of yelling by the drill sergeants, who regularly inflict punishments of various sorts on the young men. The new soldiers hate their drill sergeants, until eventually realizing that what they're learning will hopefully keep them alive in a war zone.

The recruits are played by an interesting group including Russ Tamblyn, Carleton Carpenter, Steve Forrest, Robert Arthur, Jerome Courtland, William Hairston, and Maurice Jarra.

Tamblyn gets a chance to show off his acrobatic skills as the cockiest of the group, who seems unable to grasp military decorum. Forrest might be the most mature, but he eventually sees a chaplain (Regis Toomey) -- because he wants to kill one of the sergeants!

Hairston was a particular pleasure as a poetry-quoting black recruit in this integrated unit. It was his only film.

Beautiful Elaine Stewart plays a troubled war widow who attracts Widmark's interest.

There isn't much depth to any of the characters; Widmark and Stewart play the most complex people in the film, but so much time is spent on army drills that we don't get to know them as well as we'd like.

The extensive outdoor drill scenes, filmed at Fort Bliss, Texas, are fairly predictable and do start to get a little old as the movie goes on. Still, I found this 101-minute film moderately entertaining, thanks mainly to the good cast.

The movie was shot in Ansco Color by John Alton. I've read reports elsewhere that this new Warner Archive edition is the best the movie has looked since the year it was released, and it is indeed a crisp, clean print.

Unfortunately Ansco Color was a rather boring-looking process, and combined with the Texas setting, there isn't much chance for the man who photographed RAW DEAL (1948), REIGN OF TERROR (1949), and AN AMERICAN IN PARIS (1951) to show off his talent. There is, however, one scene which was strikingly shot, as Widmark and Stewart kiss and fight in the dark, punctuated with occasional bursts of neon light from a sign outside her window.

The movie also does a nice job showing off Widmark's beautiful blue eyes!

Millard Kaufman, who wrote the story and screenplay, received an Oscar nomination. The film was directed by Richard Brooks. Dimitri Tiomkin composed the score.

All in all, this film is a pleasant enough way to pass the time, especially for fans of the cast, but nothing particularly special.

TAKE THE HIGH GROUND! is a good-looking widescreen print. 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.

Tonight's Movie: Sierra Passage (1951) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

I've been enjoying watching Wayne Morris Monogram films this month!

Having previously reviewed DESERT PURSUIT (1952) and ARCTIC FLIGHT (1952), today I watched SIERRA PASSAGE (1951), another Morris film just released by the Warner Archive.

SIERRA PASSAGE costars Lola Albright and Alan Hale Jr., who also appeared in ARCTIC FLIGHT. I enjoyed all three films but I'd rank SIERRA PASSAGE as my favorite.

A trio of bad men led by Yance Carter (Hale) gun down rancher Jud Yorke (Jim Bannon of I LOVE A MYSTERY) in cold blood. Yorke's son Johnny (Billy Gray) is taken in by a pair of kindly men who happen upon the murder scene, traveling minstrel show owner Thad Kring (Lloyd Corrigan) and his star sharpshooter Sam Cooper (Roland Winters).

Johnny grows up (now portrayed by Morris) and stars alongside Sam in the show's sharpshooting act, but everywhere they travel, Johnny is looking for the men who killed his father. When singer Ann Walker (Albright) joins the show and falls in love with Johnny, she tries to persuade him to give up the hunt, which is tearing him up inside, but he's spent too many years on his quest to be willing to stop, even for lovely Ann...

I won't say how it ends, but it's well-written and satisfying.

SIERRA PASSAGE has a particularly good script for a film of its type, written by Tom Blackburn and Sam Roeca. It was based on a story by actor-screenwriter Warren Douglas, billed here as Warren D. Wandburg. This was Douglas's initial foray into screenwriting; his later writing credits included the screenplays for excellent films such as LOOPHOLE (1954) and DRAGOON WELLS MASSACRE (1957).

The film also benefits from some very nice turns by Corrigan and Winters as the men who raise Johnny; their colorful, sympathetic characters add a great deal to the film, making it not just your ordinary "son seeking revenge" Western. There's a touching scene where Thad and Sam must say farewell due to Sam's retirement, and they muse on how they have become family.

Also adding to the film is the lovely Lola Albright, who has the chance to sing three tunes. (She's also made up much more nicely than in ARCTIC FLIGHT.) She's very likeable as a woman who, like Johnny, is an orphan trying to survive; before long she finds that she has also been taken under the wing of Thad and Sam, becoming part of their theatrical family.

The more I see of Morris, the more he's growing on me. I've really been enjoying spending time with his movies this month. There's one more of his new Warner Archive Western releases which will be reviewed soon, THE DESPERADO (1954).

The SIERRA PASSAGE cast also includes Paul McGuire, Richard Karlan, Edward Clark, and George Eldredge. John Doucette has about two seconds on screen before he's gunned down in a card game gone bad.

As a side note, some viewers may wish to know in advance that since the film is historically accurate in its portrayal of minstrel show entertainment of the 1800s, characters at times perform in blackface.

SIERRA PASSAGE was directed by Frank McDonald and filmed in black and white by William Sickner. It runs 81 minutes.

Once again the Archive has released a Morris Monogram film in a very nice, crisp print. 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.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Make Mine Music (1946)

I was really delighted that the Disney Screen series followed up the showing of FUN AND FANCY FREE (1947) earlier this month with this week's screening of of MAKE MINE MUSIC (1946).

Can MELODY TIME (1948) be far behind? Let's hope!

Like FUN AND FANCY FREE and MELODY TIME, MAKE MINE MUSIC is one of Disney's "package" features of the '40s. While FUN AND FANCY FREE featured two main cartoons, bridged with scenes featuring Jiminy Cricket and Edgar Bergen, MAKE MINE MUSIC is simply a series of several musical cartoons with introductory title cards.

I thought MAKE MINE MUSIC was wonderful, combining marvelous music with exquisite artistry. Varied animation styles are presented in some of the cartoons, with the scoring including classical, jazz, and pop styles of the '40s. I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend it.

MAKE MINE MUSIC starts with another of Disney's gorgeous title sequences. The film then immediately starts the first cartoon, "Blue Bayou," described in a title card as "a Tone Poem." "Blue Bayou" was originally slated to appear in FANTASIA (1940), scored by Debussy, and happily was resurrected for this film with a new soundtrack, sung by the Ken Darby Singers. It's a lovely few minutes filled with shades of blue.

"Blue Bayou" was followed by another favorite sequence, "All the Cats Join In," with a Benny Goodman soundtrack. In this bouncy number about teenagers meeting to dance at the local soda shop, some of the character are "drawn" and take life before our eyes -- with one girl even glaring at the pencil until it reduces the size of her rear end, not really something I was expecting in a Disney cartoon.

Other favorite segments were "After You've Gone," again featuring Benny Goodman music, and "Without You," sung by Andy Russell. I don't know very much about Russell but he sounded rather like Vic Damone. The animation, looking out a rainy window, was some of my favorite in the movie.

Other sequences included Dinah Shore singing "Two Silhouettes," Jerry Colonna performing "Casey at the Bat," and the Andrews Sisters singing "Johnny Fedora and Alice Bluebonnet."

The longest segments were "Peter and the Wolf," a well-known Disney classic, and Nelson Eddy singing "The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met." These are good sequences, and I'm an Eddy fan, but overall it was the shorter pieces in MAKE MINE MUSIC which engaged me the most.

Though the film's actual running time is 75 minutes, I'm sorry to say that this was Disney's self-censored version omitting "The Martins and the Coys," sung by the King's Men. (A photo from that segment is shown here.) The running time of the print I saw today was thus 67 minutes.  "The Martins and the Coys" has been removed due to "comic gunplay." At the moment it can be seen here, but it could disappear at any time.

MAKE MINE MUSIC is available in a Gold Edition DVD which also omits "The Martins and the Coys." It also had a release on VHS. Fingers crossed that this beautiful Technicolor film will follow FUN AND FANCY FREE in getting a release on Blu-ray...and that it will be the complete, uncensored version.

Today's screening of MAKE MINE MUSIC was preceded by the cartoon MICKEY'S DELAYED DATE (1947), with Mickey voiced by Walt Disney himself. I'm a Pluto fan so I especially enjoyed this one, as Mickey's loyal pal saves the day when Mickey takes a long nap and is late for a date with Minnie. It's available on DVD in the Disney Treasures set Mickey Mouse in Living Color, Vol. 2.

Previous Disney Screen reviews: OLIVER & COMPANY (1988), EIGHT BELOW (2006), THE LOVE BUG (1968), THE ROCKETEER (1991), ROBIN HOOD (1973), POLLYANNA (1960), POCAHONTAS (1995), FUN AND FANCY FREE (1947), and THE MANY ADVENTURES OF WINNIE THE POOH (1977).

Tonight's Movie: The Unknown (1946) at UCLA

Last night's screening of I LOVE A MYSTERY (1945) at UCLA was followed by another film in the same series, THE UNKNOWN (1946). While I LOVE A MYSTERY was shown in 16mm, THE UNKNOWN was a terrific 35mm print.

THE UNKNOWN again featured detectives Jack Packard (Jim Bannon) and Doc Sloane (Barton Yarborough) dealing with spooky goings-on. Like I LOVE A MYSTERY, THE UNKNOWN was directed by Henry Levin.

The double bill was part of UCLA's current series Out of the Ether: Radio Mysteries and Thrillers on Screen.

In this final film in the I LOVE A MYSTERY trilogy, the creepiness has a Southern Gothic twist, as Jack and Doc are hired by an unknown benefactor to escort Nina Arnold (Jeff Donnell) to her ancestral home. Nina has never met her parents, but her grandmother (Helen Freeman) has recently died and she's one of the heirs.

At the decaying mansion Nina meets her rude, angry uncles (James Bell and Wilton Graff) and sees her mother Rachel (Karen Morley) for the first time. Rachel, whose marriage to Richard (Robert Wilcox) was short-lived, has never gotten over the absence of her husband and daughter and lost her mind, busying herself caring for an invisible "baby."

The house has cobwebby secret passages, a nearby mausoleum with surprises inside, the mysterious sounds of a crying baby, and someone who pushes Nina down a flight of stairs. Oh, and don't even think about removing the bricks which have covered up a fireplace...yes, this movie is more than a bit macabre!

Jack and Doc have their hands full keeping Nina alive until a missing will is found! I'm a Jeff Donnell fan so I enjoyed seeing her front and center as the heroine; she's a very good screamer but she was also brave, and she had admirable sympathetic understanding for her mentally ill mother.

The shadowy black and white photography by Henry Freulich is most effective helping set the film's mood.

A couple of overwrought moments drew unintended chuckles from the audience, but that was probably a good thing for me as it kept things feeling light. The film's short running time, clocking in at 70 minutes, was another plus for someone who doesn't watch a lot of scary movies. It's a fast-paced and lively film which is very well done, especially considering it probably didn't have much of a budget.

The film's style, with a disturbed matriarch casting her shadow over all, reminded me a little of Anthony Mann's spooky house film, STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT (1944).

UCLA's series of "radio" films strikes me as especially fun and creative programming; they even play radio shows in the theater prior to the movie starting. I hadn't been able to attend since I saw THE TRIAL OF VIVIENNE WARE (1932) on the opening night of the series, but I'd love to see more if I can!

Friday, February 26, 2016

Tonight's Movie: I Love a Mystery (1945) at UCLA

I had a wonderful evening in Westwood tonight, enjoying dinner and a pair of fun movies with friends at UCLA.

The movies were a double bill of titles from the Columbia Pictures "I Love a Mystery" series, I LOVE A MYSTERY (1945) and THE UNKNOWN (1946). They were shown as part of UCLA's ongoing series Out of the Ether: Radio Mysteries and Thrillers on Screen.

I LOVE A MYSTERY was shown in 16mm, with THE UNKNOWN screened in a lovely 35mm print. My review of THE UNKNOWN may be found here.

Columbia Pictures made three films based on the I LOVE A MYSTERY radio show created by Carleton Morse; the other title, not shown this evening, was THE DEVIL'S MASK (1946). All three films feature detectives Jack Packard (Jim Bannon) and Doc Long (Barton Yarborough) caught up in mysterious (and more than a little creepy) goings-on. The trio of films were all directed by Henry Levin.

I LOVE A MYSTERY begins with the news that a man named Jefferson Monk (George Macready) was decapitated in a car crash. (Told you the movies were a little creepy!) Jack and Doc reminisce in flashback about the last few days, when Monk had told them he only had three days to live -- and that a cult literally wanted his head.

This fast-paced 69-minute film also involves Monk's wheelchair-bound wife (Nina Foch), who might not be crippled at all, and a masked peg-legged man (Frank O'Connor) who follows Monk around, carrying a satchel which is just the right size for a head... There's also a beautiful young woman named Jean (Carole Mathews), who seems to show up wherever Monk does, and she pointedly refuses to give anyone her last name.

I had started watching this film on Turner Classic Movies several years ago, but I found it pretty spooky and, since I was watching it alone late at night, I thought better of it and turned it off. This time around there was safety in numbers, seeing it with a crowd, and I found the movie good fun, enjoying reacting to it along with the rest of the audience.

There are some effectively staged moments, such as Mrs. Monk's first entrance in her wheelchair, and the masked man is pretty scary. It's a nice atmospheric film with some thrills and chills which makes for a fun Friday night at the movies.

Bannon and Yarborough aren't standout actors, but Bannon has a sort of calm "Just the facts, ma'am" style which contrasts well with the zany incidents he's dealing with. Macready and Foch are perfectly cast as the troubled Monks, and Mathews is striking as Jean.

Nina Foch had a good run in several Columbia thrillers in the mid-'40s, including ESCAPE IN THE FOG (1945) and MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS (1945).

I LOVE A MYSTERY was filmed by Burnett Guffey.

A fun bit of trivia is that I LOVE A MYSTERY star Jim Bannon was married to Bea Benaderet; they were the parents of Jack Bannon, who played Art Donovan on LOU GRANT. Jack is married to Ellen Travolta.

For another look at the I LOVE A MYSTERY films, please visit Jeff's 2013 post at The Stalking Moon.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Roughshod (1949) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

ROUGHSHOD (1949), one of my favorite unsung Westerns, is now available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

I first saw ROUGHSHOD back in 2009, and as time has passed I've come to appreciate it even more. It was a delight to revisit it again in a lovely print, thanks to the new Warner Archive DVD.

Robert Sterling plays cowboy Clay Phillips, who is driving a herd of horses over the Sonora Pass with his kid brother Steve (Claude Jarman Jr.). They happen upon a broken buggy with four saloon girls who were headed to Sonora; Clay must be the luckiest cowpoke in history, because the women he's stumbled across are Gloria Grahame, Martha Hyer, Myrna Dell, and Jeff Donnell.

Unfortunately there's an escaped convict named Lednov (John Ireland) on Clay's trail, a cold-blooded killer who brutally murders anyone in his way...and he's gunning for Clay.

Most of the film is a character study of Clay, his relationships to his brother and Mary (Grahame), and tangentially the other women, who all make significant life choices during their journey. Sterling is so at home in a Western, I've wished ever since I first saw the film that he had done more of them. He did appear in THE SUNDOWNERS (1950) the following year, as well as in Audie Murphy's COLUMN SOUTH (1953) a few years later.

I've never been a big fan of Grahame, but for me this is her most appealing performance. She's lovely, and I especially enjoy the relationship she establishes with Steve as she teaches him to read. Jarman, who would appear in John Ford's RIO GRANDE (1950) the following year, is excellent as the determined brother, who refuses to leave when his brother wants to take on Lednov and his two confederates on his own.

While much of the film is easygoing and good-natured, there are dark moments, most notably when Lednov and his men stumble across Helen (Dell) and the new man in her life (Sean McClory). It's a disturbing scene which makes the stakes for Clay and Steve even more clear.

Except for a handful of interiors and a couple of process shots, ROUGHSHOD was shot entirely on location by Joseph Biroc. The Sierra locations look lovely in black and white and give the movie a feeling of authenticity which is sometimes missing from films shot on a Southern California movie ranch.

The screenplay was by Geoffrey Homes (OUT OF THE PAST) and Hugo Butler, based on a story by Peter Viertel. The running time is 88 minutes.

The supporting cast includes Sara Haden, Jeff Corey, George Cooper, James Bell, and Ed Cassidy.

ROUGHSHOD was an RKO film directed by Mark Robson. Another of Robson's 1949 releases, MY FOOLISH HEART, will be reviewed here in the near future.

ROUGHSHOD is another fine-looking print from the Warner Archive, with good sound quality. There are no extras.

A personal favorite which is recommended for Western fans.

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.

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...I sure wish I could attend the High Chaparral Reunion being held March 17th-20th in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to HIGH CHAPARRAL cast members Don Collier (Sam Butler, the foreman) and Rudy Ramos (Wind), there will be a number of other celebrities in attendance including Robert Fuller, Roberta Shore, Ed Faulkner, Darby Hinton, and Wyatt McCrea, plus Western historians Boyd Magers and Charlie LeSeuer.

...Lou Lumenick of the New York Post recently interviewed Sonia Darrin, who played Agnes in THE BIG SLEEP (1946). Her son is redheaded former child actor Mason Reese. THE BIG SLEEP, incidentally, comes out on Blu-ray today, thanks to the Warner Archive.

...Coming in May from the Criterion Collection: IN A LONELY PLACE (1950). While there were individual aspects of the film I enjoyed, I wasn't a big fan of this highly regarded Humphrey Bogart film, finding it depressing.

...Here's a tribute I came across to actress Lola Albright, along with a brief review of ARCTIC FLIGHT (1952), also reviewed here a few days ago.

...Toby pays tribute to Albright's ARCTIC FLIGHT costar, Wayne Morris, at 50 Westerns From the 50s.

...I belatedly realized I hadn't linked here to my Valentine's Day article for ClassicFlix, which shares 10 favorite romantic films.

...New on Blu-ray from Twilight Time, all-time favorite James Garner film SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF! (1969) paired with SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL GUNFIGHTER (1971). It's a limited edition of 3000 units, so those who want this release should not delay.

...Reviews, reviews, and more review: Here's Raquel on CHARLIE CHAN AT THE OLYMPICS (1937) at Out of the Past. I've never watched this detective series and look forward to it...Jessica wrote about a mutual favorite, SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS (1954), at Comet Over Hollywood...John McElwee of Greenbriar Picture Shows looks at Betty Grable and Don Ameche in DOWN ARGENTINE WAY (1940), mentioning its "best-of-all color process." The Technicolor Fox musicals dazzle like nothing else!...Karen reviews Bebe Daniels in the entertaining pre-Code REGISTERED NURSE (1934) at Shadows and Satin...and Glenn Erickson reviews the Twilight Time Blu-ray of WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS (1950), starring the LAURA (1944) team of Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney.

...Thanks to Toby at 50 Westerns From the 50s for the tip on the six-film Randolph Scott Round-up due out on April 5th. The titles (click hyperlinked titles for reviews): THE DESPERADOES (1943), THE NEVADAN (1950), SANTA FE (1951), MAN IN THE SADDLE (1951), HANGMAN'S KNOT (1952), and THE STRANGER WORE A GUN (1953).

...Notable Passings: Cinematographer Douglas Slocombe has passed away, days after his 103rd birthday. His career lasted half a century, from 1940 to 1989; his three Oscar nominations included RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981)...George Gaynes, the husband of Allyn Ann McLerie, has died at 98. He was especially known for TOOTSIE (1998) and the '80s TV series PUNKY BREWSTER; GENERAL HOSPITAL fans from way back will recall him as Luke Spencer's nemesis, mob boss Frank Smith...The Autry museum announced the death of Joanne Hale, the widow of singing cowboy Monte Hale. Mrs. Hale, a close friend of Gene Autry's wife Jackie, was the founding president and CEO of the Autry and a life trustee. Hale's prior career accomplishments, described in the Autry's announcement, were most impressive.

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

Have a great week!

Monday, February 22, 2016

Tonight's Movie: My Pal, Wolf (1944) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

MY PAL, WOLF (1944) is a fine family film which was recently released by the Warner Archive.

I very much enjoyed this tale of a poor little rich girl, Gretchen (Sharyn Moffett), and her dog Wolf (portrayed by Grey Shadow). Lonely Gretchen finds Wolf, a large German shepherd, in the woods and is thrilled at the prospect of having her very own dog.

Gretchen has loving parents (Leona Maricle and Bruce Edwards), but they have become consumed by their careers, leaving Gretchen to be raised by the ramshackle staff at their country house. Strict new governess Miss Munn (Jill Esmond) initially seems like just what Gretchen and the household might need, bringing some discipline and order into everyone's life, but unfortunately Miss Munn does not prove to be a very understanding sort of woman.

When Miss Munn realizes that Wolf is actually an Army dog and returns him, Gretchen is devastated. She runs away to Washington, D.C., where she wants to make her case for keeping Wolf to the Secretary of War (Edward Fielding).

MY PAL, WOLF neatly pulls together several themes in one package: It's a family film, an animal story, and a WWII homefront movie all woven together. It's also a very good film, with a fresh take on familiar story conventions. I don't mind saying that my eyes misted over a couple of times in the movie's final minutes, but the sentimental tears were well earned.

Sharyn Moffett, making her film debut here, was a very natural and charming child actress; Gretchen might be naughty at times, but she never stops being likeable. This is particularly the case as her background and character are so neatly laid out, despite the film's short 75-minute running time. Her dreams of living with her Mommy and Daddy in a "pumpkin shell" like in her Mother Goose book ("and there he kept her very well") are touching.

Charles Arnt and Olga Fabian play the sympathetic neighbors who welcome Gretchen into their home to play with their sons (Bobby Larson, Jerry Mickelsen, and Larry Olsen). Una O'Connor is the housekeeper who initially seems unkempt and annoying but ultimately proves to have a real heart for Gretchen, more so than her governess.

One of the film's strengths is that the characters are fully rounded, never black and white. Gretchen is a normal child who's charming but makes mistakes, while her parents have also made some poor choices but really do love their daughter. The housekeeper could do a more responsible job, but is there for Gretchen when she needs a caring adult, and the governess is initially pleasant enough, if firm, but ultimately can't unbend enough to truly get to know and understand Gretchen, let alone show her genuine affection. Gretchen is simply a job for Miss Munn, nothing more.

I particularly appreciated the scene where the Secretary of War explained to Gretchen what Wolf was trained to do and why he needed to go to war; it was extremely well done.

MY PAL, WOLF was directed by Alfred L. Werker and filmed in black and white by Jack MacKenzie.

Sharyn Moffett films previously reviewed here, which are all available via the Warner Archive: THE FALCON IN SAN FRANCISCO (1945), THE LOCKET (1946), and BANJO (1947).

MY PAL, WOLF is another lovely print from the Warner Archive. 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.

This Weekend at Disneyland: Signs of Spring

It's still only late February, but it seemed more like spring at Disneyland this past weekend!

With the Disneyland Railroad out of commission this year due to the construction of Star Wars Land, a train with the famous Lilly Belle car at the end is currently parked to receive visitors at the Main Street Train Station.

Disneyland doesn't go all out with Valentine's Day decorating, but nods to the recent holiday could still be found in Town Square:

Disneyland's gardeners have been busy! The flowers at the Hub in the center of the park are simply gorgeous right now:

Always a favorite view:

The Rivers of America are still and quiet right now due to Star Wars Land construction:

Classic attraction posters are featured along a construction wall:

Some Disney fans have questioned whether this poster for a long-gone Frontierland attraction hints at a possible return of sorts when the Disneyland Railroad returns:

Over in Disney California Adventure, it's expected that the new Luigi's ride will soon begin cast previews, with an anticipated March opening.

Finally, I love the retro design on these cocoa tins!

Have a great week!

Previously: Signs of Spring (February 2014)

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