Friday, February 5, 2016

A couple of lesser obituaries

I think I've stated quite a few times that I visit Wikipedia's deaths page every time I log on to my desktop computer. Being a movie blogger, I need to see when classic cinema-related people die so that I can blog about it. A couple of deaths of people with greater or lesser ties to the movies have been announced:

I don't remember Kristine Miller, although she appeared in about 20 movies in the late 1940s and early 1950s, with the most notable of the films being From Here to Eternity. Apparently she was also in Too Late For Tears, which I have on my DVR. She died late last year at the age of 90, but her family didn't announce the death until a few days ago, presumably in order to maintain their privacy.

Maurice White died yesterday aged 74 after a long battle with Parkinson's disease. White is of course best known as a singer and songwriter, having founded the band Earth, Wind, and Fire and fronting it until his illness hit. The band appeared in the movie Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hears Club Band, doing a wonderfully funky cover of the Beatles' song "Got to Get You Into My Life". This is the sort of movie that really needs to show up on TCM Underground at some point.

Finally, there's Joe Alaskey, who died on Wednesday at the age of 63. If you don't recognize the name -- and I know I didn't -- that's because he was a voice actor, taking on the Looney Tunes roles that Mel Blanc had done up until his death in 1989. Spare a thought for the voice actor. It seems that nowadays whenever I see the latest animated movie being advertised, they're also advertising the famous names who are lending their voices to the movie. The people who do multiple voices and did the voices in the old animated movies don't seem to get as much credit. Look at the cast list of any of the Disney movies from when Walt was still alive, and ask yourself how many of the names people recognize. (Yes, I know Sterling Holloway did the voice of Winnie the Pooh.)

Another set of FXM Repeats

I said the other day that there were some movies coming back to FXM Retro after a long absence; indeed, I think one of today's selections might not have been on the channel since the switch from the Fox Movie Channel to FXM Retro.

Today's selection begins with the one airing of The Purple Heart, at 9:15 AM. My satellite box guide doesn't show this one coming up again in the next two weeks or however far out the box guide goes.
That will be followed at 11:00 AM by The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing. Joan Collins stars as a woman at the turn of the last century involved in a love triangle with Ray Milland and Farley Granger that turns fatal for one of them.
Finally, at 12:50 PM, you can cath The Black Rose, re-teaming Tyrone Power and Orson Welles, this time in China, not Renaissance Italy. Not bad, especially for those who like the Tyrone Power formula.

The last two movies will be getting another airing on FXM Retro tomorrow, with The Black Rose showing up at 6:00 AM and The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing coming on at 9:30 AM. In and around those movies, you can catch repeat showings of:

White Feather at 4:00 AM and
A Blueprint For Murder at 8:10 AM.

I have a feeling somebody at FXM tried to come up with a lineup putting all these colors together; it's not as if they do much else in the way of putting thought into their programming, though.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

I don't think I've ever done a full-length post on White Heat before

I notice that the classic movie White Heat is on the TCM schedule tomorrow morning at 10:15 AM. A search of my blog suggests that I've never done a full-length post on the movie, which isn't that surprising since I've always felt a bit uncomfortable blogging about movies that are so well-known that it's kind of pointless rehashing the plot. And I think the famous photo of James Cagney at the end of the movie, with the oil tank burning behind him while he says, "Made it, Ma, top of the world!"

So as I was thinking about the movie today, I found myself thinking whether one should try looking at it once as a character study. Oh, the plot is a pretty good one, but Cagney as Cody Jarrett so overrides all the proceedings that I don't think the nature of the heist at the end is that important. Anyhow, for a brief plot summary, Cody leads a gang that at the start of the movie holds up a mail train. Eventually he gets arrested and sent to prison for another crime; one of the prisoners Vic (Edmond O'Brien) is actually a plant by the cops to infiltrate Jarrett's gang, which happens when Vic helps Cody break out of jail. Jarrett then organizes that climactic payroll heist.

But along the way there are a couple of things that are much more important. One is that Jarrett is exceedingly brutal, and the other is that he is incredibly devoted to his mother (Margaret Wycherly). During the train hold-up, one of the underlings is burned by steam, and Jarrett doesn't seem to care. In fact, even though he's married to Verna (Virginia Mayo), he doesn't seem to care for anybody in a positive way except for his mother. Everybody else, he only cares that they don't get on his bad side. Watch, for example, what Jarrett does when a fewllow prison escapee complains about being stuck in the trunk of a car.

But it's that devotion to his mother that gives Cagney as Jarett the other defining moment of the movie. Jarrett is in the prison mess hall when he learns that his beloved mother has died, and he goes mental, climbing atop the table and more or less losing it emotionally. Trying to do away with her is just as bad as trying to do away with him.

In some ways, it's almost a shame that James Cagney so dominates White Heat. The reason I say this is because the other basic story is pretty good, and the other performances are even better. In terms of mothers dominating to a bad end, Margaret Wycherly is up there with Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate or Jackie Weaver in Animal Kingdom. Virginia Mayo, as the woman who comes second in Cody Jarrett's life to Jarrett's Ma, is coldly calculating when she needs to be, too. O'Brien does well, as does Steve Cochrane, playing the guy in Jarrett's gang who has too much of an eye on Verna for his own good.. Still, it's Cagney whom you'll remember long after the movie ends, for a host of good reasons.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

And coming up on TCM

I did a post the other day about movies coming up on FXM Retro after a long absence, something I do from time to time when I can't think of anything else to blog about. Normally, when I mention what's coming up on TCM without doing a full-length blog post, it's to mention some of the shorts.

There are a couple of interesting shorts that I've blogged about before showing up in the next 24 hours or so. London Can Take It!, which was filmed during the Blitz at the beginning of World War II before the US got involved and is clearly designed to elicit sympathy from American audiences to the plight of the British, can be seen overnight at 3:18 AM, or following Joan of Paris (1:45 AM, 92 min). I have not actually seen Joan of Paris before as far as I am aware.

The other short is Romance of Radium, airing at 9:19 AM tomorrow. This is a Pete Smith short which looks at the discovery of radium, the first of the radioactive elements to be isolated. In addition to its discovery, the short looks at its use in medicine, which as I mentioned once before is something I think would have been a novelty to the audiences of the late 1930s when this short was made. The short would be well paired with the 1943 feature Madame Curie, but instead it comes on after The Green Goddess. This is another movie I haven't seen before, starring George Arliss as a raja in British India (gotta love the casting!) who holds a couple of Brits hostage when their plane crashes. The TCM schedule claims the movie is in color, but IMDb says it's in black and white, and I presume they'd be correct. I've always found George Arliss interesting to watch so I'm going to have to clear some space from my DVR to record this one.

Following The Green Goddess is Stage Door at 9:30 AM, which probably would have been the subject of a full-length post today if I hadn't blogged about it back in 2012. Lucille Ball vs. Katharine Hepburn. Nice.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Train Robbers

Yesterday, I mentioned that none of the movies I've watched recently seem to be available on DVD. It turns out that I was wrong. The Train Robbers does, in fact, seem to be available on DVD, so I can feel comfortable doing a full-length post on it.

The movie starts off in some desolate place that is apparently a town where somebody lives, since there's a hotel there, and the train does make a stop. In fact, there are two people waiting for the next train to stop, Jesse (Ben Johnson) and Ben (Bobby Vinton). The train eventually arrives, and off get Mrs. Lowe (Ann-Margret) and Lane (John Wayne). It is these two for whom the two men have been waiting, becuase Mrs. Lowe has a job for all of them.

It seems as though a few years earlier, Mrs. Lowe's husband was part of a group of 10 people who robbed a train of its Wells Fargo strongbox, with a large amount of gold in the box. Needless to say, while the robbery itself did go well, the aftermath didn't go so well, and Mr. Lowe wound up being killed. However, his murder wasn't before Lowe was able to hide the money somewhere, and Lowe told his wife about the location. Now, Mrs. Lowe wants to go get the gold and... return it to Wells Fargo so that she can claim the reward and clear her husband's name for the sake of her son! Lane and the rest of the men she's hired will get a cut of the reward.

Of course, such a scheme is not without its problems. Mr. Lowe was killed, but he was part of a group of 10 people, and not all of those 10 are dead. So when Lane and company head south into Mexico to get the location (which not even Lane knows precisely) where the gold has been hidden, the other people who were in on the robbery are bound to take an interest in getting that gold for themselves. And sure enough, every time we get a sequence of the Lane gang on their horses, it seems to be followed by the people chasing Lane and his crew. But there's also one person who seemingly stands alone, as though he may be following both groups, a man played by Ricardo Montalbán who doesn't get any speaking lines until the film's finale.

Eventually, Lane and his group get to where the gold is stashed, and the other men get there too, so there's a shootout as each group tries to get the other group's horses to run off, which would mean the other group can get away and get a good head start. But since Lane is the good guy here, we can probably guess who's going to get the money.

The Train Robbers is entertaining, if nothing new. Well, for the most part it's entertaining. If you've seen a bunch of westerns before and are a fan of John Wayne, then you'll probably enjoy this one just fine, like sitting down with an old friend. If you're the sort of person who's new to westerns, I think I'd recommend quite a few other movies first, only because there are other westerns that are notable, while The Train Robbers is more like pleasant background music. The by-the-numbers production is one of the few problems the movie has; the other one is that it has too many long scenes of the players on horseback. The Train Robbers is only about 90 minutes, and you could probably shave a good 10 minutes off fast-forwarding through all those montages, which have no dialog so you won't miss anything.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Briefs and FXM Reruns

Unfortunately most of the movies I've watched off the DVR recently aren't available on DVD, or at least seem to be out of print, so I wouldn't exactly feel comfortable doing a full-length post on them. It's a shame, too, since for the most part I've been seeing some pretty entertaining movies.

Looking at the TCM schedule, we're into 31 Days of Oscar, which means a more limited lineup, but there are some movies that are going to be new to me. TCM is also re-running the documentary they premiered in 2014, And the Winner Is. It's airing tonight at 8:00 PM to kick off the prime time lineup, and is getting two more airings later in February. I didn't check the first two days of March to see if it's airing in the last two days of 31 Days of Oscar.

Meanwhile, I don't think there's anything on FXM Retro that's new to this blog. There are, however, a couple of movies that I blogged about in the past that I think are back on after an absence.

First at 10:00 AM is House of Strangers, which I last mentioned a year ago. Now it they could only take the remake, Broken Lance, out of the vault and show that too.

That's followed at 11:45 AM by Bigger than Life, a movie I don't think I've mentioned since the summer of 2012. I think it was on at some point in between then and now; I just didn't mention it then.

Finally, tomorrow's FXM Retro lineup concludes with Madison Avenue at 1:25 PM.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

31 Days of Oscar and the shorts

It looks as though once again, TCM is making a good-faith effort to have the shorts it airs between the movies this coming months be Oscar-related. For the most part, that means shorts that were Oscar-nominated, although it looks as though there's at least one short that's Oscar-related in a different way; a 1960s-produced montage of drawings of Oscar-winners. If you're wondering what the heck, you're not alone.

I never really paid much attention to the historical Oscar nominations for short subjects, so seeing certain shorts show up in February always makes me wonder whether or not they were Oscar-nominated. An example would be the Joe McDoakes short So You Think You're Not Guilty, which airs at 4:43 AM Tuesday. Sure enough, it's listed in the Academy's database as having been nominated in the one-reel category back in 1949.

Speaking of the one-reel category, that's one of the interesting things about the shorts and the Oscars. It looks as though the first awards for shorts were given out for 1931/32, or the fifth Oscars ceremony. (Recall that in the beginning, the nominating period was for a "season", which went from July to June; it wasn't until the awards for 1934 that it was changed to a caledar year nominating period.) Back then, there were two awards given out for live-action shorts: one for "comedy" and one for "novelty"; I don't know where dramatic shorts would have fit. There was also one Oscar for animation; Disney won the first eight animation short Oscars.

In 1936, the categories for live-action shorts changed; there was one for color shorts, a second for one-reelers (presumably only in black and white), and a third for two-reelers. This only lasted two years before the color short award was discontinued. The one- and two- reel shorts categories continued through 1956, after which there was just one award for live action shorts.

The other interesting thing is that through 1942, the nominees are listed as the studios. Only in 1943 did this change and it was the producers of the shorts who were nominated. Something similar happened with the Best Picture (ie. feature-length; or the big award) category, except there it wasn't until 1951 that the nominees were changed to being the producers and not the studio.

Enjoy the shorts!

Obituaries I probably should have noticed

A couple of people died in the past few days who probably deserve at least a brief mention:

Jacques Rivette. Rivette, who died on Friday at the age of 87, was a French director who was part of the French New Wave movement that certainly changed American perceptions of French cinema regardless of whatever else it did or didn't do. I have to admit that Rivette is one of the New Wave directors I knew very little about since the French New Wave isn't particularly my thing. The title Celine and Julie Go Boating sounds vaguely familiar, but that would only be from seeing show up on a TCM schedule or something since I know I haven't seen it after looking at the the synopsis.

Frank Finlay. Finlay died on Saturday at the age of 89. He was a British actor who, seemingly like a lot of the British actors, did a fair amount of work on the stage as well as in dramas for the BBC. But he had smaller roles in quite a few movies too, with bigger roles in the 1973 version of The Three Musketeers as Porthos, and an Oscar-nominated turn as Iago in Laurence Olivier's 1965 version of Othello. There's yet another Shakespeare adaptation I haven't seen.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

February is coming up again

February on TCM means the annual 31 Days of Oscar programming feature, a title that takes it name from the days when the Oscars were still handed out in March and it made sense to have a full 31 days given over to such a programming theme. Presumably it must have been cheaper to keep the title 31 Days of Oscar than to have to pay rights fees to the Academy to change the title. That, and once every four years you'd have to change the title from 28 Days of Oscar to 29 Days of Oscar anyhow.

I finally got the chance to see the end of a movie as it aired on TCM (as opposed to off my DVR) and noticed that they're using the same music and graphics package that they've used for the past couple of years. They even repackaged the "Word of Mouth" piece that Liza Minnelli did on her father Vincente, although the editing seemed a bit odd in that it didn't look properly cropped for 16:9; the pastel bit at the bottom that TCM uses to display graphics seemed almost a bit cut off.

Anyhow, I was really posting about the beginning of February so as to point out that the Rusty movies as well as the Bowery Boys movies are going to be taking a four-week break from their usualy Saturday morning time slots for the Oscar programming, but will both be returning at the beginning of March. I think there are two more Rusty movies, and I don't know how many Bowery Boys movies. There were close to four dozen Bowery Boys movies, but I don't know if TCM will be showing every one of them.

Tonight is also the final night of the current season of The Essentials. That, too, will be returning on the first Saturday of March, and as far as I am aware Sally Field is also going to be returning to present the movies along with Robert Osborne. I know there are a lot of people who don't really like The Essentials, but I've always thought of it more as something that's not particularly geared to those of us who are big enough fans of the old movies to read or even write a movie blog; instead it's for the more casual viewers who might not realize that yes, they can be fans of classic cinema too.

Finally, there are going to be some movies returning to FXM Retro in February after a substantial absence. I think I noticed two coming up next week; I don't know how many will be coming back in the weeks following if only because I didn't look at the schedule past the 7th and don't know how far out the FXM schedule is available anyway.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Victor Mature, 1913-1989

Victor Mature and Hedy Lamarr in Samson and Delilah (1949)

Today marks the birth anniversary of actor Victor Mature, who was born on this day in 1913. He started his career in 1940's One Million BC and his career looked promising when all of a sudden the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, dragging the US into World War II. Like a lot of Hollywood people, Mature took time out to serve, in his case with the Coast Guard. Before leaving however, he was able to make his star shine brighter with work like I Wake Up Screaming.

Mature returned from the war and to Fox, where he was promptly cast as Doc Holliday in My Darling Clementine, a movie which kick-started his career even though I would have thought Mature had entirely the wrong physique to play the consumptive Holliday. Mature would eventually put that physique to good use, playing a football player in Easy Living; and perhaps most famously the biblical Samson opposite Hedy Lamarr in Samson and Delilah. Other epics followed, most notably The Robe and The Egyptian.

Mature's career really cooled off in the late 1950s, in part because, I think, Mature was more laid back about his career. He was famously self-deprecating, with lines like, "I'm no actor, and I've got 64 films to prove it!". And some actors just develop other passions in life anyway. Still, in the two dozen or so movies Mature made in the decade after returning from World War II, there are some interesting roles well worth watching. In addition to what I've mentioned, there are also the noirs Kiss of Death and Cry of the City, as well as the entertaining if not particularly good Violent Saturday.