Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Baby Peggy and the other surviving silent stars



I came across an interesting article posted over the weeked at the UK newspaper The Guardian, looking at those few surviving people who worked in silent films. My first thought was Baby Peggy, and she of course is the bulk of the article. But there are a handful of other people who appeared in silents as a child and never reached the fame that Baby Peggy did, so their lives weren't warped when they were no longer wanted as child stars.

Baby Peggy, whose real name is Diana Serra Carey, is now 96 and not in the best of health, which shouldn't be surprising for a 96 year old, even if it is a bit of a shame. Heck, it was a shame when Luise Rainer died at the end of last year even though she was 104. The stuff on Carey isn't new if you saw the Baby Peggy documentary that's aired on TCM a couple of times, but the stuff on the other child stars was new to me. There are also a bunch of nice photos of these stars as they were back in the day.

Together Brothers

Several weeks back FXM Retro ran an obscure movie I'd never heard of called Together Brothers. It's going to be on FXM Retro again twice tomorrow, at 3:00 AM and again at 11:30 AM. This would be your chance to catch a very interesting movie.

The movie starts off with a policeman patrolling his beat somewhere in the business district of a city that looks like it's going to seed in the early 1970s. (I don't think the movie ever actually mentions the city until the end credits, where it's revealed that everything was shot on location in Galveston, TX.) The cop deals with loiterers, people we can assume to be prostitutes, and other such minor things, until an adolescent goes into one of those 1970s vintage convenience stores and pilfers a soda. The cop chases the young man, until finding him as his regular hangout.

The cop and the young man are well known to each other. Indeed, the young man is part of a gang that's probably not quite a gang even in the West Side Story sense of the word, and certainly not in the latter-day New Jack City sense. These are really just a bunch of teens who need a good father figure in their lives, and the cop knows it. He treats them as well as he can within the confines of the law, and they reciprocate by calling the cop Mr. Kool (Ed Bernard; I didn't mention the name of the boy in the gang or the actor who played him because this was a low-budget movie with a bunch of nonprofessionals doing much of the acting).

Unfortunately, Mr. Kool has made some enemies with his arrests back in the adult world, and one of those enemies corners him in an alley, shoots him, and pulls down his pants. To make matters more complicated, a little boy witnesses the whole thing. He's shocked, and so our murderer has the chance to get rid of his witness by committing a double murder. However, the gun jams and our little boy can run off. The boy is known to the members of the gang, but he's not telling what he's seen. However, they know Mr. Kool was murdered, and that something really traumatic happened to the boy, so it shouldn't be that difficult to put two and two together.

And, of course, since the gang respected Mr. Kool, they want to find out who murdered him. The only problem is, they have no leads. The only way for them to get leads would be to get at Mr. Kool's private personnel file, which is of course locked in a file cabinet at police headquarters. The only people who can help the gang get into the building are the Chicano gang who aren't on the best of terms with a black gang. But they earn each other's respect, get the personnel file, and allow our black gang to start investigating.

Together Brothers starts out slowly, and meanders such that up until they invade police headquarters you wonder where the heck the movie is going. Once that happens though, the movie becomes both more conventional and more unconventional. I say this because I find the movie conventional in terms of turning into a relatively standard detective movie that could fit in well with Bonita Granville's Nancy Drew movies of the late 1930s. But it's also unconventional because the investigation takes the kids into a very dark and disturbing world, with a scene involving a prostitute (remember, Mr. Kool was trying to move the hookers along at the beginning!) who serves a very niche market. It leads up to a climax in an abandoned cotton warehouse, and an ending where some loose ends aren't wrapped up but is designed to be satisfying for your average viewer.

Together Brothers isn't quite a mainstream (for the 1970s) movie, but it doesn't quite fit in with the more over-the-top blaxploitation movies like Coffy either. In fact, you could say that the movie has definite flaws, in that it's often not quite sure what it wants to be and if it does make that decision, it takes a long time getting there. But it does get there, and the journey and destination are both rewarding. It's also nice to see all the location shooting. I've never been to Galveston, but according to some of the IMDb reviewers, the place has changed quite a bit in the four decades since the movie was made.

IMDb suggests that Together Brothers isn't even available at Amazon, so you're going to have to catch this all-too-rare airing on FXM Retro if you want to see it. I highly encourage you to do so if you've got access to FXM Retro.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day if I ran FXM

Or, more accurately, if FXM had access to all of the movies made at the studio. My understanding is that they don't necessarily have the rights to all of them, and besides, it's probably financially prohibitive to run anything they want at any time

First up would be the Revolutionary War. The best Fox film for that would have to be Drums Along the Mohawk, which looks at the Revolutionary War as it affected the settlers in central and western New York, an area that was relatively sparsely populated at the time. Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert play the lead couple, while Edna May Oliver earned her one Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

Moving ahead to the War of 1812, I'm not certain if Fox made any movies about the war. Charlton Heston played Andrew Jackson in The President's Lady, but I can't recall offhand whether there's any mention of the War of 1812 in that one. Heston would go on to play Andrew Jackson again in The Buccaneer, and that one definitely deals with the Battle of New Orleans, but that movie was made over at Paramount. A little more on the War of 1812 at the end of this post.

If we go to the Civil War, there are several movies to choose from. FXM Retro is running 13 Fighting Men, as I mentioned yesterday. But that one is just a B movie. There are a couple of other movies from that era. FXM has been running The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come as well, but unfortunately they've been running a panned-and-scanned print. The Civil War as it was in Missouri is part of the focus of Young Jesse James, since Jesse served in Quantrill's Raiders as an adolescent. The war in Missouri and how it radicalized the locals is also mentioned a bit in Belle Starr.

I can't think of anything for the Spanish-American War, so let's jump to World War I. Alexander Knox as Wilson has a memorable, if retch-inducing, scene addressing a group of white soldiers going off to fight the war, telling them about all the different white races coming together. Perhaps more interesting would be Seventh Heaven, or either version of What Price Glory?, a movie I've always had difficulty getting into.

World War II is of course the war with a lot of movies made about it, since Hollywood threw itself headlong into the war effort, just as the rest of America did. TCM got the rights to the excellent Twelve O'Clock High, so I don't know that FXM could have aired it even if they wanted to. In Memorial Days past, when there was still a Fox Movie Channel, they'd run Four Jills in a Jeep, a movie that does deserve more attention. Even if it's not great, it looks at the USO folks who actually went over to Europe. FXM could also run A Bell for Adano or The Longest Day, or if you want to look at the war in the Pacific, something like Guadalcanal Diary.

Going back to the War of 1812, I couldn't find anything from Fox, but the Library of Congress does have this public domain short from 1905:

Sunday, May 24, 2015

New app to promote film tourism in Czech Republic

For those of you who are going to be going to Prague in the near future, this report from Radio Prague's English service may be of interest:

In roughly a fortnight the state agency CzechTourism is launching a new app in for both Czechs and visitors from abroad planning vacations. Entitled, Czech Film Trips, the app will highlight hundreds of locations and feature photos and clips where numerous famous productions were filmed. I spoke to the project manager Jiří Dužár about the product which should be a big success.

For whatever reason, this particular link doesn't have a transcript of the program, unlike most of Radio Prague's output. There's a plug-in for streaming audio, as well as a direct link to download the program. The direct link is 4.1 MB, which should be a little under nine minutes. (I downloaded the entire Saturday program rather than the individual features.)

If I understood the report correctly, the app hasn't actually been released yet; that's going to be in a couple of weeks.

Memorial Day at FXM

I mentioned briefly yesterday that FXM was getting involved with the Memorial Day spirit. The part of the channel that runs from 3:00 PM to 3:00 AM has been airing more recent films, such as Zero Dark Thirty, only with commercial interruptions, and probably edited for content. But FXM Retro is going to be getting into the swing of things with a series of military themed movies tomorrow.

Actually, it starts early this afternoon at 1:20 PM with Circle of Deception, which has Bradford Dillman playing a man who gets sent on a dangerous intelligence mission in Nazi-occupied France with the expectation of his superiors that he will fail. In fact, they want him to fail, since they've given him false information that he doesn't know is false, and they want him to break under Nazi torture and spill that false information to the Nazis. It'll be getting a second airing at 7:45 AM Monday.

Starting off the FXM Retro lineup on Monday at 3:00 AM is King of the Khyber Rifles. It's military, but not really Memorial Day themed, as star Tyrone Power plays a mixed-race man who serves in the British army in colonial India and has to deal with gun smuggling along the border.

That's followed at 4:45 AM by 13 Fighting Men. This one is set in the day or two immediately after the South surrendered in the Civil War, and has a group of Union soldiers trying to get home, although they have to defend a shipment of gold. Confederates hear about the gold want it, in part so they can shaft the Union, and in part because it would allow them to start new lives.

At 6:00 AM is All Hands on Deck, a service comedy starring Pat Boone and Buddy Hackett as navy men who get into all sorts of trouble. It's probably a bit more appropriate for Veterans' Day than Memorial Day, but not noticeably out of playce here.

After the repeat of Circle of Deception, at 9:30 AM you can watch In Love and War, starring Robert Wagner and Jeffrey Hunter as Marines who serve in the Pacific in World War II, and how this affects their lives.

Finally, at 11:30 AM, we get the return of Tyrone Power in a more appropriate movie for Memorial Day: A Yank in the RAF. Power plays a transport pilot who decides to volunteer for the RAF (since the US wasn't in the war yet) because an old flame of his (Betty Grable) is also in the UK, entertaining the troops. It's a bit unrealistic, but entertaining enough.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Memorial Day shorts

We're well into the Memorial Day weekend, which as always means a bunch of military movies on TCM. (FXM will be getting into the spirit of things too, especially in the evening block, but with some war movies on Monday, too.) Some years, there have been quite a few war-themed shorts, although this year seems to be different.

I could swear that I'd mentioned the short on The United States Navy Band, which you're likely to miss since this is airing Saturday at 5:19 PM. Instead, I've briefly mentioned a similar short on the Marine Corps Band . Warner Bros. made those two, as well as one with the Army band, and one with the "Army Air Force Band", seeing as the Air Force proper wasn't created until after World War II ended.

If you want another war-themed short, TCM is offering America, Preferred at 12:06 AM Monday (ie. between Sunday night and Monday morning, just before the Silent Sunday Nights feature), which exhorts people to buy defense bonds. There's also a featurette on the making of The Dirty Dozen which will be airing at about 5:15 PM Monday following The Dirty Dozen.

The other shorts airing on TCM, this weekend, have little or nothing to do with the military. There's an RKO-Pathé Sportscope look at the sport of Ski-Flying at 7:50 PM this evening, as well as a Little Rascals short Don't Lie a little after 7:45 AM Sunday.

Enjoy the holiday weekend!

Marty Pasetta dies at 82

Marty Pasetta is another of those names that I wouldn't have recognized, but apparently he was the director for the Oscar telecast for 17 years in the 1970s and 1980s. His death deserves a bit of mention not just for that, but for the freakish way in which it happened. Apparently, he was a passenger in a car with a group of people. He got off at his destination, but everybody else got out of the car too, with the car still in gear. So the car went off and struck its passengers, killing Marty. Or at least, that's what the description seems to imply.

I hate to be morbid, but there's got to be some old movie that has scenes of a car going off on its own only without the killing people. Actually, no, I don't hate to be morbid at all. Coming up with movies of ridiculous death scenes or funny disasters is fun, which is why people like seeing these things. I think it was Mel Brooks who said, "Tragedy is when I get a paper cut on my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die."

Friday, May 22, 2015

A Little Romance

TCM is today marking the anniversary of Laurence Olivier's birth in 1907 with a bunch of his films. They're concluding at 6:00 PM with the charming A Little Romance.

Laurence Olivier doesn't show up for a while, and even though he gets top billing, he's not really the star of the film. That goes to the two juvenile leads. First is Diane Lane, playing a 13-year-old girl named Lauren King. She's living in Paris with her mother Kay (Sally Kellerman) and stepfather Richard (Arthur Hill), who is working for some multinational doing big business stuff. While Stepdad is away, the mice, or in this case Mom, will play. There's an American film production doing filming on location at some Paris area palace, and Mom is carrying on an affair with the director, George (David Dukes). Not that Lauren cares; she'd rather read abstruse philosophy since she's so much more sophisticated than all of her classmates.

Somebody who does care, at least a bit, is French schoolboy Daniel (Thelonious Bernard). He's a movie buff, especially of the old Hollywood films, and he would love nothing more than to get behind the scenes of a production and see how everything is done. In this case, that's especially so because the film has a small role for veteran Hollywood actor Broderick Crawford (playing himself in a cameo). Daniel isn't supposed to be there of course, and as he's trying to get away from everybody, he runs into Lauren, who has been shunted into a corner that's out of the way since she doesn't want to be there.

You can probably guess that the two adolescents are eventually going to fall in love, and sure enough, that's what happens. This, even though they kind of have to keep their relationship a bit of a secret from the adults. The only people who do know about it are each of the two teens' best friends, who are consistently asked for assistance in getting the two to meet without getting caught out by the adults. The only adult they can trust is a stranger they meet at the park one day. Julius (Laurence Olivier) is an old man who has a fascinating life story, having lived in Robert Browning's old house in Venice, having done all sorts of interesting things with the diplomatic corps, and telling the kids about a legend that if they can kiss under Venice's Bridge of Sighs at sunset, they'll have eternal love.

Eventually, the parents find out about Lauren and Daniel's relationship, and they're none too happy about it. Stepdad decides that the best thing to do is to go back to the States, putting an ocean between the two young lovers and presuming that time will dull their love. Lauren and Daniel decide that the only thing they can do is to run off and head toward Venice, so they can have that kiss. So together with Julius, they head off for Italy. There's just one catch: the backstory that Julius told the two kids is an utter lie. In fact, he's a petty pickpocket, so when the kids go missing he's going to be suspected of kidnapping and all sorts of other horrible things.

I mentioned in the opening paragraph that A Little Romance is charming, and it is in oh so many ways. The two young leads are both excellent, coming off as much more natural than the wanna-be worldliness of, say, Julie Harris' character in Member of the Wedding. Olivier is excellent as Julius, showing what a good actor and broad range he had. Even though he's a criminal, you want him to get away with what he's doing. There's a lot of location shooting, and that is to the movie's benefit, because really, you can't go wrong with Paris and the Italian Alps. The little things in the movie are also good. Crawford only gets a couple of scenes, but they work. The first one has him showing he's really in it for the money and fringe benefits, while the second has Daniel peppering him about movies he has no memory of. (Probably because they're movies he never made; Daniel asks him about a couple of costars I think Crawford never had.) And then there are the two best friends, who provide some comic relief. Her French is lousy, his English equally bad; but you know they too could fall in love if the main story had been about them. There's also a lot for fans of old movies to like.

All in all, A Little Romance is a little film that hasn't gotten the attention it deserves, which is a shame, since it's so enjoyable. It's another of those movies that received a DVD release years ago, but has fallen out of print, since there are only a limited number of copies available at Amazon and it's not available from the TCM Shop. So catch it now while you have the chance.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Raymond Burr, 1917-1993


Raymond Burr and Natalie Wood in A Cry in the Night

Today marks the birth anniversary of Raymond Burr, whom I find to be one of the more intriguing heavies of the 1940s and 1950s. I guess that intrigue stems from the fact that my first experience with Burr was as a good guy from TV. I don't remember whether I first saw Burr on reruns of Perry Mason or of Ironside, but in both of those he was the good guy. And of course, in those days it was only a couple of TV channels and little in the way of old movies.

Probably the first time I would have seen Burr as a bad guy was in Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window, where he's the man wheelchair-bound photographer James Stewart sees across the courtyard going in and out at odd hours, giving Stewart the belief that the man has murdered his wife. And while Rear Window is an excellent movie, there are other movies in which Burr gets to be much more entertaining as the bad guy. After all, in Rear Window most of the conversation is among the three main players (Stewart, Grace Kelly, and Thelma Ritter) in Stewart's apartment; we only hear the other stuff as we would hear it across a courtyard in real life.

The picture at the top is from a fun if overheated movie called A Cry in the Night, in which mama's boy Burr kidnaps Natalie Wood, not realizing she's the daughter of a police officer who is going to go nuts trying to find his daughter. Burr is super-creepy here.

In Pitfall, Burr plays a man who was trying to put the moves on a woman whom Dick Powell gets involved with as part of an insurance fraud case. Burr, needless to say, is quite unhappy about this and proceeds to make everybody's life hell.

And then there's Red Light, in which future TV good guy Burr gets fellow future TV good guy Harry Morgan to kill the brother of Burr's former boss, a boss (George Raft) who sent Burr to prison on an embezzlement charge. Burr, of course, has the perfect alibi for the murder: he's still in prison. There are some serious plot holes, but the movie as a whole is entertaining.

Which movie has your favorite Raymond Burr heavy?

Out of print but on TCM: May 21, 2015

Tonight is the final night of TCM's disaster movie festival, looking at disasters at sea. The night kicks off with The Poseidon Adventure at 8:00 PM, but that's on DVD and a fairly well-known movie. (Just make certain you get the 1972 movie, not the remake.) A couple of tonight's films that I've blogged about before seem to have fallen out of print on DVD, as they're not available at the TCM Shop. I don't do the Watch TCM streaming audio thing since I've got limited bandwidth, so the films may be available there for a week, but in either case it's a heads-up that you don't have too long to catch these films.

I really enjoy the little-seen Juggernaut, airing at 12:15 AM, which stars Michael Caine as a munitions expert who gets called in to defuse a bomb put aboard an ocean liner and scheduled to go off while the ship is in the middle of the north Atlantic. One of the things I like about this film is that while you expect the bomb plot to be foiled, the unexpected way in which it ultimately does unravel.

The night concludes at 4:30 AM with The Last Voyage, starring Robert Stack as a passenger on a doomed luxury liner trying to get his wife (Dorothy Malone) off the ship which has caught fire. It's visually fun and entertaining, even if it's a mess at times.

And one movie which has nothing to do with the night's disaster movie lineup, Fire Over England, shows up tomorrow morning at 9:30 AM as part of a salute to its star, Laurence Olivier. I suppose that since it deals with the Spanish Armada, there is a bit of a disaster at sea, but that's not the point of why TCM is airing it.