Wednesday, June 29, 2016

TCM's Guest Host for July 2016

So somebody posted over at the TCM boards that TCM announced there's going to be a guest host on TCM in July for Robert Osborne. On Friday and Saturday nights, Dave Karger, a writer for Entertainment Weekly and a reporter for NBC's Today show, will be handling the hosting duties.

I presume there will be whoever is doing the spotlight either one or two nights a week with Ben Mankiewicz picking up the slack the rest of the nights. Either way, Robert Osborne should probably just call it a career. As I've said several times the past few months, the man is now 84 years old and more than beyond the age where nobody would have a problem with it if he just decided to say he'd prefer to spend the rest of his life doing whatever. That having been said, he probably likes doing the wraparounds for TCM. A lot of us movie fans would love the opportunity to do them if only for a night, not that we'd be any good.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Treasures From the Disney Vault, June 2016

Tonight sees the latest installment of Treasures From the Disney vault on TCM, the irregular programming block of stuff that Disney deigns to let air on one of the non-Disney channels.

Nights in the past have generally kicked off with a block of cartoon shorts, but it looks like tonight is kicking off at 8:00 with The Parent Trap, in which Hayley Mills plays a pair of twins who bring her divorced parents (Maureen O'Hara and Brian Keith) back together.

There are two blocks of shorts, one at 10:15 PM and one at 12:45 AM; the second block includes Flowers and Trees, the first three-strip Technicolor cartoon. Disney had exclusive use of the three-strip process for animation for several years in the 30s. (I think the 10:15 block has the traditional Disney characters; Flowers and Trees doesn't.)

Perhaps the most interesting thing to air tonight might be the documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty, at 11:00 PM. This is about the animation department in the late 80s and early 90s, which saw a renaissance for the company before they bought up Pixar and became what we have today. Who remembers the animated features released immediately before The Little Mermaid in the mid-to-late 80s? I had to look them up: The Brave Little Toaster and Oliver and Company?

Monday, June 27, 2016

A couple of foreign obituaries

German actor Götz George died last week at the age of 77, but his death was only made public within the past day or two. George was mostly known in the German-speaking countries, but one movie that I saw him in ages ago and have been wanting to see again ever since is Schtonk!, a fictionalization of the infamous Hitler Diaries scandal of the early 80s, when a fraudster produced what he claimed were Hitler's diaries, and sold the publication rights to one of Germany's most popular magazines. George plays the journalist in Schtonk! I don't think it's ever been released to DVD in North America, even though it was Oscar-nominated in the Best Foreign Language film category.

For those who can read Italian, you can read about the passing of Bud Spencer, who died today aged 86. Spencer was Italian, so that's obviously a stage name, taken from Budweiser beer and Spencer Tracy. Spencer appeared in several spaghetti westerns in the late 1960s and 1970s that apparently have cult status amongst a certain segment of film fandom; I've never been quite so big a fan of the spaghetti westerns or the more low-brow Italian cinema of the 1960s, so I don't know that much about Spencer myself.

The bridge is out

So the bridge on the main road I take to work every morning is under repairs. There's a detour, but thankfully it only makes my 4-mile commute a 6-mile commute. And since I work the early shift it's not as if there's much traffic anyway.

But of course this being a movie blog, that's not why I'm mentioning it. I got to think about movies with bridges being out of commission as a plot point.

I think there are a lot of them in old westerns with the railroads, since trying to build railroads was a theme in several of those westerns And as a general rule, I find myself reminded of more railroad bridges either being out or rickety than road bridges. I seem to recall Buster Keaton tries to burn the bridge behind him in The General. Definitely in Tycoon John Wayne has to deal with a shoddy railroad bridge he had to build quickly because his boss wasted his time making him try to tunnel through the mountain instead.

The bridge may not be enough to support the weight of a train in Ring of Fire, either, although they've also got the pressing issue of a massive forest fire they're trying to guide the train through. (Now if TCM could just get a wide-screen print of this one.)

And then there's The Cassandra Crossing, where the authorities don't really care if the bridge goes down, because then it will take a bunch of people carrying a contagion with it. Cruel, but what if these people infected all of Europe?

As for road bridges being down, there's one that's a plot point in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. The bridge being out means that Cary Grant is stuck in New York City, while his wife (Myrna Loy) is in the house out in Connecticut. The kids are on Grant's side of the bridge although much closer to home. However, their lawyer (Melvyn Douglas) gets trapped on the house side of the bridge and has to spend the night in the house with Loy, which of course leads Grant to fear the worst.

Any other good "bridge down" movies on your mind?

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Coney Island

Tonight's Silent Sunday Nights lineup is a pair of movies with Buster Keaton. First, at midnight tonight, is Go West. That one has Buster eventually becoming a ranch-hand, and then driving a herd of cattle through the crowded streets of Los Angeles. As of this writing there's a Youtube posting, but the movie was from 1925, which means that it's not in the public domain the the video could be pulled at any time due to copyright restrictions.

The second movie, at 1:15 AM, is the short Coney Island. This is from much earlier in Keaton's career, in 1917 when he was still working with Fatty Arbuckle. Since it's before 1923, it is in the public domain, so the Youtube videos of it shouldn't be taken down. Well, I suppose if they use music that's not in the public domain that might be a problem. Heaven knows there are music rights holders who are nuts about their music showing up in Youtube videos, even brief snippets in the background.

Anyhow, for those who want to see Coney Island, here's one of the Youtube videos:

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Another set of out-of-print stuff

TCM's online schedule -- at least the daily and weekly schedule -- shows whether you can buy a copy of the movie from the TCM Shop. It's not always accurate however. In general, though, it's a fairly good guide as to whether a movie is still in print on DVD.

Several films in the next 24 hours are no longer in print. The first of them, at 12:30 AM tonight (ie. still Saturday night in more westerly time zones) is The Young in Heart. Amazon lists a DVD that only has a few copies left, as well as a streaming option; TCM offers nothing.

Tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM there's Strike Up the Band, which you'd think would be available at the TCM Shop, since Amazon is offering one of those four-film TCM box sets of Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland musicals. (The other three in the set are Babes in Arms, Babes on Broadway, and Girl Crazy.) That having been said, this set seems surprisingly pricey compared to other TCM box sets.

That will be followed immediately at 8:15 AM by Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, which is again available at Amazon but not from the TCM Shop. Amazon claims the DVD release is from 2002. They've also got some non-North American Blu-Ray releases from what I see.

Finally, at noon tomorrow, there's A Little Romance. As I mentioned a year ago, it's one of those movies that received a DVD release years ago but is now out of print. It's a shame since this is such a fun little movie.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Apologies for the brief posting


Irving Pichel in the trailer to Dracula's Daughter (1936)

I was going to do a birthday post today on actor-director Irving Pichel, who was born on this day in 1891. However, it turns out that I did a post on his birthday just last year! This year, however, I'm including a picture which is something I didn't do last year. (Now that I've got a new computer, posting photos has become a bit easier again.)

As regards Pichel, he was in a couple of movies with Bette Davis, most notably Jezebel and Fog Over Frisco. But trying to find any photos of the two of them together is difficult. I can't recall whether Pichel had any scenes with Davis in either movie (although I can't imagine why not), and an image search on both of them together yielded a lot more Davis photos -- and with other co-stars -- than Pichel photos.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

For those who like old-time clips: Hollywood Without Make-Up

Tomorrow morning at 8:15 AM, TCM is running Hollywood Without Make-Up. It's the first of two documentaries made by Ken Murray. Murray had been an actor at the beginning of the talking-picture era, but not being good enough to cut it as an actor, went into doing the emcee thing, at which he became successful.

This also enabled him to have access to the Hollywood stars, so by the early 1960s he was able to get a lot of stars (or their estates) to donate clips to make this look at the more private lives of the stars, and what they did at their palatial homes. There are a lot of clips from San Simeon, where William Randolph Hearst held court with mistress Marion Davies, and a lot of other actors show up as their guests.

There's also a sequence with Walt Disney taking Murray's daughters on a tour of the Disney studio, just a few years before Walt's death.

I don't think this one is available on DVD; the clearances for all those clips would probably be a nightmare. I'm not certain when the other special, Hollywood, My Hometown will be airing, either.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Big Cube

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to watch The Big Cube. It's available on DVD, so I'm comfortable doing a full-length post on the movie even though it's not on the TCM schedule any time soon.

Lana Turner plays Adriana, whom we see at the beginning performing in a play, as she's an actress. Well, soon to be a retired actress, since she's met a nice man and tells the audience that this is her final performance. That man is wealthy financier Charles Winthrop (Dan O'Herlihy), a widower with an adult daughter Lisa (Karin Mossberg). Lisa isn't particularly happy about the upcoming wedding, but she tries to be an adult about it.

Well, that is until her friend Bibi (Pamela Rodgers) introduces Lisa to some of her friends. This is the late 1960s, and it's the hippie acid scene. Lisa isn't particularly thrilled with Bibi's friends at first, but when her relationship with her stepmother continues to deteriorate, Lisa decides to spend some more time with Bibi and her friends. At least, until they all come over to the Winthrop place and have a "wild" (by the standards of late 1960s movies) party, which Dad and Stepmom walk in on. Dad is none too pleased.

But all of that is about to change. Charles and Adriana go on a vacation that involves going out on the ocean in Charles' yacht, and there's an accident that sends Adriana overboard. Charles jumps overboard to save Adriana; unfortunately, he drowns in so doing. Adriana is now a widow and executrix of a very wealthy man's estate, with the power to assent to his daughter's marriage (at least until she turns 25 and inherits the trust fund). Lisa really doesn't like that.

And she's made a boyfriend among Bibi's friends. Well, it's more that he's gone after her. That boyfriend is Johnny (George Chakiris), a med student dropout who goes after Lisa once he learns that her father was loaded. And when Daddy dies, Johnny comes up with a diabolical plan. He's good enough at chemistry that he can cook up LSD on his own apparently, so he's going to replace some of Stepmom's sedatives with LSD, in the hopes that the freak-out will drive her insane and give Lisa control of the estate!

Now, there are good movies about people who would like to marry against their parents' wishes, and might even be willing to get their parents out of the way to do it. Pretty Poison, for example, is quite entertaining. While The Big Cube has some good ideas, it ultimately begins to go south once the whole idea of driving Adriana crazy through LSD becomes the main plot point. I think there are a couple of reasons for this.

One is that the acid trip scenes are just so dopey, as though somebody in the production had just been given a new special-effects too, and was trying to figure out how best to use it. And then there's Karin Mossberg's acting. This was one of her only reasons, and there's a good reason why, which is that her acting is terrible. Lana Turner doesn't do badly, but she's not helped out by the script in the second half of the movie. In fact, the script is another problem; the attempt to drive Adriana crazy and then her playwright's (Richard Egan) attempt to restore her sanity require too much suspension of disbelief and go on too long.

If there's a bright spot, it's George Chakiris, who actually does fairly well playing such a slimy character, whose smugness makes you hate him even more. But even poor George has to suffer through a tacked-on finale that's an utter mess.

The Big Cube is one of those movies that at times hits the heights of "so bad it's good". Unfortunately, there are also a lot of times when it's just tedious.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Millionaire (1931)

TCM is running a bunch of James Cagney movies tomorrow morning and afternoon. Most of them are fairly early in his career, and in some he's only got a small role. A good example of this is The Millionaire, which is on at 8:15 AM.

The star here is George Arliss. He plays James Alden, an industrialist who has been forced into retirement for health reasons. Not that he's happy about it, as he finds retirement frightfully boring. So, being bored silly, he decides to do something about it, and go back into business, only without telling anybody. He finds an ad in the paper to buy a half share of a service station, and takes it. The other half is owned by Bill Merrick (David Manners), an aspiring architect who is running the gas station so he can raise the money to go into business as an architect. While in college, he met Alden's daughter Barbara (Evalyn Knapp) briefly, not knowing that Barbara's father is his business partner in disguise.

As for the business itself, it's not going so well. That's because the man who sold it, Mr. Peterson, had a good reason for selling it. He knew that a new highway was going to be built and that this new bypass road would make the station he sold obsolete. Indeed, Peterson is opening a new service station alongside that bypass road. Poor Bill.

Except of course that Bill's business partner isn't poor. James decides to use some of his fortune to buy a service station across from Peterson's new station, and go into competition with Peterson, helping Bill along the way. James certainly has enough of a fortune to undercut poor Peterson, who doesn't know what's hitting him. But will James be discovered for who he really is before he can succeed in all his plans?

The Millionaire may not be the first thing you think of when you think of George Arliss, but then again, it's a film with a similar tone to something like A Successful Calamity, which coincidentally also has Evalyn Knapp as George Arliss' daughter. (The part of James Alden's wife is played by Arliss' real-life wife Florence.) Anyway, in The Millionaire, Arliss once again looks like he's having a blast as he puts one over on his opponents and does a good deed for those around him. He's marvelously entertaining, to the point that you half expect him to be a bit of an imp or something.

As for James Cagney, whom I mentioned at the beginning of the post, he plays an insurance salesman from whom Alden wants to buy some life insurance. It's the agent's suggestion that retired people are a bad insurance risk that gives Alden the idea to go back into business. Cagney is the one person who isn't overshadowed by Arliss, but then Cagney had a way of overshadowing his screen partners himself. It was seeing this and the first days' rushes of The Public Enemy that gave director William Wellman the idea of giving Cagney the starring role in the latter movie instead of the supporting role. The rest, as they say, is history.

The Millionaire is, as far as I know, not available on DVD, not even from the Warner Archive. So you'll have to catch the rare TCM showing.