Saturday, August 1, 2015

White Feather

I only noticed this morning that White Feather is airing tomorrow morning at 10:00 AM on FXM Retro. It's airing again at 4:00 AM Monday, but there's another movie I was intending to do a full-length post on tomorrow. And it turns out that I hadn't done a post on White Feather before; I thought I had after the last time it got a couple of airings on FXM in quick succession.

Robert Wagner stars as Josh Tanner, who at the beginning of the movie is seen riding alone somewhere out in the old West. He comes across the victim of a Cheyenne attack at a river, and the Cheyenne watch him to see if he's got courage. It turns out that Tanner is making his way to the nearby fort. The river is the de facto boundary between the US forces and the native tribe, but the US are currently in negotiations with the various tribes to put them on reservations so that the US can take the land without annihilating the tribes.

Tanner is a surveyor, and his bosses are waiting for that treaty to be signed so that they can get their hands on some of that new land; Josh is being sent out in advance as a surveyor to survey the land for the land company. Not that the folks at the fort like him. The commander, Col. Lindsay (John Lund), is wary of him, while the only place he can find lodging is in the storeroom of the store run by Magruder (Emile Meyer). Magruder has a daughter Ann (Virginia Leith), but apparently she has a past, because her father thinks she's fit for no man and she makes cryptic comments about her past.

Apparently, however, the Cheyenne respect Tanner. They're the only tribe that hasn't signed the treaty to give up hostilities against the Americans, and the Americans are trying to get them to sign the treaty which all the other tribes are going to sign. Chief Broken Hand (Eduard Franz) is beginning to think that perhaps the fight against the Americans with their superior forces is futile, but his son Little Dog (Jeffrey Hunter) is not willing to give up the old ways. Tanner goes into all of this to talk to the Cheyenne.

While there, he meets not only the men in the Indian tribe, but also the chief's daughter Appearing Day (Debra Paget). She falls for him, and the feeling winds up being mutual. Needless to say, this presents all sorts of complications.

White Feather treads over some of the same territory that Fox had covered a couple of years earlier with Broken Arrow. There are also the themes of tradition versus modernity that appear in a whole bunch of movies in all sorts of genres. In White Feather, it all amounts to something that's capable, but which also feels as though we've seen it all before. Still, it's not bad, with the one exception that I wished I could have learned more about Ann, the white woman we kind of expect Tanner to wind up with when the story opens. She clearly has a past, but it's never really gone into. Oh, there's also the other problem of a bunch of white actors playing Indians, but really, there weren't enough prominent Indian actors to play these characters. On the plus side, the cinematography is quite nice if you can catch this in widescreen. I have a distinct memory that when it showed up on FXM a few weeks back, it was in fact in widescreen and not panned-and-scanned like a lot of their Cinemascope movies.

White Feather did get a DVD release at some point in the past, but I think it's out of print based on Amazon's not having new copies regularly available.

Geoffrey Holder, 1930-2014

Geoffrey Holder in Live and Let Die (1973)

Today marks the birth anniversary of dancer/actor Geoffrey Holder. Holder spent the better part of his career dancing, and on the stage, winning a Tony award for The Wiz. When it comes to the movies, Holder didn't make all that many, but will likely be best remembered for playing Baron Samedi, a voodoo priest, in Live and Let Die.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Never Let Me Go

Tomorrow is August 1, which means the start of another month of Summer Under the Stars on TCM. As usual, every day brings 24 hours of movies starring a different person. This first day of August will feature somebody who did much of her work over at Fox, but who made enough movies elsewhere that TCM can get enough things to make a day of it: Gene Tierney. One of the Tierney movies that I haven't blogged about before is Never Let Me Go, kicking off the day at 6:00 AM.

Top billing goes to Clark Gable, who plays Philip Sutherland. Philip is a newspaper correspondent, working the Soviet beat. He had been stationed in Moscow for some time, going back to the days when the US and the USSR were uneasy allies since they were both fighting the Nazis. Of course we know who won that fight, and when victory was achieved Philip got the chance to take in a celebratory ballet. There, Philip saw ballerina Marya Lamarkina (Tierney), whom he had fallen for, at least from a distance. But to his surprise, Marya apparently noticed him, as she was trying to learn the language so she could meet him. They have a whirlwind romance and get married.

But there's a problem: getting an exit visa for Marya. State artists are a national treasure, and the Soviet government wants to keep a tight leash on them. If they let Marya go off with Philip, there's a high likelihood that she'll never return. Indeed, one of Philip's colleagues, Christopher (Richard Haydn), is in the same boat. He married a Soviet woman (Belita) and the government won't let her go to to England with Christopher despite the fact that she's pregnant. To make matters worse, the spirit of comity that the US, UK, and USSR had during the war is rapidly evaporating as an iron curtain is descending across the continent from Stettin to Trieste. Eventually Philip's visa runs out, and he's forced to leave the country without his wife. And there's no way the Soviets are going to give him another visa to enter the country.

Philip gets an assignment in London, which at least allows him to be a bit closer to Marya. But it also allows him to be closer to Christopher, and eventually he gets an idea: the two of them can sail to the coast of the USSR and arrange to pick up their wives there. Highly illegally, of course. It's another of those daft ideas that you could only think of in a movie, and which would never work in real life. After all, letters from the western husbands to their Soviet wives would be censored. And could either side in the marriage even get close to the coast? Well, since this is a Hollywood movie you can assume that the answer is yes, they actually can do it. Marya and the ballet go to Tallinn (remember that Estonia was part of the USSR at the time), which just happens to be on the coast. And Philip arranges to pick her up there....

Never Let Me Go is one of those movies where you really have to suspend your disbelief to watch it. That having been said, the movie just about works. Tierney had already played a Soviet wife in The Iron Curtain, and she does reasonably well doing that again here, even if she isn't that realistic as a ballerina. Clark Gable was never less than professional, and gives a solid performance that only pales if you consider all the other great movies he did earlier in his career. Again, if there's any problem with the movie, it's with the plot. But overall, it's entertaining enough.

Never Let Me Go did get a DVD release courtesy of the Warner Archive, although there's a more recent film with the same title, so be careful if you look for the DVD online.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Apparently the AFI honored Steve Martin

I have to admit that I don't pay too much attention to what the AFI does. I mean, I know they give out a lifetime achievement award every year, but I don't pay attention to who gets the award until TCM shows the ceremony thta the AFI produces. And to be honest, I have no idea either when the award is given out. How embarrassing it would be if the recipient died between the time AFI gave them the award and TCM showed the program. I don't think any guest programmers or, more recently, the Friday Night Spotlight presenters, have died in between the time the recording was done and when the segments were supposed to air. (Richard D. Zanuck died shortly after the rough cut of the documentary on his life was finished. The documentary in its final form ends with a note saying that Zanuck had seen the rough cut and sent a letter to the filmmakers thanking them and telling them what a good job they had done, and then died a few days after that.)

All of this is just an elliptical way of pointing out that TCM is showing the latest installment of AFI's Lifetime Achievement Awards tonight. The 2015 recipient was Steve Martin, and TCM will be running the award show at 8:00 PM. As is generally the case with a new-to-TCM program like this, it will get a second airing for the benefit of the folks on the west coast, following one feature film. The film is the 1991 version of Father of the Bride, which comes on at 9:30 PM, with the second airing of the AFI show being at 11:30 PM.

Interestingly, Steve Martin is only getting two movies, as the film that comes on at 3:15 AM (Protocol) doesn't seem to have Martin in the cast. The other film is Pennies From Heaven at 1:00 AM.

You'll also have two opportunites to catch another airing of Martin's 1979 appearance on The Tonight Show when TCM reruns the Carson on TCM piece on Steve Martin.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Shorts for July 29-30, 2015

Tonight's lineup on TCM is a night of "Bob's Picks", where Robert Osborne selects the movies for the night, much as if he were a Guest Programmer, except that he does it pretty much every month with the exception of 31 Days of Oscar and Summer Under the Stars.

Perhaps more interesting are a couple of tonight's shorts. First, at about 9:45 PM, after I Know Where I'm Going!, is The House in the Middle, which looks at how to make certain one's home will be more likely to survive a nuclear attack. (Hint: Live where the nuclear attack won't be.) For some reason, I can't help but think of the nuclear test at the climax of Split Second.

Rounding out the night, at 5:15 AM, or following The Mouse That Roared, is The Relaxed Wife, about how to deal with the stress of workaday life.

There are some more conventional shorts in between.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Les Blank night

Tonight is one of those nights that makes TCM worth having. As much as some people like to complain about TCM and think they only show the same stuff over and over, I find that even after seven and a half years of blogging that there are still new things to be learned about the movies.

Tonight's lineup on TCM is a night of movies directed by Les Blank. Never heard of him? I have to admit that I hadn't heard of him either before seeing this night's movies on the TCM schedule. Blank was a documentary filmmaker whose films included quite a few looks at traditional musicians of various genres. Much of the first half of the evening will be looking at Cajun music and culture, while the second half of the evening has what looks to be a fairly broad range of documentaries on music from the blues to polka.

Unfortunately, Blank died a few years ago so TCM won't be able to sit down with him for an interview. Blank's son is also a director, but the TCM page on tonight's movies doesn't say anything about anybody sitting down with Robert Osborne to discuss Les Blank.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Sorcerers

A few months ago TCM showed a new-to-me movie called The Sorcerers. It's on again tonight at 6:30 PM on TCM, and is definitely worth a watch.

Boris Karloff stars as Prof. Monserrat, an elderly, down on his luck hypnotist/pyschologist. It's to the point that he has to advertise at corner shops, and can barely pay for those advertisements. But he's been working with his wife Estelle (Catherine Lacey) on a new invention, one that's sure to revolutionize society! The only problem is, to prove that the machine will work, they need to find a young, healthy person on whom they can experiment without the person being aware as to what's going one and what the experiment will entail. Sounds highly unethical, but I suppose if the elderly couple were ethical, we wouldn't have much of a movie, would we?

Thankfully, the couple lives in London during the swingin' 60s, so there are a lot of young people around who like to experience life. They find Mike (Ian Ogilvy), a guy who likes to go out to the clubs with his girlfriend Nicole (Elizabeth Ercy) butalways seems to find himself winding up bored with the whole thing. So when he leaves the club to take a walk by himself and Monserrat approaches him, Mike decides to take Monserrat up up on the offer of having the wildest experience he's ever had, although Mike is understandably skeptical about the whole thing and is really only doing it on a lark.

And so they set out on the experiment, which involves strapping Mike into some ghastly machine while he watches, well, something that looks like an abstract video of lights, colors, and shapes. In fact, this mind-blowing contraption is supposed to put Mike into some sort of super hypnotic trance through which the Professor and his wife will be able to control Mike. But what makes the device revolutionary is not that they'll be able to control Mike, but the fact that they will be able to feel Mike's experiences. And in fact, the experiment seems to be a success as the elderly couple can feel when Mike cracks an egg open on his hand, and then washes his hand.

Think of the good that this contraption could be used for! Professor Monserrat believes it will be a boon to seniors and other shut-ins who will have a better ability to experience the world around him. Yeah right. If that were what the device were going to be used for, we once again wouldn't have much of a movie. Instead, Estelle gets ideas of her own. She's always wanted a fur coat, and with the device giving her the ability to control Mike, perhaps she can get him to break into a furrier and steal a coat for her! And Estelle wants more than that, much more. The Professor wants to stop her, of course, but does he have to will to do it? And won't everybody around Mike figure out that something bizarre is going on?

The Sorcerers is one of those movies that probably shouldn't be thought of as very good, but boy is it entertaining. Boris Karloff for the most part, and Catherine Lacey especially, are confined to one set of their tiny London flat for the entire movie. The hypnotic induction sequence was frankly laughable, albeit reminiscent of The Ipcress File, which is supposed to be a much more serious movie. Poor Ian Ogilvy has to act like an automaton for much of the movie. And yet, The Sorcerers is a heck of a lot of fun. Put it on when you just want to be entertained, and don't have to think too hard.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Long Hot Summer

Coming up at 4:00 PM today on TCM is The Long, Hot Summer.

The film opens up with young Ben Quick (Paul Newman) walking along a road in rural Mississippi, trying to hitch a ride. He eventually gets picked up by a convertible with two young ladies in the front seat: Clara Varner (Joanne Woodward) and her sister-in-law Eula (Lee Remick). They take him to town, which is also where they happen to live. Ben discovers that their father is the richest man in town and pretty much owns everything there is worth owning in the town, so Ben plans to approach the Varner father to ask about getting a job.

The only thing is, Dad isn't home just now because he's recuperating in hospital. So Ben has to ask the son, Jody (Tony Franciosa) about getting a job. Jody manages the general store for Dad, but it's not exactly a great relationship that father and son have. Dad Will (Orson Welles) thinks that his son isn't enough of a man, evidenced in part by the fact that Eula seems quite interested in sex, but Jody hasn't been able to get her pregnant an produce an heir to the Varner fortune yet. As for Clara, she's the local schoolteacher. She's got a bit of a man in her life in the form of Alan (Richard Anderson), but he isn't enough of a man for Will, either. He's under the thumb of his mother, afraid to ask for Clara's hand in marriage.

So you can probably guess that Will begins to take a shining to Ben, since Ben is a take charge sort of guy and exactly the sort of strong man that Will thinks the family needs to produce a strong heir. And you can also tell from the opening scene that eventually the sparks are going to fly in one way or another between Ben and Clara. Will begins to give Ben more responsibilities, which understandably irks Jody to no end. But Ben also has a past, which is another thing you probably should have been able to tell from that opening scene. As with Montgomery Clift's character in the opening of A Place in the Sun or John Garfield in The Postman Always Rings Twice, seeing somebody hitchhiking into town at the beginning of a movie implies that there's something the character is trying to get away from. In the case of Ben Quick, it's accusations that he burns barns, and had to make a quick escape (no pun intended) from the last town he was in when another barn burned down. And sure enough, once you learn that, you can guess that there's going to be a barn burning in this town too, although it's made quite clear who started the fire.

It goes on like this for close to two hours, being overheated and never quite going anywhere, thanks to the fact that it's based on material by William Faulkner. I think I've stated before that I've never been the biggest Faulkner fan, probably going back to the days when I had to read As I Lay Dying for a high school English class. He's not as much of a slog as Tennessee Williams, although the screenplay here comes across almost as though it could have been from Williams' material as much as Faulkner's. Still, it's physically a well-made movie. Everybody acts well, and there's lovely cinematography and sets. It's just that the story made me want to reach through the screen and smack some sense into these people.

The Long, Hot Summer is available on DVD, so if my relatively short notice in mentioning this film made you miss today's TCM airing, you've still got a chance to see it.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Nova Pilbeam, 1919-2015

Nova Pilbeam and Derrick De Marney in Young and Innocent (1937)

British actress Nova Pilbeam passed away a week ago at the age of 95. However, she led a fairly private life after leaving acting, so her obituary didn't get posted until the 21st, and I didn't see it until the evening of the 23d, hence this late obituary post. Pilbeam is probably best known for her roles in two of Alfred Hitchcock's British films: the original version of The Man Who Knew Too Much, in which Pilbeam played the kidnapped daughter; and Young and Innocent, in which an all grown up Pilbeam helps wrongly accused Derrick De Marney prove his innocence.

I didn't realize until reading the Independent obituary that Hitchcock wanted Pilbeam for Rebecca when he was going to go to Hollywood. But Pilbeam decided she didn't want to be tied down to an exclusive Hollywood contract, and that was that. Marriage, widowhood, a second marriage, and motherhood followed, and Pilbeam opted for the private life rather than remaining an actress.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Kansas City Confidential

TCM has been showing a lot of noirs in its Summer of Darkness festival which has one more Friday to run after today. One of the movies that I've mentioned briefly a couple of times, but never actually done a full length post on, is Kansas City Confidential, coming up today at 1:15 PM.

John Payne stars as florist deliveryman Joe Rolfe. He's got a routine at the job, and wouldn't you know that somebody else knows about that routine. That somebody else is ex-cop Tim Foster (Preston Foster), and he's been following Rolfe's routine because of a scheme he has to get his job back. The thing is, the florist shop is right next to a bank, and Foster is watching when the florist vans come and go, and when the armored cars come and go from the banks. Foster's plan is to get a couple of thugs together to rob the bank, and then "solve" the crime himself, which will have him become a hero in the process. In order to keep the other members of the gang from ratting him out, he wears a mask and has all of them wear masks too so that none of them will recognize each other. (Except, of course, Foster knows all of them.)

So Foster and his gang rob the place, and one of the results is that Joe gets arrested for it, since the police naturally figure that with Joe's schedule, he's the one who would have been in the delivery van from which the robbers emerged. That, and Joe has already been in jail once before. It's only natural that the cops aren't going to believe him, and that when evidence comes out that Joe is in fact innocent of the crime, he's going to have to find the real robbers himself.

Joe does some investigating and gets word from a friend that perhaps all of the robbers went to Tijuana. Joe's response is to make his way to Mexico, where he will of course find the robbers. But he's also going to run into Helen (Colleen Gray). She's studying law at college, and she's in Mexico on her term break to see her father, who, having been dismissed from the police force, has decided to go to Mexico ostensibly for his health, but is of course really there to complete the robbery scheme. What he doesn't realize is that it's already not going the way he planned.

Not only has Joe begun to fall in love with Helen, the feeling is mutual. But more importantly for Daddy, Joe has found one of the other bank robbers only for that guy to get shot in an altercation with the police. Joe's thoroughly logical idea is to take that robbers' identity so that he can find the actual mastermind of the whole thing. (He should consider himself lucky he didn't run into the mastermind first and have to impersonate the mastermind.)

It's all quite interesting, but then there's the ending. One of the previous times I mentioned the movie, I pointed out that it was made under the Production Code, which of course means that crime must not pay. So we're going to have to get script gyrations for Joe to be fully vindicated, for all the bad guys to get their due, and for Joe and Helen to be able to live happily ever after. (I don't think audiences would have gone for a twist that had Helen being in on the robbery.) There's also the plot hole surrounding the robbers' masks. This is obviously so that they won't be able to recognize each other's faces out in the real world. But there's no reason they couldn't recognize each other's voices. But there are a whole lot of Hollywood movies that had to deal with that aspect of the Production Code. Kansas City Confidential is still a very good movie in spite of that.

I'm sorry I haven't given you more advance warning of the upcoming showing on TCM, but at least this one is in print on DVD, in case you miss today's showing.