Saturday, October 25, 2014

Shorts report: October 25, 2014 -- and a documentary

For those of you who like your featurettes, you're in luck, as TCM is airing a pair of them overnight tonight. The first one comes up around 1:04 AM, or following The Curse of Frankenstein (11:30 PM, 83 min): A Look at the World of Soylent Green. The other featurette also deals with a 1973 movie: On Location With Westworld, at about 2:14 AM. I have to admit I'm not certain whether or not I've seen either of these featurettes -- if you watch enough TCM, you see a whole bunch of "making of" featurettes that some of them start to blur together.

In between those two featurettes is teh "documentary", or more accuaretly part of TCM's irregular "A Night at the Movies" series that looks at various genres, with a bunch of clips and a bunch of talking heads discussing the genre. This time, the genre is "The Horrors of Stephen King". Goodness knows there have been enough movies made from the works of Stephen King. I'm not as big a Stephen King fan as a lot of people, but my favorite filmi of his stuff would have to be Misery.

One short tomorrow morning that sounds more interestingly bizarre and interesting than it's probably going to turn out to be is Mr. Bride, which comes on at about 11:40 AM tomorrow, following In a Lonely Place (10:00 AM, 93 min). This is a Charley Chase short, so that means you probably have to deal with Chase's wackiness, which I know can be an acquired taste. I'm not the biggest Chase fan myself. (NB: I haven't actually seen this particular short.) Mr. Bride has Charley going on a sort of "honeymoon", with his boss (Del Henderson). Yeah, you can figure this is probably going to be a bit warped.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Two from Poland

So a couple of film festival-related stories came up in the English language broadcasts from Polish Radio that I listen to. The other day, I heard a brief report in the daily news program about the American Film Festival in Wroclaw which, if any of you are in Poland, runs through the end of the week. The longer-form feature program Focus has a report on it, although I'm not certain if that program focuses solely on the film festival. There's a little Javascript listen link in the top right corner of the main article on that page; the direct link from the RSS feed is here. NB: the MP3 file is about 18MB and 20 minutes.

How about a festival for Polish emigres? I'm not of Polish descent, so I'm not certain if it would appeal to me, but there's an individual report about a UK/Polish singer who's come back to Warsaw to perform. There's a direct link to the Emigra Film Festival as well as the actual MP3 file (3.8 MB, about four minutes).

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Posting may be slow

The power went out here briefly early this morning, one of those things where the lights go on and off and on and off for several seconds, before coming back on. However, when I decided to go back on the computer, I noticed that the modem's "LAN" indicator was off, which meant I couldn't connect to the internet at all. It looks like the problem was eventually solved by disconnecting the cable from the router end of the router/modem connection. -- I had tried connecting the other end of that cable, which didn't seem to solve the problem, go figure. But, it's the second time in a couple of weeks I've had a bit of a problem with the modem, so I'm worried that it might be going bad the way the previous modem did back in August of 2010 (note the gap of a week or so in posting). In that case, though, I was getting repeated temporary disconnects of a few seconds or so while the modem was dying, so I don't think I'm having the same problem. At any rate, I hope it was just a burp and nothing more.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Bollywood in Prague

From my RSS feed yesterday came the following reasonably interesting story: Childhood one of main themes at this year’s Bollywood film festival


This Wednesday, the annual Bollywood festival of Indian film gets underway in Prague. Now in its 12th year, the festival offers a selection of classical as well as contemporary movies from India and Pakistan, along with a rich accompanying programme. The subtitle of this year’s event is “Children of Bollywood.” I spoke to Radim Špaček, one of the festival’s organizers, and first asked him about the choice of the main theme:

As always with the reports from Radio Prague, the linnk above is to a transcript of the story. There's also an embedded audio player, as well as a direct link to the MP3, which wuns about 3:43, and if it's 64kbit/sec like all the other Radio Prague stories I've mentioned, should be about 1.7 MB. (I download and listen to the emtire program via the RSS feed; this story appeared at the end of the "current affairs" section and I wasn't certain if the individual current affairs stories were available for download.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Another lodger

One of the movies that's had a lot of showings on FXM Retro lately is Man in the Attic. It's getting another airing tomorrow morning (or overnight tonight) at 3:30 AM, and is certainly worth a watch.

The movie starts off with wstablishing scenes of Victorian London at night. An intoxicated woman walks out of a bar, and is escorted back to her apartment by a pair of police officers because it's not safe for women to be out alont what with Jack the Ripper having committed a couple of murders already. The woman tricks teh bobbies, telling them she's home when she really isn't, and goes back outside, at which point a shadow comes up, a woman screams, and Jack has committed another murder.

Cut to a slightly more fashionable part of London. An older couple, Helen and William Harley (Frances Bavier and Rhys Williams, respectively) are sitting around doing whatever it is that older couples do in the evening in Victorian London. This being Victorian London, she doesn't work, while he's suffered some "business reverses", so they've had to take the humiliating step of offering a room to let to a lodger. There's a knock on the door, and the person at the door at this late hour is Slade (Jack Palance). He's interested in renting the room. Furthermore, he claims to be a pathologist, so he could use the attic to do his experiments, and his work will have him in and out of the house at very odd hours. Obviously, however, the juxtaposition of these two scenes sets up the dramatic essence of our movie: is Slade actually Jack the Ripper, or is he an innocent man whom people are going to accuse of being Jack the Ripper?

Enter into the story the Harleys' niece Lily Bonner (Constance Smith). She's about to have her big breakthrough, although it's a bit of a plot hole in that she seems more suited to the music hall based on what we see of her performance, while royalty is supposed to show up to this big premiere. There's also another actress who's clearly fallen on hard times who shows up in Lily's dressing room to wish her luck and to tell Lily of her certitude that Lily won't suffer the same fate she has. Oh, her fate isn't fully written yet you can guess that the only reason for this déclassé actress to be in the dressing room is so that when she leaves, she can get bumped off by Jack the Ripper.

Along the way, Lily begins to fall in love with Slade; Helen suspects that he's Jack the Ripper; and William believs Slade is just a victim of suspicion. When Jack the Ripper is spotted supposedly carrying a black bag, we cut to a scene of Slade trying to destroy his bag. William then shows Helen that he too has a black back, and has hidden it lest anybody suspect him of being Jack the Ripper. There's also a Scotland Yard detective, Inspector Warwick (Byron Palmer) on the case and since he has to interview Lily after the death of that other actress, he meets her and falls in love with her despite that being thoroughly unprofessional.

Man in the Attic is territory that's quite familiar, even if you haven't seen the first two Lodger movies, from Alfred Hitchcock in 1927 and the Laird Cregar version from Fox in 1944. Still, Jack Palance is well-cast as the difficult to get along with Slade character; this was the part of Palance's career when he was playing the heavies. The rest of the cast is serviceable if not great. The end result is a movie that's satisfying enough, if not up to the standards of either of the first two versions of the movie called The Lodger. Apparently it's been released to DVD in the past but now our of print. Amazon Prime members, however, can apparently watch it on streaming video.

Edgar G. Ulmer schedule heads=up

TCM is running a programming salute to low-budget director Edgar Ulmer all night tonight. The only thing is, it looks as though there might be a scheduling conflict somewhere along the line depending upon whether you're looking at the prinatable monthly schedule downloaded at the beginning of the month, or the recently-updated daily schedule.

The problem stems from the fact that the first movie on the lineup, Her Sister's Secret at 8:00 PM, is an 82-minute movie which was originally scheduled in a 75-minute time slot. Apparently it's a TCM premiere and somehow they got the running time of the print they'd get wrong or something. The rest of the schedule, according to the monthly schedule, runs so:

8:00 PM Her Sister's Secret (82 min)
9:15 PM Documentary (77 min)
10:45 PM Carnegie Hall (136 min)
1:15 AM Murder Is My Beat (77 min)
2:45 AM Detour (68 min)
4:00 AM The Amazing Transparent Man (58 min)
5:00 AM Documentary repeat (77 min)
6:30 AM Sin Takes a Holiday (80 min)

That last film is part of a morning and afternoon of movies for birthday girl Constance Bennett. Now, as you can see, there's no good place for the schedule to catch up. If it weren't for Robert Osborne's introductions, I'd guess that the documentary would run a bit over, Carnegie Hall would start a couple of minutes late, and then the schedule would catch up at 1:15 AM. The fact that you have to add three or four mintues to those running times to include Osborne's comments complicates matters. The TCM on-line schedules and the box guide had the above lineup for quite some time, but when I checked the schedule this morning knowing I was going to write about the schedule conflict, things changed.

The daily schedule now has the entire night running 15 minutes later than the times given above, with the obvious exception of Her Sister's Secret. TCM's programming day begins around 6:00 AM or so, so the daily schedule ends with the documentary. The Wednesday daily schedule has Sin Takes a Holiday listed at 6:30. Since the repeat of the documentary wouldn't have Robert Osborne's comments, this implies that Sin Takes a Holiday is going to begin a few minutes late and this is where the schedule will catch up. This is probably the accurate schedule, but I'm not going to commit myself to anything.

Ah, but things get more interesting if you decide to look at the weekly schedule so you can look at the end of the prime-time lineup and tomorrow morning's schedule on one convenient page. This page is, I think, the one that's quite wrong. The Tuesday night schedule is the same as on the daily page, that is the schedule listed above with everything properly delated 15 minutes. But the Wednesday schedule is listed as having the short 100 Years at the Movies, which runs about nine minutes, starting at 6:00 AM, with Sin Takes a Holiday starting at 6:45 AM and the schedule catching up with the second movie of the day.

The upshot is that if you want to catch all the Ulmer films and Sin Takes a Holiday, be carfeul when you set your DVR.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Apparently I haven't blogged about Kings Row before

A search of the blog claims that I've never done a full-length post on Kings Row before. It's airing tonight at 10:00 PM on TCM as part of a night of "Bob's Picks", so now would be a good time to do that full-length post on the movie.

The movie is set late in the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th in the fictional small town of Kings Row, which really could substitute for any small town anywhere in the country, bet it Peyton Place, NH, or the small Mississippi town in Intruder in the Dust. The story is told more or less in three parts, with the first part introducing us to the various protagonists as children. There's Parris, who lives in a big house with his grandmother; Drake, who's going to receive a stipend from a trust fund when he grows up; Cassie, the doctor's daughter; and Randy, the daughter of a railroad worker who lives on the "wrong" side of the tracks. Not that it matters to the kids, who have always been less conscious of class than the adults. Randy likes Drake, while Parris and Cassie have a crush on each other. The latter relationship is much to the chagrin of Cassie's father, Dr. Tower (Claude Rains). Rumor has it that Cassie's mother is not right in the head, and that's had an effect on Cassie. Or, at least, the doctor thinks it has, so he eventually pulls Cassie out of school and the others only see her through upstairs windows.

Fast forward to when everybody is a young adult. Drake (now played by Ronald Reagan) is now living off that trust fund, with a fashionable carriage and chasing after the fashinable women. Randy (Ann Sheridan) still lives with her father in a ramshackle place on the other side of tracks. Cassie (Betty Field) still lives as a recluse with her father, while Parris has decided to study medicine to become a doctor, and is doing so with Dr. Tower. This gives Parris the chance to try to see Cassie, although Dr. Tower strictly forbids it. This, even though Cassie wants to see Parris. But is she going crazy, just like everybody rumored about her mother? Eventually, two tragedies happen. One befalls Drake when the bank manager at the bank where Drake's trust fund is administers runs off having embezzled all the money, leaving Drake penniless. The other befalls Parris and Cassie when there's a murder-suicide at the Tower residence involving the doctor and Cassie.

Parris gets an opportunity to study psychoanalysis in Vienna, presumably under a youngish Dr. Freud. Drake goes off to work at the rail yards with Randy's father, which allows Drake to discover that Randy was really the girl for him all along. They fall in love and have plans for the future, but those plans change when there's an accident at the railyard and Drake's legs get pinned. Dr. Gordon (Charles Coburn) is called in and he decides to operate -- by amputating both of Drake's legs! (This leads to the classic line, "Where's the rest of me?" when Drake discovers he's an amputee.) Randy writes to Parris in Vienna for help, since the amputation has left Drake bitter and feeling no hope for the future. Parris returns and finds that Drake's isn't the first amputation in town, and that perhaps Drake's amputation wasn't medically necessary. So what's going on here?

Kings Row is the sort of movie that makes you wonder what Douglas Sirk would have done with the material if he had been around in Hollywood and getting prestige movies to direct in the early 1940s. By the end of the movie, the material really does get to be that over the top, although not in a bad way. Cummings and Reagan both have roles that test the limits of their acting abilities. Both strive valiantly, but ultimately come up a bit short in spots. It's not quite a big deal with Cummings since his character goes away for much of the final third of the movie, while Reagan's difficulties in playing characters with a really dark part is particularly noticeable after the amputation when he's supposed to have no hope. Reagan was always more suited to play the equanimity he shows when he first takes the railroad job, the "I'm not going to let this get me down" attitude that allows his affable nature to shine through. When something finally dows get him down, in this case the amputation, Reagan looks like he's going through the motions.

Still, Kings Row is a very entertaining movie in part because of the material, and in part because it's Ronald Reagan trying to pull off this material. The TCM Shop is offering the movie on DVD as part of one of their four-film box sets, this one of Ronald Reagan movies. I don't know if it's available on a standalone DVD.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Do wasps have a spirit too?

A movie that's very interesting and worth a watch, albeit rather difficult to classify, is airing overnight tonight (or early tomorrow morning depending upon your point of view): The Spirit of the Beehive, at 4:30 AM.

The scene is Spain, around 1940, or just after the Spanish Civil War ended. Ana (Ana Torrens) is the younger sister in a standard-issue family that has two girls, a mother, and father. Dad spends his time philosophizing and keeping bees, writing about the way the bees go about their life, while Mom apparently had another man in her past before she met and married Dad, because she's got a bunch of old love letters that aren't from Dad. (Or at least, I [i]think[/i] that was supposed to be the plot point.) The two sisters are more or less typical for young girls the world over.

One day, the local cinema shows a very interesting movie: James Whale's 1931 masterpiece Frankenstein. The kids watch in awe of the monster, but one scene that particularly affects Ana is the one in which the monster accidentally drowns the little girl who gives him a flower, and then the girl's father carries her dead body through town before the townsfolk attack the castle where Dr. Frankenstein does his experiments. Ana's sister decides to play a bit of a prank on Ana, telling her that Frankenstein's monster actually lives nearby, and she'll show Ana where the monster lives. Big sister then takes Ana to an abandoned farmhouse a couple of miles outside of town, saying that this is where the monster lives, although it happens not to be there at the time (natuarlly, since there's no monster).

The little girl, having a vivid imagination like many young children do, starts fantasizing. She wants to see the monster, so she keeps going back to the farmhouse. Eventually, she does find something in the house, but it's not Frankenstein's monster. Instead, a fugitive (whether it's just a run-of-the-mill criminal or a fighter from the losing side of the Civil War isn't quite made clear) has holed up there. Eventually, though, the authorities capture the man, and Ana decides to run away from home.

In among all this are a bunch of scenes that seem like vignettes in one of those old Hollywood movies that tells a child's story through vignettes; think a movie like Our Vines Have Tender Grapes. But The Spirit of the Beehive is a different sort of movie entirely. The vignettes feel a bit disjointed and the plot at times seems almost baffling. Why is there so much emotional distance between the various family members? Why does big sister play dead? But the visuals are stunning, and anybody who had an active imagination as a child should be able to identify with Ana. If you haven't seen The Spirit of the Beehive before, you should see it at least once. And if you didn't get it the first time, you may want to watch it again.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Hot Saturday

One of the more fun and shocking pre-codes that showed up back in September as part of the Friday Spotlight of pre-Codes was Hot Saturday. It's on TCM again tomorrow morning at 10:30 AM, and is certainly worth a viewing if you haven't seen any of the previous recent TMC showings.

Nancy Carroll stars as Ruth Brock. She's a secretary at the local bank, and in some ways the belle of the bank. At least, all of the male tellers want her. Chief among these young men is Conny Billop (Edward Woods), who's trying to get her to be his date when everybody goes out to the local weekend spot out on the lake. They're planning to go as a group, evne though the town's older residents wonder whether the young folk enjoying themselves this way is such a good idea. That having been said, they wonder even more whether the guy on the other side of the lake is good. That guy is the notorious playboy Romer Sheffield (Cary Grant). He's got a place on the lake, and a girlfriend whom he just got rid of by writing a $10,000 check, which of course is a huge sum of money back in those days. Romer comes into the bank and invites the young people who work there to his place on Saturday afternoon before they all head off to the night spot.

So everybody goes to Romer's lakehouse which looks like it would be a fabulous place to have if you could afford it. And even though the parents' generation all think Romer is a terrible influence, the party the youngsters have at his place that afternoon is fairly innocent with the possible exception of the alcoholic drinks being served, which would have been problematic considering that this was still the Prohibition era. Meanwhile, Romer has shown Ruth a little more of his side of the lake, completely innocently of course. Eventually, they all decamp to the other side of the lake to enjoy the evening. Conny takes Ruth out on a boat and is a total jerk to her, trying to paw her when clearly she doesn't want it. So she runs away when the boat gets to shore again, and this being the opposite side of the lake, she makes her way to Romer's place. They talk fairly innocently for several hours before he takes her home.

When she gets back home, she finds that the family has a guest. That guest is old family friend Bill Fadden (Randolph Scott). He's a minerals engineer who went off to school and now several years later, he's returned on his way to the mountains where he's going to do some geological surveying for an oil company. Bill is unsurprisingly, like every other guy in town, smitten with Ruth, and her parents (William Collier and Jane Darwell) think that he'd be right for Ruth to marry. But that's not going to happen so quickly.

When Romer took Ruth home, a couple of the young people saw him drop her off. And they start gossiping. This being one of those small towns, gossip travels fast, and the lies about what Ruth and Romer are accused of having done spread quickly. Romer doesn't care since he lives outside of town and has the money to go off to the big city; in fact, he doesn't even know about any of the gossip. For Ruth, however, it's tragic, as she gets fired from the bank. Ah, but at least there's Bill, in love with her and willing to marry her immediately to solve all her problems, since his work is generally going to take him away from this crummy old town. So they get engaged and go to that night spot on the lake to celebrate with everybody. Conny, however, feeling himself a spurned lover, decides to gain revene on Ruth by inviting Romer to the little shindig....

The plot synopsis is relatively old-fashioned, in that it's hard to believe 80 years on that a town would immediatley gossip just because one of their young people returned home in the middle of the night. But what makes the movie is a couple of thoroughly pre-Code scenes. The first of these comes early in the movie, when Ruth returns home and wants to change into a new pair of undergarments that she had bought for when she goes out. She discobers that her kid sister Annie (Rose Coghlan) has taken them and is wearing them, and dammit, Ruth is going to get them back, even if she has to tear them off Annie's body! (The scene doesn't go [i]quite[/i] that far.) Later, there's a scene when Ruth goes running off to Bill after news of her "indiscretion" with Romer has made its way around town. Bill has already gone off to the mountains, and when Ruth gets there, it's pouring rain. She collapses, and Bill takes her into his tent to take care of her lest she get pneumonia or something. She wakes up with a blanket covering her and above her head, we get a pan shot of every last stitch of clothing she had on! Bill had strictily honorable intentions, of course, but still it's shocking. And then there's the shock at the end, which I won't give away. Let's just say that the ending of this movie is one that would never have made it to screen after 1934.

Cary Grant gets top billing in this, one of his earliest movies. But it's really Nancy Carroll's movie, and she's a lot of fun to watch. Grant is good, although watching a movie like this you can see why he ended up as the elegant gentleman type in his later movies. Randolph Scott is upright enough, but a bit boring, although that's probably because the script requires him to be more bland. Fans of old movies will recognize Grady Sutton as one of the bank workers. All in all, Hot Saturday is a really surprising pre-Code.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Shorts update for October 17, 2014

I don't think I've ever mentioned Cradle of a Nation before. This is a Traveltalks short, looking at some of the restored sites in Virginia that were important parts of the state's colonial history. It's airing at approximately 4:15 AM tomorrow morning, or overnight tonight depending upon your point of view or time zone. Or, to put it another way, it follows The Macomber Affair (2:45 AM, 89 min plus I presume an intro and outro from Alex Trebek). For some reason when I saw this on the schedule, I didn't immediately think it was a Traveltalks short, but something from Warner Bros. I recall seeing ome time back on TCM, a black-and-white short trying to be a Traveltalks short but falling short. The more I think about it, the more that black-and-white short I could swear I've seen might have looked at places that were a part of antebellum history in one of the southern states. Mississippi?

And then there's Grand Prix: Challenge of hte Champions, which you can catch tomorrow morning at 7:45 AM. This one is a featurette made for the 1966 James Garner movie Grand Prix. That movie deals with the Grand Prix of Monaco, so we get a lot of shots of Monaco itself, of the stars, and perhaps most interestingly the racecar drivers of the day actually competing in the Grand Prix of Monaco.. This is one of those shorts that I've come across once or twice in the past while I was just flipping through the channels or sitting down before the next movie, but don't think I've actually watched all the way through.