Sunday, May 28, 2017

Laughing Sinners

Another movie I watched off my DVR because it's available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive Collection is Laughing Sinners.

Joan Crawford plays Ivy Stevens, whom we see at the beginning of the movie rushing to catch a train back to one of the midwestern big cities. She's got a job as the lead act in a nightclub. She's also catching the train because her boyfriend Howard (Neil Hamilton), nicknamed "Howdy", is on it. Howdy is a travelling salesman along with several of his friends like Fred (Roscoe Karns) and Cass (Guy Kibbee).

Anyhow, poor Ivy doesn't know that back in his hometown, Howdy has gotten engaged to a wealthy man's daughter, and that Howdy is planning to let her know that he's dumping her for the (only seen in a newspaper photo) rich woman. This devastates Ivy, to the point that she doesn't want to dance any longer despite attempts from her friend Ruby (Marjorie Rambeau) to change her attitude.

Eventually, Ivy decides she's going to end it all by jumping off a bridge, and we see a scene reminiscent of the one at the beginning of Mildred Pierce. Only this time, there's no cop to bank his nightstick against the railing. Instead, there's Carl (Clark Gable), a Salvation Army officer. He sees what Ivy is about to do, and convinces her not to do it. He also tells Ivy that the Salvation Army folks are holding a day out in the park for the disadvantaged kids, and he'd love it if she came along to help. We wouldn't have much of a movie if she didn't help out, and she finds that she likes what the Salvation Army is doing, to the point that she joins herself and starts going from town to town with Carl and the rest of his merry men and women.

Now that Ivy is an itinerant worker of sorts, we know that sooner or later, she's going to wind up in the same town as Howdy. And wow is Howdy a creep when he sees Ivy in the Salvation Army band. He hounds her in her hotel room until she joins him, and he tries to put the moves on her, convinced that she'll start being his mistress again if only she gives him another chance! And surprisingly, she gives in. Can Carl save her soul again?

Laughing Sinners is an odd little movie. Who would ever have expected either Clark Gable or Joan Crawford to play Salvation Army workers? And Neil Hamilton as a creep? Crawford is clearly more in her element when she's the dancer, even though she can't dance to save her or anybody's soul. But she tries, bless her heart, and her dance numbers in any film are worth it for that. This one has her in backless overalls, with detachable legs for the second half that's surprisingly revealing.

The film itself lurches from place to place and the pacing is all wrong, going from tedious to overwrought in the blink of an eye. If it weren't a Clark Gable/Joan Crawford movie, there would really be no reason to watch it. It's too bad that the movie only seems to be available on a standalone DVD as the Warner Archive DVDs are overpriced. This is another one that needs to be part of one of those four-movie sets along with some other dancing Joan Crawford pre-Codes.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Pleasure Seekers

So I noticed that The Pleasure Seekers is available on DVD from the Fox MOD scheme, and decided to watch it off my DVR so I'd have something to do a full-length post on and clear up a bit of space on the DVR.

The movie starts off with Maggie (Carol Lynley) taking a taxi through the streets of Madrid to pick up her friend Susie (Pamela Tiffin) at the airport. Maggie is an American ex-pat working in Madrid for their bureau of America's "Continental News" orgainzation; Susie doesn't seem to have any plans for Spain other than to see all the art. Susie already has another roommate in the form of Fran (Ann-Margaret), who's studying flamenco dance but works doing nightclub-type shows at private parties..

Anyhow, when Susie arrives at the apartment where she's going to live with Maggie and Fran, she starts asking Maggie about her life, and specifically the "problems", which all seem to be man-related. In fact, Maggie thinks a lot about men and gives Susie advice on the topic, such as not to look directly as Spanish men lest they think they're interested in you and start looking back. Like, for example, the guy in the aparment across the way from theirs, which is a running joke throughout the movie (and actually handled quite well at the end).

So you can guess that a major theme in The Pleasure Seekers is going to be the men the three women meet. And you'd be right. Fran has the simplest relationship. While she's rushing to rehearsal, she nearly runs into a moped being driven by Andres (André Lawrence). Andres is a doctor in a small Spanish seaside town who wants to open up a clinic of his own there and is visiting Madrid to learn about how clinics are run. The only problem is, he seems to be more in love with his clinic than he ever could be with any woman. He doesn't want Fran to know his full identity, and at first doesn't want to see her again, even though he really does like her.

Slightly more complicated is Susie's relationship. She goes to the Prado one day and, while looking at the paintings, finds two men talking about her. One of those men turns out to be Emilio (Anthony Franciosa). He doesn't seem to be working right now, but that's in part because he comes from a family that's wealthy enough for him to be able to do the playboy thing while he apparently lives off his investments or plans to go into some family business or something. (His father is apparently dead; we do meet his mother who likes Susie.) Complicating things is the fact that Emilio was "last year's problem" for Maggie, and she keeps telling dumb Susie what a cad Emilio is. But Susie keeps pursuing the relationship.

And then there's Maggie and this year's problem. She works with a lazy reporter in Pete (Gardner McKay) who would be right for her, although neither of the two realize this in each other. Meanwhile, Maggie's boss Paul Barton (Brian Keith) feels as though he's trapped in a loveless marriage to Jane (Gene Tierney) and decides he's going to pursue Maggie for a mistress. It's a problem when you're going after your secretary, and a further problem that another of your employees is actually the right man for your secretary. But Maggie goes back and forth with Paul and Pete.

The romantic plots are reasonably well-handled, and make the movie competent if a bit old-fashioned. It's a remake of Three Coins in the Fountain and still seems to be going for that 50s innocence vibe. But it bears repeating that there's nothing in terms of plot that's actually bad about the movie. The other big plus about the movie is the cinematography. Madrid looks gorgeous and everybody is well-served by all the location shooting. If there is one big problem, it's the fact that Fran is a singer and dancer, and so given several musical numbers. These all drag the film down, slowing it to a screeching halt, when you just want them to get on with the story.

The Pleasure Seekers does succeed as entertainment, even if it is nothing special.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Uncle Tom's Cabin (1903)

Because I can't think of anything else to blog about today, and because I have to do a ridiculous amount of work before I actually get a three-day weekend (surprise surprise), here's the 1903 version of Uncle Tom's Cabin, in the public domain on Youtube:

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Thrusday Movie Picks #150: Time Travel (TV edition)



This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of "Thursday Movie Picks", the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This being the last Thursday of the month, it's time for another TV edition, and this month's TV theme is time travel. Eh, it's not a topic I'm that well versed on, but I've got three shows that kinda sorta qualify.

Rocky and His Friends (1959). I'm not quite up on all the various names of the shows that featured Rocky the Squirrel and Bullwinkle J. Moose, but one of the recurring skits was Sherman (the boy) and Mr. Peabody, who would get in the Wayback Machine and view various events in history through a rather humorous and not particularly accurate perspective. Movie fans will enjoy Edward Everett Horton's narration of "Fractured Fairy Tales". In fact, it's from the various Bullwinkle incarnations that I first learned about Horton, before realizing he had a distinguished career as a character actor.

A Piece of the Action (1968 episode of Star Trek). Kirk and company wind up on a planet that somehow learned all it knows from 1920s gangsters, led by Vic Tayback. Actually, this is a theme the Star Trek franchise used a lot. There was literal time travel in a few episodes, both back to earth and one other society that was about to go supernova; episodes that techincally weren't time travel included visits to a Roman-era planet (they couldn't figure out why Romans worshipped the sun) and a Nazi planet. And The Next Generation did an episode based on a planet that learned everything they knew about earth from one pulp novel.

Otherworld (1985). Technically, this is interdimensional travel, not time travel. A middle-class American family visits the Pyramids in Egypt and wind up going through a portal to another dimension and in the Otherworld find a place that has a bunch of provinces based on different periods, such as the 1950s but with the gender roles reversed. The poor family was always being chased as they tried to get to the portal back to the Earth they know and love. This one lasted all of eight episodes, which was a shame since it's an interesting premise and I liked it as a 12-year-old.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

TCM Guest Programmer May 2017, and a short

Tonight sees this month's TCM Guest Programmer: Humberto Martinez. You've probably not heard of him, because he's the winner of a TCM Backlot contest to select a Guest Programmer. I suppose it's nice that the Backlot members can have the chance to appear on TCM, but the Backlot is still overpriced. Unless they get some free wine from the Wine Club, I suppose.

Anyhow, Martinez will be presenting three movies; I don't know if this had to do with rights issues or scheduling or what since normal guest programmers generally get to show four movies. Martinez prefers musicals (not my genre), and has selected:

Pal Joey at 8:00 PM;
The Eddy Duchin Story at 10:15 PM; and
Bye Bye Birdie at 12:30 AM.

In between Pal Joey and The Eddy Duchin Story, there's a short of the actual Eddy Duchin, but that's not the one I was thinking about mentioning today. The one I'd like to mention comes just before prime time: The Forest Commandos, at about 7:38 PM. This one looks at the firefighters who fight forest fires in Ontario. It was originally filmed in Technicolor, although apparently accoring to IMDb the only surviving prints are in black-and-white, which is a shame, because I'd bet a subject like this would really benefit from color photography. There is a Youtube version, but it's watermarked and I don't know if it's been colorized or not; the uploaders don't mention.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Roger Moore, 1927-2017


Roger Moore (r.) with Maud Adams in Octopussy (1983)

I didn't think I'd be writing a second obituary post today, but Roger Moore, the British actor who played James Bond in seven films starting with Live and Let Die in 1973 through A View to a Kill in 1985, has died aged 89.

Of course, Moore is best remembered for playing Bond, as will be mentioned of Sean Connery (actually younger than Moore despite having begun playing Bond a decade earlier) whenever he finally dies. But Moore had a long acting career before Live and Let Die, probably most notably for the TV series The Saint in which Moore played Simon Templar.

Fans of old movies may remember The Last Time I Saw Paris. And who could ever forget Moore in the Spice Girls' vanity project Spice World:

Dina Merrill, 1923-2017

Actress Dina Merrill, who was born an heiress but wanted to act, has died at the age of 93. The daughter of Marjorie Post (of the Post cereal family) and E.F. Hutton (when he talked, people listened), Merrill had a lengthy career starting in the mid-1950s on both TV and in the movies.

Merrill's first role on the big screen was as one of Katharine Hepburn's co-workers in Desk Set. Merrill played quite a few supporting roles, as the other woman for Glenn Ford in The Courtship of Eddie's Father, or as the woman whose fur coat Elizabeth Taylor gets in Butterfield 8. In real life, Merrill was also married to Cliff Robertson for 20 years.

I was looking for a good photo to illustrate this post with, and the image search unfortunately had a lot of watermarked stock photos. One that wasn't was from I'll Take Sweden, which led to this look at Merrill's life where the photo no longer seems to be used. But the appreciation has a number of other good photos.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Now I'm curious

Over the weekend, somebody linked to this review of a DVD called Ozploitation Trailer Exploitation. Unfortunately, the review is three years old, and the DVD is now out of print.

I don't know how much I'd want to buy a DVD of nothing but trailers. But I wouldn't mind seeing some of the titles mentioned in the review. The reviewer talks about "'respectable' Oz features", and names a couple of titles that showed up a few years back when TCM did its spotlight on the Australian New Wave hosted by Jacki Weaver.

A few of the titles have shown up in places like TCM Underground, or the old IFC back when they actually showed independent film and didn't have any commercials, such as The Cars that Ate Paris and, I think The Last Wave. I never got around to watching either of those, however.

And then there's the one title that I've wanted to see for a long time, The Man from Hong Kong. I have no idea if it's any good, but it spawned a big hit, "Sky High", from the group Jigsaw. And ever since I learned that ages ago, I'd been curious to see the movie. There are several movies like that. I was pleased finally to be able to see The Happening (which gave us that great Supremes song); I've never seen Unchained (which gave us the melody later covered by the Righteous Brothers and used in Ghost. I didn't know until after seeing the movies that Percy Faith's A Summer Place theme and Roger Williams' version of Autumn Leaves were not the originals.

As for The Man from Hong Kong, it does seem to have gotten a DVD release at one point, but like the collection of trailers that spawned this whole post, it seems to be out of print.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Gymkata

So I was looking for something available on DVD to watch off my DVR. Today, that selection is Gymkata.

The opening shots are an intercut between a guy doing a gymnastics routine at a tournament, and another guy in some third world country trying to escape on foot from a bunch of guys pursuing him on horseback. The gymnast is a success; the other guy gets shot by an arrow, falling to his death.

Cut back to the gymnastics tournament. As our gymnast, Jonathan Cabot (Kurt Thomas), is leaving, he's taken aside by a man who turns out to be a federal agent. That agent informs Jonathan that his father was killed. It turns out that his father was that guy we saw in the opening sequence. Dad was not a fugitive so much as taking part in a high-stakes game that is now being used for geopolitical purposes.

It seems that in the far-off country of Parmistan, they have a weird game. (I don't think it's referred to as "Gymkata", only as "the game".) Apparently condemned criminals get a chance at parole, while foreigners get a chance to have one wish granted to them, if only they can win the game. And that game involves a cross-country pursuit in the style of The Most Dangerous Game, with some of the Khan's men chasing after the competitors. And nobody's won this game in like 900 years. But various countries have started training their best athletes to take part, because Parmistan just happens to be the perfect location for a missile base that both the Americans and "the other side" (not mentioned!) want.

Anyhow, Jonathan's father was killed playing that game, and now the government wants Jonathan to train for it, since he's already a world-class athlete and would have the added motivation of avenging his father's death. Plus, there's a Parmistani princess Rubali (Tetchie Agbayani) to whom Jonathan is immediately attracted, although she is one tough woman. Anyhow, we get a bunch of training before we get to Parmistan.

There's also a meet-up with another agent in a third country somewhere on the Caspian (a fictitious city in a fictitious country), and that poses all sorts of danger for Jonathan even before he can get to Parmistan. Indeed, Rubali is kidnapped, and Jonathan vows to rescue her before heading off to Parmistan. He does this despite taking on about a dozen expert terrorists. You get where this movie is going from the fact that Jonathan keeps facing ridiculously long odds and winning.

Anyhow, Jonathan finally gets to Parmistan, where he finds out that Rubali has been betrothed by her father the Khan (Buck Kartalian) to the Khan's closest advisor Zamir (Richard Norton). And Zamir, it turns out, is actually against the Khan, but the Khan is too damn naïve to understand this. Zamir is intending to break all of the rules of the game to make certain that Jonathan does not in fact win.

It's all utterly ridiculous. While the movie does have a plot, that plot is mostly one trope after another, hanging as a pretext for a series of set pieces that allow Kurt Thomas to use his gymnastics moves. One fight has him improvising a high bar in a narrow alley, while in another fight, there's a prop that just happens to have two handles on the top, enabling Thomas to use it as a pommel horse. While the fight scenes aren't very good, they're good for a laugh. And why does Rubali have a catsuit on under her dress?

But there's also the direction, which at times equally ridiculous. For no good reason, the director decided to have a lot of sections of the fight scenes where the action suddenly switches from normal speed to slow motion and then back to regular speed. And I don't think any direction could have helped Kurt Thomas who isn't much of an actor.

To be fair, it's all so bad that it's good. Go into this expecting a movie that's not going to be any good, and you'll have a blast laughing at how ludicrous it all is. And there's some nice location shooting. This was done as a co-production with a Yugoslav film company back in the mid-1980s when Yugoslavia was the "liberal" Communist country -- remember, they didn't join the boycott of the Los Angeles Olympics, and they gave us the Yugo car. Some of the old towns look like they'd be interesting places to visit, assuming it's not all done on a backlot which I don't think they had.

The TCM Shop has it available at a very low price. If you're interested in really bad movies, you might want to take a flyer on it.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Bedazzled (1967)

Bedazzled is going to be on FXM Retro tomorrow at 4:00 AM and 11:20 AM. It doesn't seem to be available on DVD, so you're going to have to catch the rare FXM showing.

Dudley Moore plays Stanley Moon, who works as a cook at the Wimpy Bar, which isn't a bar but the sort of urban diner people went into in vintage movies to get cheap meals. Stanley flips burgers for waitress Margaret (Eleanor Bron) to serve to the patrons. Secretly, Stanley is in love with Margaret, but she has no idea of any of this, as Stanley is too timid to approach Margaret and tell her how he really feels about her. As a result, Stanley feels trapped in a dead-end life.

Feeling that his life is at that dead end, Stanley decides that the only thing for him to do is commit suicide. So he sets up a noose, ties the other end around a water pipe, and prepares to jump off a stool to his death. Except that this succeeds only in breaking the water pipe, spilling water into his flat and making his life even more of a mess, no pun intended.

Into all of this walks George Spiggott (Peter Cook). George seems to know a surprising amount about Stanley and his ancestry, more than Stanley knows about himself. The reason for that is George is in fact the Devil, and it's his job to know about people and use that information in an attempt to win people's souls. To that end, George offers Stanley seven wishes, after which George will be in eternal possession of Stanley's soul.

Stanley eventually decides to take George up on that offer. But of course, there's a catch, and here I don't mean the catch about George getting possession of Stanley's soul at the end of all this. Instead, every time Stanley makes a wish, George makes it come true. At least, only as far as Stanley specified things. Those parts of the wish Stanley failed to specify, well, George is going to interpret those in a way that makes Stanley dissatisfied. And when Stanley wants out of his wishes, he finds that George is constantly engaging in all sorts of mischief on the poor people of Earth.

Along the way, Stanley talks a lot with George on why anybody would want to become the devil if it's not as glamorous a life as you'd think, and why he acts the way he does, and George has some interesting -- and at times sensible answers. There are points that could actually be thought-provoking, although the movie is meant as a fairly light comedy in spite of the subject matter.


Peter Cook (r.) having a bit of fun with Dudley Moore explaining why he grew tired with God

In thinking about it more, I think I'd consider Bedazzled to be almost an alternate-universe version of Oh, God!. Where you have a charming George Burns wanting John Denver to let people know that, yes, God is still here; in Bedazzled you have a charming Peter Cook wanting to let at least one person know that yes, the Devil is still here. (The wishes seem detached from reality, and there's no indication that the other characters know what's going on in those wishes.) And indeed, both Cook and Moore are charming in their roles, to the point that you feel sympathetic for both of them even though Moore is on the verge of losing his soul. There are, however, a few points at which the movie feels it's running on a bit much. That criticism aside, Bedazzled is well worth a watch.

Note that Bedazzled was remade in 2000 and updated to have the Devil be played by a woman (Elizabeth Hurley), which I think not having seen the movie that it would add some unwanted sexual tension to the movie. Both versions did get a DVD release somewhere, which is something to watch out for if you're looking for an expensive used copy of the Cook/Moore version. The older one is, I think, out of print everywhere; the remake is not listed at the TCM Shop but seems available on streaming video for Amazon Prime members who can do the streaming thing.