Sunday, July 24, 2016

Fun with vintage TV

My dad and I eat dinner relatively early, in part because he's a senior citizen and it's what seniors do, and in part because I get up at 4:30 every morning. Anyhow, on the weekends we eat at a time when digital subchannel MeTV is running The Rifleman on Saturdays and The Love Boat Sundays. The Rifleman only has the cast members (other than Chuck Connors) in the closing credits, so I have fun trying to figure out whether anybody among the guest stars was either famous before, or would go on to become famous. Last night, I was watching, and one of the ranchhands looked surprisingly like a young James Coburn, only without the graying hair. He sounded even more like Coburn, and sure enough, it was, only in the closing credits he was listed as Jim Coburn. IMDb says he actually appeared a second time. That particular episode also has Ted de Corsia among the guests, but I didn't recognize him.

The Love Boat has the guest stars right at the top, usually (I think the first season is an exception) shown with a bit of video the way a lot of mid-30s Warner Bros. movies showed the cast. That having been said, we eat just late enough that I don't turn the TV on in time for the opening credits. The Love Boat had a much higher number of famous people show up; presumably they liked the idea of getting to do some acting again and get a free cruise to boot. Some people are unmistakeable, such as the time Ernest Borgning and Shelley Winters played a bickering couple. But then there are times where I have trouble recognizing people. There was an episode in which Carol Channing was unmistakeable, since she sounded and looked like she was 70 regardless of what her real age was. Van Johnson was easy to spot, too. But then an actress did an entrance dancing and while I felt I should recognize this actress, I couldn't. It turned out to be Ann Miller:



Amazingly, I also failed to recognize Ethel Merman, in what turned out to be her final performance.

Pioneers of Black Cinema

I should have posted this morning, but tonight and next Sunday night, TCM is running a two-part series on some of the pioneers of race movies. Oscar Micheaux gets much of the time tonight, since he's generally thought of as one of the key figures of the movement. I've seen a couple of his movies, but of the ones airing tonight the only one I've seen is Within Our Gates, airing overnight at 12:30 AM as this week's Silent Sunday Nights feature.

There's also a block of short movies tonight, as well as a Senegalese movie in the TCM Imports block. But since I haven't seen any of them, I can't really can't comment on them.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Deathtrap

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to watch Deathtrap off of my DVR. It turns out that you can get it on Blu-Ray from the TCM Shop, so I'm not opposed to doing a fuller-length post on it. Doing an actual full-length post, however, may be a bit of a problem, as you shall soon see.

Michael Caine plays Sidney Bruhl, a playwright living out on Long Island with his wife Myra (Dyan Cannon), who has a heart condition. As the film opens, Sidney is on Brodaway at the premiere of his new play, while Myra is at home taking her pills waiting for the reviews. Those reviews are unfortunately negative. Where Sidney used to be the big hit of Broadway writers, he's become a dud with his past several plays, this one apparently being the worst of them all.

Having a string of failures is obviously a problem, but there's another indignity coming. At the premiere of his play, he was sent by courier a copy of a play-in-progress called Deathtrap, by Clifford Anderson (Christopher Reeve), who had been a student of Sidney's at a seminar Sidney did the previous year. Clifford would like an honest review of it, if that wouldn't be too much trouble. Sidney brings Deathtrap home with him, reads it, and discovers... this is the perfect two-act play. It'll be a surefire hit on Broadway and make big money for its playwright.

So at this point Sidney has an outlandish idea. Nobody else but him, Clifford, and Myra know that Clifford is writing this play; Clifford doesn't have any family and not much in the way of friends around since he's cloistered himself away writing Deathtrap, and so on. So it would be just too perfect if Sidney invited Clifford over for the review, then killed Clifford and took credit for the play himself. Since this is a movie and the plan is such utter nonsense, you know that Sidney is going to put it into action.

Now, all of this happenns in the first few reels, and by the time Sidney reveals the truth of what he's going to do to Clifford, the movie is maybe a half-hour into its two-hour running time. And that's why it's tough to do a real full-length post on the movie. You know that there's a lot more that's going to happen, but for a reviewer to suggest what any of that something is would be to give away a lot of the plot. And Deathtrap the movie is not one of those where you want to know too much about what happens going into it.

That having been said, the movie is pretty good. Michael Caine goes a bit over the top, I think, but then this is based on a stage play and you get the impression that Caine is almost playing to the back rows here. It's material that probably works better on a stage than on the screen. Christopher Reeve is excellent; he's not just Superman when it comes to being an actor. Dyan Cannon isn't bad, although she here is the latest in a long line of Hollywood actresses who look a bit miscast as seriously ill women. The one cast member I found irritating is Irene Worth, who plays a psychic, who shows up in a couple of scenes to be just too convenient. I also had a problem with the ultimate ending wrapping up all the loose ends, which seemed even less plausible than the rest of the movie.

Any quibbles aside, Deathtrap is well worth watching.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Robert Morley, for no particular reason

I had reason to be looking up Robert Morley yesterday evening. Apparently in How to Marry a Millionaire Lauren Bacall has a line about older men marrying younger women, and mentions "what's-his-name from The African Queen". Obviously it's a joke about her real-life husband Humphrey Bogart, who was two dozen years her senior. My first thought, however, was to turn the joke on its head and ask about a different actor from the movie.

Anyhow, a quick search of Morley brought up the fact that the trailer for The African Queen is on Youtube. Stay away from the comments, however.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Happy 90th birthday, Norman Jewison!

Today marks the 90th birthday of director/producer Norman Jewison, who directed about two dozen movies from the 1960s through the 1990s. His career actually started in television, but he was fortunate enough to get to do a couple of Doris Day comedies early in his film career: The Thrill of It All with James Garner (pretty good; surprisingly I've never done a full-length post on this one) and the recently-blogged about Send Me No Flowers with Rock Hudson, which as I said I didn't particularly care for.

Jewsion had a pretty broad career, doing those comedies (as well as Moonstruck in the 1980s); musicals like Fiddler on the Roofand serious dramas like In the Heat of the Night. These three movies all earned Jewison Oscar nominations for Best Director, although he didn't wan any of them. He was also nominated four times as a producer in the Best Picture category, since it's the producers who get the Oscar nowadays for the Best Picture.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Garry Marshall, 1934-2016

Producer/director Garry Marshall had died at the age of 81.

I have to admit, my first thought of Marshall when I see his name is of the TV show Happy Days, since I always saw his name in the credits as the show's producer. (He also created it, and the spinoffs from the show.) It turns out, though, that he directed several movies worth mention.

Some women may like Beaches; most normal people would probably retch at the mere mention of the movie. But Garry Marshall directed it. There's also Pretty Woman, which might be an even more remembered movie. There's also the Kurt Russell/Goldie Hawn film Overboard.

Garry is the brother of actress-turned-director Penny Marshall, who was one of the stars of his show Laverne and Shirley, and who directed such movies as Jumpin' Jack Flash and Awakenings among others.

Soviet Policeman Caught in Icelandic Net

So, the headline above showed up in one of the feeds in my RSS reader. Why am I posting about it here? Never mind that the headline itself seems interesting, the one-paragraph teaser that accompanies the RSS article continues as follows"

The mystery reels fished up by lobster fishermen in Faxaflói bay earlier this month are from a Soviet film from 1968.

OK, now it makes more sense. There was apparently an article a week ago that somehow I missed in the RSS reader titled Fishermen Find Mystery Movie. To the Icelanders, of course, it would be a pretty big movie, since it's a couple of reels of an obviously foreign-language movie. Even if 10 minutes of some random 30s B movie showed up, it would throw most Americans for a loop, and I think even a lot of us who are faithful TCM viewers would have to stop and think for a bit. This is even more so for production stills. Even when it's easy to identify the actors, knowing which movie it's from is a more difficult proposition.

Anyhow, the folk's at Iceland's film archive mentioned this find on their social media, and sure enough, somebody was able to figure out what it was. Specifically, it's a 1968 Soviet movie about a village police officer. If you read the article, you'll find out a bit more about the story, as well as a wonderful photo of the film laid out to dry. How it survived decades in the ocean is beyond me.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A few briefs for July 19-20, 2016

So it was Ben Mankiewicz sitting down with Lou Gossett Jr. last night to handle the Guest Programmer duties. Can't say I'm surprised.

I think I missed the Traveltalks short on Oregon that was airing this week; I saw it on the TCM weekly schedule but I think it was on yesterday. I notice, however, that Season in Tyrol is airing again, at 1:40 PM today, or following The Silent Stranger (12:00 PM, 90 min).

Among TCM's salute to westerns is The First Traveling Saleslady at 5:00 AM tomorrow. It's one I've mentioned briefly, and haven't seen since I mentioned it three years ago. Has it really been that long.

Following that, tomorrow morning and afternoon sees a whole bunch of Glenn Ford westerns.

Monday, July 18, 2016

TCM Guest Programmer July 2016: Lou Gossett, Jr.

Tonight sees another Guest Programmer on TCM. This month it's Lou Gossett, Jr, who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in An Officer and a Gentleman. Presumably, this means he's sitting down with Robert Osborne, or sat down with him months ago, to discuss the four movies he selected. (Posters to the TCM boards claim this was postponed from May, implying the wraparounds were not taped before Robert Osborne's absence from presenting duties.)

Anyhow, Gossett has selected four movies, and those are:

The Blackboard Jungle at 8:00 PM, in which teacher Glenn Ford has to deal with 50s-era punks;
Touch of Evil at 9:45 PM, with Charlton Heston playing a Mexican cop involved in a cross-border murder investigation;
Lifeboat at 11:45 PM, Alfred Hitchcock's look at people shipwrecked by a Nazi U-boat who wind up in a lifeboat with the U-boat commander; and
Night of the Hunter at 1:30 AM, in which Robert Mitchum goes after two stepkids who know the location of $20,000 their biological father hid.

I'll be interested to see the first wrapround at least.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Send Me No Flowers

I recently had the chance to watch Send Me No Flowers off of my DVR. It's available on a pretty low-cost DVD if you want to watch it yourself, so I have no qualms about doing a full-length post even though I don't think it's coming up on TV any time soon.

Rock Hudson plays George Kimball, happily married to Judy (Doris Day), and living the upper-middle-class suburban life of the early 1960s: they live in a big house; he commutes to work; she's a housewife and plays at the bridge club and country club, all the while gossiping with the other women about what's going on in their neighborhood. George, for his part, is a hypochondriac, as we see at the beginning since he takes a whole bunch of pills and worries about his health.

This idyllic life is about to come to a screeching halt. George, once again fearing that he's sick, decides to go see his doctor, Dr. Morrissey (Edward Andrews). Morrissey examines George and tells George that he's just fine. George, while he's putting his clothes back on after the examination, overhears Morrissey talking with his secretary. George hears Morrissey saying that a patient has a bad ticker and is therefore terminally ill, only having months to live. This still being the 1960s, however, it's best not to tell the patient. (See The Firemen's Ball.) George, unsurprisingly, assumes that what he's overheard is about him.

The first thing he does it tell his best friend and next-door neighbor Arnold (Tony Randall) that he's going to die. And then he has to come up with a plan for putting his affairs in order. Most importantly, this means making sure that Judy is going to be OK after he dies. There's not just the matter of finances -- after all, how is a housewife going to keep up the payments on that big house -- but the idea that she's going to need a new husband. But must importantly, George doesn't want Judy to know that he is, in fact, dying.

Arnold reacts to all of this by turning to the bottle; Judy doesn't get why her husband is acting like even more of a headcase than before. When Judy's old college flame Bert (Clint Walker) shows up at the country club and George seems more than happy for her to spend time with him, she doesn't get it. Until she sees George talking with another woman from the neighborhood who's getting a divorce. Obviously, George has been cheating on her! So now George has to tell her the truth about the fact that he's dying, only of course Judy finds out that it's not the truth.

All of this is supposed to be a comedy, mind you. But to be honest, I found all of it much too wacky. Rock Hudson is just too irritating as the hypochondriac; I wanted Judy or Arnold to smack the crap out of him. Doris Day is too perky; also, the script calls her to stop on a dime and do a 180 in her feelings toward her husband on multiple occasions. Those sudden changes of emotion are implausible and make Judy come across as almost mentally unstable. Tony Randall overplays the drunk and makes his character unappealing.

The one thing I did enjoy about Send Me No Flowers was the cinematography; I've always been a sucker for the set design that's actually of that time period (as opposed to latter-day stuff trying to be retro, which always looks phony). One thing I particularly liked were the brick-red appliances in Arnold's kitchen, the refrigerator and the oven built into the wall. But that's pretty thin gruel for actually watching a whole movie like this.

Still, there are a lot of people who really seem to like Send Me No Flowers. So I think this is definitely one where you'll want to watch and judge for yourself.