Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Goodbye the children

TCM's spotlight for tonight is on French director Louis Malle, specifically several of the movies he made in his native France. One that I haven't receommended before is Au revoir, les enfants, at 10:00 PM.

The scene is France in 1944, which of course means the Nazi occupation. Julien (Gaspard Manesse) is a boy who atends a Catholic boarding school. One might think the Nazis would want to close down all the private schools so that they could have complete control over the education system, but this was an occupied country in the midst of war, which means the Nazis probably had bigger things on their mind. Julien and his classmates are about as happy as can be expected, what with having to go to a Catholic school and with all the difficulties of a war and occupation going on. Kids cope somehow.

One day, a new student shows up at the school. Jean Bonnet (Raphael Fejto) is put in Julien's room to share, and unsurprisingly the two boys strike up a friendship. However, Jean has a tendency to act rather guarded, and it eventually becomes clear that he's hiding something. Considering the Nazis' stated policies, it's not that difficult to figure out what it is that Jean is hiding. Julien eventually figures it out, and so we come to know that as with the parish priest in Roberto Rossellini's Rome, Open City, the clergy is resisting the Nazis in the best way they know how. Since they had a boarding school to run, they couldn't be quite so actively resistant, instead using the school to hide Jews who would otherwise be sent to the concentration camps.

For the boys, life goes on, with some situatoins posing difficulties for them, such as a time when they get lost in the woods. Not wanting to come up against curfew, they flag down a car to take them back to school, and the car just happens to be one with Nazi soldiers. Needless to say, Jean the Jew is rather nervous about this. Meanwhile, back among the adults, events are conspiring to make life even more difficult for the students. The priests discover that their janitor has been stealing bread to sell on the black market; to be fair, the janitor has to make a living too. But they fire him, and that gives the janitor leverage to cause problems at the school. One of the moral panics of the current day is bullying, but a movie like this shows that you can use the state as the biggest bully of them all to get back at somebody you don't like.

Au revoir, les enfants is a movie Louis Malle based on his own experiences growing up. The movie has a very personal feel to it, in the way many of the events are less cinematic and more naturalistic than we might expect from Hollywood, or anybody doing a straight historical drama about some period long before they were born. It's an intimacy that works much to the movie's benefit. There's nothing spectacular, just a series of events that leave you with more of an impression than you'd otherwise think.

Au revoir, les enfants is available on DVD, but from the Criterion Collection, which means it's a bit pricey.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Winchester '73 remake

I never realized that the classic James Stewart western Winchester '73 had been remade as a TV movie. But it turns out that precisely this happened, in 1967. I haven't seen the TV movie, so I can't really judge it. But for those of you who have the premium channels, you've got a chance to catch it on Encore Westerns twice in the next 24 hours, this afternoon at 12:20 PM and then overnight at 12:30 AM.

The cast looks interesting enough. Tom Tryon, whom you might recall as the groom in I Married a Monster From Outer Space, takes on the James Stewart role, of the man who wins the gun, only to have it stolen. Taking the gun from him is his cousin, played by John Saxon, who had a long career although never really became a star. One of his more interesting roles is as the student who harasses Esther Williams in the decidedly non-swim movie The Unguarded Hour. Interestingly, he and Tryon had both appeared in The Cardinal a few years earlier. Dan Duryea, who had appeared in the original, plays Saxon's father. Paul Fix, whom you might have seen in The Rifleman if you watch the nostalgia TV channels, shows up as Tryon's father; Joan Blondell shows up too.

It's also in color, but being a TV movie, it's not in widescreen.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Speak of the Devil

Earlier today I mentioned that I was happy I hadn't had any obituaries to report on. Wouldn't you know, but when I look on Wikipedia's list of notable deaths just a few hours later, there are two people who each deserve mention:

Miroslav Ondříček was 80. Ondříček was a cinematographer who started out working in the 1960s on films directed by Miloš Forman. Among those early movies were Loves of a Blonde and The Firemen's Ball. Ondříček would go on to work with Forman quite a few times after Forman left for the west, with the most notable example being Amadeus; without Forman he handled the camera for Mike Nichols on Silkwood.

Gene Saks also died yesterday, at the age of 93. Saks was much more a stage director than a movie director, but he had a couple of notable film credits, notably directing the work of playwright Neil Simon. Saks did Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, and Brighton Beach Memoirs on the big screen when it comes to Simon's works. Away from Simon, Saks directed the sparkling comedy Cactus Flower.

Another round of thoughts about DVDs

With all that's been going on here lately, I haven't been able to do many full-length posts about new movies. I haven't been helped by the fact that there haven't been too many movies on recently that I've been interested in doing a full-length post on and have not already done so. So I figured that I would finally get around today to doing a post on You Were Never Lovelier, a pleasant if predictable movie starring Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth. However, I was quite surprised to see that it's out of print on DVD. I really don't like recommending movies that have gone out of print if they're not going to be on TV any time soon for you to watch.

And then there are movies like The Manitou that showed up on TCM a couple of days ago. This is one that's definitely worth a watch, if only because the plot is so bizarre and it's got an all-star cast. It too is out of print, but it's a movie that I'm not certain I'd want to blog about until it was about to sho up on TV again. There are a lot of movies out there -- the tentpoles like Casablanca or stuff like Fred Astaire or Alfred Hitchcock movies where you can probably assume that the movie is good enough that you're going to enjoy it if you plonk down $15 or $20 for a DVD even if you haven't seen it. Well, some of the films might not be in your genre, but that too is something that's easy enough to spot ahead of time. Something like The Manitou, however, is one of those movies that is enjoyably bad. There's a lot about it that's just off, and unintentionally laugh-inducing, which makes it fun but not necessarily to everybody's taste. A movie like that is something I'd rather watch first before spending the money on the DVD.

There are also the B movies. Warner Bros. has done a pretty good job of at least making the movies available courtesy of the Warner Archive, but I know there are a lot of people who don't like the idea of the MOD paradigm. It means the movies probably aren't going to get another release, and also means that the DVDs are pricey. I think I've mentioned before that many of these B movies would probably never see the light of day any other way, or possibly only in some overpriced box set. But such B movies are also definitely a genre that I would want to see first before deciding whether to buy them on DVD at normal prices.

On the bright side, nobody famous enough has died that I need to do a bigger post on, and it's beginning to look like activity is finally going to pick up this week.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Perhaps I should give Cat Ballou a second chance

TCM is running a night of movies tonight in which one actor plays two roles, with one of the movies being Cat Ballou at 10:00 PM. I thought I hadn't done a full-length post on the film, and to some extent that's true. The post I've linked to above is really more of a half-length post. Still, the things I was thinking about writing about Cat Ballou this morning more or less show up in the post.

Probably the biggest problem I have with the movie is Stubby Kaye, as his musical interludes with Nat King Cole are supposed to be funny but fall flat, and wind up being almost irritating, or at least intrusive. I shouldn't necessarily have a problem with the comedy in the rest of the movie, as I've given a fairly positive review to a comic western like Support Your Local Sheriff before. There's also films like Alias Jesse James, which isn't bad, although it is a Bob Hope vehicle, which might be problematic for some who find Hope's later movies an acquired taste.

So Cat Ballou may be one of htose movies that deserves a second chance. If only it could have been released without the Stubby Kaye sequences. That having been said, there are probably going to be a lot of you readers who will like the movie, even with the Kaye scenes.

Friday, March 27, 2015

I Accuse! on again

I've briefly mentioned the film I Accuse! before, in conjuntion with its star Jose Ferrer, and with its screenwriter Gore Vidal. It's airing again tomorrow afternoon at 12:15 PM on TCM if you haven't seen it any of the other times I've mentioned it.

Those who know history will recognize the title as the English translation of Émile Zola's open letter "J'accuse!" which was published in response to the injustice of the case of Alfred Dreyfus. Dreyfus, played here by Jose Ferrer, was a man of Jewish and German descent who served as a colonel in the French army in the early 1890s. However, it transpired that somebody was passing secrets, and Dryfus was accused and convicted, for which he was sent ot the infamous prison on Devil's Island, a location that's served for quite a few other films such as Papillon. In fact, the real traitor was Major Esterhazy (Anton Walbrook in this movie).

Of course, this is stuff most people will know. It's also been done in the movies quite a bit, with probably the most famous film being The Life of Émile Zola. The biggest difference in terms of story between the two movies is that the Zola biopic focusses on his whole life, although the Dreyfus affair was one of the most important bits. But Zola was already a famous writer before Dreyfus came on the scene. I Accuse! looks specifically on Dreyfus and his family; his wife Lucie is played by Swedish actress Viveca Lindfors. Both movies are good, and would make a worthy double feature.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

TCM's prime time lineup: March 26, 2015

TCM's schedule lists tonight's lineup as "More Hammer Noir". I have to admit that I haven't seen any of the features in tonight's lineup, but one or another of them sounds as thought there could be something interesting. I'm usualy mildly intrigued when I see any of these non-presitge British movies on the lineup. I watched Obsession when it was on a few weeks back, which was a lot of fun, and think I mentioned THe Secret Partner briefly; that one aired at the end of January. Made between those two was stuff like Twist of Fate. There are several other movies from the 50s from Britian that would broadly fit the noir/thriller/crime-tinged drama genres, but I can't remember the names of all of them.

There are also quite a few shorts in among the features tonight. Life in the Andes, for example, at 12:20 AM, sees James Fitzpatrick going to Peru in 1952, which mildly surprised me, because even though I've looked at Fitzpatrick's page on IMDb quite a few times, I thought that by the end of his time at MGM making those Traveltalks shorts he was reduced to making a bucnh about Europe. Perhaps equally interesting is Operation Dirty Dozen, a making-of about the 1967 film, at 1:49 AM. This one shows Lee Marvin doing his thing around London in his off time, and those scenes make the featurette worth watching. At 3:38 AM, there's a featureet on Lady Sings the Blues. Any time I see one of these featurettes pop up I wonder if the movie it's promoting is going to be on TCM soon, which in the case of Lady Sings the Blues would be a treat since it shows up so rarely. But, the TCM database seems to imply that it's not going to be on through June.

Tomorrow morning sees a whole bunch of movies with the word Spring in the title, including the lousy early musical Spring Is Here at 7:30 AM.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

When will FXM Retro disappear

I've commented quite a few times on the morning to 3PM ET programming block that's been around since the old Fox Movie Channel rebranded itself as FXM in the beginning of 2012. At first the FMC part kept its name, although several months back it was changed to FXM Retro. At the time of the change I wrote that I didn't expect the programming block to last six months, and am sonetimes surprised that it's still going. But there are often signs that make me ask whether whoever at Fox is in charge of the cable channels is planning finally to do away with that programming block.

Yesterday at 1:00 PM, I saw that the channel was running Slumdog Millionaire, which I think got another airing to start today's programming block. I didn't stay to see whether it had any commercial interruptions, and I also have to admit that I wasn't paying attention to see whether the bottom right of hte screen had the FXM Retro bug.

And then tomorrow at 3:00 AM and I think again at 1:00 PM. It's a 115-minute movie, so it should just fit into a two-hour block if there aren't any commercials; if they do add commercials it would require quite a bit of cutting. Either way, the movie is less than five years old. While it's possible for something that recent to be classic, I don't know if you could really call it "retro". At least something like Hitchcock, which has been showing up in the prime time block, would fit "retro".

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Alan Arkin night

Robert Osborne, sadly, is going to be missing this year's TCM Film Festival. That's a big shame, since he was going to be interviewing somebody there -- well, that somebody being Sophia Loren.

As for last yeat, the interviewee was Alan Arkin, and TCM is finally getting around to showing that interview this evening at 8:00 PM. As is usually the case with original premieres, there's going to be a second airing for the benefit of viewers on the west coast. This follows the normal practice of including one feature film (in this case The In-Laws) at 9:00 PM, with the repeat airing of the interview following at 11:00 PM.

Other movies airing in tonight's prime time lineup include:

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter at midnight, about a deaf-mute in a southern town and the way his appearance changes the lives of everybody who comes into his life;
Wait Until Dark at 2:15 AM, starring Audrey Hepburn as the best-dressed blind woman around who winds up in possession of a doll stuffed with heroin; and
Hearts of the Weat at 4:15 AM, with Arkin as a producer/director of B-grade westerns in the 1930s who makes a starr out of Jeff Bridges.

Monday, March 23, 2015

TCM's Albert Maysles tribute

I mentioned that documentary film director Albert Maysles died earlier this month. TCM will be running a tribute to Maysles with four of the films that he and his brother David made.

First, at 8:00 PM, is Grey Gardens;
At 10:00 PM you can catch Salesman, a documentary about door-to-door bible salesmen and the pressures faced by them, and the people to whom they're trying to sell the bibles too.
11:45 PM sees Gimme Shelter, a look at the Rolling Stones' 1969 tour of the United States, culminating in the disastrous free concert at Altamont, when Hell's Angels members were brought in to provide security and the result was that several people died.
Finally, at 1:30 AM, you can see Meet Marlon Brando, a look at a bunch of journalists interviewing Brando around 1966.

Grey Gardens deserves a full post, and if I had the time to do a full post I would. The story starts off around 1971, when an item hit the news about one of those mansions out in the Hamptons to which all the rich people decamped in the summer as you can see in those old movies from the 1930s. Apparently, the elderly mother and her daughter living their were in conditions so squalid that the house was in serious violation of the building code. That's not particularly a big news story, even if it was one of those big mansions. The only thing was, however, that the mother and daghter were the aunt and first cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. She helped her relatives out in dealing with the problems at the home, and the notoriety of the story must have come to the attention of the Maysles brothers, because they made this movie about the two, their house, and their relationship.

Edith Bouvier Beale, and her daughter "Little Edie" have a relationship that's at times surreal, at times symbiotic if far from optimal, and at times extremely difficult for Little Edie. Little Edie feels as though Mom screwed up her chance at love back in the 1930s, and that that has something to do with why she's become a spinster, taking care of an elderly mother. Meanwhile, the house is continuing to fall down around them as there are stray cats constantly coming to eat, and who knows what wildlife in the attic. Mother and daughter generally eat not in the kitchen, but wherever, which is usually the bedroom. The only other person who seems to have remained in their lives is a handyman.

It's a movie that is sometimes sad, when you think about how lovely the house must have been back in the 1930s. There's also the frustration when mother and daughter start arguing with each other, because those are times when you start to dislike the two women and just want to shake some sense into them or something. And then there are scenes which seem exploitative, as though the Maysles were delibertely trying to make the Beales seem not just odd and dysfunctional, but even beyond freaks.

Grey Gardens gained a renaissance when it was made into a TV movie, and even a Broadway musical. But this is the original documentary, and worth a watch.