Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Five Came Back

I'm not certain if it's taking the place of the normal Friday Night Spotlight for September, but this month there's going to be a special spotlight on Tuesday nights on TCM. It's called "Five Came Back", taking its name from the title of a book released last year by Mark Harris. In the book (disclaimer: I haven't read the book), Harris discusses five directors who served in World War II and how the war affected them and their filmmaking. Every Tuesday night in September, Harris will be sitting down with Ben Mankiewicz to discuss a different one of the directors and show one of their films. Obviously, since there are five directors and only four Fridays this month, they couldn't do it justice on Fridays.

This first Tuesday in September brings Frank Capra, with Meet John Doe on at 8:00 PM. The other four directors spotlighted will be, in order, John Huston (Sept. 8); John Ford (Sept. 15); William Wyler (Sept 22.); and George Stevens (Sept. 29).

What might be just as interesting will be the movies showing up after the feature films. TCM will be running at least part of an evening of films made at the behest of the government, sometimes as propaganda for the home front, and sometimes for the men in uniform. Coming on immediately after Meet John Doe will be Coming!! Snafu at 10:10 PM. You may know that the word "snafu" comes from the acronym "Situation Normal All F***ed Up", and the Snafu movies (disclaimer: I haven't seen any of these either) show Private Snafu, the most incompetent soldier in the entire US military. There are several of these shorts sprinkled throughout the Tuesdays this month.

Unfortunately, it looks as though Resisting Enemy Interrogation is not on the September schedule.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Wes Craven, 1939-2015

Renowned horror film writer-director Wes Craven died yesterday at the age of 76. Craven's career started in the early 1970s and more or less continued to the end of his life. However, it really wasn't until the 1980s when Craven hit it big with his writing and directing A Nightmare on Elm Street, which introduced the character of Freddy Krueger. In the original movie, he had been a convicted child killer and killed vigilante style by neighborhood parents, leading Krueger to vow that he'd get back at the parents by killing their children in the children's dreams. The movie spawned five sequels (not all having Craven's involvement), TV series, and a whole bunch of parodies.

In the 1990s, Craven would go on to direct Scream, which was also a big box office success and led to a bunch of sequels, all directed by Craven.

Somehow, I don't expect TCM to have a programming tribute for Craven, unless they do it in Underground. I think they've shown The Last House on the Left before.

Slovak World War II films

I've mentioned several times that I listen to the international broadcasters that used to be on short-wave radio back in the day. And, of course, I've linked to various stories about classic cinema when one or another broadcaster ran such a story. This past Friday, Radio Slovakia International had a report called "WW2 on the Silver Screen", which was a cursory look at some of the vintage World War II films made in Slovakia during the Communist era, as well as a new movie that's being made. That having been said, I don't think they mentioned The Shop on Main Street which, because it won an Oscar for Best Foreign-Language Film, would have been my first thought when it came to Slovak films about the war.

Unfortunately, Radio Slovakia International doesn't have separate links to individual stories, so you're going to have to download the entire Friday program in MP3 form here (~27 min, ~12.5 MB).

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Briefs for August 30, 2015

Has anybody else noticed that the TCM schedule pages seem to be more of a memory hog? I often use the weekly schedule, and it seems to be trying to load a whole bunch of Google stuff before I can use the page, and if I try to stop that stuff from loading, it'll freeze the page for quite some time before I can even do simple things like scroll up/down or use the "expand" links.

As for the shorts coming up on TCM, there seem to be a lot of "making of" shorts, or at least ones focussing on movies that were coming out at the time the shorts were being made. As for the more traditional shorts, there's an AMPAS-produced short on The Art Director coming up at 5:50 PM today, and then forgotte bandleader Glen Gray showing up a little after 10:00 PM following Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. Warner Bros. really liked to make one-reelers featuring bandleaders, didn't they.

Oliver Sacks died overnight. Sacks was a neurologist, not a filmmaker, but one of his books was the basis for the 1990 film Awakenings, starring Robin Wiliams as the doctor (name changed) dealing with encephalitis patients who have been made catatonic.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Gary Cooper films to watch out for

Gary Cooper is getting the Summer Under the Stars treatment tomorrow, August 30. There was a film I thought I hadn't blogged about before that I was going to mention, but it turns out that I have, so I'm just going to list a couple of the more interesting films showing up on TCM tomorrow.

The day kicks off at 6:00 AM with It's a Big Country. This is an anthology about all the different types of people who make up America and make it great. As for Cooper, he plays the stereotypical Texan, giving a deadpan delivery trying to smash all those stereotypes while behind him, every stereotype he mentions plays out. I don't know if Gary Cooper could have done the screwball comedy humor that Cary Grant and William Powell did so well, but when it comes to being deadpan and letting everyone around you be funny, Cooper is great at it. (That having been said, Cooper is quite good in Ball of Fire, which isn't airing.)

At noon, TCM has One Sunday Afternoon. I've mentioned this one before because it's the first movie version of what would be redone in the early 1940s as The Strawberry Blonde and, under the original One Sunday Afternoon title, in the late 1940s as a musical. This one has Cooper in the role of the wrongly convicted man; Neil Hamilton (Commissioner Gordon from TV's Batman) as the fast-talking bad guy; Fay Wray as the fast woman; and Frances Fuller as the woman Cooper's character winds up marrying.

There's also The Wreck of the Mary Deare at 6:00 PM, in which Cooper plays a crewman of a ship that gets scuttled, with him claiming that the scuttling was because there was something nefarious going on. Together with salvage boat operator Charlton Heston, he's out to prove that what he claims is the truth.

In between all this, you can watch Meet John Doe at 1:30 PM, but that one is airing again this coming Tuesday.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Mountain climbing

My information over on the right-hand side of the blog states that I live in the middle of nowhere, which is in some ways true: where I live borders on a large area of state forest. But it's also not quite true, in that I really live in the Catskill Mountains of New York state, only a couple of hours north and west of New York City. In all the years I've been living here and with all those mountains, it's surprising that I don't climb many of them. When Anna Kashfi died last week and I noticed that she was in the film The Mountain, I started thinking that I perhaps should climb one of them before the summer ends.

But of course, when I started thinking of that, I also started to think about classic movies with scenes of mountain climbing in them. As I understand it, mountain climbing as a serious pursuit didn't take off until the mid-1800s. The 1938 film The Challenge, for example, looks at the first known summiting of the Matterhorn in Switzerland, which occurred in 1865.

Before The Challenge, though, there were several German movies set in the Alps, quite a few of them starring Leni Riefenstahl back when she was an actress in the silent era, before she became a director. (I mentioned a fascinating documentary on Riefenstahl's life back in August, 2008.)

In Hollywood, there's a key scene in the 1939 version of Goodbye, Mr. Chips, that has Mr. Chips going on a vacation to the Alps to do some mountain climbing, which is where he meets he doomed wife (played by Greer Garson), who is also climbing. It's a wonder they didn't both fall off the mountain, though, what with the clothes they were wearing..

James Bond climbs a volcano in You Only Live Twice, which is how he learns that the volcano is actually a front for Blofeld's latest nefarious scheme, is hollowed out, and has a caldera that opens! Yeah, this is sheer nonsense, but it's a Bond movie, so you have to go with the flow when they get particularly outrageous. Bond would also do rock climbing in For Your Eyes Only, with the climactic sequence taking place on the side of the mountain

A different take on mountain climbing is in The Devil At 4 O'Clock, in which the main characters try to get down the mountain.

What's your favorite movie with mountain climbing?

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Ingrid Bergman out of print on DVD

I'm looking at TCM's schedule for August 28 in Summer Under the Stars, honoring Ingrid Bergman. Bergman made several films with director-husband Roberto Rossellini, thanks to the controversial nature of their relationship making Hollywood not want to deal with her for a while. (She'd have a triumphant return with Anastasia, not on tomorrow's schedule.) It looks like none of the Rossellini films that TCM has selected to air tomorrow are currently available from the TCM Shop:

First up at 10:00 AM is Stromboli, which has Bergman playing a refugee from World War II who gets picked up by an Italian man who lives on a small isolated island. The two marry and move to his village, where she finds that life isn't all it's cracked up to be. I saw this one several years ago and recall being less than impressed by it. But that was just my opinion.

Journey to Italy at 11:45 AM has Bergman and George Sanders playing a married couple who, realizing that their marriage is on the rocks, try out a separation in the Naples area. Nice place to try it, I suppose.

I don't think I'd heard of Fear (1:15 PM) until now. This one has Bergman married to a scientist but having an adulterous affair ang getting blackmailed for it, at least according to the TCM blurb.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


Joan Crawford (r.) taking a refreshing pause on the set of Trog (1970)

TCM celebrated Joan Crawford in Summer Under the Stars about two weeks ago. I finally got around to watching Trog again. Thankfully, it's available from the Warner Archive, so I can feel comfortable doing a full-length post on the film even if it's not coming up on TV soon.

Even though Crawford is the star (well, one of the two stars), she doesn't show up for a good 10 minutes or more. Instead, the movie starts off with a sequence of three guys going cave exploring. Malcolm (David Griffin), together with his friends Cliff and Bill, finds an impossibly bright cave somewhere in the English countryside and decide to go down into the caverns. They have a fairly easy time of it, at least until they get to a subterranean stream. Bill, ever curious, decides to strip down to his undies and get into the stream to see where it goes, which happens to be to another cavern. Cliff eventually follows him, while Malcolm is a bit of a coward. That cowardice, however, is going to save his life: Bill suddenly and with no warning whatsover gets attack by what looks like a prehistoric forerunner of man! Cliff gets attacked to, but not to the point of death.

Cut to the Brockton Institute. Dr. Brockton (Joan Crawford) is a scientist, although what the original purpose of the intstitute was is never made quite clear. However, when Malcolm and Cliff wind up at the institute, Brockton is incredibly intrigued. She wants to know what the heck attacked the cave party, and dammit, she's willing to go down the hole to find out. Amazingly, in that dark cave, she's able to get a perfect flash photograph of what she'll eventually call "Trog" (Joe Cornelius). Unsurprisingly, this brings publicity, both good and bad. Brockton thinks it's great for the institute, but the locals, led by land developer Sam Murdock (Michael Gough), don't like the idea. Their suspicions may be confirmed when the TV crews stir up poor Trog to the point that he attacks the ones that went in the cave and then climbs out of the cave! Thankfully, the good Dr. Brockton has tranquilizer darts and is able to subdue Trog, take him back to the Institute, and keep him in a cage there while she and the other great scientists of the world can investigate him.

Murdock begins court proceedings to try to have Trog destroyed, especially after Trog kills a dog that takes Trog's bouncy ball. Meanwhile, Brockton is still trying to teach Trog and learn about man's distant past in so doing. When the court proceedings don't go as fast as Murdock would like, he takes matters into his own hands....

Trog was Joan Crawford's final feature film, and it's often considered incredibly bad. It's certainly not notably good, and there's a lot that you can laugh at that the producers surely didn't intend as comedy. Gotta love Joan's fashions, as well as the short skirts her daughter/scientific assistant (Kim Braden) wears. Trog is pretty much only made up in the face, with the rest of him looking much too human and not hairy enough. The thought that Brockton could get through to Trog as quickly as the movie implies is nonsense, as is her wearing red long after it's established that the color red drives Trog mad.

But as I watched it, I couldn't help but think about movies like Village of the Damned, which also have the theme of whether we should study something that has the power to destroy us or whether we should preƫmptively destroy such things. Trog is obviously nowhere near as good as Village of the Damned, but it's also not nearly as bad as the black-and-white B movies of the 1950s in the same genre. Granted, a lot of those tend to be entertaining even if they're bad, but I think you can say the same about Trog.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Judging John Gilbert

Tomorrow's star in TCM's Summer Under the Stars is not John Gilbert. Instead, it's Great Garbo, who worked several times with Gilbert both in the silent era than in talkies. Garbo apparently took lessons to improve her English, which is why she wasn't used by MGM when they made The Hollywood Revue of 1929. But her career continued just fine after the introduction of sound, starting with the famous "Garbo Talks"-promoted picture Anna Christie and continuing for another decade until changing tastes and the advent of World War II led her to retire from films and become a recluse.

As for John Gilbert, well, he wasn't so lucky. The legend says that Louis B. Mayer didn't really like Gilbert, so Mayer let it be known in the media that Gilbert had a voice that didn't fit his screen persona, and deliberately cast Gilbert in a bunch of garbage. That's probably a bunch of nonsense. While studios had a lot of control over their stars and often didn't know how to use them -- see Warner Bros. and its handling of Bette Davis before she left for Europe -- I don't think they were going to try to lose money deliberately, especially not with a Depression going on. John Gilbert was also a heavy drinker, which certainly couldn't have helped his movie career.

At any rate, you've got a chance to catch John Gilbert talking tonight at 8:00 PM with Downstairs, a movie that has him playing a chauffeur to a wealthy Austrian family, trying to move up the ladder any way he knows how, which means a bunch of unscrupulous means. This includes getting involved with maid Virginia Bruce -- the subject for today in Summer Under the Stars -- even though she's married to the butler. (The talkie I'd like to mention is Queen Christina, but that doesn't seem to be airing as part of Garbo's day tomorrow.)

For a representative silent, you could do worse than Flesh and the Devil, airing tomorrow morning at 8:00 AM. This is Garbo's movie all the way, playing a woman who fell in love with Gilbert despite the fact that she was married to another man, leading to a duel that kills the other man and Gilbert's being exiled. Gilbert returns with the intention of marrying her, only to find that she's married Gilbert's best friend (Lars Hanson) in the meantime! Wow, talk about a nice thing to do to somebody!

So watch both and judge for yourself how good or bad an actor John Gilbert was.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Charles Sellon, 1870-1937

Today marks the birth anniversary of Charles Sellon, who had an active career as a character actor for a dozen years spanning the end of the silent era and the first half of the 1930s. For me, Sellon's best remembered role would be as the wheelchair-bound Uncle Ned in Bright Eyes, where he has a number of charming scenes with Shirley Temple. IMDb also mentions the WC Fields movie It's a Gift, which has Sellon playing a blind man who destroys WC Fields' store.

One other Sellon role I have blogged about is in Central Park, in which he plays the criminally insane zookeeper who frees the lions, making life difficult for cop Guy Kibbee.

I apologize for any difficulties anybody may have viewing the photo.