Sunday, December 4, 2016

Vitaphone at 90

TCM is honoring the 90th anniversary of Vitaphone tomorrow, even though the film that started it all, Don Juan (airing on TCM at 6:00 AM Tuesday), actually premiered in August 1926. I suppose TCM couldn't do the anniversary then thanks to Summer Under the Stars. I think I've mentioned before that Don Juan didn't have any dialogue, but did have a synchronized score and sound effects. In conjunction with the New York premiere, there was a series of shorts that were done, some with just instrumental music, some with singing, and one of MPPDA head Will Hays talking about the new technology:

That short is going to be on in the first prime time slot tomorrow, which is a block of shorts going from 8:00 PM to 9:45 PM. And herein lies the problem. TCM is running a whole bunch of Vitaphone shorts. While it's nice to see those Vitaphone shorts, and TCM does run a fair number of them between movies when they've got an extra 20 minutes or so to fill, running a block of them together always screws up the TCM schedule. The monthly schedule which I downloaded just before the start of the month has a different running order from the TCM online weekly schedule. And oftentimes the satellite box guide has a third running order. So figuring out the exact time one specific short is going to air is nigh on impossible.

Also apparently scheduled in that early prime time slot is Baby Rose Marie, a 1929 one-reeler. Rose Marie would, of course, go on to do the Dick Van Dyke Show in the 1960s, but she was a juvenile star first:

A couple more obituaries

Don Calfa died on Thursday at the age of 76. I didn't recognize the name at first, but you might remember him as Paulie, the hitman who's trying to kill the good guys in 1989's Weekend at Bernie's. He was also in Return of the Living Dead, although I haven't seen that one; Calfa's career also saw him do a lot of small roles on both the big and small screens.

And then there's child star Billy Chapin, who died on Friday aged 72. His best known role would probably be as the older brother who protects both his kid sister and her doll stuffed with $20,000 in Night of the Hunter. All along the way, he's trying to stay one step ahead of evil Robert Mitchum:

I haven't watched enough TCM to see if they've run the annual "Parade of the Dead", AKA the year-end TCM Remembers piece, yet. Has anybody seen it?

Saturday, December 3, 2016

TCM Guest Host December 2016: Dana Delany

So there was a message on the TCM boards about a guest host for TCM for December, actress Dana Delany. She apparently did a segment of the Trailblazing Women spotlight in October, although I didn't watch the segments. Anyhow, a search for something on TCM's official site didn't reveal anything, but did find this tweet:

If the tweet doesn't show up properly, go here; it also has the replies including some nice vintage photos of Myrna Loy.

I didn't get to see any of the intros last night; I showed up toward the end of the first film and then switched to watching something off my DVR; more on that next week since the movie is coming up on TV soon. But the upshot of not having actually watched any of Delany's intros is that I can't comment on how good she is.

As you can tell from the tweet, Delany will be on TCM Fridays and Saturdays this month.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Whom did the Bob Hope family piss off?

Bob Hope died in 2003. His wife of 69 years, Dolores, died eight years later. The estate left behind a house in Palm Springs, and one in Los Angeles. It's expensive to maintain, so the Hopes' daughter Linda has decided to sell it in order to raise funds for the Hopes' charitable foundation.

Not so fast. Apparently work on the property involves demolishing some outbuildings, and the Hopes must have ticked off somebody, because a Los Angeles City Councillor has taken unto himself the attempt to make the house a historic landmark. Really. Note that because he's a politician, he doesn't have to pay anybody one red cent to try to do this; it's all the taxpayers' money going to any efforts he'd make. And if the city actually bought the property, not that they're going to, it would be the taxpayers paying for this politician's vanity.

In the article where I first read it, not at the Hollywood Reporter, somebody made this trenchantly cynical (and factually incorrect) comment:

Most likely, Hope's single level ranch home would have part of it renovated. That renovation is going to include a second story addition. That addition is going to block a view on the neighbors property. I'll put money on it that the neighbor contacted Ryu [the councillor trying to make the historic landmark designation] about designating the home as a landmark, thus preventing this type of renovation.

In fact, the pictures at the Hollywood Reporter show the house already has two stories. But you can't help but think that somewhere along the way, Linda ticked off somebody, and they've decided to try to extract their pound of flesh.

So far the councillor has been rebuffed. But I doubt we've heard the last of this story.

TCM Star of the Month December 2016: Myrna Loy

Myrna Loy (l.) with William Powell; don't ask me which of their dozen or so movies it's from

For the people who paid ridiculous sums to join the TCM Backlot, TCM ran a contest to pick the Star of the Month for December: they had a choice between Bette Davis and Myrna Loy, and Loy won. (It probably should have gone to centenarian Kirk Douglas, but that's another story.) Loy's movies will be airing on Fridays, mostly in prime time, although actually starting earlier. Loy is probably best remembered for all those movies with William Powell, through which she became known as the "perfect wife". It wasn't just with Powell that she had that on-screen reputation; she would be the wife opposite Fredric March in The Best Years of Our Lives and then opposite Cary Grant in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House:

But her career actually started with small roles in silents; I for example am looking forward to Noah's Ark coming on at 3:00 PM which I've never seen before. And then up until about 1934, Loy played a lot of exotic vamp types. It's these earlier roles that are getting the spotlight this first Friday in December. I'm also curious about The Squall, overnight at 2:15 AM. And at 7:00 PM, there will be a 1990 documentary, Myrna Loy: So Nice to Come Home To.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Youtube changes

So I was on an internet forum I frequent last night, and unsurprisingly, people made comments that involve Youtube links, as is part of the commenting culture there. Normally I can click on the links, just see the title of the video, and get the joke.

But this time, the videos autoplayed! For the longest time, I had Flash turned off so that Youtube videos wouldn't start loading by default, until I clicked and told the site too. I don't have unlimited bandwidth, so it's a way to save bandwidth. But it turned out these weren't Flash videos. These were HTML5, which is the new standard (as I understand it an official web standard since 2014, although it's been in development for years before that).

My guess, therefore, is that Youtube has completely gotten rid of the possibility of having Youtube play Flash and is pushing everybody to HTML5. Uploading videos would remain unchanged, since Flash is basically just an application for playing the videos, and this is all on Youtube's side. If you look at any of the posts where I've embedded a Youtube video, those all seem to remain the same. The point isn't to break old videos, which would be a massive inconvenience to everybody, but to change on Youtube's end the application that plays them. If you do it right, and everybody knows how website changes don't go well, it should be a seamless thing for the end-user. (Youtube, of course, has had years to work out the kinks; it's just us late adopters who see the changes now. I still use IMDb's old format for displaying pages.) But it was irritating having to find the Firefox setting to turn off autoplay.

Has anybody else noticed a change?

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Another month is about to begin

Today being the last day of November, it means that we're going to get into a new month, which will mean new features on TCM, such as a new Star of the Month. But more on that in the days ahead. Over on FXM Retro, it's long seemed to me as though the first of the month is the time when they start bringing a few more movies out of the vault, and put some back in.

Four Jills in a Jeep is, I think, back on FXM Retro in December after a long absence; perhaps it was on this month or earlier but I wasn't paying close enough attention. Carole Landis wrote the book about her USO experiences, and the book was fictionalized into a fairly good movie. It'll be on FXM Retro tomorrow at 11:40 AM and Friday at 9:30 AM. Amazon's listing implies that the DVD is out of print, but there's a box collection which you can get on the TCM Shop of five Alice Fay movies.

In both cases, Four Jills in a Jeep will be followed by I Was a Male War Bride. Cary Grant plays a French officer who, in the days after World War II falls in love with a WAC (Ann Sheridan). But due to a quirk in the laws, American military members' foreign wives are allowed to go to America with their American husbands; female officers' husbands are technically excluded from the law. So the obvious solution, since changing the rules will take too much time, is to disguise Cary as a wife. Didn't he dress as a wife in My Favorite Wife? The TCM Shop lists a six-movie collection including I Was a Male War Bride.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Christmas movies are here

Even though the Christmas season generally began traditionally with Thanksgiving, it's still a bit disconcerting to think that the Christmas season is upon us again. Probably because I haven't done much the past two Christmases. Anyhow, tomorrow is still November, but TCM is already giving us a bunch of Christmas movies. And then they're going to give us another round of Christmas movies on Thursday night into Friday, although I'd have to look at the monthly schedule to see if that's the December spotlight -- it wouldn't surprise me.

Fox has had a crappy print of the Alistair Sim version of A Christmas Carol on FXM Retro the past couple of Christmas Eves in a continuous loop for 24 hours. But MGM did a version of the story (yay, public domain!) back in the late 1930s, so TCM can show that on, and will be doing so tomorrow at 1:45 PM.

Of course, it was just as easy for MGM to remake its own stuff, so you can also catch In the Good Old Summertime at 9:30 AM; that one is a musical remake of The Shop Around the Corner.

Thankfully, I have almost all of my Christmas shopping done. Dad is getting a bottle or two of wine, so I'm going to the liquor store a couple of days to buy that. Everybody else got cheap DVDs from Amazon.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Gloria Grahame, 1923-1981

Gloria Grahame and Lee Marvin in The Big Heat (1953)

Today marks the birth anniversary of actress Gloria Grahame, who appeared in a bunch of interesting movies in the 1950s. Actually, her career started in the 1940s playing Violet in It's a Wonderful Life, although to be honest I don't particularly remember that character. More memorable is Gloria Grahame, the nightclub girl who picks up the naive young man who gets involved in a murder he didn't commit in Crossfire.

Grahame won the Oscar for 1952's The Bad and the Beautiful, but I personally prefer her role in The Big Heat, as the moll who runs afoul of Lee Marvin. Well, a lot of people ran afoul of Lee Marvin's characters. There are also films like Man on a Tightrope, in which Fredric March tries to lead his circus troupe (of which Grahame is a member) out of Communist Czechoslovakia, or The Man Who Never Was, where she winds up having to play the girlfriend of the fictitious man who never was.

One thing I didn't know is that she was married to director Nicholas Ray and that this was complicated; after they divorced and Ray's son by a previous marriage grew up, Grahame married that son! And she had children by both marriages, which would make those children not just half-siblings, but also an uncle and two nephews, I think.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Crap, everything's out of print!

I mentioned yesterday that I watched The King's Vacation recently, and that it doesn't seem to be available on DVD. (Warner Home Video probably ought to put out a MOD Arliss box set.) It seems that too much of what I've watched recently is out of print.

Last night I decided to watch Mothers of Men that I had recorded during the Trailblazing Women salute back in October. It only runs about an hour, and it was late enough that I didn't want to stay up to watch a two-hour movie. Mothers of Men was made in 1917, and then re-released in 1921 as Every Woman's Problem. There's an interesting story of the women's suffrage days of a woman who gets elected judge, but whose husband gets caught up with people willing to commit crimes to get the woman out of office. The print TCM ran was a restoration print, so certainly the music would be under copyright, but since the re-release was from 1921, even the intertitles should be in the public domain. Surprisingly, not only doesn't the movie seem to be on DVD, there's next to nothing on Youtube. Perhaps the restoration print is the only one available?

A few weeks ago, I watched Before the Rain, a beautiful, moving movie about the various wars the broke up the former Yugoslavia, specifically the portion that affected Macedonia, a country that has a significant ethnic Albanian minority. Unfortunately, Amazon only lists a few copies available, while the TCM Shop lists the DVD as being on backorder. The DVD was released by Criterion, which probably has to do with why TCM was able to get a print, what with that new arrangement the two have. I just wish the DVD were still in print, since the movie is very much worth watching.

The only one that is available on DVD is The Madwoman of Chaillot, but frankly, the movie is terrible. Really, truly awful, which is a surprise considering the cast, but everybody was so unsympathetic and the writing was so bad that the movie isn't worth watching, or wasting money on the Warner Archive DVD. Worse than The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, in fact. Much worse.

On the bright side, I was able to delete enough off the DVR that I was able to record a bunch of movies from the free preview weekend of all the premium movie channels that DirecTV had this weekend.