Sunday, April 26, 2015

Tonight's Movie: That Hagen Girl (1947) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Earlier this year the Warner Archive released a trio of 1940s Shirley Temple films. Two of those titles, KATHLEEN (1941) and HONEYMOON (1947), have previously been reviewed here, with the third, ADVENTURE IN BALTIMORE (1949), still to come.

Having enjoyed two of these films, I also became interested in checking out a Temple film released by the Archive a while back, THAT HAGEN GIRL (1947). THAT HAGEN GIRL is a rather odd but absorbing film with a very interesting cast including Ronald Reagan, Rory Calhoun, and Lois Maxwell (aka "Moneypenny"). I enjoyed it.

Shirley plays Mary Hagen, brought up by Minta and Jim Hagen (Dorothy Peterson and Charles Kemper) in the small town of Jordan, Ohio. Mary is lovely, sweet, and smart, but she's also the subject of gossip because Mrs. Hagen came home with Mary after visiting her sister in Chicago. It's widely suspected that Mary is the illegitimate daughter of attorney Tom Bates (Reagan), who left town shortly after Mary was born, and wealthy Grace Gately (Kyle MacDonnell).

Although the gossips do their best to make Mary's life unpleasant, she's surrounded by supportive friends including her boyfriend Ken (Calhoun), her best friend Sharon (the always-bubbly Jean Porter), and her English teacher, Miss Kane (Maxwell).

However, when Tom returns to town after an absence of 18 years, things start to go downhill for Mary quickly; the school board doesn't think it's appropriate for Mary to be the star of ROMEO AND JULIET, Ken's parents pressure him to marry a girl from the "right kind of family," Christine Delaney (Penny Edwards), instead of Mary, and Mary's mother becomes seriously ill. It's a very difficult time in the life of a young girl, but Tom and Miss Kane do their best to see Mary through the hardships.

This was a rather fascinating film, in part as the stigma of possible illegitimacy is hard to fathom in this day and age, when the child obviously has nothing to do with her parentage. The movie is also a wild ride simply in terms of how the story evolves; it seems to be going one direction and then goes another. The film may not always know completely what story it wants to tell, but it's never dull.

The movie reminds me a bit of GIRLS' DORMITORY (1936), when teacher Herbert Marshall seemed well-matched with peer Ruth Chatterton but ended up with young student Simone Simon. Here Temple and Calhoun seem well-matched agewise, with Maxwell and Reagan also being an appealing, age-appropriate pairing, but next thing you know the writers find excuses to break up both couples -- and it turns out Tom's been carrying a torch for Mary. Obviously, he isn't her father!

Temple is lovely as Mary, and Maxwell is particularly charming as her forthright teacher. This was one of the Canadian actress's very first films. Reagan and Calhoun are both handsome, and Reagan is particularly winning as a man not given to caring what others think, unless it means Mary will be hurt.

In addition to the cast members listed above, there are other interesting faces on hand including Conrad Janis (MORK AND MINDY), who had played a supporting role in another "coming of age" film, MARGIE (1946), the previous year. Harry Davenport has a single scene as Tom's mentor. Nella Walker, Moroni Olsen, Douglas Kennedy, Barbara Brown, Frank Conroy, and Kathryn Card are also in the cast.

THAT HAGEN GIRL was directed by Peter Godfrey, who later directed Reagan in THE GIRL FROM JONES BEACH (1949). It was filmed in black and white by Karl Freund. Charles Hoffman's screenplay was based on a novel by Edith Roberts. The film runs 83 minutes.

For the most part THAT HAGEN GIRL is a good print, although there are a couple brief scenes which are darker or spotted. The DVD includes the trailer.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the WBShop.

Tonight's Movie: The Velvet Touch (1948) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

THE VELVET TOUCH (1948) is one of three Rosalind Russell films released this month by the Warner Archive.

THE VELVET TOUCH is an interesting melding of crime story and psychological drama, with Russell starring as famed stage actress Valerie Stanton.

On the closing night of Val's latest romantic comedy success, her longtime director-producer Gordon Dunning (Leon Ames) threatens to ruin her love affair with Michael Morrell (Leo Genn) if she insists on doing a serious drama with a new director.

The verbal fight becomes a physical struggle, and Valerie picks up an award statuette off the desk and beans Dunning in the head, inadvertently killing him. Val flees the scene and actress Marian Webster (Claire Trevor), who has long loved Gordon from afar, finds the body. She picks up the statuette, putting her fingerprints on it, and she ends up suspected of the crime.

Val suffers huge guilt over not confessing in the first place, especially when Marian collapses and is hospitalized. Val is ready to tell all to Captain Danbury (Sydney Greenstreet) when the distraught Marian kills herself, leading the police to close the case just as Val is ready to open in HEDDA GABLER. It's uncertain, though, whether Val will be able to go on -- and more importantly, whether she can live with herself if she never discloses the truth.

Val probably could have made a pretty good case for self-defense if she'd just picked up the phone and called the police immediately, though she might have also ended up with a "heat of passion" manslaughter charge. She's hardly a cold-blooded murderess, and one can see a certain logic in Val's initial decisions, regretting it as a horrific fluke and just hoping it would all go away.

Little does she realize just how heavily the guilt will start to wear away at her, even though the person implicated, Marian, has been an arch rival. Indeed, the fact she and Marian didn't get along seems to make Val feel worse about the situation, not better; as the saying goes, she wouldn't wish Marian's plight on her "worst enemy."

It's interesting that Russell's character, Val, achieved fame as a comedienne when Val's life is nothing but pure drama. Russell does a good job portraying the gradually building inner storm.

There are interesting little touches to watch for, such as Val's penchant for wearing gloves, and the Travis Banton gown she wears prior to opening night is rather obviously covered in black X's!

Greenstreet is terrific as the avuncular, theater-loving police detective; it's a role which somewhat calls to mind the psychologist he played in CONFLICT (1945). He's genuinely nice, but he also seems to have a pretty good instinct for who might have done it, as well as for the fact that she's not a criminal at heart, so he stays "in her face," killing her with kindness and hoping she'll eventually be motivated to do the right thing.

Leo Genn is also quite good as Val's suitor, a powerful man in his own world (something to do with the then-new United Nations) who has the self-confidence to woo and handle a high-strung stage star. And like Captain Danbury, he's pretty sure Val had something to do with Gordon's death but loves her anyway.

There are several nice smaller parts in the film for Theresa Harris (at right) as Val's loyal maid, Frank McHugh as the stage manager, Dan Tobin as a gossip columnist, and Lex Barker and Martha Hyer as young actors in Val's play. Walter Kingsford, Dr. Carew of the DR. KILDARE movie series, plays the director of HEDDA GABLER.

Small roles are played by Nydia Westman, Russell Hicks, Irving Bacon, and Bill Erwin, with Queen of the Dress Extras Bess Flowers featured prominently in the closing night party sequence.

THE VELVET TOUCH was produced by Russell's husband, Frederick Brisson, as an Independent Artists production, released by RKO. The movie was directed by John Gage and filmed in black and white by Joseph Walker. It runs 100 minutes.

Fans of Rosalind Russell or '40s crime films will want to see this enjoyable movie. The Warner Archive DVD is a nice print. There are no extras.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the WBShop.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Queen Christina (1933) at the TCM Classic Film Festival

The first of the 16 films I saw at the 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival was QUEEN CHRISTINA (1933), shown in a sparkling 35mm print.

Previously I'd only seen Garbo's last two films, the comedies NINOTCHKA (1939) and TWO-FACED WOMAN (1941). I've wanted to try more of her movies, and in fact I put her silent FLESH AND THE DEVIL (1927) on my list of 10 Classics to see for the first time in 2015. Seeing a Garbo film on the big screen was thus a wonderful opportunity.

Garbo plays the titular queen of Sweden, who has adopted a rather mannish personality as she copes with ruling her country, international intrigue, and dealing forcefully with her many male courtiers.

While traveling in the guise of a male, Christina meets an envoy from Spain, Don Antonio (John Gilbert) at an inn. She reveals herself to be a woman and they fall in love, spending a brief blissful time together.

Political machinations in Sweden result in the people being turned against Christina's love for Antonio. Christina, tired of being the figurehead of a nation, determines she will abdicate in favor of a relative (Reginald Owen) and marry her love, but fate may intervene.

I found watching QUEEN CHRISTINA to be an enjoyable and interesting experience, a very different type of film. While made with MGM's typical polished care, featuring a fine cast, the movie was completely dominated by Garbo and her star power.

I wasn't quite sure what to make of Christina in the earlier scenes of the film, where she acts in such a "male" way that she refers to herself as a "bachelor" and gives her lady-in-waiting Ebba (Elizabeth Young) a lingering kiss on the lips. At the same time, while she was dressed as a man while traveling, it was a bit far-fetched that she was actually perceived as a male, but that's the movies for you.

As Christina reveals her true inner self thanks to falling in love with Antonio, it becomes apparent that the male mannerisms have been a sort of protective outer shell to help fortify her as she leads a nation, standing up for herself amidst all the politics and diplomatic machinations. Love gives her the confidence to explore another side of her personality, and for the first time we begin to see her in beautiful gowns.

While Garbo's best-remembered scenes in this film are those where she walks around a room "memorizing" where her love affair began, and later her blank face as she sails away from Sweden in the film's final moments, for me the most powerful scene was when the peasants storm the palace. Garbo as Christina is quite remarkable as she refuses to cower behind bolted doors but insists on going out to meet her angry citizens, ultimately completely winning them over.

I was also quite moved by the abdication scene, which was stunningly staged and acted.

For me the film's one drawback was John Gilbert as Antonio. It's an old story that Gilbert had trouble transitioning from silent films to talkies because of his voice, and that aspect isn't true in the least; his voice was fine. I simply found him a little too goofy, even hammy, in a role I wished had been played by someone I found a little more dashing. Others I respect like Gilbert just fine, so like many things it may come down to personal taste, and he simply didn't work for me in the role.

Cora Sue Collins, who plays Christina as a child (seen at right), appeared at an event at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on the eve of the TCM Festival. I wish I'd seen her speak! A lovely woman, she just turned 88 on April 19th.

Lewis Stone and Sir C. Aubrey Smith, who both always add so much to any film, are among the supporting cast. Also in the film are Ian Keith and David Torrence.

QUEEN CHRISTINA was directed by Rouben Mamoulian. It was filmed in black and white by William Daniels. It runs 99 minutes.

QUEEN CHRISTINA is available on DVD in the Greta Garbo Signature Collection.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Rear Window (1954) at Universal CityWalk

Having completed overviews of each day at the TCM Classic Film Festival, not to mention my coverage of the Noir City Film Festival, it's now time to turn attention to some of the individual TCMFF screenings I attended!

First, though, here's a look back at a very special day which kicked off the week of TCM Fest fun. On March 22nd, the Sunday before the festival started, my husband and I spent a wonderful day exploring L.A. with Aurora and Annmarie, who had arrived in town early. It's always so much fun to see Aurora, and this year I was glad to have time to also get to know Annmarie better. I hope they had as much fun as we did!

In a nice coincidence, we learned that morning via Twitter that March 22nd was the anniversary of James Stewart's 1941 induction into the U.S. Army, which can be read about in this L.A. Times article.

That anniversary was wonderful timing, as our day ended up becoming something of a tribute to an actor we all dearly love (and who doesn't?!). We paid our respects at his hillside gravesite, then later in the day we attended the TCM/Fathom Events screening of his Hitchcock classic REAR WINDOW (1954) at Universal CityWalk.

It had been at least a decade since I last saw REAR WINDOW, and I'd never seen it in a theater. While I have liked REAR WINDOW well enough in the past, it hasn't been a particular Hitchcock favorite of mine, as it is for so many people. However, the experience of seeing it on a big screen in a beautiful print was so terrific that the movie moved considerably higher in my estimation.

I was particularly delighted to realize that the John Michael Hayes script was based on a story by Cornell Woolrich, whose work has inspired so many wonderful film noir experiences of the last few years.

Many classic film fans know the story well: Photographer Jeff Jefferies (Stewart) is laid up by a broken leg one hot summer, and he spends considerable time observing neighbors from the rear window of his apartment; when he's not people watching he's trying to convince himself his glamorous girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly) isn't cut out for life as a globe-trotting photographer's wife. The monotony of his daily routine is also broken up by visits from Stella (Thelma Ritter), an insurance company nurse.

Then Jeff notices mysterious goings-on with a neighbor, Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr), across the courtyard...is it possible Thorwald murdered his wife? Lisa initially scoffs at the idea, then sees enough to convince her something strange is happening, and she goes to work with Jeff to investigate Mrs. Thorwald's disappearance. Jeff's police detective friend, Tom Doyle (Wendell Corey), remains a skeptic of Jeff's theory that Thorwald is a killer.

(Thanks to Aurora for the above photo with the movie's showtime, taken outside the theater!)

I had a really good experience with TCM's theatrical screening of another film from 1954, WHITE CHRISTMAS, and REAR WINDOW was another winner. The print was terrific, so crystal clear that every bead of sweat on Stewart's face could be clearly seen. The big screen also made the peeks in the various apartment windows much easier to appreciate.

It's a perfectly paced suspense film, as bit by bit over the course of 112 minutes the evidence builds against Thorwald, with the nerve-wracking moments leavened by humor, particularly from the wisecracking Stella. Lisa proves herself to be quite the nervy investigator -- some of her actions are even a bit foolhardy, but her enthusiastic assistance can't help winning Jeff's admiration.

And has there ever been a more unique method of fending off a bad guy than the wheelchair-bound Jeff uses in the climactic confrontation?!

The movie is aided by its fantastic set design, photographed in deep focus by Robert Burks. The score by Franz Waxman and Grace Kelly's fabulous gowns by Edith Head are also key factors in the movie's success.

I think the only thing I didn't like about the film, which perhaps also lessened my enthusiasm for the movie in the past, is Thorwald disposing of the neighbor's too-inquisitive dog. Of course, this sad incident makes any dog lover even happier at the prospect of Thorwald being caught.

REAR WINDOW is available on DVD in multiple editions, and it's also out on Blu-ray. I'm not usually moved to upgrade films I've bought on DVD to Blu-ray, being quite happy with DVD quality, but this is one I'm inclined to consider, the better to enjoy it all over again on our big screen TV.

Returning to thoughts on the very special man of the day -- thanks, Jimmy, for everything!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Safe in Hell (1931) at the Noir City Film Festival

And so, as Sunday night drew to a close, we finally came to the last movie of both the 17th Annual Noir City Film Festival and the evening's "Proto-Noir" marathon.

SAFE IN HELL was the fourth film of the day, and the 20th film I saw in 10 visits to this year's Noir City festival. That number broke my previous record of 18 films seen at the 2012 festival! There were only two evenings I was unable to attend this year's festival.

I had actually seen SAFE IN HELL, directed by William A. Wellman, at the 2013 TCM Classic Film Festival, although I use the term "seen" advisedly; although I remember William A. Wellman Jr.'s talk before the movie, I was tired that evening and at some point "zoned out" -- my eyes were open but I suddenly realized that the movie was about to end and I had no clue what was happening!

I initially intended to revisit the movie on the Warner Archive DVD, but hearing quite some time ago that a William Wellman series was coming to UCLA, I decided to wait and see if I could watch it there.

As it happened, SAFE IN HELL is not part of the Wellman series currently in progress at UCLA, but it turned up instead at Noir City! I stayed with SAFE IN HELL from start to the bitter end tonight, and wow, was that a bitter end indeed! SAFE IN HELL is one strange movie, almost like a nightmare put on film.

Dorothy Mackaill plays Gilda, who has become a prostitute in order to survive. One night she fends a man off by hurling a bottle at him -- she knocks him cold but later the room catches fire and the police want to arrest her for his death.

Gilda's sweetheart, a sailor named Carl (Donald Cook), returns from the sea just as Gilda needs to go on the lam; he forgives her her recent past and helps her escape to a Caribbean island where she cannot be extradited. Unable to find a priest, they marry themselves, but then he must return to sea while she remains in a hotel with a bunch of very sleazy characters who are also hiding out from the law.

The money Carl sends Gilda is intercepted by the island's hangman (Morgan Wallace) and, well, the whole thing just gets weirder from there, with an ending that has to be seen to be believed.

Mackaill gives an excellent performance, and it's a film which should be seen as an example of the pre-Code at its wildest, but I can't say I exactly enjoyed my 73 minutes spent with SAFE IN HELL, as it's both ugly and depressing.

There are many pre-Codes where it's rather fun watching disreputable behavior -- I'm thinking of movies like RED-HEADED WOMAN (1932), BABY FACE (1933), and EMPLOYEES' ENTRANCE (1933) -- but SAFE IN HELL is unrelentingly dark and grim, with a jaw-dropping finale.

Nina Mae McKinney and Clarence Muse play hotel employees and are the most appealing supporting players. The cast also includes Ralf Harolde, John Wray, Ivan F. Simpson, and Charles Middleton.

In closing, thanks to everyone at the Film Noir Foundation and the American Cinematheque for another great Noir City Festival!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Heat Lightning (1934) at the Noir City Film Festival

The four-film "Proto-Noir" marathon on closing night of the 17th Annual Noir City Film Festival started off with THE NINTH GUEST (1934), followed by LET US LIVE (1939).

The third film, HEAT LIGHTNING (1934), was the shortest movie of the evening, running a mere 63 minutes. It was also my favorite, a title which I've wanted to see for some time, and it didn't disappoint.

Ann Dvorak biographer Christina Rice joined Alan Rode to introduce the movie. They provided some interesting background, including the information that the movie was shot in the High Desert area of Victorville, California. Incidentally, I was glad to finally have the chance to meet Christina after the movie!

In HEAT LIGHTNING Dvorak and Aline MacMahon play Myra and Olga, sisters running a gas station and lunchroom at a lonely desert outpost. Olga (MacMahon) is content to work hard and live a quiet life, but the younger Myra (Dvorak) dreams of bright lights and the big city, or at least sneaking off to a dance with a disreputable boy.

A variety of interesting travelers arrive at the station in the course of a single day, including a couple of divorcees (Glenda Farrell and Ruth Donnelly) on their way home from Reno with a chauffeur (Frank McHugh)...and a pair of men (Preston Foster and Lyle Talbot) on the lam after a robbery and ensuing killing.

This being a movie, it just so happens that George (Foster) was Olga's old flame back in Oklahoma...but she's older and wiser now. Maybe.

The Brown Holmes-Warren Duff screenplay was based on a play by George Abbott and Leon Abrams, yet thanks in part to the very effective location shooting, the movie feels much less stagebound than the later but very similar THE PETRIFIED FOREST (1936).

THE PETRIFIED FOREST, which was also based on a play, has much in common with HEAT LIGHTNING in terms of both location and story, but I thought that HEAT LIGHTNING had the more authentic feel of the two films. This was a terrific little movie.

In THE PETRIFIED FOREST one never really forgets that Bette Davis and Leslie Howard are actors in a soundstage, whereas HEAT LIGHTNING actually filmed in the desert. I also found MacMahon and Dvorak's performances very "real" contrasted with THE PETRIFIED FOREST, even with familiar favorites like Farrell and Donnelly stopping in to offer comic relief.

I was particularly moved by the scene where Myra comes home from a dance "worse for the wear," with it implied between the lines what had happened to her at some point during the evening. MacMahon as Olga, a capable mechanic, is likewise outstanding as a woman who is briefly reminded what it's like to be treated as a woman, for both good and ill.

Foster and Talbot are appropriately slimy as the crooks on the run; Foster has a casual line about the man he'd killed having been fated to die that day which caused me to gasp. A similar gasp was elicited by the way he was dealt his own ultimate fate.

The supporting cast also includes Jane Darwell, Edgar Kennedy, Theodore Newton, Willard Robertson, and Cris-Pin Martin.

HEAT LIGHTNING was directed by Mervyn LeRoy and filmed by Sid Hickox.

It's available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

Next up: The last film of the festival, William Wellman's bizarre pre-Code SAFE IN HELL (1931).

Book Review: In the Company of Legends

The brand-new book IN THE COMPANY OF LEGENDS, by Joan Kramer and David Heeley, chronicles the creation of several highly regarded documentaries on icons of classic film.

IN THE COMPANY OF LEGENDS was just released last week, on April 16th. Classic film fans may have seen Kramer and Heeley discussing the book with Robert Osborne while recently cohosting an evening of their documentaries on Turner Classic Movies.

The documentaries shown and discussed on TCM, which are discussed at length in the book, were THE SPENCER TRACY LEGACY: A TRIBUTE BY KATHARINE HEPBURN (1986), JAMES STEWART: A WONDERFUL LIFE (1987), BACALL ON BOGART (1988), FONDA ON FONDA (1992), and KATHARINE HEPBURN: ALL ABOUT ME (1993).

The team started out with a pair of programs on Fred Astaire in 1980, PUTTIN' ON HIS TOP HAT and CHANGE PARTNERS AND DANCE. Their tenacity in producing the documentaries, including finally persuading Astaire to allow clips from his RKO films to be used, gave them the credibility to make several more documentaries over the course of the next quarter-century, ending with THE ADVENTURES OF ERROL FLYNN in 2005.

The book chronicles Kramer and Heeley's memories of interacting with a variety of interesting stars while filming the specials. The book is presented in a very readable and fast-paced style, going back and forth between the authors as they, in essence, "talk" to the reader, sharing stories about working with legends.

Having very recently seen Stephen Bogart interviewed, in which he joked about his mother's "forthrightness," I especially enjoyed the chapter on working with the prickly and demanding Lauren Bacall while making BACALL ON BOGART. She could be very difficult, but producer Heeley told her flat-out he didn't appreciate the way she spoke to him, which seemed to serve as a wake-up call for her; she apologized and she and the producers then established a cordial relationship.

In fact, it was rather interesting that when Katharine Hepburn was similarly confronted with a demand which was a bridge too far, she owned up to it and things moved on productively. It almost seems as though a couple of the stars Kramer and Heeley worked with needed to be reminded of how they were affecting others, but then they did have the ability to "own" their behavior and seemed to respect being politely called on it.

My favorite section of the book was on the making of the wonderful documentary on Jimmy Stewart. It's filled with great anecdotes, including the helpful intervention of Stewart's wife Gloria on more than one occasion; Johnny Carson attempting to replace himself as the host with Cary Grant (who sadly died while Carson was in the midst of trying to arrange it); and a visit to the White House to interview the Reagans.

Best of all is the story about how Stewart transformed from a frail, elderly man, who caused concern he might not be able to handle a lengthy interview, to James Stewart, Movie Star, when it came time to film. Put him anywhere near a camera and that man was a pro!

IN THE COMPANY OF LEGENDS is an engaging book filled with fun anecdotes and insights about some of our greatest classic stars during their twilight years. (I haven't even mentioned their stories of working with Olivia de Havilland on the Flynn documentary or Audrey Hepburn when she narrated THE FRED ASTAIRE SONGBOOK...) It presents a unique slice of film history which I'm glad has been preserved. I enjoyed the book very much, and I believe other classic film fans will enjoy it as well. A recommended read.

The book is a hardcover which runs just over 400 pages, including the index. It is amply illustrated with photographs printed directly on the pages.

For more information regarding IN THE COMPANY OF LEGENDS, please visit the book's Facebook page.

Thanks to Beaufort Books and Jonas Public Relations for providing an advance review copy of this book.

Quick Preview of TCM in July

The tentative July schedule has recently been posted at Turner Classic Movies. Thanks so much to Ivan for the tip!

The schedule disappeared as soon as I printed it, so keep checking this page for it to return.

Shirley Temple is the July Star of the Month. 20 Temple films will be shown spread over Monday evenings. This is a particularly nice surprise as so many of Temple's films were for 20th Century-Fox, and those movies are more expensive for TCM to license. That said, many of the titles will focus on her later work for studios like MGM and RKO.

Even better news is that the Friday film noir marathons being featured in June will continue into July as part of what TCM is calling the "Summer of Darkness." The Film Noir Foundation's Eddie Muller will host the Friday Night Spotlight in both June and July! The lineups are absolutely fantastic, and the films Eddie will host in prime time in July include top-drawer favorites such as THE NARROW MARGIN (1952) and CRISS CROSS (1949).

But wait, there's more! July will also feature the third evening in the Treasures From the Disney Vault franchise which began last December and continued last March. The Disney movies scheduled for July 2nd will include JOHNNY TREMAIN (1957), THE GREAT LOCOMOTIVE CHASE (1956), RASCAL (1969), and the Tru-Life Adventure THE LIVING DESERT (1953). The presence of the fairly rarely seen THE GREAT LOCOMOTIVE CHASE, in particular, gives me hope that eventually TCM might show other rare Disney films such as THE SWORD AND THE ROSE (1953) or ROB ROY: THE HIGHLAND ROGUE (1953) both starring Richard Todd and Glynis Johns.

The Sunday evening summer franchise Essentials Jr. morphs into "Movie Camp" this summer, with new hosts William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg. I'm quite intrigued by their relatively sophisticated choices, which seem aimed at teenagers more than children; there's an evening of "post-Bond Connery" with THE WIND AND THE LION (1975) -- a great choice -- and THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY (1979); an entire Sunday evening of shorts including STOP, LOOK AND LISTEN (1967) and STAR IN THE NIGHT (1945); a Fritz Lang double bill of METROPOLIS (1926) and FURY (1936); and a Korda double bill of THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (1940) and THAT HAMILTON WOMAN (1941).

July tributes will include Charles Laughton, Janet Leigh, Joseph Losey, Barbara Stanwyck, John Wayne, Natalie Wood, Spencer Tracy, William Powell, and Claudette Colbert, while July themes will include Japan, witches, classic '50s sci-fi, ghosts, and apes!

There's also a wonderful tribute to the UCLA Archive on July 15th, including HER SISTER'S SECRET (1946), and another tribute to the 100th Anniversary of Technicolor.

Newer movies continue to turn up in the schedule, especially on Saturday nights, where titles such as BLOODY BIRTHDAY (1980) and DIRTY MARY, CRAZY LARRY (1974) are listed. A Tuesday evening of Cajun documentaries by Les Blank had me scratching my head, with titles such as YUM, YUM, YUM! A TASTE OF CAJUN AND CREOLE COOKING (1990) and GARLIC IS AS GOOD AS TEN MOTHERS (1980); I wondered for a second if the Cooking Channel's schedule had crossed with TCM's!

I'll have a more detailed look at the July schedule somewhere around June 30th. In the meantime, Anthony Quinn continues as the April Star of the Month, with Sterling Hayden ahead as Star of the Month for May and a "Pin-Up Girls/Sex Symbols" Star of the Month theme for June.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Let Us Live (1939) at the Noir City Film Festival

The second film in the closing night "Proto-Noir" marathon at the 17th Annual Noir City Film Festival was LET US LIVE (1939).

LET US LIVE stars Henry Fonda and Maureen O'Sullivan, directed by John Brahm. Brahm would go on to direct the "gothic noir" HANGOVER SQUARE (1945) and the psychological film noir THE LOCKET (1946).

In LET US LIVE, a waking nightmare unspools over the course of 68 minutes as a hard-working cabbie (Fonda) and his friend (Alan Baxter) are falsely accused and convicted of murder. Only the devotion of the cabbie's fiancee (O'Sullivan) and the cop (Ralph Bellamy) she convinces to help her might save the men from being railroaded straight to the electric chair.

The increasingly despairing jailhouse sequences both reflect back on the great gangster films of the early '30s and anticipate film noir, where the "wrong man" would also be a familiar theme.

Fonda is quite shattering, as his personality gradually changes under the weight of being disappointed by "the system" at every turn. He has a speech which seems to look forward just a bit to his famous closing speech in THE GRAPES OF WRATH (1940).

It's a nice part for O'Sullivan, as a woman who refuses to give up and is ultimately willing to risk her life to prove her husband-to-be is innocent. Bellamy is also good as a cop who initially doesn't seem to care overly much about the case but gradually becomes unnerved when he realizes he's been a cog in a rigged system.

One of the aspects of the movie which bothered me was the D.A. (Stanley Ridges) saying his job was simply to get a conviction. I wish the movie had made clear that the D.A. was wrong throughout the film in part because a D.A.'s job is actually to seek justice, not convictions (see 1947's BOOMERANG for an illustration of same). The character was thus not only wrong in ignoring additional evidence, he flat-out wasn't doing his job.

The supporting cast includes Henry Kolker, George Lynn, and Philip Trent. Familiar "faces" scattered throughout the film include Charles Lane (who received applause from the Noir City audience when he turned up as a taxicab salesman), Ann Doran, Forrester Harvey, Byron Foulger, Pat O'Malley, and Minerva Urecal.

The cinematography was by Lucien Ballard, who also filmed another movie seen in the festival just a few days ago, BERLIN EXPRESS (1948).

LET US LIVE is available on DVD from Sony Choice.

Next up from the Noir City marathon: My favorite film of the night, HEAT LIGHTNING (1934).

Tonight's Movie: The Ninth Guest (1934) at the Noir City Film Festival

The 17th Annual Noir City Film Festival closed with the proverbial bang Sunday evening, as attendees enjoyed a four-film "Proto-Noir" marathon.

The marathon consisted of films from the 1930s which ranged between 63 and 73 minutes in length: THE NINTH GUEST (1934), LET US LIVE (1939), HEAT LIGHTNING (1934), and SAFE IN HELL (1931). Three of the films were pre-Codes, and all of the movies had aspects which stylistically anticipate the darkness of what we now think of as "film noir" of the '40s and '50s.

The evening kicked off with a fun 65-minute mystery in the style of Agatha Christie, THE NINTH GUEST (1934). THE NINTH GUEST was directed by Roy William Neill, best known for the Sherlock Holmes movie series with Basil Rathbone. Neill's last movie was the very affecting film noir BLACK ANGEL (1946), which starred Dan Duryea.

THE NINTH GUEST was based on a novel by Gwen Bristow (JUBILEE TRAIL) and her husband Bruce Manning.

Eight wealthy people are invited to a penthouse party by an anonymous host. When they are all gathered, a voice begins speaking to them from the radio, telling them that they will die one by one, unless they can outwit the "ninth guest," death.

The group discover the doors are locked, the patio gate is rigged to electrocute, and the servants who admitted them have disappeared...and sure enough, one by one people start to die.

This title had initially interested me the least of the evening's films, but it proved to be a fast-paced and quite enjoyable bit of entertainment. I always find Genevieve Tobin (SNOWED UNDER) fun to watch, and here she's one of the only characters the audience can root for; admittedly, though, she doesn't have much to do in this one but look frightened!

The other guests are played by Donald Cook, Samuel S. Hinds, Nella Walker, Edward Ellis, Hardie Albright, Edwin Maxwell, and Helen Flint.

The setting is a very stylish Art Deco apartment, with an unforgettable wall clock which must be seen to be believed. The black and white cinematography was by Benjamin Kline.

THE NINTH GUEST is available at this writing on YouTube, but it looks nothing like the beautiful 35mm film screened last night at the Egyptian Theatre. Let's hope for a DVD release of this Columbia film, a memorable movie experience which deserves a wider audience.

Up for review next: Henry Fonda and Maureen O'Sullivan in LET US LIVE (1939).

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