Sunday, August 13, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Duel in the Sun (1946) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

The roadshow version of David O. Selznick's DUEL IN THE SUN (1946) will be released by Kino Lorber on Blu-ray and DVD on Tuesday, August 15th.

Kino Lorber's release includes the film's original overture, prologue, and exit music, scored by Dimitri Tiomkin.

DUEL IN THE SUN (1946) was producer David O. Selznick's attempt to top GONE WITH THE WIND (1939), as well as to provide an important role for his eventual wife, Jennifer Jones. Selznick wrote the screenplay himself, based on a novel by Niven Busch; while Jones wasn't able to follow up her Best Actress Oscar for THE SONG OF BERNADETTE (1943) with another win, she did receive her fourth Academy Award nomination for the film, on her way to a total of one win among five nominations.

Jones plays Pearl Chavez, daughter of Scott Chavez (Herbert Marshall) and his dancer wife (Tilly Losch). In an unforgettably staged sequence, Scott shoots his unfaithful wife. Just before he hangs, Scott tells Pearl to go to Texas and live with his first love and distant cousin, Laura Belle McCanles (Oscar-nominated Lillian Gish). Marshall's role is both overwritten and overplayed, but he sets the tone for all that will follow in the same vein.

The somewhat untamed, uneducated Pearl aspires to be a lady worthy of Laura Belle and Laura Belle's kind lawyer son, Jesse (Joseph Cotten), but she keeps finding herself entangled with Laura Belle's younger son, the aggressive bad boy Lewt (Gregory Peck). Lewt eventually breaks a promise to marry Pearl, and what's worse, he shoots not one but two men she truly cares for, leading to one of the movies' all-time epic showdowns and endings.

DUEL IN THE SUN is one wild movie! I've read a lot about it over the years, but this was my first time to see it, and it certainly made a distinct impression. The film's vivid colors and over-the-top characters seem to strongly foreshadow JOHNNY GUITAR (1954), and it's best appreciated in that light. This is not your ordinary movie, with its 144 minutes filled with florid performances and dialogue filmed in eye-popping Technicolor. While I'm not certain it was always good, it was both memorable and entertaining, filled with an array of superb actors.

While at first thought Cotten might seem more likely to play the bad boy, given his portrayal of the villain of SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943), he's excellent as an honorable man with conflicted feelings for both Pearl and his cantankerous father (Lionel Barrymore). Peck, meanwhile, plays a very, very bad man, and that's just the sins we know about. Lewt clearly has a very long back story filled with behavior indulged by his father, to his ultimate detriment.

Jones is likewise quite good as Pearl, who consistently hates Lewt yet can't also seem to stay away from him. Pearl is a rather unusual character, particularly for the mid-'40s, and Jones makes the most of it. Her earthy performance here is light years from favorite Jones performances, such as the sweet, ethereal title character in PORTRAIT OF JENNIE (1948). It's said that a steamy Jones dance sequence had to be removed; it would certainly be interesting to see it.

Among the large supporting cast I especially liked Harey Carey (Sr.) and Charles Bickford, who are each kind, calming presences among a whole lotta crazy. Also in the cast are Joan Tetzel, Otto Kruger, Walter Huston, and Sidney Blackmer. Butterfly McQueen appears for what was apparently meant to be comic relief, essentially reprising Prissy of GONE WITH THE WIND, but I suspect most viewers will agree that once was enough.

DUEL IN THE SUN was directed by King Vidor and numerous uncredited contributors. According to IMDb, Selznick's script also had an uncredited contributor, Ben Hecht.

The Technicolor cinematography was shared by Lee Garmes, Ray Rennahan, and Hal Rosson. The movie was filmed at numerous Arizona locations as well as in Southern California "movie ranch" territory. There's a location sequence in which the ranchers faces off against a railroad crew which employed scores of riders; it's incredibly impressive.

I reviewed the Kino Lorber Blu-ray, which is truly stunning, a feast for the eyes and ears. It's a marvelous way to enjoy this one-of-a-kind movie.

Extras include a trailer gallery with several DUEL IN THE SUN trailers, along with trailers for Peck's YELLOW SKY (1948) and THE BIG COUNTRY (1958); a commentary track by Gaylyn Studlar, which I'll be listening to this coming week; and an interesting new 10-minute interview with Peck's children Anthony, Cecilia, and Carey. Cecilia Peck shared that Jennifer Jones was one of her father's favorite leading ladies and that they remained lifelong friends. Joseph Cotten, who worked with Jones on four films, has also said she was his favorite leading lady.

A postscript: Later this month I'll be reviewing an entirely different kind of Kino Western release, SON OF PALEFACE (1949), with Bob Hope, Jane Russell, and Roy Rogers. SON OF PALEFACE will be released on August 29th.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.

Tonight's Movie: A Life of Her Own (1950) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Lana Turner stars with Ray Milland in A LIFE OF HER OWN (1950), available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

Lana plays Lily James, who leaves small-town life behind when she heads to New York City to make it in the modeling profession.

On her first day in the big city she's signed by Tom Caraway (Tom Ewell, who's great in the early going but then mostly disappears). Lily also meets a former model named Mary (Ann Dvorak) who has fallen on hard times; Mary's life serves as a cautionary tale for Lily, who seems intent on making some of the same unfortunate decisions.

Half an hour into the film, Lily meets and later falls in love with Steve (Milland), a married man; he sets her up in a lovely apartment, but their happiness together is tinged with guilt. They each know they're doing the wrong thing, especially as his wife Nora (Margaret Phillips) is stuck in a wheelchair due to an accident. Much of this 108-minute film consists of Lily's torment as she works her way through a life crisis and makes decisions about her future.

Everyone in the cast is solid. Turner is always interesting to watch, though I felt she wasn't always photographed at her best in this film, shot in black and white by George Folsey; she seems older than her real age of 29. I've read the suggestion that this was due to some hard living during the two years following Turner's last film, THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1948). Whatever the reason, she looked fine in later films, so she seems to have bounced back, and she's still a very beautiful woman.

Milland is a great favorite of mine; admittedly, he tends to spend much of this film looking pained, but it fits his character, a man who seems to feel he's hit a dead end in life. Like Turner's Lily, he has to ultimately make a hard choice, and whatever it is, someone will be unhappy and he'll feel guilty. He wants it all, but that's unrealistic and frankly selfish. Milland has a really great moment in his last scene when a look of hope flashes across his face, only to be dashed.

Barry Sullivan appears occasionally as a man interested in Lily who also provides a cautionary voice as Lily moves forward. Jean Hagen, as a kind, happily married model with a child, gives a glimpse of what Lily's life could be if she is willing to start over and make better choices. Louis Calhern plays Steve's friend and lawyer.

The supporting cast is a who's who of familiar faces: Phyllis Kirk, Whit Bissell, Sara Haden, Lurene Tuttle, Percy Helton, Kathleen Freeman, Queenie Leonard, Robert Emmett Keane, and choreographer Hermes Pan, plus future sci-fi and Westerns leading lady Ann Robinson, seen modeling hosiery for a young Richard Anderson.

While the story is a bit of a downer, it's always interesting, elegantly directed by George Cukor from a script by Isobel Lennart. Excepting Lennart's last film, FUNNY GIRL (1968), I don't think I've ever seen a film scripted by Lennart which I didn't find entertaining. I especially enjoyed the first half hour, depicting the working life of a model; it would have been interesting if the filmmakers had used that as the main basis for the movie, rather than the love affair!

Speaking of the love affair, it's interesting that the film was as frank as it was about the lead characters' relationship, given the year it was made. Given the rules of the Production Code, the filmmakers make sure to impart some information about Milland's character in the final minutes which I suppose was to underscore "unfaithfulness does not pay."

It's no secret that I enjoy Lana Turner films. A LIFE OF HER OWN marks the sixth Warner Archive movie I've reviewed her in so far this year, following DANCING CO-ED (1939), SLIGHTLY DANGEROUS (1943), KEEP YOUR POWDER DRY (1945), WEEK-END AT THE WALDORF (1945), and CASS TIMBERLANE (1947). All are very worthwhile.

Reaching further back in time I've reviewed Turner in several more Warner Archive releases, CALLING DR. KILDARE (1939), SOMEWHERE I'LL FIND YOU (1942), HOMECOMING (1948), THE MERRY WIDOW (1952), and LATIN LOVERS (1953). A review of DIANE (1956) is coming soon. I encourage anyone who enjoys Turner as I do to dig deep into her filmography for many hours of enjoyable viewing.

The Warner Archive DVD of A LIFE OF HER OWN has a good picture and sound. The disc 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 Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Any Number Can Play (1949) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Clark Gable heads an all-star cast in the absorbing drama ANY NUMBER CAN PLAY (1949), available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

ANY NUMBER CAN PLAY was written by Richard Brooks, based on a novel by Edward Harris Heth. The film was directed by Mervyn LeRoy, who had previously worked with Gable on the excellent, underrated HOMECOMING (1948).

Gable plays Charley Kyng, owner of a high-class gambling establishment. The town police look the other way, thanks at least in part to Charley's substantial patronage of the annual policemen's ball; one infers that they also respect Charley's ethical management and the fact that many of the town's leading citizens patronize the business.

Charley has just been told by his doctor (Leon Ames) that his weak heart requires that he give up his high-stress occupation and live a quiet life. Over the course of the next day and a half or so we watch Charley as he deals with his family, friends, and coworkers while he also determines what he's going to do with the rest of his life.

This film would be interesting if only to watch the stunning parade of faces go by. Some of the roles are fairly small and one might be tempted to say the actors are underutilized, but added together the effect is quite powerful, as they drift in and out of Charley's day. I don't believe the film was as popular as some of Gable's other work, but perhaps in a way the movie was ahead of its time, engaging in the "elliptical" storytelling of later classic TV series such as HILL STREET BLUES or MAD MEN.

Gable is as tough, bold, and charming as ever, tempered with intimations of his mortality, as he periodically pops nitoglycerin for his chest pains. (It's a bit painful seeing Gable in this, given how he would die 11 years after this film was released.) He's in a majority of the scenes, and as good as the rest of the cast is, the film wilts a bit in the moments he's offscreen, he's that compelling.

Alexis Smith plays Gable's wife of 20 years; we initially see her as a bit weak or lonely, but as the hours pass we learn she's built of tougher stuff than we think. It turns out she hasn't missed anything going on in her home, including the disloyal behavior of her sister (Audrey Totter) and brother-in-law (Wendell Corey); we calculate she felt sorry for them and that they weren't worth bothering about, rather than seeing her as a victim. Moreover, she's tenacious about supporting her husband.

Darryl Hickman -- who was a guest at last year's TCM Classic Film Festival -- plays Gable and Smith's troubled teenage son. He's embarrassed by his father's profession and feels he doesn't measure up to his father's expectations; for his part, his father unabashedly wants to see his son settle certain conflicts with his fists, which isn't the son's style. The son has been sheltered from seeing his father's business up close until one fateful night when his mother decides he needs a life lesson.

Barry Sullivan registers especially strongly as Gable's bespectacled aide, who dotes on an unseen wife who seems to have emotional problems. If I could have learned more about any of the supporting characters in the film, it would have been him. In one of the best scenes in the movie, he shows another another side entirely when a fellow employee disses his boss; the loyal Sullivan calmly removes his glasses and gives the man what looks like a couple of near-lethal punches before having him carried outside the premises. He certainly makes the viewer wonder about his back story! Edgar Buchanan, Mickey Knox, and Caleb Peterson are the other employees.

Mary Astor has a single scene as an old flame who stops by and has a heart-to-heart with Gable. Frank Morgan nearly breaks the house bank; William Conrad tries to rob it; Lewis Stone plays an alcoholic patron Gable supports; and Marjorie Rambeau plays a well-off poker player who's one of Gable's biggest fans. Look for Griff Barnett as the police sergeant and Art Baker a restaurant owner.

Like LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA (1962), reviewed earlier this week, ANY NUMBER CAN PLAY was one of a handful of dramas produced by MGM musical producer Arthur Freed.

The remastered DVD's print quality is good, showing off the fine black and white photography by Harold Rosson. Thanks in part to Rosson's photography, the film has great mood, opening on a rainy night. Later there's an iconic shot of Gable smoking a cigarette while he takes in the activity around him that is simply stunning...even if the smoking is also another reminder of both Charley and Gable's heart issues.

I wondered if some of "Charley's" ornate interior might have been repurposed from the MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944) house, although a comparison of the staircase bannisters showed they're different. The ST. LOUIS staircase was seen in the same year's LITTLE WOMEN (1949), and the entire interior also turned up in 1947's CYNTHIA and CASS TIMBERLANE; it would be interesting to know if some of it was used in ANY NUMBER CAN PLAY or the set was built from scratch for this film.

I really enjoyed this movie, which ran a well-paced 112 minutes. For more on this interesting film, please visit a post Jacqueline wrote a few years ago at Another Old Movie Blog. I've been interested in seeing this ever since I read her post and am glad I finally caught up with it!

The Warner Archive 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 Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

Today at Disneyland: Return of the Classics, Part 2

Last weekend I posted several photos focused on what Disneyland has called the "Return of the Classics," as the Rivers of America and Disneyland Railroad have reopened after a lengthy hiatus.

Here are a few more photos taken on a visit with our daughter this morning, starting with this look at the Rivers of America. It's great to see both the Davy Crocker Explorer Canoes and the Sailing Ship Columbia circling Tom Sawyer Island once more!

Click any photo to enlarge for a closer look.

Here's a view of one of the new waterfalls, taken from the Mark Twain:

The cranes were hard at work on Star Wars Land this morning:

The beaver chewing the trestle from a different angle than last week:

The New Orleans Square train station and telegraph office, where Walt Disney's Opening Day speech from July 17, 1955, can be heard tapped out in Morse code:

A look at the Mark Twain circling the island, taken while traveling on the Disneyland Railroad:

A bonus shot of everyone's favorite rabbit, Oswald, who posed for me in California Adventure early this morning while my daughter was picking up Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission - Breakout! FastPasses:

And finally, I really like this new mug design with subtly retro colors and design:

Anyone who collects the Starbucks "You Are Here" series of mugs may want to know that there is now a 2nd Generation design available in Disneyland, although it was temporarily sold out as of today.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Gold Diggers of 1937 (1936)

I've owned a pair of Busby Berkeley DVD sets for quite a while now, but it just recently dawned on me that there was one film left in the combined sets which I'd never seen, GOLD DIGGERS OF 1937 (1936). Time to cross watching that one off my list!

The story for GOLD DIGGERS OF 1937 is pretty weak. Dick Powell -- wearing an unfortunate mustache -- plays an insurance salesman who meets an out-of-work chorus girl (Joan Blondell) looking for a job. Powell and Blondell, incidentally, were married around the time this film was made.

From there things get quite convoluted, involving a large life insurance policy on a theatrical producer named J.J. (Victor Moore); his dastardly associates (Osgood Perkins and Charles D. Brown) have been hiding the fact that J.J. is broke and are hoping they can edge him toward kicking the proverbial bucket so that his company can cash in on the policy.

Before you know it, Powell, Blondell and Co. are in "Hey, kids, let's put on a show!" mode, determined to give J.J. a great hit.

There's not much more to this 101-minute movie, excepting some mildly humorous scenes in which Glenda Farrell, as another showgirl, ends up unexpectedly falling for J.J. For the most part, the movie's all about the musical numbers, starting with Powell and Blondell singing the cute "Speaking of the Weather" in the insurance office.

That number is reprised in a big party sequence, including Lee Dixon tap dancing. Although I've seen him in a couple other '30s musicals, I remember him chiefly for his last film role in one of my favorite movies, ANGEL AND THE BADMAN (1947).

The final stage productions scenes include the typical Busby Berkeley choreographic craziness, with chorus girls and guys sitting in rows of huge rocking chairs, followed by a "battle" sequence in which the gals "win" by spraying perfume all over the men. Those scenes are pretty entertaining, although not on a par with Berkeley's inventive numbers of earlier in the decade.

All in all, GOLD DIGGERS OF 1937 is only a so-so film, but fans of the cast and Berkeley's musicals will find enough in the movie to make it worth taking a look.

Future Oscar winner Jane Wyman has a speaking line as one of the chorus girls early in the film; Carole Landis and Marjorie Weaver are also among the chorus. Rosalind Marquis and Irene Ware are prominently featured as friends of Blondell and Farrell.

Lloyd Bacon directed, with filming by Arthur Edeson.

GOLD DIGGERS OF 1937 is available on DVD in the Busby Berkeley Collection Vol. 2, currently available from Amazon for a great price. Extras include the trailer, a short, and cartoons.

It's also part of a four-film TCM Greatest Classic Films set, and it was just reissued as a single-title DVD by the Warner Archive. It's also shown periodically on Turner Classic Movies.

The trailer is on YouTube.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Happy Birthday to Rhonda Fleming!

Happy 94th birthday to Rhonda Fleming!

Fleming, an actress, singer, and philanthropist, was born in Hollywood August 10, 1923.

Fleming's credits included appearing in Hitchcock's SPELLBOUND (1945) and the iconic film noir OUT OF THE PAST (1947), seen below with Robert Mitchum; she was mainly known for her roles in Westerns and adventure films, as well as some other top-drawer film noir titles.

She was also a fine singer, though she rarely had the chance on film; A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT (1949) opposite Bing Crosby was a rare exception:

Below are photos and posters from some of my favorite Rhonda Fleming films. Links to reviews of each film may be found at the end of this post.

ABILENE TOWN (1946), which costarred Randolph Scott and Lloyd Bridges:

CRY DANGER (1951), a terrific film noir with Dick Powell:

THE REDHEAD AND THE COWBOY (1951), which costarred Glenn Ford:

TENNESSEE'S PARTNER (1955), another good Western:

SLIGHTLY SCARLET (1956), with Arlene Dahl very believably cast as Fleming's sister:

THE KILLER IS LOOSE (1956), a thriller with Joseph Cotten:

GUN GLORY (1957) with Stewart Granger, a Western which is an underrated personal favorite:

Fleming was married to Tedd Mann of Mann Theatres from 1978 until his death in 2001. Her philanthropic work has included establishing both a women's medical clinic and women's cancer clinic at UCLA Medical Center.

Rhonda Fleming films reviewed at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings: SINCE YOU WENT AWAY (1944) (bit part), WHEN STRANGERS MARRY (1944) (aka BETRAYED), SPELLBOUND (1945), ABILENE TOWN (1946), OUT OF THE PAST (1947), THE REDHEAD AND THE COWBOY (1951), CRY DANGER (1951), INFERNO (1953), THOSE REDHEADS FROM SEATTLE (1953), TENNESSEE'S PARTNER (1955), THE KILLER IS LOOSE (1956), SLIGHTLY SCARLET (1956), WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS (1956), GUN GLORY (1957), THE BIG CIRCUS (1959), and THE CROWDED SKY (1960).

Other notable Rhonda Fleming films include: THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE (1946), A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT (1949), SERPENT OF THE NILE (1953), PONY EXPRESS (1953), GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL (1957), HOME BEFORE DARK (1958), and ALIAS JESSE JAMES (1959), plus numerous additional adventure films and Westerns.

Happiest birthday wishes to Rhonda Fleming, with heartfelt thanks for many happy hours "at the movies."

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Baby Boom (1987)

The recent passing of Sam Shepard prompted me to pull an old favorite, BABY BOOM (1987), off my DVD shelf.

Despite being filled with unbelievable or illogical storytelling devices, from the casual handoff of a child's custody in an airport to the fact that the baby never ages despite roughly a year passing, BABY BOOM is a film I enjoy returning to time and again. I saw it in a theater when it was first released and have seen it multiple times in the decades since.

Diane Keaton at her most appealing? Check. Sam Shepard as an utterly adorable veterinarian? Double-check. Super-cute baby? Yep. Vermont country fantasy in a gorgeous house with a great kitchen? That too. (We'll forget the part about the leaky roof and the busted water pipes!)

Keaton plays J.C. Wiatt, a savvy businesswoman on her way up the NYC corporate ladder. Other than having a tepid relationship with an equally work-obsessed live-in boyfriend (Harold Ramis), J.C. is all about work, all the time.

That changes when J.C. gets a middle-of-the-night call summoning her to the airport to pick up an inheritance from a British cousin who has just died in an accident along with his wife. J.C. gets the surprise of her life when she's handed little Elizabeth (Kristina and Michelle Kennedy) and told she's now the baby's guardian.

For some reason a woman as smart and organized as J.C. doesn't attempt to get immediate help from a nanny (and those who do show up later are horrors), so she has a series of work disasters due to having a baby in tow. She plans to give up custody of the baby, but very quickly realizes she'd rather have Elizabeth than her boyfriend or even her current career, and off to Vermont they go.

At this point the movie really picks up speed, as the quiet but assertive Dr. Jeff Cooper enters J.C.'s life. They initially clash, as screwball heroes and heroines so often do, but that's simply hiding the attraction and longing underneath, and J.C. soon finds herself awkwardly chatting up the doc in the post office and looking for him at the town dance. The playing of their romance is one of the most delightful and real things in the movie.

I also love the way J.C. puts her business expertise to work researching and marketing her new business in gourmet baby food.

One of the interesting things about watching the movie, three decades on, is that it doesn't seem I first watched it all that long ago (!), yet a number of things have noticeably changed in the years since. For instance, no one is carrying Starbucks into the office; indeed, they drink coffee out of the same kind of horrible plastic cups with inserts which were used in the law office I worked at in the same era.

None of the people hurrying down the busy city streets have their heads buried in smart phones -- and J.C. has a Rolodex on her nightstand! I haven't seen a Rolodex...well, since I worked in an office in the '80s.

And, as seen in a terrific montage sequence, J.C.'s business grows via mail order first use of Amazon was still exactly a decade away when this movie came out.

All in all, this is a delightful film for viewers who are willing to leave a certain amount of logic aside, and it's become a rather interesting time capsule as well. (I haven't mentioned shoulder pads! Or '80s "big hair," though Keaton's style is timeless. The airline is TWA...J.C. shops at FAO Schwarz...and on it goes.)

The supporting cast includes Sam Wanamaker, Pat Hingle, Britt Leach, and a slimy James Spader. The moms in the park include Jane Elliot, who recently retired after playing Tracy Quartermaine for roughly 40 years of GENERAL HOSPITAL.

Incidentally, the twins who played Elizabeth became teachers.

BABY BOOM runs 110 well-paced minutes. It was directed by Charles Shyer, from a script Shyer cowrote with his then-wife, Nancy Meyers. The movie was filmed by William A. Fraker.

BABY BOOM has been released in a limited edition Blu-ray from Twilight Time which includes a commentary track by Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman. It's also been released on DVD and VHS, and it can be rented for streaming via Amazon Instant Video.