Monday, May 23, 2016

Tonight's Movie: The Private Affairs of Bel Ami (1947) - An Olive Films DVD Review

George Sanders and a deep cast star in THE PRIVATE AFFAIRS OF BEL AMI (1947), just released on DVD and Blu-ray by Olive Films.

I had never seen this film before watching it, thanks to the new Olive DVD. It's interesting and absorbing, if ultimately imperfect and a bit pointless. It plays rather like a Gainsborough melodrama from the UK, although not quite as much fun.

It's Paris in 1880, and Georges Duroy (George Sanders), a former soldier, is broke. By chance he runs into an old friend, Charles Forestier (John Carradine), and Charles generously sets Georges up in a job at his newspaper.

Georges quickly proves himself quite the climber, both socially and careerwise. Georges is loved by Clotilde (Angela Lansbury), a young widow with a little girl (Karolyn Grimes), but when the consumptive Charles dies, Georges sees a better opportunity in marrying Charles's clever widow (Ann Dvorak).

Georges, who acquires the nickname Bel Ami, is also entangled with the wife (Katherine Emery) of his boss (Hugo Haas), her daughter (Susan Douglas), and for good measure a lovely violinist (Frances Dee).

On the career front, Georges tangles with Laroche-Mathieu (Warren William, in his last role). And as if all this wasn't enough, Georges is also out to snag himself a title.

Where will all this loose living and calculated plotting end? On a dueling field, of course!

I'm a big fan of George Sanders, listing him as a favorite actor, but I found him less compelling in this than most of his films. It probably didn't help that he's saddled with an ugly mustache which made him look older than the 40 or 41 he was when he made this.

His character is something of an enigma for much of the film, increasingly revealed to be nothing but grasping and selfish. There's a scene where he explains to Clotilde how important it is for him, coming from a poor background, to conquer Paris, but given that he's turning down a warm future with Clotilde at the time, the viewer is not inclined to be sympathetic.

Sanders plays sort of the male version of a femme fatale, yet somehow he's not especially interesting. George Sanders, dull?! I never thought I'd use that adjective to describe him, yet I was surprised to realize that I was enjoying Carradine and William more than Sanders and his increasingly predictable character.

Lansbury is poignant as a lovely young woman who is taken with Georges at first meeting; she hopes for a future with him, while clearly seeing his flaws. Unfortunately, her Clotilde is too weak to turn her back on Georges and move on to finding a more fulfilling relationship and a healthier father figure for her daughter.

I especially liked Dee, radiant in a small role. Like Lansbury's character, she clearly sees Georges' flaws, but unlike Lansbury's Clotilde, she will not be another enabler. Georges muses that she might be the only really good woman he's ever known.

Dvorak is elegant as the wife Georges uses on his way up the ladder, then discards; in a rather startling scene which shows just how far gone they both are from any sort of decency, they negotiate the terms of their future marriage almost at the foot of her dying husband's bed. Emery is touching as a rigid woman who is wooed by Georges, then thrown over for her own daughter.

The film reunited writer-director Albert Lewin with both Sanders and Lansbury, whom he had directed in THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY (1945).

Lewin's script for this film was based on the novel by Guy de Maupassant. The overly flowery dialogue tends, at times, to make one feel the actors are playing at being "literary." There are moments of affecting depth, but at times the movie also feels pretty shallow. Perhaps that's why, in the end, I found myself wonderfing about the point of it all.

The movie was filmed in black and white by Russell Metty. It runs 112 minutes.

I do feel compelled to note that the dialogue captioning, which I happened to turn on when watching the movie at a low volume late at night, is rather bizarre; there was frequently no attempt to include the words, with "(mumbles)" appearing instead, even when I could understand the dialogue! It was most odd.

Otherwise, this Olive Films DVD is a gorgeous print. There are no extras.

Thanks to Olive Films for providing a review copy of this DVD.

Tonight's Movie: Woman on the Run (1950) - A Flicker Alley Blu-ray Review

There are two very special Blu-ray/DVD releases from Flicker Alley this month, in conjunction with the Film Noir Foundation and UCLA.

The first, TOO LATE FOR TEARS (1950), was reviewed here earlier this month.

The second film from Flicker Alley, WOMAN ON THE RUN (1950), was featured on opening night of the 2015 Noir City Film Festival. My review of that 35mm screening of the restored film may be found here.

Like TOO LATE FOR TEARS, WOMAN ON THE RUN is a combination Blu-ray/DVD set, presented with a full complement of extras, including a short "making of" documentary, a featurette on the film's restoration, another featurette on the film's locations, and a very informative commentary track by the Film Noir Foundation's Eddie Muller. For good measure a short on the San Francisco version of the Noir City festival is included.

The set's glossy 24-page booklet includes an essay by Muller.

WOMAN ON THE RUN was coproduced by star Ann Sheridan and directed by Norman Foster; Muller suspects that Sheridan chose Foster for the job. They had likely met in Mexico in the '40s, as he was working there and she lived there part of the year.

Both do a fine job handling this somewhat unusual noir in which a floundering marriage is put back together while the couple are apart during a manhunt for a murder witness.

Sheridan plays Eleanor Johnson, whose husband Frank (Ross Elliott) had the misfortune to see a murder go down while out walking their dog. The victim was a witness in a major criminal case, which now makes Frank a key witness.

Frank fears meeting a similar fate as the murder victim and hits the road. A pair of police detectives (Robert Keith and Frank Jenks) and a reporter (Dennis O'Keefe) who wants an exclusive stick to Eleanor like glue, hoping she'll lead them to Frank.

Eleanor, meanwhile, learns things about Frank she'd never known as she tries to track him down, hoping to save not only Frank but perhaps their marriage.

There's an excellent screenplay with sharp dialogue for Sheridan, who's great sparring with both Keith and O'Keefe. Director Foster cowrote the screenplay with Alan Campbell, whose wife was Dorothy Parker.

In his commentary Eddie Muller notes that there was never a finished continuity script for WOMAN ON THE RUN, and he suspects that both Keith, who was also a playwright, and O'Keefe, who did a fair amount of credited and uncredited screenplay work, were also responsible for some of the dialogue. I was interested to learn from the commentary that O'Keefe is also believed to have done uncredited writing work on the noir classic T-MEN.

Keith has an especially nice part as the detective who constantly annoys Sheridan's Eleanor, but who has a soft spot for dogs and manages to care for Eleanor and Frank's dog, Rembrandt, while also handling his investigation.

With a running time of 77 minutes, the plot is lightning-fast. The film utilizes a number of interesting San Francisco locations, as well as Bunker Hill in Los Angeles and Pacific Ocean Park in Santa Monica, both standing in for Northern California. The exciting climax includes a couple of wild roller coaster rides at the amusement park!

One of the interesting aspects of Muller's commentary is explaining how cinematographer Hal Mohr accomplished some of the process shots; one such shot, with Sheridan and O'Keefe approaching and then walking into a store, is particularly impressive.

I've listened to many commentary tracks over the years and class this one by Muller as top of the line, enriching and educational.

WOMAN ON THE RUN is an outstanding release which is a "must" for any film noir fan. Let's hope that we'll be able to enjoy similar releases from Flicker Alley and the Film Noir Foundation in the years to come.

Thanks to Flicker Alley for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray/DVD set.

TOO LATE FOR TEARS may be purchased at the Flicker Alley website as well as through retailers such as Amazon.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Susan Slept Here (1954) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

The Warner Archive has a dazzling winner with its Blu-ray release of SUSAN SLEPT HERE (1954).

SUSAN SLEPT HERE is a real favorite of mine, first reviewed here back in 2009. I've seen it a couple of times since then, including today, and it's one of those movies that continues to improve on further acquaintance.

To my mind, SUSAN is one of the most visually attractive movies ever made, and it looks absolutely stunning thanks to this new Blu-ray. Scene after scene is filled with eye-popping color -- which goes well with what is at times a jaw-dropping storyline!

One Christmas Eve in Hollywood, screenwriter Mark Christopher (Dick Powell) is surprised when a couple of cops (Herb Vigran and Horace McMahon) drop off a 17-year-old "juvenile delinquent" named Susan (Debbie Reynolds).

The cops don't want Susan to spend Christmas in jail, and they know Mark is looking for story material, so naturally they decide his apartment is the perfect place to stash Susan for a couple of days. (Yes, it's completely crazy...just like the rest of the just go with it!) Before Mark knows what hit him, he's ditching his gorgeous but chilly girlfriend Isabella (Anne Francis) in order to marry Susan "in name only" and make sure she never goes to jail.

Although Mark leaves town immediately after the ceremony, ultimately planning on an annulment, he was awfully anxious to marry her in the first place...and Susan is head over heels for Mark, determined to stay married to him for keeps.

The plot would never sell today, but the charming cast does a wonderful job. Powell's rueful been-around sarcasm contrasts wonderfully with Reynolds' effervescent Susan, and Powell's got some great quiet moments where it registers clearly on his face that Susan is just what he needs to shake up his life. Reynolds is a delight as she dives into Mark's home and life.

In addition to Francis, who has some hilarious phone call scenes with Reynolds, the great supporting cast includes Powell's '30s comrade from Warner Bros., Glenda Farrell, as his secretary and Alvy Moore as his Navy buddy turned gofer. Les Tremayne plays Powell's attorney, and Rita Johnson has a terrific scene as Tremayne's psychiatrist. Maidie Norman is charming as Powell's good-natured housekeeper.

Beyond the cast and a good script, not to mention a crazy dance/dream sequence, the movie has fabulous set design; Mark's apartment is pure eye candy, from the white Christmas tree with its red ornaments, to the fish tiles on the patio wall and the porthole window on the oven. Everywhere one looks in the apartment there's something else attractive to check out, from the Christmas cards to the stand mixer to the radio. Anyone who loves mid-Century design has to see this movie.

SUSAN SLEPT HERE was directed by Frank Tashlin. It was filmed by the great Nicholas Musuraca. The movie runs 98 minutes.

The SUSAN SLEPT HERE Blu-ray is a very highly recommended purchase. The Blu-ray includes the trailer.

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

Tonight's Movie: The Florodora Girl (1930) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Marion Davies stars as THE FLORODORA GIRL (1930), recently released on DVD by the Warner Archive.

This one was a bit slow out of the starting gate for me, but it slowly picked up steam and ultimately proved to be a cute comic melodrama.

Daisy (Davies) is a poor but lovely chorus girl. She attracts the attention of wealthy Jack Vibart (Lawrence Gray), who's engaged to wealthy Constance (Jane Keithley).

Jack thinks he'll have some fun with Daisy until he finally has to settle down and marry Constance, but Daisy is a good girl, and when she realizes Jack's intentions are less than honorable, she smacks him. Daisy's rejection and some financial reversals cause Jack to grow up and take charge of his life.

It's a bit creaky, but the good-hearted Davies, a nice supporting cast, and evocative period sets and costumes help a great deal, particularly after the first half hour. Much of the plot has a familiar feel, but it's probably good to keep in mind that the story would have been fresher in 1930 than it seems today.

In one of the funniest scenes, which illustrates "the more things change, the more they stay the same," Daisy suffers from what we now would call a "wardrobe malfunction" while at a big party. Walter Catlett is amusing as one of Jack's crowd who helps Daisy out, though not too successfully.

One of the nice aspects of the story was that Jack's mother (Nance O'Neil) was written and performed fairly free of cliches. She wants Jack to marry money -- but she's not a mean-hearted woman or a snob about Daisy's background; rather, she's a widow with two younger children who is frightened of the future.

The finale is in two-strip Technicolor; it's a bit fuzzy, but it's great to see the film as it was originally released, with the screen suddenly filled with pink and green pastels.

I kept thinking that one of Daisy's friends looked familiar and then realized it was Ilka Chase, so good in films such as NOW, VOYAGER (1942) and NO TIME FOR LOVE (1943).

One of the fun aspects for me was a scene with teenaged Anita Louise. Louise, who began her career as a child actress, was 15 when she played one of Jack's sisters.

George Chandler, who sometimes seems to be in every other movie of the '30s, plays Daisy's bicycle-riding beau.

THE FLORODORA GIRL runs 79 minutes. It was directed by Harry Beaumont and filmed by Oliver T. Marsh.

Although the picture is soft at times, particularly during the Technicolor scenes, it looks good considering its age. There are no extras on the DVD.

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.

TCM News: FilmStruck and TCM Backlot

Turner Classic Movies announced two major new initiatives the week of this year's TCM Classic Film Festival.

On Tuesday, April 26th, TCM announced the upcoming launch of a new streaming service, FilmStruck.

FilmStruck will focus on foreign, independent, and cult movies. It will be the exclusive streaming site for the Criterion Collection, and it will also feature films from the libraries of Kino, Flicker Alley, and several other companies.

It is not anticipated that much of the FilmStruck's content will mirror what's currently shown on Turner Classic Movies, other than titles from the Sunday evening TCM Imports franchise.

At the TCM press conference the day before the festival opened, we were told that the new service, which was originally named TCM Art House, is seen as a way to screen "hard to find" films.

Though TCM was dropped from the service's name due in part to the partnership with Criterion, Charles Tabesh, the senior VP in charge of programming at TCM, will be heading up programming of the streaming service. And just as on TCM, all films will be shown uncut and commercial free.

FilmStruck is envisioned as an "immersive experience" including access to "DVD extras" such as commentary tracks. Details on how the films will be presented were still being worked out at the time of the press conference, but there will be hosts on FilmStruck to provide context.

Visit the future FilmStruck website to watch a trailer.

For additional coverage of FilmStruck, Will McKinley provided a detailed analysis at his blog Cinematically Insane, and there's more from Stephen Battaglio at the Los Angeles Times.

On Wednesday, April 27th, TCM launched the TCM Backlot, described as TCM's first-ever official fan club.

The news broke so late that when I arrived at the festival press office that morning to pick up my media credential, I was completely mystified by the membership kit which was included with the credential.

At that afternoon's press conference, the TCM Backlot club was described as a way to bring classic film fans together and interact with TCM. The TCM staff said that those who join the Backlot club early on can "help us build the club."

I set up the membership that evening in order to start looking around, and I've visited the site several times since to monitor how it's developing.

TCM Backlot seems to me to have been more than a little inspired by Disney's official D23 fan club, of which I'm also a member. The annual fee for TCM Backlot is $87, which is roughly comparable to D23's $80 annual fee (that D23 fee includes shipping and handling).

The TCM Backlot website is heavy on video content and includes "behind the scenes" footage; older TCM video content, such as the short pieces which play in between movies; and tribute footage for actors such as Elliott Gould and Gina Lollobrigida which was shown at the festival.

Members recently voted on the stars for two of the days in this year's Summer Under the Stars festival, and -- like D23 -- it's anticipated that there will be events around the country where Backlot members can gather.

Those who joined Backlot at the festival could take advantage of a few special perks, including guaranteed seating for the interview with Faye Dunaway, a private tour of the Hollywood Heritage Museum, and a tour of the Academy Film Archive.

One key difference from D23 is that every quarter D23 produces the large, glossy Disney Twenty-three magazine, so fans receive something substantive for their membership fee regardless of accessing the site or attending events.

Whether fans will view a TCM Backlot membership as a worthy financial investment will, of course, depend on what the Backlot makes available going forward. At the moment it seems very much a work in progress, and I'll be continuing to follow the Backlot's development with interest over the course of the next year.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Haunted Honeymoon (1940) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Robert Montgomery stars as Dorothy Sayers' amateur detective Lord Peter Wimsey in HAUNTED HONEYMOON (1940), just released by the Warner Archive.

This film from MGM's British division, known as BUSMAN'S HONEYMOON in the UK, is presented by the Warner Archive in its original UK running time of 99 minutes. This cut of the film is substantially longer than the 83-minute U.S. print which has been shown on Turner Classic Movies. I reviewed that shorter print after watching the movie on TCM in 2008.

As the film opens, Lord Peter and his fiancee, mystery writer Harriet Vane (Constance Cummings), have jointly sworn off solving mysteries and are planning a leisurely honeymoon. Peter surprises Harriet by purchasing her fondly recalled childhood home in the country, and the newly married couple head there for their honeymoon, accompanied by Lord Peter's loyal, long-suffering butler Bunter (Sir Seymour Hicks).

All goes well, save for some difficulty getting the chimney cleared out, until a body is discovered in the cellar! Peter and Harriet try to let the professionals solve the mystery, but once their friend, Inspector Kirk (Leslie Banks) of Scotland Yard, arrives, the newlyweds find themselves drawn ever deeper into the investigation.

I found this film good company when I first saw it and again watching the Warner Archive DVD. Last time around I noted that some early exposition with supporting characters was wearisome; I still think it goes on too long, pushing Peter and Harriet offstage, but on the whole I have a sense the movie played better at this running time.

It's been long enough since I last saw it that I couldn't pick out all the scenes which were new, but the story flowed well and was satisfying.

Montgomery doesn't attempt much of a British accent, but he has an upper-crust persona which is well suited to the character. He has good chemistry trading repartee with Cummings, who seems British through and through but was actually born in Seattle. After starring in many U.S. pre-Codes, Cummings had moved to England with her British husband in the 1930s and made it her home; she eventually became a Commander of the British Empire (CBE). Cummings died in Oxfordshire in 2005. She'll be honored with a day of films shown during the annual Summer Under the Stars festival on TCM this August.

Montgomery and Cummings are surrounded by some familiar UK actors, including Robert Newton and Googie Withers.

HAUNTED HONEYMOON is an enjoyable diversion which should especially appeal to Robert Montgomery's many fans.

HAUNTED HONEYMOON was directed by Arthur B. Woods and the uncredited Richard Thorpe, who also directed Montgomery in the recently reviewed THE FIRST HUNDRED YEARS (1938). The black and white cinematography was by F.A. "Freddie" Young.

HAUNTED HONEYMOON is a nice print which, as previously stated, has an additional 16 minutes not seen by U.S. audiences. 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.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Notable Passings

...Actor Alan Young, best known for voicing a cartoon duck and acting opposite a talking horse, has passed on at the age of 96.

Young made his film debut 70 years ago playing Roy in the classic Jeanne Crain film MARGIE (1946).

He starred in the 1958-1966 TV series MISTER ED and decades later voiced Scrooge McDuck in MICKEY'S CHRISTMAS CAROL (1983), a role he continued to play in the TV series DUCK TALES, the film DUCK TALES THE MOVIE: THE TREASURE OF THE LOST LAMP (1990), and more.


Additional obituaries have appeared in The Hollywood Reporter and Variety.

...Actor William Schallert, who has 375 credits on his IMDb page, passed away on May 8th, age 93.

Schallert's best-known role was as the father on THE PATTY DUKE SHOW (1963-66). Schallert's passing came a little over a month after the passing of Duke, who played his TV daughter and her lookalike cousin.

Schallert turned up regularly in science fiction and crime films of the '50s. Favorite Schallert supporting roles include a nerdy weatherman in THE MONOLITH MONSTERS (1957), an ambulance attendant in THEM! (1954), a police dispatcher in BOBBY WARE IS MISSING (1955), and a doctor in THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957).

Schallert had a rather remarkable career as a steadily working actor for the better part of seven decades, and by all accounts was also a wonderful man.

...French actress Madeleine Lebeau, the last surviving cast member of CASABLANCA (1942), has died at 92.

Lebeau was part of the iconic scene in which the crowd sings "La Marseillaise" in Rick's Cafe. She acted until 1970, but her work in that scene alone, in one of the best-loved films of all time, guarantees she will always be remembered.

...Along with the previously mentioned MISTER ED and THE PATTY DUKE SHOW, the Sally Field TV series THE FLYING NUN (1967-70) is one of my earliest childhood TV memories. Madeleine Sherwood, who played the Mother Superior, died at the end of April, age 93.

Sherwood also memorably played Mae in the filming of Tennessee Williams' CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF (1958), seen at the left, a role she also played on Broadway. She also appeared in the stage and screen versions of Williams' SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH.

A Visit to Holy Cross Cemetery, Part 1

The weekend before the TCM Classic Film Festival my husband and I were joined by our friends Aurora, Annmarie, and Kellee for a day of sightseeing and movies.

Our busy day included a stop for lunch at El Cholo, a visit to Madame Tussauds Wax Museum on Hollywood Boulevard, and an evening at the 18th Annual Noir City Film Festival! A report on Madame Tussauds will be posted at a future date.

For the third year in a row our itinerary included a stop at an historic Los Angeles area cemetery. This year we visited Holy Cross in Culver City, a Catholic cemetery which is the final resting place of many notable filmmakers.

The day after the TCM Festival ended, my husband and I returned to Holy Cross with Raquel and her husband Carlos; Raquel shared some of her photographs in this post.

Most of my photos shared here are from our first visit, while a couple are from our return visit. My photos from Holy Cross will be divided into three separate posts spread a few days apart.

Holy Cross is a lovely, serene place, and we all found it meaningful and moving to quietly pay our respects to actors and others who have provided us with countless special hours of entertainment.

I found myself particularly moved to visit Rita Hayworth's grave, as I associate her so strongly with becoming a lifelong classic film fan, as I wrote about in 2011.

Bing Crosby:

Ann Miller and her baby daughter Mary, who died shortly after birth:

Loretta Young and her mother:

Bonita Granville Wrather. Her husband Jack is buried next to her.

Oscar-winning actor Edmond O'Brien:

Macdonald Carey:

Frank Lovejoy and his wife, Joan Banks:

Pat O'Brien.  His wife of 52 years, Eloise, was buried next to him.

Rosalind Russell's grave is unusual as she and her husband, Carl Brisson, are buried at this large monument, a fairly rare sight on the flat cemetery grounds:

We had the help of maps during our visit, but in several areas, such as the Grotto, there are numerous notable names easily found in a small area. And although we found a significant number of burial sites, there are many more greats at Holy Cross which perhaps we'll locate on a future visit, including Joan Leslie and Ricardo Montalban.

I recently realized that last year was so busy, with both the Noir City and Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festivals following the TCM Festival, that I never posted photos from our visit to Forest Lawn Glendale, although I've used a couple of individual photos in posts. I'll have two posts on Forest Lawn Glendale following this series on Holy Cross.

Previously: A Visit to Hollywood Forever Cemetery; A Visit to Westwood Village Memorial Park - The Musicians; A Visit to Westwood Village Memorial Park - The Comedians; A Visit to Westwood Village Memorial Park - The Actors; A Visit to Westwood Village Memorial Park - Writers, Directors and More.