Monday, September 22, 2014

Tonight's Movie: The Desert Song (1943) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Wow, where has THE DESERT SONG (1943) been all my life?!

Tied up by rights issues, that's where. Thankfully the Warner Archive has cleared up the legal problems and set it free, releasing it on a dazzling restored DVD. Watching THE DESERT SONG was pure joy.

I consider myself very knowledgeable when it comes to musicals, yet I previously had zero familiarity with Sigmund Romberg's THE DESERT SONG -- I hadn't even seen the 1953 Kathryn Grayson-Gordon MacRae version. I think approaching this adaptation of the operetta as a blank slate made it that much more special.

The 1943 version of THE DESERT SONG was adapted by Warner Bros. into an anti-Nazi WWII film. I can't compare it to the original, but the story here works wonderfully well.

Dennis Morgan plays Paul Hudson, a cafe pianist and singer in Africa who has a secret life as guerilla leader El Khobar.  El Khobar leads desert tribesmen against the Nazis to free enslaved workers and stop construction of a key railway line.

Irene Manning (YANKEE DOODLE DANDY) plays Margot, the French singer who falls for Paul, and Bruce Cabot is the Vichy officer who loves Margot and tries to discover El Khobar's identity. (Neither Manning or Cabot use French accents, but hey, it's 1940s Hollywood. Go with it!)

THE DESERT SONG is beautifully staged. The scene where El Khobar sings out and his army comes riding over the sand dunes, responding in song, gave me chills. In fact I think my eyes got a little misty because I respond emotionally to beauty, and it was such a thrilling moment.

A dance sequence in an out-of-the-way dive run by Pere FanFan (Gene Lockhart) is also particularly exciting and colorful, with terrific scoring. Best of all are the moments when the musical warning is played to tip the good guys off to the presence of El Khobar or the bad guys.

And the locations -- wow. Fantastic Technicolor shooting in New Mexico and Arizona. There are a few process shots, but much of the movie was filmed on location and it looks spectacular.

Morgan and Manning sing beautifully, and if I have any complaint at all, I would have liked the movie to have even more music!

It was a treat to discover Faye Emerson in the film, in a close to wordless role as a woman loyal to El Khobar. Lynne Overman is comic relief as a newspaperman who rooms with Paul and has no idea of his secret identity. The cast includes many more great faces including Victor Francen, Curt Bois, Jack La Rue, Marcel Dalio, Nestor Paiva, and Gerald Mohr.

THE DESERT SONG was directed by Robert Florey and filmed by Bert Glennon. Choreography was by LeRoy Prinz. It runs 95 minutes.

There are no extras, but this beautiful Technicolor restoration is more than enough. This is a must for those who love musicals and comes highly recommended.

The Warner Archive also just released the 1953 version with Kathryn Grayson and Gordon MacRae, which I hope to review in the next few weeks.

For more background on this release and the complicated rights issues, listen to the Warner Archive podcast.

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 at the Warner Archive website.

Audrey Long, 1922-2014

I was greatly saddened this evening to learn of the passing of actress Audrey Long, who over the past couple of years has become a real favorite of mine.

There's a surprisingly small selection of Long portraits out there on the web...hat tip to Aaron Yost for passing on the news of Long's death and Tweeting the beautiful photo above.

Audrey Long was 92 when she passed on last Friday, September 19th.

Long's death was reported by The Hollywood Reporter and the official Leslie Charteris website.

Long married Charteris, author of the long-running SAINT mystery series, in 1952 and retired from the screen. Her last film was INDIAN UPRISING (1952) opposite George Montgomery. Long and Charteris were married until his passing in 1993.

Long's performances, such as the young bride on the run in DESPERATE (1947), have a charming sweetness, but she could also believably portray spunk and determination, such as the girl on the trail of her sister's killer in STAGE STRUCK (1948).

Long's career was not especially lengthy, but her contributions to film noir and Westerns, in particular, are greatly appreciated by those who know her work.

Audrey Long films reviewed here: TALL IN THE SADDLE (1944), BORN TO KILL (1947), DESPERATE (1947), STAGE STRUCK (1948), HOMICIDE FOR THREE (1948), THE PETTY GIRL (1950), and CAVALRY SCOUT (1951).

I've collected several more of Long's films which will be reviewed here in the future.

Thanks to Audrey Long for many happy movie memories.

Tonight's Movie: Secret Command (1944)

SECRET COMMAND (1944) is a thoroughly enjoyable WWII "homefront thriller" starring Pat O'Brien and Carole Landis.

O'Brien plays Sam Gallagher, who hasn't seen his brother Jeff (Chester Morris) in years. Sam had supposedly been a European foreign correspondent when he dropped all contact with Jeff and one-time sweetheart Lee (Ruth Warrick), not even replying when their mother died.

Unbeknownst to Jeff, Sam works in U.S. intelligence and had spent time in a Nazi prison camp before escaping. He now has a secret assignment at the California shipyard where Jeff is a supervisor, trying to stop the expected sabotage attempt on a U.S. aircraft carrier.

Sam's deep cover as an ordinary shipyard worker includes a home with a pretty wife, Jill (Carole Landis, on loan from Fox), who is actually another agent and not his wife at all, plus a pair of European war orphans (Carol Nugent and Richard Lyon) posing as their children.

Things get pretty exciting at the shipyard and around the Gallagher home, especially after a sabotage attempt lands Jeff in the hospital. Meanwhile, Sam and Jill each find that they love their new lives together as an "instant family." My favorite scenes were O'Brien interacting with his new children; it's immediate love on his part, which is quite charming. He's the ideal daddy, and he wants the kids for keeps.

I found this Columbia movie to be an especially strong film of its type. It didn't have a big budget, but it had a good cast and a well-done script; in addition to the leads, the film features the fine character actors Wallace Ford, Tom Tully, and Barton MacLane. Morris and Warrick don't have a great deal of screen time, especially once his character is injured, but they make impressions at the outset.

The shipyard scenes include much better than average rear projection work; in fact, the film was nominated for an Oscar for Best Visual Effects.

The only niggling negative thought I had was that the Gallagher "children" don't seem to have been told that their new "family" is a temporary setup. They love having a Daddy and a Mommy, and it seemed rather cruel that the "agency" was just going to find them new homes when the mission was completed. No one will be surprised, however, that that does not end up being an issue. Whew!

Richard Lyon, who plays young Paul, would go on to play Irene Dunne's son Louis in ANNA AND THE KING OF SIAM (1946). He died in Wales last October.

Carol Nugent, who plays little Joan, had a long film career which included playing Lillie Gilbreth in CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN (1950) and BELLES ON THEIR TOES (1952). She was married to Nick Adams before he passed away in 1968 and has since remarried. Her sister Judy, another one-time child actress, was married to the son of actor Dub Taylor and was the mother-in-law of June Lockhart's daughter Anne, so there are many Nugent family connections to the film industry.

That's Dusty Anderson (A THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS) as the wisecracking cabbie who drives O'Brien home. The cast also includes Howard Freeman, Frank Sully, Matt McHugh, Frank Fenton, and Mary Gordon.

SECRET COMMAND was directed by Eddie Sutherland and shot by Franz Planer. It runs 82 minutes.

There's an official Carole Landis site created by her niece which has more photos from this film. According to the site, O'Brien was friends with Landis and requested her as his costar; they would also team with director Sutherland in HAVING WONDERFUL CRIME (1945). O'Brien and Landis have very nice chemistry, to the extent that it never crossed my mind while watching that O'Brien was around two decades her senior!

I saw this film thanks to Turner Classic Movies.

Around the Blogosphere This Week

Miscellaneous bits of news and fun stuff from around the internet...

...Exciting news from Cliff Aliperti of Immortal Ephemera: He's adapted some of his posts into an eBook, 11 PRE-CODE HOLLYWOOD MOVIE HISTORIES, which is available in a Kindle edition. The book also includes chapters which are exclusive to the eBook. Everyone who regularly visits Cliff's site appreciates his "deep dives" into periodicals and other sources to provide historical context on films and stars. I had the pleasure of a preview of the book this weekend and though I'm still only partway through it, based on what I've read and being a longtime reader of Cliff's site, I can highly recommend the book to anyone interested in pre-Codes and films of the '30s. As Cliff writes, "My goal is to get you excited about these movies." He plans a series of these eBooks, which is a great idea.

...Vanity Fair profiles the man behind the very useful @NextOnTCM Twitter handle.

...Coming to The Stalking Moon and Phantom Empires this November: The British Empire in Film blogathon!

...On lots of movies and "analysis paralysis": Thanks to Chris Yogerst for passing on "Man With World's Largest DVD Collection Can't Find a Thing to Watch." Anyone who's spent more time than perhaps they should sifting through too many fantastic viewing choices can relate.

...A new series of recommendations, "Underrated Thrillers," has kicked off at Rupert Pupkin Speaks. One of the first lists was by one of my friends and regular readers, Jerry Entract.

...Riding the High Country takes a look at Audie Murphy in GUNSMOKE (1953), a film I found very enjoyable.

...Next month Amazon introduces a Kids Edition of the Kindle Fire, with a colorful "kidproof" case and a two-year no-questions-asked exchange policy if it breaks.

...Jessica reviews the 1959 TV production of MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS at Comet Over Hollywood. It stars Jane Powell, Jeanne Crain, Myrna Loy, Walter Pidgeon, Tab Hunter, and Patty Duke. This is on my "to watch" list also, thanks to the help of my friend Mel!

...Thanks to Toby for passing along illustrated instructions showing how Jim Rockford makes his speedy turns.

...It's been announced that Season 3 of Dick Powell's ZANE GREY THEATRE will be released by Timeless Media on December 2nd. The previously announced Season 2 release will be next week, on September 30th.

...Shout! Factory says its October 28th Complete Series release of WKRP IN CINCINNATI will have as much uncut, original music as possible.

...Last year I fell in love with BEAUTY AND THE BOSS (1932) starring Warren William and Marian Marsh. I called it "delightfully diverting," and Kristina notes in her own review at Speakeasy that that seems to be the reviewer word of choice to describe this wonderful movie! I enjoyed revisiting it in my mind's eye thanks to Kristina's post.

...Fox Cinema Archives is bringing out a Betty Grable favorite, SONG OF THE ISLANDS (1942), on DVD. But what's with releasing such a colorful movie with a boring black and white DVD cover?

...A few days ago I had the chance to see California Chrome getting in some work at the Los Alamitos Race Course. My friend Lindsay took some beautiful photos! Unfortunately he didn't place well in last weekend's Pennsylvania Derby.

...The New York Times looked into the history of the University of Oregon's Donald Duck mascot. Thanks to Walt Disney, the university has had the right to use Donald since 1947.

...Here's a list of "New and Notable Film Books" from Leonard Maltin. Bobby Burgess wrote a memoir! He was friends with my aunt growing up in Long Beach, CA.

...Attention Southern Californians: A production of THE SOUND OF MUSIC will open at the Ahmanson Theatre in September 2015, followed by a North American tour.

...Last weekend Will McKinley Tweeted that it was the 37th anniversary of the infamous HAPPY DAYS episode which inadvertently gave us the enduring phrase "jump the shark." I was actually at the filming of the in-studio scenes for that episode!

...Notable Passing: Actress Polly Bergen has passed on at the age of 84. Her film career began in 1949 and notably included CAPE FEAR (1962) with Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum and MOVE OVER, DARLING (1963) with James Garner and Doris Day. She played Mitchum's wife in the epic TV miniseries THE WINDS OF WAR (1983) and WAR AND REMEMBRANCE (1988-89). She was an Emmy winner for a 1957 episode of PLAYHOUSE 90, "The Helen Morgan Story."

...Another Notable Passing: Philip Somerville, milliner for Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Diana, has passed on at 84.

Have a great week!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Quantez (1957)

QUANTEZ (1957) is the name of a small town near the Mexican border where a group of robbers expect to change their exhausted horses and resupply before crossing the border as they attempt to elude a posse. What the robbers find, however, is a recently deserted, rather spooky ghost town and, consequently, a very uncertain future. And most of the group doesn't even know about the nearby Indians ready to attack.

The group includes a really bad man (John Larch) who killed someone and would be happy to do it again. He's brought along his girlfriend (Dorothy Malone), who has a low self-image but knows she'd be better off with one of the more gentlemanly men in the gang (Fred MacMurray and John Gavin). Gato (Sydney Chaplin, son of Charlie) is the fourth man in the group, a white man who was raised by Indians.

As the long night passes, decisions are made and new alliances are forged. And then comes the momentous dawn...

A disparate group of travelers banding together to fight off a common enemy is one of my all-time favorite Western themes, whether the film is about a stagecoach, a wagon train, or a group journeying on horseback. However, the execution in QUANTEZ, a Universal Western, fell a little flat for me, though it does have its strong points.

The opening and closing of the film have some fantastic location photography, shown off to fine effect on the beautiful Universal Vault Series DVD. Carl E. Guthrie shot the film in Eastman Color and CinemaScope, and these exciting exterior action scenes look terrific.

Fred MacMurray is excellent as the "wise man" of the group, the one who knows how to care for failing horses, how to make it over the border, and who repeatedly serves as peacemaker. How a man with his qualities ended up as a robber is one of the film's mysteries, never fully explained, but as the story of his redemption, the film is quite satisfying. I also particularly liked John Gavin, in one of his very earliest screen roles.

Where I felt the movie struggled, however, was in its long middle act. The late-night interior scenes are beautifully lit and shot, with rich blues and oranges, but it feels rather like a filmed stage play dropped into the middle of an action movie. The characters talk and talk and then talk some more, walking in and out of the building as they gather in different configurations. I don't consider myself an impatient viewer, but I was more than ready for that sunrise!

The final action scenes are excellent, with some unique location work I really appreciated. (I haven't yet found out where the movie was shot; my best guess would be the Tucson area.) Ironically, the moment of redemption is done and over so quickly that I was a bit stunned when "The End" came on the screen, leaving me to wonder about the characters momentarily saved yet stranded in the middle of nowhere.  A more evenly paced script with less talk and more doing would have made better use of the film's strengths, in my estimation.

James Barton and Michael Ansara round out the cast. This 80-minute film was directed by Harry Keller. The screenplay by R. Wright Campbell was based on a story he wrote with Anne Edwards.

For a deeper look at QUANTEZ, please visit Toby's review and the ensuing discussion with several knowledgeable Western fans at 50 Westerns From the 50s.

My great appreciation to Blake Lucas for lending me his copy of this film!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Texas Lawmen (1951) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

TEXAS LAWMEN (1951) is another solid Johnny Mack Brown Western which is part of the Monogram Cowboy Collection, Vol. 1, from the Warner Archive.

Brown stars as Marshal Johnny Mack Brown, sent to a small, dusty town to attempt to solve the murder of the sheriff (Pierce Lyden) by stage robbers he was chasing.

Johnny meets the acting sheriff, young Tod Merrick (James "Jimmy" Ellison), who's nice enough yet seems to be hiding a secret. Turns out it's quite a big secret indeed.

TEXAS LAWMEN has a tight 54-minute screenplay which, unlike the last Brown Western I watched, isn't overly padded with shots of people racing around on horseback. There are some such scenes, notably the opening stagecoach robbery, but the ratio of horseback riding to dialogue seemed more appropriate this time around!

The Joseph Poland screenplay was based on a story by longtime Western character actor Myron Healey, who also wrote the screenplay for Johnny Mack Brown's COLORADO AMBUSH (1951). Healey costarred in COLORADO AMBUSH. These two films were his only writing credits. It's so interesting to discover an actor like Healey was a man of multiple talents!

As in the other two Brown Westerns seen to date, Lyle Talbot turns up in a small role, this time around as the town doctor. The cast also includes reliable veterans I. Stanford Jolley and Lee Roberts as bad guys.

Brown once more does his own fight scene; he does these very well indeed. I rewound a scene where he takes a fall off his horse and rolls downhill, and there was a quick, unobtrusive cut to the stuntman for that one.

An oops: The sign at the marshal's office reads "Marshall's" with an extra L.

TEXAS LAWMEN was directed by Lewis Collins. It was shot in black and white by Ernest Miller.

Like the other Brown films seen to date from this DVD set, the picture and sound quality are excellent.

I'm really enjoying Brown's Monogram Westerns and look forward to seeing more.

Previous films reviewed from this set: Johnny Mack Brown in OKLAHOMA JUSTICE (1951) and MAN FROM SONORA (1951), along with Rod Cameron in CAVALRY SCOUT (1951).

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

Maverick: The Complete Fourth Season - A Warner Archive TV Series Review

I've recently been happy to spend more time with my favorite TV series, MAVERICK, as I have reviewed the beautiful Season 4 release of the show from the Warner Archive.

I reviewed the Season 3 set in late July. Whereas Season 3 contained 26 episodes in one case, Season 4 comes in two cases, "Part One" and "Part Two," with each case containing 16 episodes on four discs.

Like Season 3, Season 4 is a very fine-looking set. MAVERICK fans will be delighted to own it, and I encourage those who don't yet know the series to check it out.

James Garner had left the show by this point, and the very first episode of Season 4, "The Bundle From Britain," introduces Cousin Beau Maverick, played by Roger Moore. (Yes, it's explained why a Maverick has a British accent!) Moore proved to be a fine addition to the show; like costar Jack Kelly (Bart Maverick), Moore was at home in both the lighthearted episodes and the more dramatic stories.

Near the end of the season the show also introduced Robert Colbert as brother Brent Maverick in two episodes, "The Forbidden City" and "Benefit of Doubt." (He's seen below with Kelly and Moore.) Colbert seems to have been chosen for his resemblance to Garner, but the less said about his flat and uninspired performance, the better. Colbert has had a long and successful career as a working actor, including an extended run on THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS, but he was simply the wrong fit here.

Season 4 also has one final Garner episode, "The Maverick Line," which had been intended as the season premiere before it was realized Garner would leave the show. It's a fun episode with both brothers and Buddy Ebsen as a genial outlaw.

Chief among the Season 4 highlights is "Hadley's Hunters," a Jack Kelly episode with several Warner Bros. TV Western stars making cameos, including Clint Walker, John Russell, and Ty Hardin. The great cast also includes Edgar Buchanan, George Kennedy, and perennial '50s Western villain Robert J. Wilke.

Other favorites include Moore and guest star Merry Anders in "The Town That Wasn't There," in which an entire town moves and then moves again; "Bolt From the Blue," a Moore episode written and directed by Robert Altman; Jeanne Cooper and Michael Pate in "Flood's Folly," a Moore episode with travelers stranded by a blizzard; the Kelly episode "Dodge City or Bust"; and "Triple Indemnity," another Kelly episode which marked Peter Breck's first appearance in his recurring role as Doc Holliday, taking over from Gerald Mohr who played the part twice earlier in the series run.

I especially enjoyed revisiting "Substitute Gun" for the first time in years. When I watched the series years ago, the name of guest star Coleen Gray meant nothing to me. Since then I've come to appreciate her film career, seen her speak on two occasions, and had the pleasure of an hour-long phone interview. It was a lot of fun seeing her play opposite Jack Kelly in the episode.

In addition to being a good-looking set, the discs have a nice robust sound quality. The closing theme song sounds terrific.

While it's true that the first two to three seasons of the series are the strongest, for me any season of MAVERICK stands head and shoulders over most other television. I've watched these episodes countless times, and I'll be watching them again in the future, thrilled to have them on DVD at last.

Highly recommended.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD collection. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered at the Warner Archive website. Please note that the initial sets of this series sold at the Warner Archive site are traditionally replicated (pressed) rather than burned on demand.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Jealousy (1945) at UCLA

Tonight I spent a pleasant evening in Westwood enjoying a double bill in UCLA's Exile Noir series, which features films with foreign-born directors.

First up was Olivia de Havilland in Robert Siodmak's THE DARK MIRROR (1946), which I reviewed after seeing it at the 2011 Noir City Film Festival. I liked the film in 2011 but hadn't remembered it well so I was glad to have the chance to see it again.

THE DARK MIRROR features de Havilland in a tour de force as identical twins, providing half the characters in what is essentially a four-person psychological crime drama. The film also has a genial performance by de Havilland's GONE WITH THE WIND (1939) costar Thomas Mitchell as a police detective, a sympathetic role for Lew Ayres as a psychologist, and quite remarkable special effects. The script has an occasional "Huh?" moment but all in all it's a fun movie.

I was especially interested in the chance to see the rare second film on tonight's program, a "B" noir from Republic Pictures titled JEALOUSY (1945). It's the kind of relatively unknown film I really enjoy checking out.

JEALOUSY proved to be quite rewarding, with lots of great L.A. atmosphere, terrific cinematography, and a plot twist I admit I didn't see coming, which surprised me yet made perfect sense. (Never fear, it shall not be given away here.) The script by Arnold Phillips and director Gustav Machaty was based on a story by Dalton Trumbo.

JEALOUSY stars Jane Randolph of CAT PEOPLE (1942) as Janet, who works as a cabbie supporting her bitter, depressed Czech immigrant husband Peter (Nils Asther). Peter was a renowned writer in his native country but can't seem to work up the interest in starting over in California, even with his wife's loyal support. Peter threatens to kill himself -- or to drive his wife to do it for him.

Janet meets kind Dr. David Brent (John Loder) when he rides in her cab, and they bond over a shared love of Brahms. David has never married, content to immerse himself in his work alongside his partner, Dr. Monica Anderson (Karen Morley), but now he's finally found love. If only Janet were free...

This 71-minute film is fairly dark -- after a while the audience is ready to kill Peter, if Janet won't! -- but it moves along briskly and has much to recommend it. The black and white photography by Henry Sharp is filled with odd angles, shadows, and interesting shots, such as the startled face of a cat at the moment a crime is committed.

The film does one of the best jobs I've ever seen in conveying the feel of Los Angeles; most of it is done through establishing shots, but they're very well chosen and different from the norm, including Hollywood at Christmas. There's also a fun scene of movie extras eating lunch at a cafe.

Although we were forewarned that the 35mm print was complete but missing "The End," the story still ended a bit too abruptly; a more satisfying ending would have been a nice finishing touch for a well-constructed film which kept me guessing trying to tell good characters from bad for most of the film.

The director, Gustav Machaty, was himself a Czech immigrant. An interesting bit of trivia is that he directed Hedy Lamarr in the infamous ECSTASY (1933); the leading man of JEALOUSY, John Loder, was married to Lamarr in the mid '40s. They had two children; the marriage ended in 1947, the year they costarred in DISHONORED LADY.

The supporting cast of JEALOUSY included actor-writer-director Hugo Haas. Holmes Herbert plays an attorney.

Hopefully this film will one day find its way to DVD so that more noir fans can enjoy checking it out.

I plan to return to UCLA next weekend for more noir!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Tonight's Movie: I Live My Life (1935) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

I LIVE MY LIFE (1935) is a pleasant romantic comedy starring Joan Crawford and Brian Aherne, available from the Warner Archive.

Crawford plays Kay Bentley, a spoiled rich girl sailing with her father (Frank Morgan) and a retinue of friends and servants off a Greek island. When Kay goes ashore she meets archaeologist Terry O'Neill (Brian Aherne); she's terribly attracted to him, but doesn't disclose her true identity, as Terry has made it clear he's not interested in the types of people who travel by yacht.

Terry wants to marry Kay and eventually follows her to New York, only to learn she's not a secretary named Ann Morrison. Terry and Kay realize they are madly in love but first must work past her flightiness, her fiance (Fred Keating), her father's debt crisis, her dragon of a rich grandmother (Jessie Ralph) -- and his loathing of office jobs. Can Kay be happy following her husband to dig sites around the world?

I LIFE MY LIFE is an enjoyable film, though at 97 minutes it's definitely too long waiting for Crawford and Aherne to finally make up their minds to marry. It's not what I'd call a lighter-than-air comedy -- Crawford riding a mule at the outset is a case study in trying too hard to be funny -- but despite some flaws the movie has a number of good things in it and held my interest. The journey is made especially worthwhile by the cast -- and if a viewer gets bored there's always Crawford's bizarre wardrobe by Adrian to goggle at. Those collars!

Crawford's immature character can be annoying, but because Terry is so likeable and loves her, we want to like her too. Aherne makes the movie -- deeply in love, funny, and not willing to take any guff. He has a couple very good speeches early on, encouraging Crawford that if she's not happy, she doesn't have to accept herself as she is, and he makes the devotion he feels for a woman who's admittedly rather an airhead believable. It's hard to understand why Crawford doesn't go for such a handsome, understanding, and intelligent man immediately, but if she had, there wouldn't have been a movie!

Aherne was in a number of other good romantic comedies including MERRILY WE LIVE (1938), HIRED WIFE (1940) and A NIGHT TO REMEMBER (1943).

Eric Blore and Arthur Treacher threaten to steal the film as battling butlers. Sterling Holloway is a worker at Aherne's dig site, Aline MacMahon plays Aherne's business associate, Esther Dale is a housekeeper, and Hedda Hopper has a tiny role as one of Crawford's relatives. Although she's not listed at IMDb, I believe Marcia Mae Jones is one of the children at the Christmas party at the end.

Other familiar faces with small roles include Shirley Ross, Jason Robards Sr., Etienne Girardot, Lionel Stander, Tom Dugan, Vince Barnett, Frank Conroy, Nella Walker, and Leonid Kinskey (quite amusing as a soup-drinking waiter).

I LIVE MY LIFE was directed by W.S. Van Dyke (THE THIN MAN) from a script by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. It was filmed by George Folsey and the uncredited William H. Daniels. The score is by Dimitri Tiomkin.

The Warner Archive DVD is for the most part a fine print. 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 at the Warner Archive website.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Fort Osage (1952) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Western fans will like FORT OSAGE (1952), an entertaining Rod Cameron Western available as part of the Monogram Cowboy Collection, Vol. 2, from the Warner Archive.

Last night I reviewed another Cameron film in the set, the entertaining WAGONS WEST (1952), and I thought this one was even better. Western specialist Lesley Selander directed FORT OSAGE with his typical vigor, making it an enjoyable 72 minutes.

Cameron plays wagonmaster Tom Clay, who arrives in Fort Osage with news that the Osage are on the warpath. He advises wagon train organizer Arthur Pickett (Morris Ankrum) against sending the wagon train on its way to California until the situation with the Osage tribe is resolved.

It turns out that Pickett's confederate George Keane (Douglas Kennedy) had encouraged Pickett not to give the tribe goods due to them as part of a treaty, and without Pickett's knowledge five Indian braves were murdered by Keane and his men.

Clay tries to untangle the problems of the tribe and the westward-bound settlers, and meanwhile he's also got his eye on pretty Ann Pickett (Jane Nigh).

Like WAGONS WEST, FORT OSAGE was written by Daniel Ullman and photographed by Harry Neumann in Cinecolor, but this Walter Mirisch production feels stronger overall, with a more coherent script which includes a sympathetic treatment of Indians. Director Selander also stages a strong fistfight between Cameron and a would-be assassin (Fred Graham).

The DVD looks absolutely terrific; it has the usual strong Cinecolor greens, browns, and oranges, but the print is more stable than some Cinecolor prints, and the film's look will really appeal to Cinecolor buffs such as myself. The colors do fade in and out a bit during a scene where Cameron goes to meet the Osage, but for the most part this is one of the best-looking Cinecolor prints I've ever seen. It was a real pleasure to watch it.

It's another plus that the movie's Southern California exteriors are free of annoyances such as rear projections and day for night shooting. This is a very nice-looking low-budget film.

The cast is filled with faces who feel like old friends. In addition to Cameron, Kennedy, Ankrum, and Nigh, the cast includes John Ridgely, always a favorite of mine, plus Myron Healey, Stan Jolley, Dorothy Adams, Lane Bradford, Barbara Woodell, and Iron Eyes Cody.

Pretty Anne Kimbell, who has a small role as Annie Winfield, was also in last night's film, WAGONS WEST (1952), as Noah Beery Jr.'s pregnant wife. Kimbell was busy on screen throughout the '50s; IMDb indicates she retired for life as the wife of a foreign service officer. She also worked at one time for the University of Southern California. Kimbell now writes spy thrillers; she has an Amazon page. She is also the President of the Board of Directors of the Westcliffe Center for the Performing Arts in Colorado. What a very interesting life!

The Rod Cameron Westerns in Vol. 2 of the Warner Archive's Monogram Cowboy Collection have made this set a winner for me thus far. Look for reviews of the set's Whip Wilson films here in the future, as well as additional reviews of Vol. 1 films starring Jimmy Wakely and Johnny Mack Brown.

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

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Wagons West (1952) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

WAGONS WEST (1952) is an enjoyable Western starring Rod Cameron and Peggie Castle. It's available as part of the Monogram Cowboy Collection, Vol. 2, from the Warner Archive.

Cameron plays Jeff Curtis, a kindly wagon train guide hired by Cyrus Cook (Frank Ferguson). Cook and his nephews Clay (Henry Brandon) and Gaylord (Riley Hill) are unfortunately nasty types, the kind who would order a boy to shoot his dog rather than bring it on the journey west, and they're also the types who would smuggle guns to sell to the Cheyenne.

What's more, Clay has it in for Jeff when Jeff takes a shine to Ann (Castle), and Clay is even more enraged when Ann gets past her initial skepticism of Jeff and returns his affection.

WAGONS WEST has a strictly paint-by-the-numbers plot and at 70 minutes could have stood to have a few more scenes explaining characters and building relationships, but I had quite a nice time watching it. Simply put, it stars actors I like in the kind of story I enjoy.

This pleasant, undemanding but entertaining film was a great way to wrap up a relaxing day's movie watching. (With temperatures here hovering over 100 degrees, taking it easy with some movies made for a perfect Sunday.) I expect my fellow Western fans will probably like it as well.

It's no secret here I'm a fan of both Cameron and Castle, and I really enjoyed them paired in the leads. Noah Beery Jr. heads the supporting cast as a man with a mysterious past and a very pregnant wife (Anne Kimbell). The personable Beery always adds a little something extra to the Westerns in which he appears, and this film is no exception.

Michael Chapin plays Peggie Castle's younger brother; Michael was the brother of child actors Lauren (FATHER KNOWS BEST) and Billy Chapin. Sara Haden of the ANDY HARDY series plays Frank Ferguson's wife. Other familiar faces include Glenn Strange and I. Stanford Jolley.

The movie was shot in the inexpensive Cinecolor process, and the colors in the early scenes are quite variable. It seems to settle down as the movie goes on, or perhaps I just got used to the film's look after a while! The cinematographer was Harry Neumann. The movie was almost entirely shot outdoors on Southern California locations.

The film was directed by Ford Beebe from a screenplay by Daniel Ullman. Ullman is a recurring name in my viewing in recent months, providing a number of enjoyable films including the Warner Archive's WICHITA (1955) and CANYON RIVER (1956).

WAGONS WEST is one of two Cinecolor Cameron Westerns included in Vol. 2 of the Archive's Monogram Cowboy Collection. It's a fine print, given the inherent limitations of Cinecolor. There are no extras.

The other six films in the set star Whip Wilson, an actor whose work I don't yet know. Look for more reviews of films in this set in the future.

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