Monday, February 20, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Battleground (1949) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

The classic WWII film BATTLEGROUND (1949) is now available on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive.

In a nice coincidence, this film about the siege of Bastogne in late 1944 was on my list of 10 Classics to see in 2017. I just posted the final review from my 2016 list last night, and now my 2017 list is off and running!

BATTLEGROUND is an MGM film directed by William A. Wellman from an Oscar-winning script by associate producer Robert A. Pirosh.

The film is about a section of the 101st Airborne which is trapped in the area of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. The Germans are so close they have even infiltrated the Allies in stolen uniforms. It's constantly snowing, rations are low, and poor flying conditions are preventing relief supplies from being dropped.

The men lean on their friendships and remember their families back home as they struggle for survival. Some will make it through, but many won't.

The movie's look, with the soldiers constantly against a snow white background, is unforgettable, and there are actors to match: Van Johnson, John Hodiak, George Murphy, Ricardo Montalban, Marshall Thompson, James Whitmore, Don Taylor, Herbert Anderson, Leon Ames, Jerome Courtland, Richard Jaeckel, and many more. Their performances are believably low-key, yet they're in the midst of high drama.

It's a tough film to watch, especially as several of the actors' characters don't survive, yet it's so well made you can't quit either. Thinking of the men who actually went through the experience in real life is sobering. It's a great relief when the film's 118 minutes are up and the unit is able to march back from the front.

Much of the movie must have been filmed in soundstages, but it feels authentically cold and miserable. It's a dark, gritty film with superb black and white photography by Paul C. Vogel; his work almost has a documentary look. Vogel deservedly won an Academy Award.

It's interesting to note that some of the cast were no strangers to WWII movies. Johnson, for instance, had starred in THIRTY SECONDS OVER TOKYO (1944), and he and Hodiak were both in COMMAND DECISION (1948) the year before BATTLEGROUND.

Movies like BATTLEGROUND, COMMAND DECISION, or TWELVE O'CLOCK HIGH (1949) seem to have been a way to help the country work through feelings of trauma in the years immediately following the war, while simultaneously paying tribute to those who served.

The BATTLEGROUND Blu-ray is a beautiful print. It imports a trailer, cartoon, and Pete Smith short from the original DVD release.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the WBShop.

Tonight's Movies: Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928) and College (1927) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

This week Kino Lorber releases a terrific two-disc set with a pair of silent Buster Keaton comedies, STEAMBOAT BILL, JR. (1928) and COLLEGE (1927).

Like the set I recently reviewed with Keaton's THE GENERAL (1926) and THREE AGES (1923), both films are great-looking new 2K restorations from Lobster Films. Each movie comes on its own disc with excellent extras, which are listed at the end of this review.

I found both films quite entertaining. This was my second time to see STEAMBOAT BILL, JR., which I first saw with a live orchestra at the 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival.

Having now seen additional Keaton films, I enjoyed returning to STEAMBOAT BILL, JR., and this time I appreciated it even more.

STEAMBOAT BILL, JR., is the story of a young dandy (Keaton), who is reunited with his steamboat captain father (Ernest Torrence) for the first time in many years.

The father, who is struggling to keep his business afloat, so to speak, initially despairs of his citified son, but when Jr. breaks his dad out of jail they reach a new understanding.

Jr. is sweet on Kitty King (Marion Byron), whose father (Tom McGuire), has been trying to put Steamboat Bill out of business, but when a huge storm hits Jr. has the chance to rescue the Kings and unite their families.

This one should be seen for the stunts alone, which are completely mind-blowing; they include the famous scene where the wall of a house falls over, with Keaton perfectly on target to miss being hit. It has to be seen to be believed. His physicality, also seen climbing from level to level on the boat, is simply amazing.

STEAMBOAT BILL, JR., was directed by Charles Reisner and the uncredited Keaton. It was filmed by Bert Haines and Dev Jennings. The running time is 70 minutes.

COLLEGE is somewhat reminiscent of Harold Lloyd's THE FRESHMAN (1925), with Keaton as an awkward new college student, but it succeeds on its own terms thanks to a series of amusing visual jokes.

The scholastically oriented Keaton character decides to become an athlete in order to impress a young lady (Anne Cornwall), with awkward results. Baseball, track and field, and rowing all challenge him -- though somehow, while working as a waiter, he can do a backwards somersault without spilling a cup of coffee! I had to replay that delightful scene for a second look.

Ultimately, though, he's suddenly able to put athletic skills to work in order to save his lady love when her reputation is about to be compromised by a rival (Harold Goodwin).

Like STEAMBOAT BILL, JR., so much of the movie is based in physical humor and derring-do that it defies easy description. Incidentally, I was interested to learn that, as physically agile as Keaton was, his final pole vault into a window had to be doubled by an Olympic gold medalist!

COLLEGE was directed by James W. Horne along with the uncredited Keaton. Like STEAMBOAT BILL, JR., it was filmed by Bert Haines and Dev Jennings. The running time is 66 minutes.

STEAMBOAT BILL, JR., and COLLEGE each have a choice of orchestral or organ music track; I listened to the orchestral scores by Timothy Brock (STEAMBOAT BILL, JR.) and the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra (COLLEGE) for my reviews.

STEAMBOAT BILL, JR., also comes with a commentary track, an introduction, and a vintage Alka-Seltzer commercial with Keaton.

COLLEGE includes a fascinating 10-minute locations tour with John Bengston which I suspect will be particularly appreciated by Southern Californians. The movie was shot at USC, the Coliseum, and Newport Bay, among other familiar locations.

The COLLEGE disc also includes a silent Mack Sennett short, RUN, GIRL, RUN (1928), starring Carole Lombard. It was silly but as a Lombard fan I enjoyed the chance to see some of her early work.

Other extras on the COLLEGE disc are two different introductions (one by Lillian Gish) plus Keaton's last onscreen performance, in an industrial short called THE SCRIBE (1966).

I reviewed the Blu-ray edition of this set, which is also available from Kino on DVD.

Keaton fans will also want to check out my recent review of another new two-film set from Kino Lorber, containing THE GENERAL (1926) and THREE AGES (1923).

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

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Tonight's Movie: To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

It's finally time for the final review from my list of 10 Classics to see in 2016, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962).

This was, to be honest, the only film on last year's list which I didn't really enjoy. Though I've not felt drawn to the story over the years, I did expect to like the film more than I did, especially because of Gregory Peck. He's wonderful, but I didn't care for much else about either the story or the movie's style.

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is, of course, based on the novel by Harper Lee. The screenplay was written by Lee and Horton Foote.

It's the story of six-year-old Scout (Mary Badham) and her older brother Jem (Phillip Alford), who live with their widowed attorney father, Atticus (Peck), in a small Southern town during the Great Depression.

The children have a loving relationship with their father and are also cared for by housekeeper Calpurnia (Estelle Evans) and thoughtful neighbor Miss Maudie (Rosemary Murphy), but otherwise life in town is filled with fearful and unpleasant characters.

And while the children navigate a challenging environment, including difficult experiences at school, their father is appointed to defend a young black man (Brock Peters) wrongly accused of rape.

The movie felt similar in some ways to STARS IN MY CROWN (1950), in which an honorable preacher raises his orphaned nephew and deals with bigotry, but I think the warm, lovingly made and less self-conscious STARS IN MY CROWN is much the superior film.

There seems to be a certain style of Very Important Movie of the late '50s/early '60s which just doesn't work for me, feeling phony, unrealistic, negative, or all three. 12 ANGRY MEN (1957) and INHERIT THE WIND (1960) are two additional examples; interestingly, all three films have courtroom settings.

My problem with these movies isn't about the depiction of legal injustices or the like. It’s more a certain self-important tone and general attitude that the world is a rotten place.

In the case of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, I felt wary from the slow, artsy-craftsy opening credits, which practically screamed “syrupy, sad movie coming”!

Peck was absolutely wonderful, of course, but other than his character’s parental warmth and honor, I didn’t find much of interest about the story.

I didn’t care for the Scout character or the kids in the movie in general – and what’s with calling their father by his first name? -- and I especially didn’t enjoy the children having one sour experience after another, whether dealing with various neighbors or at school. Other than some caring adults in their lives, there was no hint of happy childhood experiences to balance out the darkness.

Atticus Finch might be a shining beacon of what is good in the world, but much of the film was spent depicting why his town was a pretty terrible place to grow up. All in all, not that pleasant to watch, and not a movie I expect to return to anytime soon.

I can understand to a certain extent why so many people admire the film, but it's just not my cup of the proverbial tea. And that makes the proverbial world go 'round!

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD was directed by Robert Mulligan and filmed by Russell Harlan. It runs a long 129 minutes.

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is available on DVD and Blu-ray, and it can be streamed via Amazon.

Onward to my 2017 list! I'll be reviewing my first film from that list, BATTLEGROUND (1949), in the near future.

Tonight's Movie: Cass Timberlane (1947) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Friday's big Southern California rainstorm knocked out our Internet! Thankfully a repairman came out on a Sunday, so I'm up and running again after 48 hours offline. I'll be catching up on several reviews I have in the works as I'm able.

First up: Spencer Tracy, Lana Turner, and Zachary Scott in CASS TIMBERLANE (1947), available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

For someone who recently admitted not liking Spencer Tracy all that much, I've sure seen a lot of him so far this year! CASS TIMBERLANE follows my recent reviews of other Tracy releases from the Warner Archive, TORTILLA FLAT (1942), THE PEOPLE AGAINST O'HARA (1951), and the brand-new Blu-ray BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (1955).

Like the other Tracy films, I was drawn to CASS TIMBERLANE because it's an MGM production with a superb supporting cast. And I must say that, as it happens, this is one of Tracy's most likeable performances.

He plays the title character in this adaptation of a Sinclair Lewis novel, written by Donald Ogden Stewart. Timberlane is a small-town judge who is generally happy with his job (when it's not putting him to sleep) and his friends (when they're not gossiping or trying to plan his life behind his back). However, the widowed judge is rather lonely in his huge, dark mansion.

Enter Ginny Marshland (Turner), who Timberlane first meets when she's the witness in a small claims case. He bumps into her again, takes her to dinner, and soon a May-December romance is brewing, to the displeasure of his country club set, who think he should marry Chris (Margaret Lindsay).

Cass and Ginny marry and she's soon let sunshine into both his home and his life in general. The couple's happiness is marred only by the loss of their expected baby and Ginny's boredom with her expected social "role" and feelings of not fitting in with his "set."  And there's also the problem of Bradd (Scott), a friend of Cass's Ginny does like, but Bradd might be becoming a little too close to his friend's wife.

This is a fairly interesting marital drama, populated with a terrific cast. Cass and Ginny's love transcending age and class differences feels believable, though on the other hand one has to wonder why Cass likes his rather unpleasant friends so well. Inertia and expectations?

The second hour of the film isn't as compelling as the first, as marital problems replace the more interesting scenes of courtship and Ginny adapting to life with Cass. The story is overly drawn out at 119 minutes, yet at the same time some of the story shifts are a bit abrupt.  All in all, though, it's an entertaining film which I enjoyed.

Aside from Chris, the kindest of Cass's friends is Lillian, played by Josephine Hutchinson. It was lovely to see her in this, having recently watched her in a pair of '30s Warner Archive releases, HAPPINESS AHEAD (1934) and OIL FOR THE LAMPS OF CHINA (1935).

In fact, the movie provides a reunion of '30s Warner Bros. players; in addition to Lindsay and Hutchinson, John Litel and Mary Astor are in this as well. Unfortunately, although Astor delivers a handful of acidic lines with panache, she's fairly lost among the crowd.

The cast also includes Selena Royle, John Alexander, Tom Drake, Albert Dekker, Richard Gaines, Rose Hobart, Mona Barrie, Cameron Mitchell, Griff Barnett, Milburn Stone, Frank Ferguson, Jessie Grayson, and Howard Freeman. And it's no surprise when perennial dress extra Bess Flowers turns up in a cocktail party scene -- which also has a cameo by Walter Pidgeon! Casts just don't come any better.

CASS TIMBERLANE was directed by George Sidney and filmed in black and white by Robert Planck.

MGM fans will enjoy some good looks at "St. Louis Street." As was the case in the same year's CYNTHIA (1947), Cass lives down the street from the MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS house -- yet when you go inside, the staircase and living room are the Smith house set!

For more on this film, please visit a good post by my friend Cliff at Immortal Ephemera.

The Warner Archive DVD is 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 from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Women Are Like That (1938)

Kay Francis and Pat O'Brien star in the Warner Bros. marital melodrama WOMEN ARE LIKE THAT (1938).

The movie opens in promising fashion, as Claire (Francis) leaves her stuffy society fiance Martin (Ralph Forbes) at the altar and elopes with Bill (O'Brien).

All is well at first, but then Claire's irresponsible father (Thurston Hall) embezzles money from the advertising agency where Bill and Martin both work. Bill proposes to essentially work for free until the money is recouped if the partners will shield his wife from knowing what her father did.

Bill becomes frustrated as business tanks under Martin's leadership. When Claire is able to land an account for the struggling company, Bill isn't thrilled -- he's humiliated and in short order takes off on a long trip just like her father did. Can this marriage be saved?

WOMEN ARE LIKE THAT stars two favorite Warner Bros. actors in Francis and O'Brien, but while the film has its pleasant moments, it's on the tedious side. Bill's about face from loving husband to obnoxious jerk is hard to take, even factoring in different attitudes of the era, and the couple spend more of the movie bickering than romancing.

It's one of those films which is pleasant "background noise" to have on the TV, thanks to the lead actors and Francis's typically lovely gowns by Orry-Kelly, but the plot is forgettable and all in all it could have been a lot better.

The supporting cast includes Grant Mitchell, Sarah Edwards, Melville Cooper, Joyce Compton, and Gordon Oliver. Carole Landis, who would become a friend of O'Brien's and costar with him in the terrific SECRET COMMAND (1944), has a prominent bit role as a guest at a cocktail party. They would also appear together in HAVING WONDERFUL CRIME (1945) before her untimely death in 1948.

WOMEN ARE LIKE THAT runs 79 minutes. It was directed by Stanley Logan. The movie was filmed in black and white by Sid Hickox.

This film is not available on VHS or DVD. It may be seen on Turner Classic Movies. The trailer is at the TCM website.

Tonight's Movie: Desperate Journey (1942)

I've watched a number of films recently starring Errol Flynn or Ronald Reagan, and DESPERATE JOURNEY (1942) gave me a two for one deal, with Flynn and Reagan as costars.

Flynn plays an Aussie and Reagan an American who fly for the RAF, along with a Canadian (Arthur Kennedy), a Scotsman (Alan Hale Sr.), and a young British airman (Ronald Sinclair). This group are the sole survivors of the crash of their Flying Fortress after a mission to take out a rail line deep in German territory.

Though they're initially captured by a German major (Raymond Massey), the men manage to escape, after which they embark on a series of perilous adventures as they attempt to make their way back to England.

While not as realistic as the similarly themed British film ONE OF OUR AIRCRAFT IS MISSING (1942), which was released in the U.S. just a couple of weeks later, DESPERATE JOURNEY entertains thanks to the strong cast.

Flynn and Reagan make a fine bantering team as they attempt to make it back to England with some stolen German documents in hand. (Reagan has a particularly good scene where he bamboozles Massey.) Kennedy has a more serious role as the bookkeeper-turned-navigator who tries to keep the men on course both literally and figuratively.

Nancy Coleman has a few scenes in the second half of the film as a member of an underground group who helps the men in Germany. This part of the story made me curious as to whether anything like that actually existed in Germany or it was pure fantasy.

The Germans are mostly cartoonish; one is played by Sig Ruman of TO BE OR NOT TO BE (1942) and another is played by John Banner of HOGAN'S HEROES, so that gives the idea. Massey spends a lot of time impotently shouting.

DESPERATE JOURNEY was intended as an exciting adventure film and morale booster, and it succeeds on that level. I think I may have liked another recently reviewed film in the set, NORTHERN PURSUIT (1943), a little better, but this was an entertaining film.

DESPERATE JOURNEY was directed by Raoul Walsh. It was shot in black and white by Bert Glennon. The running time is 107 minutes.

DESPERATE JOURNEY is part of the TCM Spotlight Errol Flynn Adventures set.

DESPERATE JOURNEY also had a VHS release. It can be rented for streaming on Amazon, and it's also shown on Turner Classic Movies.

There's a trailer on TCM.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Quick Preview of TCM in May

The advance preview of Turner Classic Movies' May schedule is now available!

Clark Gable is the May Star of the Month. Gable films will be shown every Tuesday night in May, continuing into the next day.

Gable was previously the Star of the Month in October 1995 and November 2004.

Thursday evenings the TCM Spotlight will be on sci-fi, with fun films including CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954), THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD (1957), THEM! (1954), IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955) and many more.

There are a couple extra-special events on TCM in May. On May 1st TCM will celebrate the centennial of French actress Danielle Darrieux. Six films will be shown in honor of Darrieux turning 100, including her American films THE RAGE OF PARIS (1938), which is delightful, and RICH, YOUNG AND PRETTY (1951).

Also, the seven-film prime time Frances Dee tribute which I mentioned was originally on the April schedule, but later removed, has returned and is currently planned for May 17th.

Multi-film tributes in May will include Glenn Ford, Margaret O'Brien, Busby Berkeley, James Whitmore, Kirk Douglas, Henry Fonda, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and Howard Hawks.

As always, Memorial Day weekend will be a war films marathon. Other May themes will include France, ships, gamblers, doctors, and British films, plus a day of movies set in Mexico on Cinco de Mayo. Also look for a full day of the WHISTLER series, plus entries from the MAISIE or BOSTON BLACKIE series on Saturday mornings.

A final note, as I write a couple of spots on the schedule still say "To Be Announced."

Richard Burton is the Star of the Month in March, and the April Star of the Month theme is Character Actors.

I plan to have more information posted on the May schedule around the end of April.

Tonight's Movie: Accidents Will Happen (1938)

ACCIDENTS WILL HAPPEN (1938) is a somewhat odd little Warner Bros. programmer starring Ronald Reagan.

Reagan plays hardworking insurance claims adjuster Eric Gregg. The ever-cheerful Eric seems oblivious to the nastiness of his wife Nona (Sheila Bromley).

Nona, who seems to be a forerunner of the type of character Lizabeth Scott played in TOO LATE FOR TEARS (1949), hates living on a budget and becomes involved in an insurance claims racket scam in order to pay off a fur coat she couldn't afford.

Reagan's husband seems as blind to his wife's faults as Arthur Kennedy did in TOO LATE FOR TEARS. When Nona pretends to have witnessed a fake accident she didn't see, Eric loses his job and his marriage due to trusting his wife's word when he settles the claim.

Ultimately Eric and Patricia (Gloria Blondell), the perky candy counter clerk in his office building, go into business staging fake accidents themselves. But one suspects there might be something more to their schemes than meets the eye.

It's a quick 62 minutes, though I found much of the movie on the depressing side. A number of bad yet not particularly interesting things happen to a nice young man. As described above, it's almost a film noir plot!

On the other hand, Eric's got lovely Blondell waiting for him when his wife departs for Reno. This was the second film for Gloria Blondell, younger sister of Joan, and she's a needed ray of sunshine.

The movie's other plus is a number of good shots of familiar sights from the Warner Bros. backlot streets. Otherwise this one is rather pedestrian.

The supporting cast includes Addison Richards, Hugh O'Connell, Janet Shaw (billed as Ellen Clancy), and Kenneth Harlan.

ACCIDENTS WILL HAPPEN was directed by William Clemens; the dialogue director was future "A" director Vincent Sherman. The movie was filmed by L. William O'Connell.

ACCIDENTS WILL HAPPEN is not available on DVD or VHS, but it has been shown on Turner Classic Movies. The trailer is here; it's fun, hosted by "Ronald Reagan, the screen's fastest-rising young star."

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Tonight's Movie: The Case of the Curious Bride (1935)

Warren William's second Perry Mason film, THE CASE OF THE CURIOUS BRIDE (1935), proved to be most enjoyable.

The first film, THE CASE OF THE HOWLING DOG (1934), was enjoyable yet a bit too muddled. THE CASE OF THE CURIOUS BRIDE was much better. The film is energetically directed by Michael Curtiz. There's a big cast but it's easy to track the players, and best of all, everyone seems to be having fun.

As the film opens, Perry has just won a case and celebrates by invading a restaurant kitchen to try out a recipe, along with aide Paul "Spudsy" Drake (Allen Jenkins), Coroner Wilbur Strong (Olin Howland), and news editor Toots Howard (Thomas Jackson). Jenkins, incidentally, played a cop in the earlier film.

Perry's old flame Rhoda (Margaret Lindsay) turns up with a big problem: She's remarried but a previous husband (Errol Flynn) she thought was dead has returned from the grave to blackmail her.

And then the ex turns up dead for keeps...

Claire Dodd replaces Helen Trenholme as Della Street, and while Perry and Della's relationship is more subtle in this film, Perry is also a lot more fun. The cooking scenes are delightful, and I especially enjoyed his bantering relationships with Spudsy and Coroner Strong.

It's a briskly paced 80 minutes, with some interesting scene fadeout techniques helping to move the action along.

This was Errol Flynn's first American film, and he's seen only briefly, in flashbacks. According to one report I read, he accidentally knocked out Margaret Lindsay when they filmed their struggle!

THE CASE OF THE CURIOUS BRIDE was photographed by David Abel. The supporting cast includes Phillip Reed, Wini Shaw, Barton MacLane, Warren Hymer, Mayo Methot, and Henry Kolker. Look for Mary Treen to turn up in a scene as a telegraph office clerk.

THE CASE OF THE HOWLING DOG is part of the six-film, three-disc set Perry Mason: The Original Warner Bros. Movies Collection, from the Warner Archive. The first four films in the set star Warren William, with one starring Ricardo Cortez and one starring Donald Woods (who plays another character in this film!). The trailer is included on the disc.

This film also turns up on Turner Classic Movies. The trailer is here.

For more on this film, visit Cliff Aliperti's review at his Warren William site.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Best wishes for a very happy Valentine's Day!

This year's Valentine's Day photo is in honor of the late, great Debbie Reynolds. I think this lovely photo captures the essence of Debbie's charm and why so many of us loved her so much.

Previous Valentine's Day Tributes: Anne Gwynne (2014), Dorothy Hart (2015), and Lynn Merrick (2016).

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Latest TCM Classic Film Festival Announcements

Turner Classic Movies made several announcements today regarding the 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival.

The festival will be held in Hollywood from April 6th to 9th.

The opening night movie will be a 50th anniversary screening of IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT (1967), with star Sidney Poitier in attendance. Also on hand opening night will be producer Walter Mirisch, director Norman Jewison, composer Quincy Jones, and actress Lee Grant.

Grant will also be present for a screening of her first film, DETECTIVE STORY (1951), along with other appearances during the festival.

Mel Brooks will be at a screening of HIGH ANXIETY (1977), and Buck Henry will appear at THE GRADUATE (1967). The opening night poolside film at the Hollywood Roosevelt will be WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (1971).

Tributes to Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher are planned, with Todd Fisher and Billie Lourd "hosting extended conversations" at screenings of SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952) and POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE (1990).

A 75th anniversary screening of CASABLANCA (1942) is planned; I wonder if it will be the nitrate print I saw last November?

For more information please visit the festival website.

Previous 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival Posts: TCM Classic Film Festival Announcements (January 11, 2017) and TCM Announces 2017 Festival Dates and Theme (August 25, 2016).

Tonight's Movie: The Lego Batman Movie (2017)

Exactly three years ago THE LEGO MOVIE (2014) was an unexpected pleasure, creative and funny.

The new spinoff film, THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE (2017), is even better. It's amusing from the opening credits, and it's got a nice substantive story to go with it, as Batman learns to have relationships.

Batman (Will Arnett), aka Bruce Wayne, has feared loss since his parents died. Of course, Batman's trusty butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) is always around, but Bruce aka Batman is still a solitary fellow, unwilling to let anyone else in at home or on the job.

Then Batman inadvertently "adopts" Dick Grayson (Michael Cera) aka Robin, and he also develops a huge crush on the new police commissioner, Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) aka Batgirl. (In one of many cute lines she threatens to call Batman "Batboy.") Batman finally learns to let people get close, while at the same time his giant-sized ego receives a little needed puncturing.

Like THE LEGO MOVIE, the film is bursting with creativity, and there are many delightful moments. The humor is written on an adult level, and while kids will like it too, I suspect children may not even get some of the inside jokes or sly tributes. (There's even a shot of Adam West!) While I don't know enough on the topic to have an opinion, my husband also opined that the movie "gets" the DC Universe more than those who have made the last several BATMAN and SUPERMAN movies.

There's so much happening on the screen that I'll be wanting to take another look at this one before long to take more of it in. It provides a very good time at the movies.

The large voice cast includes Conan O'Brien, Zach Galifianakis, Billy Dee Williams, Eddie Izzard, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Hector Elizondo, and Mariah Carey.

THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE was directed by Chris McKay. The running time is 104 minutes.

Parental Advisory: PG for "rude humor" and action. There's a very little bit of obnoxious humor but the movie is cleaner in that regard than some other animated features I've seen in recent years.

The trailer is here.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Devil Dogs of the Air (1935) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

James Cagney and Pat O'Brien star in DEVIL DOGS OF THE AIR (1935), available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

DEVIL DOGS OF THE AIR is your standard-issue Warner Bros. military training film, with a plot rather similar to the later WINGS OF THE NAVY (1939). James Cagney plays obnoxious new Marine pilot Tommy O'Toole, who shows up for training in San Diego, where his childhood friend Lt. Brannigan (Pat O'Brien) has served for years.

O'Toole immediately puts the moves on Brannigan's girlfriend, Betty (Margaret Lindsay), who's initially resistant but eventually starts to fall for O'Toole despite herself.

O'Toole's a great pilot, but his brash behavior is a challenge for Brannigan and others to deal with. Will O'Toole make good? And who will get the girl?

Cagney had charisma but I must say that it's hard to understand why the Lindsay character would consider the impulsive, obnoxious O'Toole over the mature and tender Brannigan. O'Brien is much more appealing than Cagney in this one.

This is just a moderately entertaining film, nothing very flashy or especially interesting, but I enjoy hanging out with Warner Bros. casts of the '30s and this is a fun one in that regard. The three leads all made numerous movies together, along with head supporting player Frank McHugh.

Look at the faces of aviation students surrounding Cagney at one point and you'll spot future star Dennis O'Keefe, who was a bit player in close to 200 movies in the '30s.

Seen in a bigger role as an aviation instructor is future cowboy star Bill Elliott, seen himself in dozens of bit player and extra roles in the '30s.

DEVIL DOGS OF THE AIR was directed by Lloyd Bacon and filmed by Arthur Edeson. It runs 85 minutes.

The Warner Archive DVD is a good 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 Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.

Tonight's Movie: Bells Are Ringing (1960) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

Judy Holliday and Dean Martin star in Vincente Minnelli's BELLS ARE RINGING (1960), now available on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive.

I have very fond memories of seeing BELLS ARE RINGING on a big screen at L.A.'s Tiffany Theater, a favorite revival house of the late '70s and early '80s.

I've seen it a time or two in the years since, thanks to DVD or TCM, but it had been quite a long time since my last viewing, so it was a pleasure to return to it thanks to the Warner Archive's beautiful new Blu-ray.

BELLS ARE RINGING is most enjoyable, with Judy Holliday starring as Ella Peterson, a warm and caring telephone answering service employee who ends up involved in her customers' lives.

First and foremost among her "Susanswerphone" clients is Jeffrey Moss (Martin), a playwright Ella encourages over the phone -- though he thinks she's an older woman he calls "Mom." Is there hope for a real-life romantic relationship once he finds out who she really is? One guess.

BELLS ARE RINGING is a tuneful delight. Holliday and Martin are seen at their most appealing, while the score by Betty Comden, Adolph Green, and Jule Styne is filled with lovely music, including the title song plus "It's a Perfect Relationship," "Better Than a Dream," "The Party's Over," and my favorite, "Just in Time." I guarantee you'll find yourself humming the lines "Plaza O-Double 4-Double 3" for a while after seeing it.

The music and happy romance in the final scene combine to give me misty eyes. Lovely.

From the perspective of 2017, the movie is also wonderfully nostalgic -- all those colorful telephones in the opening sequence! And the entire concept of needing an answering service, something now gone with the wind, excepting perhaps for doctors' offices. Younger viewers watching it will receive a bit of a history lesson along with the fun.

My only complaint is that at 126 minutes it's a bit on the long side, and I think some of the sequences with other Susanswerphone clients could perhaps have been trimmed.

The movie costars Jean Stapleton, Eddie Foy Jr., Ruth Storey, Fred Clark, Frank Gorshin, and Gerry Mulligan, and more familiar faces popping up throughout the movie, like George E. Stone, Herb Vigran, and even Elizabeth Montgomery! Montgomery is briefly visible reading a book in a scene with Holliday and Gorshin.

BELLS ARE RINGING was filmed by Milton Krasner.

The Warner Archive Blu-ray includes extras which previously appeared on the DVD, including a featurette, two musical outtakes and an alternate take, plus the trailer. There's also a song selection menu which is a terrific feature; all musical releases should have this!


Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the WBShop.