Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Quick Preview of TCM in December

The online preview of TCM's December schedule came out relatively late this year, but it's now available!

Myrna Loy is the December Star of the Month, voted in by the members of TCM's Backlot fan club, who chose between Myrna and Bette Davis.

This is the popular Loy's third time as Star of the Month. She was previously the Star of the Month in 1995 and 2004.

Loy's films will be shown every Friday, leading up to a 24-hour Myrna Loy-William Powell marathon on December 23rd.

As always, there are many wonderful Christmas movies showing in December!

"Robert Osborne's Picks" on Christmas Eve frequently include a film from 20th Century-Fox amidst the Christmas titles -- a treat as Fox films cost more for TCM to license. This year his Fox pick is THE DOLLY SISTERS (1945), starring Betty Grable, June Haver, and John Payne.

The only sad note in that regard is Mr. Osborne's continuing absence from the network. It would be a lovely surprise if he turned up to host the Christmas Eve films.

Earlier in the month the wonderful Fox film I'D CLIMB THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN (1951) is on the schedule. It's warm Americana well suited for December.

Also on tap for December is the latest edition of Treasures From the Disney Vault, including PERRI (1957), OLD YELLER (1957), THE LITTLEST OUTLAW (1955), and THE UGLY DACHSHUND (1966).

There's a 'round-the-clock marathon of shorts on December 5th, and the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day will be marked with a selection of WWII films.

Also of note is a screening of PLEASURE CRUISE (1933), a pre-Code which was popular in "Theater 4" at the TCM Classic Film Festival. I didn't get a chance to see it then so I'm looking forward to checking it out.

December tributes include Alice White, Dick Purcell, George Brent, Irene Dunne, Ruth Roman, Elvis Presley, Roland Young, and Sydney Greenstreet.

New Year's Eve will be spent with the THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! (1974) series.

I'll have more detailed information on the December schedule, including my annual post on Christmas movies airing in December, sometime after Thanksgiving.

In the meantime, Christopher Lee continues as the October Star of the Month, with Natalie Wood on deck for November.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Disneyland: Mickey's Halloween Party

It was a "Very Disney Weekend" here! We spent Friday at Disneyland, including Mickey's Halloween Party, and on Sunday we were at Disney California Adventure to compete in the MouseAdventure puzzle game/scavenger hunt .

This was our first time attending the Halloween Party, which requires a separate "hard ticket" from our annual passes.  The party includes trick or treating, a parade, and fireworks. It was a fun way to celebrate our oldest daughter's birthday!

We spent most of the day at the park, leading up to a "pre-party" in Toontown which kicked off at 6:00, followed by the parkwide party running from 7:00 to midnight.

At the pre-party we visited three "treat trails." Each trail contained several carts filled with various kinds of candy, and at each cart several pieces of candy were put in our treat bags.

Trick or treating at Minnie Mouse's house in Toontown:

There was trick or treating all over the park, plus annual passholders had a special trick or treating station in the Opera House where large cloth trick-or-treat bags were given out, much bigger and more durable than the small paper sacks distributed at check-in. There was no limit to the number of treat stations guests could visit. By the end of the evening it added up to a lot of candy. Let's just say I won't need to go shopping for Halloween trick-or-treaters this year!

We enjoyed singing by the "Cadaver Dans" and having free photos taken with various Disney characters. There was a spooky mist covering the Rivers of America, where the Cadaver Dans performed on a raft:

My favorite part of the evening was a brand-new feature of the party, the pre-parade ride of the Headless Horseman from THE ADVENTURES OF ICHABOD AND MR. TOAD (1949) down Main Street. It was very effective!

I'm not a particular fan of villains or horror-type entertainment -- in fact, I stopped going on the Haunted Mansion ride at least 20 years ago! -- but I enjoyed the Frightfully Fun Parade.

I especially enjoyed the choreography for the dancers which accompanied the Haunted Mansion float. Besides the dancers representing the ride's ballroom scene, there were grave diggers who dragged their shovels along the asphalt street, making sparks, which was certainly a unique parade feature.

This was our first chance to see the Halloween Screams fireworks since 2009, when it was still part of the regular park entertainment. It's a wonderful show!

All in all, it was a most enjoyable evening.

We've played in MouseAdventure for a number of years now, as is evident from the game pins on my lanyard; it's not a complete set, either!

We did pretty well Sunday, coming in 31st out of around 133 teams -- although it wasn't as impressive as our 13th place ranking last spring! We're looking forward to playing again next year.

On top of all the fun, we walked 16 miles at the parks this weekend -- that's a win/win!

Previous Halloween Time Posts and Photos: September 29, 2006, September 30, 2006, October 21, 2006, September 28, 2007, October 12, 2007, October 17, 2008, October 9, 2009, October 15, 2010, the 2011 Annual Passholder Private Party (October 17, 2011); October 21, 2012, September 13, 2013, October 18, 2013, September 12, 2014, September 18, 2015, September 20, 2016, and September 23, 2016.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Silk Stockings (1957) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

The MGM musical SILK STOCKINGS (1957), starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse, has been released on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive.

SILK STOCKINGS was based on the Cole Porter Broadway musical; the musical in turn was based on the Melchior Lengyel story which was the basis for MGM's 1939 comedy hit NINOTCHKA (1939), starring Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas.

Close to two decades after Garbo's success as Ninotchka, MGM obtained the Broadway rights for SILK STOCKINGS and resurrected the story for one of the studio's last big musicals. In fact, this was the final MGM musical in which Astaire starred in the leading role. Watching him in a succession of dances, a viewer would be hard pressed to believe the man was nearly 60!

Astaire plays Steve Canfield, a movie producer who plans to film his latest musical in Paris. The movie will feature addlepated swimming star Peggy Dayton (Janis Paige), who can no longer swim due to ear troubles, and the score will be written by Russian composer Boroff (Wim Sonneveld).

Unfortunately the Soviet Union wants its composer back, and three commissars (Peter Lorre, Jules Munshin and Joseph Buloff) are sent to Paris to retrieve the composer and bring him back behind the Iron Curtain. Instead the three men fall in love with Paris and invent reasons to remain in the city. Soviet Commissar Markovitch (George Tobias, reprising his Broadway role) then sends straight-laced Ninotchka (Charisse) to Paris to herd everyone home from the City of Light.

Once again, things don't go as planned, as Ninotchka fairly quickly falls for both Steve and the pleasures of Paris.

Given all the talents involved, including director Rouben Mamoulian, I've always felt SILK STOCKINGS could have been better. At times it feels underdeveloped, not to mention silly; for instance, I like Janis Paige, but her character seems like a bit of a tacked-on misfire here who's not essential to the story.

Nor does the bland Metrocolor photography by Robert Bronner help; the movie's Paris is strictly a backlot affair, filmed in muted hues.

Porter's score is not his best, though it has some moments, with "All of You" a classy standout. A plus in this department is the film's typically lush MGM sound, with Andre Previn conducting Conrad Salinger's orchestrations.

Despite my criticisms, the movie has stood up to numerous viewings by me over the years. I find Charisse's deadpan line readings amusing, and there is some simply splendid dancing, including two of my all-time favorite MGM musical numbers, "Fated to Be Mated" and "Red Blues."

The former number, choreographed by Hermes Pan, is a bouncy dance for Astaire and Charisse through a succession of movie sets; it's pure joy which leaves the viewer smiling as broadly as Astaire and Charisse do in their final clinch. (And watch for Charisse's skirt to magically change to culottes!) "Red Blues," choreographed by Eugene Loring, is a high-energy dance with some terrific fancy footwork by Charisse. Both dances make great use of the film's widescreen Cinemascope framing.

In the end, SILK STOCKINGS provides 117 minutes mostly spent in the company of Astaire and Charisse, and that's a good enough reason for me to pull this film off the shelf for another look every so often. Those who feel the same way will enjoy this new release.

The Warner Archive Blu-ray is a good-looking, clean print; it may not be as dazzling as some of the Archive's other recent Blu-ray releases, but I attribute that more to the fact that the film's color wasn't especially vibrant in the first place.

The extras from the 2003 DVD were reproduced on the Blu-ray, including a featurette, shorts, and a trailer.

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

Happy Birthday to Marsha Hunt and Julie Adams!

Happiest birthday wishes to two of my favorite ladies of classic cinema!

Marsha Hunt turns 99 today, October 17th...

...and Julie Adams turns 90.

I've been fortunate to hear each of these ladies speak at screenings on multiple occasions, and as I have recounted in the past, I had a small role in a play starring Adams when I was a teenager.

Just about a year ago I found myself sitting at a reception table with both ladies following Coleen Gray's memorial service. Although the circumstances were very sad, it was a great honor and privilege to spend more personal time with them and enjoy their reminisces.

For more on Marsha Hunt, please visit my 2012 tribute, which is updated annually with recent film review links.

A tribute to Julie Adams, which also has many links, was posted here last year.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Men in White (1934) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Clark Gable and Myrna Loy star in MEN IN WHITE (1934), a very good medical melodrama available from the Warner Archive.

MEN IN WHITE was originally released by the Archive a few years ago, but as I periodically remind readers, the Archive's "made on demand" backlist continues to remain easily accessible alongside newer releases.

MEN IN WHITE was scripted by Waldemar Young, based on a Pulitzer Prize winning play by Sidney Kingsley.

Gable stars as Dr. George Ferguson, a dedicated doctor working in a hospital, where he's mentored by Dr. Hochberg (Jean Hersholt).

George is engaged to socialite Laura Hudson (Loy), who becomes frustrated with George's unpredictable, all-consuming doctor's schedule. Unfortunately, the fact that George's esteemed mentor doesn't seem to believe anything in life is as important as the practice of medicine doesn't help George and Laura find a meeting of the minds. Laura is hopeful that George will leave the hospital and go into practice so that they can begin married life with a somewhat calmer schedule and less stress on their marriage.

After an argument with Laura, George finds brief solace with Barbara (Elizabeth Allan), a lovely nurse who has admired him from afar. The unsuspecting George is stunned when Barbara is later rushed into surgery after a botched abortion. Laura is also shocked by the news, and she and George find their relationship at a crossroads.

MEN IN WHITE was originally released in April 1934, shortly before enforcement of the Production Code went into effect that July, when presenting certain topics on film became more difficult. The film was thus able to tackle some very mature subject matter, although it does so with the utmost discretion and class; I suspect some of the plot would sail over the heads of young viewers.

It's an engrossing film with a good performance by Gable. He's a strong man who doesn't hesitate to butt heads with another doctor to save the life of a child (Dorothy Gray), but he's also emotional and easily touched. His dismay when Laura refuses to go out with him is palpable, and he's quite moving in his interactions with both the sick little girl and the very ill Barbara.

Loy is also good as Laura, who's more than a bit entitled yet also understandably frustrated to be second in George's life after his work. Allan is ethereal as the ill-fated Barbara.

The film gets a mite preachy near the end, with Hersholt extolling the importance of medicine to Laura, but on the whole it's a well-done and interesting film. The strong supporting cast includes Samuel S. Hinds, Otto Kruger, Wallace Ford, Russell Hardie, and Henry B. Walthall.

MEN IN WHITE was directed by Richard Boleslawski and filmed by George Folsey. The movie is mostly set in a beautiful Art Deco hospital, with art direction by Cedric Gibbons. The film runs 74 minutes.

MEN IN WHITE is a very 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.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Tonight's Movie: 3 Godfathers (1948) at the Lone Pine Film Festival

This year's Lone Pine Film Festival paid tribute to Western directors, with particular attention to the work of John Ford.

The Friday and Saturday night "keynote" screenings, followed by panel discussions, were Ford's 3 BAD MEN (1926) and 3 GODFATHERS (1948). It was quite interesting viewing Ford's variations on a theme, filmed over two decades apart, on back-to-back evenings.

As a side note, the theme was continued to a lesser extent in the festival screening of George Blair's DESERT PURSUIT (1952), which featured outlaws mistaken for the 3 Wise Men near the climax of the movie! However, that film did not feature the "redemption" theme which is such a strong component of the Ford films.

THREE GODFATHERS begins with a lovely onscreen tribute to Harry Carey Sr., "Bright star of the early Western sky." I found this especially moving as I had just watched Carey that afternoon in the silent film THE PRAIRIE PIRATE (1925). What's more, Carey's granddaughter Melinda was present at the screening. Melinda's father received a special credit in 3 GODFATHERS, "Introducing Harry Carey Jr."

Although Ford and Wayne are among my favorite directors and actors, over the years I had shied away from watching 3 GODFATHERS due to the plot. That played out pretty much as I anticipated. As is usually the case with a Ford film, I found much to enjoy -- indeed, some of Ford's other films of that era are among my all-time favorite films -- but this isn't a movie I'll be anxious to rewatch. It was rather exhausting!

My feelings about the storyline were compounded by the fact that there were some awkward filmmaking choices at various points which seemed unusual for a Ford film.

3 GODFATHERS tells the story of three bank robbers: Robert Hightower (Wayne), William Kearney, aka the Abilene Kid (Carey Jr.), and Pedro (Pedro Armendariz). The men flee into the desert while trying to escape a posse led by Sheriff Sweet (Ward Bond), his deputy (Hank Worden), and other men (including Ben Johnson).

The outlaws struggle to find water and survive the unforgiving environment, not to mention the fact that the Abilene Kid was dinged by a bullet. The men ultimately run into a stranded covered wagon where a lone recently widowed woman (Mildred Natwick) is about to give birth. Pedro delivers the baby boy, whom the mother names Robert William Pedro, and before she dies the three men pledge to save her son. Doing so will take everything the men have left in them.

The movie has much going for it: Classic scenes of Fordian beauty, shot in gorgeous Technicolor by Winton C. Hoch (SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON); some of Ford's typical humor and sentiment, to leaven the stressful drama; and excellent performances by many beloved faces from Ford's "Stock Company."

That said, some of the editing (by Jack Murray) and storytelling choices are strange or confusing.

For instance, early in the film Bob and Pedro walk up to a fence and are looking at something (seen here). The viewer expects to ultimately see what they're looking at, but we never do.

In another scene, we think we're looking at the wagon from one direction, then there's a cut where a character who had previously been almost next to the camera's viewpoint is now seen in the distance. Occasional moments like that made the film a bit jarring and hard to follow at times.

I also didn't care for the script when Bob tells the expectant mother's story to the other men, in a scene that goes on and on as he sits there talking. While Ford films often had classic dialogue, it seemed unusual for so much narrative to be verbally described rather than seen. Moreover, Natwick was a good 15 years too old for the part.

I did appreciate the more upbeat final minutes, which were a relief after everything which had gone before, but the burgeoning romance hinted at here seemed an afterthought.

I enjoyed the film's locations, including Lone Pine as well as the train station in Keeler, which I visited in 2014.

After the movie Ben Mankiewicz moderated a panel discussion with Rob Word and William Wellman Jr. joining John Ford's grandson Dan, author of the biography PAPPY: THE LIFE OF JOHN FORD. Topics included the comparative work styles of Ford and William Wellman Sr.  Ford was notorious for putting various actors "in the doghouse" and treating them poorly, and was quite hard on Carey making 3 GODFATHERS. (Some of the stories are recounted in Carey's memoir COMPANY OF HEROES.) In response to a question, Dan Ford said his grandfather was not like that with family members. Wellman Jr. said his own father was a tough man with high expectations, but not mean! It was left an open question whether Ford's behavior was justified in the name of art and what he got out of the actors.

Earlier in the day I had seen Melinda Carey as part of a panel on growing up in "Hollywood." She was a warm and engaging speaker. It's of note, since both her father and Ben Johnson had early career roles in this film, that she related that other than her brother's death, the passing which was most difficult for her father was when Ben Johnson died. She said that in a sense "They grew up together," and they were close their entire lives.

Roy Rogers' daughter Cheryl Rogers Barnett added to the conversation that Ben and Harry Jr., as well as stuntman Richard Farnsworth, would occasionally mind her on movie sets when she was little, and "They were fine young men." I enjoyed remembering her comment while watching them on screen in this film.

3 GODFATHERS is available on DVD, VHS, and via Amazon streaming. It also turns up from time to time on Turner Classic Movies, and in fact it's on the schedule three times in the next few weeks.

At a future date I'll be reviewing the 1936 version directed by Richard Boleslawski, starring Chester Morris, Lewis Stone and Walter Brennan.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Tonight's Movie: The Longhorn (1951) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

I'm taking time out from my ongoing coverage of the Lone Pine Film Festival to review another movie from the Warner Archive's eight-film Wild Bill Elliott Western Collection!

THE LONGHORN (1951) is a top-drawer Elliott "B" released by Monogram Pictures, and it's probably my favorite film in the set. It's fun to note that half a decade later, when Monogram Pictures had turned into Allied Artists, THE LONGHORN was loosely remade as CANYON RIVER (1956), one of my favorite George Montgomery Westerns.

Elliott plays Jim Kirk, a struggling Wyoming rancher who hatches a plan to buy Hereford cattle in Oregon and drive them back along the Oregon trail to cross-breed with his Texas Longhorns.

Jim's friend Andy (Myron Healey) is secretly resentful of Jim and plans to eventually kill Jim and help himself to the cattle.

Complications abound, including Jim and Andy both being attracted to spunky trail cook Gail (Phyllis Coates). Meanwhile, potential trail hands in Oregon think Jim is crazy, so he ends up hiring the only men who will take the job, a crew of ex-outlaws headed by Purdy (Lane Bradford).

There's lots of stock footage of cattle inserted -- including at least one shot filmed outside Lone Pine -- but the low budget doesn't get in the way of a good story, from a solid script by the reliable Daniel B. Ullman. In fact, it's kind of fun watching the economical way shots of the cowhands are intercut with the stock footage. It's much better done than, say, Dick Foran's PRAIRIE THUNDER (1937).

Incidentally, I suspect the taciturn Elliott was reluctant to kiss the heroine at this stage in his career, as his romantic clinches with Coates are broken up just in the nick of time, not once but twice! The personable Coates will be 90 come January. She appeared in numerous Westerns, including two other films in this Elliott set.

In addition to Healey and Bradford, the familiar Western character faces in the movie include I. Stanford Jolley and Marshall Reed.

THE LONGHORN was directed by Lewis D. Collins. It was filmed by Ernest Miller, with most of the movie shot outdoors at Iverson Ranch. The running time is 70 minutes.

Previous reviews of films from the Wild Bill Elliott Western Collection: WACO (1952), KANSAS TERRITORY (1952), THE MAVERICK (1952), REBEL CITY (1953), TOPEKA (1953), and THE FORTY-NINERS (1954). There's just one film left to review in this collection, VIGILANTE TERROR (1953). It's been most enjoyable spending time with Wild Bill thanks to this set.

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 from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Lone Pine Film Festival: Opening Night Gala, the Film Museum, and More

The 27th Lone Pine Film Festival kicked off with a gala buffet dinner at the Museum of Western Film History on Thursday, October 6th, 2016.

Many of the festival's honored guests were present for the dinner, including (left to right) Wyatt McCrea, historian and Inyo County Film Commissioner Chris Langley, William Wellman Jr., and Mr. Wellman's wife, Flossie.

We also met stuntwoman Sylvia Durando, who among other roles doubled Nancy Gates in the Randolph Scott classic COMANCHE STATION (1960).

This year the dinner was held in the parking lot at the side of the museum, which worked out very well. The food is always good at the opening night buffets, and this year was no exception. The menu even included elk chili!

We enjoyed congenial company during dinner, including Burt and Donna Yost of Santa Barbara, whose "Backlot" tour is terrific; we went on that tour during our first festival in 2014.

For those who are considering coming to the festival, just know that you'll be among friends. Everyone attending loves the Alabama Hills and Westerns!

According to the local paper, this year's festival ticket sales outpaced 2015.

The film museum recently acquired and restored a 1928 RKO camera car, which is a thing of beauty!

A closeup of the logo. This car might be my favorite thing in the museum now.

And here's a gorgeous 1941 Buick from Gene Autry's TRAIL TO SAN ANTONE (1947), which costarred Peggy Stewart.

In the movie "Gene" jumps over the car on horseback. As it turns out, the museum website says the jump was performed by stuntman Joe Yrigoyen, the very same stuntman who did the remarkable work with the wild horse in STRANGER AT MY DOOR (1956), the first film I reviewed from this year's festival.

Here's a small shrine to Randolph Scott:

It was great to find Buck Jones posters and stills on display, since I've become a fan since my last visit to the museum!

Buck made a number of films in Lone Pine, ranging from DURAND OF THE BADLANDS (1925) to WAGONS WESTWARD (1940) 15 years later.

Tyrone Power's uniform from KING OF THE KHYBER RIFLES (1953):

Johnny Mack Brown was spotted in the museum's huge poster collection:

John Gilliland is an expert on Hopalong Cassidy. He's meticulously researched Hoppy's costumes and wears the late '30s version of Hoppy's outfit.

Here are the books I brought I just need time to read them! This new book on Frances Dee is by Ed Hulse, with a foreword by Frances's grandson, Wyatt McCrea. The photos are beautiful.

Here's another book by Hulse with terrific photos. I'm going to be making a list of more Westerns I'd like to see thanks to this book!

COWPOKES 'N' COWBELLES by Donn J. Moyer has short entries on numerous faces who populate the world of "B" Westerns, with names like Myron Healey, Tris Coffin, Ruth Terry, June Storey, and more.

And I added a couple more titles to my collection of the annually published LONE PINE IN THE MOVIES festival books. That's Billy King of Hopalong Cassidy films on the cover at the right.

Coming soon: More festival movie reviews and photos of location tours!