Sunday, August 02, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Callaway Went Thataway (1951) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Howard Keel shines in a dual role in CALLAWAY WENT THATAWAY (1951), recently released on DVD by the Warner Archive.

In this interesting look at the early days of television, Fred MacMurray and Dorothy McGuire play Mike and Debbie, executives who snagged the TV rights to air "old" cowboy movies starring Smoky Callaway (Keel).

Smoky's Westerns are a huge hit with kids, and there's a mint waiting to be made on Smoky toys and new Smoky movies -- if only Smoky were actually around to sign contracts and resurrect his film career. Unfortunately no one's seen Smoky in a decade, and at last report he was a raging drunk.

Mike and Debbie hire a been-around-the-block agent (Jesse White) to search for Callaway, and while he's checking every bar in Mexico, Mike and Debbie stumble across an amazing Smoky lookalike, cowboy Stretch Barnes (Keel). Mike and Debbie tell sweet, innocent Stretch that the original Smoky is dead but that he'd be doing a great thing for the kids of America by pretending to be Smoky. Being able to quickly earn the money for his dream ranch convinces Stretch to seal the deal.

Although Stretch is an awkward actor, the director (Don Haggerty) sees a "freshness" in "Smoky" that he likes, and Stretch-as-Smoky is a big hit with the kids in personal appearances, especially as he has genuine cowboy skills. Moved by his hospital visits, Stretch sets up a foundation for kids with polio.

And then it all threatens to collapse as the real Smoky reappears. Keel and makeup artist William Tuttle do a remarkably good job, with the alcoholic Smoky having subtle dark shadows under his eyes and generally looking ragged and older. The film dares to be rather dark, as it doesn't go for easy plot devices such as Smoky going on the wagon and redeeming himself. The snarling Smoky leaves town an angry man, likely destined for cirrhosis of the liver and an early grave. The big question now is what will Stretch do?

I felt some discomfort with the film's general premise, which involves multiple people sustaining a long-term lie, up to and including the imposter signing legal documents. Putting that aside, however, it's a well-done film with many fun moments, and it's also an interesting take on the popularity of TV cowboys in the '50s. In fact, there's even a disclaimer at the end saying the film is all in good fun and not meant to disparage those cowboys who have been great role models for America's children, or words to that effect.

The movie certainly underscores what a talented man Keel was. It's always clear which character the audience is watching, with Keel charming as the singing cowboy and also quite believable as his unpleasant doppelganger.

McGuire seemed to often play rather brittle women, and Debbie is another example. She's got her eyes on dollars and financial security, but bit by bit finds that Stretch's authenticity and good heart are getting to her. Initially Debbie seems ideally matched with her partner Mike (MacMurray), as they cynically banter back and forth, but over time Debbie's eyes are opened to the important things in life. She gradually unbends and takes on a new warmth.

Mike, it seems, will likely remain a fairly shallow fellow, as even near the end of the film he attempts to manipulate Stretch into doing what he wants, even though he knows he really shouldn't. Given how MacMurray is remembered for MY THREE SONS and Disney movies, it's interesting to realize how many times in his career MacMurray played characters with varying degrees of sleaze. The ick factor is fairly mild here, compared to, say, THE APARTMENT (1960), but Mike is definitely out for himself first and foremost, and MacMurray's not afraid to dive into the role.

CALLAWAY WENT THATAWAY was written and directed by Melvin Frank and Norman Panama, a team especially known for writing and sometimes directing comedies and musicals. Their screenplay for the very serious ABOVE AND BEYOND (1952) about the dropping of the first atomic bomb, was unusual fare for the pair; THE COURT JESTER (1956) was more typical.

The movie was shot by Ray June. It runs 81 minutes.

The supporting cast includes Natalie Schafer, Fay Roope, Douglas Kennedy, Acquanetta, Ned Glass, and Stan Freberg. Look for Ann Robinson (THE WAR OF THE WORLDS) as the hatcheck girl at Mocambo's and Hugh Beaumont (LEAVE IT TO BEAVER) as an attorney. There are also fun cameos by a trio of very big name MGM stars of the era.

For more on this film, please visit KC's review at A Classic Movie Blog.

The Warner Archive DVD is a crisp black and white print. The DVD includes the trailer.

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

Tonight's Movie: Where Are Your Children (1943)

Gale Storm and Patricia Morison are two actresses I've been enjoying quite a bit in the last year or two, so when I heard they costarred in a movie I was intrigued. WHERE ARE YOUR CHILDREN (1943) is a Monogram programmer available from the Warner Archive.

Storm plays Judy Lawson, a young girl who works at a diner. She meets wealthy Danny Cheston (Jackie Cooper), who takes her dancing, but unbeknownst to Danny and Judy, his "friends" spike Judy's drink. The tipsy Judy ends up being escorted home from the date by Linda Woodford (Patricia Morison), a juvenile officer who tries to steer young people onto the right track before they end up in serious trouble with the law.

Judy sleeps in the front room in her brother's house; her brother (Anthony Warde) is sympathetic but his wife (Gertrude Michael) is a harridan who hates Judy and thinks the worst of her. Matters go from bad to worse when Judy's sister-in-law sees a letter from Danny, who has joined the Navy, and assumes the worst about Danny and Judy's relationship, kicking her out of the house.

The distraught Judy, not knowing where to turn, is desperate to get to San Diego, where Danny is stationed.  She ends up accepting a ride to San Diego from the same group of people who had previously spiked her drink. Unfortunately during the trip one of the boys hits a gas station attendant in the head, and the man later dies. Now Judy's in a lot of trouble...

WHERE ARE YOUR CHILDREN is an engrossing film about a misunderstood young girl who is a victim of both circumstances and a lack of support at home. Her problems are compounded by the fact that Danny cares about her -- as evidenced by his reminiscing about her while a Navy pal (John Laurenz) sings a lovely rendition of "Girl of My Dreams" -- but he thinks encouraging her to have ideas about a future relationship is wrong since he's shipping off to war. Danny telling Judy they don't have a future is the emotional last straw for her, unless her brother, Linda, and a thoughtful judge (John Litel) can straighten her out.

Storm does a good job portraying a confused young lady who virtually every character acknowledges is "a nice girl but..." Lacking much love at home, her heartbreak over the rejection by Danny, her only "safe haven," is palpable. Cooper is also good as a young man who isn't perfect -- he's obviously out dancing with the wrong crowd -- but who is trying to do the right thing as he sees it, including not allowing his "connected" mother to pull strings and get him an officer's commission.

It was interesting seeing Morison playing a very idealistic character, just a few years after her chilling performance as a hardened criminal in PERSONS IN HIDING (1939), which I watched almost exactly a year ago. There's an interesting tie-in to the war as Linda points out to community leaders that if juvenile delinquency is unchecked, it will not only hurt the young people and the town, it will provide propaganda for Hitler! It's also mentioned that wartime conditions, with both parents working long factory shifts, lead to young people being unsupervised. It's a darker homefront story than we usually see in films of the era.

WHERE ARE YOUR CHILDREN runs 73 minutes. It was directed by William Nigh and filmed by Ira Morgan and Mack Stengler. The screenplay by Hilary Lynn and George Wallace Sayre was based on a story by Lynn. The following year Nigh and Lynn collaborated on a similarly themed Monogram film, ARE THESE OUR PARENTS? (1944) with Helen Vinson and Lyle Talbot. I'd love to see it!

The supporting cast of WHERE ARE YOUR CHILDREN includes Addison Richards, Evelyn Eaton, Sarah Edwards, and Betty Blythe.

As a note of trivia, although IMDb uses a question mark in the film's title, the Warner Archive DVD case is correct; the title card is simply WHERE ARE YOUR CHILDREN.

The print is frequently "speckled," as also noted by Glenn Erickson in his positive review at DVD Savant. However, it does not detract from enjoying the movie. There are no extras on the disc.

This was an interesting and rather different WWII-era melodrama with a good cast. I enjoyed it, and I'm very glad the Warner Archive has made it available.

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, August 01, 2015

Tonight's TV: Agent Carter (2015)

My immersion in the Marvel world continued this weekend with the first two episodes of this year's TV series AGENT CARTER.

In the past month I've watched four Marvel films for the first time, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011), CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014), IRON MAN (2008), and IRON MAN 2 (2010).

For those who, like me, are new to the Marvel films, Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) served with Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), aka Captain America, during WWII.

In CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER Steve's plane went missing while he was in the midst of saving the world (or at least a big chunk of it) and he was presumed dead. By the time the "frozen in time" Steve awoke several decades later, as seen in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, Peggy was an elderly lady.

The limited TV series AGENT CARTER is set in 1946. With the war over, Peggy now works for the secret Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR), a forerunner of SHIELD which is hidden away in a NYC phone company building. Despite Peggy's valor during the war, most of the men at the SSR treat her dismissively, wanting her to serve coffee and file papers.

Peggy's old friend, inventor and weapons manufacturer Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), is accused of selling weapons to the enemy. He secretly approaches Peggy to get her help to clear his name; Howard then disappears but leaves behind his trusted butler Jarvis (James D'Arcy) to serve as her aide and comrade in arms. Things get deadly almost immediately.

I was quite impressed with the initial episodes. Atwell and D'Arcy are simply terrific; it's fun listening to their banter -- in clipped British accents -- as their friendship develops. Their relationship is strictly platonic, as Jarvis is devoted to an unseen wife named Anna.

Incidentally, it's curious to note that Howard's son Tony has a robot butler in the IRON MAN films...who is also named Jarvis (voiced by Paul Bettany).

AGENT CARTER has a cinematic quality, fitting right in with the movies, but with the extended storytelling time allowing for added depth. The show has a great '40s look, with bright candy-colored costumes and sets, including an automat diner where Peggy regularly meets with Jarvis. Adding to the fun, the series filmed some street scenes on the same Warner Bros. backlot sets where movies were filmed in the 1940s, including the set seen at the right.

One of the things I really appreciate about AGENT CARTER and the Marvel movies is they feature strong female characters who can kill at a moment's notice while remaining beautiful and feminine. Atwell is a real find as Peggy, who is afraid to let anyone get close, as people she cares about have a way of being killed. I'd love to know more of her back story but you certainly don't need it to enjoy Atwell as a woman trying to make it in a "man's business," the spy game in the '40s.

D'Arcy is likewise wonderful, seemingly mild-mannered and proper yet always there in the clutch. I'm intrigued by his references to his wife and would love to know more.

After talking with other classic film fans who also like the Marvel films and TV series, I think some of the appeal for viewers such as myself is that some of the entries (CAPTAIN AMERICA and AGENT CARTER) have "retro" settings; all of the films also emphasize old-fashioned values such as service to country and mankind, self-sacrifice, and good determined to triumph over evil.

Based on feedback from many other viewers, I expect that I'll be enjoying AGENT CARTER all the way to the end of the series, and I'm looking forward to Season 2, which will find Peggy and Jarvis in late '40s Hollywood.

Meanwhile, I learned today about the existence of Marvel short films. At the end of IRON MAN 2 Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) left for a new assignment in New Mexico. He had an adventure along the way, as seen in a brief short on YouTube.

I anticipate watching THOR (2011), THE AVENGERS (2012), and ANT-MAN (2015) in the near future!

Update: Thanks to Michael Kuzmanovski on Twitter for alerting me that AGENT CARTER will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on September 18, 2015. The DVD and Blu-ray editions are both listed as "Amazon Exclusive" on the Amazon site.

Friday, July 31, 2015

TCM in August: Summer Under the Stars Highlights

It's hard to believe July has drawn to a close! Kudos to Turner Classic Movies for a phenomenal two-month-long Summer of Darkness, which I know many of us are reluctant to see come to an end.

There's still plenty of summer ahead on TCM, though, as the annual Summer Under the Stars festival launches on Saturday, August 1st!

For a quick chronological overview of the stars being celebrated in this year's festival, please visit my June preview post.

TCM has a beautiful Summer Under the Stars microsite with information about this month's films, as well as the regular online schedule.

As is usually the case in August, there are several days this month I'd be happy to leave the TV on all day long! Here's a quick look at just a few highlights from a great month on Turner Classic Movies. Click any highlighted title for my review.

...It's possible that Saturday, August 1st, is my favorite day on this year's schedule, as it celebrates a favorite actress, Gene Tierney. I've seen and liked all but a couple of the movies showing on the 1st. You can't go wrong with any of them, so I'll mention a couple of the lesser-known titles I like, NEVER LET ME GO (1953), a Cold War thriller with Clark Gable, and CLOSE TO MY HEART (1950), an adoption drama also starring Ray Milland.

...Olivia de Havilland celebrated her 99th birthday on July 1st, and TCM pays tribute on August 2nd. Again I've seen a majority of the films and want to highlight two films not as well known: PRINCESS O'ROURKE (1943), which anticipates ROMAN HOLIDAY (1953) by a decade, and the moving Western THE PROUD REBEL (1958), in which she plays a lonely farm woman whose life is changed by a man (Alan Ladd) and his mute son (David Ladd).

...Earlier this year I enjoyed seeing Harold Lloyd in THE MILKY WAY (1936) at the UCLA Festival of Preservation. Adolphe Menjou plays Lloyd's boxing manager, and the film is being shown as part of a day honoring Menjou on August 3rd. Menjou's real-life wife, Verree Teasdale, has a terrific part playing Menjou's glamorous, sarcastic girlfriend.

...Does anyone not love Teresa Wright? I didn't think so. It's Teresa Wright Day on August 4th. The excellent lineup includes one of my favorite Hitchcock films, SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943). Teresa Wright, Joseph Cotten, and a cute young Macdonald Carey are just three great reasons to watch it.

...Two of my favorite Fred Astaire films are again among his lesser-known films. CAREFREE (1938) is one of my couple favorites of the 10 movies he made with Ginger Rogers; it's as much '30s screwball comedy as musical, complete with Ralph Bellamy. And, as I've said here many times, YOU WERE NEVER LOVELIER (1942), costarring Rita Hayworth, might be my favorite Astaire film of all. It makes my heart happy! It's Fred Astaire Day on August 5th.

...My top pick for Katharine Hepburn Day on August 7th is my favorite of all her films, LITTLE WOMEN (1933). A classic in every way.

...August 8th is Raymond Massey Day; TCM will show two films in which he played abolitionist John Brown back to back: SANTA FE TRAIL (1941) and SEVEN ANGRY MEN (1955).

...You wouldn't believe how many professors and students have written me asking how to find THE BEGINNING OR THE END (1947), MGM's depiction of the Manhattan Project. The Warner Archive would probably do brisk business if they released it on DVD! It's shown as part of Robert Walker Day on August 9th. Walker is part of a marvelous cast which includes Brian Donlevy, Tom Drake, and Audrey Totter.

...On August 10th, Joan Crawford Day, my pick is THE DAMNED DON'T CRY (1950). Steve Cochran and Palm Springs locations are good reasons to try this engrossing melodrama.

...August 11th the Star of the Day is Rex Ingram, and I recommend ESCORT WEST (1958), a very likeable Western starring Victor Mature. It was produced by John Wayne's Batjac Productions.

...On August 12th you can't go wrong with two Robert Mitchum Westerns: RACHEL AND THE STRANGER (1948), costarring Loretta Young and William Holden, and BLOOD ON THE MOON (1948) costarring Barbara Bel Geddes, Walter Brennan, and Robert Preston, directed by Raoul Walsh. Entertainment guaranteed.

...What to watch on Ann-Margret Day on August 13th? VIVA LAS VEGAS (1964) is a perfect summer movie.

...August 15th is one of my favorite days on this month's schedule, honoring Douglas Fairbanks Jr. I recommend the pre-Code UNION DEPOT (1932), costarring Joan Blondell, which has an amazing opening tracking shot. It's a crackling, gritty Warner Bros. Depression-era movie. And anyone who hasn't seen it yet should watch THE PRISONER OF ZENDA (1937), for which Fairbanks should have been nominated for an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor. ZENDA is showing in prime time.

...I'm admittedly not much of a Patricia Neal fan, but that makes her an effective villainness in the Western melodrama RATON PASS (1951), airing on August 16th. She plots with Steve Cochran to steal a ranch from her new husband (Dennis Morgan) and his father (Basil Ruysdael). Dorothy Hart plays the woman Morgan should have married.

...THIEVES' HIGHWAY (1949) was a highlight of the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival I attended in May. It will air as part of a tribute to Lee J. Cobb on August 17th.

...August 18th...Vivien Leigh Day...GONE WITH THE WIND (1939), which will always be a great cinematic achievement despite those who have recently advocated tucking it away in a museum. Enough said.

...August 19th is John Wayne Day, and along with favorites like SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON (1949) and RIO BRAVO (1959), there are several lesser-known titles. I highly recommended the funny TALL IN THE SADDLE (1944), one of Wayne's best non-Ford Westerns. I'm also partial to BIG JIM MCLAIN (1952) which is derided in some quarters as anti-Communist propaganda but which I find a fascinating look at the era, plus it's got the Duke romancing sweet Nancy Olson in Hawaii. Not a perfect film but it works for me.

...It's Mae Clarke Day on August 20th! I love that. I very much recommend the pre-Code comedy-mystery PENTHOUSE (1933), also starring Warner Baxter and Myrna Loy. It's delightful, plus it led to Loy being cast as Nora Charles.

...On August 22nd, check out Hitchcock's lesser-known STAGE FRIGHT (1950) with Star of the Day Marlene Dietrich. Jane Wyman, Richard Todd, and Michael Wilding costar.

...Sunday, August 23rd, it's Debbie Reynolds all day! Check out the cute young Debbie in THE AFFAIRS OF DOBIE GILLIS (1953) and GIVE A GIRL A BREAK (1953). Bob Fosse is in both films and is pretty young and cute himself.

...August 25th is another favorite day on the schedule, honoring Virginia Bruce. SHADOW OF DOUBT (1935) is a nifty mystery with a good cast including Ricardo Cortez and Regis Toomey. Try it out!

...It's Christmas in August on August 27th, when Monty Woolley Day includes two Christmas perennials in which he costarred: THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER (1942) and THE BISHOP'S WIFE (1947).

...Robert Montgomery shows why he would have been a good Hitchcock villain in RAGE IN HEAVEN (1941), shown as part of Ingrid Bergman Day on August 28th. George Sanders, who had recently been in Hitchcock's REBECCA (1940) and FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940), is the hero. Alas, the only film Montgomery made with Hitch was the comedy MR. AND MRS. SMITH (1941).

...The month is winding down on Gary Cooper Day, August 30th. I like DALLAS (1950), an amusing Western in which he costarred with Ruth Roman and (there's that name again!) Steve Cochran. I also enjoyed TASK FORCE (1949) about the origins of the U.S. aircraft carrier program.

...The month ends on August 31st with Shelley Winters Day. She'll never be one of my favorites, but I DIED A THOUSAND TIMES (1955) is of great interest -- I visited the old gas station seen in the movie's opening scenes last October! It's just outside Lone Pine, California, right down the road from the "Soda City" location of Hithcock's SABOTEUR (1942). More on the I DIED A THOUSAND TIMES location here.

Happy Summer Under the Stars!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Dorothy Arzner Series Opens Friday at UCLA

UCLA will honor the career of pioneering woman director Dorothy Arzner beginning this Friday evening, July 31st.

The series Dorothy Arzner: A Retrospective runs through September 18th. All films will be screened at UCLA's Billy Wilder Theater in Westwood.

The series, which for the next few weeks will run parallel to the ongoing Frank Borzage tribute, will feature 14 films directed by Arzner.

The series includes Rosalind Russell in CRAIG'S WIFE (1936), Fredric March in the pre-Codes HONOR AMONG LOVERS (1931) and MERRILY WE GO TO HELL (1932), and Arzner's final film, FIRST COMES COURAGE (1943) starring Merle Oberon and Brian Aherne.

The series also includes Maureen O'Hara and Lucille Ball in DANCE, GIRL, DANCE (1940), reviewed here in July 2010.

Although I have calendar conflicts with some of the films, I'm hoping to see at least a couple of the interesting titles in this series.

There are also still 16 films ahead in the Frank Borzage series! Those of us in driving distance of Los Angeles certainly have it made when it comes to great opportunities to see classic films on a big screen.

July 30th Update: Kenneth Turan has written about the Arzner series for the Los Angeles Times.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Affair in Reno (1957)

John Lund is one of my favorite actors. He made 28 films in his film career, which spanned 1946 until his retirement in 1962. I've seen nearly half of his films and have collected most of the remaining titles.

My latest Lund acquisition is AFFAIR IN RENO (1957), for which I'm grateful to reader Maricatrin.

Lund plays Bill Carter, who works for wealthy J.B. Del Monte (Thurston Hall). Del Monte sends Bill to Reno to dissuade his daughter Gloria (Angela Greene) from marrying mobster Tony Lamarr (John Archer). Bill's instructions are to buy off the unscrupulous Lamarr if he can't get Gloria to see reason, and he's carrying $100,000 sewn into his coat to make the payoff.

Lamarr's goons (including Alan Hale Jr.) attack Bill as soon as he lands at the Reno Airport, hoping to swipe the money they believe he's carrying. Upon hearing this news, Del Monte hires a bodyguard for Bill; to Bill's shock, the person assigned to keep him -- and the money! -- safe is a woman, Nora Ballard (Doris Singleton). Bill is dubious but gradually grows to appreciate Nora, as she not only protects him but helps him in his dealings with both Gloria and Lamarr.

AFFAIR IN RENO is watchable, with just enough going for it to keep it from being boring, but unfortunately that's about all that can be said for it. Its style is along the lines of a weak TV sitcom, and the excruciatingly bad stock music score adds to the "TV" feel. One senses the filmmakers were going for something bright and perky with this movie, but there's no bubbly fizz, just a fairly leaden story.

Lund is good in this role reversal scenario, where he's constantly in need of a woman's protection, but he has zero romantic chemistry with Singleton. She's confident and forthright yet, between script and actress, there's also a lack of depth to her character, and I just couldn't see her as an appealing romantic lead, no matter how much Bill claims to be falling for her.

Greene and Archer's characters are unlikeable, and there's not much more to be said for this 75-minute film, which is short on plot and characters. Some location footage in Reno might have jazzed it up a little, but stock footage of the well-known "Biggest Little City in the World" sign in downtown Reno is all we get.

AFFAIR IN RENO is a Republic film which was directed by R.G. Springsteen and filmed in Naturama by Jack Marta.

I'm very glad to have had the chance to see it, but this one is for Lund completists only -- and I'm one of them!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...Happy Birthday to actress Lupita Tovar, who turns 105 today! Tovar was born in Mexico on July 27, 1910. She starred in Universal's Spanish-language DRACULA (1931). She was reviewed here in a George O'Brien Western, THE FIGHTING GRINGO (1939). She was also in SOUTH OF THE BORDER (1939) with Gene Autry. Tovar is the mother of actress Susan Kohner (IMITATION OF LIFE).

...Illeana Douglas, a regular at TCM events such as the TCM Classic Film Festival, has a memoir coming out in November, I BLAME DENNIS HOPPER: AND OTHER STORIES FROM A LIFE LIVED IN AND OUT OF THE MOVIES.

...Here's a recipe for Katharine Hepburn's Brownies, published in the New York Times.

...The New York Times also just published an article on how Netflix is managing its shrinking discs-by-mail business.

...Coming to DVD in September, Season 6 of HILL STREET BLUES.

...Carley Johnson has written about supper clubs in classic movies at The Black Maria.

...Kristen is hosting a Summer Under the Stars Blogathon at Journeys in Classic Film.

...There's another thumbs up for RIFFRAFF (1947) by Wade Sheeler at The Black Maria. Glenn Erickson liked it too. I suspect that title, which stars Pat O'Brien and Anne Jeffreys, will make my 2015 Favorite Discoveries list!

...The Museum of Western Film History in Lone Pine just opened a new exhibit, "The Films of Northern Inyo County," focusing on movies shot around Bishop and Big Pine.

...The Formosa Cafe, where annual bloggers' gatherings have been held prior to the TCM Classic Film Festival, has been remodeled.

...Raquel of the blog Out of the Past did a fun "Classic Film Book Haul" video.

...Reviews, reviews, and more reviews: Glenn Erickson on Bill Williams and Barbara Hale in THE CLAY PIGEON (1949) at DVD Savant...Kristina on Rod Taylor in WORLD WITHOUT END (1956) and Robert Sterling and Edward Arnold in THE PENALTY (1941) at Speakeasy...KC on animal films from the Warner Archive, BANJO (1947) and GYPSY COLT (1954), at A Classic Movie Blog...KC also wrote about Richard Dix in MAN OF CONQUEST (1939) for ClassicFlix...Colin's reviewed THE MOONLIGHTER (1953) with Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray at Riding the High Country...Elisabeth writes about MY DARLING CLEMENTINE (1946) at The Second Sentence...and Caftan Woman writes on TWO IN THE DARK (1936) and its remake TWO O'CLOCK COURAGE (1945).

...Attention Southern Californians: A tribute to director Dorothy Arzner opens Friday at UCLA's Billy Wilder Theater.

...Notable Passings: Theodore Bikel, the original Captain Von Trapp in THE SOUND OF MUSIC on Broadway, passed on last week at the age of 91. His film credits included THE AFRICAN QUEEN (1951) and THE ENEMY BELOW (1957). I had the privilege of seeing him interviewed by Ben Mankiewicz at the 2013 TCM Classic Film Festival. His official website is here...Nova Pilbeam, the star of Alfred Hitchcock's very enjoyable YOUNG AND INNOCENT (1937), aka THE GIRL WAS YOUNG, has passed away at the age of 95.

...For more recent links of interest, please visit last week's roundup as well as this month's Disney news.

Have a great week!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Iron Man 2 (2010)

There's a plus side to never having watched a Marvel movie in the past seven years: Watching the films for the first time now, I'm able to immerse myself in the Marvel world and watch a number of them in a relatively short time span.

Marvel film No. 4 for July, following CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011), CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014), and IRON MAN (2008), was IRON MAN 2 (2010).

I was warned by multiple people not to expect much from IRON MAN 2, so I seem to be in the minority: I thought IRON MAN 2 was a terrific movie, and indeed, it was my favorite of the four Marvel films I've seen to date.

It's been six months since Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) revealed he's Iron Man to the public. Congress is pressuring him to turn over the technology to the U.S. military, but Tony is more concerned with other problems, such as the fact that the reactor implanted in his chest to keep him alive is slowly killing him via blood poisoning.

The depressed Tony acts out in childish ways at times, with his distraction from important business frustrating his loyal aide Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow). Tony solves this problem by promoting Pepper to CEO of Stark Industries.

At the same time, there's a Russian (Mickey Rourke) named Ivan building an Iron Man himself; Tony's competitor, weapons manufacturer Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), wants to sell Iron Man technology to the U.S. military and enters into an uneasy partnership with Ivan.

Meanwhile, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) of SHIELD, who knew Tony's father Howard (John Slattery), shows up with some important information for Tony...

I thought this film had so much going for it; although there's a villain and plenty of action, including an exciting sequence at the Monaco Grand Prix, at its heart this is a film about Tony's relationships with the various people in his life, including his dead father. His relationship with Pepper reaches a point where it will go forward or end, and his friendship with Rhodey (Don Cheadle, a big improvement on Terrence Howard) is strained by Rhodey's commitment to his employer, the U.S. military.

Then there are new relationships with members of SHIELD, including Nick Fury, the Black Widow (the awesome Scarlett Johansson, whose character seems to be a direct descendant of Mrs. Emma Peel), and Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg); I suspect Coulson's milquetoast looks and mild demeanor hide a dangerous man inside. Coulson's interactions with Tony are quietly hilarious, especially the scene where Coulson announces he's leaving for New Mexico. The scene where Tony learns the Black Widow is more than just a secretary at his company is also wonderfully amusing.

It seems rather daring to feature a character as egocentric as Tony Stark as a superhero, but in Downey's hands it works because he's a fully rounded character -- who has enough self-awareness not to argue when Nick Fury tells him he's been assessed as narcissistic. Although Tony grew up a lot in the first IRON MAN film, it's a slow process. What makes the character really interesting is the contrast of scenes where Tony is a flamboyant showman -- the scene where he testifies in front of a Congressional committee is priceless -- with quietly affecting sequences where Tony watches old movie footage of his father, struggles to develop a new invention, or grasps at ways to repair his relationship with Pepper. Downey also brings a lot of humor to the role as the quick-thinking Tony.

Gwyneth Paltrow is pitch perfect as the most important woman in Tony's life. I really felt for her in the scene where she's just learned Tony donated away the art collection she'd spent years curating; on the other hand, the moment where Tony first sees Natalie (Johansson) and turns to Pepper and says "I want one" was very funny, while the fact he could even joke about that to Pepper illustrates their close bond.

As the saying goes, there's a lot more to unpack. Take, for instance, the way that the old footage of Howard Stark (John Slattery) is clearly inspired by Walt Disney's presentation of Epcot; note that at one point there are Stark Expo posters behind Howard, just as there were World's Fair posters in some vintageWalt Disney footage.

The Stark Expo also seems more than a little inspired by the '64 World's Fair in which Disney played such a big role -- in fact, Richard Sherman, who wrote "It's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" for the World's Fair, wrote "Make Way for Tomorrow Today" for IRON MAN 2! Great stuff for the Disney nerds in the audience.

(And speaking of interesting allusions, what was with that Captain America shield Agent Coulson was holding in Tony's basement lab?)

All in all IRON MAN 2 was a highly enjoyable film which gives its many characters time to breathe and lets their relationships move forward. A very well-done film I'm certain to return to in the future.

IRON MAN 2 was directed by Jon Favreau, who also appears onscreen as driver/bodyguard Happy. (I loved the scene where Happy "helps" the Black Widow.) It was filmed by Matthew Libatique.

Paul Bettany returns as Jarvis, the voice of Tony's robot. Gary Shandling makes his first appearance as Senator Stern, a role he would reprise in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER. Leslie Bibb returns as a "journalist" which leads to a very amusing scene with Pepper.

Parental Advisory: IRON MAN 2 is rated PG-13 for intense action sequences and brief language. As with the other films, there are lots of explosions but no graphic or disturbing violence.

I had some promotional credits and streamed IRON MAN 2 in HD from Amazon Instant Video. It looked great. It's also available on DVD and Blu-ray.