Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Another set of new-to-me shorts

Coming up early tomorrow (or overnight tonight depending on your point of view) on TCM, you can catch Holland Sailing at 3:35 AM following Tea For Two (1:45 AM, 96 min). Given the date (1956) and the subject (boat racing in the Netherlands), I figured this had to be another of the RKO Sportscopes I've mentioned on the site before. Sure enough, IMDb says that's what it is. Specifically, they say it's #6 from the 1956-57 season, which makes me wonder just how many of these Sportscopes were made. I'm sure there's a complete list somewhere but up until now I haven't bothered to look for it. I just did a cursory search, and couldn't find much.

I was only going to mention two shorts, but I just noticed earlier in the overnight, at about 1:25 AM, there's Mr. Whitney Had a Notion. From the title and date (1949), my first guess was John Nesbitt's Passing Parade, confirmed by looking at IMDb. (Passing Parade No. 71, no less; my goodness a lot of these were made.) But I mention this one about Whitney's invention of the cotton gin because the part of Eli Whitney is played by... a young Lloyd Bridges.

The other short I had planned to mention is For Your Convenience, at 7:34 AM after Speedy at 6:00 AM. The subject here is inventions that presumably make things more convenient, and since it's from 1939, my conclusion was that it's another Pete Smith short. But it's not. It's from Warner Bros. And it's in color. Unfortunately, the one IMDb reviewer claims it's not any good.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Back on FXM Retro: April 24-25, 2017

For some reason, I thought I had mentioned recently that The Roots of Heaven is bck in the FXM Retro rotation, as it's been running for a month or two. It's going to be on at the end of this morning's FXM Retro block, at 12:50 PM, and then starting tomorrow's at 3:30 AM.

Coming on immediately before today's airing of The Roots of Heaven is Guns at Batasi, at 11:05 AM today. Both movies are overlooked, although you could argue that The Roots of Heaven deserves to remain overlooked.

Both movies have received DVD releases in the past, and The Roots of Heaven even got a Blu-Ray release. It's also available from Amazon's streamin service. I don't think the DVDs are still in print, however.

Sunday, April 23, 2017


This morning I watched The Confession on my DVR, having noticed that it's available on DVD courtesy of the Criterion Collection. You can get it at Amazon and the TCM Shop, although being the Criterion Collection, it is a bit pricey. If it shows up again as a TCM Import, watch it.

The movie starts off in Prague in early 1951. Gérard (Yves Montand), nom de guerre of Artur London, is an undersecretary at one of the Communist government ministries, and a dedicated Communist. The movie is based on the real-life story of Artur London, and in one scene in the movie the character of his wife Lise (played by Simone Signoret) is referred to as Londonová which would be the proper Czech surname for her, but IMDb and my box guide refer to Gérard's actual name as Anton Ludvik. For what it's worth, the character is almost exclusively referred to as Gérard. Anyhow, when Gérard leaves the office for home, he notices he's being followed by another car. And it's been going on for a couple of days.

So that night at his house he meets several other Communists with whom he shares something in common: they all fought in the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War against the Falangists/Fascists. Although they fought against Fascism, and some of them including Gérard wound up spending time in Nazi concentration camps as a result, they're all in danger. As we learned from the movie Dark Blue World, those who fought Fascism on the western front came back to Czechoslovakia not to be hailed heroes, but considered enemies of the state by the Stalinist Communists. Such was eventually to be the case for the International Brigade members, too.

Gérard finally gets picked up off the street one day and taken to a special prison, where he's subjected to torture in the hopes of extracting a confession from him. He's not the only one, of course, and any time one of them makes a confession, regardless of whether the confession is at all truthful, that material can be used against the others. Artur seems to hold out the longest, because the film implies he was arrested in January 1951, while the show trials were held in November 1952.

We know he survives, however, because halfway through the movie the action briefly switches to France in 1965 and Gérard is seen telling his story and being told he should write a book about it. That did eventually happen and the movie is the result of that book.

The Confession was directed by Costa-Gavras, and as I was watching it I couldn't help but think of the similarites to his previous movie Z. They both deal with political intrigue and totalitarianism, and both of them have a slightly non-linear storytelling process that at times makes you question reality. Having said that, I'd introduce people who aren't well-versed in foreign films to Z first. The reason is that The Confession is unrelentingly brutal, in a way that really made me uncomfortable at times. Oh, the movie is well made, and Montand and Signoret are both quite good; it's just that the totalitarianism is harsher and more disturbing here than in Z, making it a bit harder to watch. At least for me. As I said at the beginning, however, definitely make it a point to watch it if it ever shows up on TCM again or if you can do the streaming thing; Amazon seem to imply it's available from them courtesy of streaming as well as DVD and Blu-Ray. It's too bad that Criterion price their DVD's so expensive.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison

So I watched Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison off my DVR this morning since I saw it's available from the Warner Archive. It's worth a watch, but I don't know that it's worth buy at Warner Archive prices.

The movie starts off with an overview of California's Folsom State Prison, and a narration from the point of view of the prison itself of how conditions were much more inhumane in the past. Cut to the 1920s, and a prison riot in which they take one of the guards and Warden Rickey (Ted de Corsia) hostage. The riot, of course fails, and the warden concludes that the way to get people to stop rioting is to be more brutal, which gets a reporter to show up for one throwaway scene.

That reporter is apparently what leads to the state authorities taking notice of the prison conditions, because they decide to send a new man Benson (David Brian) to head up the prison guards. Benson is a college man, and has "modern" ideas on how to treat prisoners, ideas that mean not being so brutal. Needless to say, this ticks Rickey off to no end, and he tries to undermine Benson at every turn.

Meanwhile, among the prisoners, we get several tropes of the genre, with about the only one I didn't see being the new guy who just doesn't know how to handle prison life. There's Daniels (Steve Cochran), the guy who's planning a breakout, and Red (Philip Carey), who is marking time until he can get out and go back to his wife and kids. They're actually friends, even if they have different ideas on how to get out of the place. As for Red, he's trusted enough to drive with a guard out of the prison to pick up dynamite for the prison's quarry operation. Unfortunately, hiding in the truck is another prisoner (William Campbell), and Red decides to alert the other guards in order to prevent his parole from getting hung up. Of course, he's considered a stool pigeon for this....

Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison is a movie I found to be standard-issue prison fare. There's nothing new here, and it's all done with a B-list cast. Most if not all the tropes are here; including the ones I've already mentioned there's the brutality of solitary. Indeed, when I was watching one scene of the warden roughing up a prisoner for information, I couldn't help but think of Hume Cronyn and his truncheon in Brute Force. Looking at the IMDb reviews, I'm not the only person to have that thought.

Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison is a perfectly competent movie, and another of those that would probably be best served by being on one of those four-movie TCM box sets -- say, with a prison theme. Unfortunately, it only seems available as a standalone from the Warner Archive collection, with the commensurately higher price that I'm not certain I'd want to pay for what is essentially a B movie.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Briefs for April 21, 2018

I see TCM is airing an RKO Screenliner I don't think I've seen before: The Beach of Nazaré, at about 7:50 PM, following Dear Heart (5:45 PM, 114 min). This one is about a Portuguese coastal village.

For anybody who wasted their money on TCM's Now Playing magazine, don't do it any longer. TCM has announced that they're discontinuing it and doing an email version. Now that there are no longer any Robert Osborn articles and with schedules available online so much easier, what's the point? Heck, what was the point ten years ago already? Unsurprisingly ome of the TCM Message Board commenters are in a tizzy.

TCM is bringing back The Essentials starting in May, hosted by Alec Baldwin and a changing lineup of guests accompanying him. As I understand it, the first three guest hosts will be, in order, David Letterman, Tina Fey, and director William Friedkin. The less said about the Essentials mini site, the better.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #145: Disappearances

This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of "Thursday Movie Picks", the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This week's theme is disappearances, and once again I've picked three older movies. Well, technically four, since one of them was remade.

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934). An early British example of Alfred Hitchcock's mastery of suspense, this tells the story of a family (father Leslie Banks, mother Edna Best, and daughter Nova Pilbeam) on vacation in Switzerland. Somebody gets killed, and with his dying breath tells Dad an important international secret. There are nefarious people who don't want that secret falling into the "wrong" people's hands, so they kidnap the daughter and take her to England. Mom and Dad go around London separately trying to find her. This was of course remade by Hitchcock in Hollywood with James Stewart and Doris Day as the parents, but the original is a fun little 75-minute affair. Actually, I could have done an entire entry using only Alfred Hitchcock's movies, as others that fit include The Lady Vanishes, Foreign Correspondent, Saboteur and, I suppose, The Trouble With Harry.

Les diaboliques (1955). Michel (Paul Meurisse) is a martinet of a school master at a French boarding school, with both a wife (Vera Clouzot) and mistress (Simone Signoret) who are unhappy with him. The two women decide to gang up and murder him, drowning him in a bathtub and then dumping the body in the school's swimming pool. When it comes time for the police to search for the body, they drain the swimming pool... only for there to be no body! Needless to say, this is quite a shock to the women, one of whom handles it less well than the other. For those who are frightened by the shower scene in Hitchcock's Psycho, this one is a perfect antidote. This one was remade in Hollywood in the 90s with Sharon Stone, but the less said about the remake, the better.

Bunny Lake is Missing (1965). Carol Lynley plays Ann Lake, a young American single mother with a daughter who decides to go to visit London to visit her brother Steven (Keir Dullea). Ann puts her child in a preschool, but when the time comes to pick the daughter up, the daughter isn't there... and there's no record that the daughter was ever at the school. Steven takes the case to the police, led by detective Laurence Olivier, but nobody is ever able to find any evidence that the kid existed. Is Ann going insane, and never even had a child? Or is something more nefarious happening? Noël Coward plays an upstairs neighbor.

Emperor of the North (Pole)

Coming up on FXM Retro tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM, and available on DVD, is Emperor of the North.

The movie starts of with a scrolling intertitle telling us that the time is 1933, which means the Great Depression, and a lot of hobos riding the rails. We then see one particular hobo trying to hop a train, except that this time there's a bit of a difference. The conductor, named "Shack" (Ernest Borgnine) is more vicious in getting people off his train, and responds by hitting the guy in the head with a hammer, killing the guy as he falls off the train.

After the credits roll, accompanied to some horrible music by Marty Robbins, we met another hobo, A Number 1 (Lee Marvin). He's one of the more experienced hobos, and knows how to evade detection. He hops on an empty car in Shack's train. And he'd be able to get where he's going too, except that not long afterward, another idiot, young Cigaret (Keith Carradine), insists on getting on the train in the same car as A Number 1. Cigaret is an obnoxious jerk, and thinks he can be just as "good", or renowned, a hobo as A Number 1.

The two hobos eventually have to burn their way out of the boxcar they were riding in after Shack locked them in, but Cigaret decides he's going to tell anybody who will listen that he rode Shack's train. And dammit, he's going to do it again, just to show proof of concept of something, not that they used that phrase back in the 1930s. A Number 1 is none too happy about this, and decides he's going to be the one to show everybody how it's done, although he's going to have to take Cigaret under his wing since Cigaret isn't going to stop following him.

Shack, of course, is brutal, as we already saw from the way he hammered a guy to death. And when Shack finds he's got a pair of hobos riding his train, he's going to try any means he can to get the bastards off. And they're going to try anything they can to stop the train and get on it, leading to the climactic fight scene....

Emperor of the North is entertaining enough, although not without its problems. It runs a shade under two hours, but is the sort of story that could probably have been told in only a 90-100 minute running time. Parts of the story really drag. The bigger problem, however, is the Cigaret character. He's one of those obnoxious jerks constantly screwing things up for A Number 1. Sure, there are characters you want to see get their comeuppance, but good writing can make such characters fun: think the way southern sheriffs are often portrayed as buffoons. Cigaret isn't so well written, and the result is the sort of character I wanted to see A Number 1 smack.

Overall, however, if you haven't seen Emperor of the North, it's a movie well worth a watch.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Claude Rains double feature: They Won't Forget/They Made Me a Criminal

Back in January when I was doing a Thursday Movie picks post on legal thrillers, one of my choices was Claude Rains as a prosecutor in They Won't Forget. I mentioned in that post that you might think Rains is miscast as a southern prosecutor, but then he was just about as good playing a police detective from Queens in They Made Me a Criminal.

I didn't know it at the time -- and I'm not certain if the April TCM schedule had been released at the time I wrote that post -- that the two movies were going to be on back to back. Tonight, TC is looking at a bunch of movies Rains made in the 1930s, not even including The Adventures of Robin Hood. Among those movies are They Won't Forget overnight at 1:30 AM. That wil be followed at 3:30 AM by They Made Me a Criminal, which has Rains investigating boxer John Garfield who is on the run for a murder he didn't commit.

Both movies are well worth watching.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Hollywood Handicap

Another new to me short is Hollywood Handicap, which will be on TCM today at about 5:45 PM, or following What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? a(3:30 PM, 134 min).

The plot involves a group of black stable hands who form a singing group and pool their money to put a horse into the Hollywood Handicap horse race at Santa Anita. But it really seems to be an opportunity to show a bunch of stars enjoying a day out at the track. The cast list includes a whole bunch of stars, from multiple studios. The short was distributed by MGM and so has Mickey Rooney and Robert Montgomery. But there's also Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour who I think were both at Paramount at the time; I think Ruby Keeler and Al Jolson were with Warner Bros. Or, at least, they had been. Oliver Hardy appears; Stan Laurel doesn't. The short was also directed by Buster Keaton in that sad period of his life when he was no longer starring in movies and reduced to stuff like this.

The short has been released on DVD as an extra. IMDb says it's the 2007 release of The Jazz Singer, which I think would mean this set from the TCM Shop. It's also currently on Youtube here, although it's not in the public domain and the screenshot that accompanies the short (the one you'd see over in the sidebar) looks to be in rather poor quality.

Monday, April 17, 2017

TCM Guest Programmer April 2017: William Daniels

Tonight sees the monthly Guest Programmer segment on TCM. That programmer is William Daniels, who recently celebrated his 90th birthday. Daniels is probably best known for his roles on the TV series St. Elsewhere as well as Knight Rider, where he provided the voice of the car KITT. TCM's site is listing Daniels as having selected only three movies, which makes me wonder if he had selected a fourth but for some reason TCM wound up hitting a snag in getting the rights to it.

Anyhow, Daniels has actually selected two of his own movies, both of which are roles he had done earlier on the stage. First, at 8:00 PM, there will be the musical 1776, about the drafting of the Declaration of Independence; Daniels plays John Adams.

That will be followed at 11:00 PM by A Thousand Clowns; Daniels plays one of the social workers. But I have to admit I haven't seen the movie in ages. The kid was so obnoxious that one viewing was more than enough for me.

The third film is Dodsworth, at 1:15 AM. Walter Huston plays a retired businessman who finds that spending retirement with his wife isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Presumably, the last movie of the night, Cass Timberlane at 3:15 AM, is not being presented by anybody.