Thursday, May 25, 2017

Thrusday Movie Picks #150: Time Travel (TV edition)



This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of "Thursday Movie Picks", the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This being the last Thursday of the month, it's time for another TV edition, and this month's TV theme is time travel. Eh, it's not a topic I'm that well versed on, but I've got three shows that kinda sorta qualify.

Rocky and His Friends (1959). I'm not quite up on all the various names of the shows that featured Rocky the Squirrel and Bullwinkle J. Moose, but one of the recurring skits was Sherman (the boy) and Mr. Peabody, who would get in the Wayback Machine and view various events in history through a rather humorous and not particularly accurate perspective. Movie fans will enjoy Edward Everett Horton's narration of "Fractured Fairy Tales". In fact, it's from the various Bullwinkle incarnations that I first learned about Horton, before realizing he had a distinguished career as a character actor.

A Piece of the Action (1968 episode of Star Trek). Kirk and company wind up on a planet that somehow learned all it knows from 1920s gangsters, led by Vic Tayback. Actually, this is a theme the Star Trek franchise used a lot. There was literal time travel in a few episodes, both back to earth and one other society that was about to go supernova; episodes that techincally weren't time travel included visits to a Roman-era planet (they couldn't figure out why Romans worshipped the sun) and a Nazi planet. And The Next Generation did an episode based on a planet that learned everything they knew about earth from one pulp novel.

Otherworld (1985). Technically, this is interdimensional travel, not time travel. A middle-class American family visits the Pyramids in Egypt and wind up going through a portal to another dimension and in the Otherworld find a place that has a bunch of provinces based on different periods, such as the 1950s but with the gender roles reversed. The poor family was always being chased as they tried to get to the portal back to the Earth they know and love. This one lasted all of eight episodes, which was a shame since it's an interesting premise and I liked it as a 12-year-old.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

TCM Guest Programmer May 2017, and a short

Tonight sees this month's TCM Guest Programmer: Humberto Martinez. You've probably not heard of him, because he's the winner of a TCM Backlot contest to select a Guest Programmer. I suppose it's nice that the Backlot members can have the chance to appear on TCM, but the Backlot is still overpriced. Unless they get some free wine from the Wine Club, I suppose.

Anyhow, Martinez will be presenting three movies; I don't know if this had to do with rights issues or scheduling or what since normal guest programmers generally get to show four movies. Martinez prefers musicals (not my genre), and has selected:

Pal Joey at 8:00 PM;
The Eddy Duchin Story at 10:15 PM; and
Bye Bye Birdie at 12:30 AM.

In between Pal Joey and The Eddy Duchin Story, there's a short of the actual Eddy Duchin, but that's not the one I was thinking about mentioning today. The one I'd like to mention comes just before prime time: The Forest Commandos, at about 7:38 PM. This one looks at the firefighters who fight forest fires in Ontario. It was originally filmed in Technicolor, although apparently accoring to IMDb the only surviving prints are in black-and-white, which is a shame, because I'd bet a subject like this would really benefit from color photography. There is a Youtube version, but it's watermarked and I don't know if it's been colorized or not; the uploaders don't mention.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Roger Moore, 1927-2017


Roger Moore (r.) with Maud Adams in Octopussy (1983)

I didn't think I'd be writing a second obituary post today, but Roger Moore, the British actor who played James Bond in seven films starting with Live and Let Die in 1973 through A View to a Kill in 1985, has died aged 89.

Of course, Moore is best remembered for playing Bond, as will be mentioned of Sean Connery (actually younger than Moore despite having begun playing Bond a decade earlier) whenever he finally dies. But Moore had a long acting career before Live and Let Die, probably most notably for the TV series The Saint in which Moore played Simon Templar.

Fans of old movies may remember The Last Time I Saw Paris. And who could ever forget Moore in the Spice Girls' vanity project Spice World:

Dina Merrill, 1923-2017

Actress Dina Merrill, who was born an heiress but wanted to act, has died at the age of 93. The daughter of Marjorie Post (of the Post cereal family) and E.F. Hutton (when he talked, people listened), Merrill had a lengthy career starting in the mid-1950s on both TV and in the movies.

Merrill's first role on the big screen was as one of Katharine Hepburn's co-workers in Desk Set. Merrill played quite a few supporting roles, as the other woman for Glenn Ford in The Courtship of Eddie's Father, or as the woman whose fur coat Elizabeth Taylor gets in Butterfield 8. In real life, Merrill was also married to Cliff Robertson for 20 years.

I was looking for a good photo to illustrate this post with, and the image search unfortunately had a lot of watermarked stock photos. One that wasn't was from I'll Take Sweden, which led to this look at Merrill's life where the photo no longer seems to be used. But the appreciation has a number of other good photos.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Now I'm curious

Over the weekend, somebody linked to this review of a DVD called Ozploitation Trailer Exploitation. Unfortunately, the review is three years old, and the DVD is now out of print.

I don't know how much I'd want to buy a DVD of nothing but trailers. But I wouldn't mind seeing some of the titles mentioned in the review. The reviewer talks about "'respectable' Oz features", and names a couple of titles that showed up a few years back when TCM did its spotlight on the Australian New Wave hosted by Jacki Weaver.

A few of the titles have shown up in places like TCM Underground, or the old IFC back when they actually showed independent film and didn't have any commercials, such as The Cars that Ate Paris and, I think The Last Wave. I never got around to watching either of those, however.

And then there's the one title that I've wanted to see for a long time, The Man from Hong Kong. I have no idea if it's any good, but it spawned a big hit, "Sky High", from the group Jigsaw. And ever since I learned that ages ago, I'd been curious to see the movie. There are several movies like that. I was pleased finally to be able to see The Happening (which gave us that great Supremes song); I've never seen Unchained (which gave us the melody later covered by the Righteous Brothers and used in Ghost. I didn't know until after seeing the movies that Percy Faith's A Summer Place theme and Roger Williams' version of Autumn Leaves were not the originals.

As for The Man from Hong Kong, it does seem to have gotten a DVD release at one point, but like the collection of trailers that spawned this whole post, it seems to be out of print.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Gymkata

So I was looking for something available on DVD to watch off my DVR. Today, that selection is Gymkata.

The opening shots are an intercut between a guy doing a gymnastics routine at a tournament, and another guy in some third world country trying to escape on foot from a bunch of guys pursuing him on horseback. The gymnast is a success; the other guy gets shot by an arrow, falling to his death.

Cut back to the gymnastics tournament. As our gymnast, Jonathan Cabot (Kurt Thomas), is leaving, he's taken aside by a man who turns out to be a federal agent. That agent informs Jonathan that his father was killed. It turns out that his father was that guy we saw in the opening sequence. Dad was not a fugitive so much as taking part in a high-stakes game that is now being used for geopolitical purposes.

It seems that in the far-off country of Parmistan, they have a weird game. (I don't think it's referred to as "Gymkata", only as "the game".) Apparently condemned criminals get a chance at parole, while foreigners get a chance to have one wish granted to them, if only they can win the game. And that game involves a cross-country pursuit in the style of The Most Dangerous Game, with some of the Khan's men chasing after the competitors. And nobody's won this game in like 900 years. But various countries have started training their best athletes to take part, because Parmistan just happens to be the perfect location for a missile base that both the Americans and "the other side" (not mentioned!) want.

Anyhow, Jonathan's father was killed playing that game, and now the government wants Jonathan to train for it, since he's already a world-class athlete and would have the added motivation of avenging his father's death. Plus, there's a Parmistani princess Rubali (Tetchie Agbayani) to whom Jonathan is immediately attracted, although she is one tough woman. Anyhow, we get a bunch of training before we get to Parmistan.

There's also a meet-up with another agent in a third country somewhere on the Caspian (a fictitious city in a fictitious country), and that poses all sorts of danger for Jonathan even before he can get to Parmistan. Indeed, Rubali is kidnapped, and Jonathan vows to rescue her before heading off to Parmistan. He does this despite taking on about a dozen expert terrorists. You get where this movie is going from the fact that Jonathan keeps facing ridiculously long odds and winning.

Anyhow, Jonathan finally gets to Parmistan, where he finds out that Rubali has been betrothed by her father the Khan (Buck Kartalian) to the Khan's closest advisor Zamir (Richard Norton). And Zamir, it turns out, is actually against the Khan, but the Khan is too damn naïve to understand this. Zamir is intending to break all of the rules of the game to make certain that Jonathan does not in fact win.

It's all utterly ridiculous. While the movie does have a plot, that plot is mostly one trope after another, hanging as a pretext for a series of set pieces that allow Kurt Thomas to use his gymnastics moves. One fight has him improvising a high bar in a narrow alley, while in another fight, there's a prop that just happens to have two handles on the top, enabling Thomas to use it as a pommel horse. While the fight scenes aren't very good, they're good for a laugh. And why does Rubali have a catsuit on under her dress?

But there's also the direction, which at times equally ridiculous. For no good reason, the director decided to have a lot of sections of the fight scenes where the action suddenly switches from normal speed to slow motion and then back to regular speed. And I don't think any direction could have helped Kurt Thomas who isn't much of an actor.

To be fair, it's all so bad that it's good. Go into this expecting a movie that's not going to be any good, and you'll have a blast laughing at how ludicrous it all is. And there's some nice location shooting. This was done as a co-production with a Yugoslav film company back in the mid-1980s when Yugoslavia was the "liberal" Communist country -- remember, they didn't join the boycott of the Los Angeles Olympics, and they gave us the Yugo car. Some of the old towns look like they'd be interesting places to visit, assuming it's not all done on a backlot which I don't think they had.

The TCM Shop has it available at a very low price. If you're interested in really bad movies, you might want to take a flyer on it.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Bedazzled (1967)

Bedazzled is going to be on FXM Retro tomorrow at 4:00 AM and 11:20 AM. It doesn't seem to be available on DVD, so you're going to have to catch the rare FXM showing.

Dudley Moore plays Stanley Moon, who works as a cook at the Wimpy Bar, which isn't a bar but the sort of urban diner people went into in vintage movies to get cheap meals. Stanley flips burgers for waitress Margaret (Eleanor Bron) to serve to the patrons. Secretly, Stanley is in love with Margaret, but she has no idea of any of this, as Stanley is too timid to approach Margaret and tell her how he really feels about her. As a result, Stanley feels trapped in a dead-end life.

Feeling that his life is at that dead end, Stanley decides that the only thing for him to do is commit suicide. So he sets up a noose, ties the other end around a water pipe, and prepares to jump off a stool to his death. Except that this succeeds only in breaking the water pipe, spilling water into his flat and making his life even more of a mess, no pun intended.

Into all of this walks George Spiggott (Peter Cook). George seems to know a surprising amount about Stanley and his ancestry, more than Stanley knows about himself. The reason for that is George is in fact the Devil, and it's his job to know about people and use that information in an attempt to win people's souls. To that end, George offers Stanley seven wishes, after which George will be in eternal possession of Stanley's soul.

Stanley eventually decides to take George up on that offer. But of course, there's a catch, and here I don't mean the catch about George getting possession of Stanley's soul at the end of all this. Instead, every time Stanley makes a wish, George makes it come true. At least, only as far as Stanley specified things. Those parts of the wish Stanley failed to specify, well, George is going to interpret those in a way that makes Stanley dissatisfied. And when Stanley wants out of his wishes, he finds that George is constantly engaging in all sorts of mischief on the poor people of Earth.

Along the way, Stanley talks a lot with George on why anybody would want to become the devil if it's not as glamorous a life as you'd think, and why he acts the way he does, and George has some interesting -- and at times sensible answers. There are points that could actually be thought-provoking, although the movie is meant as a fairly light comedy in spite of the subject matter.


Peter Cook (r.) having a bit of fun with Dudley Moore explaining why he grew tired with God

In thinking about it more, I think I'd consider Bedazzled to be almost an alternate-universe version of Oh, God!. Where you have a charming George Burns wanting John Denver to let people know that, yes, God is still here; in Bedazzled you have a charming Peter Cook wanting to let at least one person know that yes, the Devil is still here. (The wishes seem detached from reality, and there's no indication that the other characters know what's going on in those wishes.) And indeed, both Cook and Moore are charming in their roles, to the point that you feel sympathetic for both of them even though Moore is on the verge of losing his soul. There are, however, a few points at which the movie feels it's running on a bit much. That criticism aside, Bedazzled is well worth a watch.

Note that Bedazzled was remade in 2000 and updated to have the Devil be played by a woman (Elizabeth Hurley), which I think not having seen the movie that it would add some unwanted sexual tension to the movie. Both versions did get a DVD release somewhere, which is something to watch out for if you're looking for an expensive used copy of the Cook/Moore version. The older one is, I think, out of print everywhere; the remake is not listed at the TCM Shop but seems available on streaming video for Amazon Prime members who can do the streaming thing.

Friday, May 19, 2017

May 19, 1992

Today marks the 25th anniversary of Amy Fisher's shooting Mary Jo Buttafuoco. For those who don't remember, Fisher, dubbed the "Long Island Lolita", was a 16-year-old who met auto body shop owner Joey Buttafuoco and began an afair with him that resulted in the shooting of Joey's wife.

Now, I was thinking about which old movie comes closest to the events in the sordid Fisher tale. Of course Fisher was referred to as the "Long Island Lolita" based on the Nabokov book and later movie, but Lolita doesn't shoot Mrs. Humbert or anybody else if memory serves.

Gene Tierney lets Cornel Wilde's kid brother die in Leave Her to Heaven, andn even goes so far as to kill herself and put the blame on her sister (Jeanne Crain) when that sister is found to be in love with the Wilde character. I suppose it's a bit of a reverse of the mistress trying to kill the wife.

Another woman got in the way of Tuesday Weld and Anthony Perkins in Pretty Poison, but that woman was Weld's mother, not Perkins' wife. Still, Pretty Poison is worth another watch, or a first if you've never seen it before.

Imitation of Life would have been much more interesting if Sandra Dee had tried to kill Lana Turner and run off with John Gavin. And in similar family shootings, there's Where Love Has Gone with Joey Heatherton killing her mother's new boyfriend. But that's a replay of Lana Turner/Joey Stompinato, and not Amy Fisher.

Ah yes, there's also Dead Ringer, in which Bette Davis kills the wife of her former lover, the wife also being played by Bette Davis. But in that one, the husband has already died.

Any other good ideas? There's gotta be a lot of them in noir.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #149: The Renaissance



This being Thursday, it's time for another edition of "Thursday Movie Picks", the blogathon run by Wandering Through the Shelves. This weeks theme is the Renaissance, and once again I've selected a bunch of older movies:

Prince of Foxes (1949). Tyrone Power plays Orsini, a low nobleman in the Borgias' court, Cesare being played by Orson Welles. Cesare has his eyes on another principality up in the mountains, and sends Orsini as his emissary in a complicated plot to take over the place. Of course, Orsini goes there and falls in love with the Count's daughter (Wanda Hendrix), as well as finding out that there are leaders who are nicer than the Borgias. Power is right at home here, and it's a shame that they weren't able to film in Technicolor, since it was done on location in Italy and San Marino.

Carnival in Flanders, aka La kermess heroïque (1935). Set in the early 17th century in Flanders, which at the time was part of the Spanish Netherlands. A troop of Spanish soldiers is coming through a town which is about to celebrate its annual carnival. The town fathers don't want to have to confront the beastly Spaniards, so they come up with a ruse that one of the town fathers has died and the rest of them are in mourning, which is why they can't wait hand and foot on the Spaniards. So it's up to the women to make the soldiers' night in this small town pleasant, and sparks fly as they use their feminine wiles to keep the peace. A delightful little comedy.

El Greco (1966). Biopic about the Greek-born painter (played by Mel Ferrer) who moves to Spain and spends his artistic life there. As is often the case, there was conflict between the painter's artistic desires and what his patrons (this was Spain, where the Catholic church was particularly strong) wanted. Unfortunately, the only time I saw this one on the old Fox Movie Channel years ago, they ran it in a panned-and-scanned print.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Frances Dee night

TCM is spending a night tonight with actress Francess Dee, who in addition to the movies she made was also married to actor Joel McCrea for 57 years until his death in 1990. There's a nice variety of movies here, from I Walked With a Zombie at 11:30 PM, to the Bette Davis version of Of Human Bondage at 2:45 AM.

I think the one I'm really looking forward to might be a TCM premiere, that being An American Tragedy at 9:30 PM. At least, I don't think it's been on TCM in ages, although the daily schedule has a genre next to the movie instead of a "TCM Presents" which tends to show up next to premieres. Anyhow, Phillips Holmes plays the son of a mission worker (Lucille Laverne) who goes off to the big city, gets a job with an uncle's factory, falls in love with a co-worker (Sylvia Sidney), and then meets and falls in love with a rich woman (Frances Dee) which causes all sorts of problems. If all this sounds familiar, it's because the movie is based on a Theodore Dreiser novel and the material was remade into the 1951 classic A Place in the Sun.