Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A couple of Constance Cummings movies I've briefly mentioned before

Tomorrow's star in TCM's Summer Under the Stars is Constance Cummings. There are a couple of interesting movies airing that I saw years ago but haven't seen in ages, and have only given the one-paragraph treatment to elsehwere in the blog.

First up is The Mind Reader, at 9:00 AM. This one stars Warren William in the title role, playing a carnival phony mind reader tricking the small-town folks. Cummings plays one of those small town denizens, sees the act and falls in love with William, only to try to get him to go straight when she realizes his act is a fake. He tries, but soon learns it's easier to make a living as a phony mind reader to the bored housewives with money to burn. As I said four years ago when TCM ran this movie for Warren William's day in Summer Under the Stars, Stephen Sondheim picked it when he was a Guest Programmer back in 2005, which is when I first saw the movie. I can't recall whether I've watched any of the TCM showings since then. I'm not even certain how many there have been.

Later, at 6:30 PM, there's a movie that might be even more obscure, The Guilty Generation. Cummings plays the daughter of one of those upper-class gangsters, the kind that decamp to Florida like Lew Ayres' character in The Doorway to Hell. It's there that she meets architect Robert Young. He's taken up architecture largely to get away from his family's legacy, since his father is a gangster, too. As you can guess, the two fall in love, which presents all sorts of problems since the families (at least the fathers; there's a sympathetic grandmother) don't like the idea. You can see the ending coming a mile away, but it's still an interesting enough movie.

Monday, August 22, 2016

FXM Retro doing something interesting

I don't know if the folks who program the lineup on the morning FXM Retro part of the FXM schedule really put that much thought into it, but it looks as though somebody had an idea. Coming up today at 9:30 AM and tomorrow at 8:00 AM, you can catch, The Rains Came, one of Fox's prestige movies from the classic year of 1939.

Now, that in and of itself is no big deal. But the two apperances of The Rains Came will be followed by The Rains of Ranchipur, which is the 1950s Cinemascope color remake of The Rains Came. Those airings will be at 11:15 AM today, and 9:45 AM tomorrow. In the remake, Lana Turner takes the Myrna Loy part; Richard Burton does the Tyrone Power part; and Fred MacMurray the George Sanders part.

I'm not certain I'd want to see the two movies back to back, but at least somebody over there seems to be thinking. (And, FXM Retro is still trundling along; the suits still haven't pulled the plug.)

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Whales of August

Bette Davis is the star for the day in TCM's Summer Under the Stars, and TCM is finishing off the day with Davis' last completed movie, The Whales of August, at 4:15 AM tomorrow.

Davis, who was just shy of 80 when she made this, plays Libby Strong, the younger sister of Sarah, played by Lillian Gish who was past 90 when she did it. They've been spending their summers for decades in a summer cabin on an island off the Maine coast. But they're both getting old, and Libby has gone blind and wheelchair-bound thanks to a series of strokes. It's to the point where Sarah's daughter (unseen) thinks the two sisters should stop heading up to Maine for the summer. In fact, Libby seems more than ready to die.

Meanwhile, they've got a neighbor in Tisha (Ann Sothern) who is also showing signs of aging in that she's had her driver's license pulled. Of course these folks all know each other well since they've been spending so many summers on the island together. They're about to get a fourth, however. Maranov (Vincent Price, who I think was the baby of the cast at 75) has been going fishing at the shoreline, and when he catches a couple of fish, he offers then to the three women if they'll all have dinner together with him at Sarah and Libby's cottage. It turns out that Maranov doesn't really have a place to stay. In fact, he might not even be Maranov, the Russian émigré.

Back to the relationship of the two sisters, though. They're old an pondering the end of life, and in fact are getting sick of each other to an extent. Libby seems to take delight in making life difficult for Sarah, in fact one of the few things in which she takes delight any longer. Sarah, meanwhile, thinks about the past and her late husband.

That's pretty much all that goes on in the movie. The Whales of August is one of those things that's light on action and heavy on character. I don't know that I would even call it a slice-of-life movie, as it's more of a character study. But it's a movie with four interesting characters, and four darn good performances by the actors playing those players.

Ann Sothern got an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her part, the only one of the four to earn an Oscar nomination. Hers is probably the least developed of the four, although that's fully down to the script and not Sothern's performance. She's quite good as the kind person who doesn't quite want to admit she's getting old in the way the two sisters recognize.

Vincent Price was always a capable actor, having done a fair amount of dramatic work before he became identified with the horror genre. For anybody who only remembers Price from those campy horror films, The Whales of August is a good one to watch at it shows him just how good he could be. He's charming and a bit mysterious, reminiscent of the character he played 40 years earlier in Laura, except that this one has a different provenance and is more prominent.

Bette Davis gets to be mean since her character has the physical infirmities of old age, and Davis does a fine job with it. Supposedly Davis and Gish didn't get along so well, which I suppose would give the meanness a bit more of an edge to it. At any rate, Davis does well portraying somebody who's almost OK with life ending.

Lillian Gish is proably best of all here, though. She's the sweet old woman who gave up a part of her life to take care of her sister, but doesn't seem to show much regret or resentment for it. Still, she does have wistful reminiscences, especially of her late husband.

If you want a little movie without a bunch of CGI and explosions, The Whales of August is definitely one for you. The movie did get a DVD release at some point in the past, but it seems to be out of print. That's a shame, since this is a really worthwhile film.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Dead Reckoning again

I've mentioned Dead Reckoning multiple times, most recently when Lizabeth Scott died a year and a half ago. It's on again tonight at midnight as part of Humphrey Bogart's day in Summer Under the Stars.

The plot, convoluted as it is, involves Bogart as Capt. Murdock. He's returning home from World War II with Sgt. Drake (William Prince), who was under his command. Drake was a hero in the war and is up for the Congressional Medal of Honor. But on the way to Washington DC, Drake gets off the train and goes missing. Murdock investigates, and that investigation takes him to Florida's Gulf coast, where he finds that Drake escaped town at the beginning of the war, and in fact wasn't even Drake at the time.

Drake, it seems, was involved with Coral, who was married at the time to another man. The husband wound up dead, Drake was accused of the murder, and beat the rap by taking the name Drake and enlisting in the war. You can see why he wouldn't want to be recognized for his heroism: everybody in his hometown would recognize him, and there's that murder charge hanging over his head.

Things get very complicated after this. Thankfully, it's not as bad as The Big Sleep, which I find to be a terribly overrated movie. Still, I found Dead Reckoning hard to follow, and the ending a bit of a mess. It's one that you should probably watch once if you haven't seen it before. The TCM Shop does list it as being available to purchase on DVD.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Will Penny

Last autumn, when I had the Starz/Encore channels as part of a promo, I had the opportunity to record Will Penny. I think it's out-of-print on DVD although you can stream it at Amazon. But it's going to be back on Starz/Encore Westerns, or whatever the channel is calling itself these days, twice tomorrow, at 5:20 AM and 6:05 PM. So if you've got the premium channel package or Amazon access, you're in luck.

Will Penny, played by Charlton Heston, is a cowboy doing the cattle drive thing at the end of the 19th century in Montana, a place that holds a fairly bleak existence back in the day since it gets so unbelievably cold after the cattle drive is over. So he and two of his friends, Blue (Lee Majors) and Dutchy (Anthony Zerbe), head off for town. Along the way, they find an elk, but it turns out that another family, the Quints, headed by a preacher patriarch (Donald Pleasance) have also spotted it and after somebody shoots it both sides are trying to claim it. Dutchy gets shot, as does one of Quint's sons, the latter of whom dies.

Blue stays with Dutchy either to nurse him back to health or bury him, depending on what happens, while Will takes a job for the winter as a "line rider", that is, somebody who stays in an isolated cabin to watch the land and find any stray cattle lost in the snow. At least it's a job for the winter.

However, when Will gets to the cabin, he finds... that it's already occupied! Catherine (Joan Hackett) and her son HG (Jon Gries) had met Will and his friends already when Will was looking for a doctor for Dutchy; it seems she's trying to head west but her husband went ahead to pay for a trail guide who never showed up. Will presumes that the husband is dead, or possibly just left her, but in any case, there's no way Catherine is going to make it all the way west before winter sets in. However, it's a huge no-no for any guests to be at the line riders' cabins.

Still, with winter setting in, Will realizes there's not much he can do. Sure enough, there's an attraction beginning to form between Will and Catherine, and even more so between HG and Will, the son seeing Will as the father he no longer has. But there's one more big problem: the Quints are out there somewhere, and sure enough Will runs into them. Thankfully they don't know about Catherine. Yet.

Apparently, Will Penny was one of Charlton Heston's personal favorite movies of all the ones he made. It's not outsized the way that certainly Ben-Hur or The Ten Commandments are. And that's something that really works to the benefit of the movie. There's just a little story here, made real by some good acting performances and some lovely, evocative cinematography. This Montana is really a forbidding place, with none of the romantic ideas of a more active western, and it's well shown from the beginning with shots of the cold, treeless high plains.

The fact that Will Penny isn't outsized probably has a lot to do with why it's not as well remembered as either other Heston movies, or other westerns. But it's one that should be remembered, and is a pretty darn good movie. It's well worth a watch.

I'm interested in The Phynx

TCM is concluding Ruby Keeler's Day in Summer Under the Stars overnight at 4:00 AM with The Phynx, which looks delightfully awful.

The plot is that George Tobias and Joan Blondell are the President and First Lady of Communist Albania, and one of their military has been kidnapping Western stars to entertain the leaders. So the US Spy Agency recruits four men to be a rock band, go in to Albania to entertain the leaders, and return with all the hostages.

Apparently a whole bunch of people from the golden age of Hollywood get brief cameos, which is part of what makes the movie sound fun. The other part is that everything I've read makes it sound unbelievably awful, on the level of anywhere from "so bad it's good" to "you have to see it to believe it". I enjoyed Skidoo, so this one sounds like fun, too.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Arthur Hiller, 1923-2016

The death has been announced of director Arthur Hiller. Hiller, who was born in Canada, started his career in Canadian TV, being noticed in America first by US network NBC and then by Hollywood.

In Hollywood, Hiller directed several notable movies: I've done full-length posts before about The Americanization of Emily, Plaza Suite, and Silver Streak among others.

But Hiller will probably be best remembered for a movie I find retch-inducing, 1970's Love Story, starring Ryan O'Neal and Ali MacGraw as two opposites attracted to each other who wind up having a tragic romance. "Love means never having to say you're sorry"? Bleah.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Shorts and FXM for August 17-18, 2016

TCM has been having quite a few shorts running recently. Today, for example, sees three later Traveltalks shorts:

In the Valley of the Rhine, at 6:05 PM, is one of the very last of the series.
Then there's Calling on Michigan at 7:48 PM, one of three that FitzPatrick made during a visit to Michigan in the late 1940s; and
A Wee Bit of Scotland at 9:33 PM, which also dates from the late 1940s. There's one that FitzPatrick did looking at bombed-out London just after the end of World War II that I think is more worth watching.

As for other shorts, overnight at 2:35 AM there's another chance to watch Four Minute Fever, one of the RKO sports shorts from the mid-1950s.

Over on FXM Retro, they're rerunning Seven Thieves this morning at 11:25 AM, followed at 1:10 PM by Boy on a Dolphin. The latter movie shows up again tomorrow morning at 4:00 AM.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

James Edwards doesn't normally get honored

The TCM star for August 17 is James Edwards, a name that people are less likely to have heard of, if only because he was black and black actors didn't get the plum roles in Hollywood. TCM is showing a bunch of movies in which he has supporting roles, some of which I have to admit I wouldn't remember his presence.

Now, some of the movies it's obvious to remember. For example, take The Phenix City Story at 10:00 AM. There's one black family that gets relatively prominent mention, and that's Edwards as the husband. The Phenix City Story is worth watching on its own.

And then there's The Steel Helmet, at 6:15 PM. This one deals with a unit of soldiers in Korea who get cut off from the rest of their forces, and how they deal with it. Since the military had been integrated by this time, there's a black guy in the unit, and that of course is Edwards.

If black actors got leading roles, it was either in the rare all-black musical like Cabin in the Sky or Stormy Weather, or in a movie about racism, such as Home of the Brave at 8:00 PM. And then there's Bright Victory at 11:15 PM, in which Arthur Kennedy, blinded in World War, is befriended by a similarly blinded Edwards. Since they're both blind, race shouldn't matter, but of course it does.

Timothy Hutton turns 56

Timothy Hutton (center) with Mary Tyler Moore (l.) and Donald Sutherland in Ordinary People (1980)

Today marks the birthday of Oscar-winning actor Timothy Hutton, who was born on this day in 1960. Hutton was the son af actor Jim Hutton, who died tragically young before getting to see his son's success. Timothy had appeared in a couple of TV movies as an adolescent before getting tapped to play the role of the son in 1980's Ordinary People. Hutton's role as the son who survived a boating mishap that killed his elder brother earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, even though he's really the main character in the movie.

Hutton followed up Ordinary People with Taps, about a group of military-school cadets who want to save their school from going under, and are willing to go to fairly extreme measures to do so. And then... well, I suppose it's tough to start one's career with really big successes like that. Hutton has worked steadily since the 1980s, but has never really had the chance to do anything that brought him the plaudits that Ordinary People did. (Then again, even if he was destined to play supporting roles, the world needs supporting actors. You all know my love of character actors.)