Saturday, September 24, 2016

Rome Express

Some months ago, I bought a copy of the movie Rome Express on DVD. Although I bought my copy cheaply at Amazon, it's not out of print since you can get it at the TCM Shop too. I finally got around to watching it last weekend, and I can certainly recommend it.

The movie opens at a railway station, presumably one of those in Paris since there's an overnight train going to Rome and there was no Chunnel yet for trains to use. Various characters embark. Alistair McBane (Cedric Hardwicke) is a millionaire in the days when that was a lot of money; he wants to use his money to make himself look better and seems to enjoy spending his time treating his servant like dirt. There's an actress Asta (Esther Ralston) with a past, and her publicist Sam (Finlay Currie) trying to puff her up; a divorcée; and the very nervous Poole (Donald Calthrop). He's trying to get away from the mysterious Zurta (Conrad Veidt) and Zurta's companion.

It turns out that there's been a Van Dyke painting stolen, and Poole and Zurta both know something about it. Zurta just knows that Poole has it in his possession to fence it but that Poole is trying to double-cross him. Poole obviously thinks that Zurta is on to this which is why Poole wants to avoid him. Humorously, Poole winds up getting "introduced" to Zurta -- as if they don't already know each other -- at a poker game in the club car!

Poole takes his attaché case, which happens to have the painting hidden inside, to the club car, but wouldn't you know it, McBane's servant/secretary has a very similar-looking case, and he's in the club car doing some late night work. Obviously you can figure that the two cases are going to get mixed up and that this is going to add to the suspense. It's also going to get a bunch more people involved in the robbery, if at least unwittingly or as witnesses.

One of the reviewers on IMDb made a comparison between this movie and Grand Hotel, both of which came out around the same time. I think a better reference would be to Union Depot, since it has the same conceit of intersecting stories but set at a train station. (I thought I had done a full-length post on Union Depot, but apparently not.) More similarly, Union Depot and Rome Express both come across as lower-budget (the former having Warner Bros.' realism and the latter being British) without the gloss that MGM could give to Grand Hotel.

That doesn't mean Rome Express is in any way a bad movie. The intersecting stories work well together in the end, although you'll have to pay a lot of attention. There's a fair amount of suspense here, which is in part down to the screenplay of Sidney Gilliat, who would later do the screenplays for Alfred Hitchcok's The Lady Vanishes and Carol Reed's Night Train to Munich. Conrad Veidt and Cedric Hardwicke are both quite good, albeit in different ways. All in all, Rome Express is well worth watching.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Briefs for September 23-24, 2016

So I got to watch the beginning of TCM's recent presentation of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, and noticed that it had the overture. I have to get up at 4:30 to work the early shift, so I didn't get to stay all the way through the end, and didn't get to see if it was the full ~190-minute version, or whether the short that had been on TCM's schedule ran.

As for shorts, I'll repeat that there's a paucity of them on the schedule right now for whatever reason. TCM's online schedule only lists three, with two of them starting right on a half hour and the third being part of the Underground schedule. As for the first two, those were already on the printable monthly schedule that I would have downloaded at the end of August. Wedding in Monaco at 4:00 PM is clearly there since it's at the end of a half day of Grace Kelly movies. Hollywood Handicap at 7:30 PM, well, I'm not certain why it's there, but there it is.

I actually watched a DVD over the weekend. I've been meaning to get around to doing a post on the movie, since it's obviously available, what with my having purchased it from Amazon earlier this year. But various other things have prevented me for the time being. Probably this weekend.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Idiocracy screenings

Somebody on another forum notified me that, in view of the movie's 10th anniversary and because of what's happened in American culture over those last 10 years, the movie Idiocracy is getting a special one-night showing, along the lines of what TCM does with Fathom Events showing classic movies. (Of course, this is in conjunction with a diffferent set of people, but that's beside the point.) Anyhow, the link for it is here; the nearest theatre to me is down in Yonkers so I won't be going.

Apparently, director Mike Judge and star Maya Rudolph will be doing a question and answer session in conjunction with the showings; the joys of having movies be presented digitally rather than by film. It would have been much harder to do such a Q&A if you didn't have the digital link, I'd presume. I'm reminded of the ending of Five of a Kind, where the Dionne quintuplets are shown in a movie theather via a television hookup, this being the infancy of television.

There's also the time I saw Idiocracy show up on Comedy Central. My goodness did they have to edit a lot out.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Curtis Hanson, 1945-2016

Oscar-winning screenwriter/director Curtis Hanson has died aged 71. Hanson's career started in the 1970s and continued up until his death. As for that Oscar, it came in the screenwriting category: Hanson both wrote the screenplay for, and directed, L.A. Confidential. The screenplay won him the Oscar; he was also nominated for directing, and producing, as the producer(s) of a movie receive the nomination for Best Picture.

Among Hanson's other work, he directed the thriller The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, as well as 8 Mile.

Another It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World heads-up

Back in October 2012 when Spencer Tracy was TCM's Star of the Month, they ran It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World as part of the salute. Unfortunately, the running time was only listed as 159 minutes, which implies it's a cut version. In the past, TCM had been running what I think was the roadshow version, with an overture, intermission music, and exit music, and well as one scene that's not in the 159-minute version; IMDb lists the "original version" as 192 minutes, which I think is about how long the print TCM used to run that had the overture et al. ran.

Well, TCM is showing It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World again tonight as part of its salute to slapstick, and once again it's the 159-minute version, with a short coming up at 10:44 PM. The next feature, The Great Race, begins at 11:15 PM, so just in case TCM does get the ~190-minute print, they'd probably have just enough time to run it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The latest film festival audio story

The Gdynia Film Festival opened yesterday in Poland for a six-day run. Radio Poland's English service ran a report on the festival on yesterday's program, which I just got around to listening to today. They don't seem to have transcripts of their reports, just brief synopses. If you want to listen to the report, apparently you can listen live on that page by clicking the little speaker in the block below the headline. Alternatively, you can download the report directly; that's a 4.6 MB MP3 which should mean just under five minutes.

One of the films at the festival is Smolensk, about the plane crash that killed a large section of the Polish governing elite several years ago. It looks as though today's English-language program ran a report on that movie; you can download that report directly here (8.9 MB MP3, which should be nine minutes and change).

If you're actually interested in finding out more about Radio Poland's broadcasts yourself, they have a list of their podcasts. The "News from Poland" podcast at the top is the whole half-hour weekdaily broadcast; the "Society and Culture" podcast has many of the individual stories.

Hard Contract back on FXM

I can't believe it's been nearly three years since I blogged about Hard Contract. You've got another two chances to catch it on FXM Retro, tomorrow morning at 4:05 AM and then again at 11:30 AM. The listings sites don't mention it as being on any more than that in the next two weeks, but it might come up again after that, since FXM usually takes stuff out of the vault for more than two weeks.

That having been said, the IMDb page for the movie still doesn't list it as being available at Amazon, so if you want to catch it, you'll have to do so on FXM Retro. I don't recall what they've done with the aspect ratio, and three years ago, I didn't have a HD box for my TV, even though the TVs were 16:9. FXM seems to be stretching all the movies, even the old 4:3 movies, out to 16:9, however.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Briefs for September 19-20, 2016

I notice that Charmian Carr died over the weekend aged 73. I have to admit that I wouldn't have recognized the name; she didn't do much acting. She played Liesl, the eldest of the Von Trapp Children, in The Sound of Music, and is the one who sings "I'm just 16/going on 17". I'm not a fan of the movie, because in general I'm not a fan of musicals. In fact, I've always thought it would be a more interesting story if the screenplay had the Nazis catch the Von Trapps.

TCM's lineup for tonight is listed as "Featuring the Gettysburg Address". They've included the movie Hitler's Children overnight at 1:00 AM. I have to admit to not recalling where Lincoln's speech shows up in this one. I find the ending of this movie to contain some huge plot holes: the Nazis plan a live show trial, which they would never do since they couldn't control what the defendant was going to do.

One thing that's not listed on tonight's schedule is the short You, John Jones, which has young Margaret O'Brien reciting the speech. In fact, the schedule doesn't have all that much in the way of shorts on it right now. (Having said that, I don't think there's room in between any of tonight's currently scheduled movies to run You, John Jones.)

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Wild in the Streets

So over the weekend I've had the opportunity to watch Wild in the Streets off the DVR, having recorded it when it was part of the TCM salute to American International Pictures back in May. It's available from the TCM Shop, which I'm assuming means it's in print on both DVD and Blu-Ray; with that in mind I'm comfortable doing a full-length post on the movie. The movie is certainly an odd one.

Max Flatow (Christopher Jones) is the son of overbearing mother Daphney (Shelley Winters) and henpecked Max Sr. (Bert Freed). As we see in a series of brief vignettes at the beginning of the movie, it leaves Max wanting to rebel, which he does by learning chemistry and then forming a rock band. The rock band becomes successful, and Max Jr., having changed his name to Max Frost, is living the wealthy life in Beverly Hills with the rest of his band. Watch for Diane Varsi as Max's girlfriend, and a young Richard Pryor as the band's drummer.

This is the late 60s, so there's the whole counter-culture thing. Max's accountant is a boy wonder Billy (Kevin Coughlin) who graduated law school aged 15, so when they hear politicians talking about lowering the voting age from 21 to 18 (the 26th Amendment still hadn't been ratified by this point), Max points out that the majority of the population is under 25 and thus the voting age should be lowered even below 18.

US Rep. Johnny Fergus (Hal Holbrook) is running for Senate, in part on a campaign of lowering the voting age. He more or less teams up with Max to get the youth vote on his side, ultimately winning the election. But that's not the end of it for Max and company. The election campaign resulted in getting tens of thousands of young people out on the streets, and that bloc, of which Max is the de facto leader, can be used for further political reform. Max ultimately comes up with the idea of amending the Constitution to lower the age of eligibility to become President, and then coming up with such wacky ideas as putting all old people in camps and drugging them on LSD to keep them docile! Needless to say, things hit a snag.

As I said that the beginning, Wild in the Streets is one strange movie. The plot, of course, strains credulity, but I don't think that's really a problem for the movie. I can't help but think the movie wasn't taking itself any more seriously than the beach movies American International was releasing in the first half of the decade. Times had changed and with the disintegration of the Production Code, more daring things could be tried. There are a bunch of "generation gap" movies from that era where I think the filmmakers and big stars were seriously trying to appeal to the youth and failing spectacularly. Here, I think several of the older stars -- especially Shelley Winters -- are in on the joke, giving over the top performances that fit with the bizarre nature of the movie. Using Paul Frees as the narrator and having a bunch of cameos also adds to the surreality

That doesn't mean Wild in the Streets is a particularly good movie in the typical sense. The acting is poor, especially from the younger actors, and the musical scenes are tedious. The acid trips are, well, interesting if a bit wacky. And it all has a bit of a cheap vibe to it. The result is a movie that's a bit hard to rate. It's not in the "so bad it's good" category; it's not in the "so bad it's terrible" category; and it's certainly not terribly good. It's an overall strange experience.

Watch Wild in the Streets for yourself. I think you'll have an interesting experience.

Mentioning the same shorts over and over

I notice that TCM is filling out its Silent Sunday Nights slot by re-running the 1925 Studio Tour at 1:30 AM. I've mentioned this one three or four times over the last five years, and since the first mention I've managed to see the whole thing. That having been said, it's worth another mention, since it has now been released to DVD and Blu-Ray, as an extra on The Big Parade.

It does seem to have shown up on Youtube as well, but it's not in the public domain as far as I know.