Monday, September 25, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Here Comes Trouble (1936)

Paul Kelly stars in HERE COMES TROUBLE (1936), a minor "B" film from 20th Century-Fox.

Kelly plays Duke Donovan, a good-natured engineer on a ship. When he's not directing the crew working to stoke the fires, he's brawling, attempting to romance the shipboard manicurist (Arline Judge, ROAR OF THE DRAGON), and inadvertently becoming caught up with jewel smugglers.

The latter happens when thieves (Mona Barrie and Halliwell Hobbes) decide to smuggle a valuable jewel ashore hidden in Duke's cigarette lighter, without his knowledge. They have a surprise coming when they meet up with Duke, planning to retrieve the gem, and it's not there...

Generally speaking I feel that any movie starring Paul Kelly is a film worth seeing, with the most recent example being an interesting Paramount film from the same year, THE ACCUSING FINGER (1936). However, HERE COMES TROUBLE was more than lightweight, with a close to nonexistent plot. Fortunately it was only 62 minutes!

Kelly has some nice scenes sparring with Judge, and there are a number of good character actors aboard ship, including Gregory Ratoff, George Chandler, and Edward Brophy, but this one is for dedicated "B" and Kelly fans only.

HERE COMES TROUBLE was directed by Lewis Seiler and filmed by Harry Jackson.

HERE COMES TROUBLE is available in a nice-looking DVD in the Fox Cinema Archives series.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Love With the Proper Stranger (1963) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Two megawatt stars, Steve McQueen and Natalie Wood, star in LOVE WITH THE PROPER STRANGER (1963), just released on Blu-ray and DVD by Kino Lorber.

As the film begins, Rocky (McQueen) is confronted by Angie (Wood), a woman he scarcely remembers, with the news that she's pregnant with his baby.

In the ensuing days the couple slowly get to know one another as they decide how to deal with their situation. Rocky is a frequently unemployed musician, irresponsible but ultimately goodhearted; it's possible that being shocked into thinking about someone else will be the making of him. Angie, meanwhile, is afraid to step out from under the shadow of her controlling mother (Penny Santon) and three brothers (Herschel Bernardi, Harvey Lembeck, and E. Nick Alexander), who want the best for her but follow her every move.

It's tremendously enjoyable watching McQueen and Wood as their characters inch toward both a relationship and newfound maturity; Angie learns how to be independent while Rocky learns that commitment isn't as scary as he'd once thought. The actors have great chemistry and are always fascinating to watch, with much of their performances being nonverbal. Wood, incidentally, received her third Oscar nomination for this film.

I like the way the film balances tackling some tough subject matter regarding the unplanned pregnancy with positive themes about growth, commitment, and responsibility leading to personal happiness. The film gets quite dark midway through, with a horrific visit to an abortionist, but it's ultimately an uplifting movie.

LOVE WITH THE PROPER STRANGER was directed by Robert Mulligan and filmed by Milton R. Krasner. It runs 102 minutes.

I previously reviewed this film after watching a TV airing in 2010. In the years since, I watched for a DVD release to no avail; if I'm correct, this is the film's first release since VHS.

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray offers a beautiful newly remastered widescreen black and white print. Fans of this film should by all means make haste to pick it up, and those who are new to the movie will want to check it out as well. It's a very good, worthwhile film featuring two true movie stars who left us all too soon.

Extras include trailers for three other Steve McQueen films and a commentary track by Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan, new names to me. I thought the track was good, covering quite a bit of ground including comparisons to Italian "neorealism," the real-life history of the geographic area where the "doctor" sequence was filmed, how the film broke new ground in regard to Production Code restrictions, and much more.

One more fun "plus" is that the Blu-ray case cover art can be removed and flipped over, providing a choice of two different cover images.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.

Tonight's Movie: Broadway Babies (1929) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Alice White stars in BROADWAY BABIES (1929), an early sound musical just released by the Warner Archive.

White also stars in another new Archive release, PLAYING AROUND (1930), reviewed here last night. In BROADWAY BABIES she plays Dee, an aspiring musical star who lives with her friends (Sally Eilers and Marion Byron) in a boarding house. Dee loves Billy (Charles Delaney), a choreographer, but jealousy and the attentions of a wealthy mobster (Fred Kohler) have her contemplating ditching Billy for a new man.

The movie has some enjoyable elements, including said mobster turning the tables on some other baddies and turning out to be a pretty nice guy, but at 86 minutes it's a bit of a snooze fest at some points. I feel it would have worked much better if it had been edited down into a more peppy 70 minutes or so; I love short, energetic pre-Codes, but this isn't one of them.

White is a little more "real" than in PLAYING AROUND, being less of a dumb bunny here, but still, a little of Alice goes a long way. She's ideal in colorful supporting roles, such as in EMPLOYEES' ENTRANCE (1933), but not so successful as a leading lady.

Additionally, she's just okay here as a song and dance gal; she executes high kicks well but her dancing is in that somewhat clunky style which was so common in films of this era, and she doesn't do a whole lot of it.

A bright spot is Marion Byron (billed as Miriam Byron here), who's particularly fun as one of Dee's friends. Byron also had a memorable scene as a switchboard operator in PLAYING AROUND. Byron, who retired from the screen in 1938, was married for many years to screenwriter Lou Breslow.

The supporting cast of BROADWAY BABIES includes Tom Dugan, Bodil Rosing, and Jocelyn Lee. As with PLAYING AROUND, BROADWAY BABIES was directed by Mervyn LeRoy and filmed by Sol Polito.

The Warner Archive print of this 1929 release is fairly soft, with occasional lines or other flaws, and I felt the sound was somewhat muffled at times. It's watchable enough but takes some straining to catch all the dialogue. (An interesting footnote: This is one of the films from the dawn of the sound era which was released in both sound and silent versions. For anyone who might wonder, only the sound version is included on this DVD.)

The disc 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 or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Playing Around (1930) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

PLAYING AROUND (1930) is one of a couple films starring Alice White which have just been released on DVD by the Warner Archive.

White plays Sheba Miller, a somewhat ditzy blonde. Sheba's father (Richard Carlyle) works in a cigar store, and her straight-laced boyfriend Jack (William Bakewell) runs the soda counter in the same store.

Sheba is only halfheartedly serious about the industrious but boring and bossy Jack, and her head is turned by the attentions of Nicky Solomon (Chester Morris). Unbeknownst to Sheba, Nicky is not the wealthy man of her dreams, but a gangster who resorts to mooching money off acquaintances.

One evening Nicky, hard up for cash, decides to rob a cigar store...yes, the one run by Sheba's father.

PLAYING AROUND is mildly diverting, over quickly enough it doesn't wear out its welcome. A little of White's high-pitched, half-silly, half-serious persona goes a long way with me; I enjoy her more as a supporting actress.

I'm a Chester Morris fan but he's a real sleaze in this one. At the end, when he jokes about needing a magician for some handcuffs, I expected him to break loose of them, but I guess he only does that in the BOSTON BLACKIE movies!

Bakewell is fairly annoying as Jack, who has the right ethics and work habits but is too overbearing and not very interesting. The supporting cast also includes Marion Byron, Ann Brody, and Kernan Cripps.

PLAYING AROUND was directed by Mervyn LeRoy and filmed by Sol Polito. There are a few nice shots of the Warner Bros. backlot during the course of the movie.

The print is good, especially considering the film's age.

There's a nice extra at the end of this 66-minute film, over a minute of exit music. There are no other extras.

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 or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Quick Preview of TCM in December

This week Turner Classic Movies released its December schedule!

As I mentioned last month, please note that while the header photo at the top of the schedule is for the current month of September, the linked schedule itself is for December. The web address for the December schedule ends in "2017-12-01."

Lana Turner is the December Star of the Month. This is Turner's third time as Star of the Month, but it's been 16 years since she was last honored! She was previously the Star of the Month in January 1998 and October 2001.

Over 40 of Turner's films will be shown every Tuesday evening, continuing into Wednesday.

This being December, there are, of course, numerous Christmas movies on the TCM schedule, including every Friday evening and a couple films each Saturday and Sunday, plus a full day of films on Christmas Eve, continuing into Christmas Day. Christmas Night kicks off 24 hours of Alfred Hitchcock films, and New Year's Eve will be spent with the THIN MAN movies.

Treasures From the Disney Vault returns with a particularly good lineup, including the rarely seen THE STORY OF ROBIN HOOD AND HIS MERRIE MEN (1952), starring Richard Todd, and another relative rarity, TOBY TYLER (1960), starring Kevin Corcoran.

December's multifilm tributes include Cary Grant, Colin Clive, Fritz Lang, Alan Ladd Jr., Edward G. Robinson, Rex Harrison, George Sanders, Frank Sinatra, Henry Fonda, and Jane Fonda.

December 29th and 30th will feature a series of films honoring actors who have passed away in the last year, including Mary Tyler Moore, Bill Paxton, Roger Moore, and Barbara Hale.

The TCM Spotlight theme appears to be the "Great American Songbook," with many musical biopics and other films featuring classic American music on the schedule. I wonder if the 20th Century-Fox film ALEXANDER'S RAGTIME BAND (1938), starring Tyrone Power and Alice Faye, is a TCM premiere?

I'll have more detailed information on the December schedule, including my annual post on TCM's Christmas movie lineup, sometime after Thanksgiving.

In the meantime, Jennifer Jones continues as the September Star of the Month, with Anthony Perkins scheduled in October and James Stewart in November.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Tonight's Movie: The Stranger (1946) - An Olive Films Blu-ray Review

The classic Orson Welles suspense film THE STRANGER (1946) has just been released on Blu-ray and DVD by Olive Films.

I last saw this film over nine years ago, and I enjoyed revisiting it tremendously; among other things, it reaffirmed that THE STRANGER might contain my favorite performance by Edward G. Robinson.

Robinson plays Wilson, an investigator hunting for a notorious Nazi war criminal (Orson Welles), now hiding in plain sight as Charles Rankin, mild-mannered teacher in a small New England town.

Wilson arrives in town on the very day that Rankin is marrying Mary Longstreet (Loretta Young), the sweet daughter of a Supreme Court Justice (Philip Merivale). Mary's brother (Richard Long) seems to harbor doubts about his sister's new husband -- who oddly disappears for a prolonged time during the wedding reception.

It seems a fellow Nazi has arrived in town along with Wilson, and Rankin needs to make sure the man will never, ever tell what he knows about Rankin's evil past. Despite that, his identity begins to unravel, and Mary's life is in danger.

As directed by Welles, THE STRANGER is great, nail-biting fun, particularly watching Wilson circle his man. (Rankin's too-perfect pro-American ideals dinner table speech combined with the odd statement that Karl Marx wasn't German, but a Jew, is a key moment which convinces Wilson to continue surveilling Rankin.) Wilson hangs out in the town drugstore, helping himself to coffee and playing checkers with the owner, as bit by bit small clues continue to reveal themselves.

The film is very well paced at 95 minutes. If the movie has any drawback at all, it's the lack of chemistry between Welles and Loretta Young; on this second viewing I still find no explanation for why she married him -- or continued to support him as events unfolded. He's neither attractive or charming, if you ask me. I wondered at the time of my previous viewing if Mary felt herself to be an "old maid" but that description of the gorgeous Young defies logic.

THE STRANGER was filmed in black and white by Russell Metty. The supporting cast includes Byron Keith, Martha Wentworth, Billy House, Neal Dodd, and Konstantin Shayne.

The Olive Films Blu-ray was a significant improvement over the previous DVD I watched of THE STRANGER, which has suffered the indignity of being released in too many poor public domain prints over the years. It's a good-looking Blu-ray.

The knowledgeable commentary by Nora Fiore, who blogs at The Nitrate Diva, is a pleasure to listen to. Nora covers a wide range of material, moving easily from production background to trivia (loved a bit of info about a sign in the gym) to commonalities with other Welles films. (Full disclosure, Nora is an online acquaintance of several years, and I've enjoyed watching movies at the TCM Classic Film Festival with both Nora and her mother.) I listen to a great many commentary tracks and was both informed and impressed by Nora's track.

The set also includes a booklet with an essay by Jennifer Lynde Barker, which may also be found on the Blu-ray itself.

Thanks to Olive Films for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Star in the Dust (1956)

A good cast elevates STAR IN THE DUST (1956), a solid Universal Pictures Western.

Sheriff Bill Jorden (Jonn Agar) holds a convicted murderer named Sam Hall (Richard Boone) in his jail. Sam is due to be hung at sundown, but a war is brewing between ranchers and farmers who want to break Sam out of his cell for varied reasons. Bill, aided only by two older deputies (Paul Fix and James Gleason), intends to hold them all off and carry out the sentence in due course.

One by one we're introduced to characters around town who are interested in the unfolding jailhouse drama, including wealthy George Ballard (Leif Erickson); his sister Ellen (Mamie Van Doren), who loves Bill; Nellie Mason (Coleen Gray), a seamstress shunned by some in town because of her love for Sam; and Nan Hogan (Randy Stuart), who fears her husband Lou (Harry Morgan) will die breaking Sam out of jail.

Other actors appearing in the film are Stanley Andrews, Robert Osterloh, Terry Gilkyson, and, in a very early role, Clint Eastwood.

It's a reasonably good Western, but there are two main drawbacks to the movie. The most important one is that I found the film's unending focus on a hanging and the attendant details distasteful, simply not an especially appealing theme.

The other issue, which is more of a good problem to have, is that the cast is so big, with a number of good actors and interesting characters, that one wishes some of them had more screen time than 80 minutes allows.

Additionally, Agar is almost a little too stoic as the sheriff, who walks in the shadow of his late father, also a sheriff. Agar constantly looks pained but doesn't bring many shadings to the character to make Bill more interesting. I like Agar's work in Ford's FORT APACHE (1948) and especially SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON (1949) very much, and he's by no means poor here, but he does seem on the tired side in his depiction of a serious man with a big problem. His numerous scenes with Fix are a relief as Fix is much more lively as his righthand man.

Boone, as he did in the later THE TALL T (1957), makes a fascinating villain; in this case it's a bit problematic that he isn't playing opposite someone equally dynamic.

Van Doren is acceptable as the leading lady, torn between her love for Bill and her weasel of a brother, but there's nothing particularly noteworthy about her character. The supporting ladies are far more interesting, starting with Coleen Gray as Nellie, the woman Sam has dallied with. Nellie has apparently led a lonely life, starved for affection until Sam came to town, and she desperately wants to break Sam out of jail and run away with him. Nellie has quite a knock-down, drag-out fight with Nan (Stuart) over some critical letters.

The characters I most wanted to know about were Nan and Lou (Morgan). Nan is apparently a former saloon girl who was once George's lady friend, but she's now happily married to Lou. It was interesting watching the characters and doing some reading between the lines; both Stuart and Morgan brought a lot to their roles and might have been the most interesting people in the movie.

STAR IN THE DUST was directed by Charles F. Haas. It was shot by John L. Russell, who coincidentally filmed the last movie I reviewed, TOBOR THE GREAT (1954).

STAR IN THE DUST is not available in the U.S. in any format, but it's been released on a Region 2 DVD in Europe, and it's also had a Blu-ray release there. Let's hope that at some point there will be a U.S. DVD release in the Universal Vault Collection.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Tobor the Great (1954) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

TOBOR THE GREAT (1954) is an entertaining sci-fi film just released on Blu-ray and DVD by Kino Lorber.

Tobor ("robot" spelled backwards) is the creation of Professor Nordstrom (Taylor Holmes), who has designed a robot capable of participating in space exploration, protecting human lives from being at risk.  Tobor can be remotely controlled not only by mechanical devices but telepathically.

Dr. Ralph Harrison (Charles Drake) has just quit the U.S. space exploration department to protest lives being risked. He visits the professor to learn about his creation, and he also meets the professor's widowed daughter Janice (Karin Booth) and her son Gadge (Billy Chapin). It appears likely Dr. Harrison will soon have a ready-made family!

A foreign spy (Steven Geray) and his henchmen kidnap the professor and Gadge to get their hands on the "Tobor" plans, but they're not counting on Tobor coming to the rescue...

TOBOR THE GREAT is a fun little movie which runs a quick 77 minutes. It's a bit cheesy, insofar as it has fairly low production values and earnest yet not very good performances; somehow the viewer is always aware they're actors saying lines. At the same time, the movie's slight creakiness is part of its charm, and I had a good time watching it. I suspect other fans of '50s sci-fi will enjoy it as well, especially if they go into it not expecting a genre classic.

Favorite moments included location shots of the exterior of the Griffith Observatory and the appearance of William Schallert as a reporter. Schallert turns up in many '50s sci-fi films, and his appearance thus gives the movie a pleasing connection to other films in the genre such as THEM! (1954) and THE MONOLITH MONSTERS (1957).

Fans will also enjoy Lyle Talbot popping up as a general in the closing scenes; it seems as though no part was too small for Talbot in the '50s, but it's to the film's benefit as he quickly gives his part a (slightly pompous) stamp of authority.

The climax of the film was shot at Iverson Ranch, a Southern California location which turns up in countless films. I wrote a little about Iverson last November; scroll down toward the end for the info and photos. I think the next-to-last photo in my Iverson post may have been taken at the same spot as in the TOBOR still at the right.

Amusingly, there's nothing in the film like the scene used on posters with the robot carrying a beautiful woman. Tobor does carry the little boy at the end of the movie, though!

TOBOR THE GREAT was directed by Lee Sholem and filmed in black and white by John L. Russell.

The Kino Blu-ray is a nice crisp print of a film shot in straightforward fashion, with nothing especially notable or flashy about the film's look.

Extras include a sci-fi trailer gallery and an informative audio commentary by Richard Harland Smith. Smith shared many interesting factoids, including information on stock and special effects footage and trivia such as that the film was originally rumored to star sci-fi stalwart Richard Carlson. I thought it was an especially good commentary track.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.

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