May 18, 2022

On Blu-ray: Gene Kelly and Lana Turner in The Three Musketeers (1948)


 

The Three Musketeers (1948) may not be one the most celebrated of MGM’s films, but it has all the best that the studio had to offer. It’s full of action, with just the right amount of humor, its stars are for the most part perfectly cast, the costumes are gorgeous, and the Technicolor lends it all an unreal beauty. I recently enjoyed all these things on a new Blu-ray release from Warner Archive which looks great and gives the film a refreshed look. 

It makes sense that Gene Kelly would thrive in an action film. His bruised dance partners (and Lana Turner in this film) had stories to tell about his occasional overabundance of energy. Here he had a good outlet for that boundless physicality. He is a good fit for D’Artagnan, because while there are emotional elements, the part calls mostly for derring-do. 

Van Heflin takes on the dramatic duties as Arthos and he works well with the lighter Kelly. Lana Turner is also striking as M’Lady; her role is written more to showcase her screen presence than dramatic ability, though she has her moments and lends a delightfully twisted edge to her villainous character. The camera focuses on her like a crushed out teenager and she is breathtakingly stunning in her color film debut. Vincent Price is also reliably evil, seeming to pioneer the now long-standing villain tradition of stroking a cat while plotting wicked deeds. 

I always feel guilty about my dislike of June Allyson. While I can see objectively that she is talented, there’s something about her that leaves me flat. I could understand the freshness of her persona as Constance being appealing here for those who are fans, but I found her to be a mismatch with Gene Kelly. 

The cast is filled out with Angela Lansbury, Frank Morgan, John Sutton, Gig Young, and Keenan Wynn all of them understanding the assignment. There’s a lot of talent to behold here. 

Overall this is engaging, well-paced moviemaking. Costume dramas aren’t a go-to genre for me, but so many things go right with this production that it has an appeal which elevates it beyond category. It’s the kind of film you imagine when you think of the studio classics. Aside from the great production values and performances, the story is more engrossing because it is one of the first Musketeers adaptations to adhere more closely to the source material. It’s a good time. 


Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review

May 11, 2022

Cinerama on Blu-ray: The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962)


 

I recently had the fascinating and bizarre experience of watching the Cinerama film The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962) on Blu-ray. The new two-disc release from Warner Archive is a colorful oddity, full of features, and with different options for viewing to make up for the impossibility of replicating the experience of watching this kind of format at home. 

Three lesser-known tales from the famed brothers are woven into a somewhat fictionalized mid-life biopic of the pair. Laurence Harvey and Karl Boehm play the Grimms, while Claire Bloom and Barbara Eden star as their love interests, wife and intended respectively. They’re all appealing enough in their roles, though these sequences can drag.

While Henry Levin directs the framing story, stop-motion genius George Pal directs the fairy stories. Pal did his best work with charming, fanciful creatures, and this was a great progression from his work in Tom Thumb (1958). He injected a sense of play into his creations that lightened even the most perilous scenes. 

The fairy tale sequences are, unsurprisingly, the most intriguing. My favorite was the first, The Dancing Princess featuring Yvette Mimieux and Russ Tamblyn. It’s a romantic story of a restless princess (Mimieux) who escapes to the forest at night to dance with the lively members of a caravan. Tamblyn is a woodsman the king (Jim Backus) enlists to find out why his daughter’s slippers are soiled and worn each morning. Mimieux is perfect as a young royal who wishes to burst out of the confines of her life and Tamblyn gets some, if not enough, opportunity to show off his acrobatic dancing skill. 

Though mostly played for comic effect, The Singing Bone has its share of eerie moments, which gives it a bit of edge. It stars the perfectly-matched Terry-Thomas and Buddy Hackett and features a fantastic stop-motion dragon that is one of Pal’s best screen creations. 

The least successful of the fairy stories is The Cobbler and the Elves, which features Pal’s Puppetoons. While well-crafted, the tiny puppets get lost in the wide expanse of the Cinerama frame. 

While it is impossible to replicate the Cinerama experience at home, seen on the biggest screen possible you get a sense of what was intended. The novelty of the format is a constant curiosity. It never quite leaves your mind as you watch, which works with a film that is meant to be light entertainment. To a degree it makes up for the many moments where the action dips. As a spectacle with some elevated moments, it works.

Special features on the 2-disc set include multiple trailers for the film, radio interviews with Yvette Mimieux and Russ Tamblyn, the documentary Rescuing a Fantasy Classic, the featurettes The Epic Art of the Brothers Grimm, The Wonderful Career of George Pal, and A Salute to William Forman, a slideshow of images from the film, an image of the location commemorative plaque in Rothenberg, Germany, and menu access to the songs in the film. 


Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the set for review.

May 4, 2022

On Blu-ray: A Star is Born (1937) Restored from Nitrate


No matter how many times Hollywood remakes A Star is Born, my heart stays with the 1937 original. I’ve enjoyed seeing different takes on the story over the years, but the relationships and the characters at the center of this version have always felt the most authentic to me. I fell in love with the movie anew when I recently watched a new Blu-ray release from Warner Archive that is a gorgeous restoration from the original nitrate. 

The 1937 film is the only version to show the determined Esther Blodgett (Janet Gaynor) before her move to Hollywood. We get to see her humble beginnings. Her home is loving, but not satisfactory. You can see the life she could have had, one that would have spared her one kind of heartbreak, but given her another by breaking her spirit. Esther’s parents don’t understand her passion for acting, but her grandmother (May Robson) does, because she has successfully acted on her own passions. 

Esther knows that she has what it takes to be a star, nothing could stop her, but having that support gives her strength. When she stands in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, admiring the footprints of the stars, far away from home, she seems less alone because you know she has that connection. 

The film plays an interesting balancing act between Esther’s (soon to be renamed Vicki) ambition and her love for Norman Maine (Frederic March). While he is the reason she succeeds in the business, she is willing to give up that success for him. It isn’t that her dream wasn’t worthy; she simply learned that love mattered more to her. 

Their relationship is one of the great screen love affairs because of their enduring friendliness with each other. It isn’t just romantic love, they like each other. While there are plenty of unhealthy aspects to their relationship, Vicki never finds him a burden, because they are truly soul mates. 

Director William Wellman takes a simple approach in filming his stars. He frequently places them directly in the center of the frame, keeping the focus on Vicki, observing her emotions with an empathetic gaze. It gives the film an intimate feeling. 

In addition to Robson, Andy Devine and Adolphe Menjou are a reassuring presence as supporters of Vicki who stand by her through the good and the ugly. Lionel Stander is a delight as her friendly, but image-driven publicity man. I’m always shocked to see him in the film because it astounds me how long his career was; what an incredible accomplishment to have gone on to act well into the 1990s! 

Special Features on the disc include Two Lux Radio Theater Broadcasts of A Star is Born, one with Gaynor, the other with Judy Garland, the carton A Star is Hatched, the shorts Mal Hallett & His Orchestra, Taking the Count, and Alibi Mark, and a theatrical trailer. 


Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review.

Apr 29, 2022

TCM Classic Film Festival 2022 Back to the Big Screen, Woo Hoo!

 

I had to fly in late for TCM Classic Film Festival 2022, but getting there on Friday ended up being a great thing. From being on a plane for the first time since 2019 and around more people than I had been for the past two years to re-connecting with several friends and seeing so many films and guests, three days was exactly what I could take. 

It was good to be back. I’ve never been more grateful to be able to cover this festival. While it wasn’t lacking in any way, TCMFF felt appropriately more subdued this time around. There was a feeling of TCM getting its feet wet again as it moved back into the complicated task of producing a film festival. All the essentials were in place though.
I saw ten films, the lowest number I’d seen for a TCMFF, and I liked the easier pace. It was good to sleep in a couple of mornings and take time for meals and relaxing at Club TCM, the gathering space in the Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. 

It’s been interesting, and a bit bittersweet, to see the roster of guests change over the years. When I first started going to the festival, I would see stars like Maureen O’Hara and Christopher Plummer. But time moves on and now there are many newer films on the program because they feature the stars that are still with us.
For that reason, the only pre-1970s films I saw were Queen Bee (1955), Cocktail Hour (1933), and After the Thin Man (1936). I loved the first because I forgot how campy it is and the film was new to a lot of the audience so it was fun to hear the astonished reactions. I found the pre-Code Cocktail Hour a little dull, though star Bebe Daniels is always wonderful to see; it was my one mild disappointment of the festival. I’d never seen a Thin Man flick in a theater before and now I’d love to see all of them. All films play differently in a movie theater compared to home viewing, but this one was especially rich because there’s always so much going on in this series and you can easily miss little details. 

As for the rest of my schedule, I focused on Midnight screenings and guests I wanted to see. Otherwise I could have easily filled my time with studio-age films; that kind of film still made up the bulk of what was on offer.
I always make a point of seeing the Midnights. There’s a fun party atmosphere in the theater and these kinds of flicks are always my go-to in daily life. Miracle Mile (1988) is an odd movie: it’s so bleak and yet it has the sweetest emerging romance at its core. I’ll admit it was a rough watch after having been awake for almost 24 hours, but given the anxiety in our current world, it was a perfect choice.
Polyester (1981) was a more light-hearted and raunchy affair. Mink Stole and Mario Cantone struck the perfect tone before the screening. I love how Stole has been in all these wild films for John Waters and yet her vibe is solidly fun aunt. 

The crowd was a lot rowdier than in past Midnights. People shouted out and talked often; it felt a bit like everyone was letting off steam after being away for so long. I was sleepy, but this is one of my favorite Waters films because he’s so good at puncturing the domestic American Dream and the cast is hilarious, especially Divine and Tab Hunter.

Cooley High (1975) 

My festival highlight came early with the cast and director reunion of this funny and heartbreaking independent classic. I started tearing up almost as soon as the panel began because I was so overcome by the charisma and chemistry up on the stage. 

It was wonderful to finally see the Hollywood Legion Theater. I’d missed seeing anything there when it was first a part of the festival in 2019. It’s a gorgeous old theater with beautiful classic details and seeing a film there felt almost intimate despite it being spacious and open in the auditorium. I was sad to not have time to see the basement speakeasy. Next time!
This incredible reunion included director Michael Schultz and cast members Cynthia Davis, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Garrett Morris, Glynn Turman, and Steven Williams. Jacqueline Stewart did an excellent job giving everyone a chance to speak, while letting them run a little wild at the same time. Williams in particular was a character! Such a funny man, trash talking and cutting up like a born performer. 

Overall there was such a warm feeling to this gathering. All of the cast members have remained friends and their mutual respect was truly touching to see. 

I hadn’t seen the movie for a while and had forgotten how fun and funny it is. It has some gut-wrenching moments, but for the most part it’s about kids growing up, having fun together, dancing, and enjoying their youth despite the challenges around them.
The Last of Sheila (1973) 

While I’d recently reviewed the Blu-ray of this twisty, amusing film, I couldn’t miss the chance to see Dave Karger interview Richard Benjamin. I’ve admired him for a long time and having recently heard a great episode of Gilbert Gottfried’s (RIP) podcast in which he and longtime wife Paula Prentiss were guests, I knew he would be sharp and entertaining. 

It was amusing to see this gentle, kind man after he’d played a dramatically different role in the movie. Dyan Cannon’s role in the film was based on the agent Sue Mengers, who was also Benjamin’s agent. Apparently she accepted the role for him before he had a chance to read the script (she also did that for Westworld, so the woman had good instincts). Fortunately he wanted the part! 

It was touching to hear Benjamin talk about his five-decade marriage with Prentiss. What a rarity in any case let alone Hollywood. How lucky that they found each other.


Somewhere in Time (1980) 

I’ve got a soft spot for this swoony romance and seeing Alicia Malone interview Jane Seymour was on the top of my list for the festival that was cancelled, so I was glad she was able to reschedule her appearance for this year. She was every bit as elegant and charming as I expected. 

Seymour had a wonderful time during the production of the film. She and costar Christopher Reeve even fell in love, though he broke her heart when a girlfriend announced her pregnancy with him and he had to break up with Seymour. The two remained friends throughout the years though and he was never far from her thoughts. I was moved that real life had mirrored the film in some ways. 

I thought that I was going to be an emotional wreck watching this movie on the big screen, but I left completely dry-eyed. Not sure why, but I am guessing it just hits different when viewed with a crowd. Still, I loved seeing it in a theater and it was as great a moment as I’d hoped.

Heaven Can Wait (1978) 

I hadn’t seen this remake of Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941) for years and couldn’t remember if I liked it (the soundtrack was distractingly dated, but it was charming overall), but I wanted to make sure I saw at least one film in the grand and gorgeous Chinese Theater and I thought it would be great to see Warren Beatty. 

One of the things I love about Beatty is that at a certain point he put aside his career to enjoy his personal life. With a thriving marriage and grown sons, he expressed his happiness at taking the time to be with them. Despite not making many films for an actor, director, and producer of his stature, he certainly hasn’t missed out as far as making great work and finding artistic satisfaction. 

I’ve always had an image of the young Beatty in mind; the mischievous guy who constantly chased women. It was interesting to see the mature man, full of wit, wisdom, and a knack for living life. 

Drunken Master II (1994) 

The second-to-last film on Saturday night is generally when I start to lose my mojo at TCMFF (it's always the day I see the most films), so it was fantastic to see a flick so full of energy. 

I used to watch Kung-Fu movies in theaters all the time in the 90s when Jackie Chan became a US sensation with Rumble in the Bronx (1995) and Super Cop (1992). It was great to see Hong Kong action on the big screen again and I hope TCM will program more genre classics like these at future festivals.

I took it easy on Sunday, but made sure to go to Alicia Malone’s book signing since I hadn’t been in town to say hello to her at the media mixer. It was great to chat. She’s been one of my favorite podcast interviewees so far. Such a wise and kind person! 

We posed in this goofy way in memory of how much the Zoom froze when we did the interview. Of course she looked fabulous every time she froze! 

Afterwards I caught a bit of the panel Reframed: Exploring the Complex Topic of Art vs. Artist in Club TCM. The discussion with Jacqueline Stewart, Ben Mankiewicz, Nancy Wang Yuen, and Roxane Gay was fascinating, but predictably the chat offered more questions than answers. Still, this was a productive conversation and I especially appreciated Gay’s balanced perspective. She is a great thinker.

Coffy (1973) 

WOW. What a fantastic way to end the festival. Just when I’m ready for a long winter’s nap, Pam Grier comes in literally dancing (to James Brown no less) and blows everyone away with an everything-but-the-kitchen sink interview. Jacqueline Stewart wisely let Grier go for it as she was all over the place, but was also often profound and had some fascinating life stories to share. 

After Coffy I had another chance to spend time with friends and soak up that last bit of festival atmosphere at the closing night party. I’ve always found this event to be crowded and stressful, but moving it to poolside completely changed the experience me. I lingered much longer, was able to see people I wanted to catch up more easily. It was all more purely enjoyable. 

I’m glad I went back to TCMFF in these strange times. I came home healthy, happy, and ready for next year!

Apr 27, 2022

Podcasts for Classic Film Fans: April Round-up


Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast
April 4, 2022 

I was heartbroken to hear of Gilbert Gottfried passing. His podcast was one of my favorites; I have featured it many times on Watching Classic Movies. He was closing in on 700 episodes! What a loss to no longer have his voice. This was a great chat with You Must Remember This host Karina Longworth. His Dick van Dyke episode was legendary. Other memorable episodes: Carl Reiner, Stacy Keach, Malcolm McDowell, and married stars Richard Benjamin and Paula Prentiss.


The Academy Museum Podcast 
March 25, 2022 

I love this new show; it’s beautifully produced and host Jacqueline Stewart is an excellent interviewer. I was moved by the memories of the night Sidney Poitier, Denzel Washington, and Halle Berry all brought home Oscars. The sound of Berry’s emotional reaction to her win still moved me to tears; I remembered every sniffle.


Cinema Junkie 
March 23, 2022 

The Godfather is so famous for being an ensemble piece; it was a treat to get a few personal memories from cast member Robert Duvall on the 50th anniversary of the film. In this brief episode he pays tribute to Francis Ford Coppola’s sense of humor and remembers his favorite moments making the movie.


I Saw What You Did 
March 29, 2022 

When I saw it in the theater, I thought the 1998 remake of Psycho was goofy and pointless. Only Millie and Danielle could make me suddenly so interested in seeing it again. In comparing the Van Sant film with the original, they find new things to consider about both versions.

Apr 21, 2022

Going to TCM Classic Film Festival! What I Plan to See and How to Follow Me

 


I'm excited to return to the TCM Classic Film Festival after two years away! I'm flying in a bit later this time, Friday morning, but I will have the opportunity to see plenty. 

My priorities: 

Friday-- 
Queen Bee 
Cooley High 
Miracle Mile 

Saturday-- 
The Last of Sheila 
Somewhere in Time 
Heaven Can Wait 
Drunken Master II 
Polyester 

Sunday-- 
After the Thin Man 
Coffy 
TBA? 

I'm going to keep the rest of my schedule fluid. Lots of free time for mask breaks outside, getting meals, etc. 

Here's where to follow me during the festival: 

Apr 20, 2022

Fourth Season of TCM's The Plot Thickens Podcast to Feature Pam Grier

 


While I'm not going to Hollywood until Friday, I've been getting TCM Classic Film Festival news here and there. The best thing I've heard yet? It was announced at the media mixer today that season four of the TCM podcast The Plot Thickens will feature actress Pam Grier. 

The first female action star of the modern era (and the first black female action star in Hollywood as her precursors in the silent era were all white), Grier has always had a lot more to offer than exploitation fare and eventually she was able to show that. However, those first films are the the most exciting of her work. Her screen presence was an explosion of charisma and sharp wit, and the source of many iconic moments. 

I can't wait to hear more about Grier, because I know she's a fighter and has overcome a lot. Now I am extra excited to see Grier interviewed before Coffy (1973) as my last film of the TCM Classic Film Festival!