Dec 31, 2021

Podcasts for Classic Film Fans: December Round-up

This month, after being much busier with my own podcast, I finally got caught up on some episodes that I’d been saving on my “to-listen” list for a while. All episode titles link to the show: 

Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast
May 11, 2015 

Gilbert Gottrfried recently reposted this amusing and enlightening conversation with Michael Nesmith in celebration of the Monkee’s farewell performance, which took place in Los Angeles in November. Now it stands as a wonderful tribute to a man who could have been a dutiful puppet for a television rock band, but who offered so much more as a musician, songwriter, music video innovator, and generally witty man. He also shares the story of how his mom invented Liquid Paper, which is also impressive.
Morbid: A True Crime Podcast 
November 24, 2021 

Though I’ve read multiple books about the production history of Wizard of Oz (1939), there were still several new-to-me facts about the turbulent production of this musical classic here. I loved how the hosts heavily sourced interviews with the film’s stars to tell the story; it gave the narrative a personal and authentic feeling.

The Brattle Film Podcast
October 18, 2021 

There have been some great interviews this year with Kier-La Janisse, director of the essential folk horror documentary Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched (2021), but this one is especially interesting because there are so many great film recommendations.

You’re Dead to Me
October 14, 2021 

I was struck by the warmth of this conversation about the life of Paul Robeson. He gets his props as a towering artist and a remarkable person. At the same time, his wife Eslanda also receives praise for her endurance as the spouse and manager of a busy and often unfaithful man (eventually they would address that issue by having an open marriage). It’s a well-balanced portrait.

Dec 29, 2021

On Blu-ray: 1933 Double Feature Mary Stevens, M.D. and Dinner at Eight

I was fascinated by the differences between a pair of films from 1933 I watched recently on new Blu-rays from Warner Archive. One is the efficient Warner Bros. melodrama Mary Stevens, M.D., starring Kay Francis and a cast full of the snappy, sharp-witted players who brought the studio success in the early thirties. The other, Dinner at Eight, is a lavish production filled with the biggest names at MGM Studios, though the young Jean Harlow stole the whole movie from her more experienced costars. 

Mary Stevens, M.D. features one of Francis’ best performances. She’s a young doctor who sets up shop with her former classmate and close friend Don (an adequate Lyle Talbot). He quickly gets tired of fighting to keep their pediatric practice afloat and marries politician’s daughter Lois (Thelma Todd, underused, but always welcome) so that he can secure the wealth and position he wants to enjoy without working to attain it. Predictably, that doesn’t go well for him. 

At first, it seems that the film is going to be all about Mary trying to find patients who aren’t horrified by the prospect of a lady doctor. It quickly dips into melodrama though, with illicit love, babies born out of wedlock, and deadly disease all complicating her life. It could be silly, but Francis is so sincere and as her nurse sidekick, Glenda Farrell keeps things zipping along when they could get maudlin. The film is particularly pre-code in the way the characters view Mary’s troubles with sympathy instead of scolding her for her sins, though it could be argued she is punished for her indiscretions.

My perspective of Dinner at Eight has changed dramatically over the years. Jean Harlow has been the one constant. As the fabulous-tacky nouveau riche Kitty Packard, she overshadows her illustrious cast mates, among them Billie Burke, Lionel Barrymore, John Barrymore, and the beloved Marie Dressler. Her crackling comic performance makes me constantly forget that this film is as much a drama as a comedy. 

Over the years, I’ve overcome the disorientation that comes from the intense busyness the film evokes and honed in on other performances, like the charming resignation of Dressler as a former stage star with financial troubles and the mix of bravado and impotence in John Barrymore’s fading matinee idol (he has a moment of brave vulnerability where he actually whimpers like a child). Burke is also a shallow, oblivious delight, devastated by the increasing disaster her dinner party is becoming while life and death struggles unfold around the bubble of self-involvement in which she exists. Her transition to a more aware, mature perspective is remarkably believable; she keeps the high pitch of her social climbing persona, while just beneath the surface a new decency emerges. MGM stars Lionel Barrymore, Wallace Beery, Edmund Lowe, Madge Evans, and Karen Morley are also on-board with their best performances.

Reportedly Harlow and Dressler became close on set and had discussed starring together in a comedy. What a shame the older comedian died in 1934 and that never came to pass.

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

Dec 27, 2021

On Blu-ray: Henry Winkler, Michael Keaton, and Shelley Long in Ron Howard's Night Shift (1982)


As lightweight as it can be, Night Shift (1982) is a notable film for many reasons: it was Ron Howard’s directorial debut and Michael Keaton’s break-out role, in addition to being an opportunity for Henry Winkler and Shelley Long to show other facets of their talent in the era where they were playing their most famous television roles (Happy Days and Cheers respectively). I watched the film on a new Warner Archive Blu-ray and found that while it hasn’t dated well in a lot of ways, it’s a decent showcase for its stars. 

Winkler is Chuck Lumley a burned-out Wall Street drop-out who finds life easier to take working the night shift at the city morgue. He’s a timid and terrified man, refusing to ever stand up for himself or recognize that he’s not really in love with his neurotic, food-obsessed fiancée. When the irritating but oddly alluring Bill Blazejowski (Michael Keaton) starts working with him, he shakes up his life in an often uncomfortable, but ultimately necessary way. Part of the shake-up involves Chuck's neighbor Belinda Keaton (Shelley Long) a sex worker in peril because her pimp has been tossed through a basketball hoop, from several stories up (as is depicted with an oddly humorous tone in the opening scene). 

Bill suggests that he and Chuck provide protection, fair wages, and a better life for the women Belinda’s pimp has left behind. It’s a terrible idea, but the immediate benefits conceal that from all. The view of relationships, women, and sex work here is solidly 1982. 

The score is equally lacking in progressive artistry, at least from the start. Burt Bacharach was a genius, but the music in the first half of the film feels like several cheesy variations on Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head. When the focus shifts to romance though, an early instrumental version of That’s What Friends are For (a few years before it would be a monster fundraiser for AIDS research via Dionne Warwick and Friends), and which Rod Stewart sings in the closing credits, beautifully enhances the gentler aspects of the film. 

While Winkler comes off as a little bland, he’s also sweetly relatable in the way he does his best, but gets overwhelmed by the world around him. Keaton plays a character who should be unbearable, but he’s got this alluring energy which sells you on him no matter how grating he can be. Every charismatic quirk that would make him a star explodes here, announcing a star with an inevitable rise. Long is equally charming and I wondered, as I often have, why she didn’t get more of a chance to demonstrate her appeal in this way in the movies (while she had a couple of flops that sank her film career in the eighties, the famously easygoing Winkler’s later comments about finding her difficult to work with might also offer a clue). 

Overall it’s a charming, light comedy romance, made a little more interesting with the inclusion of great character parts, including Howard’s brother Clint Howard and the always magnetic Joe Spinell as a sleazy club owner. It’s worth a watch.

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

Dec 24, 2021

Deanna Durbin Sings Silent Night

I never miss watching this scene from Lady on a Train (1945) on Christmas Eve. Deanna Durbin's version of Silent Night is so soothing and full of the wonder of the season.

Whatever you believe. Wherever you are tonight. I wish you peace and joy.

Dec 20, 2021

On Blu-ray: Dustin Hoffman Plays a Struggling Ex-Con in Straight Time (1978)

Straight Time (1978) offers a complex take on the life of an ex-con. It recognizes the failure of the system and a man. I recently watched the film on a new Blu-ray release from Warner Archive. 

Dustin Hoffman is Max Dembo, an ex-con on parole after six years in prison. With his first taste of freedom he is optimistic, pursuing employment, romance, and community with a weary sort of enthusiasm. Almost immediately he finds himself in trouble again though, partly because he doesn’t follow the terms of his release, but significantly also because his parole officer (a perfectly cast M. Emmet Walsh) doesn’t trust or believe in him.

Based on No Beast So Fierce, a book by ex-con Edward Bunker, Straight Time has all the imprecise messiness of real life. It is a world of rundown apartment buildings and beat-up cars. Existence is uneasy and made more difficult by the choices of its essentially well-meaning characters. It’s  also a great showcase for the early work of the kind of actors that always deliver: in addition to Walsh there is Harry Dean Stanton, Theresa Russell, Gary Busey, and Kathy Bates all moving in early roles. 

Max meets up again with his old friend Willy (Busey) and his wife Selma (Bates) immediately senses trouble. She tells Max not to come around anymore; she’s hopeful that her husband has finally gotten himself together, but she also seems aware that it is far too easy for him to be led astray. There’s a scene where they’re seated around the kitchen table and Willy lashes out at their son (his own child Jake Busey) and is immediately regretful. You feel the hopelessness of this man with no self-control. 

Max is also this way. He constantly makes bad decisions, driven by his refusal to accept any point of view but his own. When he flirts with employment office counselor Jenny (Russell, too young and attractive for the role, but mesmerizing), you know she is being set up for heartbreak. When he suggests they skip out on a dinner check because he doesn’t want her to pay for it and he’s broke, he is telling her who he is, but she doesn’t see, or refuses to see the red flag. 

Through it all, Max isn’t a terribly sympathetic character. You feel for him as he is battered by a dehumanizing system, but it’s clear he is incapable of considering the needs of others until it is too late. The one notable exception to that is a relief, because it shows that Max is not a total monster. It’s mild comfort in a bleak, but engrossing film.

Special features on the disc include a commentary track with Dustin Hoffman and director Ulu Grosbard, the vintage featurette Straight Time: He Wrote It for Criminals, and a trailer. 

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

Dec 15, 2021

Argentine Noir on DVD/Blu-ray: The Bitter Stems (1956) and The Beast Must Die (1952)

I’ve long been aware that if I want to find a new treasure trove of classic films, I must find a way to explore a wider range of foreign classic cinema. Fortunately Flicker Alley has made that task much easier with the release of a pair of intriguing Argentine films noir on DVD/Blu-ray. The Bitter Stems/Lost Tallos Amargos (1956) and The Best Must Die/La Bestia Debe Morir (1952) have a lot going for them, from appealing and talented stars and gorgeous production value to a satisfying mixture of familiar noir themes and specific cultural characteristics. 

Re-discovered by the Film Noir Foundation and restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive these films offer solid storytelling and a window into another world. 

The Bitter Stems/Los Tallos Amargos (1956) is the more stylized of the two and with the strongest noir elements. It is the tale of a cash-strapped Buenos Aires-based newsman Alfredo who is talked into starting a shady correspondence journalism school with cheerful Hungarian refugee Paar. While he is uneasy about what is essentially a scam operation, he throws himself into the enterprise, partly because he knows his partner is desperate for money to save his family from their war-struck nation. 

There’s an extra wrinkle to Alfredo’s willingness to loosen his moral code: he also feels guilty that he declined military service himself with the excuse that he had to take care of his mother and sister. He feels deep down that he was actually finding a reason to indulge in his cowardice. By helping Paar, he hopes to redeem himself. This is why when he thinks his partner is deceiving him, he takes it badly and loses his sense of reason, a very noir situation. 

Alfredo’s neurosis and guilt come to life in a series of moody moments in which he narrates his frustrations and in a stunning, surrealist dream sequence that makes the production feel lusher than your typical crime flick. The film is adept at putting you into the thoughts of this essentially good, but deeply disturbed character. 

Murder and the complications that come from it are a hallmark of noir, but that is rarely explored with the kind of heartrending regret expressed here. It is firmly noir in tone, but suffused with love and yearning. Based on a novel of the same title by journalist Adolfo Jasca which plays with the themes of Crime and Punishment, its screen adaptation was a hit when first released in Argentina and it is richly deserving of this rediscovery. 

Bonus materials on the disc include an introduction by Eddie Mueller, a conversation with Argentine film archivist and historian Fernando Martín Peña, audio commentary track by Imogen Sara Smith, a profile of composer Astor Piazzolla by Steven C. Smith 

In The Beast Must Die/La Bestia Debe Morir (1952), a family tragedy takes on the flavor of noir in a story of revenge set in the upper class. Mystery writer and widower Felix Lane (Narciso Ibáñez Menta) loses his son to a hit and run accident and focuses all his energy on seeking revenge. When Felix learns the identity of the killer, a wealthy, abusive brute (Guillermo Battaglia) who rules his world with terrifying cruelty, he takes on a new identity and infiltrates the man’s family life. 

Based on a novel by British author Cecil Day-Lewis (father to actor Daniel Day-Lewis), the adaptation is distinctly and delightfully Latin in execution. It explodes into action right away, full of big emotions and chaotic twists. This vigor is balanced by Menta’s calm. Both pretty and handsome, his is a remarkable presence, and he grounds the more frantic milieu generated by his nemesis. 

Much like The Bitter Stems, longing and love for family play a strong role in the film. It also has a spiritual feel, particularly in the end, which is unusual for a production which plays with the tropes of noir. 

Bonus materials on the disc include an introduction by Eddie Mueller, a conversation with Argentine film and historian Fernando Martín Peña and Daniel Viñoly (son of director Barreto), and an audio commentary by Guido Segal. 

Both films also come with booklets which offer useful context on the films and the time and place in which they were made. 

Many thanks to Flicker Alley for providing copies of the films for review.

Dec 10, 2021

On Blu-ray: Stephen Sondheim & Anthony Perkins Take Real-Life Games to the Screen in The Last of Sheila (1973)

When I learned that the hugely influential composer Stephen Sondheim had died, I immediately went to watch Dean Jones' soul-stirring performance of Being Alive from the original cast recording session of Company name. After being suitably destroyed by that, I wanted a change of mood, and I found it in a Warner Archive Blu-ray I happened to have on hand for review: The Last of Sheila (1973). Co-written with friend Anthony Perkins, this was the only time Sondheim attempted a screenplay and it is a winner. 

The Last of Sheila takes place for the most part on a yacht. A Hollywood producer has gathered an assortment of friends, or at least industry acquaintances, on his luxurious vessel on the anniversary of the hit-and-run death of his wife, Sheila. Unbeknownst to the guests, he has devised a game that he has created in hopes of forcing the criminal driver, which he guesses is among them, to confess. As often happens with elaborate games, things unfold in a way dramatically different from his plans. 

The story grew out of the real life games that Perkins and Sondheim would create for their friends. They were so elaborate and exciting, that the pair were encouraged to create a story that played off that excitement. It’s a great tale, twisty, funny, suspenseful, and always slightly confusing because it’s so full of details and unexpected detours. 

As marvelous as the script is, it is the cast that makes this production exciting. They all deserve to be named: James Coburn, Richard Benjamin, Dyan Cannon, Joan Hackett, James Mason, Ian McShane, and Raquel Welch all have their moments, which is remarkable when there are so many vying for the spotlight. 

The commentary in the special features (a DVD carry-over) is a must-listen; on one track Raquel Welch carefully and prettily describes her experience, while on the other Richard Benjamin and Dyan Cannon have a blast (you hear plenty of that famous Cannon laugh) discussing their craft, their love for (most) of the actors, and the messy excitement of making the film. It is well known that Welch made life difficult for everyone on set (Mason famously commented on his disapproval of her behavior) and Cannon and Benjamin don’t name names, but they do make allusions and cannily avoid saying anything particularly nice or nasty (at least directly) about Welch while praising everyone else. 

With or without the commentary, the film is a lot of fun and must be watched multiple times to be fully appreciated. From tricky plot points to the delightful flourishes of a lot of fabulous performances, it has much to offer.

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

Dec 8, 2021

On Blu-ray: The Marx Brothers at Their Chaotic Best in Night at the Opera (1935)


As with classics like A Day at the Races (1937) and Duck Soup (1933), A Night at the Opera (1935) showcases the Marx Brothers at their merry, anarchic best. I recently revisited the film on a new Blu-ray from Warner Archive. 

The opera is the ideal setting for the Marx Brothers brand of comedy. There’s a lot to play with: the audience, the stage, and the performers, not to mention the snobbery around this art form that deserves a good Marx Brothers-style puncturing. 

As an intensely self-serious patron of the arts, Margaret Dumont is the bridge into the story. In the first scene Groucho gives her a good roasting. On the other hand, the singing lovers played by Kitty Carlisle and Allan Jones, as sickly sweet as they can be, are presented as heroic artists who live to perform. However wild and unformed the brothers may seem as they roast the snobs, they are determined in their quest to let art thrive. 

I think that’s why this is one of my favorite Marx Brothers films, because they never make the mistake of taking themselves too seriously, but they are also oddly valorous. Even Harpo with his impulsive mischief, as pure id incarnate, stands for something in his loopy way. 

The most famous scene in the film features a tiny stateroom which becomes increasingly, and hilariously packed full of people, all of them certain they need to be there. It’s rightfully adored, but I am most impressed with the opera house finale, which features an increasingly startled audience and Harpo swinging from the rafters like a circus aerialist gone rogue. It is remarkable in the way it sustains its humor, perfectly paced, and full of gags that hit just right. 

That pacing is what distinguishes the Marx Brothers. They understood how to strike a good rhythm in their comedy: where to pick up the pace, when to stick with a joke, and perhaps most importantly, when to slow down and take time with word play. For every chaotic scene of physical humor, there’s the balance of standing around calmly ripping apart lengthy theatrical contracts and discussing the “sanity clause.” 

Special features on the disc include commentary by Leonard Maltin, Groucho Marx on The Hy Gardner Show, a theatrical trailer, the vintage shorts Los Angeles: Wonder City of the West, Sunday Night at the Trocadero, and Robert Benchley’s How to Sleep, and best of all, the documentary Remarks on Marx, in which Kitty Carlisle demonstrates that she may have been sweet on the screen, but she was nobody’s fool. 

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

Dec 3, 2021

Book Review--Charles Boyer: The French Lover


Charles Boyer: The French Lover 
John Baxter 
University Press of Kentucky, 2021 

I love Charles Boyer. Several of his films are among my favorites. He’s one of those actors who knows how to deliver, whatever the quality of the role or film. Despite this, I’ve never thought much about him. That’s why I enjoyed John Baxter’s new biography of the French actor, which digs about as deep as possible into the life of this mysterious man. 

Why hasn’t Boyer seen a revival or lasting widespread interest in his career? Baxter pins that on lack of advocacy. An only child, with only one son who pre-deceased him, there simply wasn’t someone close to the actor to boost his work over the years. 

That’s a shame, because Boyer pulled off an unusually diverse career. In a rare feat, he moved between Hollywood and Europe throughout his career, making bonafide classics in all the great film industries of the Western world, in addition to finding success on both Broadway and West End stages, radio, television, and even as a recording artist. It is a little astonishing that the work alone hasn’t elevated him more in classic film circles when it includes titles like Mayerling (1936), Gaslight (1944), The Earrings of Madame de… (1953), and Love Affair (1939), and that’s only the cream of a rich, enduring career. 

While his acting life was not without its challenges, there’s a certain smoothness to Boyer’s career. His success almost feels inevitable. While it took him a while to find his stride, he steadily moved from a childhood in the peaceful community of Figeac to the theatre and films. He had a knack for making the right connections and understanding how to overcome his flaws. There was luck, but also a steady push towards his goals. Part of that success comes from his adaptability; when films didn’t work, he turned to the stage, when television arrived, he not only accepted the medium, but became a producer and made a fortune. 

In fact, most of Boyer’s life story feels steady. There are plenty of successes, but there’s never one breakout moment where he finds stardom, but rather a deliberate, but certain progression towards fame, acclaim, and wealth. The same can be said for his friendships and his community involvement. He had a remarkable amount of control over his life, from the shape of his career to his relationships, including an enduring marriage to his wife Pat. 

The one place where Boyer faltered was with his son Michael. He and Pat never found space in their lives for their only child. Left to his own devices, with more wealth than parental involvement at his disposal, the younger Boyer never found his place in life and eventually committed suicide. 

Boyer would follow the same path as his son. When Pat became ill with cancer and passed away after a relatively brief illness, he took an overdose of sleeping pills and joined her. His family losses are startling given the relative smoothness of the rest of his life. 

This simple, but engrossing life story unfolds with efficiency and a nice amount of detail that reveals the man behind the star persona. It is a well-written book, though there are a few obvious inaccuracies around casting (an odd mix-up of Jean Arthur and Irene Dunne roles) that made me a bit wary about how straight the facts were overall. It is in essence an engrossing book though; I found myself wanting to read more, but at the same time, the story felt complete. 

Many thanks to University Press of Kentucky for providing a copy of the book for review.

Dec 1, 2021

Watching Classic Movies Podcast: Talking GIFs with GIPHY Editor Tiffany Vazquez


Love all the classic film GIFs online? That is thanks in part to my guest, GIPHY Editor Tiffany Vazquez, who has made a career of bringing brief, but potent moving images to millions of users. 

While Tiffany loves sharing movie history and fun clips with the masses, there’s so much more to her work, from ways to make life easier to highlighting vibrant moments from the past. We had a great talk about the magnificent power and variety of GIFs.


The show is available on Spotify, PocketCasts, Breaker, Stitcher, Anchor, Google and Radio Public.

Watching Classic Movies podcast is also now available on Apple Podcasts! If you are enjoying the show, please give it a 5-star review.

Like the podcast? Want to hear more frequent episodes? Click on the Support button here

You can follow Tiffany on Twitter and Instagram.

Check out Tiffany's GIF gallery here.

Take a look at the amazing Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture GIPHY channel here.

Season Three coming in 2022. Stay tuned!

Nov 29, 2021

Podcasts for Classic Film Fans: November Round-up


I was struck by the variety of the podcasts I enjoyed this month. Felt a bit like I went on a journey. Episode titles link to the shows discussed: 

Pop Culture Happy Hour 
November 1, 2021 

Aisha Harris has a great talk with writer Marya Gates about how she created Noirvember and what Noirs are essential viewing. It was fun to hear the origin story of an idea that quickly became a popular and essential part of November for classic film fans.

Speeding Bullitt: The Life and Films of Steve McQueen 
July 29, 2021 

I’m no car geek; basically I love a great movie car chase and a good looking vehicle and don’t think beyond that. I loved the details here about the cars in Bullitt (1968) though. It’s always fun to hear from a passionate expert.

Fade Out 
October 1, 2021 

I listened to this episode about Carole Lombard and her last film, To Be or Not to Be (1942) on a day when Twitter was aflame after a particularly bad take about classic film actresses. While I wasn’t too bothered by it all, it was still nice to be reminded of this progressive, modern, foul-mouthed and generous star on that day.

Made for TV Mayhem 

As I knew nothing about Charles Bronson’s television work, I thought his recent 100th birthday was the perfect occasion to learn more about his small screen career. I like the selections here because they cover both his early and late work.

Nov 26, 2021

On Blu-ray: In the Good Old Summertime (1949) Reimagines a Lubitsch Classic


This musical remake of Ernst Lubitsch’s The Shop Around the Corner (1940) is a rosier take on a tale of a couple who meet ugly, but fall in love. It trades in the bleaker elements of its inspiration for a more sweetly nostalgic take on the story of pen pals who are in love on paper, but rivals at work. I recently watched the film on a newly-release Blu-ray from Warner Archive. 

As the battling lovers-to-be Van Johnson and Judy Garland don’t have much chemistry, though they’re pleasant enough. However, it was interesting to see a supporting cast full of seasoned senior characters: that popular grown toddler S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall, Spring Byington, and Buster Keaton in his last role for MGM. In the final scene baby Liza Minnelli also makes her screen debut playing, appropriately enough, Garland’s daughter. 

Perhaps the smartest change in this adaptation was to move the action from a general gift shop to a music store. It’s the perfect way to slot in a couple of engrossing numbers featuring Judy Garland. While this is a modest entry in her filmography, Garland glows, Technicolor was made for her kind of beauty. Her numbers in the music store are especially satisfying because they spotlight how remarkable her talent was without the adornment of big production numbers. 

The action flags in the middle of the film, perhaps a few more musical numbers would have helped, though a sharper script and better paired leads would have really done the job. Ultimately it is an entertaining film that will appeal most to particular fans of the stars gathered here, because they each have their moment to shine. 

Special features on the disc include a fascinating pair of FitzPatrick Traveltalks shorts, Chicago the Beautiful and Night Life in Chicago, which highlight the magnificence of the city decades ago. There’s also a trailer and an introduction by Judy Garland biographer John Fricke. 

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

Nov 24, 2021

Watching Classic Movies Podcast--Talking Problematic Favs with Cinema Detroit and #TCMParty Co-Founder Paula Guthat

My guest Paula Guthat is the co-founder of Cinema Detroit and the popular TCM Party hashtag. She came to me with a dilemma, how do you react when you learn that one of your cinematic favs has done something horrific? The answer is personal, often not definitive, and complicated, especially when you are a film programmer as Paula is. We talked about the issue as it relates to our past, present, and future.


The show is available on Spotify, PocketCasts, Breaker, Stitcher and Radio Public.

Watching Classic Movies podcast is also now available on Apple Podcasts! If you are enjoying the show, please give it a 5-star review.

Like the podcast? Want to hear more frequent episodes? Click on the Support button here

Learn more about Cinema Detroit here.

You can stream Paula's Cinema Detroit Marquee streaming selections here.

Cinema Detroit also offers a couple of great designs available for purchase on RedBubble (I love my Cinema Detroit cat shirt!)

Next episode posts Wednesday, December 1. Stay tuned!

Nov 17, 2021

Watching Classic Movies Podcast--Talking Classic Horror with Miguel Rodriguez, Director and Founder of Horrible Imaginings Film Festival


This episode I went into a classic horror deep dive with my guest Miguel Rodriguez, founder and director of the Horrible Imaginings Film Festival. While talking about some great films, we discussed when the style of horror as we know it emerged, when it transitioned from the classic era to the modern age, how what scares us is so personal and how what makes a monster has changed with the times. We had a quick visit from Miguel’s daughter Scarlett, a budding film festival director, I hope you enjoy the way she also enhanced the background of our conversation with happy three-year-old sounds as much as I did.

The show is available on Spotify, PocketCasts, Breaker, Stitcher and Radio Public.

Watching Classic Movies podcast is also now available on Apple Podcasts! If you are enjoying the show, please give it a 5-star review.

You can learn more about the Horrible Imaginings Film Festival here.

Follow Miguel Rodriquez on Instagram and Horrible Imaginings Film Festival on Twitter and Instagram.

Next episode posts Wednesday, November 24. Stay tuned!

Nov 15, 2021

On TCM--Dean Martin: The King of Cool

As a fellow introvert, I’ve always appreciated Dean Martin’s ability to balance a career in the public eye and life as a devoted family man with his need to separate himself from the rest of the world. Dean Martin: The King of Cool, explores these different facets of the legendary performer’s personality with a rich array of interviews and clips from his films, television shows, stage appearances, and home movies. 

The film begins with Dean’s laidback childhood in an Italian immigrant community in Steubenville, Ohio, where he enjoyed a warm family life and didn’t learn to speak English until he was 6-years-old. He gave up early on school and instead dove into youth boxing, though he quickly transitioned to singing. He sang as much as possible and his natural charm propelled him to the top and kept him there for the rest of his life. Martin excelled at everything he did: nightclubs, films, and television, with a seemingly effortless ability as a singer, actor, and comedian. 

Among the interviewees there are the obvious subjects: Martin’s daughter Deana and his former sister-in-law Anne Haren and people he worked with like Angie Dickenson, Florence Henderson, Norman Lear, and Barbara Rush. What’s fascinating is the inclusion of a younger generation of entertainers, like RZA, who aside from his deep pop culture knowledge, has an acute understanding of the Rat Pack camaraderie as the Wu-Tang Clan shared much of that kinship. 

There is a general consensus among those who knew him that there was a part of Dean he kept shut away from the world. He had a lot of love around him, but he also needed solitude and was known for being quiet and reserved. There are many who were hurt by that impulse and the film acknowledges that, though it doesn’t dwell much on the fallout. 

Martin’s public persona was unique in its off-kilter carelessness. It looks a little sloppy, but he has control. This approach was endlessly adaptable; it worked in his legendary chaotic partnership with comedian Jerry Lewis, in his association with the Rat Pack, and on his long-running television program. It takes intelligence to appear that carefree. The film captures the way he developed that instinct and how it blossomed in various mediums. 

There are haunting elements to the story. Dean’s first wife Betty McDonald was essential to his success, molding his manners and look in an indispensable way, but she suffered when his career took off. Her descent into alcoholism and depression is mentioned, but not explored, and then she disappears. Of course, the entertainment industry is full of disappearing, defeated wives. 

Overall, Dean Martin: King of Cool works because it floats on the fascination Martin inspired in all he encountered. That allure is at the core of this mysterious, genuine, and timelessly entertaining artist. 

Dean Martin: King of Cool will have its broadcast debut on TCM, November 19. 

Many thanks to TCM for providing access to the film for review.

Nov 12, 2021

On Blu-ray--In the Shadow of Hollywood: Highlights from Poverty Row


It’s important to remember that poverty is a lack of resources and not necessarily of quality. That is precisely the way to view the new 4-film Blu-ray collection from Flicker Alley, In the Shadow of Hollywood: Highlights from Poverty Row

The independent features made with fewer resources outside of the major studio system have long suffered a bit of an image problem. While they are low-budget productions that due to the structure of the distribution system were never expected to make much money, the restrictions forced upon them didn’t hamper the creativity of the filmmakers who helmed them and in some respects made for better films. 

The films: Midnight/Call it Murder (1934), Back Page (1934), Woman in the Dark (1934), and The Crime of Dr. Crespi (1935) were all made as the production code was reinforced with new vigor, leading to further challenges. They were made by companies that rented studio space and were often unable to afford to continue past make a few films or even just one. Intended to be modest ‘B’ flicks to serve as the bottom half of double features headlined by more plush ‘A’ films, they were by necessity short (one aspect of these films that I love; an hour and change is a perfect length), limited to spare sets, and produced quickly. 

At the time these productions were typically populated by performers and filmmakers looking to break into the industry or former top-liners limping to the end of their careers. They weren’t something to brag about, though as can be seen in the performances of stars like Humphrey Bogart, Fay Wray, and Erich von Stroheim in this collection, they could be a platform for great performances. The special features in theset, including a booklet essay by Jan-Christopher Horak and audio commentaries by Horak, Leah Aldridge, Emily Carman, and Jake Hinkson are particularly valuable here as context makes the accomplishments of these films all the more remarkable.
Midnight/Call it Murder (1934) stars O.P. Heggie (most famous as the hermit in Bride of Frankenstein [1935]) stars as a morally rigid jury foreman who feeling the weight of his influential decisions on a murder trial when he believes his own daughter (Sidney Fox) commits the same crime. A fresh-faced and sleazy Bogart plays the daughter’s less-than-loyal lover and shows an early hint of his magnetism. I found this to be the least effective film in the set, but it was interesting to see an elderly man in a rare lead.
Back Page (1934) is an antidote to every film in which a woman is cured of her ambition by marriage. Peggy Shannon stars as Jerry Hampton a sharp-witted, determined reporter who quits (in a fashion) her big city reporting job on principle and then talks her way into the role of editor for a small town paper. Her staff is small and it seems that the local news will be lacking in excitement. Then she uncovers an oil well scandal and changes the power structure of the entire town as she uncovers the facts. It’s fun to watch Jerry foil the suits with her city smarts; they’re smug in their wealth and power, but they haven’t a clue what they’re up against. Sterling Holloway (most famous for his Disney voice acting, including Winnie the Pooh) is charming here in an early role. It’s a refreshing film because Jerry is never humbled or made to feel less than human for having ambition. Sure her boyfriend wants to marry him and settle down, but he supports her career wholeheartedly, something rare in both the films of the time and those to come in the decades to follow.
Woman in the Dark (1934) is a great dramatic showcase for Fay Wray, who rarely got the meaty parts, though she was always more than a pretty face. Here she is striking in her early scenes, stumbling through the forest in a satin evening dress, distressed, but clearly a survivor. The story is about John Bradley (Ralph Bellamy), a recent ex-con whose bad temper always gets him in trouble and Melvyn Douglas is wonderfully oily as his nemesis, but they both fade away when Wray is on the screen. She expresses the vulnerability and fear of a woman who can't get rid of a toxic suitor with acute sensitivity. The film is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Dashiell Hammett.
My favorite film in the set is the creepy The Crime of Dr. Crespi (1935). Based on the Edgar Allen Poe story The Premature Burial, it stars Erich von Stroheim as an alcoholic, ill-tempered doctor who blames his unhappiness on the loss of Estelle (Harriet Russell), the woman he loves to Dr. Stephen Ross (John Bohn) a man who also has the nerve to be more successful than him professionally. When Ross is in serious car crash, Crespi successfully operates on his rival, but plots to engineer his death by other means. Director John H. Auer crafts a dark world of Venetian blind shadows and off-kilter angles much like that of the German Expressionists. It’s the most artfully crafted film of the set because its design is so deliberate and bold. An effective cast, with a gallery of fascinating faces also helps. While von Stroheim was at a low point in his career when he made the film, his is a great performance of menace and nastiness. 

This is a remarkable collection. I’ve already watched a couple of these films multiple times. They’ve got great characters, good pacing, and seeing them in beautifully-restored prints makes them evoke utility and craft more than poverty. Here's hoping there will be more volumes to come.

Many thanks to Flicker Alley for providing copies of the films for review.

Nov 10, 2021

Watching Classic Movies Podcast--Silent Film Accompanist Ben Model

I’ve been fascinated by silent film accompanists ever since I saw an organist playing jaunty tunes for Charlie Chaplin shorts at a local pizza parlor as a kid. 

Accompanist, composer and film historian Ben Model has accompanied silent films since his college years. His career has taken him around the world. In pandemic time, he’s found a new international audience from his living room, streaming comedy shorts and live accompaniment via The Silent Comedy Watch Party with his co-host, film historian Steve Massa. 

We talked about Ben’s unusual career, creating the perfect score, and how to reach an audience whether they think they like silent movies or not. 

The show is available on SpotifyPocketCastsBreakerStitcher and Radio Public.

Watching Classic Movies podcast is also now available on Apple Podcasts! If you are enjoying the show, please give it a 5-star review. 

You can learn more about Ben Model at his website

Follow Ben on Instagram and Twitter

Next episode posts Wednesday, November 17. Stay tuned!

Nov 5, 2021

On Blu-ray: Bobby Driscoll Lies Himself Into A Corner in The Window (1949)

The classic tale of the boy who cried wolf gets a cynical shot of noir in The Window (1949), a tense, fast-moving suspense flick featuring a remarkable performance by child actor Bobby Driscoll. I watched the film on a new Blu-ray from Warner Archive. 

Based on the story The Boy Cried Murder by Cornell Woolrich (Rear Window [1954], Phantom Lady [1944]), most of the action unfolds in an apartment building in Lower East Side New York. Driscoll is Tommy Woodbury, a boy who lies so much that no one, not even his parents believes what he says. That puts him in peril when he witnesses a murder through the window of his upstairs neighbors the Kellersons (Paul Stewart, Ruth Roman). When they realize he is wise to them, they plot to make sure he can’t eventually convince the grown-ups around him of the truth.

The Window is an economical, but deliberately lensed thriller. It isn’t so much the story as the way it is told that is impressive. Director Ted Tetzlaff keeps the action moving and amps up the tension by showing the story through Tommy’s perspective as much as possible, having the audience peer over counters and up at authority figures along with him.

Driscoll, most famous for his Disney roles (Peter Pan [1953], Song of the South [1946]) and tragic early death is also a key part of the film’s success. Without a strong juvenile actor, The Window would have flopped. With his arched eyebrow and wrinkled forehead, he pulsates with frustration and helplessness. While he knows that his lies have gotten him in this mess, he’s also painfully aware of how little the adults in his world respect the opinion of a child. 

I loved the honesty of Barbara Hale and Arthur Kennedy as Tommy’s parents. A lot of their parenting methods would be problematic today, but here they effectively communicate the exhaustion and frustration of trying to raise a child with limited financial resources and a lack of tools to understand their son. They are loving and encouraging, but also overwhelmed. 

As the shifty neighbors, Paul Stewart and Ruth Roman are suitably creepy. There’s a moment where they’re stalking a frightened Tommy that’s especially chilling because they are so calm and deliberate in their methods. When the finale comes to its literally crashing end, it’s a relief to finally be freed from the tension that starts in this moment. 

Great direction and solid performances elevate this modest film into a deeply satisfying thriller. 

There are no special features on the disc. 

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

Nov 3, 2021

Watching Classic Movies Podcast--Christina Lane, Author of Phantom Lady: Hollywood Producer Joan Harrison, The Forgotten Woman Behind Hitchcock

Joan Harrison was one of only three women producing films during the studio age. Also a talented screenwriter, she was instrumental in helping Alfred Hitchcock develop his style on films including Rebecca (1940) and Foreign Correspondent (1940), in addition to his long-running television shows. She was key in molding the film noir genre with movies like the edgy for their time The Phantom Lady (1944) and They Won’t Believe Me (1947), and she also pushed boundaries with several television dramas.

I talked about this remarkable filmmaker with my guest, Christina Lane, author of Phantom Lady: Hollywood Producer Joan Harrison, The Forgotten Woman Behind Hitchcock.


The show is also available on SpotifyPocketCastsBreakerStitcher and Radio Public.

Watching Classic Movies podcast is also now available on Apple Podcasts! If you are enjoying the show, please give it a 5-star review. 

Films Discussed:
Nocturne (1946)
The Phantom Lady (1944)
The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry (1945)
Ride the Pink Horse (1947)
They Won’t Believe Me
Rebecca (1940)
Young and Innocent (1937)

Television Shows Discussed:
Janet Dean, Registered Nurse
Journey to the Unknown
The Most Deadly Game

Next episode posts Wednesday, November 10. Stay tuned!