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!

Nov 1, 2021

Podcasts for Classic Film Fans: October Round-up

I enjoyed an especially varied batch of podcast episodes this month. There are lots of different subjects and styles to take in here. Episode titles link to the show: 

Fun City Cinema 
October 25, 2021 

This was a thoughtful reflection on the brutal, but fascinating 1970 film Joe. It draws on a brilliant roster of guests and makes a rather frightening and accurate comparison between its murderous characters and certain public figures today.

Micheaux Mission 
September 28, 2021 

I wanted to dive into race films, because I’ve enjoyed a few, but it’s long been a hole in my cinematic education. I knew these guys had watched quite a few in their quest to watch every black film. This was a good start for me, because I got some big picture information in addition to the movie review.

The Plot Thickens 

TCM has finally hit its stride in podcasting with its third season of The Plot Thickens. There’s so much not commonly known about the turbulent life of comedy legend Lucille Ball. This wild story is told well here, with Ben Mankiewicz narrating, interviews with those who knew her, and extensive clips of Lucy herself. It’s a gripping and moving production.

Made For TV Mayhem
February 6, 2021 

I love classic TV movies, especially from the seventies, and ESPECIALLY horror, so this episode about the modern haunted house chiller This House Possessed hit the spot. There’s even an interview with star Parker Stevenson (The Hardy Boys). He’s as nice a guy as I expected.