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!

Apr 15, 2022

Watching Classic Movies Podcast Special Episode: How I Navigate TCM Classic Film Festival


Every year before the TCM Classic Film Festival, I see festival newbies planning and speculating about their first visit and I think I'd like to give them the benefit of my experience, but in a more thorough way than can be achieved with a Tweet. So I recorded this short episode with a few words of experience that I hope will be helpful. I also compiled several of my photos from the 2014-19 festivals to make it more of a video essay for my YouTube channel:


   

Transcript: 

I attended the TCM Classic Film Festival for the first time in 2014 and almost immediately I knew I would return. And I have for every festival since. My first year had some bumps. It took a bit of time and a lot of trial and error to learn how to enjoy this event to the fullest. 

With so many options, I found it was easy to burn out. But I did learn. 

This is how I navigate the TCM Classic Film Festival. 

Since it’s a festival made specifically for classic film fans, there’s always going to be a lot you want to see. The first time you look at the schedule can be overwhelming. So many options! Some people will watch a movie in every time block. I quickly learned that was too much for me. 

Sometimes you also don’t have a choice about seeing a film. It hasn’t happened to me much, but a theater can fill up before you get in. Be prepared to adjust. 

My best strategy has been to pick my must-see films and guests and make sure I line up an hour ahead of time for them. Generally, that is enough time. Once I have made my choices, I try to keep it easy with the rest of the schedule. Having a sense of spontaneity at this festival can lead to wonderful surprises. 

Anyone in this fandom knows how bittersweet it can be when it comes to the performers we love. So many of the guests I saw in my early years at the festival have now left us. Taking the time to queue up for them has always been worth it. 

In fact, one of the best aspects of the festival is meeting fellow film fanatics in line. As introverted as I am, I’ve had some amazing conversations over the years. This isn’t the grocery store, these are your people, and they all want to talk movies. 

My priorities: must-see guests, seeing at least one film in the magnificent Chinese Theater, and catching the wild party that is the Midnight screenings. This framework ensures I get what I want most out of my festival experience. 

I’ve always had a lot of snacks with me at the festival, and that’s kept my energy up and my stomach from grumbling in packed screenings, but I’ve learned I need to take time for at least one meal away from the theater each day, both for a break and to have something more substantial than protein bars. The Hollywood and Highland mall has many quick and delicious options. I’m obsessed with the rice bowls at Jinya Ramen Express. 

There are a lot of other ways to take a break from screens during the festival too. You can queue up to get a view of the stars from the stands on the red carpet opening night, or line up to watch the honoree of the year put their hand and footprints in cement for the forecourt of the Chinese Theater. I’ve had incredible moments at both events. 

I love to spend time at Club TCM in the Roosevelt Hotel because it’s such a calm environment compared to the chaos of Hollywood Boulevard and the multiplex. If only there were a club like this I could go to year round! In addition to the great programming, there’s always lots of art, costumes and film artifacts to admire. 

On the other hand, it pays to branch out into the neighborhood. Look for your favorites on the walk of fame, buy way too many books and stills at Larry Edmunds Bookshop, check out the bizarre contraptions and beautiful costumes at the Hollywood Museum. 

I like to give my schedule some breathing room so I can wander. One year I decided to get a flattened penny from every machine on Hollywood Boulevard, there were a lot. At the end of my journey, I even taught a trio of Japanese tourists how to use one of the machines. 

One of the things that fascinates me about this festival is that there are so many ways to approach it. When my friends and I compare schedules it always blows my mind how different our experiences have been. 

The best years, I’ve gone in with a plan and enjoyed the various diversions instead of resisting them. There’s so much going on that there is always something to compensate for the disappointments. It’s always an amazing time. 

I’ve made some of my best memories here and that’s why I keep coming back.

Apr 13, 2022

Watching Classic Movies Podcast: Talking Bill Gunn and Ganja & Hess with Christopher Sieving


 

In 1973, filmmaker Bill Gunn’s vampire/addiction movie Ganja & Hess was a sensation at the Cannes Film Festival. Starring Duane Jones, Marlene Clark, musician Sam Waymon, and Gunn himself, this mysterious, fascinating film should have been an arthouse sensation in the States. Instead it played a single New York theater for two weeks, before it was pulled and eventually re-edited in a more conventional manner for the exploitation market. I talked with Christopher Sieving, author of Pleading the Blood: Bill Gunn’s Ganja & Hess, about the film, Gunn’s greatest works, and the career that this remarkable director, writer, and actor should have had. 




The soundtrack for Ganja & Hess has been released by Howling Wolf Records.

The show is available on SpotifyPocketCastsBreakerStitcherAnchorGoogleRadio Public, and YouTube.

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

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Apr 6, 2022

Watching Classic Movies Podcast--Alicia Malone, TCM Host and Author of Girls on Film: Lessons From a Life of Watching Women in Movies

My guest this episode, Alicia Malone is a TCM host and the author of Backwards in Heels: The Past, Present, and Future of Women Working in Film, The Female Gaze: Essential Movies Made by Women and her latest Girls on Film: Lessons from a Life of Watching Women in Movies. We talked about her journey to embrace her authentic self, what she’s focusing on next in her remarkable career, and how her perspective on film has grown and changed over years of movie fandom. 


 

To learn more about Alicia's latest book go to Mango Publishing.

***

The show is available on SpotifyPocketCastsBreakerStitcherAnchorGoogle and Radio Public.

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

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



Apr 4, 2022

On Blu-ray: Alfred Hitchcock's Stage Fright (1950) and Lewis Milestone's Edge of Darkness (1943)


 

In an especially intense time where world events are concerned, it was a bit much to watch this pair of films full of tension and fear, but I enjoyed them for their good qualities, despite feeling thoroughly drained in the end. 

Stage Fright (1950) 

I always do a double take when I see Alfred Hitchcock’s customary cameo in Stage Fright. I think “oh yeah, this is a Hitchcock.” It’s an unusual film in the director’s filmography: less perverse, lighter on the thrills, and more focused on quirky characters. It isn’t a top Hitchcock for me, but I enjoyed revisiting the film on a new Blu-ray from Warner Archive. 

Stage Fright is set in the theater world. Richard Todd is Jonathan Cooper, an actor having an affair with singing stage star Charlotte Inwood (Marlene Dietrich). In the opening scene, she shows up to his flat in a blood-soaked dress and tells him she has killed her husband. He soon finds himself being hunted for the crime and turns to fellow thespian Eve Gill (Jane Wyman), who has a crush on him, for help. 

This is a tricky story, famous for upsetting audiences due to a notorious deception, but it somehow never catches fire. The main appeal is in the cast: Alastair Sim is drily amusing as Eve’s father and actresses including Sybil Thorndike, Kay Walsh, Joyce Grenfell, and Patricia Hitchcock give the proceedings a comic, ghoulish tone. While Todd didn’t affect me one way or the other, Jane Wyman is well-cast as a sharp, but naïve actress, and Marlene Dietrich adds a shot of glamour and sings several songs (she also looks amazing because Hitchcock let her dictate her own lighting, something he seems to have thought she did much better than acting). 

It’s an entertaining if minor entry in the Hitchcock oeuvre. Special features on the disc include a trailer and a short DVD feature-carryover making-of documentary that has major spoilers, so watch after seeing the film.

Edge of Darkness (1943)
 

I almost couldn’t bear to finish watching Edge of Darkness. In a time where yet another nation came under attack, it was difficult to watch a drama about the wreckage war has brought and continues to bring in our world. It is an excellent movie: beautifully filmed, impeccably cast, and effectively blunt, but it is brutal. 

While director Lewis Milestone’s breakout film All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) passionately echoed the pacifist message of its source novel, this World War II era follow-up is about fighting back. That said, both films firmly communicate that no one wins in war. The loss and suffering are too great for victory. 

It is the story of a Norwegian village under occupation and how the villagers fight back against the Nazis. The film is relentless in its approach; from the first scene, showing the town strewn with dead bodies to the final, chaotic battle scene. Before that shocking opening moment, there are a few moments of tranquility: a shot of glistening water, snow-covered mountain peaks, and low clouds drifting in the atmosphere. This is how it was before the troubles began. 

The cast is uniformly outstanding, with Errol Flynn a revelation in an atypically reserved performance and Walter Huston is solid as the stubborn but wise town doctor. This is a film for women to shine though; there’s a stunning array of complex, strong female characters. Ann Sheridan, Judith Anderson, Nancy Coleman, and Ruth Gordon are all at their best in devastating and fascinating performances. 

Despite its horrors, Edge of Darkness is a beautifully made film. Cinematographer Sidney Hickox (To Have and Have Not [1944], The Big Sleep [1946]) does his best work here, finding a balance between the fairy tale quality of the village setting and the horrific nastiness of battle. The Franz Waxman score is also magnificent, capturing the heart and spirit of the determined villagers. 

I can recommend this film, but it isn’t an easy watch. As with All Quiet on the Western Front it captures the best of us and the worst of us and that’s a lot to process. 

Special features on the disc include the short Gun to Gun, the cartoon To Duck…or Not to Duck, and a trailer. 

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing copies of the films for review.

Apr 1, 2022

Podcasts for Classic Film Fans: March Round-up


 

I enjoyed a nice variety of shows this month, though you could call those last two episodes a child star double feature. All episode titles link to the show: 

Nitrateville Radio 
January 28, 2022 

Dana Stevens, the author of a new book about Buster Keaton, has a lot of interesting things to say about the comedian’s love for doing television and the high points of his late career. Farran Nehme also shares insightful comments about the pre-code actresses featured in a series she programmed for MoMA.
Black History for White People 
February 22, 2022 

This is a fascinating history of Sidney Poitier. The hosts are amazingly in sync and full of empathy and great insights. I’m even more astounded by what this remarkable actor accomplished now that I know his roots.
The Industry 
March 15, 2022 

I was thoroughly charmed by this interview with Steven Warner, who played the title role in the Stanley Donen musical The Little Prince (1974) when he was seven-years-old. Fortunately his time on the production is a happy story, though the film would ultimately do poorly at the box office. It’s an intriguing flick though and it was interesting to learn how it all came together.

Maltin on Movies 
February 25, 2022 

Karen Dotrice (Mary Poppins [1964], The Gnome-Mobile [1967]) is a riot in this interview with Leonard and Jessie. She shares sweet memories of how Walt Disney treated her with fatherly regard and spoke to her like she was an adult. Dotrice is also kind, but honest about the troubles her co-star in her two most famous films, Matthew Garber caused on the set and how he struggled later in life.

Mar 30, 2022

Watching Classic Movies Podcast: Talking the Thin Man Series with Brian Sauer of Pure Cinema Podcast

My guest Brian Sauer writes the review site Rupert Pupkin Speaks, hosts the podcast and YouTube channel Just the Discs, and is co-host of the official New Beverly Cinema podcast Pure Cinema

As the complete Thin Man mystery series has been released on Blu-ray for the first time, we celebrated by talking about the many fascinating and amusing elements of these six movies and the legendary pairing of series stars Myrna Loy and William Powell. 

Keep up with Brian:

Pure Cinema Podcast, Just the Discs Podcast, Just the Discs YouTube, and Rupert Pupkin Speaks

Twitter, Instagram

***

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

Watching Classic Movies podcast is also 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



Mar 28, 2022

On Blu-ray: The Early Short Films of Alain Resnais, Director of Hiroshima Mon Amour (1958) and Last Year at Marienband (1961)

While best known for directing features like Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) and Last Year at Marienbad (1961), Alain Resnais spent the first two decades of his career making short films. On a new Blu-ray, Icarus Films has released restorations of five of the most celebrated works from those years. 

The most compelling aspect of these films is that it is clear Resnais developed his style early in his career. In the mesmerizing Le chant du Styrène (The Song of Styrene, 1957), he manages to imbue a documentary short about plastics with all the mystery and tension of Marienbad. Not something I would expect to see in an industrial film. 

Toute la mémoire du monde (All the World’s Memory, 1956), a film about the National Library of France, casts a similar spell. With sweeping overhead views and long tracking shots, Resnais’ camera glides through this world of knowledge like a wistful specter. It’s a beautiful record of a grand building and its massive and rapidly growing collection. 

A trio of films dedicated to artists: Paul Gauguin (1949), Van Gogh (1948), and Guernica (about Picasso, 1949) uses effectively presented still images to tell the story of these artist’s most intense moments. Van Gogh won an Academy Award for short subject and an award at the Venice Film Festival, early recognition in a richly-rewarded career. 

While I liked the dramatic effect of the artist trio, I was most fascinated by the other two films, which profoundly demonstrate the artistic possibilities in documentary filmmaking. They’re a delightful prelude to the long career of a unique and visionary filmmaker. 

The disc comes with a booklet featuring an interview with Laurence Braunberger, daughter of Pierre Braunberger, who produced the shorts. In addition to providing a good historical background, Laurence shares a little about the process of restoration in which she played a key role. 


Many thanks to Icarus Films for providing a copy of the Blu-ray for review.

Mar 25, 2022

Book Review--Pleading the Blood: Bill Gunn's Ganja & Hess


 

Pleading the Blood: Bill Gunn’s Ganja & Hess
Christopher Sieving 
Indiana University Press, 2022 

The career of actor, writer, and director Bill Gunn is a bittersweet story. While the things he accomplished were impressive, he could have done much more. In a new book, Pleading The Blood: Bill Gunn's Ganja & Hess, Christopher Sieving tells the story of this uniquely talented filmmaker and his greatest film, the vampire/addiction horror drama Ganja & Hess (1973). 

As a longtime fan of Gunn, and Ganja & Hess in particular, I was grateful for this thoughtful and thorough approach to his work. While effective as a monograph of the film, the book also serves well as a biography of Gunn. It was fascinating to learn about his childhood as a prodigy and social outsider, which foreshadows the many ways in which this filmmaker would struggle to find his place in the world. I also found it helpful to get an overview of his career, which enabled me to properly place Ganja & Hess as both Gunn’s greatest success and most profound disappointment. 

Aside from the clear road blocks Gunn encountered due to his race (and his resistance to restricting his output to supposed “black issues”), he had an unusual sensibility that alone would have made it difficult for him to find a place in popular culture. His first and frustratingly unavailable film Stop! (1970) is a good example of this. Mysterious and unconventional, but with a strong voice; it is a valuable piece of work, but not easily accessible (both physically and intellectually, it has never seen release in theaters or on video). 

If this kind of film were to find even moderate success with a major such as Warner Bros. (which hired Gunn to make Stop!, but then buried the film), perhaps it could have heralded an acceptance in the United States of the kind of unconventional European-style art film that Gunn found inspirational. In essence, it is a film for grown-ups, one that doesn’t giggle at sex, thoughtful conversation, or challenging ideas. Gunn would go on in the same mode while filming Ganja & Hess, capturing characters that don’t hesitate to embrace their desires or ask hard questions. 

Sieving explores the many ways Gunn struggled to find funding and acceptance of his work. He spotlights his frustration and anger, which are in contrast to his generosity as a filmmaker to cast and crew. A brilliant collaborator and mentor, Gunn couldn’t find that same spirit of trust and support when it came to investors and studios, not to mention the mainstream press. 

It’s a revealing book, full of triumph and disappointment, with a strong message that we could have and still need to do much better as a society in supporting a diverse array of adventurous artists if we are to get the best our culture has to offer. 


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

Mar 23, 2022

Watching Classic Movies Podcast: Talking Classic Film Biopics with Kristen Lopez of Ticklish Business

My guest this week is Kristen Lopez of Ticklish Business. She's one of my favorite classic film bloggers and podcasters. Kristen has long had an interest in classic film biopics. We talked about the hits and misses in this most fascinating genre. 


Keep up with Kristen: 

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

Watching Classic Movies podcast is also 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


Mar 21, 2022

TCM Ultimate Movie Trivia Challenge: Yes, it Stumped Me a Few Times


 

I’ve long thought it would be great to have a classic movie trivia game for waiting in line at TCM Classic Film Festival. Now TCM itself has come through itself with a card deck that delivers as far as being accessible for fairly new fans of the classics, but offering some challenge for long-term cinema obsessives like me. 

The TCM Ultimate Movie Trivia Challenge is a 100-card deck with four questions on each card. The back of each card is labeled with one of eight categories: The Great Films, Leading Ladies, Leading Men, Directors, Cult Classics, Supporting Players, Behind the Scenes, and Unforgettable Lines. I liked having the flexibility to choose a category; the Cult cards were especially fun because of their wild variety. 

Any regular viewer of TCM should enjoy these cards. As someone with a deep knowledge of classic movies, I knew many of the answers easily, but there were plenty that stumped me, and those I did know often had a few interesting tidbits in the answer that were new to me. 

In a time where I often fail to disconnect myself from the social media doom scroll and all the attendant horrors, it was nice to unplug with this. It reminded me of how healing it can be to embrace the simplicity of playing games, especially when they focus on a subject I deeply love. 


Many thanks to TCM for providing the trivia game for review.

Mar 18, 2022

Noir on Blu-ray: Repeat Performance (1947) with Joan Leslie, A Gem Restored and Saved from Obscurity

 


Joan Leslie spent most of her career playing sweet-faced ingénues, which isn’t unfortunate in itself, but she did have more to offer as an actress. She proves this in Repeat Performance (1947), a unique fantasy/noir/melodrama in which the actress plays her most complex and mature character. 

Now available on a DVD/Blu-ray release from Flicker Alley, this production was almost lost to time, barely saved from a tattered print. Thanks to the fundraising of the Film Noir Foundation and restoration efforts by UCLA Film and Television Archive, Repeat Performance is not only available, but it looks amazing. 

Leslie stars as Sheila Page, a successful stage actress in a toxic marriage. She commits a murder in the opening scene and, blaming it on her bad choices over the past year she wishes she could live 1947 again and fix everything. Basically she wants to rewrite this act of her life, just like the plays in which she stars. She gets her wish, but quickly learns how little control she has over her alcoholic, resentful husband (Louis Hayward) and those around them. 

One of the best elements of the film is the supportive men in Sheila’s life. As her producer John Friday, Tom Conway is sympathetic, supportive, and believes in her no matter what wild stories she tells him about bending time. In his film debut as Sheila’s queer-coded poet friend William, Richard Basehart is also moving as a thoughtful and wise confidant whose gentle demeanor is at odds with the chaos around him (he’s also got the most luscious head of hair). It makes her co-dependent marriage with Hayward seem all the more absurd as she is putting so much into an unhealthy relationship when she is surrounded by far better examples of masculinity. 

The fantasy portion of the film is almost an afterthought. It plays with time as a means to launch the noir/melodrama. Once Sheila leaps into the past, little is said of it; there isn’t even much astonishment. 

Instead, the focus is on a cast of characters which proves to Sheila’s increasing frustration that trying to control people like characters in a play is a futile pursuit. Among them are Natalie Schafer, who purchases men for herself as a supposed patron of the arts (she doesn’t know what to make of the less-than-responsive William), Virginia Field as a playwright with her sights on Sheila’s husband, and Ilka Grüning as the refreshingly uncomplicated Mattie, who provides a palate cleanser by only wanting a glass of sparkling burgundy and a good time. 

It’s a gripping film, full of bad decisions, wild twists, and haunted by fate, which is why I think despite all the melodramatic elements, it earns the distinction of noir. 

The set is a typically thorough Flicker Alley release, with film commentary by noir expert Nora Fiore, a video profile of Joan Leslie hosted by Farran Smith Nehme (aka The Self-Styled Siren), a documentary about Eagle-Lion (the company that released the film) hosted by Alan K. Rode, and an introduction by Eddie Muller which makes clear how close this film was to disappearing forever. I also appreciated the comparison between film and source novel in Brian Light’s essay in the set’s accompanying booklet; there are some significant and telling differences between the two. 


Many thanks to Flicker Alley for providing a copy of the film for review.