Sep 14, 2022

On Blu-ray: Flicker Alley Release The Silent Enemy (1930) Reveals a Long Lost Gem


The Silent Enemy (1930) is both a cultural curiosity and a deeply entertaining film. Made on location in the Canadian Northwest by director H.P. Carver, and starring a troop of naturally gifted indigenous actors, it gives a glimpse of how fascinating a truly diverse movie industry could have been throughout the years. 

I recently enjoyed the film on its debut Blu-ray release from Flicker Alley. The liner notes for the disc, excerpted from film historian Kevin Brownlow’s The War, The West and The Wilderness are essential to understanding this film that evokes the documentary feel of Nanook of the North (1922). The historian was instrumental in the revival and restoration of the film after producer W. Douglas Burden brought it to his attention, essentially saving it from obscurity. 

While Paramount had granted the contract for the film and studio personnel like Jesse Lasky felt it was well made, it was also a silent when talkies were taking over the industry and thrown into block booking packages instead of given much-needed special exhibition. Thus it never got the attention it deserved, which makes this release welcome and a bit of a miracle. 

It’s the story of the Ojibway tribe in the years before settlers arrived. For this group of hunters and gatherers, hunger is a constant threat. Various factions in the group battle for dominance as they are threatened by famine. There’s plenty of drama among these tribe members, but egos and desires ultimately take a backseat to the ever pressing need to ensure their survival. 

While the intertitles in silent films don’t usually stand out to me except for the odd entertaining line, I was impressed with the powerful and poetic prose here. Prefacing scenes with phrases about “dogs savage with hunger” and a wildcat that is “the killer of the forest, nine feet from tip to tip” gave the story an extra edge and sense of tension. 

I also loved the striking simplicity of the way the ceremonial scenes were filmed. The actors are situated in the center of the frame, which gives them an added sense of power and grounding in their most spiritual moments. The focus is on the people in the pageantry, while the edges of the frame fade into darkness. 

Having recently seen Prey (2022) I was fascinated by the commonalities between the two films. Both stories are entertaining and suspenseful in the way they feature indigenous actors demonstrating their survival skills. While they are dramatically different stories, they share a lot in spirit because of the charisma, drive and ability of their performers, not to mention their great chemistry. It made me think about the decades between the films, how many different kinds of stories could have been told of these people and how that could have dramatically altered our perspective of each other. 

For that reason The Silent Enemy can be forgiven for its magical native framing and the other ways it misses fully appreciating and understanding its subjects. Overall it succeeds, finding the humanity, interest, and excitement in telling the stories of the people who first lived in territories which challenged them, but in which they ultimately succeeded. 

There are two soundtrack accompaniments on the disc: I found both to be enjoyable, but the score was especially impactful, with a bold, timeless composed by Siegfried Friedrich feel that suited the story well. Other special features include an image gallery with pictures from promotional materials and the production and a fascinating audio interview with the film’s producer W. Douglas Burden, conducted by film historian Kevin Brownlow, in which he shares what an adventure it was making The Silent Enemy

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

Sep 7, 2022

On Blu-ray: Paul Newman Directs Joanne Woodward in Rachel, Rachel (1968)


Rachel, Rachel (1968) was Paul Newman’s directorial debut and a gift to his wife (he also produced). In the years since her Oscar win for The Three Faces of Eve (1957), he had gone full speed ahead with his career, while she had devoted much of her time to raising their three daughters, working in some capacity, but too guilt-ridden about going on location as her husband did. As an offering and a career boost, the film was a boon for Woodward and Newman. I recently watched it on a new Blu-ray from Warner Archive. 

Based on the novel A Jest of God by Margaret Laurence, with a script Rebel Without a Cause (1955) scribe Stewart Stern, it is the story of small-town Connecticut schoolteacher Rachel (Woodward) who lives with her controlling, if loving mother. The action begins as Rachel realizes she’s hit the midpoint of her life feeling lonely and uninspired. With a combination of passivity and a tentative sense of adventure, she allows new influences into her life: religion, sex, and the possibility of starting anew. 

The results of Rachel’s willingness to accept change are realistically messy, but worthwhile. When a religious zealot loudly preaches about how we “languish in the deep and lifeless dungeons of ourselves,” she is disturbed, because she feels the sentiment profoundly. An affair with a mildly charismatic, but caddish former schoolmate (James Olson) also opens her eyes, though it is of benefit to her in an unexpected way. 

Rachel’s story unfolds in three worlds: her present, her childhood, and her imagination which pulses madly with daydreams and intrusive thoughts. These three viewpoints make her whole, because we are all made of who we were, who we are, and who we would like to be. Once she has torn away the boundaries of her life, she learns more about the latter and how to move forward. 

It’s a story that could have been glum, with a drab, pathetic protagonist, as is often the case. Often the problem in portraying this kind of woman is that her creators believe she needs to change, to become more appealing to the audience. Woodward, Newman, and Stern all play a role in making this single, virginal school teacher an intelligent, beguiling soul, who is simply stuck and needs to change her circumstances. She is given the grace to be messy while in essence keeping her dignity and personality intact. 

Special features on the disc include a silent real of promo footage for the film and a theatrical trailer. 

Many thank to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the Blu-ray for review.

Aug 31, 2022

Podcasts for Classic Film Fans: August Round-up

This was an especially satisfying month of podcast listening. I loved the conversations and the revelations in these episodes. Show title links to ep:

August 17, 2022 

This episode perfectly captures the bizarre, brutal, beautiful magic of Charles Laughton’s sole directorial effort, The Night of the Hunter. I’ve read a full book about the making of this movie and still learned many great tidbits here. Also, co-host Amy has a voice that’s an ASMR dream.
Pop Culture Happy Hour 
July 25, 2022 

I was glad to hear this overview of the new Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman docuseries directed by Ethan Hawke before I watched. It got me in the right frame of mind. Basically, that Woodward is due much more credit for her career accomplishments and that this love story was more complicated than most classic film fans know.
Keep It 
July 27, 2022 

In addition to sharing her views on the new release Nope, film critic Angelica Jade Bastién also has a lot to say about the new Newman and Woodward documentary in addition to a wide-ranging array of views about classic movies. While her insight is always fascinating, a heads up to the more sensitive that her language is colorful and I realize that’s not for everyone. 

The Micheaux Mission 
March 1, 2022 

I love how hosts Len and Vince thoughtfully challenge each other. It’s why this is one of my favorite film podcasts. You rarely see that kind of elegant discourse anymore and it’s so satisfying. This was a good analysis of Losing Ground, notable for being the second feature film directed by an African-American woman, but also an entertaining flick. I also liked the opening conversation about which black films should be added to the Criterion Collection.

Aug 24, 2022

On Blu-ray: Gene Wilder and Harrison Ford in The Frisco Kid (1979)


I found the first twenty minutes of The Frisco Kid (1979) so broadly silly and irritating that I didn’t know if I was going to make it. The goofball stereotypes and bad accents had me wondering what I’d gotten myself into. In the end I didn’t fall in love with the film, but while watching a recent Warner Archive Blu-ray release of this unusual flick, I did find myself fascinated by Gene Wilder’s performance. 

In this Robert Aldrich-directed comic western, Wilder stars as a Polish student of Judaism who has failed so badly that he is sent far away to San Francisco to be a rabbi for a small population of Jews in the midst of the 1850s gold rush. Almost immediately he is robbed and loses his transportation to the West coast. He runs into a bandit (Harrison Ford) who is amused by him and can’t stand to see him starve on the open prairie so he helps him travel the Wild West. 

The copy on the Blu-ray case claims that this film rivals Wilder’s previous success Blazing Saddles (1974) for laughs. That is far from true, but he does make The Frisco Kid worth watching. It would have been best if he could have completely toned down the Jewish/Polish mugging, but there are plenty of moments he does find sincerity and an appealing gravity in his role as a man who is strong because he refuses to give up his moral code, but he knows when he must make compromises. 

It is a tender performance, full of earnestness that I wish more actors would embrace. I can’t imagine anyone else playing this role successfully; it works because Wilder is adept at finding the humanity in any character he plays, no matter how broad. I was continually impressed by how he found depth and feeling in this part with so little of either on the page. 

Two years after his breakout success in Star Wars (1977) Harrison Ford is appealing as Wilder’s savior, if not particularly engaging. He lacks the charisma which brought life to his more legendary roles. It doesn’t help that he and Wilder don’t have a strong chemistry, though that’s not to say it’s entirely absent. 

In essence, the film is enough: amusing enough and exciting enough, but not a must-see unless you are a Gene Wilder completest. Ford fans might enjoy seeing him in an early role, but they could also be disappointed as it pales so much in comparison to his greater productions. 

There is also a trailer for the film on the disc as a special feature. 

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

Aug 17, 2022

On Blu-ray: Errol Flynn in Adventures of Don Juan (1948)


Adventures of Don Juan (1948) marked Errol Flynn’s return to the swashbuckling genre that made his name after a nine-year absence. Though more seasoned and slightly humbled by life, Flynn is as dashing as he ever was in a story that amusingly mirrored his own active love life. The film looks and sounds magnificent on a new Warner Archive Blu-ray I recently viewed. 

Flynn’s Don Juan has been so busy with the ladies that he can’t remember the names of his conquests anymore. Escaping his latest scandal, he takes on employment as a fencing instructor for the Spanish monarchy. He has been accepted by Queen Margaret (Viveca Lindfors) thanks to the encouragement of a mutual friend. 

In his time at the royal court, Juan falls for the reserved queen. He also uncovers a Duke’s (Robert Douglas) devious plot to overthrow the monarchy and go to war with England. While he predictably wins the queen’s heart and conquers the duke, his response to these victories reflects a newfound wisdom in both character and actor. 

Overall this is a triumphant return to swashbuckling for Flynn. The production itself is grand, from the jaunty (if a tad repetitive) Max Steiner score to the impeccably detailed beauty of the sets and costumes. For lovers of the genre and star, this film delivers. 

I came away less satisfied with some of the casting; not because it wasn’t good, but rather because it paled next to the more brilliant pairings in Flynn’s past. Swedish actress Lindfors is an appealing queen, but her chemistry with Flynn is so flat that when they finally find themselves in a romantic clinch, it doesn’t make much sense. Likewise, Robert Douglas is a worthy villain as the duke, but his heavy-handed fencing style made me long for the fleet-footed elegance of Basil Rathbone. 

Special features on the disc are DVD carryovers including commentary by director Vincent Sherman and historian Rudy Behlmer, a Warner Night at the Movies 1948 short subjects gallery including a newsreel, the Joe McDoakes comedy short So You Want to Be on the Radio, the travel short Calgary Stampede, the cartoon Hare Splitter and a theatrical trailer. 

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

Aug 10, 2022

Watching Classic Movies Podcast--George Stevens Jr. Talks About His Memoir My Place in the Sun: Life in the Golden Age of Hollywood and Washington

I was honored to spend time with my guest, director, writer, producer, and playwright George Stevens Jr., founder of the American Film Institute, creator of the AFI Life Achievement Award and the Kennedy Center Honors, and winner of honors including the Emmy, Oscar, Peabody Award, and Writers Guild Award. 

He began his career helping his father, Hollywood director George Stevens make films and later moved to Washington D.C. to make films for Edward R. Murrow, where in addition to his eventual work with AFI, he worked with nearly every president from Kennedy to the present day and knew some of the most celebrated artistic talents and political minds of his times. 

Mr. Stevens’ new memoir, My Place in the Sun: Life in the Golden Age of Hollywood and Washington is a fascinating document of the different worlds, societal shifts, and amazing people he experienced. I found myself tearing up multiple times reading this moving tale of triumph and loss which celebrates a remarkably rich life. It’s awesome story shared by a kind and humble man. We had a great talk about some of his key moments. 

My Place in the Sun: Life in the Golden Age of Hollywood and Washington is a publication of University Press of Kentucky.

George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey, directed by George Stevens Jr. is currently available on HBOMax.

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.

Like the podcast? Want to hear more frequent episodes? Subscriptions are as low as 99 cents a month, click on the Support button here

Aug 3, 2022

Watching Classic Movies Podcast: The Many Phases of Ava Gardner With Ava Gardner Museum Board Member Lora Stocker

My guest, Lora Stocker is a graphic designer, artist, and illustrator who has worked with Turner Classic Movies social media. She’s also a board member of and social media strategist for the Ava Gardner Museum in Smithfield, North Carolina. 

We talked about the different phases of Gardner’s five decade career, how she went from an untrained discovery to an accomplished actress, and both her popular films and some lesser known suggested picks. 

Films featured in this episode: 

Ghosts on the Loose (1943) 

Whistle Stop (1946) 

The Killers (1946) 

The Bribe (1949) 

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951) 

City on Fire (1979) 

Earthquake (1974) 

Night of the Iguana (1964) 

Tam Lin (1970)

Lora Stocker on Twitter and Instagram 

The Ava Gardner Museum website

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.

Like the podcast? Want to hear more frequent episodes? Subscriptions are as low as 99 cents a month, click on the Support button here

Jul 29, 2022

Podcasts for Classic Film Fans: July Round-up

I love the variety of subjects in this month's round-up. I've been deeply enjoying my summer podcast listening. Episode titles link to the shows: 

Twenty Thousand Hertz 
July 13, 2022 

Here’s a fascinating history of Dun dun duuun! a familiar musical sting from film and television. It was once used for dramatic effect; now it is primarily used in comedy.


Fade Out 
June 30, 2022 

Joan Harrison was a great producer and writer of thrillers, essential to the development of Hitchcock’s style, and one of only three women producing in Hollywood in the 40s-50s. Her biographer Christina Lane (a favorite guest on my own podcast) has a lot to say about that in this wide-ranging talk. I am manifesting her amazing book being option for a miniseries.

Forgotten Hollywood 
June 27, 2022 

Gene Kelly’s widow Patricia Ward Kelly is an amazing custodian of his legacy, which is funny, because she didn’t even know who he was when they met. She has used her journalist instincts to continually strive to share the truth about her husband and his work. Here she tells great stories about Kelly’s life and shares how she is keeping his memory alive throughout the world.

Ticklish Business 
June 29, 2022 
This is a great talk about Marilyn Monroe with Holly Madison. She’s incredibly knowledgeable about the actress and had a lot of fascinating insight to offer. I love how she gets that Monroe was smart and ambitious as opposed to the prevailing view of her as a primarily tragic figure.

Jul 27, 2022

Watching Classic Movies Podcast: Talking Elizabeth Taylor's Mid-Sixties Through Seventies Career With Millie De Chirico

My guest is Millie De Chirico, programmer for Turner Classic Movies, including TCM Underground, and co-host of the essential movie podcast I Saw What You Did

While it is a period in her career that many find lacking, Millie and I are big fans of the movies Elizabeth Taylor made from the mid-sixties through the seventies. We had a talk about the unique magic of Taylor in middle-age, still beautiful and outrageously famous, but making bolder choices in her performances and choice of roles. 

Films Featured on This Episode: 

Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967) 
Boom (1968) 
Secret Ceremony (1968) 
The Only Game in Town (1970) 
X, Y, and Zee (1972) 
Hammersmith is Out (1972) 
Ash Wednesday (1973) 
Night Watch (1973) 
The Driver's Seat (1974) 

Follow Millie on Instagram and Twitter 

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.

Like the podcast? Want to hear more frequent episodes? Subscriptions are as low as 99 cents a month, click on the Support button here

Jul 20, 2022

Watching Classic Movies Podcast: Fashion Instagrammer Rachel Boyce on Sharon Tate, 60s/18th Century Fashion in Films, and The Ethics and Care of Vintage Fashion

My guest, Rachel Boyce is an expert on 1960s and 18th Century fashion and the films that feature these styles. She shares that knowledge on her fascinating Instagram account, where I learn new things all the time. 

Rachel also collects vintage fashion. We talked about her most treasured acquisition: a dress owned by Sharon Tate, in addition the care of and ethics around vintage fashion, finding your true self through personal style, and how the 60s and 18th century are more closely linked in fashion and politics than you might think.

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.

Like the podcast? Want to hear more frequent episodes? Subscriptions are as low as 99 cents a month, click on the Support button here

Jul 13, 2022

Watching Classic Movies Podcast: John DiLeo, Author of There Are No Small Parts: 100 Outstanding Film Performances with Screen Time of 10 Minutes or Less

Watching Classic Movies Podcast is back! 

My guest, John DiLeo, has written seven books about film. His latest is There are No Small Parts: 100 Outstanding Film Performances with Screen Time of 10 Minutes or Less. We talked about the special characteristics of a brief, but potent screen performances and the many stars who made a lasting impression in a short appearance. 

To learn more about John DiLeo and his books, go to his official website.

The show is available on SpotifyPocketCastsBreakerStitcherAnchorGoogle,   Radio 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.

Like the podcast? Want to hear more frequent episodes? Subscriptions are as low as 99 cents a month, click on the Support button here

Jul 6, 2022

On Blu-Ray: Judy Garland and Robert Walker in Vincente Minnelli's The Clock (1945)


While drama wasn’t Judy Garland’s core competency, she was nevertheless an accomplished dramatic actress. Her sincerity and the way she wore her heart on her sleeve gave her everything she needed to succeed in the genre. She’s well-matched with Robert Walker in the World War II-era The Clock (1945), her first non-singing lead, because he also had those qualities. I recently revisited the film on a gorgeous new Blu-ray from Warner Archive. 

Walker is Joe Allen, an Army corporal on a two-day pass in New York who wants to see the best sights the city has to offer. With his baby-faced earnestness and innocent enthusiasm, he looks like the sort of guy who would be gobbled up by Manhattan. You wait in suspense for someone to pick his pocket or otherwise take advantage of him. 

He is saved from such a fate by Alice Maybery (Garland), another innocent not long in the city herself. The soldier helps her to retrieve and fix a broken heel and soon convinces her to accompany him to the museum she has suggested. They hit it off immediately; their chemistry so strong that by the end of the 48 hours they know that they want to spend the rest of their lives together. 

The budding lovers get to know each other in a city that encourages their romance. A lonely man across the dining room pays for their meal in a restaurant. In another sequence, Alice and Joe take a ride from a milk delivery man who insists he wants their company in his truck. It ends up being more complicated than that and the way the pair help the man through adversity shows how they share a moral core and the ability to work together, both strong elements for a good marriage. 

Their experiences together in the city made me think of other New York-set films. The missed connections they overcome and their youthful loneliness evokes the equally touching silent-talkie hybrid Lonesome (1928). I also saw elements of bizarre nighttime chaos in the city that foreshadowed Martin Scorsese’s After Hours (1985) and that sparkle of instant chemistry and companionability was in the spirit of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise (1995). 

Director Vincente Minnelli, who would marry Garland in 1945, films his star with loving care. She glows with the beauty of a woman who is treasured and celebrated. As someone who wanted to be as gorgeous as the most desirable movie goddesses, this must have been a moving tribute for the star. 

The film strikes a good balance between the various perils that threaten to part the couple and long, uninterrupted stretches where Alice and Joe get to know each other. While their emotional bond is instant, the world around them is complicated and they overcome a lot within 48 hours of knowing each other. When that time is over and Joe must return to service, the memory of their struggle and persistence inspires a feeling of faith that he will return. 

Special features on the disc include the vintage Pete Smith specialty short Hollywood Scout, the cartoon The Screwy Truant, a radio show adaptation of The Clock starring Garland and John Hodiak, and a theatrical trailer. 

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

Jun 29, 2022

Podcasts for Classic Film Fans: June Round-up

This month I’m pleased to share a bit of personal podcast news. First, Watching Classic Movies podcast will be back with new episodes on July 13! In addition to that, I was a guest on Robert Bellissimo’s video podcast. We had a great talk about the rediscovered and restored film noir Repeat Performance (1947). You can watch our conversation here:

And here is this month's round-up. All episode titles link to the show:

The Academy Museum Podcast: And the Oscar Goes To…
June 2, 2022 

This is an excellent history of Hattie McDaniel’s pioneering Oscar win. I don’t think it is well known how much she fought to even be nominated for her role as Mammy in Gone With the Wind (1939). She was a strong woman! The interviews with Oscar winters Mo’nique and Whoopi Goldberg offer an interesting historical perspective on the win.

Lions, Towers & Shields
June 16, 2022 

This is great show for interesting, accessible conversations about the classics. I loved the depth of this talk about Gilda (1946). There’s lots of film knowledge shared among three guests and host Shelly Brisbin and they have fantastic chemistry.

Beyond the Screenplay
April 8, 2022 

I cringed a bit, as I do, about some of the dismissive comments here about old movies, but those words came with a full acceptance of the timeless brilliance of Casablanca (1942). This film remains an astonishing accomplishment. The script, the cast, and all those magical elements you can’t measure make it deserving of its legendary status. This conversation perfectly captures its essence.

Scarred For Life
May 29, 2022 

This was my introduction to the mini-industry of Christian propaganda films focused on the rapture. A Thief in the Night (1972) is a bonkers example of the genre; it uses horror tropes to get its point across. I watched the film on Tubi before I listened and was glad I did, because context makes this conversation much more enjoyable.

Jun 15, 2022

On Blu-ray: Spencer Tracy, Ingrid Bergman, and Lana Turner in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941)


While the 1931 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde starring Fredric March remains my favorite, MGM’s 1941 production starring Spencer Tracy has grown on me over the years. I still find it overlong and too heavy on the dialogue, but there’s much to love about it. I recently revisited the film on a new Blu-ray from Warner Archive. 

One of the most fascinating elements of this take on Robert Louis Stevenson’s Victorian tale of a scientist who brings out his evil side is that a studio known for going big with everything in its lavish productions did very little with make-up when it came to Tracy’s transformation to Hyde. His brow is darkened and his features made to look more severe, but Tracy’s acting is what makes the alter ego he plays so chilling. He perfectly embodies the dichotomy of a man, from the mask he wears as he moves in society to the more animalistic desires raging beneath that façade. 

Much has been made of the casting of the female leads in this film. For some the casting of the fresh-faced Ingrid Bergman as tortured bar girl Ivy and bleach-blonde Lana Turner as Tracy’s virginal intended seems backwards. I thought that at one time myself, but I’ve come to realize that the film wouldn’t have worked had the roles been switched. 

For the most part this is because the role of Ivy requires an intensity that Turner would never have on the screen. Bergman gives a deeply harrowing performance, going to frantic emotional heights that few actresses of the period would be able to match. It is an exponentially more challenging role. 

On the other hand, Turner was well suited to playing the young and innocent Beatrix. This was years before The Postman Rings Twice (1946) and audiences at the time would have felt the part suited her persona. It was also the perfect role to showcase what she did have to offer as an actress. 

It’s a solid trio of performances, but they aren’t in the film they deserve. There’s more talk than action, especially in the early scenes and those scenes go into far more detail than is necessary. It is here where I vastly prefer the pre-Code version. 

There is a bit of that pre-Code spirit in the film’s surreal and erotic dream sequences though. Tracy’s sexual frustration is illustrated in a series of sensual and downright kinky fantasies centered on the two women in his life. How did the image of Tracy whipping Turner and Bergman as his bare-shouldered steeds made it past censors? Perhaps the scenes were viewed as art; whatever happened, it’s these moments that give the film a wild edge that is much needed to cut through the MGM-style pomp. 

This is for the most part a satisfying film; Tracy’s performance alone makes it a classic. 

As a special feature there is also a theatrical trailer on the disc. 

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

Jun 8, 2022

Book Review--Danger on the Silver Screen: 50 Films Celebrating Cinema's Greatest Stunts


Danger on the Silver Screen: 50 Films Celebrating Cinema’s Greatest Stunts 
Scott McGee 
TCM/Running Press, 2022 

I could only read Danger on the Silver Screen: 50 Films Celebrating Cinema’s Greatest Stunts In short bursts, because I got so tense. In his new book Scott McGee goes into great detail in describing the process and experience of preparing and performing screen stunts and it is suspenseful reading. The unwritten qualifier here is that this collection of “Cinema’s Greatest Stunts” is from Hollywood productions, so while there are international stars in the mix, the films are all from the USA. 

One of the most surprising things I learn from Danger on the Silver Screen is that while stunt work is incredibly dangerous, many performers not only survived, but continued to work as stunt advisors and second unit directors well into their senior years. When you think of legendary performers like Yakima Canutt surviving all the bumps and breaks to inspire and guide new generations, it's clear that it is a profession not of recklessness, but of careful planning best led by experts who have been there. 

I loved the variety of genres covered. No stunt book would be complete without featuring silent film comics Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd, both of whom performed work as dangerous as actors more famous for derring do like Douglas Fairbanks. 

It was also interesting to see how stunts have developed over the years, with the insight of industry veterans, and the bravery of stars like Keanu Reeves, Charlize Theron, and Tom Cruise who are dedicated to doing as much of their own stunt work as possible. I was encouraged to realize so many filmmakers want real action no matter how much CGI has advanced. 

The book includes good selection of films because rather than being intended as a collection of the best stunt films (though many of the best are included), it offers a diverse view of the kinds of stunts that have successfully emerged in cinema. I liked how McGee would mention obscure related films in several of the entries; it would have been great to see a couple of them in the list of fifty since they would likely be new to many readers. While I had seen all of the fifty films on the list, I came away with a long list of those other films mentioned to watch. 

Overall I’m becoming a big fan of the books TCM releases. They’re gorgeous to look at, but there’s also a lot of substance. I also like the warmth of the various writing styles; rather than having a dry standard template, there’s always a personal feel to the text. 

Many thanks to TCM and Running Press for providing a copy of the book for review.

Jun 1, 2022

On Blu-ray: James Coburn is a Doctor Detective in The Carey Treatment (1972)

I went into the new Warner Archive Blu-ray release of The Carey Treatment (1972) knowing nothing about the film except that it starred James Coburn, one of my favorite actors. The Blake Edwards-directed production, based on an early novel by Michael Crichton has much to offer, though it left me with mixed emotions. So much of it feels like unfulfilled potential. 

It was bracing to learn that an illegal abortion played a key role in this mystery drama just days after hearing of the leaked plans by the US Supreme Court to overturn Roe vs. Wade. The film isn’t about that, but rather how justice suffers in the corruption of systems. Still, it was a chilling reminder of how long this issue and the discord around it have been a part of our society. 

The abortion in question leads to the death of the daughter (played by daughter of Mel Tormé, Melissa Tormé-March) of a Boston hospital director Dr. J.D. Randall (Dan O’Herlihy). Blame quickly falls to Dr. David Tao (James Hong), a physician at the hospital who is known for performing the procedure at cost for women of limited means. 

There is no solid evidence that Tao is guilty though, a fact that is clear to his friend and a pathologist Dr. Peter Carey (James Coburn) who has recently arrived in town to take a cushy job at the hospital. While Tao sits in jail, Carey defies all orders to mind his business so that he may free his colleague. 

Hong is a clear-eyed, refreshing presence in the macho world of seventies cinema, it was a disappointment to realize he would only book-end the main action of the film. Still, it was nice to see the prolific actor in an early role. He’s a lightly cynical counterpoint to the determined Dr. Carey. 

In the titular role, James Coburn unleashes his reliable, easy charm, taking on a character who seems like a scoundrel on the surface, but who has empathy and sensitivity in opposition to many of the male roles of the era. He has the same morality as a superhero, but none of the corny, upstanding aura that comes with that. 

The often underused Jennifer O’Neill is Carey’s love interest. She’s a dietician with a deadbeat husband on an extended ski vacation and a young son to support. While she is only there to allow Carey’s inner monologue to translate into dialogue and exposition, it’s interesting the way the relationship unfolds. Instead of the familiar game of pressure and subtle aggression, Carey gently communicates his attraction. His simple, unsleazy flirtation is welcome and indicates his confidence in himself and the challenges he faces. 

There are a few stand-outs in the intriguing supporting cast. Elizabeth Allen is smoothly entitled as the wife of Dr. Randall and stepmother of his deceased daughter. Skye Aubrey also stands out as a troubled nurse who loses control of her life. The always reliably skeezy Michael Blodgett brings his low-lidded corruption to the role of a masseuse who looks like trouble, but somehow still  gets away with way too much. 

While the story and cast are solid and this was a generally entertaining film, it felt a bit sloppy and ill-formed. In reading about the production, I learned that due to studio interference, Edwards was not able to make the film as he desired. He would later take out his frustrations by alluding to the incident in S.O.B. (1981). It’s a shame, because all the talents involved were capable of much more, but Coburn’s charisma makes up for a lot and is reason enough to make the film a must-see for fans of the actor. 

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

May 25, 2022

Podcasts for Classic Film Fans: May Round-up

This month I enjoyed the depth and thoughtfulness of the conversations in my podcast listening. There’s always been so much misinformation about the golden age of Hollywood and its stars. It’s refreshing and encouraging to have experts out there setting things straight. All episode titles link to the shows: 

Forgotten Hollywood 
May 9, 2022 

Ava Gardner Museum board member Lora Stocker has long been a great advocate for and educator about this glamorous, but down-to-earth actress. Here the conversation is at its most fascinating when the emphasis is on that genuine quality that was at the core of Gardner’s personality. It was also amusing to learn that while she never went inside her tribute museum, she did take a peek inside when it was closed.

Even the Rich: Marilyn 
May 3, 2022 

Angelica Jade Bastién is one of my favorite film critics. In addition to being a bracingly honest and talented writer, she’s a great thinker. Her sensitivity and lived experience give her strong insight into the life of Marilyn Monroe. Bastién counters the perception that Monroe was simply a tragic victim, emphasizing her ambition and intelligence in developing her own career and the way she was ahead of her times in publicly speaking out about social matters like casting couch culture.

Front Row Classics: A Hollywood Golden Age Podcast 
April 27, 2022 

Scott McGee’s book about stunt performers was in my media bag for TCM Classic Film Festival (full review to come), so I thought I’d learn more about it before digging in. My big takeaway after this conversation: an Oscar category for stunts is not only long overdue, but would help the Academy better recognize blockbuster films.

The Atlas Obscura Podcast 
April 19, 2022 

This is a beautiful story of Louis Armstrong’s house, why his devoted wife Lucille bought it for him, and how the life they led there inspired his most beloved song, What a Wonderful World.

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.