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.