Thursday, October 31, 2013

Coming distractions: November 2013 on TCM

Well, it came down to the wire this month—and in fact, I debated long and hard as to whether it was going to get done, with all the “stuff” that’s on my plate—but in the end, I didn’t want folks to be disappointed that Thrilling Days of Yesteryear was going to skip another segment of Coming Distractions, the handy viewer’s guide to let you know what’s in store for you on The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™ in November.  I did get an assist, however; Tee Cee Em has a new way of putting their tentative schedules up, which sort of makes it easier for me to cobble these together (in the cut-and-paste sense, that is).

Monday nights on the channel, TCM continues to tell The Story of Film: An Odyssey—the fifteen-part documentary on moviemaking that is supplemented with examples from the flicks discussed in each chapter.  This will continue for the first two Monday nights in December, after which they will have found something else to amuse themselves.  (Also, too; they’ve eliminated the Tuesday nights that were originally designated to carrying the load.)  So here’s what Mondays will look like:

November 4, Monday
08:00pm My Brilliant Career (1979)
10:15pm Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
12:15am Alice in the Cities (1974)
02:15am The Story of Film: An Odyssey – 1969-1979: Radical Directors in the 70s - Make State of the Nation Movies (2011)
03:30am Xala (1975)
05:45am The Battle of Chile: Part 1 (1975)

November 5, Tuesday
07:30am The Battle of Chile: Part 2 (1976)

November 11, Monday
08:00pm Jaws (1975)
10:15pm Zanjeer (1973)
12:45am Enter the Dragon (1973)
02:30am The Story of Film: An Odyssey – 1970s and Onwards: Innovation in Popular Culture - Around the World (2011)
03:45am The Message (1976)

November 18, Monday
08:00pm Gregory's Girl (1981)
10:00pm The Elephant Man (1980)
12:15am Yeelen (1987)
02:15am The Story of Film: An Odyssey – The 1980s: Moviemaking and Protest - Around the World (2011)
03:30am Repentance (1984)

November 25, Monday
08:00pm Days of Being Wild (1990)
10:00pm Where Is My Friend's House? (1989)
12:00am Beau Travail (1999)
02:00am The Story of Film: An Odyssey – 1990-1998: The Last Days of Celluloid - Before the Coming of Digital (2011)
03:15am Funny Games (1997)
05:00am Touki-Bouki (1973)

Wednesday nights in November, TCM’s Star of the Month is one of TDOY’s all-time faves: the one and only Burt Lancaster.  There’ll be twenty-nine movies celebrating the Academy Award-winning actor (including the one that got him his Oscar, 1960’s Elmer Gantry), and I think they have a nice representation of Burt’s films from his debut performance in The Killers (1946), to one of my favorite turns in the latter part of his career, Field of Dreams (1989).  There are also a couple of rarities on the schedule—Mister 880 (1950) and The Gypsy Moths (1969)—and on a personal note, try not to miss The Swimmer (1968) if you haven’t seen it already.  Here’s the Lancaster Lineup:

November 6, Wednesday
08:00pm The Killers (1946)
10:00pm Come Back, Little Sheba (1952)
11:45pm From Here to Eternity (1953)
02:00am The Swimmer (1968)
04:00am The Gypsy Moths (1969)            

November 7, Thursday
06:00am Jim Thorpe – All American (1951)
08:00am The Flame and the Arrow (1950)
09:30am Apache (1954)

November 13, Wednesday
08:00pm Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)
10:15pm Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
12:00am Elmer Gantry (1960)
02:30am Seven Days in May (1964)
04:45am His Majesty O'Keefe (1954)

November 14, Thursday
06:30am The Devil’s Disciple (1959)
08:00am The Hallelujah Trail (1965)

November 20, Wednesday
08:00pm Mister 880 (1950)
09:45pm Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)
01:00am Birdman of Alcatraz (1962)
03:45am The Train (1965)

November 21, Thursday
06:00am A Child is Waiting (1963)
08:00am South Sea Woman (1953)
09:45am Ten Tall Men (1951)

November 27, Wednesday
08:00pm Field of Dreams (1989)
10:00pm The Leopard (1963)
01:15am The Professionals (1966)
03:30am The Crimson Pirate (1952)
05:30am Brute Force (1947)

November 28, Thursday
07:15am The Young Savages (1961)
09:00am Vengeance Valley (1951)

And on Finally Fridays…a movie genre that’s a little closer to ol’ Uncle Ivan’s heart.  TCM will usher in the weekends with a festival of screwball comedies, so if there’s not a basketball game scheduled on those nights (ha!) he’ll be able to sit down and enjoy 29 films featuring “the motley mountebanks, the clowns, the buffoons, in all times and in all nations, whose efforts have lightened our burden a little.”  (But with a little sex in it.)

November 1, Friday
08:00pm It Happened One Night (1934)
10:00pm His Girl Friday (1940)
11:45pm Libeled Lady (1936)     
01:30am Nothing Sacred (1937)
03:00am The Mad Miss Manton (1938)
04:30am The Bride Came C.O.D. (1941)

November 8, Friday
08:00pm The Awful Truth (1937)
09:45pm My Favorite Wife (1940)
11:30pm Love Crazy (1941)
01:15am Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941)
03:00am Too Many Husbands (1940)
04:30am Vivacious Lady (1938)

November 15, Friday
08:00pm Theodora Goes Wild (1936)
09:45pm Twentieth Century (1934)        
11:30pm Easy Living (1937)
01:15am It's a Wonderful World (1939)
02:45am Merrily We Live (1938)
04:30am If You Could Only Cook (1935)

November 22. Friday
08:00pm My Man Godfrey (1936)
10:00pm Bringing Up Baby (1938)
12:00am Ball of Fire (1941)         
02:00am You Can't Take It with You (1938)
04:15am Joy of Living (1938)

November 29, Friday
08:00pm The Lady Eve (1941)
09:45pm Christmas in July (1940)
11:00pm The Palm Beach Story (1942)
12:45am Four's a Crowd (1938)
02:30am Topper (1937)
04:15am Turnabout (1940)

What’s that you say?  Is this the end of the post?  Au contraire, my faithful readership!  There’s much more on the schedule, so follow me as we hit some of the highlights…

November 1, Friday – Before the screwball comedies begin at nightfall, the channel sets aside the daylight hours for some prime crime entertainments…beginning with The Beast of the City (1932) at 10am, followed by The Wet Parade (1932; 11:30am), Between Midnight and Dawn (1950; 1:30pm), Mask of the Avenger (1951; 3:15pm), Scandal Sheet (1952; 4:45pm) and The Brothers Rico (1957; 6:15pm).

November 2, Saturday – TCM dips into the MGM features library and comes up with the movie series featuring Mary Anastasia O’Connor…better known by her professional name, Maisie Revere.  Yes, the first of the musical comedy programmers starring Ann Sothern will unspool at 10:30 with Maisie (1939), and then each following Saturday (at the same time) it’s Congo Maisie (1940; November 9), Gold Rush Maisie (1940; November 16), Maisie Was a Lady (1941; November 23)…and Ringside Maisie (1941) closing out the month on November 30th.

At 8pm, Robert Osborne and his trusty sidekick Drew Barrymore kick off another edition of The Essentials with How Green Was My Valley (1941)…and the movies that follow play on the theme of “small town poverty.”  It’s God’s Little Acre (1958) at 10:15pm, then Silkwood (1983) at 12:15am (I’m not sure this last movie qualifies, but what the hey…).

On TCM Underground, the proceedings kick off with a 2010 documentary: Free Radicals: A History of Experimental Film.  Examples of the type of filmmaking discussed follow at 4am: Diagonal Symphony (1919), Meshes of the Afternoon (1944), Orchard Street (1955), Symmetricks (1972), Cassis (1966), Notes on the Circus (1966), Rhythmus 21 (1921), Science Friction (1959), Ghosts Before Breakfast (1928) and Little Stabs at Happiness (1963).

November 3, Sunday – It’s the same ol’ story on Sunday night: Rita Hayworth is the titular Miss Sadie Thompson (1953) at 8pm, followed by an earlier version of Sadie’s tale, Rain (1932), at 10pm.  Now, if TCM had really wanted to tidy this up they would have scheduled the 1928 Gloria Swanson version (Sadie Thompson) at midnight as part of Silent Sunday Nights.  Instead, they’ll show The Goddess (1934), and then finish the prostitution theme with Story of a Prostitute (1965) at 2am and Women of the Night (1948) at 4.

November 4, Monday – Today marks what would have been the centennial birthday of “the poor man’s Cary Grant”—none other than Academy Award-winning actor Gig Young hissownself.  Air Force (1943) kicks off the tribute at 6am, followed by Old Acquaintance (1943; 8:15am), The Three Musketeers (1948; 10:15am), The Women in White (1948; 12:30pm), Hunt the Man Down (1950; 2:30pm), Too Young to Kiss (1951; 3:45pm), Holiday for Sinners (1952; 5:15pm) and Torch Song (1953; 6:30pm).

November 5, Tuesday – In what only seems like an amazing coinkydink—today marks another centennial birthday; this one belongs to two-time Academy Award-winner Vivien Leigh…and fittingly, the channel dedicates the entire day to her cinematic output.  Which seems as good a time as any to suggest to Leigh fans that the timing couldn’t be better to purchase a copy of Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait, a lavishly illustrated coffee table book biography written by none other than Viv and Larry doyenne Kendra Bean.  (Congrats, Kendra!)  The daylong activities are as follows:

09:30am Waterloo Bridge (1940)
11:30am Ship of Fools (1965)
02:00pm Anna Karenina (1948)                 
04:00pm Fire Over England (1937)
05:45pm That Hamilton Woman (1941)
08:00pm A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
10:15pm Gone with the Wind (1939)
02:15am Storm in a Teacup (1937)
04:00am The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961)
05:45am Dark Journey (1937)
07:15am Caesar and Cleopatra (1946)

November 6, Wednesday – Actor Joel McCrea shares the same birthdate as Vivien Leigh…but since she received all the accolades the previous day, the channel wishes him belated birthday greetings (unfortunately, the cake is stale and the ice cream melted…bummer).  Still, there’s some nice cinematic goodies featuring one of TDOY’s favorite performers, beginning with Bird of Paradise (1932) at 9:30am, then it’s The Most Dangerous Game (1932; 11:15am), Primrose Path (1940; 12:30pm), The More the Merrier (1943; 2:15pm), Colorado Territory (1949; 4:15pm) and Stars in My Crown (1950; 6pm).

November 7, Thursday – The channel dedicates the daylight hours to the work of William “Wild Bill” Wellman today, beginning with The Story of G.I. Joe (1945) at 11:15am.  This Man’s Navy (1945) follows at 1:15pm, then it’s The Happy Years (1950; 3pm), The Next Voice You Hear… (1950; 5pm) and It’s a Big Country (1951) at 6:30.

One of Wellman’s best remembered films is the 1931 Barbara Stanwyck pre-Code Night Nurse…and you’d think that with the evening theme of “Nurse Night,” Tee Cee Em would find a slot for it.  Well, if you are thinking that you are SOS—instead, you’ll have to make do with A Farewell to Arms (1957; 8pm), Sister Kenny (1946; 10:45pm), The White Angel (1936; 12:45am), Cry ‘Havoc’ (1943; 2:30am) and Four Girls in White (1939; 4:15am).

November 8, Friday – Before the onslaught of screwball comedies come evening, the morning theme on TCM will be “Ruthless People.”  (Okay, I made that up myself.)  The films scheduled are The Front Page (1931; 6:30am), The Match King (1932; 8:15am), Oil for the Lamps of China (1935; 10am), The Hucksters (1947; 12noon), Executive Suite (1954; 2:15pm), Patterns (1956; 4:15pm) and The Power and the Prize (1956; 6pm).

November 9, Saturday – Bobbo and Drewo are back with another edition of The Essentials: it’s Gold Diggers of 1933 at 8pm, and that means a teensy tribute to actor-crooner Dick Powell will follow.  The Reformer and the Redhead (1950) is up at 10pm, a feature that co-stars Mrs. Powell (June Allyson), and then the evening comes to its inevitable conclusion with Cornered (1945) at midnight.  TCM Underground has a couple of oddities on hand, by the way; one of director Jonathan Kaplan’s (The Accused, Unlawful Entry) early features, The Slams (1973), is on at 3:45am…it follows the intriguingly titled Disco Godfather (1979), which is on at 2am.

November 10, Sunday – The evening schedule is devoted to “revisionist Westerns”—High Plains Drifter (1973) at 8pm, followed by one of my favorites, Monte Walsh (1970) at 10.  If you stretch it some, you can even include the Silent Sunday Nights double feature of An Eastern Westerner (1920) and Go West (1925), which kicks off at midnight.  Later in the wee a.m. hours—a pair of cult classics: Walkabout (1971) at 2am and The Cars That Ate Paris (1974; 3:45am).

November 11, Monday – Happy birthday to TDOY fave Robert Ryan!  You simply cannot go wrong with any of the movies scheduled today:  Berlin Express (1948; 6am), Act of Violence (1949; 7:30am), Crossfire (1947; 9am), The Set-Up (1949; 10:30am), Beware, My Lovely (1952; 11:45am), On Dangerous Ground (1952; 1:15pm), Born to Be Bad (1950; 2:45pm), Bad Day at Black Rock (1955; 4:30pm) and Billy Budd (1962; 6pm).

November 12, Tuesday – Yes, in the primetime hours, it’s Exhibit #6,194 demonstrating just how out of touch your humble narrator is—Simon Helberg is this evening’s guest programmer, and I had to look up who he was.  (In my defense: my father asked me who James Taylor is when he’s not tending bar after watching his World Series singing debacle the other night—so there’s at least one individual less hip than I.)  Mr. Helberg is apparently a Peter Sellers fan (you silly twisted boy), opting to schedule The Party (1968) at 8pm and Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) afterward at 9:45pm.  His remaining choices, Brief Encounter (1945) and Modern Romance (1981) air at 11:30pm and 1:15am, respectively.

November 14, Thursday – The channel has a passel of William Seiter films on tap today…but since none of them are Peach O’Reno, Diplomaniacs or Sons of the Desert aren’t among them it might not be a bad idea to get those errands done you’ve been putting off for the last week.  The films scheduled are Back Pay (1930; 10:45am), Professional Sweetheart (1933; 11:45am), Rafter Romance (1933; 1pm), Sing and Like It (1934; 2:15pm), We’re Rich Again (1934; 3:30pm), The Life of the Party (1937; 4:45pm) and Destroyer (1943; 6:15pm).

Come nightfall, Uncle Bobby Osbo has some of his “picks” on hand—and three of his choices just so happen to be mine as well: My Name is Julia Ross (1945; 8pm), The Lady from Shanghai (1948; 11:15pm) and The Tall Target (1951; 1am).  The odd film out is Ziegfeld Follies (1946; 9:15pm)…and even I’ll watch that if Mom’s not around.  The rest of the night features a pair of films with star Dick Powell from his chorus boy days: Dames (1934; 2:30am) and 42nd Street (1933; 4:15am).

November 15, Friday – TCM kicks off the morning with a Barbara Stanwyck double feature: So Big (1932) at 6am and Ladies They Talk About (1933) at 7:30.  At 8:45am. Babs’ The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) is on the schedule…and since that film also stars Lizabeth Scott, the channel finishes out the day with some of her best features:  Dead Reckoning (1947; 10:45am), Pitfall (1948; 12:30pm), Easy Living (1949; 2pm), The Company She Keeps (1951; 3:30pm), The Racket (1951; 5pm) and Bad for Each Other (1954; 6:30pm).

November 16, Saturday – On TCM’s Essentials, it’s “The Best of Friends”…and before you break out into a cold sweat, convinced that reruns of the 1994-04 sitcom are going to be unspooled, I’ll relieve you of that dread and tell you that it’s The Women (1939) at 8pm, and its 1956 sequel The Opposite Sex following at 10:30pm.  The evening wraps up with Stage Door (1937) at 12:45am.

November 17, Sunday – On tap tonight is a little presentation entitled “MGM vs. Fox”—the 1942 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer feature Johnny Eager (1941) is scheduled at 8pm, with the 20th Century-Fox mellerdrammer Johnny Apollo (1940) following at 10.  (Yeah, I don’t get it either.)

You’ll want to grab a catnap and tune in at midnight instead because Silent Sunday Nights will showcase a two-part presentation (that continues the following Sunday, November 24) of the recently released Lost and Found: American Treasures from the New Zealand Archive DVD.  This’ll allow you to record the goodies on this disc (in case money’s a little tight around your household) that include the John Ford-directed Upstream (1927), Alfred Hitchcock’s The White Shadow (1924) and the Mabel Normand short Won in a Cupboard (1914).

November 18, Monday – The day’s features all center on a theme of ambitious women:  Show People (1928; 6am), Baby Face (1933; 7:30am), Possessed (1931; 9am), The Bride Wore Red (1937; 10:30am), What Price Hollywood? (1932; 12:30pm), Comet over Broadway (1938; 2:15pm), I’ll Cry Tomorrow (1955; 3:45pm) and The Hard Way (1942; 6pm).

November 20, Wednesday – Cameron Mitchell’s birthday is technically November 4th…but TCM decides to set aside the daylight programming with a mini-festival of his films that begins at 6am with The Mighty McGurk (1946).  Then it’s High Barbaree (1947; 7:30am), Command Decision (1948; 9:15am), The Sellout (1952; 11:15am), Strange Lady in Town (1955; 12:45pm), Tension at Table Rock (1956; 2:45pm), Monkey on My Back (1957; 4:30pm) and All Mine to Give (1957; 6:15pm).

November 21, Thursday – Well, the channel may have had to reschedule Cam Mitchell’s natal anniversary…but they’re not going to forget tough guy Ralph Meeker’s birthday (‘cause if they did, he’d probably slam their hand in a drawer).  It’s Shadow in the Sky (1951) at 11:30am, then Glory Alley (1952; 1pm), Code Two (1953; 2:30pm), Jeopardy (1953; 3:45pm) and The Dirty Dozen (1967) wrapping it up at 5pm.

Unfortunately, someone at Tee Cee Em flunked history: the evening hours will commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy…which happened on November 22, 1963.  Okay, I realize they’ll be lightening the mood on the actual date with their screwball comedy thing, but still.  With the exception of P.T. 109 (1963) at 2:15am, most of the movies scheduled for this evening are of a documentary nature: Primary (1960; 8pm), Adventures on the New Frontier (1961; 9:15pm), Crisis (1963; 10:30pm), Faces of November (1964; 11:45pm) and Four Days in November (1964; 12mid).

November 23, Saturday – On The Essentials, the feature in the spotlight is Jean-Luc Godard’s theatrical film debut, Breathless (1960); the theme of the evening is entitled “First Features” but they need to be a little more specific on that because they’ve also got Steven Spielberg’s The Sugarland Express (1974) on tap at ten, and while that was his theatrical debut it’s not technically his first feature.  (Hint: it’s about Dennis Weaver and a maniacal truck.)  The evening wraps up with Who’s That Knocking at My Door? (1968; 12mid), the debut of one Martin Scorsese.

November 25, Monday – Happy birthday, Ricardo Montalban!  The future Fantasy Island star is feted with a film festival that includes The Kissing Bandit (1948; 6:15am), On an Island with You (1948; 8am), Battleground (1949; 10am), Border Incident (1949; 12noon), Mystery Street (1950; 1:45pm), My Man and I (1952; 3:30pm) and Cheyenne Autumn (1964; 5:15pm).

November 26, Tuesday/November 27, Wednesday – On Tuesday night, TCM has another chapter in their ongoing A Night at the Movies documentary series on tap: “Cops and Robbers,” which will air at 8pm and again at 11.  Surrounding these two showings are movies with the similar theme: Bullitt (1968; 9pm), The Naked City (1948; 12mid) and White Heat (1949; 2am).

The last two films scheduled, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974; 4am) and The Thomas Crown Affair (1968; 5:45am), dovetail nicely into the movies scheduled the following day (November 27), which will feature a “heist” theme:  Rififi (1954; 7:30am), The Asphalt Jungle (1950; 9:30am), Side Street (1950; 11:30am), Kansas City Confidential (1952; 1pm), Gun Crazy (1950; 2:45pm), Bonnie and Clyde (1967; 4:15pm) and The Anderson Tapes (1971; 6:15pm).

November 28, Thursday – On this Thanksgiving Day, I have but only one thing to be thankful for…and that’s that I won’t be watching The Secret Garden (1949) at 10:30am, featuring She Who Must Not Be Named.  (I don’t care if my BBFF Stacia did do a splendid review of this movie…I shan’t be watching it.)  The entire day is devoted to family favorites: Lassie Come Home (1943; 12:15pm), National Velvet (1944; 2pm), The Phantom Tollbooth (1969; 4:15pm), The Muppets Take Manhattan (and they can have it) (1984; 6pm), Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968; 8pm), Doctor Dolittle (1967; 10:30pm), The Incredible Mr. Limpet (1964; 1:15am), Born Free (1966; 3am) and Snowfire (1958; 4:45am—if your family is still up then).

November 30, Saturday – To close out the month, I’ll need to set my alarm for 6:30am so I can catch Make Mine Mink (1960), a British farce featuring TDOY fave Kenneth Williams in a small part.  On The Essentials, the scheduling of The Searchers (1956) at 8pm will usher in two more films starring actress Vera Miles: The Wrong Man (1956; 10:15pm) and Autumn Leaves (1956; 12:15am).  (And to the programmer who yanked The Astro-Zombies from TCM Underground at the last minute: shame on ya!)

Monday, October 28, 2013

Fallow fields and butterfields

Honest to my grandma, I have been trying to find a spare hour or two in the day to return to these Thrilling Days of Yesteryear…but it seems like once I gather up my notes and start the ball rolling for a post I’m distracted with other projects competing for my attention.  (They’re like gentleman callers with candy and chocolates…rah-ly they are.)  I had to bow out of a scheduled CMBA function in order to get my blogathon entry done yesterday, and it looks like I’m going to putting out so many fires this week that a “Coming Distractions” for November before November will be out of the question.

This morning at the Radio Spirits blog, we break out the party hats and streamers to honor the 118th natal anniversary of veteran radio character actor Herbert Butterfield, whom you OTR aficionados know from The Halls of Ivy (as pain-in-the-tuchus Clarence Wellman), Dangerous Assignment (as “The Commissioner”) and the Lawrence Dobkin years of The Adventures of Ellery Queen (Herb was Ellery’s pop, Inspector Queen).  The photo at the beginning of this post was one that I was going to go with if I couldn’t find a better picture of Butterfield—fortunately, Karen at Radio Spirits came through in the clutch as always—it’s from 1954’s Shield for Murder, a noir potboiler starring (and co-directed by) Edward O’Brien.  Herb plays a police reporter in that one, and while I remember reviewing it on the blog a few years back it wasn’t until I put it on again last night that I could see why “the sweatiest man in noir” didn’t do more turns behind the camera…

…yes, it’s our old pal Mr. Boom Mike—big as day and obnoxious as all-get-out.  Still, Shield’s an entertaining little moon pitcher that also features John Agar (as O’Brien’s protégé) and Emile Meyer; not to mention other familiar faces like Claude Akins, Carolyn Jones, Richard Deacon, William Schallert, Vito Scotti and Stafford “Officer O’Hara” Repp in his movie debut.

Also, too: I didn’t get the opportunity to plug this but I did another piece for RS on the anniversary of The Fred Allen Show last October 23—and at the all-new ClassicFlix site, a write-up on an underrated little crime melodrama that you’ll want to check out for yourselves: Show Them No Mercy! (1935).

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Vincent Price Blogathon: His Kind of Woman (1951)

The following essay is Thrilling Days of Yesteryear’s contribution to The Vincent Price Blogathon, underway from October 25-27 and hosted by The Nitrate Diva.  For a complete list of participants and the subjects/films discussed, you’ll find it all right here.

Like his real-life counterpart Lucky Luciano, the fictional mob kingpin in His Kind of Woman (1951), Nick Ferraro (Raymond Burr), has lost control of his empire in the United States because he’s been deported back to his native Italy.  But Ferraro has a plan to return to the U.S. of A.; with the help of a plastic surgeon named Martin Krafft (John Mylong), Nick’s facial features will be altered so that he can assume the identity of a man described by immigration agent Bill Lusk (Tim Holt) as “a lone wolf without friends or relatives…a man who’s made it his business all his life to keep undercover.”

The lone wolf—or to be really honest, patsy—chosen for this assignment is Dan Milner (Robert Mitchum), a professional gambler who can’t seem to stay out of trouble; he’s just finished thirty days as a guest of the constabulary in Palm Springs (Milner has no idea why), and several goombahs working for a racketeer have shaken him down because he apparently owes the man money bet on a horse—even though he was “digging a road for the law in Coachella Valley” at the time.  Milner is convinced by two men (Paul Frees, Joseph Granby) to lam it out of town on a bus to Nogales…from there, he’ll catch a plane to a swanky resort area known as Morro’s Lodge, where he’s to wait for further instructions.

Paul Frees is everywhere!

Dan stands to make a tax-free $50,000 for taking this vacation…but he also stands to find himself up to his neck in hot water because he doesn’t learn until the film’s halfway through its two-hour running time that he’s Public Pigeon Number One.  In the meantime, he’s introduced to a colorful cast of characters including his fellow passenger on the plane down to Morro’s, Lenore Brent (Jane Russell), and the man she’s set her cap for—Hollywood actor Mark Cardigan (Vincent Price).  Cardigan, a hambone whose only real love affair has been with himself, nevertheless proves to be Milner’s ally and salvation when Dan is held hostage aboard Ferraro’s yacht and subjected to sadistic beatings from the men in Ferraro’s employ.

A movie whose spoofing of he-man heroics predates the even more celebrated cult classic Beat the Devil (1954) by a few years, His Kind of Woman differs from Devil in that it actually was commercially successful in its initial release (though it would later acquire the same cult cred due to its lack of distribution in following years).  Woman was a showcase for RKO’s two biggest stars at the time, Big Bad Bob and Full-Figured Jane; their successful teaming led to their casting in Macao, released the following year.

The script for Woman—titled in early stages Smiler with a Gun, Killer with a Smile and The Big Bullet—was written by Frank Fenton and Jack Leonard, with uncredited rewrites contributed by both RKO studio head Howard Hughes and Richard Fleischer—brought in to do re-shoots when Hughes expressed dissatisfaction with the picture (Howie wanted a little more action).  Hughes was also wildly enthusiastic about Price’s character of Mark Cardigan, and insisted the role be beefed up (Woman originally wrapped up its story with a quick fight between Milner and Ferraro)—though it eventually inflated the cost of the picture (by $150,000) with the construction of an actual 150-foot yacht (the Milner-Ferraro fight needed only the bridge of the vessel) and stretch the running time of the film to two hours.  Actor Raymond Burr was also a last minute addition to the movie’s cast—some sources report that Lee van Cleef originally essayed the role of Nick, with the (always reliable) IMDb listing TDOY bad guy fave Robert J. Wilke as the mobster—and that necessitated more re-shoots as well.

Robert Cornthwaite in a small role as the man who helps Mitchum on the next leg of his journey.

His Kind of Woman is considered by many to be an example of the style known as film noir, and it does contain a good many noir elements (low angles, chiaroscuro lighting).  But the tone of the picture is interesting in that it shifts at times to romantic comedy, high-spirited farce and nail-biting suspense.  The presence of icons like Mitchum, Burr, Price and Charles McGraw also gives it some considerable dark film cachet, along with a world-weary cynicism and crackling dialogue that remains endlessly quotable after the final credits have rolled.

Vincent Price’s performance in the film may very well be my favorite of all the movies in which I’ve seen him.  Mark Cardigan is described by one character in the film thusly: “You are not a pig…you are what a pig becomes…it is sometimes eaten with two slices of bread.”  Mark is an over-the-top actor, a bon vivant, an avid hunter and even a gourmet cook (this last aspect of his character will make those familiar with Price’s fondness for the art of fine cuisine giggle).  He’s a bit unlikable at first, possibly because he’s consorting with Lenore despite the fact he’s married (though the Breen office papers over this by suggesting that he dallies only because he thought his wife was getting a Reno divorce).  But by the end of the film, he demonstrates that he has heroic qualities (even though a lot of that is fueled by his iconic silver screen presence) and he steps aside to allow Lenore and Dan get together in typical happy ending style.

Vincent Price was a popular actor and box office favorite whose early film work (The House of the Seven Gables, Laura) is often overshadowed by his later status as a horror movie icon.  Despite a distinguished movie resume (as well as establishing himself on radio and later television), there were critics who were not kind to his work, considering his performances a tad overripe…and in their defense, Vincent could bring the camp when necessary.  But as much as I dearly love his horror movie showcases, I’ve always been in awe of the man’s thespic range.  He had the same appeal as Boris Karloff; a professional who took his work quite seriously…but not so much that he couldn’t have a little fun at the same time.

One of Price’s favorite movies was 1973’s Theatre of Blood, in which he plays a demented thespian who takes revenge on his critics by recreating deaths from Shakespearean plays; it’s been suggested by more than a few individuals that the reason why he relished this particular role was that it allowed him a little revenge of his own after being savaged by those same ink-stained wretches all those years he was in the business.  Cardigan in Woman is very similar to Blood’s Edward Lionheart (though without the homicidal tendencies, natch); when told by Lenore of Dan’s plight, he lapses into Hamlet: “Now might I drink hot blood and do such bitter business the earth would quake to look upon!”  Later, when his wife Helen (Marjorie Reynolds) notices that he’s been wounded in the arm, back he goes to the Immortal Bard: “’Tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church door.”  Much of Cardigan’s dialogue during his hilarious rescue of Dan (he gathers up a “posse” of resort guests and murales, assuring them that “survivors will receive parts in my next picture”) vacillates between real and faux Shakespeare (“My kingdom for a ship!”).  His heroics are played for farce (he’s wearing a cape during the rescue scenes) and yet there’s a gallantry to the man that makes one admire him (concerned for Lenore’s safety, he locks her in a closet to keep her from following him and tells Helen “If I’m not here by Wednesday—chop that door down!”).

My favorite scene with Price in the film is a sequence in which he’s showing one of his films—an Errol Flynn-like swashbuckler—to a captive audience at the Lodge, and as the faux Flynn engages in his swordplay onscreen the real Cardigan looks around at the audience to see if they’re enjoying it as much as he…almost like a child anxious to please his parents.  When his onscreen character has vanquished his foe Mark starts applauding himself, and then sheepishly notices that he’s the only person doing so.  Finally, the credits roll and the Lodge guests applaud enthusiastically, pleasing Cardigan once again.  Vincent Price’s turn as Mark Cardigan in Woman is a comic wonder (though the actor was very adept at lighter fare, as borne out by the wonderful Champagne for Caesar) and he has a marvelous scene toward the end where he’s boasting of his exploits to a pair of reporters.  Asked by one, “What did you use to kill Ferraro?” Cardigan hesitates after getting a sideways glance from wife Helen and nobly replies: “A man named Milner.”

Price pretty much walks away with His Kind of Woman in his back pocket—but he’s not the only actor who does first-rate work in the movie.  Mitchum contributes a great deal merely with his standard sleepy-eyed anti-hero presence; he’s got some choice lines including one he tosses off to a bartender (Joel Fluellen) that is one of my all-time favorites: “I’ll see you all of a sudden, Sammy.”  His romantic repartee with Russell is also a highlight:

LENORE (noticing that Dan is ironing his folding money): Don’t you dampen it first?
DAN: Nope…it’s an old habit…whenever I have nothing to do and I can’t think, I always iron my money…
LENORE: What do you do when you’re broke?
DAN: When I’m broke…I press my pants

The gentleman wearing the tux is actor Philip Van Zandt, whom Three Stooges fans will no doubt recognize (he often played a heavy in their two-reel comedies).

The always underrated Russell sings two memorable ditties, You’ll Know and Five Little Miles from San Berdoo, and has plenty of bite to her dialogue as well (asked by Cardigan her opinion of the picture, she cracks: “Oh, it was fine…it was just a little long—about an hour and a half”).  TDOY fave Charles McGraw makes a memorable henchman (his character also narrates the film) and Tim Holt has a small bit pivotal role as a federal cop who tries to warn Mitchum’s character that he’s in deep doo-doo (Holt pretends to be drunk, and even sings a few bars of the Georgia Tech fight song).  Future Thurston Howell III Jim Backus is also on hand as a lecherous investment broker who tries to make a move on a young newlywed (Leslie Banning); the sequence where Mitchum’s Milner steps in and helps her husband win a poker hand he’s playing with Backus is similar to the scene in Casablanca where Bogart’s Rick lends a hand to a young couple at the roulette table so that the wife doesn’t have to sleep with Claude Rains.

And finally...OTR veteran Stacy Harris (of This is Your FBI fame) as a guitar player who knows that Lenore Brent is really "Liz Brady."

His Kind of Woman’s offbeat blend of tongue-in-cheek humor and brutally sadistic violence makes it an oddity among its noir brethren and sistren; I first saw it when TBS still showed old movies and it’s been firmly ensconced among my favorites ever since.  It’s available on DVD; it was released in the third volume of Warner Home Video’s Film Noir Classic Collection…but the presentation on disc isn’t particularly praiseworthy (the audio is too low and there is a noticeable bit of wear and tear on the print).  I’m willing to overlook it only because I’m such a fan of the film (I’ve never seen a truly great print of Woman, to be honest) that features my favorite Vincent Price performance.  “This place is dangerous…the time right deadly…the drinks are on me, my bucko!”

Monday, October 14, 2013

Monday Night at the MOVIES!

Some of the goodies showing this week on the digital sub-channel affectionately capitalized as MOVIES! include the underrated cop thriller Warning Shot; Fools’ Parade (based on the novel by WV native Davis Grubb); and Jane Fonda’s marvelous comic turn in Fun with Dick and Jane…which also features a nice performance from Alpo salesman Ed “You are correct, sir!” McMahon.  Check out the schedule!

October 14, Monday
08:00am The Desperadoes (1943)
09:55am Sea Wife (1957)
11:40am Dead Men Tell (1941)
01:00pm Warning Shot (1967)
03:10pm Fighting Mad (1976)
05:05pm The Rose (1979)
08:00pm An Unmarried Woman (1978)
10:40pm Switching Channels (1988)
12:55am An Unmarried Woman (1978)
03:35am Switching Channels (1988)
05:50am The Parallax View (1974)

October 15, Tuesday
08:00am Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961)
10:15am C.C. and Company (1970)
12:15pm Red Skies of Montana (1952)
02:30pm The Young Lions (1958)
06:05pm Good Day for a Hanging (1959)
08:00pm High Noon (1952)
09:55pm Posse (1975)
11:55pm High Noon (1952)
01:50am Posse (1975)
03:50am Warning Shot (1967)

October 16, Wednesday
06:00am Denver and the Rio Grande (1952)
08:00am Experiment in Terror (1962)
10:40am The Osterman Weekend (1983)
12:50pm Underworld U.S.A. (1961)
03:00pm Walking Tall (1973)
05:40pm Walking Tall Part 2 (1975)
08:00pm The French Connection (1971)
10:15pm Uncommon Valor (1983)
12:30am The French Connection (1971)
02:45am Uncommon Valor (1983)
05:00am Back Door To Hell (1980)

October 17, Thursday
06:35am Backlash (1947)
08:35am Fools' Parade (1971)
10:45am Irreconcilable Differences (1984)
01:15pm Dear Brigitte (1965)
03:25pm Jumpin' Jack Flash (1986)
05:40pm Stir Crazy (1980)
08:00pm Moscow on the Hudson (1984)
10:35pm First Monday in October (1981)
12:50am Moscow on the Hudson (1984)
03:25am First Monday in October (1981)
05:35am King of the Gypsies (1978)

October 18, Friday
08:00am J.W. Coop (1971)
10:25am Hanover Street (1979)
12:45pm The Elephant Man (1980)
03:25pm Jacob's Ladder (1990)
05:25pm The Bride (1985)
08:00pm Don't Look Now (1973)
10:20pm Die! Die! My Darling! (1965)
12:25am Don't Look Now (1973)
02:45am Die! Die! My Darling! (1965)
04:50am The Return of Mr. Moto (1965)

October 19, Saturday
06:30am Soup to Nuts (1930)
08:15am It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955)
10:00am Kids Programming (FCC-mandated)
01:00pm Jungle Man-Eaters (1954)
02:30pm Mr. Sardonicus (1961)
04:25pm The Return of the Fly (1959)
06:10pm Nadine (1987)
08:00pm Fun with Dick and Jane (1977)
10:05pm No Mercy (1986)
12:20am The Man I Married (1940)
02:00am Mr. Soft Touch (1949)
04:00am Vicki (1953)
05:55am Whirlpool (1949)

October 20, Sunday
08:00am The Chase (1966)
11:00am Murder By Death (1976)
01:05pm The Cheap Detective (1978)
03:10pm Fun with Dick and Jane (1977)
05:20pm Return to Peyton Place (1961)
08:00pm Places in the Heart (1984)
10:20pm Tender is the Night (1962)
01:40am Places in the Heart (1984)
04:00am Tender is the Night (1962)

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Guest Review: Dick Tracy (1937)

Now, class, settle down. Mr. Shreve, your regular Saturday Serial host, couldn’t be here today. I think I heard something about “court-mandated community service.” I am your substitute, Mr. Schweier, and today we will review the 15-chapter Republic serial, Dick Tracy (1937).

Dick Tracy burst onto the funny pages in America’s newspapers in 1931, courtesy of Chester Gould and the Chicago Tribune syndicate. He was portrayed as the leading police detective in an unnamed city, pitted against a ghoulish rogue’s gallery. When making the leap to the big screen, Tracy was recast as an F.B.I agent in the San Francisco area. It was never mentioned by name, but opening credits showed plenty of Bay-area sites.

The story opens with a small group of criminals gathering aboard a train. They’re all members of the Spider ring, headed by… The Spider?

WRONG! The master criminal in question is merely referred to as the Lame One. His connection to any kind of spider is never explained.

Suddenly, the thump-and-slide gait of their boss is heard in the corridor. The door opens, and a shadowy figure challenges his underlings, most of whom are eager to please. One remains defiant, challenging his boss before drawing a gun and shooting him. The shadowy figure merely laughs, reinforcing his men’s belief that “he’s not human.”

Later, as said henchman is making his way down the street in the dead of night, only to hear the thump-and-slide footsteps of his one-time superior. Suddenly, a light burns a spider brand into his forehead as he is gunned down.

CUT TO – Dick Tracy (Ralph Byrd), briefing his own underlings, Steve Lockwood (Fred Hamilton) and Mike McGurk (Smiley Burnette) on the mysterious “spider” deaths. Joining Dick is his lovely assistant Gwen Andrews (Kay Hughes) and his even lovelier brother Gordon (Carleton Young). Gwen and Gordo are keen on dragging Dick away from his duties with the F.B.I. for a birthday frolic at the estate of Gordon’s employer, Ellery Brewster (John Dilson). There, the wealthy businessman is hosting a carnival for the benefit of local orphan children.

Brewster unfortunately meets an untimely end, murdered in his study, with a spider brand burned into his forehead. Dick and his team investigate, aided by one of the orphan children, a defiant little delinquent who goes by the name of Junior (Lee Van Atta). With the boy’s help, Dick is able to identify the murderer.

Impressed with the boy’s ambition to someday be a G-man, Dick decides to take the kid home, an idea only happily agreed to by the orphanage matron (Alice Fleming). Back in those days, one could buy an orphan boy for less than the cost of a pair of shoes – or so it would seem.

As Gordon Tracy ferries a vital piece of evidence downtown for his brother, he is run off the road. Barely alive, he is taken to the lair of the Lame One. There, the mad scientist in residence Moloch Moloch (John Piccori), promises, “Gentlemen… we can rebuild him. Make him stronger… faster… evil-er. Okay, maybe just that last one, but we’ll try.”

Moloch is able to turn Gordon Tracy to the Dark Side, and the Lame One wastes no time in putting him in charge of all his evil operations. Sporting a white streak in his hair and a scar on his cheek (goatees were not in fashion at the time), Gordon Tracy rides herd on various schemes of the Lame One – the destruction of the new Bay Bridge, the swindle of an aged prospector Death Valley Johnny (Milburn Morante), and the theft of gold from a ship at sea.

Why is the Lame One masterminding these criminal activities? Because he’s EVIL!!

Each scheme takes up the bulk of the chapter, ending with the obligatory cliff-hanger as Dick’s speed-boat careens wildly out of control, or he’s about to be crushed beneath a mountain of collapsing steel girders. Naturally, as the next chapter begins, Dick amazingly gains control of his boat, or manages to roll out of the path of the falling metal.

These events are usually followed by, “Gee, it’s too bad the Lame One’s men got away. We’ll catch them next time.” Uh-huh.

Throughout all this, the paths of the Brothers Tracy crosses numerous times, yet Dick never recognizes his own brother. It isn’t until the near-final chapter when Moloch addresses Gordon by name that Dick gets a clue. Strapped down to the evil toadie’s operating table, Dick Tracy is stunned to learn his own brother has been in the thrall of his arch-enemy. The chapter ends as Moloch is about to perform his evil-making procedure on our helpless hero. “Next Chapter: Brothers United.”

WHAT?! Hello, spoiler alert! Thanks for ruining the ending, Misters Barry Shipman and
Winston Miller (screen writers).

As serials go, it’s typical of the era – lots of cliffhangers, but if you miss a chapter, you’re not missing much. Still, it’s ambitious in its scope, as the Lame One’s men pilot a flying wing throughout the skies over San Francisco, or his agents attempt to flee the country in a submarine (a set which no doubt cost some serious coin in those days).

Ralph Byrd is perfectly serviceable as Tracy. He became identified for the role which he played for more than a decade, until his death in 1952. To his credit, it seems there is no indignity which the screenwriters can dream up that Byrd isn’t game for. I’ve never seen an actor so willing to leap into water fully-clothed.

The supporting characters elevate the production. Gwen, Tracy’s assistant, is more than a mere secretary; she heads up Dick’s personal crime lab, and is treated about as equally as a woman could hope for in those days. Steve Lockwood is everything a competent assistant should be.

Mike McGurk (Smiley Burnette), not so much. He and Junior (Lee Van Atta) provide typical comedy relief antics as McGurk is shown up time and time again by someone half his age and twice his intelligence.

Thanks to luck on my part (and generosity on Ivan’s part), additional Dick Tracy serial reviews will be forthcoming. Three more were made: Dick Tracy Returns (1938); Dick Tracy's G-Men (1939); and Dick Tracy vs. Crime Inc. (1941).