Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Movies I’ve stared at recently on TCM #71

Apologies for things being so slow on the blog of late—the short answer is that I’ve been kept pretty busy with an outside project or two (and this week until the end of May is going to find me positively swamped).  The long answer—which you could probably obtain by throwing a few lit matches at me—is that I just don’t seem to be able to find the motivation for the weekend write-ups; by the time I’ve rose and shone, I don’t feel like doing anything the rest of the day…particularly if it involves Doris Martin and her mewling brats.  (“I like cheese!”)

However, I have been keeping occasional tabs on The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™…and so I want to talk about a few of the more offbeat offerings Tee Cee Em has featured recently.

The Nurse’s Secret (1941) – I was sucked into this one when I saw Lee Patrick and the indestructible Regis Toomey in the cast…but it’s more like suckered; Secret, a quickie remake of an earlier Warner Bros. production (1935’s While the Patient Slept—which I now have to watch because it stars Aline MacMahon and Guy Kibbee…plus it’s on MOD DVD), casts the Reege as a detective investigating an apparent suicide in a mansion belonging to a dotty old woman played by “Auntie Em” Clara Blandick.  Lee is Toomey’s girlfriend, a nurse who attends to Blandick’s every whim while gathering up evidence on behalf of her squeeze…because there are a lot of suspects in this one.  (There are so many red herrings I swear I could detect the scent of fish market coming through the TV.)  I wish the movie were a little punchier, particularly since Lee and Regis make a cute couple.  Lots of familiar faces in this one, including Julie Bishop, Charles Waldron, Douglas Kennedy, Frank Reicher and Faye Emerson—these last two star in the film that follows, even!

The Hidden Hand (1942) – As witnessed above, B-movies aren’t particularly stand-out affairs because by their very nature they were lensed on the cheap, and cast with mostly up-and-coming contract players and/or veteran thesps who reached their sell-by date a long time ago.  Still, every now and then you’ll come across a programmer that entertains the hell out of you in spite of itself—and for me, The Hidden Hand was that movie.  It’s an old dark house mystery (though there’s really no “whodunit” here—you know the identity of the villains from the get-go) leavened with a lot of laughs, and features Cecil Cunningham as a dotty dowager who schemes to eliminate her horrible relatives (with the help of mad brother Milton Parsons, who’s just escaped from an insane asylum) so they don’t benefit from the terms of her will.

Milton Parsons is an actor I've been seeing a lot of lately; he's in three of RKO's Dick Tracy films: Dick Tracy (1945), Dick Tracy vs. Cueball (1946) and Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome (1947).

Peek-a-boo!
It’s based on the Rufus King play Invitation to a Murder, which was the stage production Humphrey Bogart was appearing in a short six months before his breakout role as Duke Mantee in The Petrified Forest.  There’s enough secret rooms, sliding panels and trap doors in this one for a season’s worth of Scooby Doo, Where are You?, and though I know I’ll court a bit of controversy here, many of the movie’s biggest chuckles emanate from Willie Best, doing his scared manservant routine.  (Just because Best had to play a lot of odious stereotypical roles doesn’t mean the man didn’t have talent…or wasn’t damn funny.  Mantan Moreland would have went to town with this role.)  Julie Bishop and Craig Stevens—about fifteen years before he became a private dick and started hanging out in jazz clubs—are the other big names in this cheapie, though I did recognize Kam Tong (Hey Boy on Have Gun – Will Travel) as the stereotypical Japanese cook.

I saw both Hand and Secret Enemies (1942) as part of a Craig Stevens double feature the channel ran in the afternoon; I didn’t enjoy Enemies as much as I thought—it’s your typical WW2 propaganda flick, with Stevens as a lawyer who turns government agent to avenge the death of his pal (Charles Lang) by Nazis running a New York hotel.  (Nazis…I hate these guys.)   Curiously, Stevens can’t even trust his chanteuse girlfriend, Faye Emerson, who’s working with the Nazis as well.  Robert Warwick is the head bad guy and Frank Reicher a pathetic sort who agrees to ally with the Nazi cause to help his wife out of Germany—plus you’ll catch Frank Wilcox (who has a larger role in Hand), George Meeker, Addison Richards, Fred Kelsey, Cliff Clark and Monte Blue.  (In other words, the usual suspects.)

Miss Sadie Thompson (1953) – In the last edition of “Movies I’ve stared at recently” I reported seeing the 1932 Joan Crawford flick Rain, and Java Bean Rush of Java’s Journey asked me in the comments section if I had ever seen the 1953 remake of the movie (Miss Sadie Thompson).  I had not, and seeing that it would be airing on TCM in the merry month of May I decided I’d have a gander.  If you’re familiar with W. Somerset Maugham’s source material, you know the story: goodtime gal Sadie Thompson (Rita Hayworth) is stranded on a South Seas island and runs afoul of evangelical tightass Alfred Davidson (José Ferrer), who blackmails Sadie with her tsk-tsk-tsk past (prostitute!) and arranges for her to be sent back to Frisco…where she will be greeted most warmly by representatives of the law.

Originally released in 3-D—and I think without question I’d enjoy seeing Rita in 3-D—Thompson is well worth the watch though I’m still in “the 1928 version is the best” camp.  (Sorry, Bobby Osbo—we’ll just have to agree to disagree.)  I’ll be honest—I never really believed for a moment that Rita’s character practiced the world’s oldest profession, and the splashy Technicolor production comes off more like a wacky armed service hijinks comedy than the darker presentation of Lewis Milestone’s version.  (I kept expecting Glenn Ford to show up.)  On the plus side, Ferrer is quite good as the religious scold (Ferrer was without peer when it came to playing douchebags) and Aldo Ray (as the serviceman who takes a shine to Sadie) demonstrates that what he lacked in thespic abilities he more than made up for in screen presence.  Oh, and here’s a little beefcake for the ladies:


Yes, that’s Charles Bronson—still being billed as “Charles Buchinsky”—as a member of Ray’s crew.

Two on a Guillotine (1965) – Also in the previous “stared at” was a recommendation from longtime member of the TDOY faithful Mike Doran that I check out the only other William Conrad-directed feature film from 1965 (I’d already seen Brainstorm and My Blood Runs Cold), Two on a Guillotine.  Mr. Doran mentioned that The Man of a Thousand Voice makes an Alfred Hitchcock-like cameo in this one:


And he was not just whistlin’ Dixie, either.  Cassie Duquesne (Connie Stevens), the estranged daughter of legendary magician “Duke” Duquesne (Cesar Romero), inherits her pa’s palatial estate when he snuffs it…but finds herself terrified by strange goings-on in his mansion, and must rely on journalist-masquerading-as-real-estate-agent Val Henderson (Dean Jones) to help her dope out the mystery.  Guillotine’s not bad—though it does suffer from the same flabby pacing as Blood Runs Cold—and Stevens and Jones aren’t too cloying; I think if they had been able to get Vincent Price to play Romero’s part it might have been a real cult classic.  (Guillotine was also the last Warner Bros. film scored by the legendary Max Steiner after punching a time clock for nearly thirty years.)  Conrad’s old Gunsmoke cronies Parley Baer and Virginia Gregg have supporting roles…

"Sheargent Friday...Sheargent Gannon...I didn't shee you come in..."
 …but the bit that amused me the most was seeing how bartender Billy Curtis adapted his bar in the same manner as Linda Hunt in 1985’s Silverado.

The Maltese Bippy (1969) – My BBFF Stacia remarked on Twitter a few weeks back: “Several angry comments on my blog suggest TCM must have shown The Maltese Bippy tonight.”  Her social media powers are astounding (here’s her Bippy essay, for those interested); the channel did show Dan Rowan and Dick Martin’s second (and last) starring comedy…though “comedy” is giving it the benefit of the doubt.  The Maltese Bippy is a stupid film," she writes, “it is offensive, vapid, incoherent, and the absolute antithesis of funny.”  And I don’t have much to add to that, with the exception of mentioning that while there are one or two potentially promising bits (the porno film scene at the beginning, where all of Rowan and Martin’s movies have “lust” in the title amused me) it’s mostly a waste of good actors, a good director, and good writers (OTR veteran Ray Singer, who wrote The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show with Dick Chevillat, co-wrote Bippy’s script).  It’s not shown much, but keep an eye out for Once Upon a Horse… (1958)—the team’s first outing (written, directed and produced by another OTR great, Hal Kanter) and an example that demonstrates definite movie potential on behalf of the duo best known for TV’s Laugh-In.

Dirty Dingus Magee (1970) – Speaking of Western spoofs (smooth as glass, I tells ya), here’s one from Burt Kennedy that’s pretty much one long Warner Bros. cartoon with Frank Sinatra as an inept outlaw—and George Kennedy as an equally inept lawman—attempting to one-up each other throughout the running time of a film much in the spoofy mode of Kennedy’s Support Your Local Sheriff! (and later Support Your Local Gunfighter).  In fact, several actors from Sheriff and Gunfighter are on hand—Jack Elam, Henry Jones, Mister John Dehner, Bill Bouchey, Grady Sutton—but I think Magee would have been a better film if Kennedy had been able to convince James Garner to play the Sinatra role; I thought the performance by The Chairman of the Board was the weakest part of the movie.  Lois Nettleton steals the proceedings as an inappropriately-named schoolteacher named Prudence, and it was interesting to see Michele Carey in something else other than El Dorado (1967).

What’s the Matter with Helen? (1971) – Debbie Reynolds and Shelley Winters travel to Hollywood to escape the notoriety of a murder case involving their two sons; they’re soon in the business of teaching dance to those revolting little children who are the bane of my existence in so many classic films of the past.  Directed by Curtis Harrington (who would work with Shel in a film the following year, Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?), Helen is one of the best films in the Whatever-Happened-to-Baby-Jane genre, and benefits from a solid supporting cast that includes Dennis Weaver (as Reynolds’ would-be paramour), Micheál MacLiammóir, Agnes Moorehead (as an Aimee Semple McPherson-like evangelist), Peggy Rea, Logan Ramsey and Timothy Carey (Carey doesn’t get as much to do as he should, sadly).  I recognized child star Pamelyn Ferdin as one of Deb and Shel’s moppets, and kind of chuckled to myself because she later became a radical animal rights activist—thanks, Lassie!

It’s Alive! (1974) – Larry Cohen, the auteur responsible for such cult TV favorites as Branded, Coronet Blue and The Invaders, wrote, produced and directed this horror favorite that made me do a double take when I saw it on TCM’s schedule.  Doting husband John P. Ryan takes wife Sharon Farrell to the hospital to deliver their second child…which turns out to be a hideous mutant infant that slaughters a few of the docs and nurses, and then goes on a small rampage before it’s confronted by Ryan and the cops inside a sewer system (it’s not giant ants this time, kiddo!).  Alive set the pattern for most of Cohen’s movies: low-budget trash that also features serious social and political content (in Alive, there’s the suggestion that Ryan’s baby came about due to our neglect of matters ecological…and I also love the scene where Ryan gets fired from his job at a public relations firm because news of his monster child is giving the company a black eye)—for an interesting example, I’d recommend The Stuff (1985), an oddball horror comedy that features a priceless performance from Paul Sorvino as a right wing militia commander who battles the titular menace.  The end of It’s Alive sets up the eventual sequel—It Lives Again (1978), with Ryan reprising his role along with James Dixon’s Lt. Perkins—but I’d stay away from that one unless you’re a completist.  (I do, however, recommend It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive…but only because Michael Moriarty plays a character not unlike the loser in Cohen’s best film, 1982’s Q.  Dixon is in the third movie, too.)

2 comments:

Stacia said...

the porno film scene at the beginning, where all of Rowan and Martin’s movies have “lust” in the title amused me

Same here, and I consider this movie to be one of the worst ever made, if not THE worst. The lack of imagination in the titles ("Sherlock Lust") was funny. Nothing else was funny. THAT was funny.

I need to see IT'S ALIVE again. I think I saw it on cable TV, so edited and in pan & scan and, well, I can do better than that now.

ClassicBecky said...

I know what you mean about Willie Best and Mantan Moreland, and I agree that they were so talented. Even Bob Hope said that Willie stole the show in The Ghostbreakers, and Mantan is the main reason to watch a Charlie Chan movie. I love those guys.

I've never seen It's Alive! That sounds right up my alley, so I'll have to look for it. As for The Maltese Bippy -- it hurts my brain to even think about the short time I gave to watching it -- P U!