Thursday, July 31, 2014

TCM in August: Summer Under the Stars Highlights

Summer is flying by, but we've still got all of August to enjoy the season, including TCM's annual Summer Under the Stars Festival!

For a quick look at the 31 stars being celebrated on Turner Classic Movies this month, please visit the complete list of names I posted last May.

TCM has prepared a special Summer Under the Stars microsite, in addition to the regular online schedule.

There are a number of days this month I'd be happy to leave the TV on all day long! Here's a quick look at a few highlights from a great month on Turner Classic Movies:

...The month starts off with SUNDAY IN NEW YORK (1963) starring August 1st honoree Jane Fonda along with Rod Taylor, Cliff Robertson, and Robert Culp. This movie was even funnier when seen with a group of Rod Taylor fans at this year's TCM Classic Film Festival!

...David Niven is the day's star on August 2nd. The excellent lineup includes BACHELOR MOTHER (1939), another film shown at this year's TCM Fest, and PLEASE DON'T EAT THE DAISIES (1960), also starring Doris Day.

...I love Walter Pidgeon more with each passing year. There's something about his persona and especially his voice which I find so soothing! August 3rd is Walter Pidgeon Day on TCM, an opportunity to enjoy everything from early musical SWEET KITTY BELLAIRS (1930) to FUNNY GIRL (1968) nearly 40 years later. I recently enjoyed his last film with Greer Garson, SCANDAL AT SCOURIE (1953).

...August 4th is Judy Garland Day. It is ever not a good time to watch MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944)? I didn't think so.

...Barbara Stanwyck is celebrated on August 5th. Since I'm currently catching up on some Errol Flynn movies, I'd love to take another look at the interesting Gothic mystery CRY WOLF (1947) with the unique combination of Stanwyck and Flynn. And NIGHT NURSE (1931) is a very "pre-Code" film!

...Prime time on James Stewart's day, August 7th, will include THE NAKED SPUR (1953), a terrific Anthony Mann Western I saw at UCLA earlier this year. Stewart plays a bitter bounty hunter, with Robert Ryan his quarry. Janet Leigh also stars.

...August 9th is William Powell Day! I'm sure I could happily watch the entire lineup. CROSSROADS (1942) is interesting to me because is also stars a favorite actress, Hedy Lamarr, who would also star with Powell in THE HEAVENLY BODY (1944). CROSSROADS is a bit slow-moving and not entirely successful, but as it's a lesser-known Powell film his fans may want to take this chance to catch up with it.

...Carole Lombard was at one point married to William Powell, and her day follows his, on August 10th. It's another day which could be watched 'round the clock. I'll particularly single out one of the best soapy romances ever made, IN NAME ONLY (1939), also starring Cary Grant and Kay Francis. Lombard gives a lovely, sensitive performance as a widow who falls for married Cary Grant, and watch out for Kay Francis as Grant's nasty wife!

...Alexis Smith Day! I'm so happy she's being honored this year. Her special date is August 12th. There are many good movies on the agenda, including the classic drama THE CONSTANT NYMPH (1943), with Joan Fontaine and Charles Boyer; the interesting crime drama CONFLICT (1945) with Humphrey Bogart and Sydney Greenstreet; and a few movies with frequent costar and good friend Errol Flynn, including SAN ANTONIO (1945) and MONTANA (1950). I'm especially looking forward to a movie I've never seen, ONE LAST FLING (1949) with Zachary Scott.

...August 13th is Cary Grant Day. Just set the DVR to run all day.

...Herbert Marshall and his glorious voice will be front and center on August 16th. I'm looking forward to seeing THE UNDERWORLD STORY (1950), also starring Dan Duryea and Gale Storm, directed by Cy Endfield.

...John Hodiak is honored on August 17th. It's another day filled with interesting films, including TWO SMART PEOPLE (1946) with Lucille Ball and Lloyd Nolan, where he plays a con artist with gourmet tastes, and one of my favorite MGM musicals, THE HARVEY GIRLS (1946). That's Entertainment!

...One of my favorite actresses, Claudette Colbert, is the star on August 18th. The day includes the TCM premiere of the rarely seen SKYLARK (1941) with Ray Milland and Brian Aherne. When will SKYLARK and ARISE, MY LOVE (1940), another film she made with Milland, come out on DVD?!

...I recommend a very entertaining "B" movie, CRASHING HOLLYWOOD (1938), on August 21st. It stars Lee Tracy as an aspiring screenwriter who teams up with an ex-con to create a series of crime films for "Wonder Pictures." The RKO lot stands in for Wonder Pictures which makes it even more fun to watch.

...Take a vacation day on August 25th and enjoy Dick Powell 'round the clock! Titles include the superb 1860s "train noir" THE TALL TARGET (1951). When I saw it at UCLA earlier this year, the lighting and cinematography (by Paul Vogel) blew me away. Directed by Anthony Mann.

...I also love Edmond O'Brien, star of the day on August 27th. O'Brien's not your typical cowboy but I really enjoyed COW COUNTRY (1953), with a cast including Peggie Castle and James Millican. Stick around for films such as WHITE HEAT (1949), D.O.A. (1950), THE HITCH-HIKER (1953), and many more.

...There sure are a lot of Anthony Mann movies on the schedule! On Arlene Dahl Day on August 28th I especially recommend Mann's THE BLACK BOOK (1949), also known as REIGN OF TERROR, a "French Revolution noir" costarring Bob Cummings and beautifully filmed by John Alton.

...Joseph Cotten is another wonderful actor who's part of this year's festival. His day will be August 29th. I love I'LL BE SEEING YOU (1944), where he plays a shell-shocked soldier on leave at Christmas.

...There are several TCM premieres on Betty Grable Day, August 30th, including one of my favorite film noir titles, I WAKE UP SCREAMING (1941), costarring Victor Mature and Carole Landis. It's a great entry into the genre...and one of the best movie titles of all time, although I don't think anyone actually ever wakes up screaming!

...The month wraps up in fine style with a tribute to Alan Ladd on August 31st. After years of toiling in bit parts, Ladd suddenly emerged as a major star playing a lethal killer in THIS GUN FOR HIRE (1942), the first of several successful teamings with Veronica Lake.

Happy Summer Under the Stars!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Duffy of San Quentin (1954)

I purchased DUFFY OF SAN QUENTIN (1954) during a Warner Archive sale a few months ago on the strength of its lead actors: Paul Kelly, Maureen O'Sullivan, Joanne Dru, and Louis Hayward.

I thought that watching it now would make an interesting follow-up to my recent viewing of the Lawrence Tierney "B" film SAN QUENTIN (1946).

DUFFY OF SAN QUENTIN was written and directed by Walter Doniger, based on Clinton T. Duffy's book THE SAN QUENTIN STORY.

Duffy was a prison administrator who was appointed interim warden of San Quentin Prison in 1940. Duffy immediately began instituting reforms even though his stint was only supposed to last 30 days. He ended up serving as warden of San Quentin for over a decade.

Duffy is played by the fine actor Paul Kelly, with Maureen O'Sullivan in a small supporting role as his wife Gladys. One of the fascinating aspects of this film is that Kelly was himself an ex-con who had served time in San Quentin, as told in an excellent Classic Images biography by my friend Kristina.

Kelly and O'Sullivan would later reprise their roles as Clinton and Gladys Duffy in THE STEEL CAGE (1956), which apparently is TV episodes strung together; the film has a good cast including Lawrence Tierney and John Ireland.

DUFFY OF SAN QUENTIN particularly focuses on Duffy's relationship with a troublesome prisoner, Edward "Romeo" Harper (Louis Hayward), as well as on Duffy shaking things up by bringing a female nurse (Joanne Dru) to work in the prison.

For a prison movie, it's fairly mellow in tone. It's a film in large part focused on the characters' relationships to one another, how they effect change at the prison and how the prison reforms, in turn, affect each lead character.

I wasn't always quite sure what to make of this episodic film. It's interesting and I learned quite a bit, especially as the movie inspired me to later do some reading online, but the film tends to jolt abruptly from sequence to sequence.

Nor is the movie always completely logical -- would a nurse really leave a prison aide with the key to the medicine cabinet and the unsupervised responsibility for injecting patients with medicine?

The script and actors have some rough moments here and there. As much as I enjoy Hayward and Dru's work, I found their performances particularly awkward at times. And when O'Sullivan enters a room to confront Dru, it was so stagy I could almost hear someone calling out "Action!" as it began.

Despite these criticisms, the film's 77 minutes pass quickly. I was interested in the story and found the movie worthwhile, even while acknowledging it's not a particularly good film. I would definitely watch Paul Kelly's other film as Duffy if given the opportunity.

From an historical perspective, it was interesting to note the prisoners working as nursing aides were an integrated group. It's not addressed in the film, but one of Duffy's many reforms was integration of the prison dining hall.

I enjoyed seeing this movie in light of SAN QUENTIN (1946), which was filmed prior to this film but set after the events in DUFFY. Some of the programs instituted by Duffy, attempting to provide men with job and life skills to succeed upon release, were debated in SAN QUENTIN.

The supporting cast includes George Macready, Jonathan Hale, Irving Bacon, and Horace McMahon. It's fun to spot DeForest Kelley, seen only in profile as a detective arresting a corrupt prosecutor.

It was a pleasant surprise to discover the movie was shot by the great John Alton. This isn't one of Alton's more notable efforts, and much of the movie looks rather flat and nondescript. There are a few striking scenes, however, where the use of shadows suddenly reminds the viewer who was behind the camera.

Alton would film one of his greatest achievements, THE BIG COMBO (1955), the following year.

Perhaps now I need to watch Pat O'Brien and Humphrey Bogart in SAN QUENTIN (1937)!

Around the Blogosphere This Week...

...is taking this week off. It will return next week!

If you missed last week's classic film link roundup, it can be found here.

Disney fans can find the latest roundup of news on Disney films, theme parks, books, and more here.

Have a great week!

Tonight's Movie: Dude Cowboy (1941)

DUDE COWBOY is a breezy Tim Holt Western which provides an enjoyable 59 minutes.

Having recently seen a couple of disappointing Westerns, it was a treat to watch a Western which was simple but lively and well-made.

Terry McVey (Holt) is on the trail of an engraver, Frank Adams (Byron Foulger), who's been kidnapped and forced to make counterfeit plates. Adams sneaks his initials into the plates as a sign he's making them against his will.

The investigation brings Terry and his pal Smokey (Ray Whitley) to a dude ranch, where they meet lovely Bernice (Marjorie Reynolds of HOLIDAY INN). Terry and Smokey don't know that Bernice is actually Barbara Adams, daughter of the missing engraver. Terry and Barbara's paths ultimately cross as they find the bad guys' hideout.

This is a pleasant little movie, though it lacks any notable location shooting or anything especially distinguishing. Tim is perpetually amused, Ray sings some catchy tunes, and Marjorie's spunky and lovely. It's simply a nice way to pass an hour.

Incidentally, the movie seems to have been made in the "Roy Rogers Zone," that magical time period when there are telephones but everyone still rides around on horseback!

DUDE COWBOY was filmed on Southern California movie ranches by Harry J. Wild, who would go on to shoot many notable film noir titles for RKO.

This was sadly the last film directed by David Howard, who died at the age of 45 just days after the release of DUDE COWBOY. He had spent the previous few years working almost exclusively with George O'Brien and Tim Holt.

DUDE COWBOY is available in a lovely print as part of the Tim Holt Western Classics Collection Vol. 1.

Previous reviews of Tim Holt Westerns: THE RENEGADE RANGER (1938), ROBBERS OF THE RANGE (1941), THUNDER MOUNTAIN (1947), GUNS OF HATE (1948), THE MYSTERIOUS DESPERADO (1949), RIDERS OF THE RANGE (1950), STORM OVER WYOMING (1950), RIDER FROM TUCSON (1950), BORDER TREASURE (1950), RIO GRANDE PATROL (1950), and LAW OF THE BADLANDS (1951).

Related posts: A Birthday Tribute to Richard Martin; Happy Birthday, Tim Holt!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Painting the Clouds With Sunshine (1951) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

PAINTING THE CLOUDS WITH SUNSHINE (1951), a Warner Bros. musical available from the Warner Archive, was a delightful surprise.

Most reviews I've seen of this movie are only middling, but I have to say this one was totally up my alley. Bright and colorful, with a fantastic mid-20th Century look, and one great song and dance after another. Other than a handful of inexplicable scenes with Wallace Ford, I think I smiled all the way through the movie's 87 minutes. It's even got Tom Conway! My fellow musicals fans should give this one a look.

The movie is a spin on the popular theme of three beautiful girls looking for wealthy husbands. When singer Abby (Lucille Norman) discovers her fiance Vince (Dennis Morgan) hasn't kept his promise to stop gambling, Abby heads from Hollywood for Las Vegas along with Carol (Virginia Mayo) and June (Virginia Gibson). In Vegas the girls are booked to perform at the Golden Egg, owned by Uncle Felix (S.Z. Sakall).

Abby has a rebound romance with dancer Ted (Gene Nelson), who's been keeping a big secret. Abby's still in love with Vince, though, and June is pining for Ted. Meanwhile Carol tries to keep Ted's patrician Uncle Ben (Conway) from breaking up Ted's romance with a lowly performer.

The story is merely an excuse to connect the musical numbers, which are simply terrific. The "Mambo Man" dance with Mayo, Nelson, and Gibson benefits not just from great dancing but clever set design, as the floor lights up in different colors. I loved it!

There was more fantastic dancing with Nelson and Mayo in the steamy "Birth of the Blues," and the final dance with Nelson and Gibson on the Warner Bros. backlot was pure joy.

Throw in Morgan and Norman dueting on "Jealousie" and several other songs, and it's a recipe for fun. Tom Conway joins the cast in singing the final number and has a charming "What the heck am I doing here?" grin on his face.

And the visuals! The set design is terrific, from the interior of the girls' travel trailer to the pink walls of a hotel bedroom to the classic neon signs in Vegas. Anyone who loves '50s design will enjoy watching this film.

It's been great to have the opportunity to catch up with more of Virginia Mayo's '50s films via the Warner Archive, most recently in the brand-new Archive release of THE BIG LAND (1957) and also in an older Archive DVD, SHE'S BACK ON BROADWAY (1953). As a matter of fact, Nelson and Gibson were also in BROADWAY.

PAINTING THE CLOUDS WITH SUNSHINE was directed by Warner Bros. stalwart David Butler and filmed in Technicolor by Wilfred M. Cline.

PAINTING THE CLOUDS WITH SUNSHINE was one of the Warner Archive's very first releases, but as I've commented here before, one of the great things about the Archive is that "burned on demand" films never go out of print! The DVD looks fantastic. There are no extras.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered at the Warner Archive website.

Tonight's Movie: The Freshman (1925)

With the end of July just around the corner, it's time for me to get busy viewing this year's list of 10 Classics!

For several reasons, including seeing a significantly higher than usual number of films on a big screen so far this year -- 64 at last count -- I've been slow to check off watching my 10 Classics titles, other than WINCHESTER '73 (1950), which I saw at UCLA.

The second film seen from this year's list was Harold Lloyd's delightful THE FRESHMAN (1925). Having watched several of Lloyd's films over the past two years, including a marvelous screening of WHY WORRY? (1923) with a live orchestra at the TCM Classic Film Festival, I can now say I'm a bona fide fan. His films are smart and funny, never failing to wow me with the well-thought-out routines and even the witty narrative cards. (My favorite in THE FRESHMAN was the description of Tate University as "a large football stadium with a college attached.")

Most of the Lloyd films I've seen to this point have also benefited immeasurably from the charm of the entrancing Jobyna Ralston, Lloyd's leading lady in WHY WORRY? (1923), GIRL SHY (1924), FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE (1926), and THE KID BROTHER (1927). She's simply delightful, with exquisite facial expressions and hand movements.

In THE FRESHMAN Harold is off to college, bonding with Peggy (Ralston) over a crossword puzzle on the train. Unfortunately Harold has filled his head with silly ideas about how to be popular at college, and he doesn't realize that most people on campus don't take him seriously. When he learns the crushing truth, he's bolstered by Peggy's steadfast love.

When an opportunity comes up in the Big Football Game for Harold to finally get off the bench, he tells the coach he's taken being on the team seriously, even if the coach thought of him as the water boy, and he gets the unexpected chance to help lead his team toward victory.

There are so many funny and touching scenes in this film, one of my favorites being when Harold rescues a kitten on the auditorium stage. I also loved all his scenes with Peggy, starting with the aforementioned crossword puzzle scene. As they try to think of an endearment which fits the puzzle, saying "Sweetheart," "Precious," and "Darling," another passenger beams at them and says "Isn't it wonderful to be in love?"

A later scene where Harold is cleaning his mirror and Peggy's face appears is magical. My favorite moment, however, is when Harold spies Peggy with a bouquet he gave her, pulling off the petals and saying "He loves me, he loves me not," and he suddenly realizes Peggy loves him.

For those who are curious, according to IMDb the football game was filmed at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, California.

THE FRESHMAN is available in a Blu-ray/DVD combination set from the Criterion Collection.

THE FRESHMAN is also out in a fine DVD release from New Line, with many of the same extras as in the Criterion edition. New Line's Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection Vol. 2 includes other features and shorts including THE KID BROTHER (1927).

THE FRESHMAN can be rented or purchased for streaming from Amazon.

The list of 10 Classic Films I plan to see for the first time in 2014 can be found here.

THE FRESHMAN is highly recommended.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Night and the City (1950) at UCLA

The second film on tonight's double bill in UCLA's Hollywood Exiles in Europe series was NIGHT AND THE CITY (1950).

NIGHT AND THE CITY, like the evening's earlier film RIFIFI (1955), was directed by Jules Dassin.

The movie was shot in London by Max Greene, and the gleaming black and white cinematography of that postwar city is, in my opinion, the film's greatest attribute. Visually this film is a real winner, and the 35mm print shown by UCLA was absolutely gorgeous. This is a film which those who love London as I do should see at least once, just to take in the fantastic visuals.

Storywise I can't say I was enamored with this 20th Century-Fox film, despite my admiration for its lead actors, Richard Widmark and Gene Tierney. It's a dark film about a loser, Harry Fabian (Widmark), who wants to be a hotshot entrepreneur but lacks the intelligence, the expertise, or the capital to succeed at much of anything. Harry always falls for the latest "hot deal" on the streets and always loses.

Part of the movie's problem is that, unlike RIFIFI, the viewer doesn't feel any sense of sympathy for the lead character. Like most of the people who know him, this viewer just thought "What a loser!" I didn't care and wasn't really interested in anything he did, especially as much of the film has to do with boxing. The boxing scenes include a "to the death" match between characters played by Mike Mazurki and Stanislaus Zbyszko which I didn't care to watch.

Gene Tierney's character is a supporting player who is almost an afterthought. She's the one I really had questions about: Why is this American in London? Why does she love Harry? Why has this lovely woman settled for a man and a job which don't make her happy? There's absolutely zero explanation for why she has a relationship with Harry, other than her reference to a photo of them in their past.

Hugh Marlowe's artist character receives even more short shrift, appearing in two scenes; his main purpose seems to be so the audience won't worry about what's going to happen to Gene Tierney. Like Widmark and Tierney, Marlowe plays yet another American living in London without any explanation. Had the men remained there after wartime service?

Standouts among the supporting cast are Googie Withers as the mercenary wife of a corpulent nightclub owner (Francis L. Sullivan), and Herbert Lom as Kristo, a fight promoter who ultimately goes after Harry, who enticed Kristo's father into a fight.

Jo Eisinger's screenplay was based on a novel by Gerald Kersh. It runs 96 minutes.

NIGHT AND THE CITY is available on DVD from the Criterion Collection. It's available for DVD rental from Netflix and ClassicFlix.

It's also out on VHS.

Tonight's Movie: Rififi (1955) at UCLA

RIFIFI (1955), also known as DU RIFIFI CHEZ LES HOMMES, was a real "wow" filmgoing experience for me this evening, a highlight in a fantastic year of big screen movies.

This was the first time I'd ever seen RIFIFI, part of a double bill of films from director Jules Dassin in UCLA's just-opened Hollywood Exiles in Europe series.

RIFIFI was both longer (at 122 minutes) and darker than the movies I typically favor, but this jewel heist film reels you in and leaves you hanging on until the very last shot. Not a minute of screen time was wasted. I was completely mesmerized, and very glad that I gave the movie a chance based on my older daughter's enthusiastic encouragement. As my daughter said, at some point you even forget they're speaking French!

Jean Servais plays Tony le St├ęphanois, recently released from five years in prison after taking a rap to spare his younger protege Jo (Carl Mohner). Jo and Mario (Robert Manuel) present a plan to Tony to rob the window of a prestigious jewelry store, but after initially demurring, Tony agrees to the job if they will actually go in the store and rob the main safe. To that end, the group recruits Cesar (director Dassin, under the name Perlo Vita), an Italian safecracker.

The film's centerpiece is the heist sequence, which runs nearly 30 minutes and has no dialogue or music. The viewer becomes so caught up in the suspense that one ends up rooting for the jewel thieves. Can they possibly make it out of the building in time?

Any guilt the viewer may feel over sympathetic feelings toward thieves is taken care of in the rest of the film. RIFIFI is really two or three movies in one: first a heist film, then a disaster movie, and finally a tale of rescue and revenge.

Cesar is quite the ladies' man, which proves to be his undoing, as he gives his girlfriend Viviane (Magali Noel) a ring he pocketed as a souvenir. Viviane's nightclub boss, Grutter (Marcel Lupovici) -- who is also the ex-lover of Tony's ex-girlfriend Mado (Marie Sabouret) -- very quickly puts two and two together and the thieves' seemingly successful operation quickly unravels.

The story culminates with Grutter kidnapping Jo's little son (Dominique Maurin) to force Tony and Jo to turn over their ill-gotten gains. While Jo waits by the phone, Tony scours Paris looking for his young godson before it's too late.

This is a movie filled with great visuals and memorable dramatic moments. One of my favorite scenes, in fact, was a musical number, Magali Noel's performance of the title song during a nightclub act. It's quite stylish, with evocative music.

One of the things that fascinated me was Jo's apartment, which visually makes clear how he indulges his little boy: the puppet theater, the oversized ball, the other toys strewn everywhere. The set communicated a great deal without words, showing Jo making up for his own poor childhood; Jo's wife (Janine Darcey) later says that the men who overcame such backgrounds without resorting to crime were the "real tough guys."

There were many other unforgettable shots and scenes, from the phone call made by Ida (Claude Sylvain) and her sudden, shocking change of heart; Tony and Jo in a taxi paying their respects to a funeral procession (and the irony -- or desperation -- of criminals participating in a religious ritual); the almost surreal mad drive through the streets of Paris, with the arrival at the final destination providing a completely satisfying ending.

The movie was filmed in gritty black and white by Philippe Agostini.

RIFIFI is available in a DVD/Blu-ray dual-format set from the Criterion Collection. Criterion also released it as a DVD in 2001. The DVD can be rented from Netflix or ClassicFlix.

It's also available on VHS and has been shown periodically on Turner Classic Movies.

Jules Dassin films previously reviewed here: THE AFFAIRS OF MARTHA (1942), YOUNG IDEAS (1943), A LETTER FOR EVIE (1946), TWO SMART PEOPLE (1946), and THE NAKED CITY (1948).

Tonight's Movie: The Big Land (1957) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

THE BIG LAND (1957) is an Alan Ladd Western which is part of a recent "wave" of Ladd films from the Warner Archive. The other recently released films are DRUM BEAT (1954), THE DEEP SIX (1958), and GUNS OF THE TIMBERLAND (1960).

Virginia Mayo and Edmond O'Brien lead a strong supporting cast in this enjoyable film. It's considered a relatively minor Western in some quarters but I found it pleasant viewing. The story is a fairly workmanlike, standard issue Western tale but sometimes that's what hits the spot.

In this film from Ladd's Jaguar Productions, he plays Chad Morgan, a cattleman who is pretty much robbed blind by a cattle buyer, Brog (Anthony Caruso), who's the only game in town.

Chad befriends Joe (O'Brien), an alcoholic architect, and together they come up with a plan for a rail line to a new town where cattle will attract many more buyers. The local farmers join in, anticipating new markets for their crops.

Joe's sister Helen (Mayo) is engaged to a railroad man (Don Castle) who helps the men execute their plan...which is fought at every turn by the nasty, violent Brog.

The script isn't anything special, although there are some good lines here and there. (When offered water, the hard-drinking O'Brien snaps, "What am I, a trout?") However, the film is a good example of what a better-than-average cast can do with run-of-the-mill material. For instance, much of Ladd and Mayo's relationship develops outside of their spoken words, especially as her character is engaged to another man; instead it's conveyed in long, pointed looks.

There's also a little welcome complexity inasmuch as Helen's fiance is a nice guy the audience doesn't want to see hurt, even though it seems inevitable that Ladd and Mayo will wind up together.

O'Brien is terrific, managing to obtain viewer sympathy as he battles to beat his addiction, nicknaming himself "The Sarsaparilla Kid." He also has some of the movie's best lines. It's hard not to think about the irony of Ladd watching O'Brien's character struggle with alcohol, which would wreck the handsome Ladd's looks by 1960's GUNS OF THE TIMBERLAND.

Julie Bishop plays a widow with two cute little boys, played by Jack Wrather Jr. and David Ladd, whose only previous credit was a small role in SHANE (1953). David is cute as the proverbial button in this. The cast also includes John Qualen, James Anderson, George J. Lewis, and John Doucette.

The movie was shot in Warnercolor by John F. Seitz. Warnercolor tends to have a harsh look, but here the color is all over the map, with some exteriors having an orange tinge. I assume it's how the movie looked upon release, or at least that's as good as it's possible for the movie to look today. Otherwise the print is free of other types of flaws.

The screenplay by David Dortort (BONANZA) runs 92 minutes. Based on a still (shown here), I think some of the middle section of the movie may have ended up on the cutting-room floor, unless it's a publicity still; I did feel as though there might have been more to the story during the town building section.

It was directed by Gordon Douglas, who directed SAN QUENTIN (1946), seen earlier in the week.

Fans of the lead actors who enjoy standard Saturday matinee Western fare should enjoy this one. There are no extras on the Warner Archive DVD.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered at the Warner Archive website.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Relentless (1948)

RELENTESS (1948) is a Western with strong lead performances and excellent location shooting, but too much time spent on animals in distress interfered with my enjoyment of what is otherwise a solid film.

Nick (Robert Young) is framed for a series of murders by Tex (Barton MacLane, who was also the villain of last night's SAN QUENTIN). Jeff (Willard Parker) is determined to arrest Nick, who escapes and sets out on a long journey to track down Tex and clear his name.

Luella (Marguerite Chapman), a traveling saleswoman, believes in Nick and helps him on several occasions as time goes by and his predicament becomes ever more dire.

Young is very good in this, balancing his character being a kindly man who loves animals with someone who is "relentless" in his dogged pursuit of the man who's framed him. He and Chapman have a very nice rapport; this is probably the most appealing performance I've yet seen by Chapman.

Chapman's character is somewhat unique for a Western in that she has inherited her father's traveling sales business and is thus very independent as Western heroines go, traveling alone in her covered wagon. I would have liked the film better if there was more of Young and Chapman's relationship sans animals.

As I alluded to, animals play a significant role in this film, starting with the opening scenes on a stormy night when Nick's horse, soon to have a foal, is in distress. (Spoiler alert) She later gives birth in a snowstorm and shortly thereafter is cruelly killed. This leads to the foal's life being in jeopardy. He develops a cute relationship with a burro, but then the foal and the burro are separated, the foal is upset and sneaks away without Chapman realizing it, the burro's life is put in jeopardy, and you get the general idea. It was all just a little too much for this animal lover to enjoy. Those who aren't sensitive to that kind of a storyline will doubtless like the movie much better, as generally speaking it's a good film.

The movie's only other significant flaw was too much plot; the villainous characters played by Akim Tamiroff and Mike Mazurki were excess and added unnecessary minutes. This would have played better as, say, an 85-minute film rather than the 93 minutes it actually runs.

The movie looks terrific, with easily over half of the film shot in the great outdoors, mostly in the Tucson area. It was filmed in Technicolor by Edward Cronjager.

RELENTLESS was directed by George Sherman. The supporting cast includes Robert Barrat, Clem Bevans, and Will Wright.

RELENTLESS is shown from time to time on the Encore Westerns Channel.

Tonight's Movie: Barricade (1950) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

BARRICADE (1950) moves the classic story of Jack London's THE SEA WOLF (1941) from a ship to an isolated mining camp. It's an intriguing premise but the results are disappointing.

This Warner Archive DVD is an absolutely beautiful print, but the story is surprisingly slow-moving and listless despite good lead actors.

Bob Peters (Dane Clark), having broken out of jail and escaped a posse, takes a job working at a mining camp owned by ruthless Boss Kruger (Raymond Massey). Kruger is an exceptionally nasty piece of work but he gets away with it because the men he employs have nowhere else to turn.

Also in the camp is Judith Burns (Ruth Roman), another jail escapee who was critically injured in a stage accident, and Aubrey Milburn (Robert Douglas of HOMICIDE), a fellow stage passenger who was also injured.

The movie creeps along, with what suspense there is being whether Bob and Judy, not to mention Aubrey, will escape from the camp with their lives.

I really like Roman and especially Clark but it's Massey who dominates the film, and his evil character simply isn't interesting to watch as he torments person after person. There are no shadings or motivations to his character, he's simply crazy evil and that's that. The film as a whole has an unpleasant tone which made it hard to watch at points.

The film would have been much more interesting if it flipped its focus and delved more deeply into Roman and Clark's characters and how they cope with their predicament, moving the "unkillable" Massey character more into the background. There's the possibility of a touching romance buried in this story but instead it's given short shrift and comes off as perfunctory.

This 77-minute film was written by William Sackheim, directed by Peter Godfrey, and photographed in Technicolor by Carl E. Guthrie. The supporting cast includes Morgan Farley and Walter Coy.

This was an earlier Warner Archive release, with one of the blue DVD covers the Archive used early in its history. One of the things that's especially great about the Warner Archive, of course, is that since movies are burned on demand, no title ever goes out of print! Although I was dissatisfied with the script, visually this is a fine-looking DVD. There are no extras.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered at the Warner Archive website.

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