Friday, September 04, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Romance of the Rio Grande (1941)

ROMANCE OF THE RIO GRANDE (1941) is a nicely crafted "B" Western starring Cesar Romero as the Cisco Kid.

The Cisco Kid, a genial bandit, happens across seriously injured Carlos Hernandez. Carlos, who has traveled from Spain to visit his wealthy grandfather for the first time, is a dead ringer for the Kid.

While Carlos is laid up recovering from a bullet wound, the Kid poses as Carlos and goes to see Carlos's grandfather (Pedro de Cordoba) at his estate. The Kid thinks he'll grab some quick money, but finds himself admiring the grandfather and also romancing two lovely ladies (Patricia Morison and Lynne Roberts). In due course the Kid helps Carlos fend off a murder plot by his jealous cousin Ricardo (Ricardo Cortez).

It's a short 72-minute film, but it's beautifully shot by Charles G. Clarke, with Lone Pine locations mixing with nice soundstage work. Some of the shots of Maria (Roberts) singing are exquisitely beautiful.

The film is also nicely scored, with Roberts singing two pretty songs. Morison, alas, doesn't have a chance to sing, but she has plenty of screen time as the calculating vixen who wants to marry money.

The supporting cast includes Cris-Pin Martin, Trevor Bardette, and Francis Ford. The movie was directed by Herbert I. Leeds, who worked on several movie series for 20th Century-Fox.

ROMANCE OF THE RIO GRANDE is available on DVD from Fox Cinema Archives. While the FCA DVDs of '50s films are of variable quality, including pan and scan prints, I've had very good luck with films of the '30s and '40s. The DVD looks great. There are no extras.

Happy Birthday, Mitzi Gaynor!

The dynamic entertainer Mitzi Gaynor turns 84 today!

Mitzi was born on September 4, 1931, in Chicago, Illinois.

I had the pleasure of seeing Mitzi up close at the "Hollywood Home Movies" panel at the 2013 TCM Classic Film Festival, and she was just as much fun in person as one would expect from watching her movies and TV specials, bubbly and energetic.

Here's a photo gallery to celebrate Mitzi on her special day:


Listening to the SOUTH PACIFIC soundtrack album is one of my earliest childhood memories!

Mitzi has an official website.

Happiest birthday wishes to a great lady!

Mitzi Gaynor movies reviewed at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings: TAKE CARE OF MY LITTLE GIRL (1951), DOWN AMONG THE SHELTERING PALMS (1953), ANYTHING GOES (1956), and SOUTH PACIFIC (1958).

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Farewell to Dean Jones, 1931-2015

I was very sorry to hear of the passing of Dean Jones, who died Tuesday at the age of 84.

Jones, who was named a Disney Legend two decades ago, was an important part of the moviegoing childhood of many of us of a certain age.

Jones's Disney film BLACKBEARD'S GHOST (1968) was one of the first films I ever saw at a drive-in, on a double bill with THE JUNGLE BOOK (1967).

As a child I saw him in several other Disney films, including THE LOVE BUG (1968) -- that one might have been at a drive-in, too! -- THE MILLION DOLLAR DUCK (1971), and a reissue of THAT DARN CAT! (1965).

My favorite Dean Jones Disney movie was SNOWBALL EXPRESS (1972). As I wrote in my review, I have fond memories of seeing it with my grandfather not once, but twice!

I also remember Jones from two good TV-movies, THE GREAT MAN'S WHISKERS (1972) and WHEN EVERY DAY WAS THE FOURTH OF JULY (1978).

In more recent years I caught his Disney film THE UGLY DACHSHUND (1961) on DVD. It was also fun to see him in an early role in the war film TORPEDO RUN (1958).

Off the screen, Dean Jones was a man of Christian faith who founded The Christian Rescue Fund to aid persecuted Christians and Jews; the mission has expanded to help orphans and others in distressed situations.

Obituaries have been posted in Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, and the Los Angeles Times.

Jones is survived by his wife, three children, and extended family.

Incidentally, THE LOVE BUG is playing this coming week as part of the Disney Screen series at half a dozen Cinemark theaters in the U.S. I'm hoping to catch it, as I've not seen it in many years.

Tonight's Movie: A Dangerous Profession (1949)

A DANGEROUS PROFESSION (1949) is a middling crime film, with a weakly scripted story balanced by a strong cast.

Vince Kane (George Raft) is a bail bondsman asked to bail out the husband (Bill Williams) of his old flame Lucy (Ella Raines). Lucy can't come up with the entire amount needed, so Vince and his reluctant partner Joe (Pat O'Brien) cover the balance of the bail money, due to Vince's loyalty to Lucy.

Lucy's husband then disappears, and it's at this point things get murky, with various people plotting, following one another, and exchanging money. Maybe I was tired, as it's been a busy few days, but I got a mite confused! Fortunately the movie is just 79 minutes long so it pulls together the loose ends fairly quickly.

While Raft is his usual stolid, not especially interesting self, I enjoyed the supporting cast. O'Brien is underused but brings needed energy to each of his scenes playing opposite Raft. Raines, sporting a less becoming hairstyle than usual, mystifies the audience for much of the film as to whether she's a good woman or femme fatale.

Vince and Joe's cop friend on the force, Nick, is well played by Jim Backus. Roland Winters, David Wolfe, Betty Underwood, and Robert Gist round out the cast.

A DANGEROUS PROFESSION was directed by Ted Tetzlaff, who had previously directed O'Brien in the excellent RIFFRAFF (1947). It was filmed in black and white by Robert De Grasse. Some brief shots of L.A. locations during a chase scene late in the film are a plus.

This RKO film is available on DVD in the Warner Archive Film Noir Collection. It's a nice print.  I rented the DVD from ClassicFlix.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Violence (1947)

VIOLENCE (1947) is an offbeat crime film about a Los Angeles veterans organization, United Defenders, which is a front for racketeers and murderers.

The organization's secretary, Ann Mason (Nancy Coleman), is actually Ann Dwire, an investigative reporter. When Ann travels to Chicago after submitting her red-hot expose on the group to her publisher, she's involved in a car accident and suffers amnesia. Ann returns to L.A. and her job at United Defenders, not remembering she's really a reporter and that her life could be in danger due to her article.

Steve Fuller (Michael O'Shea), a law enforcement investigator, convinces Ann she's his fiancee and accompanies her back to L.A., where he works alongside the oblivious Ann to dig up dirt on the hoods.

Things get more interesting when evil Fred (Sheldon Leonard) of United Defenders smacks Ann; she's knocked out cold and when she wakes up she's no longer an amnesiac. She simultaneously realizes that Steve is a good guy and that just before she got her memory back she made a big mistake by tipping off United Defenders that he could be a problem for the organization. Confused yet?!

The film is a curious melding of postwar angst, mob drama, and amnesia; it's almost a little too much plot for a 72-minute film. It's interesting enough and I enjoyed it, yet one senses the movie could have been better if the film was a bit more coherent and energetic. Some more authentic Los Angeles atmosphere would have helped also.

Coleman (HER SISTER'S SECRET) is an interesting actress and makes the film worth watching, although she has to spend much of the film holding her head and trying to remember her past!

O'Shea is all right, although he made a stronger and more engaging impression on me in good supporting roles in films such as MR. DISTRICT ATTORNEY (1947) and SMART WOMAN (1948). O'Shea, incidentally, was long married to Virginia Mayo in his offscreen life.

Sheldon Leonard is always believable as a nasty heavy! The cast also includes Pierre Watkin, John Hamilton, Peter Whitney, Emory Parnell, Frank Reicher, and Cay Forester. Frank Cady (PETTICOAT JUNCTION and GREEN ACRES) has a small role.

The movie was written by Stanley Rubin and Lewis Lantz, directed by Jack Bernhard, and filmed by Henry Sharp.

This Monogram film was released by the Warner Archive in a beautiful remastered edition. There are no extras.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

TCM Star of the Month: Susan Hayward

The September Star of the Month on Turner Classic Movies is Oscar-winning actress Susan Hayward.

28 Hayward films will air on Thursday evenings this coming month, starting on September 3rd.

The series kicks off with one of Hayward's earliest roles in BEAU GESTE (1939). It's a relatively small but winning role as Ray Milland's love interest. Gary Cooper, Robert Preston, and Brian Donlevy costar, directed by William Wellman.

Hayward is a bad girl in ADAM HAD FOUR SONS (1941) and a sweet girl in DeMille's REAP THE WILD WIND (1942). Also showing late on the 3rd is another of her earliest roles, GIRLS ON PROBATION (1938) with Ronald Reagan.

As Hayward's career picked up steam she starred with Dana Andrews and Brian Donlevy in the excellent Jacques Tourneur Western CANYON PASSAGE (1946). She was one of several women being juggled by womanizing Robert Young in THEY WON'T BELIEVE ME (1947), and she helps Bill Williams beat a murder rap in DEADLINE AT DAWN (1946).

September 3rd also includes TULSA (1949) with Robert Preston and SMASH-UP: THE STORY OF A WOMAN (1947). Hayward was nominated for the Oscar as Best Actress for SMASH-UP. (Another film for which Hayward was Oscar nominated, MY FOOLISH HEART, was on the original schedule for this evening but has since been removed for unknown reasons.)

September 10th features I CAN GET IT FOR YOU WHOLESALE (1951) with Dan Dailey and George Sanders, DAVID AND BATHSHEBA (1951) with Gregory Peck, and another Oscar-nominated role as singer Jane Froman in WITH A SONG IN MY HEART (1952).

Hayward does a wonderful turn as Rachel Jackson in THE PRESIDENT'S LADY (1953), costarring Charlton Heston, and plays a rodeo rider's wife in Nicholas Ray's THE LUSTY MEN (1952), costarring Robert Mitchum and Arthur Kennedy.

The lineup on September 17th starts with DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS (1954), costarring Victor Mature, and THE CONQUEROR (1956) with John Wayne. Like many who worked on THE CONQUEROR, which was filmed near an atomic testing site, Hayward would die of cancer.

Those films are followed by another Oscar-nominated performance as Lillian Roth in I'LL CRY TOMORROW (1955), seen with Richard Conte at the right, and her Oscar-winning role as a convicted murderess protesting her innocence in I WANT TO LIVE! (1958). The final film on the 17th is TOP SECRET AFFAIR (1957) with Kirk Douglas.

September 24th features eight films from the '60s, including THE MARRIAGE-GO-ROUND with James Mason and Julie Newmar, BACK STREET (1961) with John Gavin, and ADA (1961) with Dean Martin.

It should be noted that THE SNOWS OF KILIMANJARO (1952), in which Hayward stars with Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner, will be shown as one of "Robert Osborne's Picks" on Friday, September 11th. It's the only time that Hayward film will be shown in September.

I recommend supplementing TCM's lineup with Hayward's hilarious role as Fredric March's fiancee in I MARRIED A WITCH (1942), as well as HOUSE OF STRANGERS (1949) with Richard Conte, RAWHIDE (1951) with Tyrone Power, and I'D CLIMB THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN (1951) with William Lundigan. All are available on DVD.

For more information on TCM this month, please visit my recent post TCM in September: Highlights, along with the TCM schedule.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Highway 13 (1948)

HIGHWAY 13 is a zippy little 58-minute thriller about murder and conspiracy in the trucking business.

Hank Wilson (Robert Lowery) is a trucker engaged to truck stop waitress Doris (Pamela Blake of SKY LINER). Hank works for a trucking company run by Frank Denton (Michael Whalen), whose wife was recently one of a string of road fatalities plaguing the company.

An insurance investigator (Steve Pendleton) is murdered and Hank is initially the suspect, but another insurance man (Dan Seymour) doesn't believe Hank was responsible and puts him to work undercover. Little does Hank know that the road to one of the suspects will lead straight back to Doris's elderly, nasty uncle (Clem Bevans).

This film moves along briskly and has a number of good character actors, including Mary Gordon as Doris's aunt and the always-welcome Lyle Talbot as a detective. Maris Wrixon (what a name!) plays the trucking company's human resources woman who is also the femme fatale of the piece; she's seen at the right.

One of the things I enjoyed is that the stand-by-your-man Doris finds a way to jump into action to save Hank's life -- and her own -- in a hair-raising sequence. I also got a kick out of multiple references to driving to Bishop, a town I'll be passing through this week.

It's worth noting that the movie is non-graphic but pretty brutal in doing away with a number of characters, especially near the end.

HIGHWAY 13 was directed by William Berke and filmed by Carl Berger.

HIGHWAY 13 is a Lippert production available in VCI's Forgotten Noir and Crime Collection, Vol. 4. It's a good-looking print. This set is a great value for those who enjoy these types of films; I wish VCI would put out another collection!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

TCM in September: Highlights

It's hard to believe that it's already time for summer to draw to a close. The relaxing days of the August may be just about behind us, but there's much to look forward to on the Turner Classic Movies September schedule!

Susan Hayward is the September Star of the Month, with 28 Hayward films being shown on Thursday evenings.

The Hayward celebration kicks off on September 3rd, and this coming week I'll be posting a more detailed look at the Hayward films on TCM's schedule. (Update: Please visit TCM Star of the Month: Susan Hayward.)

TCM has modified its Friday Night Spotlight franchise, with the TCM Spotlight shifting to Tuesday evenings for a series inspired by the book FIVE CAME BACK: A STORY OF HOLLYWOOD AND THE SECOND WORLD WAR by Mark Harris. I reviewed the book last summer.

Ben Mankiewicz and FIVE CAME BACK author Harris will host the series, which starts September 1st. It will showcase WWII documentaries by the five filmmakers chronicled in the book, John Ford, John Huston, George Stevens, William Wyler, and Frank Capra.

The series will also incorporate the directors' pre-WWII feature films, such as ACROSS THE PACIFIC (1942) and MRS. MINIVER (1942), then look at how their war experiences impacted the making of such films as THEY WERE EXPENDABLE (1945) and THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (1946).

As I recently noted, TCM's September schedule balances excellent programming such as the Hayward and WWII series with an unusually high number of "newer" films, including at least 30 films released after 1970, as well as a significant number of films from the '60s. There will be even more post-'70 films airing on TCM in October, and then the number of "newer" films settles back down as of November.

Here's a look at just a few of the interesting titles airing on TCM this month. Click any hyperlinked title to read the corresponding film review.

...September 1st starts off with a little-known film which is quite good, BOYS' RANCH (1946), starring James Craig as a retired baseball player who founds a ranch to provide a home for orphaned or wayward boys. Dorothy Patrick is his understanding wife. The movie was inspired by a true story.

...I enjoyed the goofy but entertaining HER CARDBOARD LOVER (1942), starring Robert Taylor, Norma Shearer, and George Sanders. It's on September 2nd.

...The daytime theme on September 3rd is "Let's Go to Mexico," including Tom Conway in THE FALCON IN MEXICO (1944), Ricardo Montalban, Cyd Charisse, and Yvonne DeCarlo in SOMBRERO (1953), the creepy crime film THE HITCH-HIKER (1953), Montalban, Charisse, and Esther Williams in FIESTA (1947), and Jane Powell and Walter Pidgeon in HOLIDAY IN MEXICO (1946). A fun day of programming! The MGM films, SOMBRERO, FIESTA, and HOLIDAY in MEXICO, are all especially colorful, really gorgeous to look at.

...Tom Conway also stars in the Val Lewton "B" classic I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943), being shown on the 5th. Frances Dee costars, directed by Jacques Tourneur.

...There's an Esther Williams double feature on Sunday evening, September 6th, pairing THRILL OF A ROMANCE (1946) with Van Johnson and MILLION DOLLAR MERMAID (1952) with Walter Pidgeon. Esther Williams can do no wrong as far as I'm concerned!

...On September 9th TCM is showing a Robert Montgomery film I've not yet seen, SO THIS IS COLLEGE (1929). My DVR will be set!

...A September 10th birthday tribute to director Robert Wise includes the excellent UNTIL THEY SAIL (1957), about four sisters in New Zealand simultaneously coping with WWII and difficult romances.

...Gregory Peck, Joan Bennett, and Robert Preston star in THE MACOMBER AFFAIR (1947), being shown as one of Robert Osborne's Picks on Friday night, September 11th.

...I really enjoyed the romantic comedy HONEYMOON FOR THREE (1941), showing on September 14th. George Brent and Ann Sheridan, who would briefly marry the following year, trade fast-paced banter, and the grand supporting cast includes Jane Wyman, Charlie Ruggles, and John Ridgely.

...Rosalind Russell plays a famed stage actress who becomes an accidental murderess in the engrossing crime drama THE VELVET TOUCH (1948). Sydney Greenstreet is the detective on the case. The air date is September 17th.

...Later on the 17th I highly recommend NIGHTFALL (1957) with Aldo Ray and Anne Bancroft. It was directed by Jacques Tourneur, who has a few good films airing on TCM this motnh.

...An evening of Abbott and Costello films on September 18th includes HOLD THAT GHOST (1941) with Richard Carlson and IN THE NAVY (1941) with Dick Powell.

...Sunday night, the 20th, TCM hosts an evening of detective films, starting with the Charlie Chan movies DARK ALIBI (1946) and DANGEROUS MONEY (1946), starring Sidney Toler. Those are followed by two FALCON films, THE GAY FALCON (1941) and A DATE WITH THE FALCON (1942).

...I've hit the jackpot on new-to-me Robert Montgomery films this month. In addition to SO THIS IS COLLEGE on the 8th, TCM is also showing VANESSA: HER LOVE STORY (1935), costarring Helen Hayes, on September 21st.

...TCM celebrates Walter Pidgeon's birthday on Wednesday, September 23rd, with a good lineup including THE SELLOUT (1952) and SCANDAL AT SCOURIE (1953). I really liked Pidgeon's performance in the latter film, one of many he made with Greer Garson. It's a good month on TCM for Walter Pidgeon fans!

...Say farewell to summer on September 27th with THE GIRL FROM JONES BEACH (1949), a delightful comedy with Ronald Reagan and Virginia Mayo, and TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME (1949) starring Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Esther Williams. It's also a very good TCM month for Esther Williams fans!

...The jazz baby silent film WHY BE GOOD? (1929), starring Colleen Moore, was one of the hits of this year's TCM Classic Film Festival. Don't miss the chance to see this fun film, which was once thought to be lost forever. It's being shown on September 28th.

...The month ends in fine style on September 30th with a film which is a real favorite of mine, I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING! (1945). I try to never miss a chance to recommend this memorable, subtly mystical romance starring Wendy Hiller and Roger Livesey.

For much more on TCM in September, please visit the complete TCM schedule.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Motor Patrol (1950)

MOTOR PATROL (1950) is another fun little movie from Lippert Pictures which will appeal to those who enjoy police procedurals of an earlier era.

Ken Foster (Don Castle) is training at the Los Angeles Police Academy with hopes of being a motor officer. Ken's good friend Larry (William "Bill" Henry) is already a motor officer, and Ken is engaged to Larry's sister Jean (Gwen O'Connor).

Larry is tragically killed while investigating a hit-and-run accident connected to a gang of car thieves, and Ken is recruited to join Detectives Robert Flynn (Reed Hadley) and Bill Hartley (Richard "Dick" Travis) in the investigation. Ken goes undercover, trying to obtain key information from femme fatale Connie Taylor (Jane Nigh).

This is simply an entertaining short cop film, over and done in 67 minutes. It's quite reminiscent of MGM'S CODE TWO (1953), perhaps on a slightly cheaper budget. I especially enjoyed the brief glimpses of 1950 L.A., including the Police Academy in Elysian Park.

It's possible to pick up interesting little bits about daily life from these films. I enjoyed that the first group of people seen performing impressively at the shooting range were female officers, which one might not expect in a film of 1950. A dramatic poster warning against "TEENACIDE," teens drinking and driving fast, also caught my eye. Social problems such as teens under the influence were an issue the police were trying to combat even back in that era.

The movie's attitudes and acting styles may seem a bit quaint by today's standards, but I find that's part of the charm. You just don't find movies made anymore with this kind of earnest, enthused, and at times hokey sincerity. It makes for fun viewing, even if it causes chuckles at times.

It's especially fun to find Hadley, the narrator of so many docu-noir titles, as a detective, and to run into faces enjoyed in other (often lesser-known) films, such as Castle (HIGH TIDE, THE GUILTY), Travis (THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER and the Warner Bros. B films BUSSES ROAR and TRUCK BUSTERS), and Nigh (STATE FAIR, OPERATION HAYLIFT, BORDER TREASURE, RIO GRANDE PATROL).

MOTOR PATROL was directed by Sam Newfield and filmed in black and white by Ernest Miller.

The supporting cast includes Frank Jenks, Onslow Stevens, Sid Melton, Charles Victor, and Charles Wagenheim.

MOTOR PATROL is part of the VCI set Forgotten Noir and Crime Collection, Vol. 4. As is typical for the VCI sets, the print is excellent.