Monday, October 20, 2014

Tonight's Movie: The Macahans (1976) at the Lone Pine Film Festival

The final screening I attended at the 25th Lone Pine Film Festival was THE MACAHANS (1976), the TV-movie which was the pilot for the HOW THE WEST WAS WON miniseries and TV series which followed, continuing production until 1979.

THE MACAHANS was not filmed in Lone Pine but was featured in honor of festival guest Bruce Boxleitner.

THE MACAHANS was one of the very first screen roles for the man who would go on to star in EAST OF EDEN (1981), BRING 'EM BACK ALIVE (1982-83), SCARECROW AND MRS. KING (1983-87), BABYLON 5 (1994-98), and the current Hallmark series CEDAR COVE, as well as Disney's cult film TRON (1982). TRON was revived nearly 30 years later with Boxleitner and Jeff Bridges starring in the 2010 sequel; it will have another sequel released next year.

Boxleitner was a congenial festival guest who was front and center interacting with attendees for the entire weekend. I especially enjoyed him in EAST OF EDEN with Jane Seymour, where his character exited shortly after she uttered the unforgettable line "You just slept with your brother's wife." Having seen him in so many varied projects over several decades, it was a lot of fun to meet him in person during the festival and even hear firsthand how he almost made a Western with Budd Boetticher.

THE MACAHANS starred James Arness as frontier scout Zeb Macahan, with the always-wonderful Richard Kiley and Eva Marie Saint as his brother and sister-in-law, Timothy and Kate Macahan. Boxleitner played their oldest son, Seth (the character name was later changed to Luke), with the other children played by Kathryn Holcomb, William Kirby Cullen, and Vicki Schreck. It was also fantastic to see character favorites Frank Ferguson and Ann Doran as Arness and Kiley's parents.

I was very fond of HOW THE WEST WAS WON "back in the day," and in fact I will admit to still having a mint-condition lunchbox such as seen here tucked away in a cupboard. I received it as a gift and it looked too nice to use so I always had it on display on a shelf instead! I was thus quite enthused to see THE MACAHANS for the first time since it originally aired.

Revisiting it for the first time in the better part of four decades, I have to admit I didn't think it held up all that well. It might have played better on TV, broken up with commercials or spread over a couple of nights, but seen in one sitting, it seems like a pioneer version of THE PERILS OF PAULINE! The Macahans attempt to move west before their family can be caught up in the Civil War, but every bad thing that could possibly have happened to the Macahan family did happen!

I was glad to have the chance to revisit it and especially to reacquaint myself with the work of some favorite veteran actors, but I was becoming impatient for the film to end by the time it finally wrapped up.

THE MACAHANS was written by Jim Byrnes, directed by Bernard McEveety, and filmed by Edward R. Plante.

As was the case with GUNGA DIN (1939), what followed the screening was very enjoyable, as Boxleitner was interviewed by historian Ed Hulse, and I was certainly glad I went.

Boxleitner felt that James Arness really enjoyed THE MACAHANS because he had just come off his long run on GUNSMOKE, and playing untamed mountain man Zeb Macahan let him cut loose and play a character a little wilder than he'd been playing for the previous couple of decades.

He also shared that it wasn't until years later, watching an archival interview with Arness on YouTube, that he learned that the network had been insisting on another young actor but Arness went to bat for Boxleitner to be cast, and prevailed. He said that in doing so, Arness completely changed his life, and he continues to be very grateful.

He said that the veteran actors in the film were all extremely supportive and helpful to the younger cast members, who for the most part had little experience; he said Richard Kiley was especially helpful playing their emotional final scene together, not moving after they rehearsed it but staying in position and in character until they completed the work. He was quite effusive in praising Kiley's professionalism and kindness, which was wonderful to hear about a man I have always admired as both a singer and an actor.

Boxleitner said he never knew why Saint later left the project, replaced in the series by Fionnula Flanagan as Kate's sister, and that he was very sorry she left.

Boxleitner didn't mention it in the interview, but he married Kathryn Holcomb, who played his sister Laura, and they had two sons. They later divorced and she married British actor Ian Ogilvy. He went on to marry Melissa Gilbert -- their son Michael is named for Michael Landon -- but they split after many years together, and she is now married to actor-director Timothy Busfeld (THIRTYSOMETHING). Some Hollywood trivia!

THE MACAHANS is on DVD as an extra in the Season One set of HOW THE WEST WAS WON.

Prior to THE MACAHANS a charming foreign-language short was shown titled FAR FROM THE WEST (2013), about a Brazilian man who has an amazingly huge collection of Westerns. I loved the way he rhapsodized in Portuguese about his happy childhood memories of Allan "Rocky" Lane, especially as I recently reviewed the new biography of Lane by Linda Alexander.

He also said that as a child he didn't know what "directed" meant but that he recognized early on that if he saw the name William Witney at the start of a movie, good things would follow.

Coincidentally I purchased Witney's autobiography at the festival, which has the crazy title IN A DOOR, INTO A FIGHT, OUT A DOOR, INTO A CHASE: MOVIEMAKING REMEMBERED BY THE GUY AT THE DOOR.

The documentary includes footage of a visit to the Lone Pine Film Festival. I know my fellow Western fans would also enjoy seeing FAR FROM THE WEST (2013); there's a bit more information on the festival website, including a brief clip.

For more on the Lone Pine Film Festival, please visit The 25th Lone Pine Film Festival in Review, which includes all links to all of my festival coverage at the end of the post.

The Lone Pine Film Festival: Anchor Ranch and More

The third tour I took at this year's 25th Lone Pine Film Festival, following the DYNAMITE PASS bus tour and the "Backlot" car caravan tour, was the Anchor Ranch car caravan tour.

The Anchor Ranch tour was offered several times during the festival, and we went on Saturday afternoon. The car caravan tours begin in a parking lot south of the museum, with different rows coned off for each tour, and volunteers are available to make sure everyone gets in the right line. It was obvious they've been doing this for a while because it was very well organized!

The volunteers also helped people who needed transportation line up rides. When we went on the Backlot tour, we took a couple who came to the festival in a motorhome along in our van, as their vehicle wouldn't have been appropriate for some of the bumpy, narrow roads.

The Anchor Ranch is on the left side of Highway 395 as you drive north just before you reach Lone Pine; on previous trips up the 395 I had never noticed this anchor near the ranch gate!

Our volunteer guide for this tour had also worked as a state and federal parks guide, including a few summers at the ghost town of Bodie further up the 395, an area we know well. She pointed out that when mining dried up in Bodie and the town was abandoned early in the 20th century, the businesses which had supported Bodie, including Sierra ranches and farms, needed to find another way to make money.

Russ Spainhower of Lone Pine's Anchor Ranch, seen below, found plentiful work with the film industry.

Spainhower helped film crews scout locations, hired riders to work as extras, and provided film companies with wagons and livestock.

Spainhower used lumber left from the GUNGA DIN (1939) set in the Alabama Hills to build a hacienda set on his ranch. Years later, in the spot right below, he also built a Western town set on the Anchor Ranch; the street set was dubbed Anchorville.

Anchorville was designed so that one end of the street opened looking toward Mount Whitney and Lone Pine Peak; the other end faced the direction as seen above.

Anchorville appeared in many Tim Holt and Hopalong Cassidy Westerns; portions of the hacienda set can be seen in a post I found with screen captures of a BONANZA episode filmed at the ranch.

The Anchorville sets were three-sided sets, with the backs exposed to Lone Pine's harsh weather, and between that and a lack of maintenance, as Western filming gradually dried up, the sets fell into disrepair. Eventually the sets were dismantled as they were no longer safely usable.

Prior to the tour, I enjoyed a talk by William Wellman Jr., author of THE MAN AND HIS WINGS: WILLIAM A. WELLMAN AND THE MAKING OF THE FIRST BEST PICTURE and the forthcoming WILD BILL WELLMAN: HOLLYWOOD REBEL which will be out in 2015.

I also had the pleasure of hearing Wellman speak at a screening of SAFE IN HELL (1931) at the 2013 TCM Classic Film Festival, and it was a pleasure to hear him talk again. He shared many interesting stories about his father in the museum theater.

One of the stories which I enjoyed the most was learning that Fred MacMurray was one of his father's closest friends, but his father refused to work with Fred again after MEN WITH WINGS (1938) because Fred muffed his lines frequently and took too long to get usable takes. He felt it was better for their friendship not to work together! Wellman Jr. said he thought for years that his father had exaggerated the issue until he himself had a small acting role in THE HAPPIEST MILLIONAIRE (1967) and saw MacMurray work firsthand. He said Greer Garson was endlessly patient with the retakes of her scenes with Fred and that what MacMurray put on film was superb, it just took a while to get there.

Wellman described Garson as "a perfect person" and said she was always professional, friendly, and elegant. He also particularly mentioned his love for his father's friend Clark Gable, who took him fishing when he was a boy.

Late in the afternoon we saw a talk by Edward Faulkner, who gave an hour-long extemporaneous talk on "the Duke" in the high school auditorium. Ed was engaging and articulate as he told several stories about working with John Wayne, always mentioning how kind and thoughtful Wayne was.

He particularly remembered when they were shooting on location in the middle of nowhere and he was supposed to call the hospital to speak with his wife after she had a c-section -- those were the days when men weren't necessarily expected to be there! -- and although he had never mentioned it to Wayne, Wayne had his driver take Faulkner from the location back to town so he could make that all-important long-distance call.

Faulkner's credits with Wayne included McLINTOCK! (1962), in which he played Bruce Cabot's son; THE GREEN BERETS (1968), HELLFIGHTERS (1968), THE UNDEFEATED (1969), CHISUM (1970), and RIO LOBO (1970).

Faulkner was also full of praise for Richard Boone and Andrew McLaglen; Faulkner's first role in Hollywood was on Boone's HAVE GUN, WILL TRAVEL, which McLaglen often directed, and he appeared on the show an additional dozen times.

On Saturday I also saw part of the enjoyable documentary BROTHERHOOD OF THE POPCORN (2014), about a group of men who've been watching movies together for 35 years; I received a review copy of the film in last week's mail and expect to review it here in the near future.

Finally, my day included the purchase of the 2014 edition of Lone Pine in the Movies, which includes articles on Lone Pine and Tim Holt, BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (1955), and GUNGA DIN (1939). It has many photos and is the size of a softcover book. Highly recommended.

A final note, when you're in Lone Pine, be sure to eat at the best place in town, the Alabama Hills Cafe. I also wrote about it in July. Consistently outstanding meals and service, and be sure to buy some chocolate chip cookies for the road! Unfortunately they're only open for breafast and lunch, and we have yet to find a good dinner spot in town.

I have one more Lone Pine post coming, on Bruce Boxleitner and THE MACAHANS (1976), and then that will be a wrap on the festival coverage!

For more on the Lone Pine Film Festival, please visit The 25th Lone Pine Film Festival in Review, which includes all links to all of my festival coverage at the end of the post.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Around the Blogosphere This Week

Miscellaneous bits of news and fun stuff from around the extra-long edition, as I didn't post last week due to being out of town at the Lone Pine Film Festival. You can find all my Lone Pine coverage linked here!

...Here's a great-looking new book coming for Christmas: CECIL B. DEMILLE: THE ART OF THE HOLLYWOOD EPIC. It's by DeMille's granddaughter Cecilia DeMille Presley, who I had the pleasure of seeing introduce a 2010 screening of CLEOPATRA (1934), and Mark Vieira, author of many excellent coffee table books including HARLOW IN HOLLYWOOD, HOLLYWOOD DREAMS MADE REAL: IRVING THALBERG AND THE RISE OF MGM, and MAJESTIC HOLLYWOOD: THE GREATEST FILMS OF HOLLYWOOD, which I reviewed earlier this year.

...Speaking of new film books, at her blog Out of the Past Raquel has put together a really fantastic long list of upcoming books on classic films. There are many titles I'm looking forward to learning more about and possibly adding to my shelves! CHARLES WALTERS: THE DIRECTOR WHO MADE HOLLYWOOD DANCE is a must, as is WILD BILL WELLMAN: HOLLYWOOD REBEL. I heard William Wellman Jr. speak about his father at last weekend's Lone Pine Film Festival; more on that soon! Many thanks to Raquel for providing so many tantalizing previews and a great resource to use in the months to come.

...My appearance yesterday on the online radio show Hollywood Time Machine can be heard at the program's archive page; scroll down and click the arrow for Show 6. It was a lot of fun, and I really appreciate Alicia Mayer and Will McKinley inviting me to be on the program.

...Attention Southern Californians: This year's centennial of the birth of Tyrone Power will be celebrated by A Century of Power on November 14th and 15th. Two Power films, ALEXANDER'S RAGTIME BAND (1938) and CAPTAIN FROM CASTILE (1947), will be screened at the Barnsdall Gallery Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. The Friday night screening will be attended by Taryn and Tyrone Power Jr., along with Coleen Gray, Terry Moore, and Jane Withers.

...That same weekend, November 14-17, I'll be contributing a piece on Power and Moore in KING OF THE KHYBER RIFLES (1953) to the British Empire in Film Blogathon hosted at The Stalking Moon and Phantom Empires.

...So cool: A sphinx from DeMille's THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1923) has been unearthed in dunes where location filming took place near Guadalupe, California.

...A book review by Robby at Dear Old Hollywood: HOLLYWOOD FRAME BY FRAME: THE UNSEEN SILVER SCREEN IN CONTACT SHEETS, 1951-1997 by Karina Longworth. The book looks quite interesting; thanks to Robby for calling it to my attention!

...Over at Speakeasy, Kristina has a gallery of vintage advertising with movie stars. So much smoking going on! My favorite ad is Alexis Smith sitting on a diving board singing the praises of Royal Crown Cola.

...And if you missed it during the O Canada Blogathon, here's Kristina's tribute to the great Yvonne DeCarlo, born in British Columbia.

...Exciting news from Kimberly Truhler at GlamAmor: She's begun work on an authorized biography of designer Jean Louis, with the cooperation of his family, including the family of Loretta Young, who married him a few years before his passing.

...At the Classic Film and TV Cafe, Rick had a very interesting post on the Ava Gardner Museum in Smithfield, North Carolina.

...Here's an interview with Paula Guthat all about @TCM_Party on Twitter, by Kimberly Lindbergs of the TCM Movie Morlocks.

...Here's a fun map showing in graphic form how the U.S. roots for college football.

...A Broadway revival of the musical ON THE TOWN has drawn positive reviews.

...Cliff has a very interesting post on MEN AGAINST THE SKY (1940) at Immortal Ephemera; I reviewed the film with Richard Dix, Wendy Barrie, and Kent Taylor in June. Cliff provides extensive background information as well as his critical perspective.

...Anyone who loves brightly colored Fiestaware, as I do, will enjoy this article. (Via a Tweet from Constance.)

...This week Raquel paid a visit to two classic film related exhibits at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. She shares photos at Out of the Past.

...Coming from the Criterion Collection in January: One of the funniest movies ever made, Preston Sturges' THE PALM BEACH STORY (1942) starring Joel McCrea, Claudette Colbert, Rudy Vallee, and Mary Astor.

...I'm sad that Joan Fontaine's family is auctioning off her 1941 Oscar, among other items. The proceeds will benefit the SPCA, an organization dear to Fontaine's heart.

...Anyone who's ever tried to work with a cat in the way will chuckle over this video.

...Reviews, reviews, and more reviews: Cameron reviews HIT THE DECK (1955) at The Blonde at the Film, a movie I enjoyed last May...Toby reviewed Randolph Scott and James Garner in SHOOT-OUT AT MEDICINE BEND (1957) at 50 Westerns From the 50s...Aurora reviewed the new Olive Films release of DRAGONFLY SQUADRON (1954) at Once Upon a Screen. It has a great cast including John Hodiak and Bruce Bennett, which John McElwee referred to as a "comfort cast" in his post on the film at Greenbriar Picture Shows...and Glenn Erickson also reviewed DRAGONFLY SQUADRON at DVD Savant.

...I love newspaper movies so I enjoyed Kendahl's post on newspaper pre-Codes for ClassicFlix!

...Have you checked out the great posts in the Jack Webb Blogathon at The Hannibal 8 yet? Click here to head on over to Dispatch for links.

...Attention Southern Californians: The Crest Theater on Westwood Boulevard will be screening Alfred Hitchcock's silent film THE LODGER (1927) with live music on October 25th at 5:00 p.m.

...Notable Passings: Sad news this week that Tim Hauser, founder of the Manhattan Transfer, has passed away at the age of 72. That group has brought me a lot of listening pleasure over the years, starting with their short-lived TV series back in my childhood. I especially like their 2005 Christmas Album...Actress Elizabeth Pena, who was in the very enjoyable TORTILLA SOUP (2001), has died at 55. She was the voice of Mirage in THE INCREDIBLES (2004).

Have a great week!

Tonight's Movie: The Desert Song (1953) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

In 1953 Warner Bros. remade the Sigmund Romberg musical THE DESERT SONG, which it had previously filmed in 1943. Both versions were very recently released on DVD by the Warner Archive; I reviewed the 1943 version last month and caught up with the remake this evening.

This version of THE DESERT SONG stars Gordon MacRae, Kathryn Grayson, and Steve Cochran in the roles played a decade earlier by Dennis Morgan, Irene Manning, and Bruce Cabot.

The story in the '40s version had been modified -- quite effectively, I thought -- so that Paul, a cafe pianist also known as the mysterious El Khobar, led desert tribesmen against the Nazis.

This time around Paul and the tribe he leads are battling evil tribesmen led by Raymond Massey and William Conrad. Paul, who has a different last name in this version, is a professor studying native tribes; his studies give him a plausible reason to disappear into the desert for periods of time. One of the strengths of the '53 version is how the movie effectively plays up a "Clark Kent" angle, with Paul as a mild-mannered, almost bumbling intellectual who removes his glasses and turns into the dashing desert chieftain.

MacRae and Grayson's singing is quite wonderful and reason enough for musical fans to own this DVD. The melodies are beautiful, and I expect I will be putting this DVD in at times just to enjoy the songs again.

Adorably handsome Steve Cochran is another plus for the later version; his role is really that of a secondary good guy and romantic competition for El Khobar, rather than the more ambiguous Vichy officer played by Bruce Cabot.

The production values for the 1953 version, on the other hand, are a definite negative. Whereas the 1943 version featured excellent location shooting in New Mexico and Arizona, keeping process photography to a minimum, the '53 production looks cheap; indeed, it must be admitted the first appearance of Gordon MacRae singing in the desert is downright cheesy, with blatant back projections. There is some location photography but the areas where filming took place, other than sand dunes, are not particularly striking.

The DVD seems to be in perfect condition, but the photography in '53 also cannot compare with the gorgeous Technicolor of the Morgan version, stunningly restored by the Warner Archive. The color is part of what made the '43 version a magical desert fantasy; here the photography by Robert Burks is pedestrian.

I also wasn't particularly wild about Dick Wesson and Allyn Ann McLerie in supporting roles; although Faye Emerson didn't dance, I found her much more believable as El Khobar's spy than the heavily made up McLerie. McLerie and Wesson, incidentally, appeared in another Warner Bros. musical in 1953 which is a favorite of mine, CALAMITY JANE with Doris Day and Howard Keel.

THE DESERT SONG (1953) was directed by H. Bruce Humberstone. The supporting cast includes Paul Picerni and Frank DeKova.

In a nutshell, musical fans should own both the 1943 and '53 versions of THE DESERT SONG, but it was Dennis Morgan's 1943 version which really spoke to my heart.

The DVD of the 1953 edition does not contain any 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.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Government Girl (1943) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

GOVERNMENT GIRL (1943) is an early entry in a string of mid '40s comedies about life in wartime Washington, D.C. It's a brand-new release from the Warner Archive.

The title role is played by Olivia de Havilland; she stars as Elizabeth "Smokey" Allard, who's assigned to be the secretary to Ed Browne (Sonny Tufts). Browne is newly arrived in the nation's capital; he's a manufacturing whiz charged with increasing production of bombers. The can-do Browne is frustrated by Washington bureacracy -- a theme which remains timely today -- and Smokey helps him navigate his way through alphabet agencies and social events despite their relationship initially getting off to a rocky start.

Smokey is romanced by too-slick Dana McGuire (Jess Barker) and newsman Branch Owens (Paul Stewart), but without realizing it she's gradually fallen under the spell of her big teddy bear of a boss, Mr. Browne.

GOVERNMENT GIRL is a bit of an oddity. It's not a bad movie -- indeed, it fully held my attention and for the most part I kind of enjoyed it -- but one has the sense throughout that it could have been quite a bit better.

Most of my discomfort with the film was due to Olivia de Havilland's performance. She's such a fine actress I have truly loved in so many films, especially THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938), GONE WITH THE WIND (1939), and HOLD BACK THE DAWN (1941), that it's hard to know what to make of her acting in this one. It's extremely broad and at times almost disinterested; she seems uncertain how to play comedy and not entirely happy about trying it.

Curiously enough, after the movie was over I read in a couple of places that de Havilland hadn't wanted to make the movie, done on loanout to RKO, and her performance was the result. It's hard to imagine an actor wanting to self-sabotage one's career but perhaps that's the explanation.

By film's end her character has become more likeable, as she warms up to Mr. Browne, but it's simply an odd film for her, and it doesn't help that, other than a shimmering evening gown, she's poorly dressed. By contrast, the very same year she gave a glowing, lovely performance in the charming romantic comedy PRINCESS O'ROURKE (1943), where she looked stunning and gave her usual outstanding performance.

Tufts, who also starred that year in Paramount's SO PROUDLY THEY HAIL (1943), is pleasant if not particularly memorable. To date I have liked him best as a football player in Jacques Tourneur's EASY LIVING (1949), an excellent film which coincidentally also costarred Paul Stewart. Stewart is one of the more appealing characters in GOVERNMENT GIRL.

Anne Shirley is fun as Smokey's dizzy roommate, who marries the (considerably older) Sergeant Blake (James Dunn), but they can't find a hotel room for their honeymoon. Agnes Moorehead is a stitch as a perpetually hair-patting, self-important D.C. society matron. The excellent supporting cast also includes Harry Davenport, Sig Ruman, and Una O'Connor.

I was on the lookout for Barbara Hale in a bit role but didn't spot her, and apparently I also didn't notice Lawrence Tierney as an FBI man! Watch for Charles Halton, Ian Wolfe, Jane Darwell, and Emory Parnell in small parts.

GOVERNMENT GIRL was written and directed by Dudley Nichols, based on a Budd Schulberg adaptation of a story by Adela Rogers St. John. The movie was filmed in black and white by Frank Redman.

GOVERNMENT GIRL was released just days after the far superior wartime Washington film THE MORE THE MERRIER (1943), which starred Jean Arthur and Joel McCrea.

The following year there were several more comedies focusing on the D.C. housing shortage or wartime work, including THE DOUGHGIRLS (1944), STANDING ROOM ONLY (1944), and JOHNNY DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE (1944).

GOVERNMENT GIRL is one of several recent releases from the Warner Archive starring Olivia de Havilland; I've also reviewed WINGS OF THE NAVY (1939) and anticipate reviewing GOLD IS WHERE YOU FIND IT (1938) sometime in the next couple of weeks.

Despite some negative comments above, I still had a pleasant time watching GOVERNMENT GIRL, as I enjoy films about wartime Washington. The GOVERNMENT GIRL DVD is a good print. 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: Wings of the Navy (1939) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

WINGS OF THE NAVY (1939) is an enjoyable film about the training of Navy pilots just prior to the start of World War II. It's a new release from the Warner Archive.

Cass (George Brent) and his kid brother Jerry (John Payne) are both in the Navy, as their father was before them. Jerry is stationed on a sub but dreams of being a Navy flyer like Cass; Cass tries to squelch Jerry's dream, as he's worried Jerry might make dangerous mistakes attempting to live up to his brother's reputation. Eventually, however, Jerry gets his transfer and begins training as a Navy pilot.

The brothers are also in competition for lovely Irene (Olivia de Havilland), who is in a serious relationship with Cass but falls for Jerry soon after meeting him.

This is a relatively simple plot but the film is pure gold for those who love aviation movies as I do. The training sequences are well-presented and interesting; I especially loved the look inside the big seaplane Jerry learns to pilot. It was also interesting watching the men in bathing suits who push the planes into the water.

It was rather poignant that a number of pilots take off for a new station in Honolulu at the end of the movie, as the viewer knows what will happen in Hawaii just two years later.

The cast is wonderful, starting with Brent and de Havilland, who had previously worked together on GOLD IS WHERE YOU FIND IT (1938); they would later costar in IN THIS OUR LIFE (1942). They are both charming, and it's easy to imagine any girl being torn between Brent and Payne.

Payne was very handsome in his Warner Bros. days early in his career, and he and de Havilland make a very attractive couple. Soon Payne would move over to 20th Century-Fox and become a much bigger star.

The deep cast has many wonderful faces, beginning with one of my favorites, longtime Warner Bros. stalwart John Ridgely; a decade before appearing as an officer in the Warner Bros. Navy film TASK FORCE (1949), which I recently reviewed, he appears here as a young pilot in training.

Frank McHugh overdoes the comedy a bit, although much of that can be blamed on the screenplay, but his character calms down by the end. Victor Jory, Donald Briggs, and John Gallaudet are all excellent as Navy instructors; Regis Toomey's role as an instructor is so brief that if you blink you might miss him!

The cast also includes Henry O'Neill, John Litel, Jonathan Hale, and Alberto Morin.

WINGS OF THE NAVY was directed by Lloyd Bacon and filmed by Arthur Edeson. The screenplay was by Michael Fessier. The film runs 89 minutes.

WINGS OF THE NAVY is a nice print, and the DVD includes the trailer.

This film was just released by the Warner Archive as part of a "wave" of Olivia de Havilland movies. Look for more de Havilland DVD reviews coming soon!

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, October 17, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Dragnet (1954)

This post on the 1954 DRAGNET feature film is my contribution to the Jack Webb Blogathon being hosted by Toby at The Hannibal 8. The blogathon is going all weekend, from today through October 19th. Be sure to stop by "The Dispatch" at The Hannibal 8 to check out links to other wonderful contributions, including a terrific post by Toby's daughter Presley on a fondly remembered 1969 episode of the DRAGNET TV series.

Jack Webb's shows are among my earliest TV memories. I remember watching ADAM-12 and DRAGNET when I was very young, and a few years later EMERGENCY! was a huge favorite. We could hardly wait to hear those sirens going off during the opening credits on Saturday nights!

Thanks to DVDs I shared Webb's shows with my own children, and while some of the concepts Webb introduced to the general public, such as paramedics, were no longer novel, the shows held up wonderfully as great entertainment. In fact periodically I notice that my older son, who's now away at college, has been streaming ADAM-12 and EMERGENCY! via Netflix; he finds them relaxing when he's stressed out about finals! It's great to see these shows still being so enjoyed decades after they were filmed.

Despite my great fondness for Webb, there are some gaps in my viewing of his work, and one of the Webb films I'd never seen was the DRAGNET movie from 1954. The Jack Webb Blogathon gave me the perfect motivation to finally watch it!

DRAGNET stars and was the first directing effort by Webb, who also did uncredited work on the script. When the movie started playing it was love at first sight, as the detectives joining Joe Friday (Webb) and Frank Smith (Ben Alexander) to discuss a new murder case include captains played by Richard Boone and Dennis Weaver. How cool is that?!

And the dialogue! Someone mentions that the first gunshot cut the murder victim in half, to which Friday responds that the second shot "turned him into a crowd." Yikes! After sputtering with shocked laughter, I actually rewound to make sure I'd heard it correctly.

The plot is really beside the point, as Friday and Smith try to solve a gangland execution, which is shown before the opening credits and is surprisingly bloody for 1954.

In all honesty the plot kind of peters out in the last half hour of this 88-minute movie, which has an abrupt ending where justice is served, but not as one might expect. But what matters is all the great staccato dialogue -- by Richard Breen plus the uncredited Webb and Harry Essex -- the parade of veteran character actors, and the amazing mid-Century settings.

Webb's Joe Friday seems more high-strung than in his '60s TV incarnation, and he even flirts with policewoman Grace Downey (Ann Robinson, who disappears from the film too early). Webb has some memorable bits, such as the hotel room interrogation of Max Troy (Stacy Harris), where he has a speech about how much money he makes; he also has a great piece of physical business tossing a cigarette lighter to Troy.

And speaking of the hotel room interrogation, what was with police officers taking all the suspects to a hotel for questioning rather than to the police station? Some of the techniques seen in this film would surely face legal challenges in today's world. At the same time, some of the issues are still timely today, such as a discussion Friday has with a grand jury member about phone calls, the right to privacy, and circumstantial evidence.

The movie has an utterly fantastic mid-Century look, from the Googie pattern on the Red Spot bar curtains to the Yellow Cars in Downtown Los Angeles to the San Diego hotel lobby to the cars. Gorgeous!

And then there are the actors. Weaver unfortunately doesn't have much to do after the opening, but Boone appears throughout and is great barking out orders like "Bumper to bumper tail!"

There's a marvelous office scene where the D.A. (Vic Perrin) says they have enough to arrest a suspect; thunder from on high immediately crashes, and the scene is capped by Boone sending Friday and Smith out to get the murderer with the admonition "You'll need your raincoats."

William Boyett, the sergeant from ADAM-12, is the grand jury foreman. Webb regular Virginia Gregg, who appeared over two dozen times in DRAGNET, ADAM-12, and EMERGENCY!, plays the wife of the murder victim. Virginia Christine, who appeared on DRAGNET a few times, plays a member of the grand jury, as does Herb Vigran, who appeared over a dozen times on Webb's shows.

There's a great bit by James Griffith as a timid witness, including a sequence filmed in the L.A. County Natural History Museum.

Disney production designer Harper Goff has a bit acting role, as he also did in PETE KELLY'S BLUES (1955), on which he also worked as production designer. Years later Goff would work with Boone as an associate producer on the TV series HEC RAMSEY.

Other familiar faces in the cast include Olan Soule, Art Gilmore, James Anderson, Dick Cathcart, Ross Elliott, Malcolm Atterbury, Dub Taylor, and Harry Lauter.

DRAGNET was filmed in WarnerColor by Edward Colman.

The Universal Vault Collection DVD mostly looks great but a few of the scenes look pretty bad. The variability is rather strange.

The movie can be rented for streaming from Amazon.

: For another take on DRAGNET (1954) which provides a great deal of additional information, be sure to check out Toby's post at The Hannibal 8.