Saturday, December 20, 2014

Today at Disney California Adventure: Christmastime Snapshots

I spent a few hours this morning enjoying the Christmas atmosphere and doing some shopping at Disney California Adventure.

Gray skies couldn't suppress the holiday cheer in the park! Click any image to enlarge for a closer look.

Carthay Circle Theater:

The window at Trolley Treats:

Looking toward Paradise Pier:

The Viva Navidad street parade wasn't scheduled to take place until after I left today, but hopefully I'll catch it by Three Kings Day!

San Francisco Street:

The Mad Tea Party section of Hollywood Land has now been taken over by various FROZEN activities, but there's not much visible in the area at this point.

I must say I was sad to see that the classic Hollywood Boulevard Santa signs, seen here, were prematurely removed in order to make way for FROZEN advertising:

For more photos of this year's decorations at Disney California Adventure, please visit my November post.

The next time I'll visit one of the parks will most likely be on December 30th, when our daughter will march down Disneyland's Main Street with the University of Oregon Ducks Marching Band! It's a tradition for the bands of the colleges competing in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day to perform in Disneyland that week.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Season's Greetings

Here are some wonderful studio publicity shots of classic film stars enjoying the season!

June Allyson:

Ruth Warrick:

Anne Baxter:

Ella Raines:

Rita Hayworth:

Marsha Hunt:

Jean Muir:

For more great photos, please visit Season's Greetings (2013).

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Overlooked Christmas Films

I hope everyone is enjoying the holiday season as we creep ever closer to Christmas! It's a busy time here with holiday activities and out-of-town company visiting.

I'd like to invite readers to click on over to ClassicFlix for my new article suggesting some lesser-known Christmas movies which can be enjoyed at this time of year along with the perennial favorites.

Happy Christmas viewing!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Around the Blogosphere This Week

Miscellaneous bits of news and fun stuff from around the internet...

...GONE WITH THE WIND (1939) premiered in Atlanta 75 years ago tomorrow, on December 15, 1939. Susan King writes in the Los Angeles Times about various commemorations of the anniversary.  She also interviewed University of Southern California professor Rick Jewell.

...Glenn Erickson has listed his Most Impressive Discs of 2014 at DVD Savant. I have four of his top choices and was especially delighted to see his high praise for CRY DANGER (1951) which is one of my favorite noir titles ever. Discovering it at UCLA in 2011 is a great film-going memory.

...Great news for fans of Preston Foster: VCI is releasing his 1954 TV series WATERFRONT and Sony is putting out his 1948 film THUNDERHOOF.

...Also of interest from VCI: G.I. JANE (1951) with Jean Porter, double billed with GRAND CANYON (1949) starring Mary Beth Hughes, Reed Hadley, Richard Arlen, and James Millican. That goes on my wish list!

...Character names for the new STAR WARS movie, THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015), were introduced in a fun way, via retro-style bubblegum trading cards such as I collected as a teenager. First Showing has photos.

...Nora writes on "5 Reasons to Love THE UNSUSPECTED (1947)" at The Nitrate Diva. I also enjoyed this film, which stars Claude Rains, Joan Caulfield, Audrey Totter, and Constance Bennett; my 2013 review is here.

...The Edelweiss Patterns Blog take a nostalgic look back at the dresses Kathryn Grant Crosby wore on Bing Crosby's annual Christmas shows.

...Kendahl writes on Christmas Noir for ClassicFlix. I love her selections; I've seen all but one of the films she mentions, and in fact I cited two of them for an upcoming article on Christmas films I wrote for the same site.

...Life Magazine shares rare photos of snow production on the set of IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946). (Via The Jimmy Stewart Museum.)

...Continuing in a Christmas theme, Kimberly Lindbergs wrote about MGM's 1938 version of A CHRISTMAS CAROL for the TCM Movie Morlocks site.

...Here's John at Greenbriar Picture Shows on a film I really liked, PRINCE OF FOXES (1949) starring Tyrone Power.

...Marc Myers recently interviewed Kristen Chenoweth about her childhood and early love for music in The Wall Street Journal.

...Jacqueline's great series on Ann Blyth at Another Old Movie Blog recently included a review of RED CANYON (1949) costarring George Brent and Howard Duff.

...Coming in January to 50 Westerns From the 50s: A Randolph Scott Blogathon!

...Over at Rupert Pupkin Speaks, check out the very interesting Underrated Thrillers lists by John Knight and Colin McGuigan.

...Royalty Watch: Here are adorable new photos of Prince George, who is 16 months old.

...Notable Passings: The funeral for Queen Fabiola of Belgium, who passed away several days ago at the age of 86, was held on Friday. The Daily Mail has many moving photos of the day's events...Former Miss America and actress Mary Ann Mobley, the widow of Gary Collins, has passed on at 75.

...Congratulations to Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota who was awarded the Heisman Trophy yesterday, the first Heisman winner in University of Oregon history. He is by all accounts a very nice young man as well as a great football player.

...We are so excited that the Ducks are playing in the Rose Bowl! Our daughter in the Ducks Marching Band will have the opportunity to march in Disneyland (on December 30th) and the Rose Parade (on New Year's Day) as well as playing at the bowl game. For anyone who may have missed my recent photo posts of my visit to the University of Oregon, they are here and here.

Have a great week!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Tonight's Movie: If Winter Comes (1947) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

IF WINTER COMES (1947) is an absorbing if imperfect drama set in a British village just as England enters World War II. It's available from the Warner Archive.

Walter Pidgeon plays Mark Sabre, who has a contract to write textbooks at a company run by Mr. Fortune (Reginald Owen). Fortune doesn't appreciate Sabre and would like nothing better than to break the contract and let him go.

Mark is married to Mabel (Angela Lansbury), a union which initially seems satisfactory, though their relationship is somewhat perfunctory, but Mark's apparently placid home life dissolves with the return of his old flame Nona (Deborah Kerr).

Nona had impetulously married Tony (Hugh French) a few years previously, and Mark wed Mabel on the rebound. Mark and Nona both regret their choices but seem determined to do the honorable thing and stick to their marital commitments.

Mark becomes involved with Effie (Janet Leigh), a young village girl whose unpleasant father (Rhys Williams) throws her out when it's discovered she's expecting a baby. The unwed girl has nowhere to turn and Mark takes her into his home, enraging Mabel, who is all too willing to suspect Mark is the baby's father. Mabel promptly sues Mark for divorce, and when Effie is served with legal papers related to the divorce, things go from bad to worse.

This film has been maligned by various critics over the years, but while it clearly has flaws, being dull isn't one of them. Indeed, a viewer can easily forgive the film's problems for the pleasure of watching Pidgeon mooning over the lovely Kerr and going toe to toe with the deliciously nasty Lansbury, who was unbelievably all of 21 or 22 when she filmed this.

This was just the second film starring the 20-year-old Janet Leigh, following her debut in THE ROMANCE OF ROSY RIDGE (1947) that same year. She is remarkably good and touching for such an inexperienced actress. She was a natural, very moving as a sweet girl who just needs a home and a loving family.

Leigh's light British accent may tend to disappear from time to time, but on the whole it works. In her autobiography Leigh wrote that she was tutored on the accent by the niece of Sir C. Aubrey Smith, but "accents just don't come easily." She was gratified that British director Victor Saville didn't realize she was American until far into the shooting.

Leigh wrote of Walter Pidgeon "What a distinguished actor and person he proved to be!" She said Pidgeon sponsored her membership into the Academy. Their work together also included THAT FORSYTE WOMAN (1949) and THE RED DANUBE (1949).

As for the film's problems, the main issue is that there's almost too much plot for a 97-minute film, with nothing depicted in much detail. Various storylines in the movie feel truncated, missing depth and character background. The film was based on a novel by A.S.M. Hutchinson, with the setting switched from WWI to WWII; it's available in a free Kindle edition.

There are many unanswered questions, such as why are Sabre's colleagues at the publishing house so eager to get rid of such a nice man from the outset of the film? Why did Nona marry Tony? Does Tony have a gambling problem, as a scene hints? We know Mark married Mabel on the rebound, but even so, how did they end up married? And so on.

Then there's the characters of Mrs. Perch (Dame May Whitty) and Freddie (Hugh Green) who are scarcely in the picture, serving mostly as a device to throw Sabre and Effie together in a "compromising" position after the elderly woman's death.

Despite the movie's issues, those who enjoy MGM's '40s version of Britain are likely to find it pleasant viewing, as I did. Incidentally, the village bridge was a permanent set on the MGM backlot which was seen in countless films, including THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1948).

Rene Ray and Virginia Keiley are winning as Sarah and Rebecca, young maids who adore Mark and can't stand his wife. Binnie Barnes is Mabel's nasty gossip of a friend. The large cast also includes John Abbott, Dennis Hoey, Ian Wolfe, Halliwell Hobbes, and Patrick Aherne. Aherne, the brother of Brian Aherne, steadily played small roles in films for over three decades.

Director Victor Saville's other credits included one of my favorite films, TONIGHT AND EVERY NIGHT (1945), as well as DESIRE ME (1947) which was reviewed here last summer. The movie was shot in black and white by George Folsey.

The DVD includes the trailer.

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, December 12, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Swiss Family Robinson (1960) at the El Capitan Theatre

Last night was another great evening at Disney's El Capitan Theatre, featuring a Throwback Thursday screening of SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON (1960).

A reissue of SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON was one of the earliest Disney films I saw in a theater as a child, sometime after MARY POPPINS (1964) and THE JUNGLE BOOK (1967). SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON made a big impression on me as a young viewer, especially the opening storm sequence, which I found very scary as a youngster, and the climactic battle with pirates.

I'm not certain I'd watched the film in its entirety since that early viewing, so I was very excited to see it once more on the giant screen at the El Capitan.

The family of the late director Ken Annakin were in attendance for the showing. Annakin, who passed away in 2009, also directed Disney's THE STORY OF ROBIN HOOD AND HIS MERRIE MEN (1952), THE SWORD AND THE ROSE (1953), and THIRD MAN ON THE MOUNTAIN (1959), which starred James MacArthur and Janet Munro, who also costarred in SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON. Prior to the screening an interview clip of Annakin was shown in which he described working with Kevin "Moochie" Corcoran and what a game little boy he was to try stunts.

Corcoran, who played young Francis in SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON, was on hand in person for the screening and shared his memories in an interview with Disney Studios Archivist Becky Cline. Corcoran said that in his career he found that the best directors and filmmakers had "a twinkle in their eye" as they conveyed what they wanted, excited about the magic of the story they were telling. Corcoran said that Annakin was such a director, and he also cited Walt Disney and Henry King, who directed him in UNTAMED (1955).

Corcoran praised his costars, saying that they were all very interesting people to spend time with, and he particularly mentioned his admiration of Dorothy McGuire, who had also played his mother in OLD YELLER (1957); he said she was a lovely person. He had also previously worked with his SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON brother, Tommy Kirk, in OLD YELLER.

Corcoran described what it was like to spend his childhood years on the Disney lot, where during his "recess" from the school trailer he would wander the halls of the animation building, chatting with the animators and watching the creation of films such as SLEEPING BEAUTY (1959) when they were works in progress. He seemed to really appreciate the adventures he had and the people he spent time with thanks to his childhood career.

As for the movie, it was a grand experience which almost didn't seem long enough, even clocking in at 126 minutes -- the mark of a really entertaining movie! What a joy.

The well-known story tells of Father (John Mills) and Mother (McGuire) Robinson, who planned to move from Switzerland to New Guinea, being shipwrecked next to a deserted tropical island with their sons (Corcoran, Kirk, and MacArthur).

Not knowing how long it will be before a ship passes by to rescue them, the Robinsons salvage everything they can from the ship and build a treehouse. They begin to love their unexpected life on the island, and the boys like it even better when they rescue young Roberta (Munro) from pirates, although she's also the cause of squabbles, as each of the older boys is attracted to her.

The film is only loosely adapted from the book -- my grandparents had a beautiful old copy I read as a child, and I was surprised, among other things, to learn there were four sons in the book, not three.

It's all a total fantasy, of course -- more than once I wondered what they'd do without a doctor if they were injured in their various daring activities -- but isn't that part of the fun? How wonderful to imagine that a father and his sons could build such a spectacular multilevel treehouse in almost no time at all, or create so many ways to fight off a pirate attack!

The film also happens to make good Christmastime viewing, as there is an extended Christmas sequence, during which the family sings "O Christmas Tree" and the "Swisskapolka" is played. Hearing that polka music took me back to my childhood climbing in the Swiss Family Treehouse at Disneyland.

It's all very inventive and beautifully filmed in Panavision on Tobago by Harry Waxman.

This is a "family movie" in the best sense of the word. I had a thoroughly good time and won't wait so many years before my next viewing!

SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON is available on a 2-disc Vault Disney DVD with many extras. It also came out on VHS in 2004.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

TCM Remembers 2014

TCM Remembers 2014 made its debut online today. You can watch it at this Twitter link or simply click below:

As always, TCM has done a wonderful job remembering the filmmakers who passed away this year. I was particularly touched by tributes to favorites Marc Platt and Audrey Long, as well as Martha Hyer.

I was doing okay up until the very end, with the one-two hit of the much-loved James Garner followed by Shirley Temple singing a line of "Auld Lang Syne." Extremely moving.

As a side note, congratulations to Jill of Sittin' on a Backyard Fence and Black Maria; she lives in Atlanta and had the opportunity to be one of the extras in this production. You can glimpse her in between Ruby Dee and James Garner.

Past TCM tribute posts: 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013.