Wednesday, April 01, 2015

17th Annual Noir City Festival Opens in Hollywood This Friday

The 17th Annual Noir City Hollywood festival opens at the Egyptian Theatre this Friday evening, April 3rd.

The Egyptian will be filled with glorious noir darkness for a dozen days, running through Sunday, April 19th. The schedule can be found on the Egyptian Theatre website, and a handy one-page flyer may be found here.

I'll be there on Opening Night when the Film Noir Foundation's Eddie Muller hosts an Ann Sheridan double bill, starting with a restored 35mm print of WOMAN ON THE RUN (1950), costarring Dennis O'Keefe and directed by Norman Foster. WOMAN ON THE RUN is paired with a 35mm print of THE UNFAITHFUL (1947), in which Sheridan starred with Zachary Scott, Lew Ayres, and Eve Arden, directed by Vincent Sherman.

I also have tickets for the following night, April 4th, when Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall's son Stephen will be interviewed following a 35mm screening of his parents' film DARK PASSAGE (1947), directed by Delmer Daves. Attendees should note that this screening takes place earlier than usual, at 5:00 p.m. DARK PASSAGE will be followed by a new film, THIS LAST LONELY PLACE (2014).

A pair of "Brit noirs" will be featured this Sunday night, April 5th: THE HIDDEN ROOM (1949) stars Robert Newton and Sally Gray, directed by Edward Dmytryk, while Joseph Losey's THE SLEEPING TIGER (1954) stars Alexis Smith, Dirk Bogarde, and Alexander Knox. Both films will be shown in 35mm.

After a few days off, the series resumes on Thursday, April 9th, with Charles Laughton and Ella Raines in THE SUSPECT (1944), directed by Robert Siodmak, followed by Ida Lupino and Louis Hayward in LADIES IN RETIREMENT (1941), directed by Charles Vidor. Members of the late child actor Raymond Severn's family hope to attend to watch him in THE SUSPECT. Both films will once again be shown in 35mm.

I'm excited to see THE CHASE (1946) again on April 10th; I reviewed it after seeing it at the 2013 UCLA Festival of Preservation. It's a terrific dreamlike noir starring Robert Cummings, Michele Morgan, Steve Cochran, and Peter Lorre, directed by Arthur Ripley. It's paired with THE LEOPARD MAN (1943), directed by Jacques Tourneur, which I reviewed for the 2012 Val Lewton Blogathon. THE LEOPARD MAN stars Dennis O'Keefe, Jean Brooks, and Margo. THE CHASE and THE LEOPARD MAN will both be shown in 35mm.

I'm especially enthusiastic about a Gale Storm double bill on April 11th, featuring a brand-new 35mm print of THE UNDERWORLD STORY (1950) and then a 35mm print of ABANDONED (1949). THE UNDERWORLD STORY, directed by Cy Enfield, also stars Dan Duryea and Herbert Marshall, while ABANDONED costars noir stalwarts Dennis O'Keefe and Raymond Burr, directed by Joseph M. Newman.

There's another great night scheduled for Sunday, April 12th, which features a Barbara Stanwyck double bill consisting of 35mm prints of WITNESS TO MURDER (1954) and JEOPARDY (1953). I've never seen either film and really look forward to seeing them. WITNESS TO MURDER was directed by Roy Rowland and shot by the great John Alton; it costars George Sanders. JEOPARDY was directed by John Sturges and costars Barry Sullivan and Ralph Meeker.

Wednesday, April 15th, there's a terrific 35mm double bill of two Jacques Tourneur films, CIRCLE OF DANGER (1951), which I reviewed in 2012, and BERLIN EXPRESS (1948). CIRCLE OF DANGER stars Ray Milland, Patricia Roc, and Marius Goring, while BERLIN EXPRESS stars Merle Oberon, Robert Ryan, and Paul Lukas.

I'm very excited by the prospect of seeing actress Patricia Morison interviewed on Thursday, April 16th. Morison, who just turned 100 years old in March, stars in THE FALLEN SPARROW (1943) along with John Garfield and Maureen O'Hara. It's teamed with Robert Montgomery's RIDE THE PINK HORSE (1947), which I reviewed in 2011; maybe I'll understand that one more this time around! RIDE THE PINK HORSE costars Wanda Hendrix, Andrea King, and the Oscar-nominated Thomas Gomez.

April 17th features an evening of 35mm Argentinian films, EL VAMPIRO NEGRO (1953), aka THE BLACK VAMPIRE, and NO ABRAS NUNCA ESA PUERTA and SI MUERO ANTES DE DESPERTAR (NEVER OPEN THAT DOOR and IF I SHOULD DIE BEFORE I WAKE), a 1952 anthology. THE BLACK VAMPIRE is a "reimagining" of M (1931) -- I saw the 1951 remake at Noir City last year -- while the anthology is based on stories by Cornell Woolrich. Once upon a time I would have thought that double bill too "exotic" for my tastes, but I had such a good experience seeing another Argentinian film, HARDLY A CRIMINAL (1949), at last year's festival that I'm definitely open to trying these movies.

On April 18th there's a screening of UCLA's 35mm restoration of THE GUILTY (1947), which I reviewed at last month's UCLA Festival of Restoration. THE GUILTY stars Bonita Granville, Don Castle, and Regis Toomey, directed by John Reinhardt. THE GUILTY will be followed by a "closing weekend" party.

The festival draws to a close on Sunday, April 19th, with a four-film "proto-noir" marathon beginning at 5:00 p.m. The marathon consists of four films which run between 63-73 minutes, all in 35mm, which influenced the later genre we now call film noir. The movies are THE NINTH GUEST (1934) with Donald Cook and Genevieve Tobin, directed by Roy William Neill; LET US LIVE (1939) with Henry Fonda and Maureen O'Sullivan, directed by John Brahm; HEAT LIGHTNING (1934), with Ann Dvorak, Aline MacMahon, Preston Foster, and Lyle Talbot, directed by Mervyn LeRoy; and William Wellman's SAFE IN HELL (1931), starring Dorothy Mackaill and Donald Cook. I'm especially interested in the last two films; I saw SAFE IN HELL a couple years ago at the TCM Classic Film Festival but was tired and don't remember that one very well.

As has been the case for the last few years, I plan to attend as many Noir City screenings as possible, and I'll be reporting on them here! The festival is always a wonderful experience, and I highly encourage anyone who's able to attend to get tickets.

Key posts on past Noir City Festivals: A Visit to the Noir City Film Festival (2010); A Visit to the 13th Noir City Film Festival (2011); First Preview of 14th Annual Noir City Film Festival; Schedule Announced for Noir City 14 in Hollywood; Final Week of Noir City 14 Schedule Announced; A Visit to the 14th Annual Noir City Film Festival (2012); Schedule Announced for Noir City 15 in Hollywood; A Visit to the 15th Annual Noir City Film Festival (2013); Schedule Preview of Noir City 16 in Hollywood; A Visit to the 16th Annual Noir City Film Festival (2014).

Happy Birthday to Jane Powell and Debbie Reynolds!

April 1st is the birthday of both Jane Powell (born 1929) and Debbie Reynolds (born 1932).

During their years at MGM, Powell and Reynolds costarred in TWO WEEKS WITH LOVE (1950), ATHENA (1954), and HIT THE DECK (1955).

There are at least a couple different 1950s MGM publicity photos of Powell and Reynolds celebrating their joint birthdays, but I especially like this one, taken on the set of TWO WEEKS WITH LOVE 65 years ago today:

That's Louis Calhern and Ann Harding, who play their parents in the film, while Tommy Rettig and Gary Gray have their backs to the camera. TWO WEEKS WITH LOVE is a very enjoyable film which includes the famous scene where Reynolds and Carleton Carpenter sing "The Aba Daba Honeymoon."

Happiest birthday wishes to two ladies who have provided countless hours of wonderful entertainment experiences for so many of us!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

TCM in April: Highlights

I'll be returning shortly to coverage of the 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival, but first it's time for a look at the April schedule on Turner Classic Movies!

The April Star of the Month is Oscar-winning actor Anthony Quinn, who was born 100 years ago this month. Over two dozen Quinn films will be shown on Wednesday evenings beginning tonight, April 1st.

The Friday Night Spotlight focuses on MGM special effects genius A. Arnold Gillespie.

Please note that, due to a heavy blogging schedule, information on this month's Star of the Month and Friday Night Spotlight titles will be incorporated into this post rather than covered in separate posts.

Below are just some of this month's highlights; click on any hyperlinked title for the related review.

...Appropriately for April Fool's Day, April 1st starts off with comedies starring Joe E. Brown and Abbott & Costello, followed by the first evening of Anthony Quinn movies. The Quinn lineup includes ZORBA THE GREEK (1964) and LUST FOR LIFE (1956) along with some of Quinn's early roles in films such as CITY FOR CONQUEST (1940) and KNOCKOUT (1941).

...A series of films about ministers on April 2nd includes Fredric March and Martha Scott in ONE FOOT IN HEAVEN (1941), which was just released by the Warner Archive; I'll be reviewing it this month. Also airing on the 2nd: Joel McCrea in Jacques Tourneur's lovely STARS IN MY CROWN (1950), costarring Ellen Drew, Dean Stockwell, Alan Hale Sr., Juano Hernandez, and James Mitchell.

...On April 3rd the first Friday Night Spotlight tribute to special effects artist Arnold Gillespie includes THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) and SAN FRANCISCO (1936). Readers may be interested to know that Gillespie's memoir was posthumously published in 2012.

...One can never go wrong watching LAURA (1944), which airs on April 4th. The terrific cast includes Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney, Clifton Webb, and Vincent Price.

...The Easter Sunday lineup on TCM includes the Irving Berlin musicals EASTER PARADE (1948) and HOLIDAY INN (1942), both starring Fred Astaire. Judy Garland costars in EASTER PARADE and BING CROSBY also stars in HOLIDAY INN.

...Monday evening, April 6th, there's a five-film tribute to Jane Russell. I particularly enjoyed MACAO (1952), costarring Robert Mitchum. Mitchum was also Russell's costar in the somewhat nutty HIS KIND OF WOMAN (1951), which has a memorable supporting role for Vincent Price.

...An evening of documentary specials on April 7th ties in with the release of the new book IN THE COMPANY OF LEGENDS by Joan Kramer and David Heeley. I expect to review the book sometime in April.

...The Anthony Quinn lineup on April 8th includes the very colorful SINBAD THE SAILOR (1947), starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Maureen O'Hara.

...One of my favorite days on TCM in April is the 9th, which features a nine-film tribute to director Lesley Selander. Titles include Tim Holt's LAW OF THE BADLANDS (1951), Richard Dix and Florence Rice in CHEROKEE STRIP (1940), and Sterling Hayden and Coleen Gray in ARROW IN THE DUST (1954), due on DVD soon from the Warner Archive. (Update: CHEROKEE STRIP has been pulled from the schedule since TCM's Now Playing guide was printed; an additional Tim Holt film will air in its place.)

...A couple weeks ago I reviewed the new Warner Archive release of KATHLEEN (1941), starring Shirley Temple, Herbert Marshall, Laraine Day, and Gail Patrick. It airs on TCM April 10th.

...The April 10th Friday Night Spotlight look at special effects artist Arnold Gillespie includes TEST PILOT (1938) and THIRTY SECONDS OVER TOKYO (1944).

...I've previously shared my admiration for HER SISTER'S SECRET (1946), an excellent drama starring Margaret Lindsay and Nancy Coleman, directed by Edgar G. Ulmer; I recently wrote about seeing the movie a second time at the UCLA Festival of Preservation. HER SISTER'S SECRET airs on TCM on April 12th.

...April 13th features an eight-film birthday tribute to Howard Keel, including my favorite SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS (1954). Lots of great music on TCM on the 13th!

...The April 14th schedule starts out with seven Esther Williams films, then shifts gears for ROBERT OSBORNE'S 20TH ANNIVERSARY TRIBUTE (2015), filmed at the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival.

...Don't miss Glynis Johns as an honest-to-goodness mermaid in the delightful comedy-fantasy MIRANDA (1948). It airs April 16th.

...William Holden, Loretta Young, and Robert Mitchum are excellent in the pioneer romance RACHEL AND THE STRANGER (1948), directed by Loretta's brother-in-law, former actor Norman Foster. It will be shown Friday, April 17th.

...The April 17th Friday Night Spotlight lineup includes Lana Turner in GREEN DOLPHIN STREET (1947), which has Oscar-winning special effects, and Fred Astaire dancing on the ceiling in ROYAL WEDDING (1951). I recently came across a nice column on the absorbing GREEN DOLPHIN STREET which can be read here.

...TCM pays tribute to the team of Barbara Stanwyck and George Brent on Sunday evening, April 19th, showing their films MY REPUTATION (1946) and BABY FACE (1933).

...Later on the 19th, the TCM Imports franchise features a "newer" film I enjoyed: THE MAKIOKA SISTERS (1983).

...On my list to record on April 21st: VAGABOND LADY (1935) starring Robert Young, Evelyn Brent, and Reginald Denny. The more I see of Denny, the more I like him.

...A tribute to Sophia Loren on April 21st includes MARRIAGE ITALIAN STYLE (1964) which was the final film I saw at this year's TCM Classic Film Festival, preceded by an interview with Loren in person. I hope to review the movie here in the future; I wouldn't precisely say I liked it, but it was interesting and gave me exposure to another foreign film.

...If you've ever wanted to watch several ANDY HARDY films in reverse chronological order, you have the chance on Wednesday, April 22nd.

...The evening's Anthony Quinn lineup on April 22nd includes the John Farrow Western RIDE, VAQUERO! (1953) starring Robert Taylor, Ava Gardner, and Howard Keel. Moira Finnie wrote a detailed post on this film a few years ago for the TCM Movie Morlocks.

...HONEYMOON FOR THREE (1941), airing on April 23rd, is a fun comedy starring George Brent and Ann Sheridan.

...CANADIAN PACIFIC (1949), starring Randolph Scott, Jane Wyatt, and Nancy Olson, airs on April 25th.

...Louis Hayward and Joan Bennett star in THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK (1939), part of a day of Dumas movies on April 27th.

...The month ends with several films featuring "Johnny" in the title on April 30th. Don't miss JOHNNY DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE (1944), a delightfully creative take on the WWII housing shortage starring Simone Simon. At times it's laugh-out-loud funny! I wrote more about it in a piece on Five Underrated Comedies.

For more on TCM in April, please consult the online schedule.

Happy April viewing!

Monday, March 30, 2015

The 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival in Review

The 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival ended last night, and it was as wonderful as anticipated!

Once again classic film fans from around the country, not to mention places like Canada, Scotland, and Japan, came together to celebrate wonderful movies.

You know you're in the right place when there's a packed morning audience for a late silent like WHY BE GOOD? (1929) and the audience applauds when Grady Sutton appears on screen!

Though Robert Osborne was greatly missed this year, the festival carried on in fine style without him, with pros like Leonard Maltin, Eddie Muller, and Illeana Douglas introducing many of the movies.

Again this year the schedule was packed with many appealing options and hard choices; as Lou Lumenick wrote in the New York Post, "There are no bad choices at the TCM Classic Film Festival."

I largely stuck to my originally outlined plan, though I switched up a couple of time blocks which had been questionable and also substituted REBECCA (1940) for APOLLO 13 (1995).

This year I saw 16 films, one more film than I saw in 2014; in 2013 I only saw 11 films. I also saw an hour of home movies presented by Jane Withers, Bob Koster (son of director Henry Koster), and Neile Adams McQueen.

Eight of this year's films were completely new to me, a diverse group of titles including a pair of silents, an Italian film, an animated movie, a Greta Garbo historical romance, a Sirk melodrama, a Western, and a pre-Code John Ford aviation drama. It was also great to revisit familiar favorites; MY DARLING CLEMENTINE (1946) and CALAMITY JANE (1953) never looked better!

Beyond the movies, though, for me the very best part of the festival is the chance to reconnect in person with so many people from the classic film blogging community who have become "real life" friends thanks to the festival. The festival has the feel of a very happy family reunion, with friends on hand to enjoy every single screening. I can't express strongly enough what a positive and upbeat experience the festival is thanks to so many great people being there to share it.

This year it was especially wonderful to meet Kristina and Stephen for the first time; I shouldn't have been surprised that my longtime pal Kristina and I ended up picking an identical schedule for the entire festival! I also loved the chance to get to know people like Casey and Annmarie better this year, and having extra time to spend with Raquel, Aurora, and Kendahl. I could keep on going -- I hate to leave anyone out!

It's also fun to "talk movies" with folks met while standing in line. Anyone considering attending for the first time next year, particularly those contemplating coming alone, should rest assured they will find a very congenial atmosphere.

As has been my practice for past festivals, in the coming days and weeks I'll be breaking down my coverage into an overview of each day, along with individual reviews of several of the films which have not been reviewed here previously.

As my posts go up I plan to add links to the bottom of this introductory post, as I have also done in years past, so all of the festival coverage can be easily found in one place.

In the meantime, here's a series of photo Tweets from TCM and the classic film blogging community, including yours truly.

I also have several non-festival posts coming in the near future, including a look at Turner Classic Movies in April and a preview of the 17th Annual Noir City Film Festival, which opens this Friday, April 3rd.

Previous 2015 coverage: TCM Announces 2015 Festival Dates and Theme; TCM Classic Film Festival Announcements; The Sound of Music (1965) to Open 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival; The Latest TCM Classic Film Festival Announcements; Sophia Loren to Appear at 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival; The 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival Schedule; Coming Soon!

Past festival coverage: The 2013 TCM Classic Film Festival in Review and The 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival in Review.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Coming Soon!

As readers might guess, it's been a very busy few days here getting ready to take time off for the TCM Classic Film Festival!

The fun actually began on Sunday, when my husband and I met up with Aurora and Annmarie, who arrived in town several days ahead of the festival. We spent a most enjoyable day touring Los Angeles, including dinner at El Cholo and attending the TCM screening of REAR WINDOW (1954) at the Universal CityWalk.

I hope to write about REAR WINDOW soon after the conclusion of the TCM Festival; seeing it on a big screen was a fantastic experience!

The festival officially gets underway for me tomorrow, with a busy schedule including the annual TCM press conference and a visit to the Warner Bros. backlot.

The movies will start rolling on Thursday evening; my top choices from this year's festival schedule can be found here.

I'm most excited to reconnect once more with all the online friends I've met in person at the last few festivals; I'll also be meeting some friends "in person" for the very first time, including my longtime pal Kristina!

Meanwhile, let's all send good thoughts and prayers to Robert Osborne, who will be greatly missed at this year's festival.

I'll have complete festival coverage here beginning next week, and in the meantime, you can follow me throughout the festival on Twitter! I'll be providing real-time coverage on the people, the places, and the movies which are part of the TCM Classic Film Festival.

In addition to extensive TCM Classic Film Festival coverage, in the near future I'll be writing posts on the Noir City Hollywood schedule; UCLA's fantastic William Wellman tribute; highlights from TCM's April schedule, along with a preview of TCM in June; a big Around the Blogosphere classic film link roundup; and I'll have reviews of more Warner Archive DVDs and several books, including two titles on THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965).

As the saying goes, stay tuned!

Update: The 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival in Review.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Book Review: Charles Walters: The Director Who Made Hollywood Dance

I've been looking forward to Brent Phillips' biography of director-choreographer Charles Walters for some time now, and the recently published CHARLES WALTERS: THE DIRECTOR WHO MADE HOLLYWOOD DANCE did not disappoint.

This 368-page book, published by the University of Kentucky Press, is meticulously and thoroughly researched, covering "Chuck's" life from his childhood in Anaheim, California, to his success on Broadway and in Hollywood, then closing with an account of his teaching experiences at the University of Southern California prior to his death in 1982.

As I've written in the past, I sat in on a couple of Chuck Walters' classes at USC and had the chance to meet him; he was a very nice man. (The signed class syllabus and autographed photos seen here are from my personal collection.) My good feelings toward Walters and my love for a great many of his films made reading this detailed life history a pleasure.

Walters began his Hollywood career as dance director on MGM musicals such as MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944); he then became a feature film director with the effervescent GOOD NEWS (1947). Walters' MGM musicals also included wonderful films such as EASTER PARADE (1948), SUMMER STOCK (1950), LILI (1953), EASY TO LOVE (1953), THE GLASS SLIPPER (1955), and HIGH SOCIETY (1956). He retired from directing after making WALK DON'T RUN (1966) with Cary Grant.

Although Chuck Walters has been gone for over 30 years, the author was nonetheless able to tell much of the story in Chuck's own words, thanks to old interviews.

Phillips also used primary source documentation such as Walters' birth certificate and MGM interoffice memos, and he consulted a variety of contemporaneous news reports. Some of the material in the book came from the Charles Walters and Arthur Freed collections at USC. I mention the breadth of research in part because I thought the author did a terrific job pulling together information from such a variety of sources into a book which is both highly readable and exhaustively footnoted.

I noticed the value of the author's careful research right off the bat -- IMDb records that Chuck was born in Brooklyn, but Phillips traces his birth to 325 South Grand Avenue in Pasadena. I was fascinated to learn he'd grown up in neighboring Anaheim, where he graduated from Anaheim High School.

My favorite chapters were the detailed looks at the creation of his MGM musicals. Phillips used a wealth of comments from MGM stars and minor players, mixing his own first-person discussions with recorded interviews with stars who are no longer with us. I especially loved reading quotes from relatively obscure performers such as MGM dancer Caren Marsh. These quotes consistently reveal a director who was upbeat, collaborative, and able to physically demonstrate to his cast members what he wanted to see on the screen.

Side note: If only Walters' personal choice for the lead in ANNIE GET YOUR GUN, Betty Grable, had been signed for it by MGM! What a movie that could have been, directed by Walters. As it happened, Walters didn't even make the movie, as it was "stolen" by director George Sidney, who had greater clout with the studio brass; with Betty Hutton in the lead I find it unwatchable.

One interesting tidbit among many: in the '30s Walters made his initial attempts to break into Hollywood alongside another unknown who became a good friend, Tyrone Power. One of my few unanswered questions after reading the book: did Walters and Power remain lifelong friends?

The book includes 32 pages of well-chosen photographs printed on flat (non-glossy) paper.

For more on this book, please visit Raquel's review at Out of the Past, as she brings out additional points of interest on the book. There was also recently a review by Ethan Mordden in the Wall Street Journal -- I loved his comments on "Under the Bamboo Tree" in MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS -- and there's a nice piece on the book and author Brent Phillips posted by Eileen Reynolds at New York University, where Phillips works.

CHARLES WALTERS: THE DIRECTOR WHO MADE HOLLYWOOD DANCE is a top biography which receives my very highest recommendation.

Sincere thanks to the University of Kentucky Press for providing a review copy of this book.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Tonight's Movie: The Milky Way (1936) at the UCLA Festival of Preservation

It's been an extraordinarily busy week, getting work out of the way ahead of my time off for the TCM Classic Film Festival!

I've been looking forward to sharing some thoughts on Harold Lloyd's THE MILKY WAY (1936), which I saw on Monday evening at the UCLA Festival of Preservation. THE MILKY WAY was on a double bill with THE BIG BROADCAST (1932), which I reviewed here.

It was a nice surprise that Harold Lloyd's granddaughter, Suzanne Lloyd, came to introduce the movie, as she hadn't been listed as a guest on the UCLA website. Suzanne is an engaging and interesting speaker who has done phenomenal work preserving her grandfather's legacy. I also saw her introduce WHY WORRY? (1923) at the TCM Classic Film Festival last year with Leonard Maltin.

Suzanne shared that while most of her grandfather's movies were not shown on television -- his preference -- one day when she was young and at home sick from school, she stumbled across THE MILKY WAY on TV and loved it. Suzanne was raised by her grandparents, and she said she particularly loves THE MILKY WAY because there are moments when it closely reflects the real offscreen Harold Lloyd; she said the way he talks to the colt in the movie is the way he would talk to her and their dogs!

I was especially interested in seeing THE MILKY WAY for a couple of reasons: First, I've become a fan of Harold Lloyd and had not yet seen any of his sound films; and second, last fall I reviewed the Danny Kaye musical remake, THE KID FROM BROOKLYN (1946).

THE MILKY WAY was directed by Leo McCarey, who the following year directed the comedy classic THE AWFUL TRUTH (1937); when McCarey fell ill while working on THE MILKY WAY, there was some uncredited direction by Leo's brother, Ray McCarey, as well as by Norman Z. McLeod. McLeod, ironically, directed the remake, THE KID FROM BROOKLYN, a decade later! The movie was filmed in black and white by Alfred Gilks.

Lloyd plays Burleigh Sullivan, a milquetoast milkman whose defense of his sister (Helen Mack) against a couple of mashers leads to the impression that he knocked out a boxing champ (William Gargan). Soon Burleigh is on his way to boxing stardom, thanks to manager Gabby Sloan (Adolphe Menjou), but the truth is Burleigh has no idea what he's doing in the ring. Meanwhile Burleigh's fame dampens his new relationship with sweet Polly Pringle (Dorothy Wilson).

I enjoyed THE MILKY WAY quite well. Though it wasn't on a par with Lloyd's classic silents, it was a solid '30s comedy with a good cast. It was a bit odd at first for me to hear Lloyd's voice, having previously only seen his silents, but then it seemed perfectly normal! Burleigh's fancy footwork couldn't help but remind me a bit of Lloyd's "handshake routine" in THE FRESHMAN (1925).

This was my second Adolphe Menjou film at the festival in a week's time; his BACHELOR'S AFFAIRS (1932) was the highlight of the festival for me. It was fun to see him here playing a looser comic character as the manager.

Menjou's real-life wife, Verree Teasdale, has one of her best-ever parts in this as Gabby's glamorous, sarcastic girlfriend; she's an absolute knockout in a parade of stunning gowns, and she's sharply witty as well. (Her role was played in the remake by Eve Arden.) It was mentioned before the film that Menjou and Teasdale, like director McCarey, both had serious medical issues during the filming, which delayed production.

A great bit of trivia is that Lionel Stander, who plays trainer Spider Schultz, played the same role in the remake! The cast also includes George Barbier, Charles Lane, and Marjorie Gateson, who plays the society matron which Fay Bainter played a decade later.

Of course, comparisons between the two versions are inevitable; I found them roughly equal in terms of enjoyment. I really liked THE KID FROM BROOKLYN, particularly for its great color and the presence of Virginia Mayo, Steve Cochran, and Vera-Ellen, who I found more interesting than their '36 counterparts, but that later version does run on the long side, clocking in at 113 minutes. THE MILKY WAY runs 89 minutes, which was just right, and I especially enjoyed Menjou and Teasdale in the older version.

THE MILKY WAY is available on DVD in multiple editions, including the excellent Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection, Vol. I from New Line.

Amazon Prime members can stream the movie at no extra charge.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Tonight's Movie: The Big Broadcast (1932) at the UCLA Festival of Preservation

A very nice-sized crowd came out to the Billy Wilder Theater Monday evening for another very enjoyable night at the UCLA Festival of Preservation.

The double bill consisted of Bing Crosby's first starring lead in a feature film, THE BIG BROADCAST (1932), followed by a Harold Lloyd "talkie," THE MILKY WAY (1936).

The evening started off with ME AND THE BOYS (1929), a two-song musical short directed by Victor Saville (TONIGHT AND EVERY NIGHT). While some of the very '20s dancing and behavior of singer Estelle Brody hasn't aged well, what a treat to see a very young Benny Goodman, not to mention Jack Teagarden. (Brody and some of the band are seen at the right.) Some of the restored short still has significant flaws, which makes the viewer realize just how close this slice of musical history might have come to being lost forever. It was a nice way to begin the evening.

THE BIG BROADCAST was of interest to me as I'm not yet very familiar with Bing Crosby's '30s films. He stars in this Paramount film as radio star Bing Crosby, whose professionalism has taken a slide since he's begun romancing glamorous Mona (Sharon Lynn). Bing meets Leslie (Stuart Erwin), whose hometown love Anita (Leila Hyams) is a secretary at the radio station and thinks she loves Bing, whose fiancee Mona elopes with someone else... Well, the course of true love never did run smooth!

Meanwhile things aren't running smoothly at Bing's radio station, either. His show's sponsor (George Barbier) wants him fired because of his unreliable appearances, and station head George (George Burns) is barely keeping the lights on. George also attempts to keep his sanity while dealing with zany receptionist Gracie (Gracie Allen).

The plot of this 80-minute movie is fairly loose, but the film has some unexpectedly creative visual bits of comedy as well as fantastic music. The craziness which pops onscreen every now and then reminded me a bit of the much later JOHNNY DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE (1944). I wouldn't want to try watching the zany scene where Bing and Leslie attempt to commit suicide without being stone cold sober, as it was bizarre enough seeing it with all my wits about me.

At the outset of his film career Bing is a polished, charismatic, and funny performer. I couldn't help marveling over just how young he was! I've got a couple of DVD sets with more of his '30s films which I picked up on sale and need to start delving into. Bing was still making films for Paramount over two decades later, including WHITE CHRISTMAS (1954).

The most thrilling aspect of the movie was seeing and hearing some truly great music in such pristine condition, starting with Bing's own "Where the Blue of the Night (Meets the Gold of the Day)." I couldn't help marveling over the gorgeous sequences with the Mills Brothers, the Boswell Sisters, and Cab Calloway. The UCLA audience was appreciative, and some of the musical sequences received enthused audience applause.

Stuart Erwin is someone who's grown on me, while the leading ladies were fine but not particular standouts. I enjoyed watching Burns and Allen interact, especially as they were restricted to a couple of scenes together so their routines didn't wear out their welcome. I liked that his warm appreciation for her came over in a very nice way, when he could have been nastily exasperated. They would go on to appear in two of the three additional BIG BROADCAST films released by Paramount in the '30s.

THE BIG BROADCAST was directed by Frank Tuttle, whose many Paramount films included Alan Ladd's star-making THIS GUN FOR HIRE (1942) a decade later.

All in all, THE BIG BROADCAST was a very different and enjoyable film which was well worth making the drive to L.A. to see.

A review of THE MILKY WAY will be coming soon! (Update: Here it is!)