Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Piccadilly Jim (1936) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Robert Montgomery is at his charming best in PICCADILLY JIM (1936), an MGM comedy available from the Warner Archive.

PICCADILLY JIM was released by the Archive earlier this year as part of a Montgomery "wave" which included the previously reviewed YELLOW JACK (1938) and THE FIRST HUNDRED YEARS (1938).

I first saw PICCADILLY JIM in 2011, and it was great fun returning to it thanks to the Archive. I appreciated the movie even more the second time around. It's a sparkling film thanks to its deep cast of pros and a witty script by Charles Brackett and Edwin Knopf, based on a novel by P.G. Wodehouse.

Montgomery plays Jim Crocker, an American artist living in London. Jim's father (Frank Morgan) falls in love with a charming lady (Billie Burke) who is saddled with obnoxious relatives (Grant Mitchell, Cora Witherspoon, Tommy Bupp). Jim creates a cartoon series based on the family which is a huge hit.

Alas, Jim discovers Ann (Madge Evans), whom he's loved from afar, is another member of the family, and they're all leaving for America to avoid the social discomfort created by the cartoons. Father and son have their work cut out for them winning the hands of their ladies fair.

The script is simply delightful, with one great line after another, particularly when Jim's scene-stealing butler (Eric Blore) is concerned. Blore really makes the movie, but everyone does a grand job. I haven't even mentioned yet that Robert Benchley has a small role as Jim's drinking buddy. This is MGM at its polished 1930s best.

PICCADILLY JIM was the last of five films costarring Montgomery and Evans. The other titles were LOVERS COURAGEOUS (1932), HELL BELOW (1933), MADE ON BROADWAY (1933), and FUGITIVE LOVERS (1934). LOVERS COURAGEOUS and MADE ON BROADWAY are available from the Warner Archive as part of the Robert Montgomery Collection. I'd especially love to see FUGITIVE LOVERS released on DVD.

The PICCADILLY JIM cast also includes Ralph Forbes and Billy Bevan. It's a great movie for classic film buffs, as there are many fun faces to pick out of the crowds. Perennial dress extra Bess Flowers can be spotted over Madge Evans' left shoulder in her first nightclub scene, and future star Dennis Morgan is the band leader and singer in the same sequence. Later another future star, Dennis O'Keefe, can be spotted being introduced to Montgomery in yet another nightclub.

PICCADILLY JIM was directed by Robert Z. Leonard. It was filmed in black and white by Joseph Ruttenberg. The running time is 95 minutes.

The Warner Archive disc includes the trailer. The movie's picture and sound are in fine shape.


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 from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Housewife (1934) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

HOUSEWIFE (1934) is an enjoyable Warner Bros. marital melodrama available from the Warner Archive.

HOUSEWIFE was released by the Archive a few years ago, but as I've remarked in the past, one of the pros for a "manufactured on demand" service is that the backlist is just as accessible today as it was when the movie was released circa 2011.

HOUSEWIFE is an imperfect film which is perfectly entertaining, and it will doubtless please fans of the cast.

HOUSEWIFE was released in August 1934, just after enforcement of the Production Code began. It tells the story of Bill and Nan Reynolds (George Brent and Ann Dvorak), who have been married long enough to have a school-age son (Ronnie Cosby).

Bill and Nan are happy but struggling financially, as office manager Bill hasn't had a raise in years, and his boss (Robert Barrat) treats him as a nuisance, so the future there is bleak. Fortunately clever Nan has been carefully saving money from the household budget for years, and she offers it to Bill to enable him to launch his own advertising business.

Just when it looks like the struggling new business will go under, Bill lands a big account, and soon the business is hugely successful. Nan has the house of her dreams, complete with a butler (Charles Coleman)...but Bill's eye is caught by a predatory ad exec, Pat (Bette Davis).

It's quite an entertaining little movie, although Bill seems like rather a dope to consider leaving someone as lovely as Nan for a "homewrecker." Being the "other woman" is pretty much all there is to Bette's character; we know she was once poor and has worked her way up, including changing her name, but otherwise her character is, plain and simple, a selfish brat.

On the other end of the spectrum is Bill's gallant client Paul (John Halliday), who yearns for Nan from afar.

Bill clearly likes the fantasy of a lovely woman who is available without household bills and other humdrum issues attached, and it seems likely any marriage would have quickly crashed and burned, as Pat is strictly looking out for number one.

One wonders if Code enforcement had any impact on the film, particularly the abruptness of Bill's realizing his mistake in abandoning his wife; the ending seems a bit truncated. Incidentally, it's a miracle Nan is willing to take him back after the obnoxious things he says to her when he tries to end their marriage.

From the modern perspective, Nan's self-deprecating description of herself as "just" a housewife rankles, as she is clearly the force behind the man and his successful business, along with doing most of the parenting and running the home. It's a good role for Dvorak, who is admirable yet also realistically frazzled at times.

Hobart Cavanaugh and Ruth Donnelly play Nan's brother and sister-in-law. I missed picking out Bill Elliott as a clerk!

HOUSEWIFE was shot by Alfred E. Green and filmed by William Rees. It runs 69 minutes.

There are no extras. The DVD is a nice-looking print with good sound quality.

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 from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Women From Headquarters (1950)

WOMEN FROM HEADQUARTERS (1950) stars Virginia Huston as a dedicated Los Angeles policewoman.

Huston plays Joyce Harper, who was in the service during WWII and has been dissatisfied with secretarial jobs since the war's end. Joyce meets Policewoman Ann Rogers (Frances Charles) when Ann brings Joyce's roommate Ruby (Barbra Fuller) home from a bar, and Ann encourages Joyce to apply for police work.

Joyce quickly racks up a series of successful busts, while dating her partner (Robert Rockwell). And that's pretty much the movie, over and done in an hour flat.

I was inspired to pull this title out of my stack after watching Huston as Ann in OUT OF THE PAST (1947) at UCLA last weekend.

Huston's mellow demeanor fits perfectly in OUT OF THE PAST, where she remains calm and understanding as she learns about the past of her boyfriend Jeff (Robert Mitchum). Here her quiet, confident demeanor translates as more one note. Her reactions never really seem to change, regardless of circumstances, yet at the same time there's something about her which is quite watchable.

Frances Charles (seen at left) seemed familiar, yet I don't think I remember her from any of the appearances in her fairly brief screen career. Turns out she was Victor Mature's first wife, briefly married to him in the late '30s before it was annulled.

Is it a good movie? Probably not, as it's weakly acted and scripted, but it's nonetheless fun. I found it an enjoyable hour, just the kind of film I like curling up with for a quick watch after a busy day. Police procedurals set in L.A., with location shots thrown in here and there, usually work for me.

The supporting cast includes Jack Kruschen, Norman Budd, Bert Conway, Grandon Rhodes, K. Elmo Lowe, Gil Herman, and Leonard Penn.

WOMEN FROM HEADQUARTERS was directed by George Blair (POST OFFICE INVESTIGATOR). It was filmed by John MacBurnie.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...Chris Yogerst, a terrific "classic film friend" I've made thanks to blogging, is the author of a brand-new book, FROM THE HEADLINES TO HOLLYWOOD: THE BIRTH AND BOOM OF WARNER BROS. Kristina has reviewed the book and interviewed Chris at Speakeasy. I expect to review the book here later in the year. Looking forward to reading it!

...Coming to Blu-ray and DVD in December from the Criterion Collection: THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (1950), directed by John Huston and starring Sterling Hayden. It has previously been released on DVD.

...Just released by Criterion: CAT PEOPLE (1942), produced by Val Lewton and directed by Jacques Tourneur. I reviewed a previous DVD release in 2013.

...Lana Wood remembers making THE SEARCHERS (1956).

...Here's the trailer for the documentary MIFUNE: THE LAST SAMURAI (2015). There's not yet a U.S. release date.

...Kim Luperi spent Labor Day Weekend at the Cinecon Festival in Hollywood, and she shares her experiences at I See A Dark Theater in Part 1 and Part 2.

...I found this Leonard Maltin story on radio dramas recorded by classic film actors in French of great interest. He interviewed Marsha Hunt, one of a number of French-speaking stars, regarding her memories of performing in the programs.

...In my last roundup I discussed a proposed law to criminalize the publishing of accurate ages of actors who "opt out" at select websites such as IMDb. I regret to say the California's governor signed this bill into law today. I will follow legal developments on this issue with interest; the suppression of factual information on some websites but not others seems a very questionable precedent. One encouraging bit of news from Deadline is that while the new law will apply to paid IMDb Pro accounts, it will not apply to the free side of the site. Still, this law strikes me as wrong for many reasons.

...Last week Lou Lumenick, film critic of the New York Post since 1999, announced his retirement. Lou is a valued member of the classic film community on Twitter, and it's been a pleasure to meet him at past TCM Classic Film Festivals. Best wishes to Lou on his retirement!

...Greenbriar Picture Shows is one of my regular stops, as it's always interesting and wonderfully illustrated. This post on early '50s films about "bad cops" is a great example.

...Coming from Flicker Alley this December: CHILDREN OF DIVORCE (1927), a silent film starring Clara Bow and Gary Cooper. Flicker Alley is releasing the movie in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack. The film was briefly reviewed by Raquel after she saw it at Capitolfest last month.

...Recent reviews from Mike Clark of Home Media Magazine: The new Warner Archive Blu-ray of LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME (1955), which I anticipate reviewing here soon, and a Kino Blu-ray of 3 BAD MEN (1926). I saw that film on DVD last year and expect to revisit it at the upcoming Lone Pine Film Festival.

...Royalty Watch: The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arrived in British Columbia today for their tour of Canada. Beautiful photos of William and Kate with their children may be seen at the Daily Mail...Prince Alexander of Sweden was christened earlier this month.

...Notable Passings: Actress Lyn Wilde has passed away at 93. Lyn's twin Lee, with whom she costarred in TWICE BLESSED (1945) and other films, died last year. Lyn and Lee married brothers, musicians Jim and Tom Cathcart; after Jim's death Lyn remarried...Bobby Breen, a child actor and singer, has passed on at 88. His films included RAINBOW ON THE RIVER (1936), HAWAII CALLS (1938), and WAY DOWN SOUTH (1939). Breen's wife of 54 years died the same week.

...For even more classic film and other links, please visit my last link roundup.

Have a great week!

Friday, September 23, 2016

Vin Scully Day

The Los Angeles Dodgers hosted a very special pre-game ceremony tonight honoring the legendary Vin Scully, who is retiring after broadcasting Dodgers games for 67 years.

Vin Scully has been part of the soundtrack of my life...for my entire life. Some of my earliest memories are of falling asleep on hot summer nights with his voice on the radio. He's been there to describe so many special baseball moments, and perhaps even more importantly, I appreciate the day in, day out companionship spent listening to Vin and his marvelous stories.

For anyone like me who's spent a lifetime listening to Vinnie, it's impossible to imagine the day will soon be here when he's no longer a regular part of our lives. I get teary just thinking about it.

Instead of saying more, I'll let baseball fan Kevin Costner eloquently explain, in a speech he wrote himself, available in full at the MLB site.

As Costner said to Vin, "You are our George Bailey, and it has been a wonderful life."

Disneyland: More Halloween Time 2016

I've had the chance to spend quite a bit of time at Disneyland in the last few days!

Halloween Time photos from earlier in the week may be found here, and below are a few more photos of a beautiful time of the year at the park.

Rancho Del Zocalo in Frontierland:

Some shots of the crystal shop in New Orleans Square:

Floral beauty at the Hub and Town Square:

Across the way at Disney California Adventure, I was sad to see the Hollywood Tower Hotel sign has already been removed from the Tower of Terror:

Have a great weekend!

Previous Halloween Time Posts and Photos: September 29, 2006, September 30, 2006, October 21, 2006, September 28, 2007, October 12, 2007, October 17, 2008, October 9, 2009, October 15, 2010, the 2011 Annual Passholder Private Party (October 17, 2011); October 21, 2012, September 13, 2013, October 18, 2013, September 12, 2014, September 18, 2015, and September 20, 2016.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Dark Passage (1947) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

The Warner Archive has released all four of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall's films on Blu-ray this year. I've previously reviewed three of the releases, TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT (1944), THE BIG SLEEP (1946), and KEY LARGO (1948).

I'm happy to now review the last film in the collection, DARK PASSAGE (1947).

I saw DARK PASSAGE for the first time in many years at the 2015 Noir City Film Festival, with Stephen Bogart in attendance. While I've liked the other Bogart-Bacall films since I was a young classic film fan, DARK PASSAGE is one which has only grown on me more recently. I've found I'm now more willing to suspend disbelief, and simultaneously I've gained an appreciation for the film's noir style and great location shooting -- in this case in San Francisco.

Bogart plays Vincent Parry, who escapes San Quentin, where he was serving time for his wife's murder. He's picked up by Irene Jansen (Bacall), who improbably wants to help Vincent. She sympathizes as her own father was unjustly convicted of murder. Small world!

A nice guy cabbie (Tom D'Andrea) takes Vincent to a disreputable plastic surgeon (Houseley Stevenson) who rearranges his appearance for a couple hundred bucks. Since the movie begins shot from Vincent's first person view and then shows him covered in bandages, it's quite a ways into the movie before we actually see Humphrey Bogart. It's worth noting this film was released the same year as LADY IN THE LAKE (1947), which also famously used first person cinematography.

Vincent gets to work solving his wife's murder, as well as the murder of a good friend, all while falling for Irene.

It's a fairly crazy story, not least due to its very abrupt ending, but it's also good fun. Bogart and Bacall are always a charismatic team, and the interaction of their characters is quite appealing. They're well supported by Agnes Moorehead, Bruce Bennett, and Douglas Kennedy.

Another plus is the great use of Mercer and Whiting's classic song "Too Marvelous For Words," originally written for the Warner Bros. film READY, WILLING & ABLE (1937).

DARK PASSAGE was written and directed by Delmer Daves, based on a novel by David Goodis. It was filmed in black and white by Sid Hickox. The running time is 106 minutes.

The Blu-ray is crisp and clear. The disc includes a trailer, cartoon, and a brief "making of" featurette, all carried over from the original WB DVD release.

Now that all four Bogart-Bacall films are out on Blu-ray, I wouldn't be surprised if the Warner Archive eventually releases them in a collection. Whether acquired singly or together, these Blu-rays are beautiful and well worth picking up.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the WBShop.

Disneyland: Halloween Time 2016

Disneyland's Diamond Celebration has finally come to an end, just as there's a welcome change of seasons in the park.

I spent last evening enjoying Disneyland's annual Halloween Time decorations. Most of the photos in this post were taken Monday night, while a few were taken earlier in the month.

Above, the tram route decorations are now up. The odd-looking background blocks the view of Stars Land construction.

Main Street U.S.A. is now fully decked out!

One of my favorite things each year is the Ray Bradbury Halloween Tree in Frontierland, which seemed to me to look especially beautiful this year:

Love the seasonal cup designs!

I had such a nice time sitting and chatting with friends at Coke Corner on Main Street last night.

I'm sad about the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror going away in favor of a Guardians of the Galaxy theme. I'm a Marvel fan but Guardians of the Galaxy simply doesn't fit with the Buena Vista Street theming. I continue to regret that Disney refused to invest in a "third gate" for its Star Wars and Marvel properties, which would have been a lot of fun while not disrupting so much at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure.

Disney California Adventure has brought back the "AP Days" theme from earlier this year and is offering passholders a different button each week in September. Here are the first three designs I've collected. The other button markets the 25th Anniversary Edition of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1991):

I'm looking forward to attending Mickey's Halloween Party in mid-October!

September 23rd Update: More Halloween Time 2016.

Previous Halloween Time Posts and Photos: September 29, 2006, September 30, 2006, October 21, 2006, September 28, 2007, October 12, 2007, October 17, 2008, October 9, 2009, October 15, 2010, the 2011 Annual Passholder Private Party (October 17, 2011); October 21, 2012, September 13, 2013, October 18, 2013September 12, 2014, and September 18, 2015.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Tonight's Movie: The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) at UCLA

Sunday night was a great evening for film noir fans at UCLA's Billy Wilder Theater.

The occasion was a double bill shown as part of the ongoing Kirk Douglas Centennial Celebration. 35mm prints were screened of Douglas's first two films, THE STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS (1946) and OUT OF THE PAST (1947). I'd never seen OUT OF THE PAST on a big screen, so that was a particular treat.

The Film Noir Foundation's Alan K. Rode (below right) provided his usual informative and engaging introductions. He also shared a brief interview he filmed with Douglas a few years ago in which Douglas reminisced about MARTHA IVERS, his first film. He said that Van Heflin was supportive but Barbara Stanwyck was initially cool, until later on she said, "You know, you're a pretty good actor." Eventually they became friends.

Douglas had originally thought he'd have Heflin's part but when he learned he was actually set to play Stanwyck's wimpy alcoholic husband, he went along with it.

I'd never seen MARTHA IVERS before and had little idea what to expect going in. As the movie begins, young Martha (Janis Wilson) is going to run away from her wealthy aunt (Judith Anderson), aided by Sam Masterson (Darryl Hickman). Her plans are thwarted, and when the aunt beats Martha's cat -- a truly disturbing scene for animal lovers -- Martha reacts and the aunt falls to her death.

The cause of death is covered up by Martha's tutor (Roman Bohnen) and his son Walter (Mickey Kuhn), the only ones who know what happened. I couldn't help thinking that if Martha had confessed, she would have gotten off with a manslaughter charge and a light sentence, given the totality of the circumstances...but instead they sweep it all under the rug and let an innocent man be executed for the death.

Many years later Sam (Heflin), who disappeared the night of the death, returns to town, where Martha (Stanwyck) is now married to the district attorney, Walter (Douglas). Sam begins a relationship with a new parolee he randomly meets, named Toni (Lizabeth Scott), but finds himself drawn back into Martha's web.

Martha and Walter both seem to think Sam knows about something and is going to blackmail them...

MARTHA IVERS is an engrossing movie, although I didn't especially care for its rather gothic and very troubling opening sequence. After that it settles down into an interesting, intricately scripted four-person character study, as Sam juggles getting to know Toni with simultaneously reacquainting himself with the rather peculiar Martha and Walter.

I've never been a particular Douglas fan, but it was very interesting contrasting his acting in MARTHA IVERS and OUT OF THE PAST. I was especially impressed with the continuity in the performances of Kuhn as the young Walter and Douglas as the older version of the character, as they are so well matched. Douglas's weak, emotionally flabby Walter is such a polar opposite from his controlling Whit in OUT OF THE PAST that one almost wonders how he came to be cast in his second film! He grew in my estimation after watching these films back to back.

Heflin and Stanwyck are always solid pros. Douglas said in the video that Stanwyck improvised her final moments in the movie, a scene that's a bit shocking.

This was Scott's second film, and we were told producer Hal Wallis inserted some additional flattering closeups of Scott near the end of production. She's always interesting in an off-kilter sort of way, a unique actress who was well-suited for her part as a rather mixed-up woman.

That's Blake Edwards in an early role as a hitchhiking sailor in Heflin's first scene. The cast also includes Ann Doran, Frank Orth, Olin Howland, and James Flavin.

THE STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS was directed by Lewis Milestone from a screenplay by Robert Rossen. It was filmed in black and white by Victor Milner. The running time is 116 minutes.

THE STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS was a Paramount Pictures release which fell into public domain and is available in many DVD editions. Various editions can also be rented for streaming on Amazon.