Friday, April 30, 2010

“I'm so scared, even my goose pimples have goose pimples…”

Movies Unlimited sent me an e-mail yesterday flogging a "sale" on the titles available in the Warners Archive collection, but the announcement that really caught my eye is this announcement that Universal Home Video will be releasing a box set entitled Bob Hope: Thanks for the Memories on June 8th. There’ll be six movies in this collection—three of which have already been previous releases on DVD: The Ghost Breakers (1940), Road to Morocco (1942) and The Paleface (1948).

But there’ll also be three previously unreleased Hope vehicles in this set: Thanks for the Memory (1938), The Cat and the Canary (1939) and Nothing But the Truth (1941). It’s gratifying to see Universal finally give the 1939 horror comedy classic Canary an official DVD nod—it’s been available in both “unauthorized” Region 1 and Region 2 editions for some time now—and if I didn’t already have one of those editions I’d order this set in a New York minute, particularly since I’d like to have a copy of the underrated Truth in the dusty TDOY archives. (As for Memory—I haven’t seen it but its reputation suggests it’s not something I need to drop everything for; it was a hastily-put-together production designed to cash in on the popularity of the “Thanks for the Memory” tune featured in The Big Broadcast of 1938 [1938], Hope’s feature film breakthrough. Memory’s chief draw is the duet Two Sleepy People, performed by Bob and Broadcast co-star Shirley Ross.) Any self-respecting Hope fan already owns Breakers, Morocco and Paleface so I don’t know why Universal didn’t look for those Hope vehicles not on DVD (Some Like It Hot [1939], Let's Face It [1943])—in particular My Favorite Spy (1951), which is probably the last remaining ‘big” Bob Hope comedy in the catalog.

I went to to grab a photo of the Hope set to put in this post, and while I was there made the completist decision to order The Three Stooges Collection, Vol. 8: 1955-1959. This set will contain the remaining Shemp-as-“Third Stooge” comedies as well as the sixteen two-reelers Moe and Larry made with Joe Besser. I’m not particularly wild about these comedies—though they have their vociferous defenders—but again, in the interest of completion, I felt it was necessary to add them to my collection. What I find most disappointing is that when Sony originally announced these chronological Stooges releases there was speculation that some of the rare goodies in the Columbia library—the Shemp Howard solo shorts, for example—might appear as extras on these discs but that idea appears to have been abandoned. Which is a shame, really—I’d be willing to bet that Sony could have sold more of the Shemp collections if film buffs could have scored pristine copies of Mr. Noisy (1946) and Society Mugs (1946).

I want to take a brief moment to offer a shout-out to faithful TDOY reader Mike in Oklahoma City; he was good enough to offer me copies of the back issues of the Noir City Sentinel I don’t have in my collection—and for that I thank him profusely. I also want to pass along this item of interest from Bill Cunningham—a publication entitled Radio Western Adventures which undoubtedly will be a “must-own” for fans (it’s mentioned that Adventures is a tribute to Jim Harmon…and that’s all I needed to hear to get on board); you can get additional info here.

Turner Classic Movies is programming a mini-slew of George Raft films this evening beginning with the underrated Background to Danger (1943) at 8pm—it’s got both Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre in the cast, and that’s all you really need to know it’s a must-see—and followed by the premiere of The House Across the Bay (1940), which also premieres on DVD today, according to this post at Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings. Nocturne (1946) and Johnny Angel (1945) will wrap up Raft Fest at 11:15pm and 12:45am, respectively.

TCM Underground will offer up a showing of the 1965 cult film Incubus after Johnny Angel—yes, this is the William Shatner film directed by The Outer Limits’ Leslie Stevens that features dialogue in the international language of Esperanto (Mark Evanier notes that this and the presence of Shatner are “two very good reasons not to seek out the movie”). I have a sneaking suspicion that Incubus may turn out to be another Skidoo (1968)…but since I can’t seem to escape those incessant Priceline television commercials in which Shat is hanging out with what appears to be a gigantic pimp wearing a fur coat, curiosity’s got the best of me and I’m willing to sit in for a few hands.

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

“Stop writing about me on the blog!”

The above is a direct quote from none other than my sainted mother, who was not amused to learn that she recently became the subject of a post on Twitter:

Author's mother watched TALL TARGET (1951) and said there were “too many people falling off trains.”

Needless to say, she is not nearly as accepting of the limelight as yours truly. Anyway, I thought I’d take a spare bit o’bandwidth to note that the Warner Archive is currently running a select “widescreen” sale: over fifty of their titles are being spotlighted in a “Buy 3 for $39.95 plus free shipping” promotion that I simply couldn’t resist passing up—particularly since I was also able to use a $5 off coupon in the process. So the films Tribute to a Bad Man (1956), Party Girl (1958) and Skin Game (1971) will soon be winging their way towards Rancho Yesteryear next week.

And Warner Archive: enough with the promotions already. I’m not made of money and we’ve already established that I’m weak and powerless to resist.

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Movies and stuff I’ve stared at recently during my convalescence #3

Each Dawn I Die (1939) – It’s been a while since I unspooled this Jimmy Cagney classic…and I kind of forgot how corny it is. Cagney plays Frank Ross, a crusading newspaper reporter whose muckraking expose on a corrupt D.A. (Thurston Hall—who else?) and his stooge (Victor Jory) gets him in a heap o’trouble—he winds up going in The Big House, framed on a manslaughter charge (he was “responsible” for the death of three people while driving under the influence). Fortunately for Ross, he’s made a friend in “Hood” Stacy (George Raft), a lifer who convinces the reporter to rat him out for the death of a prison stoolie (Joe Downing) so that he can escape during the trial and find the individual (Abner Biberman) responsible for falsely fingering Ross. Because Ross tipped off his paper as to Stacy’s plan, Stacy reneges on his promise to assist Frank…but Ross’s loyal girlfriend (Jane Bryan) talks some sense into the Stacester, who gives himself up at approximately the same time several of their convict pals are planning a massive prison break.

Dawn is one of those movies that if you stop to think about the plot will elicit a “Oh, come on!” response from inside—fortunately, director William Keighley makes certain there’s no time to ponder the implausibilities and instead keeps the film moving like an runaway express train to Hell. The movie also contains one of Cagney’s best performances—as a “right guy” who finds “the System” doesn’t always play fair…and as the proceedings continue, becomes more and more embittered about his circumstances (“I'll get out if I have to kill every screw in the joint!”). Plenty of familiar character faces in this one: “Slapsie” Maxie Rosenbloom, George Bancroft, Stanley Ridges, Alan Baxter, Edward Pawley, Emma Dunn, Louis Jean Heydt, etc. Mom gave this one a big thumbs-up.

'G' Men (1935) – I personally thought this film—in which Cagney’s a criminal lawyer who becomes a Fed to avenge the death of a pal—was a much better outing for the actor; most of the movie will probably be familiar territory because what were once original touches have now become clichés but if you approach it with the mindset of “hey…this was groundbreaking stuff back then” you’ll get a big kick out of it. The only disappointing aspect of Men is that TDOY fave Ann Dvorak takes a back seat to Margaret Lindsay in the love interest department; Mom, on the other hand, always has trouble looking past Robert Armstrong as anybody but Carl “King Kong” Denham. William Keighley held the reins on this production, too, which showcases familiar Warner faces such as Barton MacLane and Harold Huber…not to mention Lloyd Nolan, Russell Hopton, Edward Pawley (yeah, he’s in this one, too), Monte Blue, Regis Toomey and Addison Richards. (The DVD version is the 1949 re-release, which features David Brian in a brief prologue.)

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R.I.P, Dorothy Provine

Bill Crider, a.k.a. “Death’s Maitre’d,” reports on his weblog on the passing of actress Dorothy Provine at the age of 75 after a bout with emphysema. (Ditto Mark Evanier and Toby “The Once and Future Ruler of Toobworld” O’Brien.) Provine, a sexy and vivacious actress-comedienne who was truly one of Hollywood’s most underrated talents, appeared in scores of television series and films—most notably the 1963 all-star comedy extravaganza It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963).

Dottie’s best-known silver screen roles include the titular turns in The Bonnie Parker Story (1957) and The 30 Foot Bride of Candy Rock (1959), opposite Lou Costello. I’ve always had a soft spot for her performance in Who's Minding the Mint? (1967), a woefully underrated “caper” comedy directed by voice actor Howard Morris and featuring an incredible cast of comedy greats that includes Milton Berle, Victor Buono, Bob Denver and Joey Bishop. Her last film role was in another TDOY guilty pleasure, the 1968 Walt Disney romp Never a Dull Moment with Dick Van Dyke and Edward G. Robinson (she also co-starred in another Disney favorite, That Darn Cat! [1965]).

Dorothy was also a major presence in two briefly popular television series produced by Warner Brothers in the 1950s/1960s—she played “Rocky Shaw” opposite Roger Moore in The Alaskans (1959-60) and was then cast as “Pinky Pinkham” in The Roaring 20’s (1960-62). Other television series graced by Provine’s participation include Lawman, The Real McCoys, Wagon Train, The Texan, Colt .45, Sugarfoot, Bronco, Hawaiian Eye and 77 Sunset Strip.

R.I.P, Miss Provine. You’ll be sorely missed.

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Movies and stuff I’ve stared at recently during my convalescence #2

The folks from UPS delivered my recent purchases from the Warner Archive Monday (after an unsuccessful first attempt on the previous Friday) and I watched a pair of them yesterday with mi Madre because she grew weary of USA’s Law & Order: Special Victims Unit marathon. Mom thought Split Second (1953) was dopey but fun…but I was surprised when she declared her disappointment with The Tall Target (1951)—she explained that she didn’t care for it because it was a period piece and that there were “too many people falling off trains.” (I, on the other hand, couldn’t help but think that Target would make a swell double bill with The Narrow Margin [1952].)

We did, however, find time to watch an old Eddie G/Bogie flick, Bullets or Ballots (1936) that she thoroughly enjoyed—Robinson’s a “disgraced” cop who starts working for gangsters Bogart and Barton MacLane even though you know pretty much from the get-go that it’s all a transparent ruse to bring the bad guys to justice. I liked Bullets because I enjoyed seeing both Joan Blondell and Louise Beavers in offbeat roles as two women in charge of a numbers racket (Beavers’ character was loosely based on the real-life numbers “queen” of Harlem, Stephanie S. Clair). Since Warner Bros. 1930s social dramas seem to have a special attraction for Mom, I’m kicking around the idea of running a double feature of 'G' Men (1935) and Each Dawn I Die (1939) later on this afternoon.

I was watching TVLand’s 8th Annual Gratuitous Backpatting Awards Show Sunday night (what can I say?—I get a morbid fascination of catching up with former television stars now approaching decrepitude) and was curious as to whether anybody else has seen the newest Hallmark commercial that shows a mother rifling through Mothers’ Day cards from the past from her daughter, who’s now married and has a child of her own. It’s real-tug-at-the-heartstrings stuff…but also completely bogus, because real mothers never save any of that stuff if they have the option of tossing it…at least mine never did. TVLand was also touting heavily their newest programming travesty—a series entitled Hot in Cleveland, which will star sitcom icons Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves, Wendie Malick and Betty White as the lovable old curmudgeonly senior citizen. (Am I the only one who’d prefer to see Bertinelli and White in One Day at a Time and Mary Tyler Moore Show reruns, respectively?)

Laura of Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings had the honor of contributing a guest post to Movies Unlimited’s MovieFanFare! Blog this past Monday (reviewing A Yank in the R.A.F. [1941]) and I want to take time to congratulate her as well as shamelessly self-promote TDOY because MU asked me to throw in a guest post, too. It’s my review of The Cat and the Canary (1927), which was previously posted here last October as part of a “Silent Horrors” tribute. (I want to thank Movies Unlimited again for allowing me to be in such prestigious company!)

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Thrilling Days of Convalescence (Part 4 in a series)

Although I made my triumphant return to Rancho Yesteryear on Friday evening around 8:00pm (after spending nearly the entire day at the hospital waiting to see if my doctor was going to let me go home—don’t get me started on that, by the way) this is the first opportunity I’ve had to sit down and rejoin the blog already in progress. (Many thanks to Pam for filling in during my absence, by the way.) The piece I wrote about my late friend Mr. Johnson was written before I went in for surgery.

I’m sure we all remember that too-cool-for-school scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) where the High Priest guy reaches into the sacrificial victim’s chest cavity and pulls out his still beating heart. Unfortunately, we don’t see the excised footage where said victim whines about his chest hurting and has to take a couple of Percocets to numb the pain before he goes to bed each night. That, in case you were curious, would be me—and believe me, I’m using the pain medication sparingly because I’m deathly afraid of becoming addicted to it (I’m liable to become so dependent I’ll lose all inhibitions and allow my thoughts to spill freely like so much talk-show flatulence…with talent on loan from God, if you know what I mean).

Of course, if this were to happen it would be difficult to hear me because my voice has become rather hoarse as a result of the operation—it’s been almost a week and I still haven’t gotten it back. Everyone has been telling me that this is nothing to be concerned about; that this does happen oftentimes as a result of the anesthesia. (I’m not entirely convinced, and in fact I’m not ready to discount that the doc may have done some damage to my vocal cords while landing that thing he took out of my chest—my mother keeps telling me that if this is the case, there’s not much I can do since I signed a waiver…but that doesn’t mean I can’t blame the anesthesia guys.)

Speaking of Mom, she has been quite eager for me to arrange various cinematic entertainments for the past several days. Sunday afternoon found us watching To Have and Have Not (1944) on Georgia Public Television (a particular favorite of hers) and afterward, GPTV ran an interesting documentary entitled Cinema's Exiles: From Hitler to Hollywood (2009), which documented the struggles of several individuals in the German film industry to find work in Hollywood after escaping the Nazis. For every success (Billy Wilder) there was a failure (Joe May), and my only regret is that I only got to see the last hour of this (we watched the news at 6pm and then ate dinner). (The highlight of this wonderful presentation is a “roll call” of those German émigrés who, despite their status in their home countries, could only find one week’s worth of work on the motion picture classic Casablanca [1942].) During the doc, they showed scenes from To Be or Not to Be (1942)—and so I put that on yesterday morning for Mom’s benefit (I think the dark nature of the comedy was a bit off-putting); we also logged in Crossfire (1947; Mom didn’t care for Robert Young), Crazy House (1943; for the Sherlock Holmes gag) and Brother Orchid (1940), which she thought was the best of the bunch.

Once again, I want to thank everyone for the heartfelt sentiments and well-wishes you sent my way—sorry this post isn’t a bit longer but I have to admit I’m sort of surprised at how much the surgery took out of me (I was feeling completely tip-top before I went in). I’m going to sign off for now and look for something to entertain us for the rest of the morning and afternoon.

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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Play it again, Sam

One year ago today, Samuel Marquieth Johnson left this world for a far better place…but as an unfortunate side effect, also emptied the hearts of the individuals who loved and cherished him as a true blue friend and “soul brother.” I didn’t know Sam as long as some of his other friends and neighbors, but as I wrote in his online guest book at the time: “I consider myself a richer individual for having made his acquaintance.”

I still continue to believe this, as well as the simple inarguable fact that Sam Johnson was a giant among men. He was, as Tonto of The Lone Ranger fame so succinctly put it, my “kemosabe”—and though I still find myself saddened every now and then by his passing, a smile comes to my face when I think about him fixing bacon-oriented delicacies in the Kitchen of the Great Beyond.

Requiescat in pace, buddy. You are still sorely missed.

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Update: The Second (not really)

This isn't really an update. I have no new information. So I'm sticking with the old. I am assuming that Ivan will be back at Rancho Yesteryear very soon.

Ivan did leave us a post that is scheduled to publish today. I wanted to let everyone know that lest readers think he is back in the saddle.

I have never been hospitalized except for a tonsil removal mumble mumble years ago. Which, as we all know, doesn't count. I have, however, had my share of loved ones spending varying lengths of time hospitalized. It can be quite a strain on all involved. I have learned that if one is the type of person to see nothing of the ludicrous, the farcical and the humorous, one will certainly experience nothing but the dark and gloomy. One reason why I'm sure Ivan will come of this just fine. And generally feeling a lot better.


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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Update: The First

I had a call from Ivan's lovely mother last night. Unfortunately, I was not around and it went to voicemail. And my return call went to voicemail. I would have loved to have spoken with Ivan's mom. I feel like I know her after all these years.

The surgery went well. The plan is for him to be in the hospital for a few days. When last seen he was still a bit dopey. I know.... rarely has there been such a straight line waiting for a wise-crack. I'll let Ivan give details in his own inimitable way.

Ivan - we love you! These situations are also tough on the loved ones holding down the fort in, oh, so many ways. Hope Mom and Sr. will get some rest now, too.


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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The day is upon us

Today is the day. Our fearless leader (well...may not so fearless) is hopefully in recovery by this time.  Personally, I am waiting for the sitcom that will come from this adventure.

We're all thinking about you, Ivan!


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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Cuts like a knife

The phone call has been made…and I report for surgery tomorrow at 6:00am, or what my friend Elisson refreshingly calls “the butt-crack of dawn.” (Commenter Maureen—aka bluefly—likes to use the expression “the crack of ice.”) They’ll begin slicing me open at 7am, and if everything goes as planned I’m sure there’ll be more cracking…cans of Bud Light, I’m guessing.

Until then, please make Pam feel at home—she’ll be watching the blog for the duration or, to use a term I’ve picked up from watching too many Rawhide reruns, “she’s got the herd.” She wanted me to stress that expectations shouldn’t be stretched too high as “I am not a blogger.” (She’s too modest to mention that she was an understudy for the female lead in the off-Broadway musical Out of the Blog. Yes, I just made that up.)

To all of those people who sent me well-wishes—I treasure each and every one of you. Simply put, you’re the best. Until then…to quote Chairman Mitchum from His Kind of Woman (1951): “I’ll see you all of a sudden, Sam…”

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“It’s making me wait/It’s keeping me wai-ai-ai-ai-ai-ting…”

There’s no way I’m going to be able to fool anybody—I’m trying to be nonchalant because today is the day that I have to call in (around 2-4pm) to learn what time I’m expected at the hospital tomorrow. And the suspense is going to kill me…if the operation doesn’t.

A few people have asked me how long I’ll be in the hospital and I wish I had a definite answer for that but my stay will depend a lot on what the doc finds once he opens me up. When I glanced at a copy of my medical chart to see just exactly what he was planning to do there were a lot of big medical words that I couldn’t even begin to pronounce so I jokingly told the lady that was conducting the pre-op instructions that he was basically going to remove anything that isn’t nailed down. I picture this scenario:

DOCTOR: What’s that big organ-like thingy, pumping blood?

NURSE: That’s his heart, Doctor…

DOCTOR: Does he need that?

TIN MAN: Oh, if I only had a heart…

DOCTOR: Get that metal individual out of the operating theater!

Yes, I hear you snickering out there (“I’m surprised he has a heart…”). So help me, if any more of this foolishness continues I’ll turn this blog around and we’ll go right straight home… One positive note: when I do show up at the hospital to register I'm to do so at the "Pre-Op: Short Stay" cubicle so I've got my fingers crossed that it's truth in advertising.

In non-depressing non-medical news, Mom and I watched Thieves' Highway (1949) last night, continuing our unofficial Richard Conte festival. She gave it a big thumbs-up…except she became a bit frustrated a few times because Conte’s Nick Garcos seemed to be thick as a plank. (I reviewed Highway back in my halcyon Salon Blog days here.) We could probably spend a few more nights with The Best of Conte; she’s already seen The Blue Gardenia (1953) and I have Call Northside 777 (1948), Cry of the City (1948), Whirlpool (1949), The Big Combo (1955) and The Brothers Rico (1957) all on DVD (the last one I recorded off TCM) but those may have to wait until my return. (I wish The Sleeping City [1950] was available on disc—not to mention Under the Gun [1951].)

We had also wanted to squeeze in a viewing of All Through the Night (1941), which TCM ran last night beginning at 6pm…but of course, 11Alive’s “Happy Time” newscast was on opposite the Bogie flick, followed by The Brian Williams Show—so we deferred to my father’s insatiable jones for news. I told Mom not to worry; that I had Night on DVD—it would just take me a little time to find it. (I also reminded her that she’s already seen it, but she swears she doesn’t remember.) She also wants to see Larceny, Inc. (1942) since it was on yesterday but I told her I have that on disc, too. (That one’s a little easier to locate.)

In TV-on-DVD news, announces that The Lucy Show: The Official Second Season will be winging its way to stores on July 13th courtesy of CBS DVD-Paramount. These twenty-eight episodes from the famous redhead’s sophomore season feature the arrival of longtime co-star Gale Gordon as the irascible bank president Theodore J. Mooney. Sounds like a collection I’m going to have to start clipping coupons for…though in all honesty, I haven’t had an opportunity to look at Season One yet.

Okay, I have something to keep me occupied until 2pm—I’m working on a pair of essays that will appear at Edward Copeland on Film in May—so I’ll post an update later this afternoon once I get the word.

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Monday, April 19, 2010

“…deep down inside/I can’t deny/I’m tempted…”

So I moseyed on over to the Warner Archive site yesterday to cross Above Suspicion (1943) and Convicts 4 (1962) off my Wish List…

This proved to be a big mistake…because like the prototypical femme fatale who lures the hero to his doom in any respectable film noir, I answered the siren song of the Archive’s 30% off Select Film Noir Classics sale like the prize chump I am. Here’s what ended up in my cart:

The Man I Love (1947) – Okay, say it with me now: “If Ida Lupino is ‘the poor man’s Bette Davis’—thank heavens I’m a poor man!” This is one of my favorite Ida films; she plays a nightclub chanteuse (“She wouldn't give you the time of day if she had two watches.”) who gets a job at a jernt run by gangster Robert Alda (no offense to Alda fans—but how did this guy get to be such a player in films back then?) and spurns his amorous advances in order to make time with ex-jazz pianist Herman Brix…er, I mean, Bruce Bennett. What I like about this picture is that Lupino transcends the usual torch singing stereotype by playing a woman struggling to keep things together with her sisters, brother and next-door neighbor—she’s a bluesy Donna Reed, with a slinkier wardrobe. Film buffs know that Man was the inspiration for Martin Scorsese’s much-discussed (is it brilliant or a clinker?) New York, New York (1977).

Split Second (1953) – The very first time I saw this guilty pleasure was on the USA Network—long before they surrendered their schedule to endless NCIS and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit reruns. Directed by Dick “Richard Diamond” Powell, Second’s a nail-biting suspenser about a trio of convicts (Stephen McNally, Paul Kelly and Frank “Chief Wild Eagle” DeKova) who hold a group of individuals hostage in a “ghost” town—oblivious to the fact that the town is scheduled as the site for an A-bomb testing. The hostages include reporter Keith Andes, nightclub chanteuse (and TDOY fave) Jan Sterling and bitchy socialite Alexis Smith—Smith is accompanied by her boy toy Robert Paige and is later joined by her cuckolded doctor hubby, Richard Egan. (Arthur Hunnicutt also stumbles onto the assembled crowd, playing—oh, what a range he had!—a grizzled old desert rat.) This is perfect non-think entertainment, with goofy dialogue (“Well, Colonel, when you've seen one atom bomb, you've seen them all.”) and a memorable finale. (And soon it will be mine…all mine!)

The Tall Target (1951) – Dick Powell takes his rightful place in front of the camera in this underrated Anthony Mann thriller based on a true story. Powell plays John Kennedy(!), a New York detective who’s hip to an assassination plot involving President Abraham Lincoln—and boards a train that Lincoln is traveling on when his superiors refuse to believe his info. He tries to get word to the proper authorities—and runs into the predictable problem of who can be trusted…and who can’t? I’m afraid my brief description can’t do justice to this wonderful little sleeper (John DiLeo has a smashing essay on the film in his book Screen Savers: 40 Remarkable Movies Awaiting Rediscovery; here’s a sample) and though I had originally planned to wait until TCM showed this again to secure a copy (well, that was pretty much the case with all the movies I purchased) I finally decided that this movie (with the discounted price of $13.96) was too good to pass up. I love the supporting cast in this one: Paula Raymond as Powell’s love interest, Adolphe Menjou, Marshall “Daktari” Thompson, Leif Erickson, Will Geer, Richard Rober, Florence Bates and a young Ruby Dee—plus bits contributed by Barbara Billingsley, Ken Christy, Robert Easton, Jonathan “Mr. Dithers” Hale, TDOY’s favorite silver screen weasel Percy Helton, Regis Toomey and Will Wright.

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Crossing Yordan

Over at the Film Noir Foundation website, they have a couple of interesting articles from the Noir City Sentinel available to those who don’t receive the publication; one of them—written by the inestimable Alan K. Rode—covers the career of screenwriter Philip Yordan, who penned such classic film screenplays as Dillinger (1945), Johnny Guitar (1954) and The Big Combo (1955). Rode’s essay attempts to answer the question: was he the renowned and prolific scribe of nearly a hundred feature films, “or was his career the most elaborate and prolonged ‘front’ in Hollywood history?”

It’s a ripping good read, and to me the most interesting anecdote in the piece is the story surrounding House of Strangers (1949), a 20th Century-Fox film noir starring Edward G. Robinson as the tyrannical patriarch of an Italian banking family—loosely based on I’ll Never Go There Anymore, a novel written by Jerome Weidman. The film was a bust at the box office—some say because Fox’s Darryl F. Zanuck pulled the film because the family uncomfortably resembled that of studio president Spyros Skouras, who was not amused by Robinson’s caricatural performance. In an example of Hollywood’s moral bankruptcy, Yordan won an Oscar for—wait for it—Best Original Story five years later when he refashioned Strangers into a Western, Broken Lance (1954). Lost in all this is how the final screenplay for Strangers wasn’t even written by Yordan but by the director of the film, Joseph L. Mankiewicz:

Although Yordan helped develop the characters, Siegel fired him after an incomplete first draft because the producer believed the script wasn’t working. Yordan’s unfinished script was rewritten by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who replaced Yordan’s dialogue with his own. He directed House of Strangers using his own revised screenplay. The Screen Writer’s Guild decided that the credit should read: “Original Story by Philip Yordan; Screenplay by Philip Yordan and Joseph L. Mankiewicz.”

Mankiewicz, who recently had won a Guild arbitration case on A Letter to Three Wives, sensed bureaucratic payback in the Strangers decision and, furious, refused to split the credit. Yordan ended up with sole screenplay credit for House of Strangers. He won his Oscar for Broken Lance based on whatever he did or did not do on House of Strangers. Years later, Mankiewicz sniffed, “Phil Yordan made a career out that screenplay.” Yordan’s version of the House of Strangers debacle? “Joe Mankiewicz tried to put his name on my screenplay as the co-author and Sol struck it off.”

I know it’s too late to make a long post short, but reading Rode’s essay is what inspired me to watch my DVD of House of Strangers last night, and I believe I can safely say that nearly twenty years had passed since I viewed it the last time—a VHS copy that I got to rent for free when I worked at a Ballbuster Blockbuster Video store in Savannah. Remarkably, the movie still holds up well—though I will confess that I didn’t enjoy it as much as I did the first time around; this might be because I’m too familiar with Broken Lance…which I caught on AMC a few Saturdays back.

For those who haven’t seen Strangers: discredited lawyer Max Monetti (Richard Conte) emerges from prison after a seven-year stretch and pays a visit to the Monetti Savings and Loan—a banking institution now run by his brothers Joe (Luther Adler), Antonio (Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.) and Pietro (Paul Valentine). The savings and loan was once known as the Gino Monetti bank; Gino (Edward G. Robinson) being the patriarch of the family who has since gone to his greater reward. During his stay in the Big House, the only thing that kept Max going was the thought of wreaking vengeance on his brothers—Max ended up there on a jury tampering rap in an effort to keep Gino out of jail—but after meeting up again with his girlfriend Irene (Susan Hayward), who pleads for him to bury the past and start over fresh in San Francisco, he abandons any plans of revenge after a series of flashbacks convince him that all his father accomplished during his time on Earth was to sow dissension among the four sons.

Strangers was a big hit with my Mom, who watched it with me; we’re both big fans of Conte and Robinson (in fact, I had planned to make it a Conte double feature by putting on Thieves' Highway [1949] afterward but she decided to call it a night) and she was pleased when she recognized Zimbalist (I joked that he looked a lot like a guy I knew in the FBI). It shouldn’t come as any surprise that I’ll watch Eddie G. in just about anything, and while I was kind of disappointed at the paucity of Hayward’s role I did like this dynamite dress she wears in one scene. Great supporting cast in this one: Debra Paget, Hope Emerson, Esther Minciotti, Diana Douglas—and OTR vets like Dick Ryan, Sid Tomack and Herb Vigran (he’s sitting to Eddie G’s right in the boxing sequence) in bit roles. The debate over who was ultimately responsible for Strangers’ screenplay probably won’t ever be settled—but in the end it’s a moot point as it is a most entertaining and dynamic picture.

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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Simon says: Rest in peace

Mark Evanier reports that legendary vocal artist “Captain” Allen Swift has passed away at the age of 86. One of the most prolific vocal talents of any generation, he’s probably best known for his work with Total Television—providing the Lionel Barrymore-like tones of Simon Bar Sinister on Underdog and the Ronald Colman-inspired Odie Cologne of King Leonardo and His Short Subjects (he was also Itchy Brother and Tooter Turtle). Other productions he worked on include The New Casper Cartoon Show, Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales, The Beagles (a parody on some British rock ‘n’ roll group—I read somewhere that this TV series no longer has any existing prints) and Diver Dan. He also voiced many of the characters in the cult cartoon flick Mad Monster Party? (1967) and guest-starred (in the flesh) on TV shows like The Equalizer, Crime Story, Kate & Allie and Law & Order.

(Update: My good friend Andrew Leal of Spanish Popeye fame has posted a nice tribute to Mr. Swift here.)

Meanwhile, the cinematic world has lost one of its legendary and most talented film editors in Dede Allen, who has also died at 86; despite being the first film editor—male or female—to earn sole credit on a film for her work she was never awarded an Oscar during her long career…even though she was nominated thrice for Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Reds (1981) and Wonder Boys (2000). She edited such seminal films as The Hustler (1961) and Bonnie and Clyde (1967), and some other TDOY faves in which she wielded scissors include Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), Alice's Restaurant (1969), Little Big Man (1970) and Night Moves (1975).

R.I.P, Allen and Dede. You both will be missed.

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Coming distractions: July 2010 on TCM

When you least expect it—The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™ sneaks its upcoming (and tentative) July schedule onto the Internets for devoted fans to peruse—and dutifully, Thrilling Days of Yesteryear is there to comment on some of the month’s highlights (all times EDT):

Thursday, July 1 – Actresses Leslie Caron and Olivia de Havilland have birthdays today (and both are still with us!) so TCM will fete Leslie with showings of Glory Alley (1952; 6am), The Glass Slipper (1955; 7:30am) and Lili (1953; 10:30am)—not to mention a repeat of the Bobby Osbo interview with La Caron on Private Screenings (9:30am). Then it’s Livvy’s turn at 12 noon with Devotion (1946), followed by Dodge City (1939; 2pm), To Each His Own (1946; 3:45pm) and The Heiress (1949; 6pm).
In prime time: it’s a salute to the juvenile delinquent as the channel rolls out Rebel Without a Cause (1955) at 8 pm. This will be followed by Blackboard Jungle (1955; 10pm), The Delinquents (1957; 12mid), Crime in the Streets (1956; 1:30am), Hot Rods to Hell (1967; 3:15am) and The Wild One (1953; 5am).
Friday, July 2 – I’ve seen the Ford Sterling version (1926) and the Red Skelton version (1946)—and now I’ll get the opportunity to see Spencer Tracy’s take on The Show-Off (1934), which TCM will show at 6:30am. The channel will also show the best of the films in R-K-O’s The Great Gildersleeve series, Gildersleeve on Broadway (1943), at 12 noon.
Come the evening, TCM has The Wizard of Oz (1939) scheduled for a showing at 8:00 pm, supplemented by The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: 50 Years of Magic (1990) at 7 and Memories of Oz (2001) at 10. (In case you’re one of the few individuals who’s never seen the picture.)

Saturday, July 3 – TCM’s Saturday Bowery Boys matinee continues at 10:30am with Blonde Dynamite (1950). On June 10th, it’s Lucky Losers (1950), and that will be followed by Triple Trouble (1950) on the 17th, Blues Busters on the 24th, and Bowery Battalion on July 31st. If you weren’t fortunate enough to start your Leo Gorcey-Huntz Hall library from the beginning (like me, for instance—I missed a couple during my convalescence), TCM will give you an opportunity to play catch-up with a day of Bowery Boys flicks on July 23rd: Live Wires (1946; 7:15am), In Fast Company (1946; 8:30am), Bowery Bombshell (1946; 9:45am), Spook Busters (1946; 11am), Mr. Hex (1946; 12:15pm), Hard Boiled Mahoney (1947; 1:30pm), News Hounds (1947; 2:45pm), Bowery Buckaroos (1947; 4pm), Angels' Alley (1948; 5:15pm) and Jinx Money (1948; 6:30pm).
TCM Essentials will show Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) at 8pm later that evening, and then St. Louis’ Marjorie Main will be the “Main” attraction (oh, I slay myself sometimes) with a festival of her films: Ma and Pa Kettle (1949; 10pm), The Long, Long Trailer (1954; 11:30pm), The Women (1939; 1:30am) and Tish (1942; 4am).
Sunday, July 4 – It’s Independence Day!
6:00 AM The Flag (1927)
In this silent film, George Washington appeals to Betsy Ross to help create a flag for the new United States. Cast: Francis X. Bushman, Doris Kenyon, Enid Bennett. Dir: Arthur Maude. C-20 mins, TV-G
6:30 AM Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
An idealistic Senate replacement takes on political corruption. Cast: James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Claude Rains. Dir: Frank Capra. BW-130 mins, TV-G, CC
9:00 AM The Devil's Disciple (1959)
A preacher and a rebel leader change places during the Revolution. Cast: Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier. Dir: Guy Hamilton. BW-83 mins, TV-PG
10:30 AM The Howards of Virginia (1940)
A young Virginian joins the American Revolution despite his love for a beautiful Royalist. Cast: Cary Grant, Martha Scott, Cedric Hardwicke. Dir: Frank Lloyd. BW-116 mins, TV-G, CC
12:30 PM The Scarlet Coat (1955)
An American officer goes undercover to unmask a Revolutionary War traitor. Cast: Cornel Wilde, Michael Wilding, Anne Francis. Dir: John Sturges. C-101 mins, TV-PG, CC, Letterbox Format
2:30 PM 1776 (1972)
The founding fathers struggle to draft the Declaration of Independence. Cast: William Daniels, Ken Howard, Blythe Danner. Dir: Peter H. Hunt. C-165 mins, TV-G, CC, Letterbox Format
5:30 PM Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)
Spirited musical biography of the song-and-dance man who kept America humming through two world wars. Cast: James Cagney, Walter Huston, Joan Leslie. Dir: Michael Curtiz. BW-126 mins, TV-G, CC, DVS
8:00 PM Bye Bye Birdie (1963)
A rock star's personal appearance turns a small town into a disaster area. Cast: Janet Leigh, Dick Van Dyke, Ann-Margret. Dir: George Sidney. C-112 mins, TV-G, CC, Letterbox Format
10:00 PM Oklahoma! (1955)
Pride and a lecherous ranch hand stand between an amorous cowboy and his farm girl sweetheart. Cast: Shirley Jones, Gordon MacRae, Rod Steiger. Dir: Fred Zinnemann. C-140 mins, TV-PG, CC, Letterbox Format
12:30 AM The General (1927)
In this silent film, a Confederate engineer fights to save his train and his girlfriend from the Union army. Cast: Buster Keaton, Marion Mack, Glen Cavender. Dir: Buster Keaton, Clyde Bruckman. BW-75 mins, TV-G
Monday, July 5 – TCM will kick off its Star of the Month salute at 8:00 p.m.; this July finds Gregory Peck the chosen one. Here’s the lineup of Peck features:
08:00pm Moby Dick (1956)
10:00pm To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
02:45pm The Yearling (1946)
05:00pm The Paradine Case (1947)
Monday, July 12
08:00pm Roman Holiday (1953)
10:00pm The Valley of Decision (1945)
12:00am Spellbound (1945)
02:00am The Great Sinner (1949)
04:00am The Million Pound Note (1954; aka Man With a Million)
05:30am I Walk the Line (1970)
Tuesday, July 13
07:15am Designing Woman (1957)
Monday, July 19
10:00pm Captain Newman, M.D. (1963)
12:15am The Guns of Navarone (1961)
03:00am The Purple Plain (1954)
04:45am On the Beach (1959)
Tuesday, July 20
07:00am Days of Glory (1944)
08:30am Behold a Pale Horse (1964)
Monday, July 26
08:00pm How the West Was Won (1962)
11:00pm Duel in the Sun (1946)
01:30am Mackenna's Gold (1969)
03:45am The Big Country (1958)

Tuesday, July 6 – Janet Leigh’s natal anniversary. Celebrate at 7 am with Fearless Fagan (1952), and then stick around for My Sister Eileen (1955; 8:30am), Safari (1956; 10:30am), The Vikings (1958; 12:15pm), Who Was That Lady? (1960; 2:15pm), An American Dream (1966; 4:15pm) and Three on a Couch (1966; 6pm)
Wednesday, July 7 – TCM pays homage to director Sir Carol Reed in prime time, beginning with Trapeze (1956) at 8:00 pm. This will be followed by Bank Holiday (1938; 10pm), Odd Man Out (1947; 11:30pm), The Man Between (1953; 1:30am), The Third Man (1949; 3:15am)…and a documentary I’ll have to take a gander at, Shadowing the Third Man (2004; 5:15am).

Thursday, July 8 – Another day, another noir. No, it’s not meant to imply that’s a bad thing: the lineup consists of Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956; 6:30am), Nora Prentiss (1947; 8am), The Locket (1946; 10am), The Strip (1951; 11:30am), The Narrow Margin (1952; 1pm), Born to Kill (1947; 2:15pm), The Unsuspected (1947; 4pm) and Dark Passage (1947; 6pm). (Regarding PrentissVince Keenan asks if this movie is Noir … Or Not? in the latest Noir City Sentinel…but it would appear TCM has already made that call for us.)
Come prime time, wax down your boogie board and gas up the woody as TCM heads for the beach with a festival that includes Gidget (1959; 8pm), Beach Blanket Bingo (1965; 10pm), Bikini Beach (1964; 12mid), Where the Boys Are (1960; 2am) and Girl Happy (1965; 4am).
Saturday, July 10 – I haven’t seen programmed on TCM The Big Sky (1952) in quite a while, so if you’re curious to see a Howard Hawks western in which the principals (Kirk Douglas, Dewey Martin) provide an interesting gay subtext, check this out at 1:30pm. The channel is also showing a real TDOY favorite in Quatermass and the Pit (1967; aka Five Million Years to Earth) at 6:15pm, and since TCM Essentials has My Darling Clementine (1946) scheduled at 8:00, a slew of John Ford westerns is sure to follow: Sergeant Rutledge (1960; 10pm), The Searchers (1956; 12mid), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949; 2:15am) and Stagecoach (1939; 4:15am).

Monday, July 12 – Okay, I don’t know why they’ve got a tribute to James Dunn planned today—it isn’t even his birthday—but if you’re curious to see what he did outside of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945), then stick around for Have a Heart (1934; 8am), The Payoff (1935; 9:30am), Living on Love (1937; 10:45am), The Living Ghost (1942; 12noon), Government Girl (1943; 1:15pm), Leave It to the Irish (1944; 3:00pm) and Killer McCoy (1947; 4:15pm).
Wednesday, July 14 – Now here’s something you don’t see everyday: a prime time TCM tribute to TDOY director fave Joseph H. Lewis. On tap are So Dark the Night (1946; 8pm), Deadly Is the Female (1949; aka Gun Crazy, 9:15pm), My Name Is Julia Ross (1945; 10:45pm), Cry of the Hunted (1953; 12mid), Desperate Search (1952; 1:30am), Terror in a Texas Town (1958; 3am) and The Halliday Brand (1957; 4:30am).

Thursday, July 15 – Light the candles for director William Dieterle—it’s his birthday today! Party favors will include Juarez (1939; 6am), The Life of Emile Zola (1937; 8:15am), The Story of Louis Pasteur (1935; 10:15am), Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet (1940; 11:45am), All That Money Can Buy (1941; aka The Devil and Daniel Webster; 1:30pm), A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935; 3:30pm) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939; 6pm).
Having satisfied throngs of Dieterle fans, TCM will then cater to the lowest teenage denominator with a night of youth-oriented fodder: Better Off Dead... (1985; 8pm), Sixteen Candles (1984; 10pm), Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986; 12mid), Risky Business (1983; 2am) and Fame (1980; 4am). (If anyone came up to me five years ago and told me I’d one day be able to see Better Off Dead on TCM, I would have had them committed.)
Friday, July 16 – Birthday with Babs! Ms. Stanwyck and TCM celebrate another one with showings of Hollywood Canteen (1944; 6am), The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946; 8:15am), Cry Wolf (1947; 10:15am), The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947; 11:45am), B.F.'s Daughter (1948; 1:30pm), To Please a Lady (1950; 3:30pm), The Man with a Cloak (1951; 5:15pm) and Jeopardy (1953; 6:45pm).

Tuesday, July 20 – Again…TCM isn’t celebrating a birthday but with a lineup of Myrna Loy movies that begins at 10:45am with The Truth About Youth (1930) and finishes up with 1991’s Hollywood Remembers: Myrna Loy - So Nice to Come Home to (7pm), why quibble? Consolation Marriage (1931; 12noon) Thirteen Women (1932; 1:30pm) When Ladies Meet (1933; 2:45pm) Evelyn Prentice (1934; 4:15pm) and Man-Proof (1938; 5:45pm) round out the day’s festivities.
Wednesday, July 21 – Here’s a birthday I’ll bet you don’t celebrate too often—that of the quintessential English gentleman, C. Aubrey Smith. You’ll no doubt want to play hooky from work in order to see Son of India (1931; 6:15am), -But the Flesh Is Weak (1932; 7:45am), Polly of the Circus (1932; 9:15am), The Firebird (1934; 10:30am), The Florentine Dagger (1935; 11:45am), Little Lord Fauntleroy (1936; 1pm), Five Came Back (1939; 3pm) and Beyond Tomorrow (1940; 4:30pm).
By evening, however, you’re bound to be a little bummed because you’ve been summoned for jury duty—but try to keep a stiff upper with showings of 12 Angry Men (1957; 8pm), Perfect Strangers (1950; 10pm), Murder Most Foul (1964; 11:45pm), Ladies of the Jury (1932; 1:30am), We're on the Jury (1937; 2:45am) and The Dock Brief (1962; aka Trial and Error, 4am)
Thursday, July 22 – TCM shows its audience the “Dickens” of a good time (there I go again) with A Tale of Two Cities (1935; 8:15am), A Christmas Carol (1938; 10:30am), Great Expectations (1946; 11:45am), The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (1947; 1:45pm), Oliver Twist (1948; 3:45pm) and A Tale of Two Cities (1958; 5:45pm) today.
Sunday, July 25 – TCM is running a mini-marathon of Abbott & Costello features beginning at 8pm with one of their most popular vehicles, Buck Privates (1941). Ride 'Em Cowboy (1942) and The Noose Hangs High (1948) follow at 9:30 and 11pm, respectively.

Monday, July 26 – Here’s an interesting oddity: TCM has Forty Little Mothers (1940) scheduled at 12 noon; it’s an Eddie Cantor picture that finds Banjo Eyes in possession of an abandoned infant. I note this only because the movie was at one time used as joke fodder on Cantor’s radio show (much in the same manner as The Horn Blows at Midnight [1945] was on The Jack Benny Program) until someone wrote in to say that Mothers wasn’t all that bad a picture. Cantor then told his writers to cease and desist with the jokes. Oh, TCM is also going to show one of my favorite Joan Crawford films, Above Suspicion (1943—Joan vs. Nazis!), at 4:30pm…so I can eliminate that title from my Warner Archive wish list.
Tuesday, July 27 – A prime time Doris Day salute is scheduled, with five Dodo films in the mix: The West Point Story (1950; 8pm), The Winning Team (1952; 10pm), By the Light of the Silvery Moon (1953; 12mid), With Six You Get Eggroll (1968; 2am) and The Tunnel of Love (1958; 4am).
Wednesday, July 28 – I’m pretty full, but I think I can make room for another slice of birthday cake to celebrate one of my favorite movie clowns, Joe E. Brown. Great lineup of his films, beginning with Maybe It's Love (1930; aka Eleven Men And A Girl) at 6am—then followed by Sally (1929; 7:15am), Top Speed (1930; 9am), Broadminded (1931; 10:15am), Going Wild (1930; 11:30am), Local Boy Makes Good (1931; 12:45pm), Sit Tight (1931; 2pm), 6 Day Bike Rider (1934; 3:30pm), Bright Lights (1935; 4:45pm) and Earthworm Tractors (1936; 6:15pm).
Thursday, July 29 – Sorry…but I’ll have to take home my slice of William Powell birthday cake, while you sit down and enjoy One Way Passage (1932; 6am), The Kennel Murder Case (1933; 7:15am), Manhattan Melodrama (1934; 8:30am), Reckless (1935; 10:15am), Love Crazy (1941; 12noon), I Love You Again (1940; 2pm), After the Thin Man (1936; 4pm) and Life with Father (1947; 6pm).
I will, however, be ready by 8:00 pm for the big rock ‘n’ roll movie festival that kicks off with Rock, Rock, Rock (1956). That’s followed by Rock Around the Clock (1956; 9:30pm), Bye Bye Birdie (1963; 11pm), Jailhouse Rock (1957; 1am), Go, Johnny, Go! (1959; 2:45am) and Don't Knock the Twist (1962; 4:15am).

Friday, July 30 – The only episode of Murder, She Wrote that I have ever watched all the way through was an entry called “The Days Dwindle Down” (04/19/87)—only because it was a sequel to the 1949 film noir Strange Bargain with Martha Scott, Jeffrey Lynn and Harry “Dragnet” Morgan. You can see Bargain at 1:00 pm, but “Days” will have to be hunted down on the third season Murder DVD box set.
Saturday, July 31 – TCM has Convicts 4 (1962) scheduled at 9:30pm. (I can cross this one off my Archive wish list, too.)
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