Friday, August 30, 2013

Guest Review: Captain Blood (1935)


By Philip Schweier

A year or two back I got me a Kindle, and being the cheapskate that I am, I immediately loaded it up with as many public domain books as I could find. Among them was Raphael Sabatini’s swashbuckling adventure novel, Captain Blood. Midway through reading it recently, I decided to revisit the film version. Directed by Michael Curtiz in 1935, it is the first of nine pairings of then-unknowns Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland.

Flynn plays Dr. Peter Blood, a physician in 1685 who is called out in the middle of the night to tend the wounds of a political rebel.  Consequently, he himself is convicted of treason against King James and exiled into slavery in the West Indies. There, he is purchased on the whim of Arabella Bishop (de Havilland), the niece of a wealthy plantation owner (Lionel Atwill). As a prank, she arranges for the defiant doctor to treat the governor’s gout, which draws the resentment of the town’s official physicians (Hobart Cavanaugh and Donald Meek).

The doctors conspire to finance Blood’s escape, ridding themselves of this usurper to their profession. Blood intends to take with him a company of his fellow prisoners, but on the eve of their departure a Spanish galleon attacks Port Royal, Blood leads his men to capture the vessel and escape to the high seas. Privateers though they may be, Blood instills in his crew a unity of purpose, and a vow for the fair and ethical disposal of all their booty, including captives, especially women.

Nevertheless, Blood’s name becomes fear throughout the Caribbean, leading to a partnership with the French pirate Levasseur (Basil Rathbone), who chafes under Blood’s ideals. This builds to a head when Levasseur captures Arabella, who is sailing home after a brief visit to England. With her is Lord Willoughby (Henry Stephenson), who has been tasked by the king to bring an end to the pirate raids in the West Indies.

In a duel to the death with Levasseur, Blood wins the lovely Arabella and rids himself of the cruel French captain with the stroke of a single cutlass. While aboard Blood’s ship, she rebukes the charming buccaneer, who in turn decides to exchange her freedom for his own. Of course any one can see that these two kids are crazy in love, and nothing good will come of all this posturing.

Blood intends to sale to Port Royal even though it will mean not only his death, but that of his crew. Arabella’s uncle is now the governor, and he’s sure to put the lot of them in a noose at the first opportunity.

Arriving at Port Royal, Blood discovers the town under attack by a pair of French ships. Willoughby explains that France and England are at war, and he has been authorized to offer Blood and his crew a place in the British Navy. Naturally, they collectively refuse to serve King James, only to be told by Willoughby that James has been deposed and William III now sits on the throne.

With a fresh wind blowing, Blood orders his vessel into the harbor where, under the guise of the French flag, he is able to take both ships by surprise and save the town from destruction in a dramatic battle sequence. Though filmed mainly with miniatures, process photography and stock footage, it is surprisingly effective.

But what of Blood’s fate? Governor Bishop had abandoned the protection of his station in a misguided and fruitless pursuit of Blood. Willoughby reveals to Bishop that if he’s lucky, the new governor might not hang him for abandoning his post. Of course it’s up to Arabella to plead for clemency, but seeing as how her true love is now the governor, she just might be able to save her uncle from the gallows.

Of course, similar events would be played out a few years later, when Flynn plays yet another dashing rogue who charms a privileged beauty in his quest for justice and loyalty to the King of England, skewering Basil Rathbone in the process. Yes, kids, I’m talking about The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), also directed by Michael Curtiz.

If it seems that Rathbone made a career out of playing villainous swordsmen, there’s a reason. At the time, he had a reputation as the finest swordsman in Hollywood. His skill was legendary, and it has been claimed he was so good that he could make a novice opponent (usually the film’s hero) appear far better.

Comparing the novel to the film, the movie is of course condensed, and the book perhaps rather wordy by today’s standards. The book harkens back to an earlier time, when adventure novels were epic stories in the vein of The Three Musketeers or Scaramouche. I don’t hold it against the film that it hits mostly the high points of the novel. It’s merely the product of its time – but it’s a mighty good product. Its only fault is that it parallels too closely its younger sibling, the more widely known Adventures of Robin Hood.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Coming distractions: September 2013 on TCM

After the mammoth August month of Summer Under the Stars on The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™, you’d be forgiven if you thought TCM would just coast in September on Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson segments and showings of Casablanca.  O ye of little faith, cartooners—there are some big doin’s on tap for the merry month of September, pointed out on the tentative schedule by the endlessly resourceful Laura of Miscellaneous Musings fame: there’s a most deserving Star of the Month, as well as salutes to the Master of Suspense and the future…and we’re all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives.  (And remember my friends…future events such as these will affect you in the future.)

The E-ticket item on the channel this month is the champagne-over-the-bow christening of a fifteen-part documentary entitled The Story of Film: An Odyssey—a comprehensive study of the medium and art of the motion picture, first presented on Channel 4 in the UK in 2011.  (As such, the production has received mixed reviews on the always reliable IMDb.)  Each section of Story of Film runs an hour, and TCM will run one segment on Monday nights in September with a repeat on Tuesday nights…and then supplement the program with examples of the films showcased.  It sounds like a wonderful opportunity to revisit a lot of films I’ve enjoyed previously as well as view movies that have eluded me all these years; the fact that the program kicks off on September 2 is an amazing omen in itself because I (ahem) will be celebrating my half-century natal anniversary on that date.

(Crickets)

Um…yeah.  Here’s the schedule for…The Story of Film:

September 2, Monday
08:00pm An Edison Album (1893-1912)
09:30pm Lumière's First Picture Shows (1895-1897)
10:00pm The Story of Film: An Odyssey: The World Discovers A New Art (1895-1918)
11:15pm A Trip to the Moon (1902)
11:30pm Falling Leaves (1912)/Canned Harmony (1912)/A House Divided (1913)
12:30am The Squaw Man (1914)
02:00am The Birth of a Nation (1915)
05:15am Orphans of the Storm (1921)

September 3, Tuesday
08:00pm Intolerance (1916)
11:30pm Way Down East (1920)
02:00am Haxan (1922)
04:00am The Story of Film: An Odyssey: The World Discovers A New Art (1895-1918)
05:15am The Phantom Carriage (1922)

September 4, Wednesday
07:15am The Wind (1928)

September 9, Monday
08:00pm One Week (1920)
08:30pm Three Ages (1920)
10:00pm The Story of Film: An Odyssey: The Triumph of American Film (1918-1928)
11:15pm The General (1927)
12:45am The Kid (1921)
01:45am City Lights (1931)
03:30am Never Weaken (1921)
04:15am Safety Last! (1923)

September 10, Tuesday
08:00pm Nanook of the North (1922)
09:15pm The Thief of Bagdad (1924)
12:00am The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
02:00am The Crowd (1928)
03:45am The Story of Film: An Odyssey: The Triumph of American Film (1918-1928)
05:00am Greed (1924)

September 11, Wednesday
07:30am Vampyr (1932)

September 16, Monday
08:00pm Sunrise (1927)
10:00pm The Story of Film: An Odyssey: The Great Rebel Filmmakers Around the World (1918-1935)
11:15pm Battleship Potemkin (1925)
12:45am The Goddess (1934)
02:15am The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919)
03:30am Metropolis (1927)

September 17, Tuesday
08:00pm La Roue (1922)
12:30am Un Chien Andalou (1929)
01:00am Umarete Wa Mita Keredo (1932)
03:00am The Story of Film: An Odyssey: The Great Rebel Filmmakers Around the World (1918-1935)
04:15am Osaka Elegy (1936)

September 23, Monday
08:00pm Love Me Tonight (1932)
10:00pm The Story of Film: An Odyssey: The Great American Movie Genres… (1930s)
11:15pm The Public Enemy (1931)
12:45am Frankenstein (1931)
02:00am Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)
03:45am Twentieth Century (1934)
05:30am The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1927)

September 24, Tuesday
08:00pm Zero for Conduct (1933)
09:00pm L’Atalante (1934)
10:45pm Grand Illusion (1937)
12:45am Rules of the Game (1939)
02:45am The Story of Film: An Odyssey: The Great American Movie Genres… (1930s)
04:00am Port of Shadows (1939)

September 30, Monday
08:00pm Stagecoach (1939)
10:00pm The Story of Film: An Odyssey: The Devastation of War... (1939-1952)
11:15pm Citizen Kane (1941)
01:30am The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
04:30am Rome, Open City (1946)

Thursday nights in September, Tee Cee Em pays tribute to the one and only Kim Novak…and you know what that means.  Well, yes—Vertigo will be in the lineup…but they’ll also endlessly rerun that Bobby Osbo interview with her from the TCM Classic Film Festival back in 2012.  Seriously—look at the schedule that follows, and chug a beer every time you see it listed among the sixteen Novak features showcased in September.

September 5, Thursday
08:00pm Kim Novak: Live from the TCM Classic Film Festival (2013)
09:00pm Vertigo (1958—also September 15 @ 5:45pm)
11:15pm Kim Novak: Live from the TCM Classic Film Festival (2013)
12:15am The Man with the Golden Arm (1955)
02:30am Pushover (1954)
04:15am 5 Against the House (1955)

September 12, Thursday
08:00pm Picnic (1956)
10:00pm Pal Joey (1957)
12:00am The Eddy Duchin Story (1956)
02:15am Jeanne Eagels (1957)

September 19, Thursday
08:00pm Bell, Book and Candle (1958)
10:00pm Kim Novak: Live from the TCM Classic Film Festival (2013)
11:00pm Kiss Me, Stupid (1964)
01:15am The Notorious Landlady (1962)
03:30am Phffft! (1954)

September 26, Thursday
08:00pm Middle of the Night (1959)
10:15pm Of Human Bondage (1964)
12:00am The Legend of Lylah Clare (1968)
02:15am The Great Bank Robbery (1969)
04:00am Kim Novak: Live from the TCM Classic Film Festival (2013)

In the channel’s Friday Night Spotlight—the future’s so bright, we’ll have to wear shades.  Yes, movies with a “Future Shock” theme will be featured through September…however, it does not appear that Robert Osborne will be hosting these in tandem with Alvin Toffler.  (I make leetle joke.)  If you ever thought out loud: “Will there ever be a day when I can watch A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) or Minority Report (2002) on TCM…or is that just wishful thinking?”—Friday nights is where you will want to be.

September 6, Friday
08:00pm Metropolis (1927)
10:45pm Things to Come (1936)
12:30am Escape from New York (1981)
02:15am Brazil (1985)

September 13, Friday
08:00pm Soylent Green (1973)
09:45pm Minority Report (2002)
12:15am Logan’s Run (1976)
02:30am Mad Max (1979)

September 20, Friday
08:00pm La Jetee (1962)
08:45pm Rollerball (1975)
11:00pm A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001)
01:45am Total Recall (1990)

September 27, Friday
08:00pm The Time Machine (1960)
10:00pm World Without End (1956)
11:30pm The Omega Man (1971)
01:30am A Boy and His Dog (1975)

And the last big event of the month?  Hitchcock!  Lots and lots of Hitchcock!  Sundays in September (they’re calling it “Sundays with Hitch”…awwwww…), the channel will feature films from The Master of Suspense beginning at 10am and continuing on into the night.  (And my mother is constantly bitching that there’s never anything to watch on Sundays…hah!)  Here’s the schedule:

September 1, Sunday
10:00am Murder! (1930)
12:00pm Rope (1948)
01:30pm Spellbound (1945)
03:30pm Marnie (1964)
05:45pm The Birds (1963)
08:00pm Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
10:00pm Psycho (1960)
12:00am The Lodger (1926)
02:00am Blackmail (1929)
03:30am Frenzy (1972)

September 8, Sunday
10:00am Under Capricorn (1949)
12:00pm Stage Fright (1950)
02:00pm I Confess (1953—also September 11 @ 2:00am)
04:00pm The Wrong Man (1956)
06:00pm Saboteur (1942)
08:00pm Foreign Correspondent (1940)
10:15pm North by Northwest (1959)
12:45am The Ring (1927)

September 15, Sunday
10:00am Number Seventeen (1932)
11:15am The Trouble with Harry (1955)
01:15pm Family Plot (1976)
03:30pm The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
05:45pm Vertigo (1958—also September 5 @ 9:00pm)
08:00pm Rear Window (1954)
10:00pm To Catch a Thief (1955)
12:00am The Farmer’s Wife (1928)

September 22, Sunday
10:00am The Skin Game (1931)
11:30am Lifeboat (1944—also September 14 @ 8:00pm)
01:15pm The Lady Vanishes (1938)
03:15pm Topaz (1969)
05:45pm Torn Curtain (1966)
08:00pm The 39 Steps (1935)
09:30pm Sabotage (1936)
11:00pm The Dick Cavett Show: Alfred Hitchcock (1972)
12:15am Champagne (1928)

September 29, Sunday
10:00am Rich and Strange (1932)
12:00pm Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941)
02:00pm Suspicion (1941)
04:00pm Strangers on a Train (1951)
06:00pm Dial M for Murder (1954)
08:00pm Rebecca (1940)
10:15pm Notorious (1946)

Kowabunga, kids!  That’s a lot of classic movie entertainment for your cable dollah!  But if you’re one of the first fifty callers (operators are standing by!) you’ll also enjoy these highlights from the rest of the month:

September 2, Monday – Sure, we’ll be breaking out the cake and ice cream for my birthday and for the premiere of The Story of Film today…but during the daylight and early evening hours, TCM will also offer up their annual tribute to the Telluride Film Festival, underway right now from August 29 to September 2.  Here’s what they’ve picked to highlight:

06:00am Hester Street (1975)
08:00am History Begins at Night (1937)
09:45am Cinerama Adventure (2002)
11:30am How the West Was Won (1962)
02:15pm Happy Anniversary (1962)
02:30pm Le Havre (2011)
04:15pm Pitfall (1948)
05:45pm Burden of Dreams (1982)
07:30pm Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe (1980)

September 4, Wednesday – It’s not Brian Keith’s birthday…but what the hey—TCM rolls out the red carpet for him with a mini-festival of some of his oeuvre today, beginning with The Bamboo Prison (1955) at 8:45am.  That’s followed by Storm Center (1956; 10:15am), Run of the Arrow (1957; 11:45am), The Deadly Companions (1961; 1:15pm), The Hallelujah Trail (1965; 3pm) and Gaily, Gaily (1969; 6pm).

Come nightfall…it’s Robert Osborne’s DVD Playhouse!  Yes, Uncle Bobby has rummaged through the voluminous Turner Classic Movies library and found four “picks” to entertain the #TCMParty folks on Twitter.  It’s James Cagney in Captains of the Clouds (1942) at 8pm, then The Black Swan (1942; 10pm), You’ll Never Get Rich (1941; 11:30pm) and the evening finishes out with the wonderful (and highly underrated) Dance, Girl, Dance (1940) at 1:15am.

September 6, FridayShe Who Must Not Be Named Alert: Lost Angel (1943) airs at 7:15am.

September 7, Saturday – The channel wraps up the remaining movies in the Nick Carter franchise at 10:45am today (1940’s Phantom Raiders) and next Saturday at the same time (1940’s Sky Murder), then finishes out the month on the 21st and 28th (also at 10:45am) with the two Kitty O’Kelly flicks, Detective Kitty O’Day (1944) and Adventures of Kitty O’Day (1944).  So…there’s that.

At noon, TCM schedules a salute to aquatic creatures with Flipper (1963) on 9/7, then it’s Flipper’s New Adventure (1964; 9/14), Namu, the Killer Whale (1966; 9/21) and Ring of Bright Water (1969; 9/28).  (One of these things is not like the other—hint: it’s got “killer” in the title.)

Later on the Drewsentials Essentials, the theme is “Back at the Ranch”—which I believe is not kosher to use unless Gene Autry is mentioned in the same sentence.  (I could be wrong about this.)  Anyway, it’s describing the scheduling of Giant (1956) at 8pm and McLintock! (1963) at 11:30.  A double feature of monster makers follows on TCM Underground with The Awful Dr. Orloff (1962) at 2am and Bride of Frankenstein (1935).  Following that is a 1967 short entitled Her Name Was Ellie, His Name Was Lyle—which features this deadpan description: “A relationship is threatened when a young man discovers he has caught syphilis from his waitress.”  (Sounds like there was more than just a monetary tip involved...heyyyy-yooo!!!)

September 9, Monday – Producer Arthur Freed was born on this date in 1894 (a Charleston, SC native—saaalute!) and every musicals fan worth their salt knows of his amazing films (or so Pam tells me), many of which will be showcased today beginning at 6am with Pagan Love Song (1950).  Okay…maybe that’s not so amazing, but it will be followed by Annie Get Your Gun (1950; 7:15am), Show Boat (1951; 9:15am), The Belle of New York (1952; 11:15am), Singin’ in the Rain (1952; 12:45pm), The Band Wagon (1953; 2:45pm) and Invitation to the Dance (1956; 4:45pm).  A documentary, Musicals Great Musicals: The Arthur Freed Unit at MGM (1996), closes the day out at 6:30pm.

September 10, Tuesday – It’s a day of heist films—and the capers commence at 6am with one of my favorites, Odds Against Tomorrow (1959).  Once a Thief (1965) follows at 8, and then it’s Rififi (1954; 10am), I Died a Thousand Times (1955; 12noon), The Anderson Tapes (1971; 2pm), High Sierra (1941; 4pm) and The Thomas Crown Affair (1968; 6pm).

September 11, Wednesday – It’s back to the musicals again…only they’re tuneful movies with a fantasy bent.  One of our favorites here at TDOY, Brigadoon (1954), airs at 8:45am and then it’s Carousel (1956; 10:45am), Finian’s Rainbow (1968; 1pm), Tom Thumb (1958; 3:30pm) and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) at 5:30pm.

In primetime, Mr. O welcomes Guest Programmer Madeleine Stowe—and I gotta tell ya…I need to start boning up on my pop culture knowledge because I was not aware that Ms. Stowe was still working (she’s a regular on the popular ABC-TV series Revenge…a series I have not seen); I know her from films like The Last of the Mohicans (1992), Unlawful Entry (1992) and Twelve Monkeys (1995).  (Yes, my clock stopped back in 1995…now get out of my yard!)  Maddie (I guess I can call her that) has chosen as her quartet of films The More the Merrier (1943; 8pm), Splendor in the Grass (1961; 10pm), Bicycle Thieves (1948; 12:15am) and I Confess (1953; 2am).

September 13, Friday – Hot cookies, Agnes!™  The channel does a stretch in the sneezer with a day festooned with prison-themed films beginning with Road Gang (1936) at 6am.  After that, it’s Numbered Men (1930; 6:30am), Condemned Women (1938; 9am), Hell’s Highway (1932; 10:30am), The Big House (1930; 11:45am), Each Dawn I Die (1939; 1:15pm), Ladies They Talk About (1933; 3pm), Brute Force (1947; 4:15pm) and I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932; 6pm).

September 14, Saturday – Mr. O and Ms. B kick off another edition of TCM’s Essentials at 8pm with Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat (1944)—ushering in tonight’s theme, “To the Lifeboats!”  (Eyeball roll.)  After that, it’s Abandon Ship! (1957) at 10 and Titanic (1953) following at midnight.  (The Clifton Webb-Barbara Stanwyck version, that is.)

At 2am on TCM Underground: Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974).  Is this a great channel or what?

September 16, Monday – Director-producer Alexander Korda was born on this date in 1893, and today features a mix of films that he both directed and produced.  At 6am, it’s The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933), then Fire Over England (1937; 8am), The Divorce of Lady X (1938; 9:45am), Return of the Scarlet Pimpernel (1937; 11:30am), Elephant Boy (1937; 1pm), The Challenge (1938; 2:30pm), Vacation from Marriage (1945; 4pm) and An Ideal Husband (1947; 6pm).

September 17, Tuesday – My BBFF Stacia recently rolled out a review of Winter Meeting (1948) at her home base of She Blogged by Night…and the part that made me choke on my sweet roll was when she referenced that the Bette Davis starrer was turning “into a Joan Crawford vehicle”…and then explained in the footnote: “Those of you who know how difficult it was for me to not use the word ‘lesser’ here: Thank you for still being my friend.”  Well, it made me laugh—and you’ll be thinking about it, too, as you watch a day of movies featuring La Joan: Our Blushing Brides (1930; 6am), Montana Moon (1930; 7:45am), This Modern Age (1931; 9:15am), Today We Live (1933; 10:30am), Dancing Lady (1933; 12:30pm), The Gorgeous Hussy (1936; 2:15pm), Mannequin (1937; 4:15pm) and The Last of Mrs. Cheyney (1937; 6:15pm).

September 18, Wednesday – Two tributes on tap today; the first is dedicated to a day of Victor Mature movies, which gets underway at 6am with The Housekeeper’s Daughter (1939), and is joined by Seven Days’ Leave (1942; 7:30am), Gambling House (1951; 9am), Million Dollar Mermaid (1952; 10:30am), The Las Vegas Story (1952; 12:30pm), The Robe (1953; 2pm), The Sharkfighters (1956; 4:30pm) and The Long Haul (1957; 6pm).

Mario Lanza takes over the second star spotlight at 8pm with The Seven Hills of Rome (1957), and after that it’s For the First Time (1959; 10pm), The Great Caruso (1951; 12mid), The Student Prince (1954; 2am) and Because You’re Mine (1952; 4am).

September 19, Thursday – I know I’ve never been shy about promoting Westerns here on the blog…but in the case of the first one scheduled today at 6am, I’ll make an exception.  Okay, if you feel you must watch Across the Wide Missouri (1951), be my guest…but stick around for the ones that follow: The Lusty Men (1952; 7:30am), Ride, Vaquero! (1953; 9:30am), The Man from Laramie (1955; 11am), Great Day in the Morning (1956; 12:45pm), Saddle the Wind (1958; 2:30pm), The Badlanders (1958; 4pm) and Rio Bravo (1959; 5:30pm).

September 20, Friday – Just one more reason why TCM is the best: a birthday tribute to director Norman Z. McLeod, born on this date in 1895.  One of his best-remembered films, Topper (1937), kicks off the day’s festivities at 6:30am and then it’s Merrily We Live (1938; 8:15am), There Goes My Heart (1938; 10am), Remember? (1939; 11:30am), Little Men (1940; 1pm), Lady Be Good (1941; 2:30pm), Swing Shift Maisie (1943; 4:30pm) and Never Wave at a WAC (1952; 6pm).

September 21, Saturday – The wackiness on TCM Essentials continues with a scheduling of the 1934 screwball comedy classic It Happened One Night at 8pm.  After Clark and Claudette, the evening’s tribute to screenwriter Robert Riskin continues with The Whole Town’s Talking (1935) at 10pm and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) putting it to a close at 12 midnight.

September 23, Monday – The channel must be a Gemini, because it can’t decide if it wants to devote the entire day to Ethel Waters or Jennifer Jones movies.  Ethel gets the nod at 6am, with Cairo (1942)—followed by Cabin in the Sky (1943; 8am), Pinky (1949; 9:45am), and The Member of the Wedding (1952) at 11:30am.   Mrs. David O. Selznick takes over at 1:15 with Madame Bovary (1949), then it’s The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit (1956; 3:15pm) and The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1957; 6pm).

September 24, Tuesday – I’ve mentioned on the blog here in the past that TCM rarely gets around to showing one of my favorite Ginger Rogers films, Storm Warning (1951)—it’s a deliriously demented “message” picture with Ging as a model who discovers her sister’s (Doris Day!) husband (Steve Cochran) is in the KKK!  It’s also a real hoot because Ronald Reagan plays a crusading liberal district attorney out to bring down the local chapter (I wonder if Ronnie remembered this when he gave that “states’ rights” speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi in 1980), and you’ll get an opportunity to see it at 1:45pm.  Rounding out the rest of the Rogers flicks are Twist of Fate (1954; 6:45am), Tight Spot (1955; 8:30am), It Had to Be You (1947; 10:30am), Perfect Strangers (1950; 12:15pm), I’ll Be Seeing You (1944; 3:30pm), Black Widow (1954; 5pm) and Roxie Hart (1942; 6:45pm).

September 25, Wednesday – TCM’s D-I-V-O-R-C-E becomes final today with a day’s worth of films about couples that go Splitsville—The Divorcee (1930) at 6am, followed by Divorce in the Family (1932; 7:30am), Wednesday’s Child (1934; 9am), Child of Divorce (1947; 10:15am), Payment on Demand (1951; 11:30am), Man on Fire (1957; 1pm), The Palm Beach Story (1942; 2:45pm), Divorce, American Style (1967; 4:15pm) and One is a Lonely Number (1972; 6:15pm).

Come nightfall, the channel devotes its programming to director King Vidor…beginning with a movie that will get a Blu-ray release on October 1, The Big Parade (1925; 8pm).  After that, four vehicles from Vidor’s sound oeuvre: Street Scene (1931; 10:15pm), Stella Dallas (1937; 11:45pm), Duel in the Sun (1947; 1:45am) and Ruby Gentry (1952; 4:15am).

September 26, Thursday – I love a Gershwin tune—how ‘bout you?  Well, learn to love it—it’s a mini-festival of movies larded with George’s infectious music on the occasion of his birthday (born on this date in 1898): Girl Crazy (1932; 6:30am), Shall We Dance (1937; 8am), A Damsel in Distress (1937; 10am), Girl Crazy (1943; 12noon), Rhapsody in Blue (1945; 1:45pm), Tea for Two (1950; 4:15pm) and An American in Paris (1951; 6pm).

September 27, FridayTDOY actor fave Joel McCrea is feted with a day of his films—two of his best, Colorado Territory (1949; 6am) and Stars in My Crown (1950; 7:45am), kick the festivities off and then it’s Shoot First (1953; 9:15am), Wichita (1955; 10:45am), The First Texan (1956; 12:15pm), Trooper Hook (1957; 1:45pm), The Oklahoman (1957; 3:15am), Gunsight Ridge (1957; 4:45pm) and Fort Massacre (1958; 6:15pm).

September 28, Saturday – The last edition of TCM Essentials this month will be a goody because it features one of the movies’ underrated actresses (she’s still with us, too!) in two classic cult films: Peggy Cummins is in Gun Crazy (1950) at 8pm and Curse of the Demon (1958) at 11:45pm.  (The 1958 film Hell Divers is sandwiched in-between at 9:45.)  Stick around for TCM Underground, too—because another cult fave, The Honeymoon Killers (1970), will unspool at 2am.

September 30, Monday – Closing out the month: things get a little soapy today with more “mellerdrammers” than you’ve had hot dinners.  Penny Serenade (1941) gets things started at 6am, followed by Random Harvest (1942; 8am), Flamingo Road (1949; 10:15am), The Rains Came (1939; 12noon), Susan Slade (1961; 2pm), Leave Her to Heaven (1945; 4pm) and Magnificent Obsession (1954; 6pm).

The State of the Blog (pre-birthday edition)


This morning at the Radio Spirits blog, I was asked to do a shout-out to character great Willard Waterman, who was born on this date ninety-nine years ago.  Willard is best remembered as the actor who replaced Hal Peary as The Great Gildersleeve in the fall of 1950; Peary had asked his sponsor, Kraft Foods, for an ownership stake in the program…and thought that if he signed a deal with the CBS Radio Network (just another soldier in Bill Paley’s Talent Raid platoon) the show would follow him.  Bzzzzt!  Wrong answer.  Kraft kept Gildersleeve on NBC (hiring soundalike Willard) and Peary went on to do Honest Harold (aka The Hal Peary Show)…a short-lived sitcom that some old-time radio fans believe better than its reputation.  (For the record…I’m not one of them.)

Waterman’s transition to the Gildersleeve role was virtually seamless; he sounded precisely like Peary’s character—the only differences was that Willard refused to do the “dirty laugh” (he-he-he-he-he), believing it to be Hal’s trademark (and it pretty much was) and he also cut back on Gildy’s singing (Waterman was a fine singer…he just couldn’t duplicate Peary-as-Gildy as well).  While Willard was able to get away with the deception on radio, he had a few problems when it came to TV: he was much taller than Harold Peary (Waterman was 6’4”) and people had their own idea of what Gildersleeve looked like after seeing Hal play him in a number of movies in the 1940s.

It kind of does Waterman a disservice to think of him only as “the replacement Gildy,” however—he worked other radio shows, including The Halls of Ivy…where he played Professor Merriweather, the ally of Dr. William Todhunter “Toddy” Hall (Ronald Colman).  Waterman came to Los Angeles in the mid-40s because a sitcom on which he was appearing, Those Websters, moved there from Chicago and Willard went along for the ride.  Those Websters was a continuation of That Brewster Boy, an Aldrich Family-like sitcom that had a brief run in the early 1940s (in fact, I read somewhere where the family was renamed “Webster” because it was an anagram of “Brewster”).  Waterman also did a few movies and a lot of TV; he was Mr. Quigley, the grocer on Dennis the Menace, and you might recognize him as Claude Upson if you’ve ever seen Auntie Mame (1958).  Back in my video store clerk days in the 1980s, the trailer for The Apartment (1960) would play often and you could hear Waterman’s Mr. Vanderhoff wail “I already ordered the cake!”

So with the steamers and noisemakers handed out…now I have to drop the bad news ordnance.  Things have been pretty busy around Rancho Yesteryear of late, what with my new responsibilities and all…so it looks like we’re going to have to go another week without Riders of Death Valley (1941) and Doris Day(s).  I’ve also got things outside of these two chores competing for my time—one of them involves working on a way to make a little money because while we’re exactly destitute here in the House of Yesteryear we may have to turn to that if we don’t develop a new revenue stream or two.  There is a Coming Distractions post due later in the day (around 6pm), and Mr. Schweier has another movie review for us tomorrow around 8am.  In the meantime, play nice and I’ll get back with you when I can.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Guest Review: Casino Royale (1967)


By Philip Schweier

After watching last year’s documentary Everything or Nothing: the Untold Story of 007, I decided I should revisit the original Bond films, including “Casino Royale” as it was presented on CBS in 1954. This episode of the television series Climax! featured an American Jimmy Bond played by Barry Nelson.

As bad as that was, it was only slightly more palatable than the 1967 James Bond spoof of the same name. According to some sources, it was originally intended to be filmed by the Bond producers Albert “Cubby” Brocolli and Harry Saltzman, but the recent partnership with Kevin McClorry on Thunderball (1965) had left a bad taste in their mouths, so Charles K. Feldman, who held the rights to Casino Royale, proceeded without them.

Rather than produce an entirely independent spy film as McClorry would later do with Never Say Never Again (1983), Feldman chose to play the story for laughs. Sure, let’s cast Peter Sellers and Woody Allen, and the laughs will just happen. Of course, in Hollywood that never works.

Starring as Bond is David Niven, brought out of retirement by the assassination of his former boss M (John Huston). Bond immediately takes over the old department, and realizing that James Bond 007 has a target on his chest, he immediately sets out to confuse the enemy – SMERSH – by designating all his agents as James Bond 007 just to confuse the enemy – including his nephew Jimmy (Allen).

With the help of Vesper Lynd (former Bond girl Ursula Andress), a trap is laid for SMERSH operative le Chiffre (Orson Welles) by causing him to lose at baccarat, drawing the enmity of his superiors. Subbing for Bond is baccarat authority Evelyn Tremble (Sellers).

Meanwhile, the real Bond sends his daughter Mata (Joanna Pettet) to infiltrate a SMERSH hive located in West Berlin. It’s trippy in a deChirico sort of way, and merely provides a diversion from the original story while introducing a kidnappable sidekick for later in the film.

The film is dull, despite the hand of six different directors and 10 different writers (most of them, such as Allen, Sellers, Ben Hecht, Jospeh Heller and Billy Wilder) would be uncredited. To call it a comedy is being generous, as there are painfully few laughs to be had. In all, it adds up to 131 minutes of painful watching best left for desperate rainy afternoons, or those days when one is suffering from a cold and misery is such that anything else can hardly do any further harm.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The mighty Thor


Over at the Radio Spirits blog this a.m., I was asked by the fine staff of the leading publisher and marketer of old-time radio programs to whip up a surprise party for actor-announcer Larry Thor, born on this date in 1916.  Larry’s best known for his five-year-stint as New York detective Danny Clover on Broadway’s My Beat; if you’ve not heard his familiar voice on that, you probably know him as the announcer on Suspense from August 1951 to October 1956.  He worked a great many shows (On Stage, Crime Classics) as both actor and announcer, and he also appears in more than a few films and TV episodes as well.

Here’s the story: I asked one of the editors at Radio Spirits if she could supply me with some pictures of Larry to go with the essay…and she was able to come up with a really good one.  But when I hunted around on the Internets to look for others—the only one I came across was the one the editor bestowed upon me.  Not to worry, I said to myself—a quick glance at his IMDb stats showed me that I had one or two movies in which he had roles in the dusty Thrilling Days of Yesteryear archives…and I could even fall back on some TV work (which, fortunately, I didn’t have to do).

One of Larry’s most prominent film roles is that of the Army doctor in the 1957 sci-fi cult classic The Amazing Colossal Man—but a search of the archives yielded no positive results of that cheesy favorite.  I did, however, manage to locate my copy of The Fast and the Furious (1955)—another cult fave where man-on-the-run John Ireland takes Dorothy Malone hostage at a diner and the two of them elude the police with a really fast set of wheels as he convinces her of his innocence.  Larry plays one of the detectives investigating Ireland, and fortunately for me he turns up pretty early in the film because I revisited this one the last time it was on The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™ and was reminded just how boring it is.

Thor is also in Zero Hour! (1957)—another favorite here at Rancho Yesteryear, mainly because it’s the inspiration for the 1980 mega-hit cult comedy Airplane!  Larry is one of the guys in the situation room and is featured prominently in the section of the movie where Sterling Hayden has to talk Dana Andrews down from the flight in which the passengers and pilots come down with food poisoning (we lose Larry when Hayden heads up to the control tower).  Zero is a fun little thrill ride of a movie…but if you’re like me and you’ve seen Airplane! way too many times, you’ll probably find yourself filling in the gags during the “straight” presentation.

The 1970 animated feature The Phantom Tollbooth—directed by Chuck Jones & Abe Levitow from Norman Justus’ classic kids book—prominently showcases Thor’s speaking tones…but then again, that movie is crammed with great voice artists and OTR veterans: Mel Blanc, Daws Butler, Candy Candido, June Foray, Hans Conried, Shepard Menken and Les Tremayne.  Over at the always reliable IMDb, Larry is credited with playing “Kakofonous A. Dischord”…and I’m sorry, IMDb people—but the actor in that role sounds nothing like Thor.  (I’m convinced it’s Cliff Norton playing that part.)  I’m pretty sure Larry voiced Tock the Watchdog in that movie (a part credited to Shep Menken at the IMDb—Shep definitely plays the Spelling Bee, because he’s using his Richard Haydn/Clyde Crashcup voice on that).  To be honest—I’m not a Tollbooth devotee; it’s one of those movies that I’ll watch every now and then mostly for the vocal talent.  After the movie, I watched the other movie I had on the disc—1001 Arabian Nights (1959), another animated feature that I enjoy more for the voices (Butler, Conried, Jim Backus, Alan Reed, Herschel Bernardi) than the finished product.

Finally, Larry has a quick bit as a police sergeant in a Columbia potboiler from 1958: The True Story of Lynn Stuart.  The title says “true” because it is apparently the “ripped from the headlines” story of Santa Ana housewife Phyllis Carter (Betsy Palmer, before she went on a killing spree in Friday the 13th) who convinces the authorities to let her go undercover and infiltrate a gang of drug pushers who, it is alleged, are responsible for the death of her nephew in a car crash.  As “Lynn Stuart,” Betsy is a hard-boiled parolee who attracts the eye of narcotics dealer Willie Down (Jack Lord) and having gained his confidence reports on his activities to Lt. Jim Hagan (Barry Atwater).  But “Lynn” finds herself up to her neck in trouble when she is spirited away from her carhop job by Willie to assist in a big-time drug deal…and she is helpless in reaching her contacts on the force.

I kind of facetiously joked about The True Story of Lynn Stuart’s truthiness but it is based on fact; they take a few liberties with the story (“Lynn” had no nephew who died, her undercover activities occurred over a period of six years while in the movie it seems like weeks, etc.) but it’s pretty much grounded in solidity—future California Governor Edmund G. “Pat” Brown (state district attorney at the time) narrates the prologue to let us know it’s “just the facts, ma’am” and I don’t think he would lie.  I rather enjoyed this one; Palmer, Lord and Atwater are the only actors credited in this but you’ll spot character veteran John Anderson as the head of the dope ring, Richard “Mr. Oleson” Bull as a customs official, comedian Snub Pollard (as the old guy who has to clean up the gas station washroom) and Russell Thorson—plus, Gavin McLeod makes his feature film debut as a member of Anderson’s gang.  Lord and Palmer are really ta-riffic, as Gavin would say—try and catch this one the next time it turns up on TCM.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Guest Review: The Legend of The Legend of the Lone Ranger


By Philip Schweier

Recently I stumbled across The Legend of the Lone Ranger (1981) on YouTube. Unlike many films on that site, it’s not broken up into multiple segments. It’s presented in its entirety, which one might think to be a copyright infringement, but methinks it’s the only way the film’s owners could get anyone to watch this turkey.

The story behind this film is a multi-layered one of poor choices by the producers. Their first move was alienate their core audience by securing a court order to prevent Clayton Moore from making personal appearances as the Lone Ranger.

Moore had starred on the Lone Ranger TV series in the 1950s, and since then had been making personal appearances in full costume, stumping for the ideals for which the Lone Ranger stood: honesty, justice and good citizenship. Many of his appearances included schools and children’s hospitals

One might believe that having an independent individual make personal appearances on behalf of your property would be a publicity bonanza, but the producers felt otherwise. They wanted to distance themselves from previous interpretations, and in their eyes, Moore’s efforts would only harm their film. It was believed that Moore’s association would undermine the new film, and that some might think the film would star the 65-year-old actor.

This move proved to be a public relations disaster. Longtime fans, many well into adulthood with children of their own, were outraged. While the film’s producers couldn’t prevent Moore from making personal appearances, the actor was required to avoid any mention or affiliation with the Lone Ranger. He still appeared in cowboy regalia, sporting a very modern pair of sunglasses in place of the trademark black mask. He counter-sued the Wrather Corporation and was able to resume his appearances in costume, which he continued to do until shortly before his death in 1999.

In retrospect, one might question which is worse: to be kicked to the curb by the producers of this cinematic stink bomb, or to be endorsed? Irate fans of the Lone Ranger rallied in support of Moore, encouraging the filmmakers to ally themselves with their hero, hoping he might be given some acknowledgement for his pivotal place in the character’s history.

Not only did they fail to do so, they instead favored actor John Hart, who had briefly replaced Moore during the run of the original show, with a cameo. So for producers of the 1981 film to acknowledge this “usurper” to the mask only aggravated fans further. But it was merely one of many poor choices in casting for the film.

Starring as the Lone Ranger was an unknown actor named Klinton Spilsbury. This would prove to be his only significant role to date, and he quickly faded into the obscurity from whence he came. Pre-release appearances were kept to a minimum, usually those in which speaking could be avoided, such as the Rose Bowl Parade, in which he and co-star Michael Horse appeared in costume, mounted on their respective movie horses. Later, it was revealed that Spilsbury’s dialogue was dubbed by actor James Keach.

Another questionable casting choice was Christopher Lloyd as the film’s villain, Butch Cavendish. Lloyd was fresh from his role as the drug-addled but lovable Jim Ignatowski on the ABC sit-com Taxi.

The film presented the origin of the Lone Ranger, in a long drawn-out sequence lasting 2/3 of the film. By rescuing President Ulysses S. Grant (Jason Robards) from the evil clutches of Cavendish, the Lone Ranger is awarded carte blanche to operate throughout the West on the side of justice.

One noteworthy moment of the film was a sequence in which stuntman Terry Leonard duplicated a stunt originally performed by master stuntman Yakima Canutt in Stagecoach (1939). It required Leonard to jump from his horse to the team pulling a stagecoach, only to seemingly fall between the horses and drop to the ground as the stage passes over him. Leonard had performed a very similar stunt in Raiders of the Lost Ark, which was released just a few weeks later. Nevertheless, the fact that action fans would see almost identical stunts in two separate movies left many moviegoers feeling one was merely imitating the other. Granted, it could be argued they were both “borrowing” from Stagecoach, but Raiders of the Lost Ark certainly kept the stunt fresh, whereas Legend of the Lone Ranger merely copied it.

Inevitably, the movie opened to horrible reviews, unresponsive audiences and a lackluster box office performance. It disappeared quickly, becoming another statistic in red ink on the financial ledgers of The Wrather Corporation. With a budget of $18 million, the film’s gross was $12.6 million, according to the Internet Movie Data Base.

Christopher Lloyd’s career suffered little, achieving success in the Back to the Future films and many other character roles. Jason Robards was already a successful actor and he weathered the storm as well. Michael Horse went on to appear in the critically-acclaimed Twin Peaks.

But Klinton Spilsbury? He’s faded from sight altogether, leaving many a trivia master to ponder, “Who was that masked man?” According to the IMDB.com, he has never appeared in another film. Mr. Spilsbury, if you’re out there, let’s hear from you. No recriminations. You’re as much a victim of bad production choices as we audience members were.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Sorry, podnuh…we’re gonna have to postpone this til’ next week…


There’s been, I say, there’s been a flurry of activity goin’ on here in the House of Yesteryear this past week—I’m not at liberty to get into the details, but take my word for it: after I tend to my other responsibilities I just can’t find the time to sit down and find out what happened to our old friend Jim Benton and the shifting sands in Riders of Death Valley (1941)…so it’s going to have to wait until next Saturday.  The management extends its regrets.

There won’t be time for an installment of Doris Day(s), either…but in searching the documents on the new computer I did find a few capsulations contributed a while back by the blog’s resident guest reviewer, Phil Schweier—so I’m going to put these up starting tomorrow and throughout the week.  In the meantime, here’s a picture of my nephew conquering a giant spider web: