Thursday, April 8, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Kathleen (1941)

Shirley Temple plays a poor little rich girl in the title role of KATHLEEN.

KATHLEEN served as a bridge transitioning the 12-year-old Temple from child to teen actress. Kathleen has been neglected by her widower father (Herbert Marshall) and emotionally abused by an unkind governess (Nella Walker).

Enter Dr. Angela Martha Kent (Laraine Day), a psychologist who agrees to serve as Kathleen's governess for a summer. Kathleen adores Angela and comes to hope her father will marry her instead of his gooey, insincere fiancee (Gail Patrick). One guess how the movie ends!

I wasn't expecting much from KATHLEEN, having read weak reviews of it over the years, but for the most part I found it pleasant, if unexceptional. A musical number in a dream sequence seemed a bit out of place, extending the length of the story unnecessarily (especially as Shirley was obviously dubbed), but otherwise it was an entertaining little movie.

The "Mary Poppins" type theme of an outsider healing a broken family has been done many times before -- 1935's SHE MARRIED HER BOSS is but one example -- but fans of the lead actors will probably enjoy spending time with them in this film.

I especially enjoyed Day and watching how Angela cultivated a respectful and then loving relationship with the distrustful Kathleen. Day was only 19 or 20 when she filmed this, not long after both FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940) and AND ONE WAS BEAUTIFUL (1940). Day is very self-possessed and mature; it's a bit mind-blowing to realize that in actuality her leading man, Herbert Marshall, was three decades her senior! In fact, now that I think of it, he played Day's father in FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT. I'm rather glad I didn't remember that while I was watching this movie (grin).

I'm always glad when Herbert Marshall -- and his beautiful voice -- turn up in a film. Marshall's diverse credits include classics for Hitchcock, Lubitsch, and Wyler, screwball comedies and film noir, pirate movies and Westerns. He often worked with young people in movies, whether it was Temple, Deanna Durbin in MAD ABOUT MUSIC (1938), or Margaret O'Brien in THE SECRET GARDEN (1949).

Lloyd Corrigan is effective in two scenes as a kindly doctor called in to assess Kathleen. Felix Bressart plays an antique dealer who serves as Kathleen's confidant, providing her with support and advice when she has no one else to whom she can turn. Watch for Florence Bates as a customer in the antique store.

The screenplay for KATHLEEN was by Mary C. McCall Jr., who coincidentally also wrote the screenplay for last night's movie, DESIRABLE (1934).

The movie was directed by Harold S. Bucquet. It was shot in black and white and runs 88 minutes.

KATHLEEN is not available on video or DVD, but it can be seen on Turner Classic Movies, where it next airs on Shirley Temple's birthday, April 23, 2010.

A trailer is here.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Around the Blogosphere This Week

Miscellaneous bits of news and fun stuff from around the Internet... This is a somewhat abbreviated Easter Weekend roundup.

...When I visited Disney Studios I commented it felt more like a college campus than a film studio. 2719 Hyperion says this was a deliberate decision on the part of Walt Disney, and shares screen caps of the studio doubling as Medfield College in THE COMPUTER WORE TENNIS SHOES (1969).

...MorlockJeff has an excellent interview with actor Norman Lloyd at the TCM blog.

...Douglas McGrath profiles Preston Sturges in Vanity Fair. (Hat tip: Classic Movies.)

...She Blogged By Night reviews PARTY GIRL (1930) with Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

...Lou Lumenick has the rundown on the newest Warner Archive releases, due out this week.

...The L.A. Times has an article on WAKING SLEEPING BEAUTY, focusing on the behind-the-scenes intersection of musical theater with Disney animation which helped fuel Disney's revival. I was delighted to read that this summer's DVD edition will include an entire session of lyricist-producer Howard Ashman coaching Jodi Benson on her Ariel vocals for THE LITTLE MERMAID; this was a fascinating scene in the documentary.

...Read this and weep: Jim Geraghty of National Review has an exhaustive list of Obama commitments and expiration dates.

...One of my favorite London papers, the Evening Standard, ran an interview with Olivia de Havilland a couple weeks ago. I wonder what happened to her autobiography? It was supposed to come out last spring, or maybe even the year before that. I think the title was planned to be NOW IS THE TIME.

...Tom of Motion Picture Gems had the opportunity to attend a screening of NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959) with Eva Marie Saint and Robert Osborne.

Have a happy Easter!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Impact (1949)

I recently noticed an interesting pattern to my recent movie viewing: in the last two months I've watched 10 films with one-word titles! The latest movie on that list, IMPACT, was a really interesting film noir with terrific location photography in San Francisco.

Successful San Francisco businessman Walter Williams (Brian Donlevy) dotes on his wife Irene (Helen Walker). Irene seemingly has it all, including a wealthy, loving husband who showers her with roses, jewelry, and affection. Unfortunately for Walter, Irene does not return his love; Irene and her lover (Tony Barrett) have devised a plan to kill Walter. However, things don't go quite as planned, and Walter survives the attempt on his life, although he is assumed dead when his car explodes in an accident.

The wounded Walter staggers into the town of Larkspur, Idaho, where he takes a job as an auto mechanic at a gas station owned by war widow Marsha Peters (Ella Raines). Walter quietly nurses his hurt and anger at his wife's betrayal, avidly collecting stories from California newspapers about the arrest of his "widow" for plotting his murder. But Walter can't continue his idyllic existence in Larkspur forever...and more twists and turns are ahead.

IMPACT is a stylish, well-plotted film with an excellent cast and an absorbing story. The movie's atmospheric photography was by Ernest Laszlo. There are many great shots of San Francisco, including the cable cars and Chinatown. The quiet little town of Larkspur, Idaho -- filmed in Larkspur, California -- provides a contrast with the big city. I loved the film's visual details, such as the now old-fashioned Coca-Cola cooler in the gas station or the ad for Borden's ice cream painted on the side of a building in Larkspur.

Brian Donlevy is touching as the rejected husband, who is a business whiz but learns the hard way the woman he adored didn't love him. There is a scene early on where he breaks down after learning the truth that I found very moving. Donlevy's Walter doesn't stay down for long, however, as his natural strength and integrity once more rise to the fore, encouraged by pretty Marsha (Raines).

Ella Raines doesn't appear until about an hour into the film, but she is quietly effective as the open, sunny small-town widow who takes a shine to the initially taciturn Williams. The last section of IMPACT calls to mind Raines' role in PHANTOM LADY (1944), as she turns detective in order to help Williams.

Helen Walker is absolutely terrific as the duplicitous Irene. At the TCM Movie Morlocks blog, Moira Finnie has recently chronicled Walker's life and career in Parts 1 and 2. Part 2 focuses on Walker's film noir credits, including IMPACT and NIGHTMARE ALLEY. It's a valuable history of a relatively little-known actress whose career deserves wider attention. Moira writes that Walker was initially to be cast in the role played by Ella Raines, but Walker instead wanted to play Irene, a part with "guts." Walker comes close to stealing the movie with her fascinating performance.

The deep cast also includes Charles Coburn as Lt. Quincy (complete with Irish brogue!), the San Francisco detective working to solve the niggling questions about the "death" of Walter Williams. The more details Quincy collects, the more the story seems to unravel.

One-time silent actress Mae Marsh plays Marsha's warm, sensible mother. Jason Robards Sr. is the judge in the final section of the movie. Clarence Kolb, Anna May Wong, and Philip Ahn complete the cast.

Some reviewers question whether IMPACT should be considered a true example of film noir, as much of it takes place during broad daylight. Perhaps it's more of a "crime drama," but the spooky attempted murder sequence, a foot chase through Chinatown stairways, and the evil femme fatale cause me to lean toward considering it film noir. I'd enjoying hearing opinions on that from others who have seen the movie.

IMPACT was directed by Arthur Lubin, who began directing in 1934. Lubin directed many B movies as well as the Francis the Talking Mule series. Lubin's career seems to have been inextricably linked with talking animals, as he had a long association with the MISTER ED TV series. Lubin's name is familiar to me as he directed many episodes of my favorite TV series, MAVERICK.

IMPACT is in the public domain. My understanding is that some DVD prints are shorter than the film's 111-minute running time, so exercise caution. The blog Noir of the Week recommends a DVD from Image Entertainment.

I recently recorded the film from a Southern California public TV station; the print was of good quality and was the proper running time.

IMPACT is a very entertaining film which deserves wider recognition. Recommended.

John Forsythe, 1918-2010

Another week, and another big TV star has passed John Forsythe passed on yesterday at the age of 92.

TV greats Forsythe, Peter Graves, Fess Parker, and Robert Culp have all died in a span of two and a half weeks.

Forsythe starred in several TV series, including BACHELOR FATHER, TO ROME WITH LOVE, and CHARLIE'S ANGELS, where he was only heard -- never seen -- as the titular Charlie.

Forsythe's most famous TV role was as oil tycoon Blake Carrington on the classic '80s primetime soap opera DYNASTY, which ran from 1981-89. It was part of the primetime soap craze about the wealthy which was initiated by DALLAS, but it had a style all its own and, in a word, it was fun. I especially enjoyed it as a diversion from studying during my college years.

Forsythe's early career included serving as a P.A. announcer for the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field. He broke into films with bit parts in NORTHERN PURSUIT (1943) and DESTINATION TOKYO (1943).

After service in WWII, Forsythe simultaneously acted in both TV and movies. His notable films included the Robert Wise film noir THE CAPTIVE CITY (1952), IT HAPPENS EVERY THURSDAY (1953) with Loretta Young, John Sturges' ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO (1953), THE AMBASSADOR'S DAUGHTER (1956) with Olivia de Havilland, and IN COLD BLOOD (1967).

He appeared in two films for Alfred Hitchcock, THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY (1955) and TOPAZ (1969).

Another tribute is at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear.

Update: Here is the L.A. Times obituary.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

TCM in April: Highlights

It's hard to believe April is here already, the year is flying by!

Turner Classic Movies will be celebrating Robert Taylor as Star of the Month in April. Four 24-hour marathons of a total of 54 Taylor films will begin airing next Tuesday, April 6th. I'll be posting more about Robert Taylor Month in the near future.

In the meantime, Taylor fans may want to be aware of an additional Taylor film showing this month. On Saturday, April 3rd, TCM is screening THE SECRET LAND (1948), a U.S. Navy documentary about Admiral Byrd's exploration of the Antarctic, which won the Academy Award for Best Documentary. The movie is narrated by Taylor, Robert Montgomery, and Van Heflin. The trailer is here.

Here's a look at a few of the other interesting titles being shown in April on TCM:

...Friday, April 2nd, TCM is showing MAIL ORDER BRIDE (1964). The Warner Archive DVD-R of this film was reviewed a few days ago by Glenn Erickson at DVD Savant. It stars Lois Nettleton, Buddy Ebsen, and Keir Dullea, and was written and directed by Burt Kennedy. Kennedy wrote several Budd Boetticher/Randolph Scott Westerns and directed my favorite James Garner movie, 1969's SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF!

...I've heard good things about ONE FOOT IN HEAVEN (1941), the story of a minister and his family, starring Fredric March and Martha Scott. It airs on Easter Sunday, April 4th. And of course, don't miss the annual showing of EASTER PARADE (1948)!

...I very much enjoyed the "noir Western" BLOOD ON THE MOON (1948), showing on April 5th. It stars Robert Mitchum, Barbara Bel Geddes, Robert Preston, and Walter Brennan, and was directed by the great Robert Wise.

...The work of director George Stevens will be spotlighted on April 5th, 12th, 19th, and 26th. The first night's lineup includes Stevens' great GIANT (1956).

...April 6th is a Loretta Young pre-Code title I've not yet seen, THE RULING VOICE (1931). It's one of several movies airing that day starring Walter Huston.

...The excellent 20th Century-Fox film DRAGONWYCK (1946) also airs on April 6th. Rupert reviewed this film a few days ago at Classic Movies Digest.

...THE SECRET FURY (1950), airing on April 9th, sounds interesting. It stars Claudette Colbert and Robert Ryan, along with Jane Cowl, who was so good as Robert Montgomery's mother in ONCE MORE, MY DARLING (1949). The film was directed by actor Mel Ferrer. There are other good Colbert films airing that day, including WITHOUT RESERVATIONS (1946) and THE SECRET HEART (1946).

...AT SWORD'S POINT (1952) should be a fun swashbuckler. It stars Maureen O'Hara and Cornel Wilde and airs on April 10th.

...Ann Miller receives a birthday tribute on April 12th. Several of her early Columbia musicals will be shown, followed by MGM's TEXAS CARNIVAL (1951), also starring Esther Williams and Howard Keel.

...Eight films with "Heaven" in the title are scheduled for April 16th. The diverse lineup includes RAGE IN HEAVEN (1941) with Robert Montgomery, Ingrid Bergman, and George Sanders; ALL THIS, AND HEAVEN TOO (1940) with Bette Davis and Charles Boyer; HEAVEN ONLY KNOWS (1947) with Robert Cummings, Brian Donlevy, and Marjorie Reynolds; and THE HEAVENLY BODY (1943) with William Powell and Hedy Lamarr.

...My favorite Fred Astaire movie is on April 18th: YOU WERE NEVER LOVELIER (1942), also starring Rita Hayworth. The magical Kern score includes "I'm Old-Fashioned" and "Dearly Beloved."

...Two films starring the late Kathryn Grayson will be shown on April 18th: THE DESERT SONG (1953) with Gordon MacRae and SHOW BOAT (1951) with Howard Keel. TCM will give Grayson a more extensive tribute this summer when she is honored with a 24-hour marathon during the August Summer Under the Stars festival.

...Shirley Temple will be honored with an eight-film birthday salute on Friday, April 23rd. I'm particularly looking forward to recording ADVENTURE IN BALTIMORE (1949), a turn-of-the-century film I've not yet seen. It costars Robert Young and Temple's then-husband, John Agar. Other titles showing that day include THE LITTLE PRINCESS (1939), KATHLEEN (1941), and John Ford's FORT APACHE (1948).

...Wednesday, April 28th, is an exciting day, a rare showing of Paramount's ARISE, MY LOVE (1944) starring Ray Milland and Claudette Colbert, directed by Mitchell Leisen. Can't wait!

...Debbie Reynolds, born on April 1st, has a belated birthday celebration with five films on April 29th. Fans of SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS (1954) may want to check out the somewhat unusual musical ATHENA (1954), in which three of seven sisters are played by three of the "brides."

...Additionally, those of you who have Fox Movie Channel may want to be aware that OH, YOU BEAUTIFUL DOLL (1949), starring June Haver and Mark Stevens, will be on on April 28th. Fox shows a relatively small number of "old" films and tends to recycle the same titles over and over, but there are usually a couple of gems each month. I'm looking forward to seeing this one for the first time; Haver is a delightful film personality.

Visit TCM for the complete schedule and lots more information about the movies they'll be showing in April.

Happy viewing!!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Tonight's Movie: She Had to Say Yes (1933)

It's back to the department store for Loretta Young and Winnie Lightner, stars of last night's movie, PLAY-GIRL (1932). Tonight Loretta and Winnie play girls in a department store steno pool who are asked to entertain out-of-town buyers in SHE HAD TO SAY YES.

SHE HAD TO SAY YES was extremely entertaining, although it will make the women in the audience want to smack every man in the cast, and the jaw-dropping last five minutes will leave viewers with a severe case of mental whiplash. Indeed, the film's outrageous finale is part of its strange, bizarre charm. The modern viewer can't quite believe the script is for real, with lovely Loretta treated like dirt by two different men, yet happily going off into the sunset with one of them. (Well, not quite the sunset. The final shot left me gaping at the screen in stunned amazement.)

Pretty Florence (Young) is secretary to her fiance, department store executive Tommy Nelson (Regis Toomey). Tommy doesn't want his fiancee drafted into dating and "being nice" to aggressive out-of-town buyers, but then changes his mind when he decides he wants to two-time Florence and go out with Birdie (Suzanne Kilborn). Buyer Danny Drew (Lyle Talbot) puts the heavy moves on Florence, but then realizes she's really a nice girl and sends her home.

Florence catches Tommy with Birdie and breaks their engagement; meanwhile Florence is hotly pursued by Danny. Then Danny decides Florence could help him land a merger deal with Luther Haines (Hugh Herbert)...however, when Florence is successful, Danny becomes angry with her because he thinks maybe she's not really a nice girl after all. Got all that?! Before you know it, Danny and Tommy are duking it out over whether or not Florence is a tramp... All this in a mere 65 minutes.

This is Depression-era pre-Code soap of the highest order, with attitudes toward women so cavalier and alien that it really has to be seen to be believed. As a reviewer wrote at IMDb, "The final lines of dialogue will leave your head will blow you away." Another reviewer said, "Having seen lots of pre-Code films over the years, I have to say this was the first time I held my hand over my mouth and gasped."

I thought Loretta's EMPLOYEES' ENTRANCE, another department store melodrama from 1933, was disturbing, but this was on another level entirely...although ironically, I liked SHE HAD TO SAY YES a lot better than EMPLOYEES' ENTRANCE. I thought it had better pacing and wasn't as depressing.

Although the overall plotline of SHE HAD TO SAY YES is from Mars, the script has some very good one-liners, a couple of which are given to Lightner, once again playing Loretta Young's best friend.

Loretta gives another of her excellent early '30s portrayals of a working woman struggling to get by and hoping for a loving marriage with a decent man. Poor Loretta's Depression heroines had the worst luck at times finding a man who was true blue and not a jerk. (James Cagney, who played Loretta's husband in the terrific 1932 film TAXI!, is another example of her characters' questionable taste in men.) Talbot is also particularly good as Danny, who is by turns charming, romantic...and downright scary.

Busy bit players Charles Lane and George Chandler, who were both in TWENTY MILLION SWEETHEARTS (1934), reviewed here last weekend, turn up again in this. Lane is a department store executive and Chandler is a taxi driver.

The cast also includes Ferdinand Gottschalk, Helen Ware, and Toby Wing.

This film was codirected by Busby Berkeley and George Amy. This was Berkeley's first directing credit.

SHE HAD TO SAY YES can be seen on Turner Classic Movies. It does not appear to have had a DVD or VHS release.

Like PLAY-GIRL, the movie has a somewhat racy trailer, although this one at least is more relevant to the movie's actual plot.

Noir City Film Festival Opens in L.A. April 2nd

Susan King has a nice interview with Eddie Muller and Alan K. Rode about the upcoming Noir City Film Festival. The festival opens Friday night, April 2nd, at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood.

I have tickets to a double bill one night next week and am looking forward to sharing more about it here in a few days. I especially admire Eddie Muller, whose DVD commentaries I greatly enjoy, and hope he will be present that evening.

One detail in King's column which is incorrect: the article says none of the movies at the festival are available on DVD. EXPERIMENT PERILOUS is actually out on DVD-R via the Warner Archive. However, given that the playback of Archive products is unpredictable, this may be a minor factual quibble. It would be wonderful if all of the movies to be shown at the festival were available on burned DVDs.

More information about the festival is included in my post of March 23rd.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Play-Girl (1932)

PLAY-GIRL is the misleading title of an hour-long pre-Code melodrama starring Loretta Young and Norman Foster.

Loretta plays a young department store salesgirl who has high hopes for her career and has sworn off marriage, especially as she fears childbirth. Enter brash Wally Dennis (Foster), who sweeps her off her feet and marries her, only to be revealed as an inveterate gambler shortly after the wedding. Wally promises to get a real job but struggles to keep his word, until he learns his bride is going to have a baby...

In many ways this is a silly movie, with the unexpected, and rather unpleasant, plot detour into gambling and an even more unexpected detour when Loretta's character starts gambling herself near the end of the movie.

However, Loretta Young is absolutely magnetic. She was a stunning beauty as a teenager; she was just 18 or 19 when this was filmed. Even better, she was a mesmerizing actress, and she covers a great deal of emotional territory in this film. I like all of Young's work but find her films of the early '30s especially interesting. My favorite Young pre-Codes are MIDNIGHT MARY (1933) and TAXI! (1932). THEY CALL IT SIN (1932) is another I found especially entertaining.

Foster is pleasant, but he's never struck me as a particularly appealing leading man. Young and Foster also starred as husband and wife in WEEK-END MARRIAGE in 1932. Three years later, Foster became Young's real-life brother-in-law when he married her sister, Sally Blane (born Elizabeth Jane Young). He later directed Loretta in RACHEL AND THE STRANGER (1948).

PLAY-GIRL is also of note for its fairly stark depiction of life during the Depression era. I was especially fascinated by the huge department store time clock.

Loretta's best friend is played by Winnie Lightner, who was rather inexplicably top billed. Lightner's last film was in 1934. In 1948 she married film director Roy Del Ruth. They were married until his passing in 1961. Lightner herself lived till 1971.

The cast also includes handsome James Ellison (SORORITY GIRL). Dorothy Burgess plays a snarky salesgirl, and Guy Kibbee plays Lightner's beau.

PLAY-GIRL was directed by Ray Enright. It was photographed by Gregg Toland.

PLAY-GIRL does not appear to have had a VHS or DVD release, but it can be seen from time to time on Turner Classic Movies. The rather racy trailer doesn't have a great deal to do with the actual movie!

Update: Here's a review of Young and Lightner as department store secretaries in SHE HAD TO SAY YES (1933).

Quick Preview of TCM in June

Turner Classic Movies released their June schedule online today. 

The June Star of the Month will be the beautiful Natalie Wood.

TCM will be showing over two dozen of Natalie's movies, although it doesn't appear at first glance that they'll be showing a title I'd really like to see, THE BRIDE WORE BOOTS (1946) with Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Cummings.  It's a Paramount title and Paramount films are shown relatively rarely on TCM, though the numbers have increased this year.

The June title I'm most excited about is a Robert Montgomery film, THE MYSTERY OF MR. X (1934), which I've been wanting to see for some time. It airs on Saturday, June 12th.

As always, I'll have more details as June approaches. And over the next day or two we'll start to take a look at TCM in April -- Robert Taylor Month!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Bits of Entertainment News

Odds and ends to start the week...

...Turner Classic Movies accidentally showed a commercial Sunday night. Apparently it was a technical error.

...Beau Bridges has been cast as Rocky in the upcoming TV remake of the classic series THE ROCKFORD FILES. Rocky was memorably played by Noah Beery Jr. in the original show.

...I enjoyed John Nolte's tribute to the late Robert Culp's character on THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO, Bill Maxwell.

...At Classic Montgomery Carrie has an interesting link to a YouTube page with a bunch of Ray Milland movies. The list includes THE GILDED LILY (1935) and HER JUNGLE LOVE (1938) which I've been wanting to see. I took a look at a little of THE GILDED LILY and the print is very good.

...Actress June Havoc has passed away. Havoc was 97. Her films include HELLO FRISCO, HELLO (1943), reviewed here earlier this month, and also MY SISTER EILEEN (1942), NO TIME FOR LOVE (1943), GENTLEMAN'S AGREEMENT (1947), and THE IRON CURTAIN (1948). Havoc was the younger sister of Gypsy Rose Lee; their lives were dramatized in the musical GYPSY.