Sunday, June 25, 2017

Tonight's Movie: The Wheeler Dealers (1963) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

James Garner and Lee Remick star in THE WHEELER DEALERS (1963), recently released on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive.

Garner plays Henry Tyroon, a high-powered businessman who travels from Texas to New York to cook up some new deals after his latest project, an oil well, turns out to be dry.

Henry meets lovely stock analyst Molly Thatcher (Remick). Entranced by her cornflower blue eyes, Henry leads Molly through a series of business adventures, culminating in helping her save her job by discovering the true value of a supposedly worthless widget company.

The movie's premise is thin, with Garner springboarding from one business scenario to the next, yet he's so engaging as a supposed Texan that the film is a pleasant enough ride through 107 minutes of wheeling and dealing. It's sort of the movie equivalent of cotton candy, tastes good yet quickly melts away.

I was never quite certain if Garner's character, who's actually a Yale-educated Bostonian, was a truly wealthy businessman or a flim-flam man -- or perhaps both at once!

Remick is lovely as a woman who aspires to be taken seriously in the business world, but she lacks a certain bubbly fizz or underlying goofiness needed to pull off a romantic comedy. Although Remick and Garner are pleasant together, their romance never heats up past "sweet," with Garner responsible for whatever romantic vibes the film has.

I found myself idly imagining what Doris Day, Garner's costar in a pair of other 1963 comedies, would have done with this part, such as reacting when Molly discovers Henry in her hotel bathroom. Ah, would have been great, but it was not to be.

The film is buoyed by a good supporting cast, starting with Patricia Crowley as Remick's roommate. Crowley had appeared with Garner on MAVERICK a few years before.

Phil Harris, Chill Wills, and Charles Watts play zany millionaires who function as sort of a Greek chorus, finishing each other's sentences as they follow Henry around begging to be cut in on his deals.

The deep cast also includes Jim Backus, John Astin, Charles Lane, Elliott Reid, Pat Harringon Jr., Louis Nye, Eleanor Audley, Ross Elliott, James Doohan, Percy Helton, and other familiar faces.

The film's additional appeal comes from its early '60s set designs and fashions, shot in widescreen Metrocolor by Charles Lang. The film's look, combined with Garner and a fun cast of character actors, make it worth a look.

The movie was directed by Arthur Hiller, who would soon work again with Garner on THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY (1964).

THE WHEELER DEALERS, which was previously released by the Warner Archive in a remastered DVD, looks terrific, in a crisp and colorful widescreen Blu-ray print. The disc includes the trailer.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDS and Blu-rays are sold.

Tonight's Movie: Cry Wolf (1947) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

A pair of true superstars, Errol Flynn and Barbara Stanwyck, star in the thriller CRY WOLF (1947), available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

Stanwyck plays Sandra Marshall, who shows up at the estate owned by Mark Caldwell (Flynn) and surprises him with the news that her name is Sandra Demarest and she's the widow of his very recently deceased nephew, Jim Demarest.

The disbelieving Mark nonetheless invites Sandra to stay while he searches for Jim's will, which names Sandra as the beneficiary.

Sandra is befriended by Jim's lonely, troubled sister Julie (Geraldine Brooks). The two women are troubled by screams in the night...and there are other odd things. Why is Jim's coffin closed, even to his widow, and where did his pipe collection go? And what's in Mark's locked laboratory?

Sandra is determined to find the answers...after all, as she tells Mark, "I am not a placid woman." It also turns out she knows very little about her late husband, and she has more than one surprise coming.

I wrote in 2011 that the film's parts are greater than the whole. I still find that true, although I like all the various parts so much that perhaps in the end it doesn't matter that the film's not perfect. It's a flawed but memorable film which I've now enjoyed twice and anticipate watching again in the future.

The movie's biggest problem is that the plot resolution is based on a concept I don't think is medically possible; that said, I found it went over easier this time around, because it wasn't a surprise and I was more willing to suspend disbelief.

I also found, as I anticipated after seeing the film the first time, that Flynn's character comes off more heroically when viewed with full knowledge of the plot. I enjoyed watching it more while appreciating him as a tragic rather than sinister character.

Stanwyck is gorgeous, in full Nancy Drew mode as she rides dumbwaiters and climbs rooftops in search of the truth. As with Flynn, a second viewing caused perceptions to shift; in this case, it intensified the feeling that she might be more foolish than brave.

This was one of the first films in which Brooks appeared; she was a memorable screen presence in her too-short feature film career. I most recently reviewed her in this year's Warner Archive release CHALLENGE TO LASSIE (1949). I've been hoping the Warner Archive will release her fine film EMBRACEABLE YOU (1948), which costarred Dane Clark.

CRY WOLF was directed by Peter Godfrey. It was shot in black and white by Carl E. Guthrie. The moody score is by Frank Waxman.

The film's fine supporting cast includes Jerome Cowan as Mark's brother, a U.S. senator, plus Richard Basehart, Patricia Barry, Rory Mallinson, John Ridgely, and Helene Thimig.

The Warner Archive print is more faded than many of the Archive DVDs I've seen, with occasional faint lines, but is still quite watchable. There are no extras.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

Back From the Road!

I'm back from a wonderful road trip!

The highlight of our trip, and the reason behind it, was our younger daughter's graduation from the University of Oregon.

The main graduation ceremony was in the Matthew Knight Arena:

Two years ago our daughter and her husband had a wedding cake with a TANGLED (2010) theme. For graduation she further paid tribute to her love for Disney (and Pixar!) with an UP (2009) theme on her cap.

We have just one child left to graduate college, our son who will be a sophomore at UC San Diego this year, and then they'll all be done!

As I mentioned in a previous post, we drove to Oregon via San Francisco, then traveled home through the Sierras.

In the coming days I'll be sharing a series of photo posts, including shots of the remarkable Walt Disney Family Museum, several San Francisco classic film locations, and other miscellaneous "photos from the road."

I've also completed writing several movie reviews which will be appearing throughout this coming week. As the saying goes, please stay tuned!

Friday, June 16, 2017

Road Trip!

We left early this morning for a trip to Eugene, Oregon, where our younger daughter graduates from the University of Oregon on Monday!

We decided to make this visit a driving trip, stopping in San Francisco on the way up in order to visit the Walt Disney Family Museum. Then we'll come home via the Sierras, spending time in our favorite town, Bridgeport, along with a night in Lone Pine.

We had a great time seeing Hayley Mills in SUMMER MAGIC (1963) at the Disney Museum this afternoon, and we return tomorrow to tour the museum.

If time and the internet cooperate over the next week I may do some posting from the road, but otherwise I'll be back to blogging as normal in a few days.

Happy summer, everyone!

Update: Back From the Road!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Night Has a Thousand Eyes (1948): A Photo Gallery

Last night was a special evening at UCLA, a 35mm nitrate screening of NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES (1948).

This was my second nitrate film at UCLA this year, following ROAD HOUSE (1948) in January. Since the Egyptian Theatre added a nitrate projection booth last year, we're very fortunate to have two theaters in Los Angeles which now regularly screen the great-looking but potentially dangerous nitrate movies.

The evening began with a 1948 newsreel on safety stock, followed by two 1948 shorts on nitrate. First up was the colorful cartoon LITTLE BROWN JUG (1948), which includes an audience sing-along of the title tune, followed by MOVIES ARE ADVENTURE (1948), a short promoting the magic of the moviegoing experience which was made by the Academy. All three shorts were interesting, and I loved that everything shown was from the same year as the feature film.

I first reviewed NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES in 2011, and I was fortunate to see a beautiful new 35mm print at the Noir City Film Festival in 2013. Last night I was able to experience the film in a decades-old 35mm nitrate print.

NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES is a movie I like more each time I see it. John Farrow directs with great mood, and it sucks the viewer in from the opening strains of Victor Young's marvelous score. The first time I saw it I was struck by the need to suspend disbelief for the improbable story, but being well-acquainted with the film now, I buy into it from the beginning. Think of it as something like film noir meets THE TWILIGHT ZONE, and you've got the idea. It would make a great double bill with another noir fantasy, REPEAT PERFORMANCE (1947).

The nitrate print was beautiful. The early reels in particular sometimes had a thin vertical line, but the rest of the picture still looked good, and the later reels were stunning, with deep, rich blacks. Beyond the quality of the movie itself, simply taking in the sumptuous black and white shots of Gail Russell in nitrate was an amazing experience.

It's rather a crime that two classic 1948 films Russell starred in for Paramount haven't made their way to DVD. You'd think both NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES and MOONRISE (1948) would be perfect releases for the Criterion Collection, especially since Criterion released another Paramount classic with Russell, THE UNINVITED (1944).

In honor of seeing this wonderful film again, I've put together a gallery of images. Along with Russell, the movie stars Edward G. Robinson, John Lund, Virginia Bruce, Jerome Cowan, and William Bendix, with John Alexander, Roman Bohnen, Onslow Stevens, and Douglas Spencer in support.

Highly recommended viewing.

Previous movie photo gallery posts: THE MARK OF ZORRO (1940), YELLOW SKY (1948), WESTWARD THE WOMEN (1951), and THE GLASS SLIPPER (1955).

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Hell's Heroes (1929) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

HELL'S HEROES (1929), directed by the great William Wyler, is one of the earliest surviving films of Peter Kyne's story THREE GODFATHERS.

It's available in a two-disc set from the Warner Archive, along with the 1936 version. The 1936 version was directed by Richard Boleslawski, starring Chester Morris, Lewis Stone, and Walter Brennan.

The story has been filmed multiple times, although at least two silent versions are regarded as lost films. The best-known version is probably John Ford's 1948 filming with John Wayne, Harry Carey Jr., and Pedro Armendariz, which I reviewed last fall after seeing it at the Lone Pine Film Festival.

As HELL'S HEROES began and a trio of outlaws approached the town of New Jerusalem, my mind exploded: There was no mistaking that New Jerusalem was actually Bodie, a Sierra ghost town located not far from Bridgeport, California. We try to visit Bridgeport most summers -- I'll be there in a few days -- and I've been to Bodie numerous times over the course of my life. While Bridgeport was immortalized on film in Jacques Tourneur's OUT OF THE PAST (1947) and NIGHTFALL (1957), I'd never before seen Bodie in a movie.

Bodie, a State Historic Park, has been abandoned and in a state of "arrested decay" for decades, although it was still lightly populated at the time the movie was made. A fire destroyed much of the town just three years after this movie was filmed, and the post office closed in the early months of WWII.

Seeing Bodie as a living, breathing town in this felt something akin to time traveling. My jaw dropped watching Bodie as it looked 90 years ago. I was amazed when the hearse I've seen in the museum came roaring up the street, pulled by two black horses. The church which is a key location in both the opening and closing sequences survived the fire, and I've stood in its doorway many times.

This would not have been an easy location for a movie company to get to. For much of my life, going to Bodie meant 13 miles on a dirt road from the turnoff at Highway 395. A number of years back they finally paved the first 10 miles, so only the last three are dirt. It must have been a rugged trek transporting all the camera and sound equipment over that road in 1920s vehicles. I'm grateful they made the effort, as along with making a very good movie they preserved some unique California history.

I found photos and more information on the filming at Jim Lane's Cinedrome, The Great Silence, and Captive Wild Woman.

As for the movie itself, having seen both this and another early Wyler film, A HOUSE DIVIDED (1931), in the past year or so, I'm of the opinion that Wyler was incapable of making a bad movie.

Many film fans will know the story, about three "bad men" escaping after a robbery who come upon a stranded covered wagon with a woman (Fritzi Ridgeway) about to give birth. She has a baby boy, and before she dies the men commit to seeing her child across the desert to safety. Their commitment will take enormous sacrifice but also provide them with a kind of redemption.

In the Ford version, Wayne, Carey, and Armendariz weren't really all that bad, they were more men who had gone astray. But the bad men played by Charles Bickford, Raymond Hatton, and Fred Kohler are really bad, especially Bickford. When they come across the wagon, they initially think the woman is just ill and basically argue over who's going to get to have his way with her. Inconveniently for them, she's having a baby.

This is a tough, gritty film which at 68 minutes is also perfectly paced. The Ford version had some fine qualities but it went on far too long, exhausting the audience as the men staggered through the desert. This movie was just right, a compelling saga which knew when it was time to wrap it up.

The three lead actors are all excellent, with Raymond Hatton particularly likeable as "Barbwire," who becomes the baby's advocate.  Hatton appeared in probably scores of Westerns over his long career, with over 400 film and TV credits. Bickford, who I fondly recall from later Westerns such as FOUR FACES WEST (1948) and TV's THE VIRGINIAN, seems impossibly young here, at least until he undergoes a startling physical transformation as he staggers through the desert.

Buck Conners has some great moments as the parson in the opening and closing sequences. He comes out of the church, gun a-blazing, then once he's picked off an outlaw he returns to the man with his Bible. This sequence, with the hearse racing up the street before the man's even dead, is a fantastic piece of filmmaking.

There's also an evocative cantina sequence with dancing by Maria Alba, and look for character actress Mary Gordon in a bit role in the church choir at the end.

The movie was filmed by George Robinson. The Warner Archive print is soft, which is probably not surprising given the film's age, but it's certainly quite watchable. In a strange way the slightly faded print adds to the strong feeling, while watching the film, that one has stepped back in time.

The article at Jim Lane's Cinedrome concurs: "Seen today...the movie's age works for it. The primitive technology of early sound, the rugged conditions on location, the stark frontier setting and the primal power of the story all work together to make HELL'S HEROES feel not like a movie but a relic, in the best sense of the word -- something rare and precious brought back by a time traveler just returned from 1880 or 1900." A beautiful description.

There are no extras on the DVD. As mentioned, the movie is part of a two-film set. I'll be reviewing the 1936 version from the set at a future date.

Update: For more on this fine film, please also see a review by Caftan Woman which was published just a few days ago.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD set. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

Tonight's Movie: Slightly Dangerous (1943) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

SLIGHTLY DANGEROUS (1943), a comedy-drama starring Lana Turner, is available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

Thanks to the Archive I've been enjoying Lana Turner '40s films recently; SLIGHTLY DANGEROUS follows watching WEEK-END AT THE WALDORF (1945) and KEEP YOUR POWDER DRY (1945). SLIGHTLY DANGEROUS is the most lightweight of the trio, but it's a fun watch.

Lana plays Peggy Evans, who's bored with her job at a small-town drugstore ice cream counter. As the movie opens, she receives an award for being on time to work for 1000 days straight, and she also proves to dubious customers that she can make a banana split blindfolded.

That last bit leads to her being fired by the brand-new store manager, Bob Stuart (Robert Young), but when Peggy decides to leave town for a new life and her farewell message is interpreted as a suicide note, Bob is fired for having caused the young woman to take such a desperate measure.

Bob wants to prove Peggy's alive so he can reclaim his job. He sets out to find Peggy, who has gone to the big city and had a complete makeover, changing from the dark-haired Lana Turner look of the late '30s to her glam blonde style of the '40s.

An accident leads Peggy to claim to be an amnesia victim; she's in financial straits, and the company which caused the accident offers support until she gets her memory back. Needing a better long-term financial plan, she poses as the long-lost daughter of wealthy Cornelius Burden (Walter Brennan), but then Bob shows up...

It's a fairly intricate plot, if still a tad overlong at 94 minutes, but all in all it's a pleasant film. Lana's on screen for most of the movie, and she's both lovely and an underrated acting talent. She even gets to show off a bit of her MGM dance training in a charming roadhouse scene with Young. (I want to go to an all-night roadhouse like that's gorgeous!) In the wrong hands her schemer would be unlikable, but in Lana's hands Peggy still has a baby-faced innocence, as well as genuine caring for her new "father" and grandmother (Dame May Whitty).

In her fine, photo-filled book on her mother Lana, Cheryl Crane relates that the scene where Lana makes a banana split blindfolded was a nightmare to film, as her mother really couldn't see anything and there were technical difficulties such as the lights continually melting the ice cream. As Cheryl notes, you'd never know how complicated the filming was from the scene in the finished film! She also mentions the tidbit that her mother wore some of her own jewelry in the movie.

Brennan is particularly moving as the heartbroken father daring to hope that his long-lost baby girl has been found at last. Also of particular note is Ward Bond, stealing scenes in a near-wordless performance as Brennan's security man.

A big part of the fun of this movie is watching the parade of faces. Alan Mowbray is a stitch as a man who buys Young drinks in a nightclub, and that's James Warren (WANDERER OF THE WASTELAND) dancing with Lana at a party. Bobby Blake torments Young in an early sequence, and Pamela Blake is Lana's fellow ice cream scooper. A young Millard Mitchell plays an assistant to Eugene Pallette. Also spotted: Norma Varden, Frances Rafferty, Ray Collins, Florence Bates, Frank Faylen, Emory Parnell, Walter Sande, and Almira Sessions, to name just a few.

With the recent passing of Roger Moore, it's a good time to remind film fans that there was another actor named Roger Moore. He was the older brother of Robert Young, and he spent his entire career in bit roles -- over 230 of them! A great many of his appearances, like SLIGHTLY DANGEROUS, were in MGM films, at the studio where his brother spent a number of years under contract. Moore appeared as clerks, cops, waiters, party guests and the like; in SLIGHTLY DANGEROUS he's a store floorwalker.

SLIGHTLY DANGEROUS was directed by Wesley Ruggles (brother of Charlie) and filmed in black and white by Harold Rosson. By coincidence I watched this on Wesley Ruggles' birthday. He was born June 11, 1889.

The Warner Archive DVD is a good-looking print. The DVD includes the trailer.

Coming in the near future, we move on to Lana Turner in the '50s with reviews of the Warner Archive releases A LIFE OF HER OWN (1950) and DIANE (1956).

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

A Visit to Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, Part 2

A few days ago I shared photos from an April visit to Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills. They may be found at A Visit to Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, Part 1.

Here are a few additional photos taken that day.  Click any photo to enlarge for a closer look.

Bette Davis is buried in this impressive spot with her mother and sister. Underneath her name it says "She did it the hard way."

An equally imposing final joint resting place for Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher:

Buster Keaton:

I find the inscription on Dan Duryea's gravestone especially touching:

Reginald Denny, actor and aviation inventor:

James Bond producer Albert "Cubby" Broccoli and his wife:

George Raft:

Wanda Hendrix:

Previously: A Visit to Forest Lawn Glendale, Part 1, A Visit to Forest Lawn Glendale, Part 2, A Visit to the Forest Lawn Museum, A Visit to Hollywood Forever Cemetery, A Visit to Westwood Village Memorial Park - The Musicians, A Visit to Westwood Village Memorial Park - The Comedians, A Visit to Westwood Village Memorial Park - The Actors, A Visit to Westwood Village Memorial Park - Writers, Directors, and More, A Visit to Holy Cross Cemetery, Part 1, A Visit to Holy Cross Cemetery, Part 2, A Visit to Holy Cross Cemetery, Part 3, A Visit to Desert Memorial Park.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Tonight's Movie: The Son of the Sheik (1926) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Rudolph Valentino stars in the silent classic THE SON OF THE SHEIK (1926), recently released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber.

I reviewed the Kino release of Valentino's THE SHEIK (1921) last weekend. If THE SHEIK was a good movie, I found THE SON OF THE SHEIK to be a great one.

Like THE SHEIK, THE SON OF THE SHEIK is loosely based on a novel by E.M. Hull. (The original, which I read years ago, was called THE SONS OF THE SHEIK, and the movie plot was greatly pared down and changed.) Valentino stars in a dual role, playing both the Sheik of the original film and the Sheik's son Ahmed, the title character.

Ahmed falls in love with Yasmin (Vilma Banky), a beautiful dancing girl. (As with the Sheik in the original film, it's revealed she's actually of European heritage.) He's led to believe that she's responsible for luring him into a thieves' trap, where he's tortured and threatened with death; after he escapes, he later kidnaps her to exact revenge.

Yasmin is ultimately freed at the urging of Ahmed's father, but then he learns the truth, that she was completely innocent, and he sets out to woo her back; in an exciting climax, he races across the desert to rescue her from the gang of thieves.

Like the original film, the movie is not exactly politically correct, and some will be troubled by the direction the story goes at one point. But for viewers willing to set aside modern sensibilities and embrace the film for what it is, escapist fantasy, it's vastly entertaining. The piece is played with gusto by the cast against visually impressive settings.

The goofy eye-flaring Valentino did constantly throughout THE SHEIK is gone here; instead he's terrific, by turns smoldering and athletic as the impetuous Ahmed.

He's also marvelous as his father, almost unrecognizable at first, but with a closer look, yes, it's the Sheik. He's outstanding in both roles, and the trick photography in a few scenes is superb. I marveled at a moment where the Sheik puts his arm around his son's shoulder.

Given the talent Valentino shows here, it's all the more tragic that this was his last film. The movie was released in early September 1926, just days after Valentino's August 23rd death. The Blu-ray includes newspaper headlines announcing his illness and passing.

Valentino is well-matched with Vilma Banky; I think they have more chemistry here than he and Agnes Ayres did in the original film. (Ayres returns here for several scenes in her role as Diana, Ahmed's mother.) Banky is moving but also has plenty of spunk as the heroine.

The look of this film is absolutely captivating. The sets, including the Sheik's beautiful villa and Ahmed's encampment, were designed by the great William Cameron Menzies. Like the original movie, much of the filming also took place at California sand dunes. Sandstorms and shots of horses racing across the sand are quite thrilling.

The beautiful photography by George Barnes utilizes color tints, including blue nighttime scenes. The movie was directed by George Fitzmaurice. It runs 80 minutes.

The Alloy Orchestra provides an evocative score. The music for the lengthy sequence between the Sheik and Yasmin when they arrive at his camp is downright hypnotic. I was fortunate to see the Alloy Orchestra in person a few weeks ago accompanying Harold Lloyd in SPEEDY (1928) at the TCM Classic Film Festival.

Extras on the Blu-ray include a brief featurette with Orson Welles, vintage shorts, and a trailer for Valentino's THE YOUNG RAJAH (1922).

Kino Lorber has also released THE SON OF THE SHEIK on DVD.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.