Monday, September 24, 2018

Here Comes Carter

The B-Hive

By Ed Garea

Here Comes Carter (WB, 1936) – Director: William Clemens. Writers: Roy Chanslor (s/p). Michael Jacoby (story). Stars: Ross Alexander, Glenda Farrell, Anne Nagel, Craig Reynolds, Hobart Cavanaugh, George E. Stone, John Sheehan, Joseph Crehan, Dennis Moore, Norman Willis, John T. Murray, Charley Foy, Eddy Chandler, Davison Clark & Wayne Morris. B&W, 58 minutes.

And there goes Carter. At a little less than an hour, it’s over before we know it, although there’s a lot of plot packed into that hour.

Ross Alexander is Kent Carter, Director of Public Relations at Premiere Pictures. In other words, head flack. He has a slight problem in that he doesn’t want to give his secretary, Linda Warren (Nagel), a screen test because he wants to marry her and wants a stay-at-home wife.   

To make him jealous, she tells him she had dinner with actor Rex Marchbanks (Reynolds). Rex is easily Kent’s least favorite person in any case, so when Linda gives him the news, he really has a reason to hate Rex. The unknowing Rex, however, hands Kent a golden opportunity for a little revenge. Would Kent take care of his wife, who is suing him for non-support? Kent seizes on the opportunity and turns Rex in to the authorities.

When Rex is ultimately cleared, he takes revenge by getting Kent fired. Linda begs Kent to apologize and get his job back, but he refuses. Reduced to trading an autographed cigarette lighter to diner owner Bill (Morris in only his second picture) in return for a hot dog and mug of beer, he notices Bill listening intently to the radio. When he asks Bill what’s so important, Bill responds that he never misses Mel Winter’s Hollywood gossip show. This gives Kent an idea. Why not use his inside knowledge of Hollywood to make money? He offers to provide dipso radio gossip Winter (Cavanaugh) with real scandals. Winter is too timid to broadcast such damaging information, preferring press releases, but he does hire Kent as his writer.

One day, Winter is too drunk to broadcast and the sponsor hires Kent as a replacement. Kent is an instant hit, using his new position to attack Rex whenever possible. In retaliation, Rex asks gangster Steve Moran (Willis) to throw a scare into Kent. Moran sends one of his enforcers, Slugs Dana (Sheehan in an entertaining performance), to threaten Kent, but Kent Buys him off with tickets to a movie preview starring Slugs's favorite actress.

Kent secretly arranges an audition for Linda, who repays him by refusing to be involved with him as long as he broadcasts scandals in Hollywood. When Kent keeps riding Rex on the air, Moran and one of his thugs, Boots Bennett (Stone), beat him up and sending him to the hospital. Kent refuses to tell the police who beat him because he’s saving the information to announce it on the air.

Slugs, who has become a source of inadvertent news to Kent in return for preview passes, tells the broadcaster that Moran once killed a man during a robbery. Kent then breaks a story that Moran and Marchbanks are in reality brothers. Moran breaks into the radio station intending to kill Kent, but the police shoot him first. Having learned that he was responsible for her singing career, Linda reconciles with Kent, who agrees to change his profession.


Unbelievably, Glenda Farrell is second-billed to Alexander in this movie. although she appears in a minor role as Verna Kennedy, Mel Winters’s former secretary inherited by Kent when he took over the position. Although she has a nice little scene encouraging Linda not to give up on Carter, despite the fact she is mad about the boy, it’s just further proof that Warner’s didn’t know what to do with talented actresses. Just a few months later (January 2, 1937), Warner’s released Smart Blonde, which turned Farrell into a very popular star in one of the iconic roles of the ‘30s, that of reporter Torchy Blaine. Read our review of it here.

The song Nagel sings on a radio broadcast, “Thru the Courtesy of Love” (also played during the opening credits) bears a more than striking resemblance to Jackie Gleason’s composition, “Melancholy Serenade,” which was used as the theme of his television show. Compare the two some time; both are on You Tube.

Besides Wayne Morris, look for Jane Wyman as a nurse and Marjorie Weaver is a secretary for studio head Joseph Crehan. Both actresses are uncredited.

Anne Nagel was one of Hollywood’s “hard-luck cases,” never making it higher than the cusp of stardom. She met Alexander on the set of Here Comes Carter. They fell in love and married on September 16, 1936. Just a scant few months later, on January 2, 1937, Alexander, a closeted homosexual in financial straits and depressed over the suicide of former wife Aleta Freile in 1935, shot himself in the temple with a .22 pistol in a barn behind their Encino ranch home. The loss affected Nagel deeply. She signed with Universal in 1939, but stardom still eluded her as the studio assigned her to B-horror and Western films. She left Universal to freelance, but could only find work on Poverty Row, working at Monogram, PRC and Republic. Her last film, an uncredited appearance in RKO’s 1950 noir, Armored Car Robbery, was the best film she had done in years. She worked doing television guest shots until 1954 when, plagued by alcoholism, she could no longer find work. Her 1941 marriage to Army Air Corps officer, James H. Keehan in 1941, was an unhappy one and ended in divorce in 1951. She spent the last years of her life virtually penniless before passing away from liver cancer on July 6, 1966, at only 50 years of age.

Friday, September 21, 2018

TCM TiVo Alert for September 23-30

September 23–September 30


THE LAST WALTZ (September 24, 9:00 pm): Martin Scorsese directs this all-time classic concert film that captures the last time the five original members of the legendary rock/folk/Americana group The Band performed. It features appearances by, among others, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison and a great set with Bob Dylan, who The Band backed when he first went electric. It's one of the best rock movies ever made though it's certainly not perfect. The interview segments with the group's members are just as good as the music. You can read a full review I wrote a couple of years ago about the film here that does it justice. 

WUTHERING HEIGHTS (September 26, 6:00 pm): It's always challenging to adapt a classic book into a movie, and this 1939 film uses less than half of Emily Bronte's 34 chapters (eliminating the second generation of characters) in the book. But it's still a stunning film directed by one of the true masters, William Wyler. Laurence Olivier gives an unforgettable performance as Heathcliff, showing a wide range of emotions in a complicated role. Heathcliff is bitter, vengeful, conflicted and passionately in love. I doubt anyone else could do justice to the role. Merle Oberon as Cathy is also wonderful as are many members of the cast including David Niven, Geraldine Fitzgerald and Hugh Williams.


HOLLYWOOD SHUFFLE (Sept. 25, 8:00 pm): A dead on, hilarious satire about the marginalization of African-Americans in Hollywood, directed by Robert Townshend and written by Townshend and Keenan Ivory Wayans. The film is a series of vignettes tied together by the experiences of Bobby Taylor (Townshend) in auditioning for parts that turns out to be stereotypical. One of the funniest vignettes is “Black Acting School,” in which prospective students are taught how to play slaves, butlers, criminals, and street punks. Other standout vignettes are “Sneakin’ Into The Movies,” a parody of Siskel and Ebert, and “Sam Ace,” a take off on hard-boiled detectives with the hero taking on villain Jerry Curl. Besides the satiric broadsides, the film also offers a refreshing authentic glimpse into real middle-class African-Americans in stark contrast to the roles they are offered in the film industry. It’s a welcome shot at an industry that always saw itself as immune and never missed a chance to pat itself on the back (see George Clooney’s ridiculously smug speech at the 2006 Oscars).

WHAT PRICE HOLLYWOOD? (September 27, 2:00 pm): A surprising look into Hollywood that been unjustly overlooked after the release of A Star is Born, which it inspired. Lowell Sherman is unforgettable as the dipso director whose career has sliding into oblivion with Constance Bennett shining as a waitress whose ambition is to be a movie star, a goal she fulfills with the help of Sherman. With Gregory Ratoff and Neil Hamilton. A must see for all movie fans.

WE DISAGREE ON ... 42ND STREET (September 30, 8:15 am)

EDA++. This is the mother of all Pre-Code musicals, and the prototype for all future musicals. The story is simple – Sugar Daddy Abner Dillon (Guy Kibbee) is backing a new Broadway show titled “Pretty Lady,” which will star his squeeze Dorothy Brock (Bebe Daniels). The trouble is that while Brock is Dillon’s Main Squeeze, she doesn’t want to be squoze by him. She’d rather be in the arms of old boyfriend George Brent, with whom she’s still in love. Things come to a boil, with the result that Bebe breaks her ankle and can’t go on. Just as it looks like there’s going to be a dark theater, young Peggy Sawyer (Ruby Keeler) is plucked from the chorus line by director Julian Marsh (Warner Baxter) and given the chance to be the star. You know the rest. Once Busby Berkeley takes over staging the dance numbers, it’ll never be quite the same again, both for the musicals and for Berkeley. Not only does the film contain unforgettable numbers such as “Young and Healthy,” Shuffling Off to Buffalo,” and the title song, but listen in and catch some of the most risque lines and scenarios ever to populate a musical. Ginger Rogers, in an early role, plays a character named Anytime Annie. “She only said ‘No’ once, and that was when she didn’t hear the question,” says backstage manager Andy Lee (George E. Stone). Also watch for the homosexual innuendo between Julian Marsh and Andy Lee. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen this film over the years, but each time I sit down to watch, it comes across still as fresh as the first time I saw it.

DAVID: C. When I saw the play on Broadway in 1982, I thought it was fun, primarily because of the great choreography. The plot is simplistic and there's a handful of good songs. When I saw the 1933 movie, of which the play is based, I wondered why anyone would take a mediocre at best film and make it a play. (Of course, the play was an unbelievable success and the film was well-received.) The movie is filled with cliche lines about putting on a Broadway musical including the unknown chorus girl becoming the star. “Sawyer, you're going out a younger, but you've got to come back a star!” and “Sawyer, you listen to me and you listen hard” are two such cheesy lines. The only missing piece is Mickey Rooney. Like its play adaption, the movie's plot is virtually nonexistent. The movie is a shade under 90 minutes and about 20 minutes of it is three song-and-dance numbers from the fictitious play being put on in the film. The Busby Berkeley dance numbers have entertaining moments and the cinematography of them is good, but not nearly enough to keep my interest. 

For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Mouthpiece

Films In Focus

By Ed Garea

The Mouthpiece (WB, 1932) – Directors: James Flood, Elliott Nugent. Writers: Joseph Jackson (s/), Earl Baldwin (adaptation & dialogue), Frank J. Collins (play). Stars: Warren William, Sidney Fox, Aline MacMahon, John Wray, Mae Madison, Ralph Ince, Morgan Wallace, Guy Kibbee, J. Carrol Naish, Walter Walker, Stanley Fields, Murray Kinnell, Noel Francis & William Janney. B&W, 86 minutes.

If we were to choose any actor as the perfect heel in the Pre-Code era I think Warren William would win by seven furlongs. To paraphrase William’s biographer, John Stageland, William specialized in playing characters noted for a bankrupt conscience, predatory sexuality and a deeply buried smidgen of decency.

And yet, according to Stageland, Warner Bros. offered the role to nearly every other actor in the Warner-First National stable before giving it to William. The only reason he got the role at all was because everyone else had turned its down. The movie made him a star.

The Mouthpiece is a film based on the career of noted attorney William Joseph Fallon, who made his reputation defending all kinds of criminals and getting them acquitted. One of his most famous clients was Arnold Rothstein, who he defended against charges of fixing the 1919 World Series, and for whom Fallon was on permanent call. Fallon (who dubbed himself, “The Great Mouthpiece”) could, according to his biographer Gene Fowler, read and memorize a book in just a few hours and use its contents to devastating effect in the courtroom the next day. 

Gene Fowler’s best-selling biography of Fallon, The Great Mouthpiece, published in September 1931, four years after Fallon’s death at age 41 from alcohol related causes (he had been a teetotaler for much of his life until Prohibition), inspired a rash of movies about his exploits. Three were released in the month of May 1932 alone, beginning with The Mouthpiece (May 7), followed by RKO’s State’s Attorney, starring John Barrymore and Helen Twelvetrees (May 20), and Columbia’s Attorney for the Defense, starring Edmund Lowe and Evelyn Brent (May 21). Warner Bros., which began the trend, ended it with Lawyer Man, starring William Powell and Joan Blondell, released January 7, 1933. Two films released before the publication of Fowler’s book with Fallon-inspired characters were Paramount’s 1930 For the Defense, with William Powell and Kay Francis; and MGM’s 1931 A Free Soul, with Lionel Barrymore as the Fallon character, Clark Gable as the hood he defends, and Norma Shearer as Barrymore’s daughter and Gable’s paramour.

As The Mouthpiece opens we meet Vince Day (William), an overworked ADA prosecuting a defendant accused of murdering his wife. Everything we see in the courtroom, from Day’s oratory, to the faces on the jury, to the face of the defendant himself, tells us his conviction is a foregone conclusion. And so it is – a conviction for first-degree murder, with the death penalty to be applied. However, at the hour of execution the D.A. (Walker) informs Day that the defendant was innocent; the gardner confessed to the murder. The D.A. phones the governor, but it’s too late; an innocent victim is dead and Day, absolutely crushed by the news, resigns in disgrace. After drowning his sorrows in Guy Kibbee’s watering hole, Day vows never to prosecute another case and begins a new career as a defense attorney.

At first he’s a success, getting his clients acquitted. But very little money is coming his way. Back at the watering hole, friendly bartender Kibbee gives him some advice. Day had been defending the wrong people – those who were innocent. The big money lies in defending the guilty.

The next time we see Vince Day he’s back in the courtroom, defending his client O’Leary, who is accused of murder. Using bombast and outrageous stunts he gets his client acquitted. Back at the watering hole he tells bartender kibble what he’s learned:  Sensationalism! Ballyhoo! Barnum and Bailey. Give ’em a three ring circus and toss in a little Houdini on the side. Give ’em a swell show and they won’t even stop to think.”

Next we see Day’s secretary, Miss Hickey (MacMahon) usher in a new client, Mr. Barton (Wray). Barton has embezzled $90,000 from his employer, E.A. Smith & Associates and is in a panic because the company is going over the books. Day asks Barton how much of the embezzled money he has left. $40,000, replies Barton. Day asks him to hand it over and sends him to another room to wait. Day then calls Smith (Wallace), tells him he’s been robbed, and invites him over to his office. There he tells Smith he’ll return $30,000 of his money if Smith agrees not to prosecute. Smith agrees. When Smith later learns from Barton that he gave Day $40,000 the employer is outraged and walks out in a huff. Barton asks for a cut of the remaining $10,000, telling Day that he won’t be able to find another job. But Day cold-heartedly tells him, “Yours? You stole it. I earned it.” 

While this is going on Celia Faraday (Fox), a naive young girl from Kentucky, has come into the office seeking a job. Hickey tells him, that “she’s jailbait and dumb,” but after meeting her and learning she’s been in the city for five months looking for a job, Day hires her. His sights are set on seducing the young woman. 

When Day learns that Smith plans to file charges against him for helping himself to the stolen $10,000 he produces a copy of the waiver Smith signed for the return of his $30,000 in the DA’s office, forcing Smith to either back down or face a charge himself of compounding a felony. 

There’s a brief scene where Day begins putting the moves on his little Kentucky Kernel, Celia, but she is so naive and innocent she has no inkling of what he means under the double-talk.

Now comes the movie’s most famous scene, one that people with whom I’ve discussed the movie always bring up. Defending Tony Rocca (Naish), accused of murder by poison, Day holds up the poison bottle. “This is the bottle containing the so-called poison,” he declares before gulping the contents down to the accompaniment of gasps from the gallery. While everyone tries to recover we notice the presence of Celia who also looks most concerned.

As expected the jury finds Rocco Not Guilty. After shaking hands with the jurors and prosecutor, Day leaves the courtroom accompanied by a couple of other men and briskly walks down the street and into a building where he has his stomach pumped, remarking how glad he is the the jury didn’t know that the poison took 45 minutes to work. 

As Day is celebrating his victory at a party Celia is dining at a chop suey joint with boyfriend Johnny (Janney). Celia puts in a call to Day and is told by his servant, Thompson (Kinnell), that she is to deliver some papers to his apartment. As she arrives, Day is there to meet her in a smoking jacket. Day makes his big move, kissing her, but she pulls away, telling him she’s not interested. Day then tries to impress her with the revelation that there really was poison in the bottle, but instead of being impressed, she’s disgusted to the point of where she quits her job.  Day, floored by the way the night has turned out, apologizes, asking if she would stay on until he finds a replacement and she reluctantly agrees.

On Celia’s last day Day gives her a $100 check endorsed over from a law journal for an article he wrote. As this is clean money, she accepts. But that night, a distraught Celia, along with Hickey, arrives at his apartment, looking for him. Hickey, reckoning he’s at Guy Kibbee’s gin mill, finds him there and brings him back home. Along with Thompson she cleans him up to properly receive Celia.

Celia is in a panic because Johnny, a bank messenger, he was robbed of some bonds, but the police believe he was an inside man and arrested him. Day bails him out and has him sent over to his apartment. Sending Celia out of the room Day grills Johnny, but comes to believe in his innocence after Johnny tells him that he wouldn’t be able to look Celia in the face if he stole money. He tells both Celia and Johnny that he’ll clear this up in time for their wedding.     

Day learns from bail bondsman Roscoe (Ince) that Joe Garland (an uncredited Jack La Rue) committed the theft. He asks Garland to confess as a favor to him, and when the thief refuses, Vince has him arrested.

Back in Day’s office, Celia and Johnny show up to thank him and invite him to their wedding. He says he’ll do his best to be there. After they leave Roscoe enters, telling Day the boys aren’t happy because he ratted. Day not only tells Roscoe where to go, but also mentions that he has a file that contains information about the boys and their activities that will be handed over to the police if anything happens to him. Roscoe’s not buying it. He leaves as Hickey comes in.

Day tells Hickey he’s tired of “crooked streets and crooked people” and is returning to civil practice. After ordering flowers over the phone he leaves for the kids’ wedding. Looking out the window, Hickey sees trouble coming. She calls out to him and chases down the stairs trying to catch up to him.

As Day pauses to buy a newspaper, a driver across the street makes his car backfire, followed by a gunshot. Day slumps into the wall, but then straightens up and slowly makes his way into the cab as Hickey catches up to him. As the cabbie asks, “Where to?” Day replies, “Emergency hospital. And you better hurry.” As Hickey pulls her hand back from Day she sees it’s covered in blood. Day laughs, telling her the joke’s on Roscoe and the boys because those papers really do exist. As the film ends he looks at Hickey. “Good old Hickey,” he says. “You’re always around when I need you, aren’t you, Sweetheart.”


The Mouthpiece is pure Warren William, establishing the template for later portrayals of men without consciences. As Day, William is pitch perfect. Not for a minute do we doubt either his characterization or his performance. When he appears he commands the screen and we end up only caring what he’s up to this time.

As Hickey, Day’s loyal secretary, McMahon gives another one of her patented performances. Though we’ve seen it before, most notable opposite Edward G, Robinson in Five Star Final, she never ceases to impress us with the variety of her loyal characters. Instead of being just a one-note actress, MacMahon brings a sense of spontaneity into the role. Though we know just what she’s going to do – this is a Warner Bros. film, after all – we enjoy the verve she brings with her. It’s a shame there weren’t more scenes with her. 

Sidney Fox, in the role of the ingenue, comes off rather uneven, as her Kentucky accent seems to drift in and out throughout the film, a problem that can be attributed to bad writing in having a New York actress attempt to be a Southern lady. The diminutive Fox (4’ 11”), born Sidney Leifer in New York City, began her career at Universal in The Bad Sister (1931), opposite Conrad Nagel, Humphrey Bogart and Bette Davis (in her first film). She received a strong push from the studio, fueled in part by rumors that she was Carl Laemmle, Jr.’s mistress. Named one of 13 “Wampas Baby Stars” of 1931, she also began making the covers of such movie magazines as Modern Screen and Movie Mirror. But her career fizzled out in 1934 after only 14 films, the most memorable of which was the 1932 production of Murders in the Rue Morgue (for which she was amazingly billed ahead of Bela Lugosi). Her last three pictures – Midnight (1934), Down to Their Last Yacht (1934) and School for Girls (1934), for Poverty Row studio Liberty Films – did nothing to reverse her downhill slide, although she remained a romantic leading lady throughout her career and was never reduced to bit parts. After leaving Hollywood she found some work here and there on the Orpheum Theatre circuit, on radio and a brief return to Broadway in a replacement role. Then, nothing. Her stormy marriage to Universal editor Charles Beahan in 1932 helped her slide into depression and illness. On the morning of November 15, 1942, the 34-year-old actress was found dead in her Beverly Hills bedroom by her husband after consuming a number of sleeping pills.

In the final frame, The Mouthpiece is an entertaining effort whose performances from William and MacMahon raise it above the level of ordinary programmer. It was remade twice, in 1940 as The Man Who Talked Too Much with George Brent in 1940, and in 1955 as Illegal with Edward G. Robinson. Neither remake comes close to matching the original. Stick with this one.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Cinéma Inhabituel for September 16-30

A Guide to the Interesting and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea


Celluloid Club fan Joe Weber writes to inform us about a resident at the retirement home where he works. It is none other than famed graphic designer Pablo Ferro. If you’ve never heard of Pablo Ferro, you’re not alone. His is a talent that is always seen but rarely acknowledged. In fact every one who has seen a movie from 1964 to 2014 has seen Mr. Ferro’s work. He was a title designer, and not only just a title designer, but the best in the business according to directors Stanley Kubrick and Jonathan Demme. Kubrick hailed Ferro as the father of the sixties look and the MTV aesthetics. Pablo Ferro began his career in 1964 when he designed the titles for Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove. Over the years he has served as title designer and graphics designer for 93 films, including The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), Midnight Cowboy (1969), A Clockwork Orange (1971), Harold and Maude (also 1971), Being There (1979), To Live and Die in L.A. (1985), L.A. Confidential (1997), the HBO movie Winchell (1998), Napoleon Dynamite (2004), and Men in Black 3 (2012). His titles and montage sequences have appeared in 12 Academy Award winning films.

For those of us old enough to remember the original NBC peacock, announcing that the program is in color, he created that, also. He also directed two movies: Me, Myself and I (1992) with Jobeth Williams and George Segal; and the TV movie Rage (1983). 

Pablo Ferro has won over 70 national and international awards, among them numerous Clios, a DGA Excellence in Film Award, and several Lifetime Achievement awards. He has also been nominated by such highly regarded institutions as the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt. In 1999 Pablo was awarded the prestigious DaimlerChrysler Design Award, and in 2000 Pablo was inducted into the Art Directors Hall of Fame.

There is also a documentary titled Pablo (2012), about his life and career. Look for it – you will not be disappointed. Joe told us that it’s a honor to have met him and that he is a joy to be around every day. Knowing Joe as I do, compliments from him do not come easily, so Pablo Ferro must be quite a man in addition to being a genius. 


September 30: A double feature from the groundbreaking Spanish director begins at 2:15 am with his 1973 feature, Spirit of the Beehive. Combining a serious view of village life in the ‘40s with a unique look at the world of childhood imagination, the film follows the adventures of a young girl named Ana (Ana Torrent). The daughter of a beekeeper, she is captivated when she sees a roadshow featuring the 1931 movie Frankenstein. Her sister Isabel (Isabel Telleria) tells Ana that the monster is a spirit who can be conjured up simply by calling out for him. Ana returns alone to an isolated barn where she and her sister routinely play, and there she meets a stranger that she believes is Frankenstein’s Monster. Following at 4:15 am is El Sur (The South) the director’s 1985 look at a southern Spanish village. Set in 1957, 15-year old Estrella (Iciar Bollain), is awakened by the barking of dogs in the distance, and the voice of her mother calling for her husband Agustin (Omero Antonutti). When Estrella finds her father's pendulum (which he wore on a chain around his neck) under her pillow, she realizes that he has left for good. What follows is told in flashback, as Estrella describes how her family came to live in this village, and her attempt to understand her mysterious, moody physician father Agustin. Both films examine not only the ives of their characters but also the atmosphere of Franco’s authoritarian regime and both are considered masterpieces of European cinema. 


September 16:  A double feature from the famed director begins at 2 am with his masterpiece, and one of the best films ever made, The Rules of the Game, from 1939. It’s a brilliant satire, using a veneer of light comedy, on the upper classes of France, following the romantic shenanigans (both upstairs and downstairs) that occur at a French country estate. During the course of the film Renoir sends up their follies, rituals and class distinctions. If he thought he was going to get away with it he was sadly mistaken, for the film was savaged upon its release, with audiences actually hissing. Of course, it’s a Must See.

Following at 4 am, it’s The Golden Coach (1953), a delight about a theater company touring South America in the 18th century and the amorous doings of the leading lady (Anna Magnani). Sumptuously filmed with a dazzling use of color, this has to be one of the best films ever made about the art of acting.


September 23: One film, two different versions. At 2 am comes the 1959 remake, Floating Weeds, about a struggling acting company that visits a remote island, where its leader (Ganjiro Nakamura) visits his illegitimate son and the son’s mother, with whom he had a passionate affair years before. Shot in color, it’s directed with Ozu’s usual thoroughness and is excellently acted. Following at 4 am is the original silent version, A Story of Floating Weeds, from 1934. Though sound had come to Japanese cinema in 1931, as late as 1938, roughly one-third of Japanese films were silent. But you shouldn’t let lack of sound prevent you from enjoying a well-made and moving film. Take it in, by all means.


September 27: At 11:15 pm comes one of the most lauded and successful foreign films, Black Orpheus (1959). An imaginative retelling of the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice set against the backdrop of Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, it features some of the most beautifully photographed color images ever to be shown. Gorgeous and totally compelling, with wonderful performances from its cast, it truly deserves to be be seen.


September 22: At midnight, it’s The Stranger, Orson Welles’s excellent 1946 tale of an escaped Nazi war criminal (Welles) who marries a local schoolteacher (Loretta Young) and settles down in a small Connecticut town where he lives quietly until federal investigator Edward G. Robinson tracks him down and exposes him. It’s one of Welles’s most underrated and compelling films, with excellent performances all around.

September 29: Sometimes, Monogram surprised everyone with a good film. Such is the case with The Gangster, from 1947. Produced by the King Brothers, Frank and Maurice,  it stars Barry Sullivan in a strong performance as Shubunka, a racketeer whose territory is coveted by fellow gangster Cornell (Sheldon Leonard). Belita co-stars as Shubunka’s show girl squeeze. She’s deeply in love with him, but his paranoia about Cornell is damaging their relationship as he thinks she’s two-timing him. John Ireland is along for the ride with a good performance as Frank Karty, a compulsive gambler who begs Shubunka for money or a piece of the action. Not the usual Monogram product, it, too, can be seen at Midnight. 


September 16: “On the funny side, there's the Marx Brothers, except Zeppo, the Ritz Brothers, no exceptions, both Laurel and Hardy, and Woody Woodpecker.”  Benjy Stone (Mark Linn-Baker), My Favorite Year.

Although nearly forgotten today, in their heyday the Ritz Brothers (Al, Harry and Jimmy) had a large following. They were the stars of Broadway and enjoyed a movie career lasting from the late ‘30s to the early ‘40s. Although some fans compared them to the Marx Brothers, the Ritzes did not play contrasting characters like the Marxes. The boisterous Ritzes frequently behaved identically, which made it difficult for audiences to tell them apart. Harry was the ringleader with Jimmy and Al enthusiastically following his lead. They frequently broke into songs and dances during their feature comedies, and often did celebrity impersonations. They were a huge influence on comics such as Danny Kaye, Jerry Lewis, Sid Caesar, and Mel Brooks. Tonight, TCM pays tribute to the brothers with three of their films from Fox, beginning at 8 pm with Kentucky Moonshine. In this 1938 film, the boys learns that radio singer Tony Martin is going to Kentucky in order to boost ratings. Along with Marjorie Weaver they travel to Kentucky, posing as hillbillies in a bid to be discovered.

At 9:45 pm, the Brothers star in Life Begins in College (1937), their first feature film as headliners. Nat Pendleton is excellent as a rich student who, through the Ritzes, donates $50,000 to Lombardy College with two conditions: the football coach, under fire, must stay on, and the Ritzes must be allowed to play for the football team. Gloria Stuart and Joan Davis provide solid support.

The tribute wraps up at 11:15 pm with the 1938 comedy, Straight, Place and Show. The Brothers inherit a racehorse, raise training and entrance money in a wrestling match, help young Denny Paine train the horse of his fiancée, Barbara Drake (Phyliss Brooks), and expose some crooked Russian jockeys while they’re at it. With Ethel Merman.

It did not end well at Fox for the talented trio. After complaints about being cast in that old war horse, The Gorilla (1939), the Brothers left the studio and moved over to Universal.


September 23: Anna Neagle and Michael Wilding were a popular pair in English cinema who Daily Mirror columnist and critic Godfrey Winn called “the greatest team in British films.” TCM is running a double feature honoring the pair, beginning with Spring in Park Lane (1948) at 8 pm, a romantic comedy with Neagle as a diamond merchant’s niece who falls for the new footman (Wilding), unaware he is actually an impoverished aristocrat. In Maytime in Mayfair (1949) at 10 pm,  Michael Gore-Brown (Wilding) is a broke playboy gentleman who inherits London's leading dress store in the posh Mayfair district. Instead of selling it for cash, he falls in love with the shop’s manager, Ellen Grahame (Neagle) and decides to make a go of   the business, especially when he learns that a rival shop across the street seems to get the new fashions first. This is a delightful musical comedy and the pair’s first in Technicolor. 


September 18: Director King Vidor is featured in a double feature beginning at 2 am with his all-Black musical, Hallelujah (1929), followed at 4 am with his acclaimed 1931 drama of life in New York City’s tenements, Street Scene, starring Sylvia Sidney and Beulah Bondi. Both films are Must Sees.

September 19: Ex-convicts Robert Young, Nat Pendleton and Ted Healy help impoverished Louisiana shrimper Jean Parker Parker and her family fight off a hostile takeover by the half-Chinese C. Henry Gordon in the meandering 1934 drama Lazy River at 2 pm.

September 24: William Powell and Joan Blondell star in the 1933 drama Lawyer Man at 12:45 pm. Following at 3:15 pm it’s Lionel Barrymore, Norma Shearer and Clark Gable in 1931’s A Free Soul (read our review here). At 5 pm, Warren William shakes things up in The Mouthpiece (1932); and at 6:30 pm John Barrymore stars in State’s Attorney, also from 1932.

September 26: John Gilbert is a chauffeur up to no good in the excellent Downstairs (1932) at 11 am, and at 2:30 pm newlywed Helen Hayes discovers that she and husband Robert Montgomery’s snooty family speak different languages in Another Language (1933).

September 27: Six pre-Codes are featured today, beginning with Norma Shearer in The Divorcee (1930) at 7:30 am. Following in order are Madame Satan (1930) at 9 am, Hepburn and Colin Clive in Christopher Strong (1933) at 11:15 am, Stanwyck and Blondell in Illicit (1931) at 12:30 pm, Constance Bennett and Lowell Sherman in What Price Hollywood? (1932) at 2 pm, and finally, Stanwyck and Brent in Baby Face (1933) at 3:30 pm.


September 17: A different kind of monster threatens Tokyo run the 1962 kaiju feature, Mothra, airing at 3:30 am.

September 18: George Sanders in The Gay Falcon (1942) at 7:30 am. A Val Lewton double feature kicks off with Cat People (1942) at 8:45 am, followed by The Seventh Victim at  10 am.

September 20: Tamara Dobson fights the scenery chewing Shelley Winters in Cleopatra Jones (1973) at 1:45 am.

September 21: The Bowery Boys encounter genie pic Blore in Bowery to Bagdad (1955) at 1 am, followed by Macon County Line (1974) and Return to Macon County (1975 beginning at 2:15 am.

September 22: At 10 am the last of TCM’s Saturday morning Tarzan series, Tarzan the Magnificent (1960), airs at 10:09 am, preceded by Popeye in Dizzy Divers (1935) at 10 am.

September 24: In an evening dedicated to director Martin Scorsese, one of his early efforts, Boxcar Bertha (1972), starring Barbara Hershey and David Carradine, is showing at 11:15 pm.

Joseph Lewis’s classic, Gun Crazy (1950), is scheduled for 3 am.

September 25: Melvin Van Peebles’s satirical 1970 classic, Watermelon Man, starring Godfrey Cambridge and Estelle Parsons, will air at 11:30 pm.

September 28: Alone in the Dark (1982), with Jack Palance and Donald Pleasance, will be shown at 2 am, followed at 45 am by Deborah Kerr and David Niven in Eye of the Devil (1966).

September 29: A Tom and Jerry cartoon, The House of Tomorrow (1949), will air at 8 am. At 10 am, Popeye returns in You Gotta Be a Football Hero (1940), followed immediately by Louis Heyward in The Saint in New York (1938). Read our review here.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

TCM TiVo Alert for September 15-22

September 15–September 22


TAXI DRIVER (September 17, 12:15 am): This film expertly captures the grit, dirt and violence of New York City in the mid-1970s. Robert De Niro is perfectly cast as a disturbed taxi driver who is obsessed with a teenage prostitute (Jodie Foster) and who thinks a nice first date is going to see a pornographic film. It also gave us one of the greatest lines in movie history: "You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? Then who the hell else are you talkin' to? You talkin' to me? Well I'm the only one here. Who the f--- do you think you're talking to?"

CAT PEOPLE (September 18, 8:45 am): If you're going to make a successful B-movie on the cheap – 1942's Cat People reportedly had a budget of less than $150,000 – you better be sure to be imaginative. And that's exactly what this film is. It's the story of Irena (Simone Simon), a Serbian fashion designer who is convinced she is the victim of a curse that will change her into a killer panther if she is sexually aroused. She is obsessed with a black panther at the Central Park Zoo, often sketching and visiting the creature in its cage. Irena falls in love and marries Oliver Reed (Kent Smith and not to be confused with the actor Oliver Reed), an engineer, who she is never intimate with fearing a transformation. What it lacks in special effects – which are virtually nonexistent – it more than makes up in atmosphere and exceptionally good use of cinematography, especially shadows and black-and-white framing. 


THE LONG VOYAGE HOME (Sept, 15, 2:00 pm): When we consider John Ford’s oeuvre, this film tends to fall into the underrated category. It’s a quietly moving story of merchant seamen returning to England on the tramp steamer Glencairn from the West Indies after stopping at Baltimore to pick up a supply of munitions just as World War II breaks out. Adapted by screenwriter Dudley Nichols from four short Eugene O’Neill plays, it boasts a stellar ensemble cast, headed by Thomas Mitchell, Ian Hunter, Barry Fitzgerald, Wilfred Lawson, Mildred Natwick, Ward Bond, and a surprisingly effective John Wayne playing a Swede, no less. John Qualen is memorable as Wayne’s fellow Swede and older protective friend. Look for Barry’s younger brother, Arthur Shields. Gregg Toland, who captures and sets the mood of the film, beautifully photographs the film. It’s par for the course today to praise Toland’s work, but I think this is one of his best efforts. It’s also one of Ford’s best efforts and definite one to catch.

THE RULES OF THE GAME (Sept. 16, 2:00 am): Director Jean Renoir’s satiric farce of the manners of the French is a classic and one of the best films ever made. A group of wealthy aristocrats assemble for a weekend hunting party at a country chateau on the eve of World War II. Before long, however, the façade breaks down with the guests, hosts and servants involved in rather complex romantic problems. Renoir’s point is that beneath the polite and civilized façade lies a world of casual cruelty and betrayal, for we are all playing by the rules of society (“the rules of the game”), and those who don’t suffer the consequences. The film itself is beautifully made with every shot and frame composed with care and an eye to the overall story. Anyone interested in the history of cinema or just looking for a good movie should take this one in. You won’t be disappointed. Renoir tried to save the film by cutting it, but the film closed after three weeks and was banned for being “demoralizing.” After the war prints of the film were occasionally shown, missing 20 minutes from its premiere length. In 1956, two lab technicians found bits and pieces used to assemble the film and with the help of Renoir, restored it to almost its original length. When the newly restored film premiered at the 1959 Venice Film Festival it was hailed as a rediscovered masterpiece. How time changes everything.

WE AGREE ON … THE STRANGER (September 22, 12:00 am)

ED: A. Orson Welles said it was his worst film. And the French, who usually fall over anything Welles makes, see the film as impersonal and bland. This is because Welles, directing his first film in four years after being blacklisted in Hollywood, was told to direct the film straight from the script and allowed none of his usual wiggle room. But pay no attention to that, for this is a first-rate film noir directed and starring Orson Welles as Franz Kindler, a Nazi who helped mastermind the Holocaust, and who, as Professor Charles Rankin, is hiding in the picturesque village of Harper, Connecticut as a history instructor at a private school. Not only has he ingratiated himself seamlessly with the locals, he plans to marry one – Mary Longstreet (Loretta Young), daughter of the town’s esteemed judge, Adam (Philip Merivale). Having strong suspicions that Kindler fled to the U.S., Mr. Wilson (Edward G. Robinson) of the War Crimes Commission has released Konrad Meinike (Konstantin Shayne), hoping he will lead Wilson to Kindler. But Meinike is killed before he can identify Kindler, and Wilson’s only clue as to Kindler’s whereabouts is his fascination with antique clocks. It’s a beautifully written and directed cat and mouse game, with Robinson essentially reprising his role of insurance investigator Barton Keyes from 1944’s Double Indemnity and Welles anticipating his performance in The Third Man as Harry Lime, a wanted war criminal. There are many excellent scenes in the movie, but none as powerful as the one in which Wilson attempts to deprogram Mary by showing her films of concentration camp horrors, explaining how Rankin, as Kindler, developed the idea of genocide. This marks the first time (1946) that such footage was incorporated into a studio film. There is also the scene where Wilson, suspecting Rankin, but having no proof, tricks him into exposing himself, is also notable. The performances across the board are near perfect, except for Welles, who comes off rather over the top. (A case of the director not being able to reign in the star?)

DAVID: A. Orson Welles' third film as a director was also his third straight masterpiece. This one has Welles as a Nazi fugitive, who supposedly came up with the idea of mass exterminations, in 1946 settled down in small-town Harper, Connecticut, as Charles Rankin, a teacher at a prestigious preparatory school. There's only one person in the world who knows Rankin is really the notorious Nazi Franz Kindler: his former right-hand man, Meinike (Konstantin Shayne) who is being held in prison and allowed to escape at the request of Wilson (Edward G. Robinson), who is essentially a Nazi hunter. The thought  and it's the correct one  is Meinike will lead Wilson to Kindler. Kindler has it good and isn't going to let Meinike get in his way so he kills him. That happens on the day Kindler is marrying Mary Longstreet (Loretta Young), the daughter of a Supreme Court justice. The psychological cat-and-mouse between Welles and Robinson is brilliant as is Welles' signature film style with lots of shadows, darkness, unique camera angles and depth-of-focus shots. The acting is as good as it gets. Not only are the three leads splendid, but Billy House, a burlesque actor who plays the town clerk and owner of its drugstore, steals nearly every scene he's in. Welles liked House so much that he added scenes with the actor to the movie to the chagrin of Eddie G. It's also the first commercial film to use footage of Nazi concentration camp atrocities. There's a lot to admire in this film and it's definitely one to see if you've never viewed it. Or you can be like me and watch it twice in one day. It's that good.

For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.