Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Worst of Joan Crawford

By Ed Garea

Joan Crawford was one of the actors that built MGM and took it into the Sound Era on a high note, as it were. She was a versatile actress who could play almost any role, and was a good partner for the likes of leading men Clark Gable and Robert Montgomery. However, as time went on, Joan’s beacon at the studio dimmed.

She survived being labeled as “box office poison” by The Independent Film Journal in 1938 after several of her films bombed at the box office, and recovered to make such gems as The WomenStrange Cargo (her last with Gable), and A Woman’s Face. Even though the films were critical and popular successes, Joan could read the handwriting on MGM’s wall and fled for stardom at Warner Brothers, a studio where her arch nemesis, Bette Davis, reigned.

Joan started at the top for Warners, with her first film, Mildred Pierce, winning her the Oscar. Other good roles followed in films such as HumoresquePossessed, and Daisy Kenyon. But time was catching up and her choice of roles and the budgets that went with those roles, began to shrink.

The following three films marked the beginning of a long and steady decline she was unable to reverse. The rest of the ‘50s were marked by potboilers and the campy Western, Johnny Guitar; and in the ‘60s her performance in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? marked the high spot in a career that saw her starring in low-budget William Castle thrillers like Strait-Jacket, and the Herman Cohen thriller, Berserk. Her last big screen appearance was in Cohen’s laff riot, Trog, where Joan played an anthropologist who tries to communicate with a troglodyte with a bad make-up job found living in an English cave. After that, it was a couple of made-for-TV movies and retirement. Her road wasn’t nearly as rocky as that trod by Bela Lugosi or Lyle Talbot, but it still provides an abject lesson in how Hollywood eventually devours its own.

THE DAMNED DON’T CRY (WB, 1950): The best of the bunch. Notorious gangster Nick Parenta (Steve Cochran) is killed in Arizona. The cops go through his personal items and find home movies. Seen on the home movies is socialite oil heiress Lorna Hansen Forbes, who looks just like Joan Crawford! The police look for her. No Lorna to be found.

So what’s the mystery? It soon unfolds to us in the history of Lorna. Seems she started out as a working-class housewife and mother, real name Ethel, in the house of her bitter parents with hubby oilman Roy (Richard Egan). When she spends way over the budget to get Junior a bicycle, oafish husband Egan finds out and wants the bike returned. He yells for Junior to get home, and as Junior is crossing the street, wouldn’t you know it? He’s run over by a truck (shades of Michael O’Donoghue). Lorna bails on the marriage right after the funeral and goes to New York to work as a fashion model/escort. While there she meets up with gangster George Castleman (David Brian) through milquetoast accountant and wanna-be love interest Martin (Kent Smith) and becomes not only a moll, but a first-class moll at that.

Brian later sends her out to the West Coast to get the goods on his Bugsy Siegel-type guy there, Nick. However, she and Nick fall in love and she neglects to file her reports. Milquetoast Martin flies to California to warn Ethel that George knows about her and Nick and intends to kill Nick. But that night, during a meeting in which Nick intends to form his own gang, one of the invited recognizes Ethel, who scrams and later tells Nick about her and George. When she returns to Castleman he beats the information about Nick out of her and forces him to lure Nick to her house so George can whack him. After Nick bites the dust, Joan beats it back to her parents’ home, knowing Castleman will track her down. But surprise! Milquetoast Martin shows up to kill Castleman for her, after which reporters speculate on her career as a moll.

Though the film is little more than a potboiler with the look of a noir (thanks to some wonderful camerawork), the acting saves the day. Director Vincent Sherman, who was a sort of specialist in Women’s Melodramas, gets Joan to turn in an excellent performance. Without it, the film would not have been watchable.

GOODBYE, MY FANCY (WB, 1951): It’s Vincent Sherman again at the director’s helm. Unfortunately, a predictable script (based on the Broadway play by Fay Kanin) prevents him from raising this beyond the ordinary. Joan is a Congresswoman who accepts an invitation for an honorary degree from her alma mater. Unfortunately, it’s later discovered that she was expelled from same college, probably for chewing all the scenery in the Drama department. (Hey! That stuff is expensive.) And that’s just the beginning.

Seems that the once-idealistic president of the college, Robert Young, was quite the item with Joan years ago. Turns out after a while that Joan took the fall and left the school unwillingly. Anyway, Howard St. John, playing the Eugene Palette/Charles Coburn role, is the stuffy conservative head of the trustees. Joan has made a documentary on injustice she wants shown, but Mr. Trustee vetoes it, as it may warp the minds of the students. He’d probably rather they watch Duck And Cover instead, I guess.

At this point the film disintegrates into a civics lesson more suited to a high school debate than a college. And, just to keep the women in their seats, we learn that Young married after the expulsion scandal; his wife died and left him their daughter, Janice Rule (in her film debut), now a student at the college. Add to the mix Frank Lovejoy, who worked with Joan as a journalist in World War II and we now have a love triangle as both Young and Lovejoy can’t resist Joan’s ageless assets. And speaking of ageless assets, young Janice Rule proved quite a head-turner on the set. This set off the Green Monster in middle-aged Joan, who made it a point to give Miss Rule a lesson in petty harassment, walking to the chalk marks to show Rule where to stand when she missed her marks, and in general making her so nervous that she frequently blows her lines, prompting Joan to tell her that she (Rule) had better enjoy making films while she can, for Rule wouldn’t be around that much longer.

THIS WOMAN IS DANGEROUS (WB, 1952): Only when she acts, readers, only when she acts. Now if you want to get a gander at some really ludicrous over-the-top histrionics, check out Joan as a lady gangster in this potboiler, her last under her Warners’ contract. (And her last with Warners until 1962 and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?)

She’s a tough lady gangster who is told that unless she gets surgery she will go blind in a week. Naturally she goes to the one eye surgeon who can perform the stunt, and it’s none other than Warner Brothers song thrush Dennis Morgan. Working so closely as doctor and patient, especially in this mess, it’s natural they fall in love. Now, Joan’s henchmen, who are the requite violent and stupid, are unaware of her change of heart, but the older brother, Matt (David Brian) has a Lenny-like crush on Joan and is he ticked when she goes straight for the doc. So he heads to the hospital to see if doctors also have hospitalization. Joan and the cops arrive; he plugs Joan in the shoulder and the cops shoot him through the obligatory glass ceiling over the operation room. Thus the doc has some more operating to do. Joan has said that this was her worst picture. Obviously she was unconscious when she made Trog.

Monday, May 28, 2012

TCM TiVo Alert for June 1-7

June 1–June 7 


THE CITADEL (June 4, 6 a.m.) - Robert Donat (an under-appreciated actor) stars in a moving film about an idealistic doctor who begins his medical career treating Welsh miners with tuberculosis. He becomes disenchanted and moves to London with his wife, played by the wonderful Rosalind Russell, to be a doctor to the rich. The film is a damning indictment on physicians who get into medicine for the money. Most of the doctors who treat the wealthy are portrayed as social climbers and largely incompetent. It can be a bit cliched at times, but the acting is solid and the story is touching.

THE MASK OF FU MANCHU (June 6, 11:45 a.m.) - This Pre-Code film features Boris Karloff as the evil Fu Manchu with the ultra-hot and exotic-looking Myrna Loy as his daughter, who is constantly degraded by her father. Once you can get past the negative portrayals of Chinese people (plenty who are played by whites), you're treated to what is the best of the many Fu Manchu movies. The acting is strong, the plot is fun and funny at times. I think it's purposely played for laughs during most of those moments, but I'm not certain. There's so many entertaining parts including the "torture of the bell" and an electric death ray as Fu Manchu tries to get Genghis Khan's sword and mask so he can eliminate the white race - and it's all packed into 68 minutes of entertainment.


A FACE IN THE CROWD (June 1, 11:45 am) – It was TCM that rescued this classic from the underserved obscurity to which it fell during the 70s and 80s. It was the film debut of a country comedian named Andy Griffith, whose stage persona (and later television persona) was that of a good-natured country boy. In this film, however, his character is a 180-degree turn from that persona. Here he is a megalomaniac, ruthless character who becomes an overnight star due to his accidental discovery in a Pickett, Arkansas, jail. The more popular he becomes the more his rottenness comes to the surface. He’s a master at using people, then later discarding them when it’s convenient. But this film is more than the mere rise and fall of a heel. It is a testament to the unbridled power television can create, as Griffith’s character, “Lonesome” Rhodes, comes within a hair of being named to a Cabinet post. It is an abject lesson for media-crazed America and is still fresh today. By the way, besides co-star Patricia Neal, look for Walter Matthau, Tony Franciosa, and Lee Remick, all making their film debuts.

ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (June 6, 2:15 pm) – It wasn’t only Pre-code dramas and comedies that were racy; the horror film was also taken to new heights (or lows, depending on your viewpoint) during this period. This film is the classic example. It was the first film version – and the best – of H.G. Wells’s novel, The Island of Dr. Moreau. Moreau is operating to transform animals into humanoids and the shipwrecked Richard Arlen gives him the idea to mate Arlen with his panther woman and take the evolutionary process a step further. In those days, horror films didn’t require reels and reels of gory make-up and computer-generated special effects. They got their chills by using a few well-placed lines of dialogue and suggestive scenes to fire the imagination of the audience. The film was so effective in doing so that people left the theater in a daze according to one newspaper account. England also banned the movie until 1958. Such is the power of suggestion.


ED: A.  This film is a Must of all lovers of classic movies. It contains the greatest performance by an actress I consider to be the best America ever produced – Joanne Woodward. She plays a woman suffering from three different personalities, and does so in such an effortless style that the viewer may begin to forget that it’s only a movie and to think Joanne may actually suffer from this in real life. In addition there is enough psycho mumbo-jumbo (especially in the scene where Eve’s shrink, Lee J. Cobb is a bravura performance, explains Eve’s condition to perplexed hubby David Wayne) to keep the viewer’s attention when Joanne is off the screen. Look for later TV stalwarts Vince Edwards and Nancy Kulp in small parts.

DAVID: C+. The film is only 91 minutes, but it seems a lot longer. The story is slow to develop and when it does, it simply doesn't interest me. Joanne Woodward is good and won the Best Actress Oscar (against very weak opposition) for playing Eve, a quiet woman who has headaches and then develops a second personality. A third personality comes out later. There's a few plot twists, but not enough to keep the viewer's attention. It comes across as being somewhat contrived and is dull. The movie pales in comparison to Shock Corridor and The Snake Pit.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Avengers - 3D

Dinner and a Movie

Avenging Statler

By Steve Herte

The Avengers – 3D (2012) 

To avoid crowds I purposely held out seeing this first of the blockbusters of the year (many would disagree with this being the first, but it’s the first that wowed me) so that I could view it in 3D in relative comfort, and it worked. The theater was still crowded but not with the riff-raff who talk, text and kick your seat while eating vile-smelling, noisy garbage from the concession stand. Where to start? 

The movies that preceded this one, The Hulk, Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man 1 & 2, were adequate preparations for this film. Loki, Thor’s brother (adopted, according to Thor) makes a deal with an alien race to capture and use the tesserat (a sparkling, glowing sky blue plastic cube – source of unlimited power) to create a wormhole to Earth, through which their hordes could swarm and conquer and name him lord of all. 

Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) meets Loki (Tom Hiddleston) when the tesserat goes super special effects and Loki is transported to Earth. The tesserat is swiped, Loki gets away and everyone has to scramble to escape the complete implosion of their secret compound.  Captain America is brought out of cryogenic sleep (he’s literally on ice), Black Widow attempts chasing Loki but falling debris hampers her vehicle and Nick realizes he needs a team to find Loki, stop him from whatever he’s going to do and retrieve the tesserat (which he intends to use as the ultimate military weapon, not the source of providing endless renewable power for all on Earth).

The team is far from that in the beginning as Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) doesn’t play nicely with others, by his own admission; Captain America (Chris Evans) – a rather corny, confused soldier from a previous century trying to adapt to this one; David Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) is doing good curing decease in India while keeping stress to a minimum; Thor (Chris Hemsworth) goes after Loki solo believing he is solely responsible for protecting Earth; Black Widow (Scarlett Johansonn) – one of the two least developed characters – is working for Nick Fury but unaware of his ulterior motives; and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) – the other least developed character – has already been bedazzled by Loki’s scepter and is working for him and shoots a mean bow and arrow, and are basically all loners and divas.

Fortunately, the movie’s 2 hours and 23 minutes supply ample time for them to realize they have to work together to not only stop Loki but fight the endless stream of alien creatures on aerial ski-mobiles and snaky armored monsters flowing from the hole in the sky terrorizing and devastating New York City. (Did you know that Stark Industries bought the MetLife building and replaced it with their new tallest building in New York?)

It’s pretty much non-stop action throughout without any dead spots. Even the slow scenes are interesting.  The dialogue is well written, very clever, most of the good jibes are given to Downey, who executes them beautifully, and the script is good. The special effects in 3D are eye-popping and – believe it or not – I had no problem with the science accuracy. The only thing that keeps The Avengers, which I rate four martini glasses, from the fifth is the cast. 

Iron Man – excellent, Hulk – another excellent although David Banner is not, Captain America – eh in the beginning but he grew into the part, Hawkeye – needed more, not enough exposure, Black Widow – lost in the shuffle, Nick Fury – definitely the Marvel Comics character. Otherwise, The Avengers is great family entertainment – no sex or obscenities – but beware parents, lots of gratuitous violence. At one point Loki makes the mistake of demanding that the Hulk treat him like the god he is. The Hulk picks him up by his feet in one hand and repeated slams him on the concrete and walks away.

The Statler Grill
136 West 33rd Street (6th / 7th), New York

The Statler Grill is named after Ellsworth Statler who ran the Hotel Pennsylvania from 1919 to 1945. With 40 years of restaurant business experience, it amazes me that this mid-sized steakhouse escaped my notice, considering how many times I came to the Hotel Pennsylvania for karaoke (they had it every night, seven days a week) but I’m glad I finally dined there. 

About mid-way on 33rd Street between 6th and 7th avenues, you see the gray awnings announcing its presence. Inside, a charming young lady led me to my table, which actually was a black leather banquette for two with dark wood “arm rests” on either side surmounted with brass rails – looked like a throne to me. The décor makes good use of mirrors and shaded chandeliers to give the “goes on forever” look to a coffee colored, homey maze of tables and niches.

My waiter was a sturdy, stereotypical steakhouse attendant, built like a linebacker and wearing the standard nearly-floor length apron. When I told him to compliment the bartender on the fifth best martini in New York, he revealed that he had made it – I was agog. Another server brought a half-loaf of bread on a cutting board with the knife jutting out of it. It turned out to be more than half-stale, but I got two decent slices from it, not intending to fill up on bread. That was the only downer.

The chalk board above me announced Oysters Rockefeller as a special while the video screen facing me played the Rangers/Devils game (an embarrassing performance by the Rangers, by the way). After determining from my waiter’s advice that the “Hash Browned Potatoes” were not shredded, and therefore not Hash Browns, I ordered the Oysters Rockefeller, an 8-ounce Filet Mignon (Black and Blue), a side of Truffled Sauteed Mushrooms, and a bottle of 2010 “Passo Double” Argentinian Malbec. The oysters were tender and buttery and the spinach and breadcrumb topping an ideal accent, not a competitor for flavor. The Filet was an inch-plus thick, blackened on the outside and rare inside, grilled perfectly and delicious. The side dish was an erotic mélange of crimini, Portobello, and shiitake mushrooms scented with white truffle oil, almost gilding the lily. The wine made the meal. I have become quite a fan of Malbec and never been disappointed.

Since there was nothing exciting and different on the dessert menu (and I was full, anyway), I finished with a good cup of regular coffee. I was still amazed that a restaurant, especially a steakhouse, could exist in the same neighborhood as Keens Steakhouse, and Nick and Stef’s for so long and escape my visit, but I intend to return.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

What is a Psychotronic Film?

By Ed Garea

Thus begins a new column for this site that will contain only reviews of psychotronic movies. This, of course, begs the question: What is a psychotronic movie? The answer may surprise you.

It all began in 1983 with the publication of a paperback book entitled The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film by then as yet unknown film critic and historian Michael Weldon. Weldon is to unusual cinema what J Michael Kenyon is to pro wrestling history: part archaeologist, part chronicler, and part narrator. The book soon took on a life of its own with fans such as Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Walken and John Waters singing its praises. In the book Weldon defines psychotronic film as follows: 
“Well, monster and science-fiction films, of course. But exploitation films of any sort, really: biker movies, rock ‘n’ roll movies, musclemen movies, 3-D movies, ‘60s beach movies, Mexican movies with subtitles – you get the idea.” Weldon thought he made up the term, “but it later turned out I’d stolen it from The Psychotronic Man, a Chicago-made film about a maniac barber who kills people with psychic energy.” No matter, though, for Weldon had coined a name to encompass a variety of films that, until now, really seemed to have nothing in common. 
Does a movie have to be termed “Grade Z” to fit the category? No. Readers will find many films made by Poverty Row studios such as Monogram, PRC, Tiffany, and Invincible that cannot be called “psychotronic” by any stretch of the imagination, for they are usually melodramas, westerns or lame comedies. It is only when they present subject matter such as noted above that they become psychotronic. In other words, there is one word that truly marks a psychotronic film: offbeat.
“Ah,” says the reader, “but when I paged through this book, I found, to my great surprise and consternation, that Casablanca was listed. Why is this? Why is Casablanca considered psychotronic?”
There are two reasons: One is the presence of psychotronic stalwarts such as Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, and Conrad Veidt. The other, more compelling, reason is that, for all its awards, Casablanca is an exploitation film, made to cash in on the myriad headlines generated by the Casablanca confab between FDR and Churchill.
Warner Brothers bought the rights to an unproduced play entitled “Everybody Comes to Rick’s,” dressed it up in patriotic colors, and paraded it as a love story set during World War II and a parable against isolationism. It was originally supposed to have been a quickie production starring Ronald Reagan and Ann Sheridan, but after Jack Warner and producer Hal Wallis got a look at the script by Julius and Philip Epstein, with help from Howard Koch, they decided they really had something and upgraded the production accordingly. But, at its base, Casablanca is an exploitation film.
"Okay,” says our skeptical reader, “then what about The Song of Bernadette?” Simple: it’s the subject matter, which is otherworldly, making the film offbeat enough to be classified psychotronic. What must especially be kept in mind is that "psychotronic" is not a denigrating term. It is merely a descriptive term, and the fact that it ranges from films such as Casablanca to The Bowery Boys Meet the Monsters is descriptive, not judgmental. Science Fiction movies range from the wonderful Metropolis to Creature With the Atom Brain; Horror films from Bride of Frankenstein to Frankenstein’s Daughter; and Westerns from Red River to Last of the Wild Horses; yet, no one thinks to call these categories “denigrating.” And so it is with the category of “psychotronic.” 
In the future we will publish reviews of psychotronic films and tell you if they are on DVD and from where they might be obtained for your collection. In the meantime, as with all our features, you, the Readers, are certainly welcome to join in. Is there a favorite psychotronic film about which you wish to tell us, or perhaps a Top Ten Psychotronic film list?
Join in the fun; it’s better that way.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Big Boy and Born to Sing

By Ed Garea

Editors' note: This is a column that will run from time to time, dedicated to movies that are so bad we feel compelled to watch them. They are not a new phenomena; indeed they reach back to the beginnings of the movies. When they come on, we first say to ourselves, "What the heck is this thing?" and later we look at our watches, surprised to see that time has flown by and we're still glued to the set. 

But before I begin, this columnn is open to all film fans who love those so-bad-they're-good films. If you want to post a review, send it to us, or if you have a Top 10 bad films list, send that on as well. Now, for your enjoyment: The first installment of Train Wreck Cinema.

BIG BOY (WB, 1930): The premise for this Al Jolson movie (adapted from his play on Broadway) is simple – a black jockey overcomes obstacles galore to ride his boss’s horse to victory in the Kentucky Derby. But that’s only half the story: Jolson’s the jockey and he plays the entire movie in blackface, as a black man. No, I’m not making this up. It really has to be seen to be believed, and even then you’ll be rubbing your eyes to make sure you’re seeing it right.

Of course, Jolie plays it in a lighthearted manner, sort of a tongue-in-cheek happy “darkie,” even throwing in a song or two. (Without the songs there is nothing to break up what is quickly developing into monotony.) Okay, okay, I know it was made in 1930 and times have changed, but it’s not in the least funny; the jokes simply fall flat.

There’s even a scene where Jolson’s character is threatened KKK style. At the end, as was the case with this production on Broadway, Jolson removes his blackface and sings us a song. A few years ago, TCM covered African-American in their annual compilation of Hollywood films called “Race and Hollywood,” and which is concerned with how other races were seen portrayed in movies. How this film ever missed that year’s compilation amazes me, but I’m extremely glad they finally got around to showing it, even if it was at the ungodly hour of 6 a.m. – after all, that’s what TiVos are for. When I was a little kid, I always thought Jolson was black. When I watch films such as this, I can see where I got my mistaken belief.

BORN TO SING (MGM, 1942): This movie is a train wreck of a different sort. When I originally saw the synopsis and noticed that Leo Gorcey was billed third in the line-up of a musical, I assumed that Monogram produced it. But no! MGM, of all studios, is to blame for foisting this upon unsuspecting moviegoers – and giving bad movie buffs another reason to rejoice.

Why? Because – now get this – Gorcey actually sings! You gotta hear it to believe it, but yes, that’s him warbling out a forgotten tune in a style that could only be called his because no one else would want to take credit for it. Jimmy Stewart sang unaided in Born to Dance, and that was bad enough, but Gorcey makes Stewart seem like Sinatra in comparison. It’s straight out of the “Hey Kids, Let’s Get Together And Put On A Show” school of film.

The plot revolves around Patsy Eastman (Virginia Weidler) and her father, a songwriter who wrote a show while in prison. Dad’s only problem, besides being in jail, is that a greedy promoter steals the material. But, luckily for Patsy, her best friend is “Snap” Gordon (Gorcey). Snap and his friends try to pressure the promoter but are charged with extortion for their effort. They realize the only way for them to succeed is to put on a show themselves. Unfortunately, they have no money or prospects.

Fortunately, though, they meet a sympathetic gangster named Pete Detroit (Sheldon Leonard). Pete helps them open their show before the promoter can premiere his; even going so far as to use his fleet of taxicabs to ferry unsuspecting drama critics from the promoter's show to the kid's show. The musical highlight is a number entitled “Ballad For Americans”, which originally premiered in the 1939 WPA Theater project, “Sing For Your Supper.” Luckily for Gorcey, he didn’t have to sing for his supper. Otherwise he would have starved.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Dark Shadows

Dinner and a Movie

Shadows of Ivy

By Steve Herte

Dark Shadows (2012)

The new “Man of a Thousand Faces,” Johnny Depp adds another character to his resumé as Barnabas Collins, the master-turned-vampire of Collingwood mansion in Collinsport, Maine under the direction of Tim Burton. Being a fan of the gothic horror soap opera that was the TV series, I had my doubts about it being transformed into a camp comedy. Hoping that Jonathan Frid (the original Barnabas) had a sense of humor, I’m sure he would have enjoyed the performance. Johnny is just as stiff and stern looking most of the time until Angelique (Eva Green) repeatedly tried to seduce him (once successfully, but they trash an entire office in the process). 

The story starts in 1762 when Barnabas is a child and his father builds the Collins Empire, starting with the fish cannery and ending with the construction of Collingwood mansion (which appears to be a cheap stage-prop building compared to the original, which still exists in Newport, Rhode Island). Angelique is in love with Barnabas but he loves only Josette (Bella Heathcote) and, being a witch, curses him to become a vampire, exposes him to the townspeople, and has him chained and buried in an iron coffin.

Almost 200 years later, the remaining Collins family, Elizabeth Collins-Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer), her daughter Carolyn (Chloë Grace Moretz), her brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), and his son David (Gulliver McGrath) are barely getting along in their dusty, crumbling home with two aging servants – Clarney (Christopher Lee) and Mrs. Johnson (Ray Shirley), Willie Loomis (Jackie Earle Haley) the caretaker, and Dr. Julia Hoffann (Helena Bonham Carter) a psychiatrist for David. The cannery is floundering (literally) and cannot compete with the rival business set up by Angelique. Yet they hire a governess for David, Maggie Evans, who changes her name to Victoria Winters (also Bella Heathcote) – separate characters in the original – who repeatedly sees the ghost of Josette sweeping through the halls and falling backward off the chandelier in the main hall to be absorbed by the floor.

Angelique’s construction crew accidentally digs up Barnabas’ grave, freeing him and the craziness begins. Barnabas is determined to restore the Collins’ glory while wondering why Victoria looks exactly like Josette and Angelique is determined to stop him, kill her and rekindle the love she thought they had. Eh!

Why only two martini glasses (out of five on my rating system)? One is for the concept and one is for Depp’s performance. Everyone else paled in comparison. Second prize goes to Haley’s excellent Loomis – totally looney. 

Nearly everyone else appeared to be trying to hold back laughter. The writers (there were four of them) tried to fit seven years of episodes into one hour and 53 minutes and it was difficult to sit through. The jibes to the original started as subtle tongue-in-cheeks at the beginning and escalated to the incredibly silly battle between Barnabas and Angelique at the end (a battle he might have lost, if not for the intervention of the ghost of Laura Collins – Josephine Butler). Tim Burton did another great job and I loved the over-use of the crashing waves on the rocky cliffs near Collingwood – something the original used for time-lapse purposes. Gratefully there is no promise of a sequel.

Ivy’s Bistro
385 Greenwich Street (at North Moore Street), New York

This five-year old corner bar has become a cozy comfort food zone with a welcoming atmosphere, minimal décor, comfy banquettes and door/windows that open to the street. I would imagine defining “comfort food” would be familiar American home-cooking recognizable as “what mother used to make and everybody loved.” Ivy’s puts just a little twist into the concept.

While sitting in the front window sipping a well-made Beefeater Martini with six (overkill) olives I contemplated the single card, double-sided menu and the two page wine and cocktail list. My perky waitress was as helpful as possible though she didn’t know if they made half-orders of the pastas (a sort of “no” answer, but depended on the kind of pasta and the kitchen), I asked what size portion they were (again, depends on the pasta) but we determined that the size generally was dinner size. She then listed the specials of the day and I made my decision.

The appetizer was Macaroni and Cheese Croquettes, a delightful new idea, rolling the Mac & Cheese into balls and coating them with bread crumbs and deep frying them. This was served with slices of green apples – wonderful. 

I’ve become a fan of Argentine Malbec and Ivy’s had a bottle titled The Seeker which was a delicious wine with my dinner. The main course was a special, Grilled Swordfish steak resting on sliced yellow and green zucchini and asparagus and topped with a light, lemony/vinegary chunky tomato sauce and garnished with a sprig of broccoli. The charcoal grilled flavor was unmistakable on this meaty three quarter inch thick wedge of fish and the sauce and accompanying vegetables enhanced that nicely.

The side dish deserves a paragraph of its own. The home-made potato chips were simply to die for (I had two orders). Lightly salted and sooo bad for you, they arrived in a cone of rolled paper inserted into an aluminum coil. I haven’t had potato chips like these since the Waterworks restaurant in Philadelphia.

Lastly, the homemade Blueberry Crisp takes 15 minutes to make, but it’s well worth the wait – steaming in its own crock with cinnamon-y buttery flavor – taking me back in time to my childhood. With a glass of Grand Marnier and an espresso the meal was complete. Ivy’s may not look like much, but they serve comfort with a smile and are worth a return visit.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

TCM TiVo Alert for May 23-31

May 23–May 31


THE MORTAL STORM (May 25, 10:00 pm) – I'm amazed this hard-hitting anti-Nazi film was made in 1940 and released about 18 months before the United States got involved in World War II. An extraordinarily powerful film about what happens to a group of friends in a small Bavarian town when the Nazis take over Germany and attempt to conquer Europe. Not only is the acting great, particularly Jimmy Stewart as an anti-Nazi, and Robert Young, who become a Nazi zealot, but the story is uncompromising and tragic. It's one of Stewart's finest roles. It's still as important today as it was in 1940.

BADLANDS (May 31, 8:00 pm) – Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek show their incredible talents in this 1973 film, loosely based on a serial killer and his girlfriend on a cross-country killing spree during 1958. The two become more detached to reality as the film progresses. The film focuses on the alienation and hopelessness felt by the two doomed young criminals. Despite their horrific actions, you can't help feel somewhat sorry for them. An excellent script and outstanding acting.


BABY FACE (May 29, 7:30 am) – Pre-Code films carry with them a certain notorious cache, but this is the apex of the mountain. Stanwyck is at her absolute best as a slum girl in Erie, Pa. whose father runs a speakeasy and features her as “entertainment” for the customers. When he dies in a still explosion, she takes the advice of a kindly old bookseller who has been instructing her in the philosophy of Nietzsche and decides to be the one this time that will exploit others. Landing in New York with her friend Chico (Theresa Harris), she literally sleeps her way to the top, ruining several lives in the process. Though it ultimately cops out in the end, there’s still enough there to make your jaw drop. Hey, they just didn’t make films like that back then . . . or did they?

CRIME DOCTOR MARATHON (May 31, beginning at 6 am) – Do you like a good mystery? Hey, who doesn’t? This marathon of seven films features the exploits of Warner Baxter as Dr. Robert Ordway, a former criminal gang leader who loses his memory in an accident while fleeing the police and reinvents himself as a criminal psychologist with the help of kindly shrink Ray Collins. There are seven movies in the marathon, all of them entertaining, in which the Crime Doctor solves case after case without so much as the company of a sidekick. In the hands of a master technician like Baxter, the series never loses its edge and always remains fresh, even after repeated viewings.

WE DISAGREE ON . . .  SERGEANT YORK (May 27, 8:00 pm)

ED: A+. Along with the later Air Force (also directed by Howard Hawks), this is the best of the morale pictures. Gary Cooper delivers a powerful performance as Alvin York, a man bedeviled by alcohol who gets his soul back one rainy night, only to be caught up in the conflagration known as World War I. Can he . . . Should he . . . abandon his newly found pacifist principles and fight? That’s the crux of the movie and Hawks delicately maneuvers it around to the dilemma America was facing in 1941 before Pearl Harbor decided the question for us. As with any Warners picture, the supporting cast is also compelling: Margaret Wycherly as York’s long-suffering mother; Walter Brennan as the pastor who becomes York’s moral compass; Joan Leslie as Alvin’s devoted sweetheart; Stanley Ridges as York’s commanding officer, who uses tact to convince York to stay in the Army; and, finally, George Tobias as York’s war-time buddy and who has one of the corniest death scenes in movie history. Also be on the lookout for such stalwarts as Howard DaSilva, June Lockhart, Tully Marshall, and Ward Bond, among others. It’s a definite “Must See.”

DAVID: C+. Over the years, Club members have joked about Gary Cooper's range as an actor. While I love his performances in a number of films (High NoonMeet John Doe and Ball of Fire, to name a few), he usually acts like a block of wood thus the clever nickname of Gary Cooperwood. Cooper won the Oscar for Best Actor for Sergeant York. The title character, Alvin York, was the most decorated American soldier during World War I. To me, the film is dull and at 134 minutes, it drags. It's a war film so you'd expect a lot of action. There is some, but not nearly enough. There are so many dead spots as we are painstakingly given way too much information on York. It never keeps my interest for more than a few minutes at a time. While considered a classic, I could never recommend someone investing the time to watch this film. 
Schedule Subject to Change (All Times Eastern)

May 23

6:00 am -- THE KENNEL MURDER CASE (WB, 1933): William Powell, Mary Astor. Society sleuth Philo Vance investigates a murder tied to a Long Island dog show. A MUST SEE! A+

7:30 am -- SAN FRANCISCO (MGM, 1936): Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, & Jeanette McDonald. A beautiful singer and a battling priest try to reform a Barbary Coast saloonkeeper in the days right before the big earthquake. B

5:45 pm -- THE V.I.P.S (MGM, 1963): Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor. Wealthy passengers fogged in at London’s Heathrow Airport struggle with a variety of personal trials. C

8:00 pm -- THE VIRGINIAN (Paramount, 1946): Joel McCrea, Brian Donlevy. Best friends soon become sworn enemies when one signs on with a rustler in this remake of the 1929 classic. C+

10:00 pm -- UNION PACIFIC (Paramount, 1939): Joel McCrea, Barbara Stanwyck. A crooked politician tries to stop the completion of the transcontinental railroad. Directed by Cecil B. DeMille. A-

May 24

7:00 am -- GAMBLING LADY (WB, 1934): Barbara Stanwyck, Joel McCrea. Two gamblers fall in love, but one is already married to a possible murderer. B

8:15 am -- THE SPORT PARADE (RKO, 1932): Joel McCrea, William Gargan. Football teammates McCrea and Gargan follow different paths after graduation. One becomes a sports reporter while the other fails in the pro game and ends up as a pro wrestler. B

12:00 pm -- LADY OF THE LAKE (MGM, 1947): Robert Montgomery, Audrey Totter, Lloyd Nolan. Hard-boiled private eye Phillip Marlowe (Robert Montgomery, who makes his directing debut) is on the case again. The movie is filmed from the viewpoint of Marlowe. At times, the plot is confusing, but a solid film noir. B+

3:45 pm -- THE LADY EVE (Paramount, 1941): Wonderfully witty Preston Sturges film about a con-artist (Barbara Stanwyck) who goes to take a wealthy but naive scientist (Henry Fonda) for a bundle but ends up falling in love with him. It’s one of Sturges’ best. Charles Coburn is in fine form as Stanwyck’s con-artist father. A

8:00 pm -- DILLINGER (Monogram, 1945): Lawrence Tierney, Elisha Cook, Jr. Totally fictionalized account of the famous gangster, but Tierney is great in the role. C+

9:30 pm -- AL CAPONE (Allied Artists, 1959): Rod Steiger, Martin Balsam & Fay Spain. Steiger is Al Capone in a great drama that uses more of the fact than others. Steiger just doesn’t chew the scenery in this movie; he swallows it whole. It’s the best of the gangster bios. B+

1:15 am -- THE RISE AND FALL OF LEGS DIAMOND (Allied Artists, 1960): Ray Danton, Karen Steele. Budd Boetticher directed this above-average tale of the dancer-turned-hoodlum. Look for Warren Oates and Dyan Cannon in small roles. B-

3:00 am -- THE VALACHI PAPERS (Columbia, 1972): Charles Bronson, Lino Ventura. The story of the man who came forward to expose the inner workings of the Mafia after learning a contract was put out on him in prison. C+

May 25

8:30 am -- DODGE CITY (WB, 1941): Errol Flynn, Bruce Cabot. Soldier of fortune Flynn takes on old enemy Cabot, who runs Dodge City. B-

11:30 am -- WYOMING (MGM, 1940): Wallace Beery, Leo Carrillo, & Ann Rutherford. Beery and Carillo are outlaw pals tempted to go straight. C

1:00 am -- SAN ANTONIO (WB, 1945): Errol Flynn, Alexis Smith. A reformed rustler tracks down a band of cattle thieves and tries to reform a crooked dance-hall girl. B+

3:00 pm -- VENGENCE VALLEY (MGM, 1951): Burt Lancaster, Robert Walker. An honest rancher must block his evil brother’s plots while hiding them from their father. C+

10:00 pm -- THE MORTAL STORM (MGM, 1940): James Stewart, Frank Morgan, and Margaret Sullavan. An uncompromising look at what happens to a small college town in Germany when the Nazis come to power. A MUST SEE! A+

12:00 am -- STRANGE CARGO (MGM, 1940): From Weldon: “Atmospheric-allegorical adventure of whores and Christ-figures involved in a Devil’s Island penal-colony escape. With Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, Ian Hunter, Peter Lorre (as M’sieur Pig), and Albert Dekker. Different and recommended, it was condemned by the Catholic Legion of decency.” A

May 26

9:00 am -- THE MASTER OF BALLANTRAE (WB, 1953): Errol Flynn, Roger Livesay. Flynn is a Scottish lord involved in the plot to put Bonnie Prince Charlie on the English throne. C+

10:45 am -- THE PHANTOM THIEF (Columbia, 1946): Chester Morris, George E. Stone. Murder strikes at a séance and Boston Blackie is called to investigate. B

1:30 pm -- ANGEL AND THE BADMAN (Republic, 1947): John Wayne, Gail Russell. Nursed back to health by a Quaker, a gunman tries to adopt her peaceful ways. B-

3:30 pm -- OPERATION PACIFIC (WB, 1951): John Wayne, Ward Bond. A dedicated submarine commander will stop at nothing to defeat the enemy. C+

5:30 pm -- RED RIVER (U.A., 1948): John Wayne, Montgomery Clift. A young cowhand (Clift) turns against his tyrannical adoptive father (Wayne) during a big cattle drive. A+

8:00 pm -- DINNER AT EIGHT (MGM, 1933): Wallace Beery, Jean Harlow, & Marie Dressler. David O. Selznick produced this excellent ensemble piece about the goings-on behind the scenes during an elegant dinner party. A+

10:00 pm -- TOPPER (Hal Roach/MGM, 1937): Constance Bennett, Cary Grant, & Roland Young. The classic story about a fin-loving couple that discover that they are dead and have come back as ghosts, decide to shake up the stuffy lifestyle of their friend, Cosmo Topper (Young). A

May 27

7:00 am -- COMMAND DECISION (MGM, 1949): Clark Gable, Van Johnson. A general must face the terrible decision of sending his flyers on suicide missions over Germany in the last days of World War II. A

9:00 am -- BATAAN (MGM, 1943): Robert Taylor, Lloyd Nolan. Thirteen soldiers must hold a bridge against the advancing Japanese. A-

12:45 pm -- BREAKTHROUGH (WB, 1950): David Brian, John Agar, & Frank Lovejoy. An American infantry unit is followed from basic training to fighting in Normandy. B

2:30 pm -- THE HILL (MGM, 1965): Sean Connery, Ossie Davis. Prisoners fight to survive in a British military stockade. Great film. B+

6:15 pm -- MERRILL’S MARAUDERS (WB, 1962): Jeff Chandler, Ty Hardin. Sam Fuller directed this film about the general who led his troops against the Japanese in the jungles of Burma. B

8:00 pm -- SERGEANT YORK (WB, 1941): Gary Cooper, Walter Brennan. Rousing morale film based on the true story of Alvin York, a hell raiser who got religion and wound up winning the Congressional Medal of Honor in World War I. Ratings: See above.

10:30 pm -- TORA! TORA! TORA! (20th Century Fox, 1970): Joseph Cotten, So Yamamura. A docudrama reenactment of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, before, during, and after. C

2:45 am -- GERMANY YEAR ZERO (Tevere Film, 1948): Edmund Moeschke, Ernst Pittschau. Roberto Rossellini directed this stark look at Postwar Germany. C

May 28

11:45 pm -- WHERE EAGLES DARE (MGM, 1969): Richard Burton, Clint Eastwood. An Allied team sets out to rescue an American officer held prisoner in a mountaintop castle. C-

2:30 pm -- THE GUNS OF NAVARONE (Columbia, 1961): Gregory Peck, David Niven, & Anthony Quinn. A team of Allied saboteurs slips behind enemy lines to take out a pair of big Nazi cannon. B

8:00 pm -- THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI (Columbia, 1957): Alec Guinness, William Holden. David Lean directed this epic re-telling of the story of POWS forced by the Japanese to build a strategic bridge in Burma. A++

11:00 pm -- THE GREAT ESCAPE (UA, 1963): Steve McQueen, Richard Attenborough, James Garner, & James Donald. An all-star cast enlivens this great docudrama about the largest P.O.W. escape ever to take place in Nazi Germany. A+

2:00 am -- KELLY’S HEROES (MGM, 1970): Clint Eastwood, Donald Sutherland, & Telly Savalas.  American soldiers plan a bank heist behind German lines during World War 2. Based on an actual incident. B

May 29

7:30 am -- BABY FACE (WB, 1933): Barbara Stanwyck, Theresa Harris. In this, the most notorious of the Pre-Code films, a beautiful schemer sleeps her way to the top of a banking empire. A+

9;00 am -- EVER IN MY HEART (WB, 1933): Barbara Stanwyck, Otto Kruger. In this soaper set during World War I, a woman suspects her husband of being a German spy. C+

10:15 am -- LADIES THEY TALK ABOUT (WB, 1933): Barbara Stanwyck, Preston Foster, & Lyle Talbot. After taking part in a bank heist, tough cookie Stanwyck is sent to women’s prison, where she ends up as boss of her cellblock. B+

1:15 pm -- THE SECRET BRIDE (WB, 1934): Barbara Stanwyck, Warren William, & Glenda Farrell. State Attorney General (William) secretly weds governor’s daughter (Stanwyck), then learns that her father may be at the heart of a bribery/corruption case. B

8:00 pm -- CARMEN JONES (20th Century Fox, 1954): Dorothy Dandridge, Harry Belafonte. An all Black cast updating Carmen Jones to an army base. The operatic singing is dubbed, but Dandridge is a delight. Directed by Otto Preminger. A-

10:00 pm -- BRIGHT ROAD (MGM, 1953): Dorothy Dandridge, Harry Belafonte. Dandridge is unforgettable as a young elementary school teacher who sees the potential in a trouble-making student. B

11:30 pm -- THE HARLEM GLOBETROTTERS (Columbia, 1951): Thomas Gomez, Dorothy Dandridge. A programmer built around the famed basketball team with a little romance thrown in. C

2:30 am -- TARZAN’S PERIL (RKO, 1951): Lex Barker, Dorothy Dandridge. White gunrunners try to get Tarzan to stir up trouble between warring tribes; failing that they try to kill Tarzan. C-

May 30

6:00 am -- THE BARRETTS OF WIMPOLE STREET (MGM, 1934): Norma Shearer, Frederic March, & Charles Laughton. Shearer and March are poets Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning in this film about their romance. Charles Laughton steals the movie as Elizabeth’s villainous father. A+

1:00 pm -- NO MORE LADIES (MGM, 1935): Joan Crawford, Robert Montgomery, & Charlie Ruggles. A society girl tries to reform her playboy husband by making him jealous. C+

6:30 pm -- IRVING THALBERG: PRINCE OF HOLLYWOOD (Turner, 2005): A documentary about the life and career of studio executive Irving Thalberg. A+

8:00 pm -- RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY (MGM, 1962): Randolph Scott, Joel McCrea. Sam Peckinpah’s tale of two aging gunslingers who sign on to transport gold from a remote mining town. C

11:15 pm -- WELLS FARGO (Paramount, 1937): Joel McCrea, Frances Dee. McCrea, struggling to build his express shipping service, loses wife Dee in the process. B+

May 31

6:00 am – 2:45 pm -- CRIME DOCTOR MARATHON (Columbia, 1943-49): Warner Baxter stars as Dr. Robert Ordway, a criminal that suffered amnesia and later re-invented himself as a crime-fighting shrink in this series of seven highly enjoyable mysteries. Overall Rating: B-

8:00 pm -- BADLANDS (WB, 1973): Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek. Sheen and Spacek (who narrates) play the real Charles Starkweather and Caril-Ann Fugate, who went on a much-publicized killing spree through the Dakota badlands in 1958. Well acted and directed. B+

10:00 pm -- BONNIE AND CLYDE (WB, 1967): Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway. Arthur Penn directed this highly stylized biopic of the murderous duo. A-

12:00 am -- DOG DAY AFTERNOON (WB, 1975): Al Pacino, John Cazale. A man tries to rob a bank in order to pay for his lover’s sex-change operation. A

3:35 am -- INSIDE THE MAFIA (U.A., 1959): Cameron Mitchell, Robert Stauss. A mobster out to rule the underworld takes hostages at an international airport. C+