Tuesday, April 30, 2013

TCM TiVo Alert for May 1-7

May 1–May 7


THE CAINE MUTINY (May 4, 4:15 pm): Humphrey Bogart in his last great role, Lieutenant Commander Philip Frances Queeg, the head of the USS Caine, a Navy destroyer minesweeper. Queeg is losing his wits and desperately trying to have a final glorious moment as a commander, which puts his crew at risk. The final straw is his refusal to avoid a typhoon and then freeze when told of the danger facing the ship. That leads to a peaceful mutiny - thus the clever title - and a court martial. The supporting cast - Jose Ferrer, Van Johnson and Fred MacMurray (the latter in particular) - is excellent. 

THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (May 7, 8:00 pm): Besides Rififi, this 1950 movie is the greatest caper film noirs in cinematic history, and is among the finest film noirs ever made. The performances of the jewel-heist gang are memorable: Sam Jaffe as the mastermind, James Whitmore as the getaway driver, Anthony Caruso as the safecracker, and Sterling Hayden as the muscle. The classic 11-minute heist scene is filled with intensity and drama. The perfect crime isn't so perfect and with each passing scene things go wrong. It comes with my highest recommendation.


GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 (May 4, 8:00 pm): A wonderful Warners Depression musical about three chorus girls who not only have to find a way to keep their show going, but who also have to land rich husbands. Mervyn LeRoy directed the backstage antics, but Busby Berkeley directed the wonderful show stopping numbers, including “We’re in the Money,” (with Ginger Rogers singing in English and pig-Latin), “Shadow Waltz,” “Petting in the Park,” and “Remember My Forgotten Man,” (Joan Blondell voiced over by Mirian Anderson).

FOOTLIGHT PARADE (May 4, 10:00 pm): More of the same from Warners, only this time it's Jimmy Cagney as a producer of short musical prologues for movies fighting time and a rival company’s spies in order to get his product ready. Joan Blondell steals the movie as Cagney’s lovesick secretary. With Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler as the eternal juveniles. Cagney wows us in the finale with Ruby Keeler in the “Shanghai Lil” number. And is that really John Garfield in a cameo at the beginning of the number? Meanwhile, try to spot Dorothy Lamour as an uncredited chorus girl. This was her screen debut.


ED: A. It’s the movie Frank Capra made to tide his family over while he served in the Army – and it’s a great comedy. Cary Grant is his usual wonderful (though he later hated his performance as too over the top), Peter Lorre is a revelation, and Priscilla Lane’s performance is yet another reminder of how Warners misused her during her tenure there. (Lane is sort of the ‘40s version of Joan Blondell, a gifted comedienne to everybody but Jack Warner.) The only discordant note is the substitution of Raymond Massey as Jonathan Brewster for Boris Karloff, who originated the role on Broadway. Josephine Hull, Jean Adair, and John Alexander all reprised their Broadway roles and were given the time off to do so, but the play’s producers felt that loaning Karloff would seriously injure the box office, so permission was denied. (Couldn’t Capra have cast Bela Lugosi instead and just changed the Jack Carson’s line to “Look at that puss. He looks like Bela Lugosi!”) At any rate, it’s one of the few Warners’ comedies of the time that was actually funny.

DAVID: D. I wish this film was good. Unfortunately, it's barely passable. Cary Grant was an outstanding dramatic actor. But his comedic talent was a lot more miss (Bringing Up BabyGunga Din and this film) than hit (His Girl Friday and The Philadelphia Story). This movie is also out of director Frank Capra's comfort zone as dark comedies were not his area of expertise. In their defense, even if both were at the top of their games, this film was going to be a disaster. It's not funny or entertaining and the script is terrible. When my oldest daughter was in a high school production of this a few years ago, it was bad, but not that much worse than this film. That tells me that no matter the talent level from high school kids to screen legends, this never works. Grant once called it his worst movie. It's bad, but Bringing Up Baby is his worst film.

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

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Richard Carlson Tribute

TCM Salutes Richard Carlson on April 29

By Ed Garea

Richard Carlson, noted for his sci-fi films of the ‘50s, is being feted by TCM with a night of his psychotronic movies.

Beginning at 8 pm with It Came From Outer Space, it continues through to the last showing at 4 am with the Bert I. Gordon “classic,” Tormented.

For me as a kid, Carlson was (and still is) one of my favorite actors. He first came to my attention as Dr. Jackson in Abbott and Costello’s Hold That Ghost, where he helped the boys solve the mystery of the bad-tasting water at the derelict hotel they inherited while still finding time to romance the gorgeous Evelyn Ankers.

As time passed, I found him starring in more films I considered essential: It Came From Outer SpaceThe Ghost Breakers, and, of course, the classic Creature From the Black Lagoon. These firmly cemented him in my mind as an actor to watch. As I grew older and my tastes broadened from horror and sci-fi to other genres, I found him in such films as Back StreetThe Little Foxes, and the highly enjoyable, but strange, White Cargo. As with other movie stars I idolized as a youth, his presence in a movie was enough to make me watch. But it was his sci-fi roles I loved most.

The odd thing was that he was renowned for these roles in the ‘50s, though he made only four of those films – It Came From Outer Space (1953), The Magnetic Monster (1953), Riders to the Stars (1954), and Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954), and these were made within a two-year period.

I’ll examine the first three of these in this article, as Creature From The Black Lagoon deserves a separate article of its own.

8:00 pm – It Came From Outer Space (Universal, 1953) Director: Jack Arnold. Cast: Richard Carlson, Barbara Rush, Charles Drake, Joe Sawyer, Russell Johnson, Kathleen Hughes, & Dave Willock. B&W, 81 minutes.

The collaboration of producer William Alland and director Jack Arnold gave fans many memorable sci-fi films in the ‘50s, including TarantulaThis Island Earth, The Mole People, The Monolith Monsters, and The Incredible Shrinking Man. This effort was their first. It’s also noteworthy as the screenwriting debut of author Ray Bradbury. He wrote a story treatment for the studio entitled “The Meteor,” and was hired to expand it. The result was that he penned the complete screenplay. The studio then brought Harry Essex aboard to do the necessary polish, and for his efforts, Bradbury was paid in the neighborhood of $3,000.

Not only was the film Universal’s first attempt at science fiction, it was also their first attempt at the new technology of 3-D. The result was a solid hit and one of the top grossing films for the year.

Carlson is schoolteacher and amateur stargazer John Putnam. His girlfriend is fellow schoolteacher Ellen Fields (Rush). One night, John and Ellen see a meteor crash in the desert. He rouses his friend Pete (Willock) to take him to the site in his helicopter, and the three of them go to investigate.  Landing at the site, only John is able to descend into the crater, where he spots a spaceship and a brief glimpse of its hideous passenger before a landslide, caused by the alien, covers it. Since he’s the only one who has seen the ship and its pilot, no one believes his story.  But John soon finds that some of the townsfolk are not what they seem, especially his friends, telephone linesmen George (Johnson) and Frank (Sawyer). After chasing Frank and George into a dark alley, they reveal to him that they are alien replicas of the men, sent into town to get necessary parts for the ship and that the real Frank and George are fine and will be released once the ship is repaired.

However, Sheriff Matt Warren (Drake), alarmed by the disappearance of both people and electrical equipment, gets involved in the mystery. Meanwhile the alien George abducts Ellen and a replica Ellen is sent to lure John to a mineshaft, which connects the downed spacecraft to the outside world.  There the alien explains to him that their race is an advanced one and will continue to be peaceful as long as they’re not disturbed while repairing the ship. It also explains that, while they desire contact, humans are not developed enough to accept their frightening appearance. John informs the sheriff of his meeting, but the sheriff decides to take action and rounds up a posse of men to confront the aliens.

John races to the mine ahead of the group to warn the aliens, but he finds they no longer trust him and are readying their laser weapon to defend themselves. However, he convinces them that if they release the abducted people as a show of faith, the men will cease attacking. The aliens reluctantly agree and the abducted humans leave the mineshaft unharmed, as Frank and John dynamite the entrance to the mine. As the townspeople watch the ship fly out of the crater back towards space, Sheriff Matt asks if they have left for good, to which John replies that they will return when we are ready to accept them.

Considering its budget ($800,000), It Came From Outer Space is a remarkable film. The photography of Clifford Stine, combined with director Arnold’s pacing, makes the film look like anything but a B product.  It also neatly captures the paranoia of the Atomic Age, especially concerning UFOs. Even the climactic scene with the townsfolk coming together to take on the aliens, which by this time had become a cliché, thanks to countless westerns and horror movies that preceded it, is handled with care and style. About the only glaring weak spot is the revelation of the alien, which is a constant weak point of almost every film of the genre, since the appearance of the monster can never equal our imagining of it. Bradbury himself had complained about it in several interviews: “I warned them not to bring the ‘monster’ out in the light - ever. They ignored my advice. The bad moments in the film come when the monster does just that: stops being mysterious, steps out, and becomes a laugh riot."

But perhaps its real influence can be seen in a story about Bradbury attending a review screening of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. He ran into the film’s director, Steven Spielberg, who told him that the inspiration for Close Encounters lay in the fact that he had watched It Came From Outer Space numerous times as a kid.

9:30 pm – The Magnetic Monster (UA, 1953) Director: Curt Siodmak. Cast: Richard Carlson, King Donovan, Jean Byron, Harry Ellerbe, Leo Britt, Leonard Mudie, & Byron Foulger. B&W, 76 minutes.

This was one of my favorite sci-fi films when I was young. I liked it because it didn’t feature the usual monster and had enough scientific mumbo-jumbo to keep me interested. For me, it was never enough that the monster was; no, I always wanted to know how and why it came about. The film covered this well enough for me to warrant repeat viewings whenever it was shown. But it had been almost 40 years since I last saw it on television or in the cinema, and when TCM ran it a few months ago I was looking forward to seeing it once again. Of course, there is the inevitable clash between the film as it is and one’s cherished memories of said film, and this was true when I saw it again after that long absence. It’s almost like a cultural clash as I asked myself exactly what it was when I saw it as a kid. When it was over, I realized it was better than what I just finished watching, but it was definitely not the classic I had built it up to in my mind’s eye.

Nonetheless, it’s a good, well-plotted movie, even if some of its points are wildly absurd by today’s understanding of physics. Dr. Jeffrey Stewart (Carlson) and Dr. Dan Forbes (Donovan) are investigators for the U.S. government’s Office of Scientific Investigation (OSI). As the movie opens, Forbes is sharing his findings about high levels of radiation in the area with Stewart when they are summoned to a store whose owner is complaining that all his appliances have suddenly magnetically bonded. Upon investigating, they determine the source of the magnetism is the office above the store. There they discover the body of man that has died from radiation poisoning. He is, they learn, the assistant to Howard Denker (Mudie), who has disappeared along with his briefcase. A manhunt goes out and Denker is apprehended, dying, on a plane. In his briefcase is his creation – he tells Forbes and Stewart that it’s an atomic isotope he created by bombarding serranium with alpha particles. This altered its properties, making it magnetic. Oh, Denker says before departing this world, it must constantly be fed an electric charge or it will grow uncontrollably.

They attempt to control it in a university cyclotron, but it explodes, magnetizing everything near it and doubling its size. The only way to control it, Stewart and Forbes reason, is to overfeed it and thus render it harmless. The only power source with the capacity to do just that is the top-secret subterranean deltatron (see picture above) off the coast of Nova Scotia. The scientist in charge of the deltatron, Dr. Benton (Britt), protests, as this planned overfeeding will destroy his toy, but the Canadian government overrides him and allows Forbes and Stewart to proceed.  However, during the course of their work, Benton goes over the edge and pulls a “bwa-ha-ha” moment by sabotaging the floodgates. If they do not desist, everyone in the building will drown. But Stewart thwarts Benton’s plans by cutting the cable to the floodgates and allowing them to close and protect the employees gathered behind. The experiment works, though the deltatron is destroyed in the process. The isotope is rendered harmless and the world is safe once again.

The problem with The Magnetic Monster lies neither with the acting nor the direction. The acting is uniformly excellent – Carlson and Donovan are absolutely convincing in their roles and carry the film nicely. Ditto with the direction. Siodmak keeps the action going at a brisk pace and there are practically no dead spots in the film. It is also one of the first – and very few – movies to address the horrors of the atomic age in a clear and sober manner. The problem with the movie is its science. One does not have to possess as Ph.D in physics to see the obvious holes in the plot. First off, Dr. Denker supposedly created this isotope at the university, then, because he didn’t want to share his discovery, he took it with him and rented an office in which to set up shop. If he created his isotope in a university lab, then the government would be in on it and there would be absolutely no way Denker could take his project and go home. Secondly, the electrical energy he would need in his storefront lab would blow every fuse in the city. Imagine his electrical bills. And thirdly, check out the “deltatron” itself. It comes to us audience members courtesy of stock footage from a 1934 German film entitled Gold about the attempts of a British scientist to turn base metals into gold with the help of an atom smasher. Check out the giant vacuum tubes on the thing. No cyclotron I’ve ever seen photos of had vacuum tubes. However, ignore the science and what we have is a most enjoyable and cerebral combination science fiction/mystery.

Trivia: Co-producers Ivan Tors and Richard Carlson saw this as a pilot, so to speak, for a new television show based on the adventures of OSI investigators entitled A Men. However, the proposed show failed to get off the ground and the partnership between Tors and Carlson dissolved. Tors would bring back the OSI for two following films, Riders to the Stars and Gog. Herbert L. Strock co-directed, but got into trouble with the Director’s Guild as he also functioned as the film’s editor. In Riders to the Stars, Carlson got the credit while Strock actually directed the film.

11:00 pm – Riders to the Stars (UA, 1954) Director: Richard Carlson (Herbert L. Stock – uncredited) Cast: Richard Carlson, William Lundigan, Herbert Marshall, Martha Hyer, Dawn Addams, Robert Karnes, & King Donovan. B&W, 82 minutes.

Producer Tors’ follow-up to the suspenseful The Magnetic Monster is this rather dull entry about attempts to get a man into space. A group of highly-qualified single men, including Dr. Richard Stanton (Lundigan) and Dr. Jerry Lockwood (Carlson), are recruited for a secret project. After a series of grueling physical and psychological tests, the remaining four are told of the project’s purpose.

Dr. Stanton’s father, Dr. Donald Stanton (Marshall), the man in charge of the project, has been working with his colleagues on manned space travel. But they have discovered in the course of their study that even the finest quality steel turns brittle in empty space. Yet meteorites are not subject to this problem, and the scientists want to know why. To do this they have to recover one before it hits the atmosphere, to learn how their “outer shell,” as they put it, protects them. So this is the project for which the four astronauts have been recruited: to go into space and capture a meteor. Three - Stanton, Lockwood and Walter Gordon (Karnes) - accept the challenge while the fourth quits in disgust.

They each pilot one-man rockets into space. While attempting to capture his meteor, Gordon is killed. Lockwood, seeing his friend killed before him, becomes unhinged to the point where he aims his ship into the deepest reaches of space and pushes the petal to the metal. Stanton, despite warnings that he’s running low on fuel and could burn up on re-entry, nonetheless captures a meteor and brings it to Earth, earning him a kiss from the project’s female scientist, Dr. Flynn (Hyer).

Unlike The Magnetic Monster, which didn’t let the technobabble get in the way of the suspense, Riders to the Stars is drowned in its own blather. Like the earlier Destination Moon, the science alone was the reason to watch. There was no hero, villain, or monsters to fight. Unfortunately, without these there is also little, if any, tension, aside from the climatic scenes in space. The performances are decent and the direction workmanlike, but nothing really stands out.

Tors apparently learned his lesson from this film, for in his next foray, Gog, we have a hero, an unidentified villain, and two monsters in the form of robots Gog and Magog, who are turned into killing machines by the unidentified villain, which is only seen as a silent aircraft passing over the installation. (Commies, perhaps?)

Friday, April 26, 2013

Five Best Baseball Movies

My Favorite Movies with the phrase “Play Ball!”

By Jon Gallagher

Well, Ed Garea has been after me for months now to write about my five favorite baseball movies. I don’t know why I’ve put it off; maybe it was because it was so hard to choose just five. Maybe it’s because I was waiting to see if 42 made the list after seeing it. Maybe it’s because I was lazy.

Time to rectify that now. The order of these movies might change somewhat, depending on the mood I’m in. There were several I considered, so let’s mention them first and hang an honorable mention tag on them.

The Bad News Bears (the original with Walter Matthau, and Tatum O’Neal), A League of their Own (which reminded us that there’s no crying in baseball), Mr. Baseball (with Tom Seleck), 61 (the story of Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle chasing Babe Ruth’s single season home-run record), and The Winning Team (with Ronald Reagan). One of these days I’ll do a review on The Winning Team since I doubt that even 1% of our readers have ever heard of it, let alone seen it (it covers the life of Grover Cleveland Alexander, who got his professional start in my hometown of Galesburg, Illinois).

With no further ado, here’s the top five:

5) Eight Men Out – Based on the true story of the 1919 Black Sox scandal that rocked baseball, this movie features a spectacular cast. It seems to be pretty accurate as it recounts the underpaid White Sox players, eight of them, who agree to throw the World Series for cash. Two of the eight, Buck Weaver and Joe Jackson, have second thoughts, but after word leaks out, they’re lumped in with the others and all end up with lifetime bans from the game. 

4) The Rookie – Whadda ya know … Another true story. This one is the story of Jimmy Morris, a high school baseball coach who gave up his chance to play baseball long ago due to injuries and family obligations. Now, at 39, he promises his high schoolers that if they win a championship, he’ll go to a tryout. Scouts are impressed with his 98 MPH fastball and sign him to a contract. He toils in the minors while his wife and three kids struggle at home. Finally, he’s called up to The Show and makes his debut in Arlington Texas, not far from where he coached. It’s a “feel-good” movie, so if you don’t like that kind of thing, skip it.

3) For the Love of the Game – Billy Chapel is on the mound, contemplating several things. The new owners of the Tigers want to trade him, but he knows his career is at an end. His lover is leaving him to take a new job in London. This could be the last game he ever pitches. Oh yeah, and through eight innings, he hasn’t allowed a single baserunner. He’s on track to pitch a perfect game in the twilight of his career. If you don’t like baseball movies, there’s enough going on off the field, done in flashbacks and his lover’s point of view, to keep you interested. And if you don’t like love stories, there’s enough baseball to keep you watching. But if you don’t like either, why the heck are you continuing to read? If you like both, you may move this one up on the list.

2) 42 – Yeah, it’s brand new, and it’s fresh in my mind, but it’s also a very powerful movie that tells what might be the most important baseball story of all time. It’s the story of how and why Jackie Robinson came to be the man who broke baseball’s color barrier and the implications that went with it. I won’t say more; you can read my review here.

1) Major League – Not only is it my favorite baseball movie, it’s one of my all-time favorite movies period. The new owner of the Cleveland Indians want to move the team, which hasn’t had a winning season since the 1950s, but in order to break their lease on the stadium, they have to have a very low attendance. She puts together a mishmash of cartoonish characters with has-beens and never-will-bes, to form a team that steals our hearts from the beginning. It’s the Bad News Bears make the Major Leagues. An unbelievable cast including a young Charlie Sheen, a younger Wesley Snipes, and the Allstate Voice Guy, along with some major league stars and Hall of Fame announcer Bob Uecker, combine to deliver a fun-filled romp over the bases, and some dialogue that is still quoted regularly (“Juuuusssst a bit outside…”).

It’s an eclectic list with some cheesy films paired with others that may bring home some hardware and little gold statues someday. They all have two things in common, however: they’re about baseball, and they’re highly entertaining.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


Dinner and a Movie

Oblivious Alison

By Steve Herte

I knew from the start that the movie would be well-attended and made sure to arrive early enough to get a good seat. Good thing, for when I arrived there was a line of people waiting to get in the theater. It turned out, however, that they were waiting for the cleaning crew to finish from the previous showing. The theater was quite large considering today's megaplexes and it was a good way toward half full by the time the movie started. I gathered that Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman were the main draws. As for the film itself, well, read on.

Oblivion (Universal, 2013) Director: Joseph Kosinski. Cast: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, & Melissa Leo. Color, 126 minutes.

In the trailers for Oblivion we hear “We won the war, but lost the planet.” In a decades-long war against an alien race referred to as “Scavs” (short for scavengers), the Earth is devastated, although the audience never sees more than the eastern coast of the United States and the movie stays in New York City. We briefly see the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., buried up to its cupola while the Washington Monument is free of debris and leaning and the Pentagon – also not buried – wears a large blast hole. 

Manhattan, once figuratively called a “canyon,” is now literally a canyon, entirely underground, complete with waterfalls pouring out of skyscraper windows. The Empire State Building is buried up to its observation deck, and all that’s visible of the Statue of Liberty is her torch. For some unknown reason, the Queensboro Bridge is the only bridge left and is recognizable from the roadway by its tilting support towers but it no longer spans a river.

The year is 2077. The war started sometime in 2017. Earth is being salvaged for its remaining resources. Enormous “Hydro-rigs” are greedily sucking up the oceans to desalinate them and transporting the water to Saturn’s moon Titan, where the remaining population of Earth is living. Ball-shaped drones fly the skies guarding the hydro-rigs from attack by Scavs and can fire with deadly accuracy from either side. Jack (Cruise) is one of the few drone repairmen left on the planet and he lives in an ultra-modern structure perched high on a mountaintop with Victoria (Riseborough), who monitors his activities and the status of the drones and hydro-rigs from a touch-screen computer station. She also communicates with Sally (Leo) who resides on an immense, inverse pyramid shaped space station called the “Tet” and gives her progress reports.

Jack cruises the surface of Earth in a rotor-less white helicopter-like vehicle with twin rotatable jet engines to locate downed drones. On one of these excursions, he locates the remains of the main Library at 42nd Street and lowers himself via a cable inside. The place is crawling with Scavs and he almost returns to the surface when the cable is cut and he’s captured. It is then he meets Beech (Freeman) who reveals the unbelievable truth to Jack that the “Scavs” are really what’s left of the human race and he’s actually a part of the enemy. Jack knows that his memory had been wiped at some time in the past but he has repeated dreams of a girl he knew back in 2017 on the upper deck of the Empire State Building. Beech tells him to go into the forbidden “radiation zone” for the answers.

An escape pod from a spaceship makes a fiery reentry one day and in the process of inspecting the damage, Jack finds humans in cryo-pods. One is the girl in his dreams, who he learns is his wife, Julia (Kurylenko). Needless to say, he’s very confused.

As Oblivion progresses through its two-hour, six-minute length, the entire truth is slowly revealed. It’s an interesting twist on the alien invasion theme where the maxim from the comic strip “Pogo” is true – “We have met the enemy and he is us.” 

The cinematography of the film is breathtaking, as are the high-speed flights through narrow canyons. The acting is good for a sci-fi movie but I don’t anticipate any nominations. In several instances, the dialogue is mumbled incoherently both by Cruise and Riseborough. The soundtrack is effective at enhancing the visuals and never gets overpowering. In quiet moments we hear “Ramble On” by Led Zeppelin and “A Whiter Shade of Pale” by Procol Harum. There’s only one “Wow” moment when we enter the gargantuan “Tet” but it turns into a disappointment when we actually meet Sally. Oblivion is a nicely conceived movie but once you’ve seen it, you’ve seen it. 

Rating: 3½ out of 5 Martini glasses.

Alison Eighteen
15 West 18th Street (between 5th and 6th Avenues) New York

A black banner with a white script letter “A” over the maroon awning means you have arrived at Alison’s, the second restaurant belonging to the same owner as Alison on Dominick in downtown Manhattan. When I researched this restaurant I was intrigued by the fact that trying to read the menu online set off the firewalls at work. But there are more ways than one. Through Menu Pages’ website I was able to view it and liked what I saw.

The bar/breakfast area/to-go counter is the first thing one sees upon entering, with the main dining area in the back. The wallpaper depicts pencil drawings of café scenes, trees, fanciful animals and people. The clothless tables are black, as are the chairs and banquettes. A large vase filled with branches of pink apple blossoms dominates the center of the room while soft lighting emanates from the shaded wall sconces and spidery chandeliers. A black curtain separates the dining area from the bar. The hostess led me to a table in the center of the room near the large vase, produced the wine list, cocktail list, and menu and got me a glass of water.

The cocktail list featured a “Classic Martini” but it was made with Hendricks gin, a bit too flowery for my tastes, so I asked my waiter, Paul, if I could substitute another. He suggested a Brooklyn gin (I didn’t know Brooklyn had a gin) and I agreed. He returned shortly with a red-colored cocktail with an orange zest in it. I tasted it and it wasn’t bad, but it was not what I ordered. He apologized and took it back explaining that there was a mix-up at the bar. I could see they were doing a brisk business, as all the tables were occupied except the one next to me. He brought back a drink that was the correct color this time but with no inclusions. “Did we run out of the bleu cheese stuffed olives?” I asked. That sent him hustling back to the bar and he returned with two bamboo-skewered olives on a plate. Wonderments about the professionalism of the staff began to run quickly through my head.

The menu was a single card and I noticed right away that the rack of lamb entrée and quinoa side were not on it, as they appeared on the online menu. Oh well. On the left were the Appetizers, Soup, Salad and Sides, and on the right, the Entrées. I saw three courses that I liked and when Paul explained the specials it clinched the main course. I told him I’d like to choose a wine first and he left me to my decision-making. Next thing I know the sommelier swoops down on me and starts recommending the ridiculously-priced wines. Seriously? I complimented her on her choices but chose the more moderately priced 2010 Titus Vineyards Zinfandel which, she assured me, was an excellent wine. And it was.

Another server brought out the bread – two baguette rolls in a white cup and a plate with a circular slice of butter. The bread was warm and crusty and the butter soft and sweet, just as I like them.

The English Pea Soup was my first choice. It was a nice, thick puree with four croutons and a quail egg floating on top in a lovely white bowl. When I tasted it I was glad they provided a salt-shaker and a pepper mill on the table. It was tasty but bland – needed both.

The second course was dubbed “Duck Egg,” and was a hard-boiled duck egg sitting in a slightly vinegary broth surrounded by morel mushrooms, topped by a good-sized crisp of fried Romano cheese. This dish had more flavor than the soup thanks to the morels, but the egg still needed the two standard seasonings. When I later read the mission statement at Alison’s I understood. They create dishes to bring out the natural flavor of the food without having to instill any.

It took a little while for the main dish to come but that only added to the anticipation. Paul told me beforehand that the featured “Grilled 35 Day Aged Sirloin Steak” was indeed a wagyu (a more marbled version of Kobi beef) beef “imported” from – of all places – Nebraska. A company had imported cattle from Japan and was raising them as the Japanese would. It was served medium rare (which was perfect for me) juicy, and sliced appetizingly over asparagus and potatoes and topped with watercress. It was excellent. A side dish of Glazed Hen of the Woods mushrooms accompanied it perfectly.

After a rocky start, Alison was coming along pretty well. The Maple Butterscotch Pudding with Pecan Brittle and Sweet Potato Financier was exactly what should follow a meal like this. I left nothing in the glass. Then, a hot cup of Earl Grey tea and a glass of Trimbach Framboise (raspberry) eau de vie and I was quite comfortable. Alison had redeemed itself. The staff was friendly and helpful throughout the entire time, even agreeing that my table should be moved slightly to facilitate the servers’ passing between it and the overweight gentleman at the next table whose chair was too far from the table.

I applaud Alison Price Becker for her new place after a little over a year (it opened in January 2012), especially after having to close Alison on Dominick 10 years before. Perhaps Alison Eighteen will see me again soon, maybe for breakfast or lunch.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Cinéma Inhabituel for April 23-30

A Guide to the Interesting and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea

April 23
10:00 pm The Invisible Man (Universal, 1933) Director: James Whale. Cast: Claude Rains, Gloria Stuart, William Harrigan, Henry Travers, & Una O’Connor. B&W, 71 minutes.

Whale’s classic take on the H.G. Wells novel has lost none of its punch over the years. In fact, it seems to get better and better with each passing year. Whale peppers his tale of a scientist who invents a drug causing invisibility – and then is driven mad by the side effects – with liberal doses of his usual dark humor. The film’s star, Rains in his American cinema debut, is seen only briefly at the end as he dies and the invisibility drug wears off. One major error occurs near the end as the Invisible Man is flushed from a barn. We see his footprints, but the prints are of a man wearing shoes. If he were wearing shoes, then the shoes themselves would have been visible.

Trivia: Before going into the movies, Rains was an instructor at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. One of his pupils was Charles Laughton . . . Look for John Carradine as a man phoning in a “sighting” . . . The fellow whose bicycle is stolen by the Invisible Man is Walter Brennan . . . Dwight Frye can be seen as one of the reporters.

April 26

10:45 am Hold Your Man (MGM, 1933) Director: Jean Vigo. Cast: Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Stuart Erwin, Dorothy Burgess, & Muriel Kirkland. B&W, 87 minutes.

Gable and Harlow had great chemistry together, which made a good film such as Red Dust even better and made the rather ordinary Hold Your Man compelling viewing. It was the third of five films for the pair, this time in the story of a con man (Gable) on the run who falls in love with a good-hearted woman (Harlow). She takes the rap for a crime he committed and is sent to the reformatory, but love conquers all in a most unique way, thanks to screenwriter Anita Loos.

Trivia: MGM had taken so much heat for two earlier Harlow films, Red-Headed Woman and Red Dust, that Louis Mayer insisted Harlow should be punished for her actions in this one.

April 27

3:15 pm The Incredible Shrinking Man (Universal, 1957) Director: Jack Arnold. Cast: Grant Williams, Randy Stuart, April Kent, Paul Langton, & William Schallert. B&W, 81 minutes.

During the ‘50s, Arnold directed some of the most memorable and well-done sci-fi movies to emerge from Universal. This is one of his best, based on the thoughtful novel by Richard Matheson. It all begins innocently enough – Scott Carey (Williams) is lounging on his yacht on a lazy summer’s day as his wife, Louise (Stuart) goes below for a few moments. A strange mist slowly comes toward the boat, and before Scott has time to react, he is enveloped in the fog, which covers him with a sparkling powder. Soon afterwards, he and Louise notice that his clothes are suddenly too big to fit. In fact, he is shrinking. The doctors can neither explain nor cure his problem and Scott continues to shrink. Watch for the last, poignant, scene as Scott is shrinking to microscopic size.

Trivia: Matheson’s first credit as screenwriter.

4:45 pm Five Million Years to Earth (Hammer, 1967) Director: Roy Ward Baker. Cast: James Donald, Andrew Keir, Barbara Shelley, Julian Glover, & Duncan Lamont. Color, 97 minutes.

When it came to horror, Hammer Studios traded on blood, sex and gore; but when it came to science fiction, Hammer made some of the most thoughtful and intelligent films in the genre. And this is no exception: the third entry in the popular Quartermass series transcends its basic plot – that of the discovery of a spacecraft from Mars – with philosophical issues of evolution and history, as the investigating scientists find that the Martians not only arrived on Earth centuries ago, but also genetically tinkered with apes in an attempt to breed subservient slaves. And it was from these apes that we developed.

But it wouldn’t be a Hammer film without the necessary chills, and these are abundantly supplied as our intrepid team of scientists Dr. Roney (Donald), Ms. Judd (Shelley), and Professor Quartermass (Keir). Quatermass’s involvement is accidental at first, but as he delves deeper and deeper into the seeming mystery, he winds up at distinct odds with the British Establishment in the form on the Home Office and the Military. It all makes for fascinating viewing and this is definitely one to watch.

Trivia: Five Million Years to Earth is adapted from Nigel Kneale’s Quartermass and the Pit, a six-part miniseries originally broadcast in 1958.

April 28

9:45 pm You Only Live Once (UA, 1937) Director: Fritz Lang. Cast: Sylvia Sidney, Henry Fonda, Barton MacLane, Jean Dixon, & William Gargan. B&W, 86 minutes.

Lang fled the terrors of Nazi Germany and its heavy-handed censorship only to land at MGM for his first American movie, Fury, and discover that the studio used what Lang thought was heavy-handed censorship in imposing a happy ending on the film. Luckily for Lang, his next film was for independent producer Walter Wanger, who took a laissez-faire approach and allowed Lang to have control over the final cut of the film.

As originally planned, this was supposed to be a story based on the exploits of Bonnie and Clyde, but when Lang got done, it morphed into a tale on the nature of justice. Three-time convict Eddie Taylor (Fonda), granted early release due to the intervention of public defender Stephen Whitney (MacLane) and prison chaplain Father Dolan (Gargan), falls in love with and marries Whitney’s assistant, Joan Graham (Sidney). They soon learn that their life together is not going to be a bowl of cherries. Snubbed by society, Eddie finds himself out of work with no hope of future employment and soon begins to associate with other ex-cons. When his hat is found at the scene of a fatal armed robbery, he is captured, convicted, and sentenced to death. But Joan is convinced of his innocence, and when he manages to escape, she joins him in a life on the run.

What makes this film rise from the shallows of melodrama into a thoughtful character study is the way Lang approaches his subject matter. From the first, Lang is questioning exactly how justice is administered in general society, and we see how it is administered in the shabby treatment accorded Eddie and Joan by ordinary citizens once they learn who the pair is. It seems that not only do people go out of their way to add to the couple’s misery, but in some cases seek to profit on it as well.

As with any Lang film, distinctive visual touches can be seen, such as the scene with a newspaper preparing three different front page headlines corresponding to different outcomes of Eddie’s trial; the prison escape scene in a thick pea soup fog; and a striking scene of Joan drinking milk from a can sporting a bullet hole.

Trivia: The film marks the feature debut of Jack Carson.

2:15 am The Seventh Seal (Svensk Filmindustri, 1957) Director: Ingmar Bergman. Cast: Gunnar Bjornstrand, Bengt Ekerot, Nils Poppe, Max von Sydow, Erik Strandmark, & Bibi Andersson. B&W, 96 minutes.

As our David Skolnick pointed out in an earlier essay on the subject, Bergman’s films show a pre-occupation with the existence of God and our place in the universe. Nowhere is this more realized than in this film, hailed by many critics as Bergman’s masterpiece, though I suspect more people are familiar with the famous scene of von Sydow playing chess with Death, parodied many times over, than have actually seen the movie itself.

Von Sydow is Antonius Block, a disillusioned knight returning to Sweden with his squire Jons (Bjornstrand) from almost a decade of fighting in the Crusades only to discover the land being ravaged by the Black Plague. While stopping to rest, Block meets a cloaked figure (Ekerot) that turns out to be the personification of Death. Block manages to delay his inevitable fate, challenging Death to a game of chess with his reprieve being the reward if he should win. As the game goes on, Block tries to learn the answer regarding one’s ultimate destiny, but Death refuses to answer.

The game is paused by Death, who is extremely busy with the Plague. As Block and Jons continue their journey back to the castle, they encounter a trio of traveling entertainers who are finding a declining audience for their services: Jof (Poppe), a juggler; his loving wife Mia (Andersson); and their infant son. It is by this encounter that Block receives some of the answers to the questions Death has refused to answer. It is when Block and Death resume their game that Block discovers the real answers to his fate.

This is a film that will raise many more questions among its viewers than it will answer. But it is the questions themselves and the journey undertaken to resolve them that forms the basis of this classic – and essential – film.

Trivia: The chess pieces used in the film were sold at an auction from the estate of Bergman’s descendant in 2009 for 1m Swedish Krona (about USD $145,000).

April 29

7:15 am Kid Glove Killer (MGM, 1942) Director: Fred Zinnemann. Cast: Van Heflin, Marsha Hunt, Lee Bowman, Samuel S. Hinds, & Eddie Quillan. B&W, 74 minutes.

Zinnemann, who learned his craft working in Weimar Germany, had been directing shorts for MGM since 1937. Finally given a chance to direct a feature film, he turned out this snappy little classic of B-movie making. While it can be classified loosely as a whodunit, it’s really not so much of a whodunit – we know exactly whodunit – but how the police catch the whodunit. Usually, it’s the crusading reporter – on the outs with his editor – who solves the case, but not this time. Instead, the hero is forensic investigator Gordon McKay (Heflin), assisted by Jane Mitchell (Hunt). They are up against crooked politicians and the killer, to whom McKay unknowingly spills the beans. Fans of CSI will love this one. Look – and quickly at that – for appearances by Ava Gardner as a car hop and Robert Blake as a kid in the back seat of his parents’ car as they listen over the radio to crime fighting politician Gerald I. Ladimer (Bowman).

Trivia: Hunt’s career was the stuff of television movies. Starting out as a model, she began working for Paramount and Fox before being signed by MGM in 1939. Blacklisted during the ‘50s, she turned to the stage and television, besides becoming active in several charities. In 1983, she became Honorary Mayor of Sherman Oaks, California.

April 30

12:00 am The Undercover Man (Columbia, 1949) Director: Joseph H. Lewis. Cast: Glenn Ford, Nina Foch, James Whitmore, Barry Kelley, Leo Penn, John F. Hamilton, Anthony Caruso, Rob Osterloh, & Ralph Volkie. B&W, 85 minutes.

This is a nice little B, told in semi-documentary style, from Lewis and his last under his Columbia contract. Loosely based on the Al Capone case, T-Men Frank Warren (Ford) and George Pappas (Whitmore) are gathering evidence against a big-name mobster known only as the Big Fellow (Volkie). During the course of their investigation they receive a tip from informant Manny Zanger (Osterloh) that the Big Man is avoiding $3 million in tax liability. Unfortunately for the T-Men, Zanger is whacked shortly thereafter. Warren then decides to take the fight directly to the Mob, subpoenaing the books of lower-level associates and hauling in their bookkeepers to compare writing.

But Mob lawyer Ed O’Rourke (Kelley) thwarts their plans by getting the accountants sprung almost immediately. Warren and Pappas find themselves back at Square One, but not for long. Embittered local cop Sergeant Shannon (Hamilton), demoted to a desk job when his investigation came too close, tips Warren off to Mob accountant Salvatore Rocco (Caruso). Rocco will cooperate in return for federal protection and any reward money. But before Rocco can have his accounts book delivered to Warren, the Mob whacks him, too. When Warren returns from Rocco’s funeral, he finds his place has been tossed, and the men that did it beat him for the information. 

O’Rourke later tries to make a deal, threatening Warren’s wife Judy (Foch), who has been staying at her parent’s farm during the investigation, in the process. Frank hurries to her side, telling her he intends to quit his job. However, right before he packs it in, Rocco’s daughter and her grandmother visit and give Warren the requisite pep talk he needs to get back in the game. The information contained in Rocco’s book leads Warren to lead accountant Sidney Gordon (Penn). Warren flips him and the Big Fellow and associates are indicted and soon convicted.

Trivia: This was the last film Lewis directed for Columbia. He had earlier signed a seven-year deal, but a dispute with producer Robert Rossen over who would get the final cut of the film led Lewis to walk out of the studio. His next stop: producers Frank and Maurice King, who Lewis knew from their days together at Monogram. His next film: the cult classic Gun Crazy.

1:30 am Babies For Sale (Columbia, 1940) Director: Charles Barton. Cast: Rochelle Hudson, Glenn Ford, Miles Mander, Joseph Stefani, Georgia Caine, Helen Brown. B&W, 65 minutes.

We all have to start somewhere and it was in films such as this quickie programmer for Columbia that Ford paid his dues before stardom found him. This so-serious-it’s-a-hoot-to-watch film finds Ford as rookie reporter Steve Burton. He’s writing an expose for his newspaper on the sale of babies for profit by fake maternity homes, telling readers that of two million babies born in these homes in the previous year some $50 million was raked in on their sale at prices from $50 to $10,000 each. Steve’s expose earns him a bit of celebrity, but it’s not what he had hoped for when he began his series. On the contrary, he finds himself under attack from a conglomeration of do-gooder groups led by Dr. Wallace Rankin (Mander), the head of Mercy Shelter. It seems that while writing his expose, Steve forgot one thing: hard evidence. But rather than write a retraction, Steve quits and is now on a quest to obtain the necessary evidence. This in turn leads him to the murder-suicide of a Mrs. Anderson (Brown) and the baby she adopted from Mercy Shelter. He learns that, because she was unable to return the congenitally unhealthy child to the shelter, she threw herself and the infant in front of a subway train. Following up, Steve visits Mercy when Rankin is absent, but the inmates refuse to speak with him.

Meanwhile, recently widowed and pregnant Ruth Williams (Hudson) enters the joint. When she’s told she will have to give up her baby, the emotional stress is too great and she goes into labor. Afterward, Rankin lies to her that the baby was stillborn, but in reality he’s arranging to sell the kid to the rich Kingsleys for a big score. Ruth manages to escape with the help of her friend and fellow inmate Edith Drake (Jewell) and heads straight for Steve with her tale of woe. Seems the villainous Rankin (Mander) and his Nurse Diesel-esque henchwoman Miss Talbot (Caine) makes the poor pregger ladies work without pay in the maternity ward and threatens to lock them in their rooms if they attempt to leave with their newborns. With the help of kindly Dr. Gaines (Stefani), Steve traces Ruth’s infant through birth records to the Kingsley home, and using a ruse, he and Dr. Gaines manage to get a set of the baby’s footprints, later discovering they match those of Ruth’s “deceased” baby. When he’s confronted with the evidence, Kingsley sells out Rankin, with the cops overhearing his confession. Rankin and Nurse Diesel get theirs and the Kinglseys return the baby to Ruth, who, in a moment of generosity, promises to let the couple come and visit from time to time.

Trivia: Director Barton went on to helm Abbott and Costello’s later comedies from 1946 until their breakup in 1956, after which he moved into television, directing several episodes of Dennis the MenaceThe Real McCoys, and Family Affair, among others. 

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