Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Cinéma Inhabituel for October 1-15

A Guide to the Rare and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea


Janet Leigh is the Star of the Month for October. It’s an odd choice considering this is October, when horror films are emphasized. But keep in mind, perhaps, that Leigh starred in two of the most iconic horror films of their era: Psycho and The Fog. So maybe there is method in the madness.

The problem with Leigh is that her films never quite matched her potential. The story of her famous “discovery” by Norma Shearer when Shearer spotted her photo on the desk of her father, who ran a ski lodge, is part and parcel of Hollywood lore. But Leigh came of age in the ‘50s, a down time in Hollywood creativity, and she sublimated her career to husband Tony Curtis in order to raise their family. Still, there are some quite watchable Leigh films on the schedule.

October 1: Try The Romance of Rosy Ridge (1947), a passable little post-Civil War drama from MGM. It was also Leigh’s debut.

October 8: The pick of the night is Holiday Affair (1949), with Leigh as a young war widow pursued by button-down Wendell Corey and ne’er-do-well Robert Mitchum. Guess who wins?

October 15: Two good films tonight, starting at 8:00 pm with Anthony Mann’s great psychological Western, The Naked Spur (1953), also starring Jimmy Stewart and Robert Ryan, and followed by the great swashbuckler Scaramouche (1952), starring Stewart Granger, at 10:00 pm.


Each Friday night this month, TCM will run films about Africa or shot in Africa.

October 3: Three good films are set for the night. First up at 8:00 pm is The African Queen (1951), followed at 10:00 pm by the underrated war drama, Sahara (1943), with Humphrey Bogart as a tank commander trapped with a motley crew at a dried-up oasis in Libya, besieged by German troops. And at 2:00 am. it’s the old stand-by, Casablanca (1942).

October 10: Two interesting films in the lineup. First, at 10:15 pm, is Something of Value (1957) with Rock Hudson and Sidney Poitier as friends caught up in the brutal Mau-Mau uprising in Kenya. Following, at 12:15, is the brilliant The Battle of Algiers (1966), a masterful look at the struggle for Algerian independence.


October 5: One of the best mysteries ever filmed is being shown at 8:15 am. The title is Green For Danger (1946). We open in the latter stages of World War II at a rural English hospital. V-1 “buzz bombs” are falling about the countryside. A postman is injured and dies on the operating table, but a nurse swears it was murder. Shortly afterward, she, too, is killed. Enter Scotland Yard Inspector Cockrill (Alastair Sim) to investigate. His rather unusual methods drive his six suspects to utter distraction. It’s a joy to watch Sim in action as he dominates the movie, not an easy task when the co-stars are Trevor Howard, Leo Genn, Wendy Thompson, and Rosamund John. It’s not run that often so tune in or record for later.

At 2:00 am, it’s director Ritwak Ghatak’s A River Called Titas (1973). This is a stark collection of stories about the impoverished people who live along the banks of Bangladesh’s rivers. It’s realistic, shot on location, and deeply moving as one wonders how people can survive in one of the poorest regions in the world. Best of all, it doesn’t seem contrived, giving us an ever deeper look into the lives of those whose livelihood depends on the river.

October 6: A trio of excellent documentaries about animation is on tap. First, at 8:00 pm, is The Cartoons of Winsor McKay (2014), the pioneering animator most renowned for giving us Gertie the Dinosaur. At 9:45 pm, it’s the 100th Anniversary of Bray Studios (2014). Little more than a blip on the historical radar today, John Randolph Bray as a contemporary of McKay, who invented the process for the commercial method of animated art, eliminating the need for thousands of individual drawings and speeding up the process. The program is a series of early cartoons from the studios, including one made by Paul Terry, who would later found his Terrytoons studios, giving us Mighty Mouse, Gandy Goose, and Heckle and Jeckle. Terry’s cartoon features a character called Farmer Al Falfa in Farmer Al Falfa Sees New York (1916). You might recognize the character from early television, where the poor farmer is always besieged by hordes and hordes of mice.

Finally, at 11:00 pm, comes Animation From Van Beuren Studios (2014), a look at the almost forgotten animation studio of the ‘30s. Again, it’s a collection of some of their cartoons from their brief existence, including one from their series of “Aesop’s Fables” series and an unusual cartoon of The Wizard of Oz from around 1933. There’s also a cartoon featuring their popular duo of Tom and Jerry (not MGM’s cat and mouse, but a Mutt and Jeff duo). Van Beuren was a small operation that released their output through RKO. When Walt Disney jumped ship from United Artists to RKO in 1936, Van Beuren suddenly became de trop and RKO dropped their distribution deal. Unable to find another distributor, Van Beuren simply closed shop. Their cartoons slipped into the public domain and supplied much of the early Saturday morning fare for television.

October 12: From director Jaromil Jires comes Valerie and Her Week of Wonder (1970). Based closely on Vtezslav Nezval’s fantasy novel of the same name, it’s a surreal tale of the sexual coming of age of a young woman told through a monstrous metaphor: vampires, who prey on the innocent to drain their youth and vitality. The film went through the usual process in Czechoslovakia, released, and later repressed. It was almost totally forgotten, consigned to the dustbins of cinema history, but word-of-mouth among cinephiles and revival screenings kept it alive and in the cinema consciousness. It also served as the role model for other films that combined the feminine and the monstrous, such as Lemora: A Child Tale of the Supernatural (1973), Carrie (1976), and The Company of Wolves (2012).


October 8: TCM is airing a mini-marathon of Tom Keene Westerns, beginning at 1:30 pm with Sundown Trail, followed by Beyond the Rockies, Freighters of Destiny, and Ghost Valley. It ends with The Saddle Buster at 5:30 pm. All were made for RKO in 1931 and 1932 and are excellent examples of the assembly-line methods of B production. Cowboy star Keene differed from his contemporaries in that he played a different character in each movie. While the plots may not be the most complex, the films are entertaining for both Western and non-Western fans.

October 14: A pair of forgotten Richard Dix Westerns highlights the day. We begin with The Arizonian (1935) at 12:45 pm, followed by Yellow Dust (1936) at 2:15 pm. Dix was Paramount’s big action star during the silent era. He jumped to RKO in 1929, starring in the mystery-comedy Seven Keys to Baldpate (shown at 8:45 am, for anyone interested). As his star faded in the mid-30s he found himself relegated to B programmers. However, while these two Westerns may be B’s, they are well written, tightly directed and well acted. In the case of The Arizonian, Dudley Nichols, who would later collaborate with the great John Ford, wrote the screenplay, while Cyril Hume wrote Yellow Dust. Thus, what we have are two superior B-Westerns definitely worth checking out.


It wouldn’t be October without a full helping of psychotronic films, and we lead off on October 3 at 6:15 pm with producer/director George Pal’s fantasy film, 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964), written by Charles Beaumont and starring Tony Randall. The makeup for Randall is outstanding, as are the special effects. Furthermore, it’s a film the whole family can enjoy.

Director Michael Powell is featured with two films. On October 5 at the early hour of 6:00 am, it’s A Canterbury Tale from 1944. Co-directed by frequent collaborator Emeric Pressburger, the film is a wonderfully simple story about three people whose lives intersect in a small English country village during the war. Together they journey to Canterbury, each with an agenda - and a wish. Don’t miss this one if you haven’t seen it.

Roll back a day to October 4, and it’s the film that almost destroyed Powell’s career: Peeping Tom (1960). This is an intense film about a photographer raised by his sadistic psychologist father. He works by day as a focus puller at a movie studio, but at night he prowls the streets, finding great pleasure in photographing, then murdering, a succession of beautiful women, capturing their reaction at the time of their death. The critics and press excoriated the film, and the public stayed away in droves. That might have been it, but as time passed, the film began to gain a cult reputation, including Martin Scorsese, who said that this movie and Fellini’s  contain all that can be said about directing.

Speaking of October 4, as we all know, not every psychotronic film is good. For a particularly bad one, look no further than Five Minutes to Live (aka Door-to-Door Maniac, 1961) at 2:00 am. Johnny Cash stars as a deranged bank robber who holds the bank president’s wife hostage. Watch Cash emote for just 10 minutes and you’ll understand why he decided to stick to singing. It’s a film so bad, it’s enjoyable to watch.

On October 11, it’s a treat for blaxploitation fans with a double-bill of Blacula (1972) at 2:15 am, followed by its sequel, Scream, Blacula Scream at 4:00 am. At least the latter has the good taste to feature the lovely Pam Grier as a vengeful Voodoo priestess out to get Blacula.

Finally, on Thursdays in October, TCM is running a Special Theme dedicated to ghost stories. On October 2, the evening’s choice is The Time of Their Lives (1946), starring Lou Costello and Marjorie Reynolds as a pair of Revolutionary War ghosts that must find the letter exonerating them from treason if they are to leave the mansion they are haunting and ascend to Heaven. Bud Abbott, who plays a psychiatrist descended from the man who framed Costello and Reynolds, aids them in their quest. It’s funny, imaginative, and a nice departure from their usual slapstick.

On October 9, two films stand out from the rest. The first is Portrait of Jennie (1948), at 8:00 pm, with Joseph Cotten as a penniless artist inspired by beautiful ghost Jennifer Jones. Later, at 4:15 am, it’s the Japanese classic Tokaido Yotsuya kaidan (aka, The Ghost of Yotsuya, 1959), a dark tale of fate, passion, betrayal, and revenge based on a kabuki play from 1825 and concerning a devious samurai named Iemon who murders to get what he wants. Finally he gets his when he goes too far and disturbs the spirits. It’s one to catch; just be aware that it’s in color and the level of violence is ratcheted way up with gory close-ups of slashed bodies and amputated limbs.

Monday, September 29, 2014

TCM TiVo Alert for October 1-7

October 1–October 7


THE CIRCUS (October 3, 6:00 am): Along with The Gold Rush, this is my favorite Charlie Chaplin film in which he portrays his signature "Tramp" character. This 1928 silent movie is funny, sweet, entertaining, and did I mention funny? The Tramp stumbles into a circus and greatly entertains the crowd with his unintentionally amusing antics. He has a formal tryout for the circus and bombs because he's trying to be funny. But when the circus' set-up crew quits when they're not paid, the Tramp is hired to take their place. Through a series of mishaps, he becomes the star of the circus. There's a beautiful girl with whom the Tramp falls in love. She, of course, is in love with someone else. One of the best parts of the film has the Tramp on the high-wire. The movie is a lot of fun and Chaplin's ability to entertain an audience without uttering a word is on full display here. There was a lot of drama going on behind the scenes of this film, including a studio fire, an IRS investigation into Chaplin and his divorce, but you'd never know it.

STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (October 7, 4:45 pm): I'm a huge fan of Alfred Hitchcock and this among my favorites. The premise is simple, but the plot, acting and directing of the movie makes it a classic. Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker) wants his father dead. While on a train, he meets a stranger - tennis player Guy Haines (Farley Granger) with a similar dilemma. Haines wants to get rid of his wife so he can marry another woman. Anthony comes up with the idea that these two "strangers on a train" will do each other's dirty work and no one will suspect them. Haines brushes it aside, but when the psychotic Anthony kills Haines' wife, he expects his "co-conspirator" to respond in (not so) kind. The interaction between Walker and Granger, two highly underrated actors, in this film is outstanding. Hitch did a fantastic job - which he so often did - building tension and drama. 


PEEPING TOM (October 4, 3:00 pm): Michael Powell almost lost his career in the uproar that followed the release of this controversial film about a serial photographer who captures his victims with his camera at their moment of death. He also documents the police investigation that follows each killing, and finally, his own suicide. We later learn that the killer’s father (played by Powell) was a psychologist who used his own son as a guinea pig in experiments exploring the nature of fear. The original print was heavily edited upon its 1960 release, but later restored by none other than Martin Scorsese. Don’t miss it.

A CANTERBURY TALE (October 5, 6:00 am): A most unusual and totally charming film about an English Tommy, a Land Girl, and an American soldier who find themselves in a small Kent town on the road to Canterbury when the Land Girl becomes the latest victim of the “Glue Man,” a mysterious stranger who pours glue in the hair of women he catches in the company of GIs. The three stay to investigate the mystery, and in the process explore the local countryside, especially its history and tales of pilgrims. The path eventually leads to Canterbury Cathedral, where each receives an unexpected “blessing:” the granting of their most fervent wish. It’s a deeply beautiful film that teaches its main characters not to lose faith or hope while it also celebrates English country life and traditions. Written and directed by the team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, the film has only the most casual relationship to the famous Chaucer work, yet, there is a strong mystical quality to this movie that transcends the Christian and English pagan settings and traditions. It is a tale of humans brought together by a shared faith, love and optimism that everything will come out all right if we only give it a chance to work. This is a film one can see time and again and still remains fresh.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . THE AFRICAN QUEEN (October 3, 8:00 pm)

ED: A+. The African Queen is one of the true classics of Hollywood, and in the manner of true classics, it was a film that almost wasn’t made. The property had passed through two studios (RKO and Warner Bros.), each of which eventually decided against filming it. John Huston and Sam Spiegel bought it from Warner’s for $50,000 and managed to cast the leads perfectly in the persons of Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart. Hepburn was especially perfect, as all she was really required to do in the film was to play herself, which she did magnificently. As for Bogart, it’s impossible to imagine anyone else in the role, which is probably the main reason a big-budget remake has never been attempted. It is what I would describe as a “personal epic,” an epic on a small scale. There is no need for a large cast of extras or elaborate special effects, as the story itself is so personal. Also, with a script such as Huston had to work with on the film, there was no need for anything extra, as the script described and fleshed out every scene perfectly. Join all this with the excellent color photography by cinematographer Jack Cardiff, and the result is a film that can truly be counted as among “The Essentials.” But don’t take my word for it. Critics from Roger Ebert to Pauline Kael to Georges Sadoul have been lavish in their praise for the film. Ditto for such filmmakers as Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, and Francois Truffaut. In 1994, it was selected by the Library of Congress for inclusion in the National Film Registry. And the American Film Institute placed it at No. 17 on its “100 Greatest Movies” list, No. 14 on it's “100 Greatest Love Stories” list, and No. 48 on it’s “Most Inspiring Movies” list.

DAVID: C-. This 1951 movie is an overrated piece of garbage starring film's most overrated actress, Katharine Hepburn. If there ever was an actress who could suck the life out of a film, it was Hepburn. Look at her body of work, particularly the largely awful series of movies she did with Spencer Tracy and Cary Grant. In The African Queen she drags down Humphrey Bogart, another all-time great actor. I really want to like this film. Bogie is one of my favorites and John Huston was a great director. The plot is interesting enough: a prim English missionary (Hep) and a gruff, cynical Canadian junk-boat captain (Bogie) work together to blow up Germans (who else?) at the start of World War I and fall in love. But there are a number of problems with the film with Hepburn at the root of most of them. First, as Ed mentioned above, Hepburn plays herself. Hep made a career out of over-the-top, scenery-chewing acting. Find me a single film in which she doesn't overact. If such a movie exists it would only be because she had a forceful director telling her to stop or be fired. Yes, she was in some fine films, but the reason they were good had little to do with her. Back to my point about the need for a forceful director - it's hard to believe John Huston let her take control of his film. That's on him and not her. As for Bogart, he too largely takes a back seat to Hepburn. His character is cliche and if you can't tell where the plot is heading 20 minutes into the film, you're not paying attention (though, honestly, it's such a dull film that I wouldn't blame anyone for not paying attention). Bogart won his lone Oscar for this film in yet another example of the Academy giving an actor an Oscar for a lesser role when it failed to honor that person for some of the great performances he or she delivered in previous years. The attempts at comedy are awkward. The attempts at romance are embarrassing. I'm going to try to get into Ed's head a moment about all the name-dropping in his review of some of my favorite film legends, particularly Francois Truffaut, Alfred Hitchcock and Roger Ebert. Just because they liked this movie and it stars Bogart and is directed by Huston doesn't make The African Queen a great or even a good movie. The praise only shows that no one is perfect. Also, Ed isn't a Hepburn fan though he doesn't loathe her as much as I do. The American Film Institute ranking mean nothing, particularly when it lists Hepburn as the No. 1 female "American screen legend." It's the same organization that has James Dean as the No. 18 male American screen legend when he made a grand total of three mediocre films in his career.

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

Saturday, September 27, 2014

They Might be Movies

Three Original Stories by Shelby Vick

By Steve Herte

Lately I’ve been ranting (oh, so politely) that Hollywood seems unable to come up with fresh, new plots for movies and that so much of what we view is rehashed or revived. Well, I visited a fascinating website entitled “Planetary Stories” (www.planetarystories.com), which just might be a wellspring of ideas for the drought in Tinseltown. Shelby Vick publishes his own original science fiction tales as well as those of other talented writers on the website and, being a fan of science fiction, I wanted to test the waters.

The three short stories I read were as entertaining and as diverse in plot as the genre can get. Shelby not only spins his yarns from the Earthman’s point of view but the alien’s as well. He can also switch convincingly to a woman’s persona and sensitivity in his stories. According to the website, it was back in 2005 that he created “Space Marshall vs King Jorx,” “Moult Revolt,” and “Tolerance Station or True Confessions from Space” and each story is more engaging than the previous one.

In “Space Marshall vs King Jorx,” we meet Slade Marsten, an interplanetary patrol officer whose beat is the many worlds inhabited by emigrants from Earth. In Shelby’s introduction to the story we learn that interplanetary travel and medical nanotechnology may have enabled people to be healthy enough to colonize other planets, but crime lives on. The story reads much like a Flash Gordon episode with its almost tongue-in-cheek bravado and playful interplay of characters. Jill is Slade’s “love interest” (when he’s not super-focused on the task at hand) and Probot ably fills the role of Doctor Zarkoff except that he’s the biological brain of a brilliant professor in a robotic body.

The one remaining member of his crew is an entity named BRITO, half of a traveler from another dimension whose acronymic moniker translates Belt-like Remote Instantaneous Transmission Organism (Marsten chose this name) who appropriately is worn by Slade as a belt. The character reminds me of an intelligent version of the character “Belt” in the movie The Croods, a clinging simian creation. In this episode, King Jorx, a tail-less raptor-like creature reminiscent of the Gorn in the original Star Trek series is mounting an attack on Earth and is planning to use his “planetbuster,” a weapon recently improved and having no counter-weapon. Slade takes advantage of Jorx’s inflated ego to bluff his way onto the battle cruiser and, with BRITO’s assistance, foils the apocalyptic plot.

If there’s anything negative to be said about this story is that it’s too short and over way too quickly. The concept of a Space Marshall has been suggested by the movie The Day the Earth Stood Still but Shelby tempers the extremity of having a heartless robot destroying all violence with a feeling being who enforces the law.

We are taken to the remote world of the “cruike” race in “Moult Revolt” where crickets have evolved to become the sentient and dominant species. They are insectoid in appearance but have nine-fingered “hands” and consequently a system of mathematics based on nine. In fact, the number nine appears often in the story. Symme, the main character is one of nine siblings (or hatch-mates if you will, they hatch from eggs) and he’s a kind of rebel. Almost religiously his species conducts their “moults” together but not Symme. He believes that a moult (shedding one’s exoskeleton) is a personal experience and he goes off to the edge of a canyon to perform his in private. After emerging, he discovers a “new music” when tossing pebbles into the canyon. Crickets are, after all, musical (they “sing” on Earth) and it stands to reason that music would be holy to them. And listening to the “holy music” of the wind increases his excitement when this “beat” is added to it. He decides to bring this new sound to his hatch-mates.

Meanwhile, his birth-mother Eomme has been working closely with “the Director” in trying to solve the problem of where to stack all the surplus unhatched eggs – a form of over-population dilemma – and upon returning home she’s horrified that Symme would commit the double sacrilege of moulting alone and creating new music (reminding me of the first time rock and roll made its appearance).

But Symme is undaunted and the young cruikes love the new music. He creates a new mathematics to accommodate the base four of the music and reconcile it with the base nine of tradition and becomes the unlikely hero of the day. His new math solves the over-population problem as well.

It’s a charming tale written from a completely insectoid point of view, complete with appropriate body language references. The characters are curiously believable and the allegorical issues resonate with current reality. I would really like to see this one on film, possibly an animated one?

The third short story is the longest, but its length does not make it tedious in any way. “Tolerance Station or True Confessions from Space” is the remembrances of a young girl who, though a straight “A” student in school, is completely naïve about the ways of the world (or worlds, in this case). Her dream of running off with a dashing “spacer” ends when she winds up in an abusive relationship with one and he dumps her as soon as she becomes pregnant. In this age, the word intolerance has replaced the word discrimination as a derogatory term for judging someone unfit to associate with and strangely enough, the planet she is stranded on is called “Tolerance Station.”

She’s taken in by a kind (she thinks) older man who takes advantage of her naiveté to essentially sell her body to visiting spacers and then sell the babies she produces (and she gives birth to several) to the local farmers. When she finally figures out what he’s doing, he leaves her and takes all the money he made.

But all is not lost. She becomes a hero to the local farm families when they tell her that something in the planet’s atmosphere has made their women infertile. Out of gratitude they take care of her for life. It is yet another wonderful story worthy of the big screen. Hollywood, are you listening?

It’s not just the novel plot ideas. Shelby’s dialogues between characters are down to Earth, understandable and unhampered by haughty elements that would diminish their credibility. They speak as you would expect them to speak. He keeps description simple and only elaborates when the plot requires it, allowing the reader to build his or her own stage sets. Now you may say, if the first story resembles a Flash Gordon episode that much, then how is it so original? It’s the way the tale is told, the “color” you could call it, of Shelby’s style. It’s how he draws you into the story that makes you want to hear what will happen in the next episode. It’s the questions that arise in the reader’s mind from the way the characters “perform” such as, “Will Jill and Slade ever get romantic?”

As for me, I certainly will return to “Planetary Stories” to see where Shelby’s stories take me next and read some of the other authors’ works. In high school, I was an aspiring science fiction writer but I never received the encouragement to develop a style. It’s obvious to me that Shelby was encouraged.

In keeping with my “Dinner and a Movie” theme I thought it only fitting to “complete” this submission with an article on something gustatory. Since the first item is about stories that I would like to see as movies, the second is spurred by a dinner that I had with Helene at a New York restaurant quite a while ago. It was so surprising that they served a spirit that was banned and vilified as “mind-altering” for so long that I had to discover the story behind that accusation. What I found was fascinating.

Absinthe Made My Heart Grow Fonder

Commonly known as “the green fairy,” absinthe was the most popular drink in Europe at the turn of the 20th century. But a combination of economics and politics conspired not only to diminish the popularity of the liqueur, but also to have it banned outright in many countries across the globe. Now that the green anise-flavored drink has been proven safe to consume, it is making a strong comeback as the after-dinner drink of choice at many restaurants.

When I was dining at David Burke and Donatella (now David Burke’s Townhouse) in 2007, dessert time rolled around as it usually does and I took a double take when I saw absinthe among the after-dinner drinks. Wasn’t this stuff banned because it was dangerous, a drug, or perhaps poisonous? And yet there it was on a menu I trusted. Not being one to back away from a gustatory adventure I ordered it. The server brought out an elegant glass of the clear liqueur, suspended a silver perforated spoon over it with a sugar cube on it and poured ice water over the sugar and into the glass. The absinthe became cloudy white and when the sugar cube was gone, the pouring stopped. Taste and smell were akin to licorice but only with a higher alcoholic content than Anisette. I liked it and from then on made sure to have it again whenever it appeared on a menu.

Why was this delicious drink banned? A little research later and I discovered that it was due to a combination of elementa – all human-created – including misunderstanding, limited science, economics, and scandal. Pierre Ordinaire, a French doctor living in Couvet, Switzerland, is credited with the first distilling of the Wormwood plant Artemisia Absinthium (hence the name) in alcohol with anise (hence the licorice flavor), hyssop, lemon balm and local herbs. Ordinaire created it as an all-purpose patent remedy and it was sold as such. The Egyptians and ancient Greeks used wormwood as a medicine for various conditions and it stands to reason that if they saw the healing benefits of the plant, it would probably make a potent tonic (especially at 72% alcohol). The active ingredient, terpene thojone, was thought to be capable of stimulating creativity and clearing one’s thinking, but the limited science of the late 1890s and early 1900s found that lab animals died when injected with large amounts and dubbed it a neurotoxin. A “large amount,” by the way, would equal about 150 glasses of absinthe.

The popularity of the drink soared in the 1840s when absinthe was given to French troops as a malaria preventative. When the troops returned home, they brought absinthe home with them and it caught on rapidly in bars, bistros, cabarets and cafes to the point that the hour of 5 pm was labeled l’heure verte (“the green hour”).

The large number of distilleries producing absinthe during its heyday made it cheaper than wine and the fact that artists and the upper class were fond of it increased its popularity. Also at the time, a breed of louse was decimating the vineyards in France, seriously affecting and limiting wine production. Unfortunately, absinthe’s popularity also bred imitators who got the recipe wrong and created cheaper, adulterated and yes, poisonous versions. This misunderstanding became interwoven in the absinthe mythos.

Then there was the “Absinthe Murder.” In 1905, Jean Lanfray, a Swiss farmer, murdered his family and attempted to take his own life after drinking the demon absinthe. The fact that Lanfray was an alcoholic who had consumed a considerable quantity of brandy and wine prior to drinking two glasses of absinthe was overlooked during his trial and the blame for the murders – and hence his insanity – was placed on the absinthe. In 1906, both Belgium and Brazil banned the importation and manufacture of absinthe, and in 1910, even Switzerland followed suit. Lastly, an anti-absinthe novel “Wormwood, a Drama of Paris” by Marie Corelli (apparently the most respected writer of her time) raised negative opinion in the United States and absinthe was banned nationwide in 1912. Even though the ban was not universal, sales of absinthe plummeted so low that production ceased in the 1960s.

 But rising like the phoenix, absinthe created in the Czech Republic in the 1990s was exported to the United Kingdom and interest was revitalized. Then, in 2002, the original distillery in Pontarlier France was reopened to make the original recipe. Though sales were still banned then, the United Kingdom procured the product and absinthe reappeared as an after-dinner drink.

It’s a fascinating story, one of mystery and full of humanity. I learned that there exist more than one “flavor” of absinthe (depending on the herbal inclusions), but none are mind-altering, poisonous, or will drive you to murder. The drink was called the “Green Fairy” because the original recipe yielded a green liqueur. The first taste I had might have been green, but it was so pale it looked clear. Since then I’ve enjoyed absinthe several times, even once at Sunday brunch at the Caribou Café in Philadelphia. I’ve noticed no change in my behavior, but my understanding and appreciation of absinthe has definitely changed for the better.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Maze Runner

Dinner and a Movie

From a Maze to Amazed

By Steve Herte

I've decided to break the bonds of conformity in my garden to include more color. Yes, I love white and yellow flowers but after a while it does become the same old, same old. My new irises arrived in time for planting this weekend. Next year, instead of the uniform purple there will be white, black, blue, yellow and rust irises. When my tulips come they will expand my color palette from yellow and white with shocking pink, orange, purple and bi-color tulips. The Hyacinths will no loner just be blue and white. I'm looking forward to that.

In other news I've finally finished the baby blanket I'm crocheting for my god-daughter's next child (due September 29th). The whole family have a pool going to guess the sex, weight, length and possible name for the child. There are some very interesting submissions.

This week was a partial reconstruction of the 100-foot journey. First introducing my friend Betty to Indian food on Tuesday and dining French on Friday. Between her month long detail to Atlanta and visiting her family in Ecuador I find I have to fit in time for Monica when I can and Friday was the perfect opportunity, knowing how she enjoyed the French restaurant in Atlanta. It was really coincidental that the movie was about an inescapable maze and one of the categories on the menu was French for inescapable. Enjoy!

The Maze Runner (20th Century Fox, 2014) – Director: Wes Ball. Writers: Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Myers, T.S. Nowlin (s/p), James Dashner (book). Cast: Dylan O'Brien, Aml Ameen, Ki Hong Lee, Blake Cooper, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Will Poulter, Dexter Darden, Kaya Scodelario, Chris Sheffield, Joe Adler, Alexander Flores, Jacob Latimore, Randall D. Cunningham, & Patricia Clarkson. Color, 113 minutes.

When viewing the trailers for The Maze Runner I was thinking Lord of the Flies meets Labyrinth but thankfully the film proved to be much more. In fact, looking back at the previews I appreciate the masterful planning that went into attracting an audience without giving away too much. The colossal scope of the stage sets, the bone-jarring sound effects and the hint (only a hint) of what dangerous creatures lurked in the winding corridors surrounding The Glade at the center all worked together to lure me to the theater. It was worth it.
For three years, teenage boys have been one at a time thrust up a supply elevator into the center of this impossibly high circular maze with no memory of their past (except their name) and with the unspoken challenge to escape it. Although the maze has four entrances from The Glade, only one opens temporarily each day and closes before night. Those designated as “runners” are exactly that, the fastest ones who can see as much of the maze and remember it – hopefully to map it and discover a way out – zip out and return before the gate thunders closed. There’s one problem though, the maze changes its configuration each day. Walls swivel, rise and fall on a ponderous daily schedule.
Alby (Ameen) is the leader of the “colony” (if you will) of boys as he was the first to arrive and spend a whole month alone there. With the help of Gally (Poulter) he has set up a civilization with rules and job assignments for each new boy who arrives. They built their own shelters, grow their own food and explore the maze. That is until Thomas (O’Brien) arrives. Thomas is different. He’s curious and wants to know why the boys are there, who put them there and how to get out. He questions everything. When he hears this blood-curdling sound from beyond the gate he’s told it’s a “Griever” and that he doesn’t want to meet one. This curiosity puts him constantly at odds with Gally until one day Alby and Minho (Lee) are the runners and they do not make it back in time to cross the gate threshold. Thomas runs to help them and is trapped with them in the maze after dark. Alby has been “stung” by a Griever and cannot run with them. They decide to make a rope out of the many vines creeping up the sides of the maze walls (but none to the top) to hoist Alby up and out of danger. A Griever attacks and Minho runs. Thomas hides in the vines still holding the “rope” as the huge bionic scorpion stomps menacingly by.
Fortunately the two are reunited and go exploring (Why not? They can’t go back to The Glade.) and, in the process they are chased by a Griever and manage to trick it into entering a gap of two closing walls and it is crushed. The remaining boys in The Glade are overjoyed and agog that they are the first to survive a night in the maze.
Thomas’ curiosity is not sated and the next day he and a group of runners investigate the slain Griever. A flashing red light inside the gap inspires Thomas to get to boys to drag the creature’s leg out and they retrieve a metal cylinder with a red digital number 7 on it. They bring it back to The Glade. With Minho’s help Thomas discovers that this device is a key to escaping the maze.
Things get worse instead of better. The elevator rises with its final cargo, a young girl Teresa (Scodelario), two syringes of blue liquid and a note saying “She will be the last.” One syringe cures Alby of his sting but at night, the stone gate doesn’t close. In fact the three other gates rumble open and The Glade is over-run by Grievers.
For some reason the Grievers break off the attack and leave a handful of boys. Alby is taken and Gally blames Thomas for all the destruction and pain. Thomas has been having dreams of past events and Teresa appears in them. He realizes that he was among the people who put the boys there in a cruel (but necessary) experiment to train “survivors” who could live on the sun-scorched earth after a pandemic.
The Maze Runner is an engaging movie with a new twist on the doomsday story. I had no trouble believing any of the characters as they were all well-acted. Though fantastic in scale I never once wondered how the maze was built. I just accepted it. The Grievers were well created and the special effects were clever enough to never slow down the action and thus debunk them. They never looked phony. Though there were battle scenes the gore was not played up, nor was the “gross-out” factor. The script was clean and free of unnecessary vulgarity. Everyone spoke and acted their age without it. The hour and 53 minutes passed without my noticing any dead spaces to cut out.
There’s plenty of action and suspense and fairly loud noises (especially if you’re viewing it with RPS) so, know your child’s reactions to these before taking them. I enjoyed the film and stayed through the credits. It looks pretty certain that they are planning a sequel.
Rating: 4½ out of 5 Martini glasses.

O Cabanon
245 West 29th Street (between 7th and 8th Avenues), New York
According to its website; a “cabanon” is a French word to define a little hut in a garden. In the South of France it is more than that; it’s a small place where you can cook, eat, talk, and have a little nap…
From the street there is no evidence of a garden but the restaurant is completely open to the street with peopled tables almost forming a sidewalk café. The bordering on garish red neon and white twinkle lights on the yellow umbrella announce “O C” with the full name etched onto the glass of the open doors. I strolled in and passed the good-sized bar on the left to the Captain’s Station just past the bar. 
The young lady staffing the reception told me I had a choice of rooms. She walked me through the cozy brick-walled room lit by several strings of white twinkle lights. I could sit there, or, she turned the corner to the left, in this spacious room dominated by a formidable wine rack. She noted that a party of 10 had canceled and I had a choice of seats. I loved the room with its twin optical art paintings on the far wall and the table at a slight angle beckoning me. It was well-lit by a chandelier resembling a minor supernova with light bulbs flaring out from the center at various distances. 
I was charmed. Roxanne, my server arrived, took my water preference and presented the wine and drinks menu card and the even smaller food menu. I chose a cocktail called “Just Like Heaven” – gin, egg white, apricot liqueur or peach schnapps, Drambuie, lemon juice and simple syrup – amazing and powerful. I decided not to have a second, delicious but too dangerous.
The food menu was divided down the middle into two categories; Charcuterie (Delicatessen) Terre Et Mer (Land and Sea) and Les Incontournables (Inescapable). I soon learned that Roxanne did not speak a word of French when I had to point to the dishes after pronouncing them. Later she told me she spoke three languages, two of them Tagalog and Japanese, but none of them French. Together we came up with a three-course meal. I suggested a wine from the Burgundy region of France and she went to put in the order. 
The first dish arrived with a big “Yummy!” comment from Roxanne and was Escargots – baked in parsley, garlic, brandy, pernod liqueur and butter – served with crusty fresh bread. The enticing garlic aroma combined with the other ingredients almost set me on a feeding frenzy. I near forgot to photograph the dish. But with the wonderful bread the seven (I got a bonus) gastropods disappeared in record time with no evidence that the plate had been occupied. 
The wine steward apologized that she was out of the wine I chose and suggested two others; either the 2011 Pinot Noir from Genevrieres, Bourgogne or the 2013 Saint Pourçain, Loire Valley. She brought a taste of both to help me to decide. The Saint Pourçain was a lovely semi-sweet red dinner wine but the Pinot Noir had an undeniable edgy character that made it exciting.
Next to come to the table with an even more enthusiastic comment by Roxanne was the Brie a la Truffe Noir – Brie Cheese refined (and stuffed) with black truffle served with herbal loose greens salad on a cutting board. The cheese was delightful all by itself but the apple slices forming a crown on top added another dimension to its flavor. Again, another disappearing dish. 
My main course was Les Pâtes Farcies (stuffed pasta) – jumbo shell pasta filled with beef stew façon “coq au vin” garnished with watercress. The dish looked very appetizing but was the only one that was slightly off. The pasta shells were baked to almost crispness (I would have preferred them tender) and the “stew” stuffing was on the dry side. The first bite was a strong jolt of rosemary but that tapered off. It was tasty but not what I expected. Pasta should not require a knife to cut it.
Roxanne suggested a dessert but I had a craving (and the appetite left) for the Saucisson Chocolat – a sliced chocolate log with mixed nuts and marshmallow. On a cutting board it truly resembled the sausage it was named after. But the dark chocolate was heavenly. After four slices my appetite waned and I had the remainder packed away. I probably would have been able to finish it had not Roxanne been so sweet as to serve me a Crème Brulée – Madagascar vanilla custard topped with a layer of hard caramel and a dish of Macaroons beforehand. Loved the first, sent back the second. “Don’t tell anyone!” cautioned Roxanne. I didn’t.
The double espresso finished the meal nicely. I would definitely return to O Cabanon to sample different dishes such as the eggplant dish Les Souliers Vernis (Varnished Shoes) or even their lobster bisque.
For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

Monday, September 22, 2014

TCM TiVo Alert for September 23-30

September 23–September 30


CLAIRE'S KNEE (September 28, 2:30 am): This 1970 French film, directed by Eric Rohmer, is an excellent erotic comedy about a diplomat in his 30s who becomes obsessed with a teenage girl. Well, not really her - he's in love with the thought of touching the young girl's knee as a sort of sexual conquest. However, the film is so much more than that. It's about a man trying to recapture his youth before getting married with the implication that marriage means his life will forever change and not for the better. It's about a younger teenage girl, Laura, Claire's half-sister, and her maturation. It's about Claire, who appears to be care-free and not very bright, but someone who is also insecure and vulnerable. Its story is brilliant and incredibly emotional. The legendary Roger Ebert described it as "a movie for people who still read good novels, care about good films, and think occasionally." That sums it up quite nicely.

THE INFORMER (September 29, 2:00 am): This 1935 film, directed by John Ford, is a fascinating and intelligent drama about a simple man in desperate need of money and even more so in desperate need of attention. Victor McLaglen is captivating as Gypo Nolan, the simple man in question. He is kicked out of the Irish Republican Army during its 1922 War of Independence for not killing an English Black-and-Tan as retribution for that man's murder of an IRA member. Now even more desperate and an outcast in his hometon, Gypo sells out a friend wanted as a fugitive, for 20 pounds. Gypo proceeds to spend nearly all of the money on liquor, food and showing off. After passing the blame for the incident, that leads to the death of Ford's character, onto someone else, Gypo finally admits what he did and realizes how wrong he was. The film - with Oscar wins for McLaglen and John Ford - is a morality story that is dark, tragic and raw.  


PATTON (September 25, 8:00 pm): George C. Scott was never better in this biopic of World War II’s most iconic general, and the Academy knew it as well, awarding him the Best Actor Oscar for his efforts (which he refused). It’s a good, old-fashioned epic. We knew who the Good Guys were and who the Bad Guys were, and never the twain did meet. There are historical inaccuracies galore, but this is Hollywood. If it’s a case of legend versus fact, print the legend. Karl Malden is excellent as General Omar Bradley, and Michael Bates makes for a feisty Montgomery, with whom Patton was always in competition. Does it tell us much about the inner Patton? Not really, but just go along for the ride. You won’t be disappointed.

THREE ON A MATCH (September 26, 1:00 am): The Pre-Code era was noted for producing some pretty strong films, and this entry was among the strongest. Ann Dvorak, Joan Blondell, and Bette Davis are three childhood friends who have a reunion at a restaurant and vow to stay in touch. They then light their cigarettes on one match, hence the title. The famous superstition predicts bad things for those who do so, and each suffers her share of the bad life. However, the one who falls the furthest gives the movie both its twist and its reputation as among the most lurid of the Pre-Code films. Humphrey Bogart is on hand as well as (what else?) a gangster. He turns in a good performance, as does Warren William, playing a good guy for once. For those new to Pre-Code films, this is one to watch.

WE DISAGREE ON . . . HUD (September 24, 9:45 pm)

ED: AHud is one great movie, boasting a good story, a great script, excellent acting from its leads, wonderful photography from the great James Wong Howe, and taut direction from Martin Ritt. Based on Larry McMurtry’s novel, Horseman, Pass By, it’s a uncompromising look at the gulf between the values of the Old West, personified by Homer Bannon (Melvyn Douglas) and the New West, more ruthless, less traditional, personified by Paul Newman. Newman gave one of his greatest performances as the amoral Hud Bannon, whose philosophy of life was that he interpreted the law in a lenient manner: “Sometimes I lean to one side and sometimes I lean to the other.” Hud is one of the great heels of film, and Newman's usual scenery chewing actually helps, rather than hinders, the progression of the plot. When his father discovers his herd has contracted hoof and mouth disease, Hud’s solution is to sell them off before anyone finds out. Hud also wants to lease out the ranch for oil exploration, which Homer is dead set against. In between the two are Hud’s nephew, Lonnie (Brandon DeWilde) and housekeeper Alma Brown (Patricia Neal), who Hud is forever trying to seduce. Hud is also a wonderful character study. As we get to know the Bannons, we gradually discover why they are what they are, especially Hud. And near the end, with Homer’s death, there is no soapy deathbed scene, where Hud sees the error of his way and promises to reform, Alma returns (after Hud has driven her away), and Hud and nephew Lonnie work the ranch together while Hud learns the value of good, hard work. Academy awards went to Douglas, Neal, and cinematographer Howe. Shooting the film in black and white was a terrific idea, for it emphasizes the rift between father and son and keeps the film somber. If ever a film deserved to a labeled “Essential,” it is Hud.

DAVID: C+. First, a declaimer: I'm not a big Paul Newman fan and really don't understand why people consider him a great actor. I can't stand Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and can only tolerate Cool Hand LukeThe Hustler and Nobody's Fool. I don't dismiss him as he's made some excellent pictures; just not enough of them to earn his status as a Hollywood legend. Hud definitely falls into the "can only tolerate" category. Newman was often given the anti-hero role, and this film is yet another though numerous reviews of the 1963 film state the viewing audience saw his character as the hero, unable to tell the difference. To summarize, Hud (Newman in the title role) is an arrogant, self-centered, hard-living son of Homer Bannon (Melvyn Douglas, who is splendid in this film), a successful and honorable rancher. The two clash with a full-scale blow-up when their cattle get hoof and mouth disease. Hud wants to sell the cattle without disclosing the disease while Homer is dead-set against it. The film fails to provide insight into the troubled father-son relationship except to show their personality differences. Also, Patricia Neal is very good as a middle-aged housekeeper abused by Hud, and Brandon DeWilde is fine as Lonnie, Hud's nephew who idolizes his uncle to the point of being blind to his many faults until the end. But the storyline is weak and lacks originality. Some have called it a Western ripoff of 1955's Rebel Without a Cause, another highly-overrated. I can somewhat see it except Hud is a stronger character than James Dean's brooding Jim Stark. Despite some good performances, Hud is a dull and shallow movie. Among the memorable lines in this flat film are: "It don't take long to kill things, not like it takes to grow," from Homer, and "Nobody gets out of life alive," from Hud. Words to live, or die, by.

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

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Girls on Probation

Train Wreck Cinema

By Ed Garea

Girls on Probation (WB, 1938) - Director: William C. McGann. Writer: Crane Wilbur (s/p). Cast: Jane Bryan, Ronald Reagan, Anthony Averill, Sheila Bromley, Henry O’Neill, Elisabeth Risdon, Sig Ruman, Dorothy Peterson, Susan Hayward, & Esther Dale. B&W, 63 minutes.

What a title! It sounds like something out of an old SCTV sketch; but there it is in all its B-glory. Warner’s used their Bs to test and develop new talent, in this case Bryan and Reagan, whom the studio was grooming for hopefully bigger and better things. While it was hoped Reagan would stand out in the film, it was actually Bryan who carried it. But, though her performance is decent, and helps make this potboiler worth watching, it exposes her limited acting range.

Bryan is Connie Heath, an attractive, cheerful, and bright young woman who works in the office of a cleaning and dyeing firm. Her boss has maximum confidence in her abilities, often keeping her overtime to go over others’ mistakes with the books. Connie is staying late one night, going over the mistakes committed by her co-worker and good friend, Hilda Engstrom (Bromley). While Connie corrects the errors, Hilda wiles away the time on the phone speaking with her boyfriend, who we will later meet. Connie and Hilda make for quite an odd couple: Connie is buttoned-down while Hilda is easy and totally sleazy.

Hilda accompanies Connie home and both talk about Connie going with Hilda to a dance at the Hula House. Alas, Connie doesn’t have a decent dress. At Connie’s place, she, Hilda and Connie’s mother (Risdon) attempt to make do with an old party dress, but it’s just no use. Then Father, played by Ruman in his usual hammy style, comes home. He wants (a) dinner, and (b) to know who is upstairs with Connie. When Mother tells him it’s Hilda, Father blows a gasket as only a ham actor can. Hilda is no good, he bellows, and a bad influence on Connie. Hilda leaves, but not before enticing Connie to go to the club with a dress she “borrows” from work. As a character-establishing scene, it’s poor. Ruman is allowed to run amok and McGann clearly has no idea of how to proceed. But we also get a good look at Father’s character, that of an absolute autocrat, no room for negotiation. It’s his way or the highway. From his manner, one would think he was playing a Prussian general from the 19th century.

We now pick it up at the Hula House, supposedly a ritzy joint, and Connie and Hilda are enjoying themselves immensely. Far from swanky, the place is our typical Warner Brothers nightclub, swanked out with faux Hawaiian props to make it look different. It looks like the place - minus the props - where Bette Davis and Bryan entertained themselves in Marked Woman. Also hoofing it up at the club are Neil Dillon (Reagan) and his date, snobbish Gloria Adams (Hayward). Gloria gets one look at Connie’s dress and identifies it as hers, one she took to the cleaners. Are you sure, asks Neil? Yes, she’s sure, but Neil insists Gloria wait and see if the dress she sent to from cleaners is there when she calls to pick it up.

Unfortunately for Connie, she tears the dress exiting from the taxi. Hilda does a quickie repair when she gets it back to the shop the next day, but upon a cursory inspection, Gloria notices the repair work and makes waves, lots of them. Connie is fired and Neil, who works as an attorney for the insurance company covering the dress, tells Connie it was larceny and that he has to prosecute both Connie and Hilda. But Neil has a soft spot for Connie (the film was made back when Reagan was a liberal) and pays off the cost of the dress so the girls don’t have to end up in court. When Father finds out why his daughter no longer works at the cleaners, he shows his tenderness by slapping Connie in the face, calls her a liar, and throws her out of the house.

Connie moves to another town, where she finds work as a secretary, and, out of her first paycheck, mails Neil a payment. As she mails the letter, she runs into - naturally - her old pal Hilda. After the perfunctory how-do-you-dos, she and Hilda argue about Hilda writing a letter absolving Connie of guilt in the famous case of the stolen dress. Hilda wants no part of such a letter, but before she can argue further, her old boyfriend, Bad News Tony (Averill), comes bounding out of the nearby bank with a gun and the bank’s money. He forces Connie into the car as Hilda, quickly behind the wheel, peels out. A young boy selling movie magazines conveniently witnesses the entire scene, and we know it’s just a matter of time until he rides to Connie’s rescue.

The three of them lead the cops on a merry chase. Hilda breaks out the back window and begins firing at the cops until Connie wrests the gun from her and points it at Tony, forcing him to pull over so they can be arrested. Connie gives a false name to the authorities, lest her identity be discovered (especially by Father). As there exists no independent evidence to corroborate her story, and after a trial quite unlike any I have ever seen ensues, with lawyers ignoring the rules of the court by breaking into open debate. Connie, amid all manner of unlawyerly shenanigans, is sent to the big house, where she runs right into - you guessed it - Hilda. And get a load of that prison! A happier place I couldn’t imagine, stocked with every prison stereotype the producers could find. It seems as if the ladies were sent there for bad acting. Anyway, Hilda turns Connie into a virtual slave by threatening to write and tell Father what she’s been up to (I’d like to get Connie in a poker game, she bluffs so easily) until Connie can’t take any more and the two get into the obligatory catfight.

Here the film almost ceases being a drama and turns into one of those shorts usually seen before the main feature, and which exclaims the virtues of some government function or other. In this case, it’s the probation department. Connie is spared from serving time through the intervention of sympathetic (aren’t they all?) probation officer Jane Lennox (Peterson), who gives Connie a cheery summary of how probation works. Jane has even found the newsboy who witnessed the bank robbery and brings him to testify before the judge, who in turn grants Connie probation. Hilda, on the other hand, gets a 1-to-5 stretch while Tony gets 10-to-15.

Connie goes home and looks up the nice, young Neil. He’s now the Deputy District Attorney, and is still smitten with Connie, so much so that he hires her as his secretary. Of course, Neil has no idea about Connie’s past and she isn’t about to tell him. Time passes. Neil and Connie begin dating. This leads to a totally useless sidebar scene with Father. Now that Connie’s living back home, she must obey Father. When Neil comes around, Pops asks about his intentions toward his daughter with a suspicious tone. Neil’s answer that he hopes to marry Connie causes Pops to become overjoyed and he immediately blabs all to the family (Neil hasn’t even asked Connie yet!) and tells them that he has always liked this young man. We can readily ascertain that this scene is only being included to pad out the length of the film.

Cut to Connie in Neil’s office. Now . . . who should saunter in but - have you guessed? - Hilda! Hilda is like gum on Connie’s shoe. Try as she might, Connie can’t shed her. Hilda tells Connie about her parole and learns about Connie’s engagement. She asks her favorite victim if Neil’s been informed about her past. Finally tired of Hilda (about time), Connie confesses all to Neil, who, being the white knight he is, forgives all.

Meanwhile, we cut to Tony and his prison buddies about to make their escape. Armed to the teeth (I can see them having a pistol, but a shotgun?), their bust-out is pure hokum (worthy of a viewing on Mystery Science Theater 3000), intercut with stock footage from other Warner Brothers’ prison films. I loved it when Tony, on the wall after his compatriots have been killed, somehow escapes being shot from almost point blank range, and jumps from the top of the wall into the river. We know he’ll get away - the picture’s not over yet.

So, just when it looks as if Connie’s seen the last of Hilda, up she pops again. She’s been caring for Tony, who scrammed to her place after his escape. Now threatening to tell the District Attorney himself about Connie’s past, she wants dough to stay quiet and get out of town. Connie acquiesces, but, being as this is taking place after-hours in the ‘30s, the banks closed and there are no ATM machines. However, there is one place to get money that’s open all night, so Hilda tells Connie to pawn her engagement ring. Connie offers to give it to Hilda, but Hilda’s too smart for that one. She makes Connie come with her so she can’t drop a dime to the cops. While Hilda waits in the car, Connie negotiates the sale of her ring and also gives the pawnbroker a note, telling him to call Neil. He, in turn, calls the police and they arrive at Hilda’s place just before she can enter her apartment. Hearing the cops, Tony shoots wildly through the door, hitting no one but Hilda - of course. Tony is then dispatched by a hail of gunfire and Connie is at last free of Hilda, with the final scene one of Hilda receiving the last rites as she’s loaded into an ambulance.

By any standard, this is a lackluster effort. Bryan, then being groomed by the studio for bigger and better things, displays an amazing lack of range, one she would never shed until her retirement. It seems that Jane could only be effective playing sickly-sweet dames. We wonder just how far she would have gone at Warner’s if she hadn’t married Walgreens executive Justin Dart. Reagan, for his part, came across in this film as if he was heavily medicated. Why the studio hired Ruman for the part of Roger Heath, Connie's dad, is beyond me. Maybe they thought in a film this mediocre no one would notice or care. As Hilda, Bromley comes close to stealing the picture, and if that was all she did, she would get probation for petty theft. Averill never rose above the Bs. In fact, when he left acting, he was well on his way to features in Poverty Row. Probably the best performance came from young Hayward in her brief turn as Neil’s bitchy girlfriend at the nightclub and who sets in motion the entire plot.

Longtime Warner’s B-unit director William McGann directed the film at a hectic pace, reminiscent of an exploitation film. It has all the elements as her best friend leads the pure-as-snow heroine down the path to degradation. Note that in the bank robbery scene, the heroine is trapped by circumstance into the criminal world. All one needs is drugs or sex to complete the chain; we already have jail. But it didn’t matter to Jack Warner, for producer Bryan Foy made sure it contained all Warner’s favorite themes: social conditions that led to crime, criminal rehabilitation and confidence in the pros and cons of the justice system.

Crane Wilbur, who wrote Girls on Probation, was no stranger to the exploitation genre, having previously written Alcatraz Island (1937), Crime School (1938), Blackwell’s Island (1939), and Hell’s Kitchen (1939). He would later write screenplays for Roger Touhy, Gangster (1944), He Walked By Night (1948), Women’s Prison (1950), The Phenix City Story (1955), and House of Women (1962). He also directed 37 features, many of them in the exploitation genre.

All in all, Girls on Probation is a hoot to watch, due to the presence of Bryan, Bromley, and Reagan and its sheer overwrought screenplay. It rarely rambles and seems even shorter than its 63-minute running time. As with many of the Warner Brothers “social commentary” films, Girls on Probation begins with a weighty prologue informing us that for some women probation was the only thing standing between happiness and degradation. This is absolutely hilarious in light of the fact in the film that Connie is going to marry Ronnie Reagan. Which could be worse: stir or Reagan?

Memorable Dialogue

Hilda to the priest before she’s loaded into the ambulance after being shot: “Pretty soon I’ll be seeing your boss!”

Hilarious Scenes

At the end of the bank robbery scene, as the car pulls away, the cops fire wildly into the crowd as they try to hit the car.

Watch for the scene where the detective babbles half of his lines to the party on the other end on the phone after taking the receiver away from his mouth.