Sunday, July 31, 2016

Cinéma Inhabituel for August 1-15

A Guide to the Rare and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea


It’s August, which means a month of “Summer Under the Stars,” in which each day is devoted to the films of a particular actor or actress. In the past, TCM has made this somewhat interesting by including people we don’t normally see, i.e., those not from Hollywood, the international stars. But this year the only international star we get is Brigitte Bardot, and if want to stretch it, Ralph Richardson and Charles Boyer (and that’s really stretching it, as both made quite a few films in America). 

Instead, we get yet another day of Fred Astaire, Katharine Hepburn and Gary Cooper, and the films being shown are those we’ve already seen a hundred times. Once again, given the opportunity to do something out of the ordinary, TCM instead sticks to the tried and true, and in the end, lets its fans down. As I said in this column last year, I would like to see a day devoted to the films of the following: Marcello Mastroianni, Alec Guinness, Setsuko Hara, Monica Vitti. Paul Wegener, George Arliss, Michel Simon, Chishu Ryu, Peter Lorre, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Simone Signoret, Charles Hawtrey, Anouk Aimee, Ugo Tognazzi, Emil Jannings, Richard Attenborough, Vittorio Gassman, Googie Withers, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Anna Karina, Alberto Sordi, Diana Dors, Jean-Claude Brialy, Gerard Depardieu, Giulietta Masina, Isabelle Huppert, Jean Marais, Anna Magnani, and Albert Remy. And that’s just off the top of my head.


August 1: On a day devoted to Edward G. Robinson, try The Red House (10:00 pm), an above-average melodrama from 1947 crime drama boasting an excellent cast.

August 2: One of the best, if not the best, films Lucille Ball made is The Big Street (RKO, 1942) with Lucile as a selfish showgirl with whom waiter Henry Fonda is head-over-heels in love. It airs at 1:00 pm. Look for Barton MacLane and the always excellent Eugene Pallette is supporting roles. 

August 6: It’s Montgomery Clift’s day, and the pick of the day is Gore Vidal’s adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ play, Suddenly, Last Summer (Columbia, 1959), with Elizabeth Taylor at the height of her beauty as a most unusual damsel-in-distress, and Katharine Hepburn as her tormentor who wants to keep her silent about a family secret.

August 7: Check out Jean Harlow’s last film Saratoga (MGM, 1937) at 8 am and the wonderful Libeled Lady (MGM, 1936) at 6 pm.

August 12: Janet Gaynor has the stage and the film to see is the original A Star is Born (UA, 1937) with Frederic March and Adolphe Menjou, exquisitely directed by William A. Wellman, at 2 pm.

August 13: At 6 pm, Ralph Richardson stars with John Mills and Michael Caine in the hilarious The Wrong Box (Columbia, 1966). It also features Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, and Peter Sellers, who steals the film. 

August 15: We would be truly remiss if we didn’t recommend How Green Was My Valley (20th Century Fox, 1941), John Ford’s classic story of life in a Welsh coal mining family, starring Walter Pigeon, Maureen O’Hara, Anna Lee, Donald Crisp, and the day’s honoree, Roddy McDowell.


August 1: Three good Pre-Code films lead off the day’s tribute to Edward G. Robinson, beginning at 6 am with Tiger Shark from 1932. It’s followed at 7:30 by the venerable Little Caesar (1930), and at 9:00 am by the compelling Five Star Final (1931).

August 3: In a day devoted to Bing Crosby, check out Der Bingle in Going Hollywood with star Marion Davies (MGM, 1933), airing at 6 am.

August 4: A gold mine of Pre-Code favorites in a day dedicated to Fay Wray. Most are in the Psychotronica section, but highly recommended are Ann Carver’s Profession (Columbia, 1933, which can be seen at 7:30 am, The Wedding March (Paramount, 1928), directed by Erich von Stroheim at 8 pm, the crime drama Thunderbolt (Paramount, 1929), directed by Joseph von Sternberg in his better days, at midnight, and One Sunday Afternoon (Paramount, 1933), with Gary Cooper and Neil Hamilton, at the late hour of 4:30 am. Record it – it’s worth it.

August 7: With Jean Harlow as the day’s honoree, there’s plenty to check out, beginning with The Beast of the City (MGM, 1932), also starring Walter Huston and Wallace Ford, at 10 am. At 4 pm, it’s the classic ensemble film, Dinner at Eight (MGM, 1933). Red Dust (MGM, 1932), with Harlow, Gable and Mary Astor, airs at 8 pm, followed by Harlow and Lee Tracy in the hilarious Bombshell (MGM, 1933) at 9:30. Finally, at 2:45 am comes the film that established Harlow as a star, Red-Headed Woman (MGM, 1931), also starring Chester Morris and Una Merkel.

August 11: Spencer Tracy and Bette Davis shine in the prison drama 20,000 Years in Sing-Sing (WB, 1933).

August 12: Check out Janet Gaynor in State Fair (Fox, 1933) with Will Rogers at 4:15 pm and the silent Street Angel (Fox, 1928) with Charles Farrell at 10 pm.


August 4: The Queen of Scream, Fay Wray, can be seen in Doctor X (WB, 1932) with Lee Tracy and Lionel Atwill, at 10:15 am. At 1 pm, Fay stars in the moody and eerie Black Moon (Columbia, 1934). Fay stars with Claude Rains in the excellent The Clairvoyant (Gaumont-British Picture Corp.) at 3:45 pm, followed by Fay as a damsel-in-distress with the vivacious Glenda Farrell in Mystery of the Wax Museum (WB, 1933) at 5:15. Lionel Atwill supplies the chills as the villain. Finally at 10 pm, Fay hits the Big Apple along with her hirsute boyfriend in King Kong(RKO, 1933).

August 5: Karl Malden is up to monkey business in the flaccid Phantom of the Rue Morgue (WB, 1954). Look for talk show host and game show creative genius Merv Griffin in a supporting role. 

August 9: It’s a entire morning and afternoon of Tim Holt Westerns. Our favorites are Six-Gun Gold (RKO, 1941) at 7:15 am, Sagebrush Law (RKO, 1943) at 10:15 am, and Masked Raiders (RKO, 1949) at 1:45 pm.

At 1:30 am, it’s the psychotronic classic, Hitler’s Children (RKO, 1943), with Bonita Granville on the receiving end of Nazi punishment.

August 10: “I am Tondelayo,” says Hedy Lamarr in White Cargo (MGM, 1942) , and we believe her, though this film has to be seen to be believed. It’s another one of Hedy’s great non-carting performances set in the steamy jungle. 

August 11: Spencer Tracy proves he can beat bad guys Robert Ryan, Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin with one arm missing in Bad Day at Black Rock (MGM, 1955).

August 13: Ralph Richardson stars with Raymond Massey, Sir Cedric Hardwicke and Edward Chapman in the classic Things to Come (UA, 1936), directed by William Cameron Menzies at 8 am. Later, at 4 pm, we can see him in director Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits (Handmade Films/Embassy, 1981).

August 14: It’s Cyd Charisse and Robert Taylor trying to break free from the Chicago mob in Nicholas Ray’s underrated gangster epic, Party Girl (MGM, 1958).

August 15: Roddy McDowell tries his hand as producer-star in Monogram’s Killer Shark (1950) and comes a cropper. He’s backed by a good psychotronic supporting cast in Roland Winters, Nacho Galindo, and the scrumptious Laurette Luez, who, frankly, outacts the star. It’s directed by Oscar “Budd” Boetticher – one he probably left off his resume.


The world of psychotronic pop culture lost one of its icons when Bill “Chilly Billy” Cardille passed away at at home on July 12 from complications arising from a long bout with cancer. He was 87. 

Cardille, a native of the Pittsburgh area, was famous as the voice of television station WIIC (now WPXI). His was the voice that signed the station onto the air when it started on September 1, 1957.

He was a jack-of-all trades at the studio, doing voiceovers, hosting game shows and kiddie shows. In 1960, he took over as the voice of Studio Wrestling (pro wrestling is the psychotronic sport). His sardonic style helped make it one of the station’s highest rated shows. But it was in 1964 that he gained a niche in psychotronic history when he conceived and starred as the host of Chiller Theater

Chiller Theater was a late Saturday night staple, showing a double feature beginning at 11:30 pm interspersed with hi-jinx from its host. He would perform his duties as the weatherman for the station’s local newscast at 11 pm, then rush and change into his costume as Chilly Billy for the 11:30 opening of the horror show.

This later became the inspiration for one of the legendary characters from the comedy show SCTV. Joe Flaherty, who grew up in the Pittsburgh area watching Bill Cardille, modeled his character, Floyd Robertson, a newscaster at the small TV studio, after Cardille. In addition to his newscasting duties, Robertson would dress up in a vampire costume and become “Count Floyd” on the station’s Monster Chiller Horror Theater, promising the kiddies out there “some scary movies.” One of the funniest bits the show did was when they performed an Ingmar Bergman parody called “Moon of the Wolf,” which the station mistakenly plugged into Count Floyd’s show, thinking it was a horror picture. As the film goes on, Floyd interrupts to say that “this isn’t scary at all!” He has no idea why this film is being shown and is clearly irritated that it’s not as advertised. Those interested in the sketch can find it on You Tube.

Cardille also gained a measure of everlasting fame when he had a minor role as a field reporter in George A. Romero’s 1968 Night of the Living Dead, the film that kicked off the zombie craze that continues to this day. His actress daughter, Lori Cardille, would later star in Romero’s 1985 sequel, Day of the Dead

Fare thee well, Bill, you will be  missed.

Friday, July 29, 2016

TCM TiVo Alert for August 1-7

August 1–August 7


LITTLE CAESAR (August 1, 7:30 pm): You can't go wrong with any of the Edward G. Robinson films being aired on August 1 to honor the legendary actor. I selected this one because it's the one that made Edward G. Robinson a legitimate movie star. Warners set the standard for its gritty, engaging, violent, tense-filled gangster films in 1931 with the release of Little Caesar on January 9 and Public Enemy with James Cagney on April 23. Both are classics. Robinson and Cagney set the bar very high for cinematic gangsters in the two films. In Little Caesar, Eddie G. plays Caesar Enrico "Rico" Bandello, a small-time hood who does everything possible to become a mob boss in Chicago. Robinson's portrayal of Rico, also called Little Caesar, is so authentic. His ability to get into character, playing someone that cold-blooded, ruthless and single-minded without a concern about anything or anyone else is impressive. The ending is a classic with Rico gunned down in the gutter saying with surprise, "Mother of mercy! Is this the end of Rico?" It is, but hardly the end of Robinson's career as a Hollywood gangster. Myah!

THE SEARCH (August 6, 4:00 pm): A touching film about a young boy in post-World War 2 searching for his mother after the two were separated while held in a concentration camp. Montgomery Clift is an Army engineer in Germany after the Nazis are defeated who finds the boy and takes care of him. Clift rarely gave a bad performance, but this is one of his most special ones. The 1948 movie was primarily filmed in post-war Germany, showing the ruins of what was left of several cities.


DOCTOR X (August 4, 10:15 am): Art Deco meets German Expressionism in this early exercise in horror from Warner Brothers and director Michael Curtiz. It’s worth watching for more than its curiosity value as a film made in the early two-strip Technicolor process; it’s an interesting exercise in Grand Guginol – and where else would Warner Brothers stage a horror film but right in the city? Lee Tracy is a wise-cracking reporter hot on the trail of the “half-moon murders.” The trail leads him to the mysterious Doctor Xavier (Lionel Atwill), the head of a medical academy located on Manhattan’s lower East Side. When Atwill moves his staff to his Long Island country estate for an elaborate reenactment of the murder, Tracy suddenly shifts from mere observer to actor when the killer threatens Atwill’s lovely daughter, Joanne (Fay Wray), with whom Tracy has fallen in love. I have often thought the comic element was introduced to keep the critics at bay, for this film has something for everyone: cannibalism, rape, dismemberment, and even necrophilia. The two-strip Technicolor process, added to the sets by Anton Groh and the makeup from Max Factor, heightens the eeriness already present, and once we hear the words “synthetic flesh,” they’ll remain with us always.

KING KONG (August 4, 10:00 pm): Is there anyone out there who hasn’t seen this film? Along with The Lost World, it’s the granddaddy of the “monster-on-the-loose,” films and still holds its grip on us to this day. The search for and capture of a gigantic ape on a previously unknown island is stuff of our childhoods and I know of few people who aren’t in love with this adventure. Animator Willis O’Brien created one of the classic creatures of filmdom which, combined with an intelligent script, continues to dazzle with each viewing. The addition of Fay Wray only ratchets up the mythic heat with a modern take on Beauty and the Beast: She and co-stars Robert Armstrong and Bruce Cabot do an admirable job of acting, but it’s Kong we’ve come to see. And when he finally dies in a hail of bullets atop the Empire State Building, there’s not a dry eye left in the house, for he proves to have more humanity than his captors.

WE DISAGREE ON ... GOING MY WAY (August 3, 8:00 pm)

ED: A+. Leo McCarey was one of the greatest directors in Hollywood history. He was noted for his comedies, such as Duck SoupThe Awful Truth, and Good Sam. He was also the director who first paired the classic duo of Laurel and Hardy back in the late ‘20s. But besides comedy, McCarey also loved one other thing: schmaltz – and plenty of it. This film is a prime example of it, with Bing Crosby as the youthful priest who comes to the failing St. Dominic’s and not only saves the church, but wins over the crusty old pastor, Father Fitzgibbon, played by Barry Fitzgerald, in the process. It won Oscars for Crosby (Best Actor), Fitzgerald (Best Supporting Actor), Best Original Story, Best Screenplay, Best Song (“Swinging on a Star”), and Best Director. In a rare occurrence, Fitzgerald was nominated both in the categories of Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor. It’s a beautifully constructed film and is perhaps McCarey’s optimistic ‘40s answer to his 1937 story of unwanted senior citizens, Make Way for Tomorrow. In this film the older pastor is not shunted aside but made into a vibrant force renewing the failing church. The best moment of the film comes when Bing and opera star Rise Steven sing the wonderful “Ave Maria,” one the most moving songs ever written. It’s one of the best moments in the history of film. It’s one of my favorites and I’m relatively immune to schmaltz, but when it’s done right, as in this case, it’s worth watching.

DAVID: C+. This isn't a musical though Bing Crosby sings a bit too much in it. The film is an overly sentimental story about Father Chuck O'Malley (Crosby), a young priest, sent to New York City to take over St. Dominic's Church from the grumpy old pastor, Father Fitzgibbon (Barry Fitzgerald). I don't hate the film – I gave it a C+ – but there's no way it deserved to win seven Oscars including for Best Picture. Among its competitors were the vastly superior Gaslight and Double Indemnity. There are plenty of cliches in Going My Way in which the old and supposed new ways of the two priests clash. Fitzgibbon is convinced the youth in the inner-city neighborhood to be beyond saving while O'Malley believes the boys to be good because at least they come to church. O'Malley convinces the boys to join the church choir. We get the well-worn story of the church in financial woes and the only way to save it is for the gang to get together and put on a play. Oh, wait a minute, this has Crosby in it so the plan is to get the kids together and perform a song, "Going My Way," at the Met. The song will be a big hit and sold to a record company with the profits going to pay the church's mortgage. However, the music executive (William Frawley – Fred Mertz from I Love Lucy) doesn't think it will sell. So the boys sing "Swing on a Star," which he loves and buys. The church is saved! I bet no one saw that coming. It's got a few cute moments, but it's pretty hokey and runs too long at 126 minutes.

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

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

On Dress Parade

The B-Hive

By Ed Garea

On Dress Parade (WB, 1939) – Directors: William Clemens, Noel M. Smith (uncredited). Writer: Tom Reed (original s/p). Stars: Billy Halop, Huntz Hall, Leo Gorcey, Bobby Jordan, Gabriel Dell, Bernard Punsly, John Litel, Frankie Thomas, Cecilia Loftus, Selmer Jackson, Aldrich Bowker, Douglas Meins, William Gould, & Donald Douglas. B&W, 62 minutes.

Since they were signed by Warner Bros. after the success of Dead End, the Dead End Kids appeared in five films of varying qualityCrime School and Angels with Dirty Faces (both in 1938), and They Made Me a Criminal, Hell's Kitchen, and Angels Wash Their Faces (all 1939). Although all the films save for Angels With Dirty Faces were B-productions, the films were popular with audiences. They were so popular that after the PTA complained to the studio about their being depicted as gangsters after Hell’s Kitchen opened, they were turned into good little Samaritans for Angels Wash Their Faces

But they were coming to the end of the road at the studio. For one thing, their off-screen antics didn’t endear them to studio management. They terrorized the set of their movies, throwing the other actors off with their constant ad-libbing, which necessitated a large number of retakes and angered Warner Bros, cost-conscious management. During the filming of Angels With Dirty Faces, their ad-libbing so upset Jimmy Cagney that he hauled off and socked Leo Gorcey between the eyes, which put an end to the practice for the rest of shooting. They also pulled pranks, such as stealing Bogart’s trousers and tossing a firecracker into his dressing room while he was taking a nap. Among other things, they painted obscene pictures on the office walls, and set off fire sprinklers in the wardrobe department. It got so bad that the studio hired a former football player, Russ Saunders, to keep them in line. Ultimately, he had to use a fire hose to subdue them. 

For another thing, the studio was running out of stories for them, especially now that they were turned from criminals to misunderstood good boys. It was decided this would be their last go-around at Warner’s, and what better way to end the series, other than putting them in prison, than to put them in military school?

The film also marked a departure from their earlier films in that they were split up. Before, they had always functioned as a unit. The studio may have done this to keep them from getting together to cause trouble, or perhaps it was being used as a test screening to see which of the Kids could succeed in a solo career. The only delinquent in the film was Slip Duncan, Leo Gorcey’s character. The others are all presented as normal well-behaved young men. 

The film opens in World War I. Major William Duncan (Douglas) saves the life of Captain Michael Riker (Litel). Years later, Riker, now a colonel and headmaster of Washington Academy, a military school, receives a telegram informing him that Duncan is dying. He hurries to Duncan’s bedside at the hospital. Duncan’s last request to Riker is to take care of his son, whom he has never seen. He had been searching for a number of years and has finally found him. Riker agrees, and along with his adjutant, calls on Mrs. Neeley, who is in the living room with Father Ryan (Bowker). She has been the caretaker for Duncan’s son, named Shirley, but nicknamed “Slip” (Gorcey). When she tells Riker that Slip is a hellion who constantly gets into trouble, and is headed for reform school, Riker decides that his school, which is run by boys for boys, is just the place for the troubled young man. 

At this point, Slip enters. Mrs. Neeley thought he was in bed, but Slip explains that he and his friend Dutch (Punsly) had to “straighten out” a guy named Nick. Riker pitches the idea of military school to Slip but, all things considered, he’d rather not.

The next day Slip’s at the pool hall when Dutch comes in to tell Slip that Nick has called the cops. Slip tells Dutch that he’s going to take it on the lam. But Dutch convinces him that taking up the military school offer is preferable to reform school, so Slip visits Riker and Lewis in their hotel room and agrees to attend. After he leaves, Father Ryan and the cop who was looking for Slip come out from another room and we learn it was all a ruse to get Slip into military school.

Slip’s stay at school gets off to the predictable rocky start, as Slip is determined to do as he pleases and resists discipline. But his cadet roommates, Ronny Morgan (Jordan), Johnny Cabot (Hall) and Georgie Warren (Dell), are equally determined to put him right. Slip’s behavior is so atrocious that Riker considers asking him to leave, but instead pleads with Slip to make something of himself in honor of his father.

Afterward, everything is fine until Dutch comes up for a visit. He tells Slip that the whole arrest was a trick to get him to sign up. Slip blows his top and begins to pack. When Cadet Major Rollins (Halop) comes into Slip’s room to stop him, a fight ensues with Slip pushing Rollins through a second story window. Feeling guilty over his deed, Slip visits Rollins in the hospital and promises him that he’ll repent. Even though the other cadets ostracize him, Slip works hard and gets top grades in every subject by the end of the term. The term’s end is also the end for Georgie Warren, who has flunked out. He joins the regular army in order to do well and hopefully win an appointment to West Point.

At summer camp, where the cadets have gone to learn directly from the army, they run into Georgie, who has done well. But a fire breaks out in a munitions store house where Georgie is working. Learning that Georgie is trapped inside, Slip braves the flames and smoke to rescue his friend. Both Slip and Georgie are hospitalized with serious burns. George recovers first and leaves for West Point. Slip also eventually recovers and returns to school a hero. In a ceremony where he is made cadet major, Riker presents him with his father’s Distinguished Service Cross.

Gorcey’s role in the film, that of a malcontent/gang leader, was a role he would carry over to his East Side Kids and Bowery Boys roles. Ironically, in the Bowery Boys series, he is nicknamed “Slip.” This also marks Bernard Punsly’s briefest appearance in any of their films. 

Unlike their other films, On Dress Parade is devoid of life. The boys seem uncomfortable in their new roles, and the scene of Gorcey leading his class in calculus and tactics stretches credulity to the breaking point. New York Times critic Frank S. Nugent describes the film as “a mutually losing tussle between factual scenes of comparatively recent army games and a fictional plot of the type which is sometimes referred to as ‘the old army game.’ As entertainment, it is the kind of picture that is making it harder and harder for ‘Screeno.’” It is an apt description.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Kindergarten Cop 2

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

Kindergarten Cop 2 (Universal, 2016) – Director: Don Michael Paul. Writers: David H. Steinberg (s/p). Based on the film written by Timothy Harris, Murray Salem, & Herschel Weinrot. Stars: Dolph Lindgren, Fiona Vroom, Sarah Strange, Daria Taylor, Aleks Paunovic, Bill Bellamy, Enid-Raye Adams, Danny Watley, Rebecca Olson, Raphael Alejandro, Abbie Magnusen, Andre Tricoteux, Michael P. Northey, Jenny Sandersson, Dean Petriw, & Carolyn Adair. Color, Rated PG-13, 100 minutes.

After the success of the first movie in 1990 starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as Agent Kimble, it took 25 years for us to be treated to this lukewarm sequel. FBI Agent Zack Reed (Lundgren) goes undercover as a teacher in a new-age, politically correct, over-protective kindergarten to find a flash-drive containing sensitive information on the Federal Witness Protection Program.

The FBI provides him with a glowing resume that impresses the Head Mistress, Miss Sinclaire (Strange) and gets him the job easily. He thinks that six-year-olds are simple to handle, but not with Cowboy (Alejandro), who is hyper-allergic to peanuts, and Molly (Magnusen), whose dad is having employment problems and is taking out his frustration on his family. Zack’s first day on the job is an almost total disaster, only saved by fellow teacher Olivia (Taylor).

Zack’s partner, Agent Sanders (Bellamy) and a parent himself. eventually convinces him to wear a communication device and things progress much better with his coaching. At the same time, the Albanian mob is also after the same flash-drive under the leadership of the merciless Zogu (Paunovic), who comes off like a second-rate Boris Badenov.

Another thing Zack isn’t prepared for is falling in love with Olivia, thus alienating fellow male teacher Hal (Michael P. Northey), who has called “dibs” on her. Frankly, if I were as roly-poly as Hal, I would not confront a muscular guy like Lundgren with such a childish claim.

With the exception of the kids, the acting in this film falls flat. It’s really all about them. They’re adorable. Lundgren is just as wooden as his chiseled good looks. His boss Mike Giardello (Watley) tops the boring scales with his overacting, but never quite evens out the balance. The audience is left with only the children to care about as characters, and they’re being natural.

There are several attempts at humor. Some succeed, some are ruined by Lundgren’s off-hand delivery. Maybe if he had an accent? The writing is good but only the six-year-olds and Sarah Strange know how to handle punch lines. Even at the climax of the film, it’s the children reenacting a scene from the Trojan War who save the day. But it doesn’t save the movie. There's a good reason it went straight to video.

Rating: 2 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Puerto Vallarta,
377 Boston Post RoadOrange, Conn.

After two days of touring the Catskills and a Chinese take-out dinner with my godson’s family, my sister, brother-in-law and I had our sights set on a lovely Italian dinner in Milford, but it was booked for the time we preferred. The search for a dining experience ran the gamut of places previously visited to places none of us wanted to visit. And then we hit upon a Mexican restaurant none of us has tried.

On the main road in Orange, Puerto Vallarta stands out. The adobe hacienda-style design of the restaurant is eye-catching and as the sun goes down, the strings of multi-colored twinkle lights edge every curve of the Alamo-like entrance. Inside the front door is a colorful mural of a welcoming señorita with carved dark-wood benches lined up around tall tables in both directions. Sun motifs are on the walls as well as brightly painted artworks framed by authentic Mexican tiles.

Our server, Lupe, introduced herself and offered the possibility of cocktails. I chose the Puerto Vallarta Cosmolito – a Mexican twist to an American favorite with Don Julio Silver Tequila, Grand Marnier, cranberry juice, and fresh lime juice. It was mostly sweet with a little tart overtone and that beautiful rosy color.

Not seeing a small appetizer-sized salad on the menu as a side, my sister tried asking for a “tossed” salad. I ordered the Sopa de Albondigas (meatball soup) – fresh-minted beef and pork meatballs, with seasonal vegetables in a clear broth, served with diced onions, fresh mint, oregano and warm tortillas in a ceramic crock. The salad was dinner-sized and enough for both my sister and her husband. My soup was just right for me, a good-sized bowl filled with sliced summer squash, cauliflower, green peppers and savory tender meatballs.

The Enchiladas Suizas – corn tortillas filled with a choice of cheese, chicken, ground beef, or “picadillo” (shredded beef) topped with green tomatillo sauce and Monterrey Jack cheese and sour cream – were a little disappointing and lacking in flavor for my brother-in-law and the refried beans were not to his liking. My sister had the Fajita Quesadilla – large flour tortillas filled with melted cheese, marinated grilled strips of chicken or steak, sautéed onions and bell peppers with guacamole, sour cream and Pico de Gallo. The meat was tender and well-cooked and flavorful. She enjoyed it but found the portion a bit too large.

My Chamorro Pibil – lamb shank marinated overnight in wine, wrapped in banana leaves and baked, served with white rice, beans and salsa verde (fresh tomatillos, avocado, chilies and special Puerta Vallarta spices) – was excellent. The meat fell off the two bones into the rich sauce. I took some of the white rice and mixed it with the beans and a little sauce and was very happy and the salsa verde added just the right touch of heat.

For dessert, my two companions shared the Tres Leches (three milks) Cake. It was moist, fluffy and sweet and just the right size. I had the Dulce de Leche Cheese Cake and it was amazing. There were three layers, the sweet milk on top, chocolate cheese in the middle and cream cheese on the bottom, all laced with caramel syrup and topped with a cherry. 

And for a finisher I had a coffee called Mexican Dream – coffee with Kahlua, brandy and Bailey’s Irish Cream. Even when I was in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico I didn’t eat this well. I’m sure we’ll all return.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Garry Marshall: In Memoriam

By Ed Garea

Garry Marshall not only created the classic sitcoms Happy DaysThe Odd CoupleLaverne and Shirley, and Mork and Mindy, but also directed a string of hit movies, including The Flamingo Kid, BeachesPretty WomanRunaway Bride, and The Princess Diaries. He died on July 19 at a hospital in Burbank, California, from complications of pneumonia after suffering a stroke. He was 81. 

Marshall was the classic American success story, born Garry Kent Marshall in the New York City borough of The Bronx on November 13, 1934. His mother, Marjorie Irene (née Ward; 1908-1983), was a tap dance teacher who ran a tap dance school. His father,  Anthony Wallace Marshall (1906–1999), was a director of industrial films who later became a producer – as Tony Marshall – on some of his son’s television programs. 

He was of Italian descent on his father’s side and German, English and Scottish on his mother’s. His father changed the family’s last name from "Masciarelli" to "Marshall" before Garry was born. Marshall attended DeWitt Clinton High School and matriculated at Northwestern, where he wrote a sports column for The Daily Northwestern, penning a controversial column suggesting that Northwestern leave the Big Ten Conference. 

After graduation, he began his career as a joke writer for comedians including Joey Bishop. He later joined the writing staff of The Tonight Show With Jack Paar. He also worked for the New York Daily News as a copy boy in 1959 followed by a stint as a sports statistician in 1960. In 1961, he moved to Hollywood, where he teamed with Jerry Belson, writing for The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Joey Bishop Show, The Danny Thomas Show, and The Lucy Show.

Marshall and Belson struck out on their own as creator/producers for Hey, Landlord, which lasted one season (1966–67). In 1970, they adapted Neil Simon’s play The Odd Couple for ABC and scored a substantial hit. Over the course of its five-season run, the show drew three Emmy nominations for Outstanding Comedy Series. Stars Jack Klugman and Tony Randall won individual Emmys for Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Comedy Series – Klugman twice (1971 and 1973) and Randall once (1975). 

In 1971, Marshall wrote the pilot for Happy Days, which was aired in 1972 as a segment of ABC’s comedy anthology series Love, American Style called “Love and the Happy Days.” George Lucas asked to view the pilot before deciding to cast the segment’s star, Ron Howard, in American Graffiti, which was released in 1973.

The success of American Graffiti, in turn, led to ABC picking up Happy Days for its 1974 schedule. The series began slowly, but steadily expanding its audience, becoming the No. 1 show on television during the 1976-77 season, No. 2 in 1977-1978 and No. 4 the following year. Henry Winkler, who played Arthur “the Fonz” Fonzarelli became a pop culture icon; his leather jacket eventually winding up in the Smithsonian. 

In 1977, as the show searched for new ideas, the gang visit Hollywood, where Fonzie accepts a challenge to jump over a shark while on water skis. This decision later gave rise to the phrase “jumped the shark,” which was used to describe a show clearly past its prime and running on fumes. However, that is a misnomer for Happy Days. While the quality declined   that happens with nearly all long-running TV shows  and actors came and went, the ratings were still strong for years after that episode. It didn't go off the air until 1984.

While at the height of its success, Happy Days spawned two spinoffs. One was Laverne and Shirley (1976-83), starring Cindy Williams, who appeared in American Graffiti, along with Marshall’s sister Penny, who was Myrna Turner, Klugman's character's secretary on The Odd Couple TV show. The other was Mork and Mindy (1978-82), which made a star out of its lead, Robin Williams. Mork made two appearances on the show.

Marshall made his directorial debut in 1967 on his series Hey, Landlord and also helmed episodes of The Odd CoupleHappy DaysMork and Mindy, and Laverne and Shirley. The first feature film he directed was the comedy Young Doctors in Love (1982), a spoof of the long-running TV soap opera General Hospital, starring Sean Young and Michael McKean. A bit of trivia: Before making the film, he met actor Hector Elizondo during a pick-up basketball game. The two became fast friends and Elizondo then appeared in every Marshall movie.

His second film was The Flamingo Kid (1984), which he scripted from a story by Neal Marshall. A coming-of-age comedy starring Matt Dillon as a recent high school graduate who learns important life lessons while working during the summer as a cabana boy, it drew critical raves and decent box office. 

Marshall’s next venture was the comedy-drama Nothing in Common (1986) starring Tom Hanks as a successful ad man whose world falls apart when his mother, Eva Marie Saint, leaves his father, Jackie Gleason. Hanks now finds himself juggling his life to meet the needs of his parents, especially his father, who he realizes he never really knew. Though the critics weren’t as crazy about this as The Flamingo Kid, it still did decent business at the box office thanks to its star power. Marshall followed it with another modest success, the screwball comedy Overboard (1987), starring Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell.

Marshall’s first taste of success came with the 1988 tear-jerking chick flick, Beaches, starring Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey. The critics panned it, but the audience loved it, as it racked up a domestic gross of $57 million with an even more successful afterlife on home video. 

After directing The Lottery (1989), a short starring Bette Midler as a music teacher who loses her winning lottery ticket, Marshall hit the Hollywood lottery with the megahit Pretty Woman (1990), starring Richard Gere as a millionaire businessman who hires hooker Julia Roberts as an escort and winds up falling in love with her. Made on a budget of $14 million, the film grossed $178.4 million in the USA and $463.4 million worldwide. 

Marshall followed Pretty Woman with Frankie and Johnny, a adaptation of Terrence McNally’s play starring Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer that scored well with critics, but returned only $22.7 million against a budget of $29 million. But that was nothing compared with his next two films, the critical and commercial bombs Exit to Eden (1994) and Dear God (1996), which some critics said would have been better served as a TV movie. He managed to rebound with The Other Sister (1999), a modest financial success with Juliette Lewis as a mentally handicapped young woman and Diane Keaton as her mother.

Realizing what made him successful, Marshall reunited with his Pretty Woman stars Roberts and Gere for Runaway Bride (1999), about a reporter (Gere) whose latest assignment is writing a story about a woman he knows back home (Roberts) who keeps leaving her fiancés at the altar. Filmed on a $70 million budget, it grossed $309 million worldwide.

He followed this hit with another one: The Princess Diaries (2001), starring Anne Hathaway as Mia Thermopiles, a normal teenager who learns that she is the heir to the throne of a European country named Genovia and now must becomes used to a totally different lifestyle. The film was followed by a sequel, The Princess Diaries 2. The films made a star out of Hathaway and its sequel was also big hits for Marshall.

The films he later made were nowhere near the commercial or critical successes he had in the past. Georgia Rule (2007), starring Jane Fonda, Lindsay Lohan and Felicity Huffman, was a by-the-number weepie that turned a modest profit thanks to overseas grosses and home video sales. 

Valentine’s Day (2010) and its sequel New Year’s Eve (2011) were more commercially successful enterprises. Valentine’s Day, a story about three couples who break up and make up over the pressures of Valentine’s Day starred Julia Roberts, Anne Hathaway, Bradley Cooper, and Eric Dane. It returned a worldwide gross of $216.4 million against a budget of  $52 miillion. New Year’s Eve, which was the same story set against the backdrop of New Year’s Eve and starring Sarah Jessica Parker, Robert De Niro, and Halle Berry, returned $142 million against a budget of $57 million. Marshall’s last film, Mother’s Day, following the same formula and starred Julia Roberts, Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson and Jason Sudeikis, was released in April 2016. 

One facet of Marshall’s life that’s usually overlooked is he was also an actor with 83 roles to his name almost all of them uncredited or as a guest star. He played a U.S. recruiting officer in The Phony American (1961), with Christine Kaufman and William Bendix; an uncredited mafioso in Goldfinger (1964); a service station attendant in Fabian’s anti-drug Maryjane (1968); a plainclothes cop in the Dick Clark-produced Psych-Out for AIP in 1968; and chewing gum magnate Phil Harvey in the 1992 A League of Their Own (which he later reprised for the short-lived TV spinoff) for sister Penny Marshall, who directed. In television he had a recurring role as network head Stan Lansing on Murphy Brown (1994-1997) and Bernie in Father of the Bride (2004), besides numerous guest appearances and voice-overs for animated series,

Marshall even found time to pound the stage boards, appearing in Wrong Turn at Lungfish (co-written with Lowell Ganz), played L.A., Chicago and Off Broadway. The Roast, which he co-wrote with Jerry Belson, played Broadway in a production directed by Carl Reiner in 1980. In 1997, he and his daughter Kathleen founded the Falcon Theater in Burbank. Marshall also occasionally direct opera, including stagings of Jacques Offenbach’s The Grand Duchess, which opened the Los Angeles Opera’s 2005-2006 season, and Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love, which played at the San Antonio Opera in January 2008.

Over his career, Marshall received a plethora of honors: the American Comedy Awards’ Creative Achievement Award (1990); the Writers Guild of America’s Valentine Davies Award (1995); the Women in Film Lucy Award in recognition of excellence and innovation in creative works that have enhanced the perception of women through the medium of television (1996); the PGA’s Honorary Lifetime Membership Award and Lifetime Achievement Award in Television (1998); the American Cinema Editors’ Golden Eddie Filmmaker of the Year Award (2004); and the Laurel Award for TV Writing Achievement from the Writers Guild of America (2014).

He was inducted into the Academy of Television, Arts and Sciences’ Hall of Fame for his contributions to the field of television in 1997. In 2012, he was inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters' Broadcasting Hall of Fame. He also has a star on the Walk of Fame. Northwestern University named a building specializing in radio/television/film production for him and his wife.

Marshall wrote two volumes of memoirs: Wake Me When It’s Funny (co-written with his daughter Lori in 1995), which recounted his first 35 years in Hollywood; and My Happy Days in Hollywood (2012).

Marshall is survived by his wife, Barbara, to whom he was married since 1963; son Scott, a film director; and daughters Lori, an actress and casting director, and Kathleen, an actress; a number of grandchildren; and sisters Penny Marshall, an actress and film director, and Ronny Hallin, a TV producer.

Friday, July 22, 2016

TCM TiVo Alert for July 23-31

July 23–July 31


THE GOODBYE GIRL (July 24, 6:00 pm): This film came during the peak of Richard Dreyfuss' acting career and is one of his best performances. He won an Oscar for Best Actor (becoming, at the time, the youngest to win the award) for this 1977 film. The screenplay, written by Neil Simon, is good, but the acting and interaction between Dreyfuss, Marsha Mason and Quinn Cummings (the latter two were nominated for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, respectively) are outstanding. Cummings, who was 10 when the film was released (and flamed out as an actress a couple of years later), is marvelous as Mason's precocious daughter. It's a very charming and entertaining romantic comedy.

THE CAINE MUTINY (July 25, 12:00 am): Humphrey Bogart in his last great role as 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 moment of glory as a commander, which puts his crew at risk. The final straw is his refusal to avoid a typhoon and then freezes 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. 


HOBSON’S CHOICE (July 23, 8:00 pm): David Lean directed this wonderfully droll comedy with Charles Laughton in one of his best and most unforgettable performances. He’s a widower with three daughters to marry off, but things don’t quite turn out like he expected. See this once and you’ll want to see it again ... and again. Gentle comedies such as this aren’t made anymore; mores the pity. Look for Prunella Scales – later best known as Sybil Fawlty – as one of Laughton’s daughters. If you haven’t seen this before, you’re in for a real treat. And if you have seen it before, I don’t need to tell you to watch it again; you’ll be doing that anyway.

THE ENTERTAINER (July 23, 10:00 pm): Laurence Olivier gives an unforgettable performance as has-been song-and-dance man Archie Rice, who will stop at nothing to hit the big time once more, even if it means ruining the lives of those around him. Brenda DeBanzie gives a terrific performance as his alcoholic wife, Phoebe, and Roger Livesey is wonderful as his father Billy, a retired music hall performer. Director Tony Richardson does a superb job of capturing the flavor and atmosphere of the cheesy seaside resorts that Archie is reduced to playing, which compliments perfectly Olivier’s brilliant touches as the egotistical Archie Rice. Olivier had perfected the role on stage in John Osborne's play and hits every discordant note on his way down. A true essential.

WE DISAGREE ON … LITTLE BIG MAN (July 27, 9:30 pm)

ED: B. Little Big Man is an interesting movie, as it’s concerned with a specific period of American history. Unfortunately, whenever Hollywood meets history, truth is the thing sacrificed. There are several glaring inaccuracies in the film concerning matters of historical fact, mainly the depiction of Custer as a bigoted loony murderer. That’s as far from the truth as the depiction of him as a gallant martyr in They Died With Their Boots On. Keep in mind that the film was made in 1970, when it was chic to be anti-establishment. I have never seen any reason to bend historical fact to fit an ideology. History is interesting enough without hiding or distorting the facts to make a “better” story. As a film it is first-rate, but it’s historical inaccuracy is enough to make me drop it a grade.

DAVID: A+. There is no doubt that, as Ed wrote, this isn't an accurate telling of historical events. However, simply dismissing this satirical film for that reason is short-sighted. It's a fascinating story of the many legends of the Wild West as told by Jack Crabb, a 121-year-old man who supposedly lived through them. Dustin Hoffman is positively brilliant in the lead role, showing amazing versatility playing the character in a variety of scenarios and at different ages. The makeup is fantastic, and while Hoffman is the star of this 1970 film, he has a solid supporting cast including Martin Balsam as a snake oil salesman and Chief Dan George, who plays his Indian "father." It's a great combination of comedy and drama told through what is definitely a very liberal, but extremely entertaining, telling of historical events. 

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