Tuesday, January 30, 2018

TCM TiVo Alert for February 1-7

February 1–February 7


YANKEE DOODLE DANDY (February 2, 1:45 am): I'm not a fan of musicals nor am I a fan of sentimental films that play with your emotions, particularly a largely fictitious biopic. Yet I'm a huge fan of Yankee Doodle Dandy, which obviously falls into all of the above categories. The sheer joy that James Cagney brings to the role of George M. Cohan is infectious. It's completely Cagney's movie. He is so spectacular, so engaging, so entertaining, that I find myself humming along to some of the corniest songs ever written and watching with a big smile on my face.

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (February 7, 8:00 pm): It's one of the most visually-stunning and fascinating films every made. 2001: A Space Odyssey is the story of man from pre-evolution to a trip to Jupiter, and how superior beings on that mysterious planet made it all possible. The storyline is fascinating and the ending is very much open to interpretation, which makes the film even more compelling. The interaction between astronaut David Bowman (Keir Dullea) and the HAL 9000 computer that controls the spaceship and has a mind of its own reflects how mankind has experienced gains and losses through the use of advanced technology. The cinematography, special effects and music take this film to a special level. 


BATTLEGROUND (February, 3:30 am): The first film depicting an actual World War II battle, released in 1949, when memories of the war were still fresh in the minds of the soldiers that fought in it. Employing an excellent ensemble cast, including James Whitmore, Van Johnson, Ricardo Montalban, John Hodiak, and George Murphy, it’s the story of the 101st Airborne Division and its brave stand at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge as told by writer Robert Pirosh and director William Wellman. Seen as somewhat dated today when compared to the awe-inspiring realism of the Band of Brothers mini-series, the film was considered as cutting edge when first released in terms of realism and faithfulness to history. It’s still well worth your time and still retains its punch after all these years.

BLACK NARCISSUS (February 4, 8:00 pm): The team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger was certainly on a roll in the ‘40s, producing quite a few masterpieces of cinema. This is one of them, a sumptuously filmed and dramatically charged movie, about a group of Anglican nuns, led by Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr), trying to establish a mission in a remote Himalayan outpost  The climate is hostile and the nuns are housed in an odd old palace. They work to establish a school and a hospital, but slowly their focus shifts, as emotional challenges come to the surface. Adapted from Rumer Godden’s novel, this is one of the most breathtaking color films ever made and won deserved Oscars for cinematographer Jack Cardiff and art director Alfred Junge.

WE DISAGREE ON ... HOW THE WEST WAS WON (February 6, 12:15 am)

ED: A. Filmed in panoramic Cinerama, this epic, star-laden, Western is a classic. It is a film truly made for the Cinerama process, and frankly, watching it on anything less diminishes its impact to a degree. But what makes this film a classic is the combined efforts of three noted directors: Henry Hathaway, John Ford and George Marshall. Each directs an episode in this episodic saga about three families and their adventures between 1839 and 1889. Spencer Tracy narrates, and the film, which cost an estimated $15 million to complete, was a massive undertaking. It is true to say that with the decline of Cinerama, they don't make them like this any more. But moviegoers have always been, and always will be, impressed with big movies. It was one of the top hits of 1963, earning eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. Although it is diminished somewhat without the full Cinerama experience, the film is still superb entertainment, thanks to the cast and especially the direction by three of the best action directors in the business. It still retains its power to entertain and remains as a great popcorn film.

DAVID: B-. This film comes with an impressive pedigree. It's a Western with John Ford as one of its directors and an all-star cast including Henry Fonda, John Wayne, Gregory Peck, James Stewart, Karl Malden and Lee J. Cobb. The movie poster touted "24 Great Stars in the Mightiest Adventure Ever Filmed!" Spencer Tracy provides the narration, and it's beautifully filmed in Cinerama, a very advanced, very expensive process for 1963, when it was released. It's a good film, thus my grade of B-, so I'm not going to trash it for argument's sake. However, for nearly every step forward, it take a step back. While the cast is great, we don't get to spend much time with them. It seemed like the movie was trying to fit in as many film legends as possible just to say they're in it. There's little to no character development and most of the actors either have cameos or small roles. Because of that, the viewer can't get attached to the characters as they leave the screen almost as fast as they entered a few minutes prior. There's some nice work such as Ford's Civil War segment, which, surprisingly, lasts about 15 minutes in a film that is ridiculously long – almost three hours. The overall length would be fine if portions of it weren't also boring and pointless. Epics tell the story of a character or two or three, and allow the audience to see the development of that person or people. That doesn't happen here as it's a story of four generations of one family. That wouldn't be an issue if there was a solid storyline. There's a lot of potential in this movie, and some of it is realized. Of all the great actors in the film, a decent amount is dedicated to a character played by George Peppard, who is quite good. The movie has great scenery and a beautiful look, but it should have been tighter with more focus.

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

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Post

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

The Post (Universal, 2017) – Director: Steven Spielberg. Writers: Liz Hannah & Josh Singer.  Stars: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Justin Swain, Matthew Rhys, Curzon Dobell, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Bob Odenkirk, Sarah Paulson, Bruce Greenwood, Alison Brie & Zach Woods. Color, Rated PG-13, 116 minutes.

Looking back at the scope of the Pentagon Papers encompassing the history of the situation in Vietnam from 1945 to 1965, 7,000 pages and years of compilation, it’s incredible that Steven Spielberg could squeeze the story, as told from The Washington Post’s side, into a little less than two hours.

Katharine “Kay” Graham (Streep), heiress and owner of The Washington Post, is dealing with her husband Phil’s suicide, raising her children and keeping her “cash-poor” newspaper afloat. She views it, appropriately, as a family newspaper passed down through generations and decides a partial solution would be going public on the American Stock Exchange.

Ben Bradlee (Hanks) is the paper’s editor and he wants news that will increase readership. In a restless time when America is waging a seemingly hopeless war, the opportunities for major headlines pop up daily. But The New York Times always gets the scoop first. He notices the lack of columns from investigative reporter Neil Sheehan (Swain) and concludes that he’s working on something big. He is. Twenty years of lies told to the American public about Vietnam.

Military Analyst Daniel Ellsberg (Rhys) saw firsthand in Vietnam how things were not getting better or worse, but just remaining the same. In secret, he and his friends copy 43 volumes of the papers, clip off the “Top Secret” from the bottom of the pages and present them to The New York Times. But upon first publication, President Richard Nixon (Dobell) blocks any further publication as a felony against the United States.

Assistant Editor of The Post Ben Bagdikian (Odenkirk) locates Ellsberg in his motel room and flies the papers back to Washington (he needed to purchase two airline seats to do it). As he’s strapping them in the stewardess says: “That must be very precious to you.” “Oh, just government secrets.” They both laugh it off. Ben brings his co-workers together in Bradlee’s home and together they sort through the miles of paper without page numbers (snipped off with the “Top Secret” designation) and put together a story for the paper while Tony Bradlee (Paulson) serves sandwiches.

Now Kay has a problem. She’s good friends with Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Greenwood), creator of the Vietnam Study Taskforce, who will look really bad if this goes to press. She trusts her editor’s instinct for a spectacular headline and the paper’s survival. But she also knows through The Post’s lawyers that if the source is linked up with the source from The New York Times, they could be held in contempt of court and go to prison.

It’s one of those movies where you know how it ends because it’s mostly true to historical facts, but it’s also exciting in how the story is told. The sword of disaster hangs over every scene and you can feel it in the acting, which is superb. Meryl Streep is her usual excellent self, a Grand Dame of the movies, and Tom Hanks is somewhere between Perry White and J. Jonah Jameson. The obvious “Freedom of the Press” overshadows the whole film but it’s constantly in danger from a dictatorial government. I enjoyed it thoroughly even though I was not riveted to my seat. I guess John Williams’ musical soundtrack helped that. And, almost as a hint to a sequel, the film ends with the discovery of the Watergate break-in. Maybe?

Rating: 5 out of 5 martini glasses.

Le Zie 2000
172 7th Avenue, New York
Though this restaurant opened in 1999, I guess 2000 was a better number to put in the title. In this age of specialization I reviewed a Sicilian restaurant not too long ago. This one specializes in Venetian cuisine. Could Calabrian be far in the future? Seriously, Le Zie was a class act from start to finish.

The burnt orange outside awning featured the name in clear, white letters. Inside, all is golden. I was seated at a table by the window, choosing the banquette side looking in because the window was half obscured and I would not be able to see out. It turned out for the best because the heating pipe was in the wall behind me and it felt really good on a cold night.

I ordered my favorite Beefeater’s martini as I perused both the menu and the restaurant. Looking around the room I estimated twenty tables, a small restaurant. But I was informed they have three other rooms – a patio, a lounge and a galleria.

There were many dishes to choose from, which took me a good while. The wine list alone had over 200 vintages. I opted for a 2014 Lucente Merlot/Sangiovese varietal from Luce Della Vite vineyards, Montalcino, Toscana. An excellent wine with lots of wild berry flavor, a tantalizing tartness, deep red color and medium body. 

My first course was the Cara Cara Orange (a breed of naval orange) Salad, with basil, avocado, red onion and goat cheese. I would never have thought these ingredients went together but they did. The citrus blended with the fatty sweet of the avocado and, moderated by the tangy cheese, was delicious.

Next came a pasta dish. I’ve been hooked on cannelloni since my last trip to Italy and their hand-rolled veal cannelloni over spinach with béchamel and tomato was excellent. The pasta and its well-ground filling melted in the mouth and the spinach was just right, tender with a slight crunch.

For my main course I chose the Bacon-wrapped Monkfish, with polenta, shaved Brussels sprouts and apple salad – a dining adventure. The almost two inch diameter cylinders were filled with tender, juicy monkfish filets and wrapped with savory, crisp bacon. The polenta was lovely, but nothing on the plate upstaged the fantastic fish.

Desserts were the only category on the menu with a limited choice, so I went with a favorite: Tartufo – chocolate and vanilla gelato centered with sliced nuts and a cherry and embraced in dark chocolate. It was served cut in quarters on the plate like a four-petal flower, and good to the last.

My standard double espresso followed, accompanied by a Nonino Picolit Grappa. Apparently, this is a “legendary” grappa, made from the Picolit white grape of Friuli, pressed at Benito and Giannola Nonino’s vineyard, Venetia. I found it delicious, more of a grape explosion than a liquid experience. A special ending of a really impressive Italian (excuse me, Venetian) feast. Don’t know when, but I’ll be back for the lasagna. It must be exceptional.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

Friday, January 26, 2018

The Bat Whispers

The Psychotronic Zone

By Ed Garea

The Bat Whispers (UA, 1930) – Director: Roland West. Writers: Mary Roberts Rinehart & Avery Hopwood (play); Roland West (adaptation). Stars: Chester Morris, Una Merkel, Grayce Hampton, Maude Eburne, Spencer Charters, Gustav von Seyffertitz, William Bakewell, Chance Ward, Richard Tucker, Wilson Benge, DeWitt Jennings, Sidney D’Albrook, S.E. Jennings, Hugh Huntley, & Charles Dow Clark. B&W, 83 minutes.

One of the novelties of 1920s Broadway was the Old Dark House thriller. These productions combined mystery and horror with a slice of comedy to relieve the tension. The most successful of these plays were The MonsterThe Cat and the CanaryThe Gorilla, and The Bat. Decidedly tongue-in-cheek, with criminals and mad scientists terrorizing hapless victims, they played to sellout crowds and delivered more then their share of thrills. All would be purchased by Hollywood and made into films.

One of the most popular of the Broadway mysteries was The Bat, written by Avery Hopwood and Mary Roberts Rinehart and directed by Roland West. The play was a reworking of Rinehart’s 1907 popular novel The Circular Staircase, throwing in elements from her short story “The Borrowed House” for good measure. The stage version was noted for the clever way it staged the action and its intricate plotting, which was something the original silent’s inter-titles could not adequately convey to the audience. 

Purportedly the inspiration for Bob Kane to create Batman, it’s a potboiler set around the wealthy summer mansions of Long Island and featuring a costumed super-criminal named the Bat, a cat burglar and murderer who is terrorizing New York City. The plot revolves around a hidden fortune from a bank robbery in an isolated summer mansion rented by mystery writer Cordelia Van Gorder. The Bat is after it and it is up to Van Gorder and her guests to solve the mystery and unmask the Bat. 

After running on Broadway for 867 performances, West made it into a film in 1926 (released through United Artists), and when talkies came to stay in 1930 he decided to make a sound version, titled The Bat Whispers, to differentiate it from the original. The remake differs very little from the silent; it is still essentially a stage play that combines elements of comedy and mystery. It was also the first film to perfect the use of the moving camera. In those early days of sound cameras were enormous and quite cumbersome, and remained static. Though a clever use of dollies and miniatures West is able to lift the film from its stage-bound setting and inject a dynamic fluidity that still dazzles today. 

Though saddled with a more complex plot than its silent predecessor, The Bat Whispers is more fun to watch due to the technological advances, which include some of the best rear projection work for the time. As a squad car races along a New York City street, we learn that police have isolated the apartment building where wealthy jewel collector Bell (Tucker) resides. He has gotten a warning from the Bat that the pride of his collection, the Rossmore necklace, will be stolen at the stroke of midnight. Despite the police presence the Bat makes his way down from the roof, strangles Bell and makes off with the necklace, leaving behind a mocking note for the befuddled police. 

Having made his getaway, the Bat shifts his sights to a bank in Oakdale County. However, he finds he’s been beaten to the punch. Watching the other robber make his getaway, the Bat follows, but a smokescreen generator the other robber installed in his car temporarily leaves the Bat behind. We see the robber pull up to the gate of a mansion marked “Fleming” and let himself into the basement. Obviously, he’s familiar with the place, using a ladder to access to into the laundry chute, which leads in turn to a network of secret passages inside the mansion’s walls. But the noise he makes attracts the attention of the mansion’s tenants, Cornelia Van Gorder (Hampton) and her nervous maid, Lizzie Allen (Eburne). The caretaker (Charters) tells them the noise comes from ghosts in the cellar, but Van Gorder and Allen suspect it’s none other than the Bat.    

The bank robber isn’t the only one making noise. A hooting noise from the garden that has Lizzie practically climbing the walls turns out to be a signal from Cornelia’s niece, Dale (Merkel), to her fiancé Brook (Bakewell) hiding in the bushes. Dale hopes to pass Brook off as a gardener. The reason behind the deception is that Brook, a teller at the Oakdale bank, is now believed to be the prime suspect in the robbery. He and Dale have an idea that the real thief has hidden the loot in a secret room inside the mansion. Dale has also called Richard Fleming (Huntley), the nephew of the man who owns both the mansion and the Oakdale Bank, to come out to the house once she and Brook are safely inside to aid in the hunt for that secret room. In addition, Doctor Venrees (von Seyffertitz), an old friend of the Fleming family, has arrived to tell Mrs. Van Gordner that he has received a telegram from Fleming stating that the robbery is forcing him to return from Europe and that he will need to occupy his house.

As if all this wasn’t enough, a detective named Anderson (Morris) shows up. Not only has he come to investigate the strange goings-on that Cornelia and Lizzie have seen and heard, but also tells them he’s been assigned to catch the Bat. Cornelia, however, completely trust Anderson and has engaged the services of a private detective named Brown (Clark), who arrives just in time to  investigate the fatal shooting of Fleming by persons unknown. Anderson thinks Dale is the killer, as she was not only apparently alone in the room with Fleming at the time, but also because he knows that she’s engaged to the prime suspect. In his eyes this makes her a rival for the loot if there’s anything to Cornelia’s belief that Fleming was looking to get his hands on the loot to alleviate his gambling debts.

Now that the suspects have all gathered, the mystery begins to take off. A masked man sticks a gun in the caretaker’s back, telling him he better get everyone out of the house. The lights go on and off and the shadow of the Bat is seen by various occupants. Anderson tells everyone that Fleming isn’t in Europe. He suspects that Fleming robbed his own bank and accuses Doctor Venrees of being in cahoots with him. Meanwhile, an unconscious man is found in the garage. When he comes to, Anderson questions him, but the man can’t remember anything. Anderson tells the private detective to keep an eye on him.

Eventually, the hidden room and the missing money are found, but that’s not all, as the body of the missing banker Fleming is found behind a wall in the room. The garage suddenly bursts into flames, sending everyone into a panic. In the chaos, the Bat appears and is caught, but gets away before he can be unmasked.     

As the Bat flees from the house, he walks into a bear trap, that was set by Lizzie. Unmasked, he is revealed as Detective Anderson, only Anderson isn’t really Anderson. The real Detective Anderson is the man found unconscious in the garage. As he’s taken away, the Bat declares that no jail can hold him and he will escape.     

A curtain closes across the screen as it’s revealed that we are in a theater. Chester Morris comes out to tell the audience that as long as they don’t reveal the Bat’s identity they will be safe from the Bat, otherwise, the Bat will get angry.


One of the strongest things the film has going for is its mise-en-scene, which shows the influence of the expressionism so artfully used in German cinema. West has a fine eye for combining thrilling visuals with striking compositions, especially in the use of shadows, dissolves and miniatures. His use of high-contrast lighting, with its stark boundaries between black and white, easily combines with his imaginative set designs. Credit for this goes to  cinematographers Ray June and Robert H. Planck. West's technical crew reportedly invented such items as new lighting equipment and a new type of viewfinder while constructing a dolly-mounted camera crane, and a 300-foot track where the camera was suspended by cables from overhead scaffolding. 

The miniatures themselves are dazzling, allowing the camera to seemingly swoop through space. They were designed by Paul Crawley and photographed by Edward Colman and Harry Zech. 

West shot The Bat Whispers in a 2:1 aspect ratio 65mm widescreen “Magnifilm” version. But though the Magnifilm process was heavily hyped in press releases, it proved to be a short-lived fad, though West previewed the widescreen version in Los Angeles on November 6, 1930. It then played engagements in San Francisco and Baltimore before opening in New York on January 16, 1931.

There were very few cinemas capable of projecting it, which was why the crew simultaneously shot a 35mm 1.33:1 version for general release. A third version, for international distribution, was composed of 35mm alternate takes. The domestic negative was cut down to 72 minutes for the 1938 When Atlantic Pictures reissued the film in 1938 the domestic negative down was cut to 72 minutes with the result that the excised footage was lost.

Another strike against the widescreen process was that many in Hollywood believed the process would cause financial instability. Theaters had just been wired for sound. Now have to upgrade their projectors and screen size, an onerous finial burden with the country in the midst of the Great Depression. The costs of this new technology would have further reduced the number of financially viable theaters. The Hays Office solved the problem by issuing a ruling that forbade studios to postpone any new invention for at least two years. This effectively killed Magnifilm. 

Hollywood wouldn’t return to widescreen until the mid-‘50s, when it needed an effective method of competing with television (Cinerama, Cinemascope). Whereas the widescreen process  was shot in 70 mm (with 5mm of the celluloid devoted to the multi-channel soundtrack), one competing widescreen process – Todd-AO – was virtually identical to Magnifilm/Grandeur as it used 65mm film.

One of the drawbacks of the the 65mm process was that it required much more light than a 35mm camera. Additional lighting hardware was necessary and it made the actors’ lives more difficult. Merkel claims to have lost twenty pounds from the heat of the lamps, and Morris went through a temporary bout of “klieg eyes.”

All these technological advances look magnificent when we see the Bat in silhouette looking through the window (which makes him look like a shadow) or POV shots of the Bat’s looking through a skylight at the interiors below. The black and white cinematography, combined with West’s shots of chutes, passageways, and rooftops, give the film an almost eerie, nightmarish quality. The excitement felt by the audience is palpable.

However, when the film moves indoors, the stage-bound aspects, especially the overly talky dialogue, take over and drag the film down. A large part of these problems lie with the source material. Mary Roberts Rinehart was very popular in her day, but her writing tends to be tedious and the play was no exception. The actual narrative of the movie is so excruciating and the acting so outdated that most of the visual power of the direction gets lost.     

The acting in the film comes off as rather uneven by today’s standards. As the hysterical maid Lizzy Allen, Louise Fazenda not only functions as the film’s comedy relief, but nearly runs off with the picture, her deft comic expressions and adeptness at physical comedy still making us laugh today. Lizzy’s boss, Mrs. Van Gorder (Fitzroy), is for the most part the epitome of stoicism, though she also has her humorous moments. And no matter where the characters are or how tense the situations, Mrs. Van Gorder can be found working her knitting needles. Una Merkel as Mrs. Van Gorder’s niece, Dale, acquits herself nicely, and Chester Morris, as Detective Anderson, gives another excellent performance.

The Bat Whispers was not a big hit at the time of its release, the victim of a critical and commercial backlash to the over saturation of old dark house thrillers in the theatre. After West's next film,Corsair (1931) bombed with the public he retired from films. He also left his wife, actress Jewel Carmen, and moved in with girlfriend Thelma Todd, concentrating on their restaurant in Pacific Palisades. After Todd died in what the police termed as “suspicious circumstances” in 1935, West, though he was never charged for her death remained the main suspect in the eyes of the police. Following Todd's death and his divorce from Carmen, West virtually withdrew into seclusion. In the early 1950s his health deteriorated. He suffered a stroke and a nervous breakdown. He died in Santa Monica, California at the age of 67 in 1952.


For decades, both The Bat and The Bat Whispers were thought to be irretrievably lost. However, a print of The Bat, owned by an Idaho movie-loving surgeon turned up in 1988. After his death his film collection made its way to UCLA where the print was found to be so eroded it required a restoration. But they also discovered the first reel was missing and decided to go ahead anyway. Just after the restoration was completed, someone in Boise found the missing reel and thus the film was able to be completely restored. 

As for The Bat Whispers, the 65mm Magnifilm version was found in the archives of the Mary Pickford Estate. Pickford, who had produced both the silent and sound versions as part-owner of United Artists, intended to remake it with Humphrey Bogart and Lillian Gish. In October 1958 former RKO studio head C. J. Tevlin purchased the remake rights from Pickford for his company, Liberty Films. Starring Vincent Price, Agnes Moorehead and Gavin Gordon, it was directed by Crane Wilbur and distributed by Allied Artists under the title The Bat

The Bat Whispers was cited by comic book author Bob Kane in his autobiography Batman and Me as having inspired the character of Batman, which he co-created with Bill Finger.

The film’s coda, with Morris asking the audience not to give away The Bat’s identity, lest it make The Bat angry enough to start killing at random, and that The Bat promises not to kill or steal from any viewer if they keep the secret, made a comeback in the ‘50s and ‘60s, appropriated in different form by William Castle and Alfred Hitchcock, among others.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Bed of Roses

Film in Focus

By Ed Garea

Bed of Roses (RKO, 1933) – Director: Gregory La Cava. Writers: Wanda Turlock (s/p & story), Gregory La Cava, Eugene Thackrey (dialogue). Stars: Constance Bennett, Joel McCrea, Pert Kelton, John Halliday, Samuel S. Hinds, Franklin Pangborn & Tom Herbert. B&W, 67 minutes.

For a film that starts so well and with such a great cast armed with snappy lines, Bed of Roses turns out to be a rather routine programmer.

Lorry Evans (Bennett) and Minnie Brown (Kelton) are two hookers being released from prison. After having their possessions returned and given their prison earnings, the matron (an uncredited Jane Darwell) gives each a short farewell sermon, but Lorry cuts her short, telling her “Save your wind, save your wind, you might want to go sailing sometime.”

Once outside the gates Lorry is met by Father Doran (Hinds), who has an idea to reform her that she quickly rejects, telling him that she’s been doing a lot of thinking while in stir and decided it would be easier to be a kept woman rather than working for a living.

Minnie, on the other hand, has arranged for a ride with a trucker to the docks, where they plan to catch a river boat to New Orleans. She asks Lorry if she can play chauffeur while she helps the driver “check up on his groceries.” Given the highly suggestive manner with which she says it, it’s obvious how she’s paying for the ride.

Once the girls are aboard the ship they find they have only enough money to take them about halfway. Minnie ventures out into the fog to whisper a salacious suggestion to the porter, who shocked, rejects it. “Nothing personal,” he says as she walks away.

While Lorry is sulking in their room, Minnie returns with couple of boll-weevil exterminators and a bottle of gin. They proceed to get the men drunk and Lorry relives one of his cash. When they sober up the next day and discover one’s been robbed they go to the Captain (an uncredited Robert Emmett O’Connor) and report the theft. When Lorry is cornered she decides to jump into the river rather than face arrest.

A few minutes later she finds herself rescued by Dan (McCrea), who captains a cotton barge. Losing her money in the rescue she repays Dan’s kindness by robbing him and skipping out when the barge docks at New Orleans. She then tracks down Stephen Paige, a wealthy publisher she had noticed on the river boat. Disguising herself as a feature reporter she goes to his office to interview him, in the course of which she gets him roaring drunk. When she practically carries him back to her apartment, she dumps him on the couch and rigs the scene to imply that they slept together.

When Paige awakens the next day, Lorry gives him her cock-and-bull story and blackmails him into supporting her in a luxury apartment, lest word of this get out and ruin his social and business standing in town, even though he’s a bachelor. 

Now ensconced in the lap of luxury, Lorry soon grows bored and visits Dan on the docks. She repays him the money she stole and the two fall in love. He ends up proposing to her, and though she at first accepts, Lorry, who has kept her past a secret, changes her mind when a lovesick Stephen convinces her that her past life will one day lead to Dan's ruin. She leaves Dan, but rather than go back with Stephen, decides to strike out on her own and lands a job as a sales clerk in a department store.

Stephen, meanwhile, wants Lorry back. He convinces Minnie (who is now married to one of the men they cheated on the river boat) for a little expense money, if she can arrange a reunion by inviting Lorry to a Mardi Gras party, telling her he’ll take care of the rest.

Stephen locates Lorry at the Mardi Gras party and makes a bid for her return, giving her an expensive bracelet as a sweetener. But Lorry turns him and the bracelet down. Meanwhile, Minnie locates Dan, gives him Lorry’s address, and after revealing her best friend’s past, reunites the two lovers.


Bed of Roses was the last of four pictures made by RKO teaming McCrea and Bennett. It was also the last film at the studio for director La Cava, who left an acrimonious relationship with the studio to pursue a freelance career.

Although La Cava co-wrote some rather risqué dialogue, his direction was uninspiring and flat. The film plays like a programmer, with the plot dictating matters and little room left for character development. Bed of Roses follows the usual Pre-Code path by taking liberties with sexual mores, but at the end stressing that honesty is the best policy and one’s inner virtue tells more about that person than any sexual liberties on his or her part. 

Lorry’s reform is quite sudden and rather unexplained. There is a noticeable lack of chemistry between Bennett and McCrea because the film’s running time will simply not allow it. When on her own, she shines, but whenever she’s with McCrea it’s as if the air was let out of her performance. For this I blame the director. It’s as if La Cava knew this was the last picture he’d do for RKO and he was hurrying his way through it, come what may, to the detriment of the film. 

As for the rest of the cast, Kelton is fine despite being saddled with a poor Mae West imitation in the way she speaks. Halliday comes off bland, for all he has to do is basically react to Bennett’s character. As for the rest of the credited cast, no one is on screen long enough to make an impression.

Kelton is an interesting case. in the Pre-Code days she was pushed as a supporting actress due to her wise-cracking persona. But as the Code became enforced she was forced lower and lower down the ladder, eventually working for Poverty Row studios. She quit Hollywood and returned to Broadway. With the coming of television in the early 1950s she played the first Alice Kramden on The Honeymooners, opposite Jackie Gleason. Shortly thereafter, however, Kelton found herself on the blacklist. She was replaced on The Honeymooners by Audrey Meadows, and returned to Broadway, where she make her mark in the stage musical of The Music Man as Mrs. Paroo, Marian the Librarian's mother. She reprised the role in the 1962 film. And she received a vindication of sorts on television when she was cast in the ‘60s as Alice Kramden’s mother on The Honeymooners. Jackie Gleason had never forgotten her.

Bed of Roses will be of interest to Pre-Code enthusiasts and those who chase obscure films. One thing I’ve noticed is the change in the character of the prostitute from Pre-Code to Code enforcement. In the Pre-Code days, the hooker was a wisecracking, vivacious woman who lived large and thought equally large. After the Code was enforced she went to being a victim of her circumstances, downtrodden, careworn and thoroughly disreputable.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

TCM TiVo Alert for January 23-31

January 23–January 31


ALL THE KING'S MEN (January 24, 12:30 am): This is the best political film ever made and one of the 10 greatest movies of all-time. I could watch this 1949 classic over and over again – and have. Broderick Crawford is brilliant as Willie Stark, a do-gooder who fails as a politician until he learns to work the system, gets dirt on friends and foes, and becomes a beloved populist governor. There are other incredible performances, particularly John Ireland as Jack Burden, a journalist who "discovers" Stark and helps him climb the political ladder, stepping over anyone in the way; and Raymond Greenleaf as Judge Monte Stanton, Burden's mentor and role model. If you love politics, this is the best movie on the subject ever made. If you hate politics, you'll love this film as it gives you plenty of reasons to confirm your belief on the subject.

LIBELED LADY (January 27, 12:00 pm): First, a few words about the cast. You can't possibly make a bad movie with William Powell, Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy and Jean Harlow (the latter had top billing). The chemistry between all four in this 1936 screwball comedy is among the best you'll find in any movie. While Walter Connolly is fine as Loy's father, the legendary Lionel Barrymore was originally cast in the role. If that had come to pass, this would rival Key Largo as the greatest ensemble-cast film ever made. There are so many wonderful and genuinely funny scenes in this film with these four great comedic actors. Powell and Harlow were married at the time, but it was decided that Powell and Loy, one of cinema's greatest on-screen couples, would fall in love though Harlow got to do a wedding scene with Powell. Harlow died of renal failure the year after this film was released. She was only 26. The plot is wonderful with socialite Loy suing a newspaper for $500,000 for falsely reporting she broke up a marriage. Tracy is the paper's managing editor and Harlow is his fiancée who he won't marry. Tracy hires Powell, a slick newspaperman who is a smooth operator when it comes to women, to seduce Loy and then purposely get caught in a compromising position by Harlow, who would pretend to be his wife. Things don't turn out as planned with Loy and Powell falling in love. It's a great movie with a fantastic cast and a joy to watch.


EARLY SUMMER (Jan, 23, 5:15 am): Yasujiro Ozu was a director of extraordinary technical and emotional range. Give him two actors such as the beautiful Setsuko Hara and the superb Chishu Ryu to works with and the result is yet another Ozu masterpiece. His best films are subtle examinations of the clashes that take place in postwar Japanese families as traditional values are being replaced by modern ones. The Mamiya family, which consists of three generations who have lived together in Tokyo for the last 16 years, has it hard times. Father Shukichi (Ichirô Sugai) and  mother Shige (Chieko Higashiyama) want to keep the family together. To this end they have delayed their retirement to their birthplace in Yamato and continue to live with Shukichi's brother until their 28-year-old independent-minded daughter Noriko (Setsuko Hara) is married. Noriko’s older brother, Koichi (Chishu Ryu), is a doctor in the hospital. He and his wife Fumiko (Kuniko Miyake) have two young spoiled boys. Minoru, the older one (Zen Murase), has temper tantrums when he doesn't get his way. His younger brother, Isamu (Isao Shirosawa), is a mischief maker. In order that the family may retire Noriko must marry, but the problem is that she is in ho hurry to do so. The crux of the film is how Noriko handles her family’s pressure. The thread running through the film is one that those familiar with the director’s work will easily recognize: the changing family attitudes in bustling postwar Japan driven by a strong Western influences that are speeding up this inevitable change, giving women the freedom and power to choose their own husbands in a society that its becoming more and more consumer driven. In lesser hands this might turn out to be a turgid piece of melodrama, but Ozu’s deft use of a comic approach gets his points across without making the proceedings too heavy. This is a film that will touch the heartstrings of all who watch without making us grab for the Kleenex.

TROUBLE IN PARADISE (Jan. 24, 11:00 pm): Ernst Lubitsch was best known for what was called “the Lubitsch touch,” a style of sophisticated comedy unmatched by anyone else. And this film represents Lubitsch at his best. Jewel thieves Herbert Marshall and Miriam Hopkins fall in love in one of the most riotous scenes of one-upmanship in the movies, but now find their newly minted relationship threatened when Herbert turns on the charm to their newest victim, rich Paris widow Kay Francis. Their mastery of their characters is helped along with a witty script full of sparkling dialogue, clever plotting, great sexual gamesmanship, and brilliant visuals. Critic Dwight MacDonald described the film “as close to perfection as anything I have ever seen in the movies.” All I can say is to watch for yourselves.

WE DISAGREE ON ... ON THE TOWN (January 30, 11:45 pm)

ED: A-. Produced in the Golden Age of MGM musicals, On the Town is a delight for the eyes and the ears. This musical about three sailors in New York City on 24-hours shore leave, marks an important departure in the history of the movie musical. Prior musicals were studio bound, never leaving the soundstage. Director Gene Kelly, who earlier managed to shoot a Brooklyn Bridge sequence in 1947’s It Happened in Brooklyn, wanted to shoot this film on location. However, the studio allowed him only a week of shooting, hence the breakneck pace of the movie, which often used hidden cameras for the crowd scenes. The other innovation Kelly made was to emphasize dancing over the singing. Hitherto, musicals were dominated by song, but On the Town is noted for its dancing, including the use of dance to advance the plot. From this point forward, dance became the driving factor in MGM musicals. Not that music was forgone entirely: though the songs “New York, New York” and “Come Up to My Place” were the only songs kept from Leonard Bernstein’s original score for the Broadway musical, MGM employed Betty Comden and Adolph Green to write new lyrics for some of the original songs, and Roger Edens wrote six new songs for the movie. All of this innovation and styling would have been for naught if the movie turned out to be a dud. Not to worry - On the Town is one of the best musicals in the history of Hollywood. The dance numbers meld perfectly into the plot and enhance the musical numbers. Having Frank Sinatra to warble five of the songs didn’t hurt, either. Were I to teach a course on the history of the Hollywood musical, this film would not only be featured on the syllabus, but would be lionized for the breakthrough film it was.

DAVID: C. As you can read from Ed's review, many cinephiles, particularly fans of song-and-dance films, love On the Town. It has a certain charm to it, but is vastly overrated and too over-the-top for me to consider it a classic. I consider it nothing more than an average movie with a few good moments. There's too much of an "aww, shucks, golly, gee whiz" feel to the film that it become a corny, very dated musical with dancing thrown in for good measure like Oklahoma! and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. There's a couple of problems with the song-and-dance focus Gene Kelly wasn't much of a singer as he was more of a melodic talker, and Frank Sinatra was certainly no dancer. The plot is so predictable that the viewer knows right away that when the three sailors meet the three women with whom they fall in love that each is a fait accompli. The songs aren't good or memorable. The dancing by Kelly, Vera-Ellen and Ann Miller can be entertaining, but it's not enough to make me want to watch the movie again. The sailors are on 24-hour leave and looking for love. You would think that would make the film fast paced, and it is at times, and yet there are portions of it that drag like an anchor is tied to the movie.

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

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Morning Glory

Films in Focus

By Ed Garea

Morning Glory (RKO, 1933) – Director: Lowell Sherman. Writers: Howard J. Green (s/p). Zoe Akins (play). Stars: Katharine Hepburn, Adolphe Menjou, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Mary Duncan, C. Aubrey Smith, Don Alvarado, Fred Santley, Richard Carle, Tyler Brooke, Geneva Mitchell, Helen Ware. B&W, 74 minutes.

In 1932 a new trend took hold in Hollywood: the “backstage” film, usually about an “aspiring small-town actress” who starts small but eventually makes it big. Aimed at the female audience, the plots of these films were as thick as a gummy milkshake. Of the many that were made, the most notable was RKO’s 1932 What Price Hollywood? directed by George Cukor and starring Lowell Sherman and Constance Bennett; and 42nd Street, a 1933 musical from Warner Bros. that moved the story to Broadway, where the unknown Ruby Keeler must take over for leading lady Bebe Daniels after Daniels breaks her ankle.

A few months later, Morning Glory, adapted by Howard J. Green from an unproduced play by Zoe Akins, and – interestingly enough – directed by Lowell Sherman, made its debut. Today it is chiefly known as the film for which Katharine Hepburn won the first of her four Oscars. It would not be the last of the genre, followed and greatly overshadowed in 1937 by A Star is Born and in 1950 by the ultimate backstage story, All About Eve.

Hepburn is Eva Lovelace, nee Ada Love, a young actress who was the star of the local theater in her small Vermont town. Now she has come to New York, where she intends to meet powerful producer Louis Easton (Menjou) and convince him to take a chance on her talent. 

While in his office she meets one of Easton’s regulars, Robert H. Hedges (Smith), an elderly English actor who takes kindly to her, and agrees to become her mentor (and good luck charm). 

But despite his attempts to help her career, Eva is going nowhere fast until one night when broke and starving, she accompanies Hedges to a party at Easton's home. There she gets totally drunk and makes a spectacle of herself, though she does excellent job of performing some Shakespearean monologues. Later, she spends the night with Easton in his bed. Still, that does nothing for her, until Easton’s playwright, Joseph Sheridan (Fairbanks), develops a crush on her and gets her a job as the understudy to the play’s troublesome leading lady, Rita Vernon (Duncan). When Rita does the expected and gets into a pissing match with Easton on opening night, Sheridan suggests jettisoning Rita and opening with Eva in the part. 

Of course, Eva is a big hit, saving the play and making a huge splash with public and critics. Afterward, in the dressing room, Eva learns a life lesson. Easton, with whom she is in love, turns her down flat, though he will continue to serve as her producer, describing her as “the most valuable piece of theatrical property I ever had.” Sheridan who had declared his love for her, is firmly, but gently, let down. Meanwhile, mentor Hedges warns Eva against letting this success go to her head. In other words, do not go down the road as Rita: 

Every year, in every theater, some young person makes a hit,” he tells her. “Sometimes it's a big hit, sometimes a little one … but how many of them keep their heads? How many of them work? … Youth has its hour of glory. But too often it's only a morning glory - a flower that fades before the sun is very high.”

After everyone leaves Eva is alone with her dresser, Nellie (Ware), one of those Hedges was referring to in his speech – a former toast of Broadway now reduced to a personal dresser.

In a little speech that closes out the movie Eva embraces Nellie, declaring that she will not share her fate: 

"Nellie, they've all been trying to frighten me. They've been trying to frighten me into being sensible, but they can't do it. Not now. Not yet. They've got to let me be as foolish as I want to be. I-I want to ride through the park. I want to, I want to have a white ermine coat. And I'll buy you a beautiful present. And Mr. Hedges! I'll buy Mr. Hedges a little house. And I'll have rooms full of white orchids. And they've got to tell me that I'm much more wonderful than anyone else, because Nellie, Nellie, I'm not afraid. I'm not afraid of being just a morning glory. I'm not afraid. I'm not afraid. I'm not afraid. Why should I be afraid? I'm not afraid."

After all this, the life lesson Eva has learned is that she cannot have both fame and love. Hooray for us.


Morning Glory in reality is really nothing more than The Hepburn Show. The plot is serviceable but hackneyed, and a good deal of the dialogue was overripe. However, pick up a biography of the actress or her 2011 memoir, Me: Stories of My Life, and the parallels between Hepburn’s life and Morning Glory are startling; in many ways the concerns and desires Eva Lovelace character directly parallel those of the actress herself.

Like Eva, Hepburn had the same unflagging desire in pursuing a part that interested her. The film came to her attention when she noticed the script on producer Pandro Berman’s desk. Browsing through it, she became so enthralled that she stole it and read it. Afterward she had good friend and confidante Laura Harding read it as well. Afterward they agreed that it was a part that suited Hepburn to a tee.    

In pre-production, Constance Bennett was chosen for the role and the script was especially tailored for her. Hepburn met with Berman in his office, and in a meeting she recalls in her memoir, put forward quite strongly the case for her as the lead, telling Berman that she was born to play the part, She was so forceful that Berman ultimately decided to give her the role. As its turned out, Bennett was more interested in playing the co-lead in the romantic comedy Bed of Roses (1933) with Joel McCrea. Thus no harm, no foul.    

The role of Eva Lovelace was indeed a perfect one for Hepburn. Not only did it set her up to be seen as a young Bernhardt in that its narrative was about a rising young actress, but it also gave her the chance to do a little Shakespeare. During the party scene at Louis Easton’s place, while quite in her cups, Eva gives an impromptu audition performing two diametrically opposed strikingly different Shakespearian characters: the brooding Hamlet and the romantic Juliet. (A scene where Hepburn and Fairbanks played the entire balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet in costume was cut during the final edit.)

Lowell Sherman’s direction was almost nonexistent, shooting it as if it were a play. His contribution to the film seems to have been in making sure the medium shots were firmly intermixed with close-ups of the new star looking absolutely fascinated.

Given the short running time, there is no room for a complicated narrative. We really don’t learn anything about Eva aside from the fact she is annoying to the hilt. Menjou and Fairbanks function almost as stage props, there to further highlight the star. The last scene, where Eva muses over her success, seems as if it were shot as a coda to give the star an extra boost for the Oscars, in case the drunk scene failed to move voters.

In the final analysis, Morning Glory is an undistinguished drama with a boilerplate plot, almost something Poverty Row studios might attempt in the ‘40s. Hepburn was better than the material, but that’s not saying much, given that the material is awful. As for Hepburn, except for the drunk scene, her performance was forgettable and monotonous. Neither it nor the film wore well with time and both stand out as a curiosity of sorts. However, by the reaction of audiences, who came out in droves, and critics, who were falling all over each other in their praise for the actress, it succeeded in its purpose, which was to showcase its star, which paid off when Hepburn won the Oscar for her performance. The TCM essay on the film notes that, 40 years later, evaluating her performance, Hepburn said, “I should have stopped then. I haven't grown since.” Truer words were never spoken.


The film was remade in 1958 as Stage Struck with Susan Strasberg in the lead.

Morning Glory earned RKO a profit of $115,000.