Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Cinéma Inhabituel For June 1-15

A Guide to the Interesting and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea

June is busting out all over, with some real gems among the usual.

TCM Big Screen Classics celebrates the 50th anniversary of Mel Brooks’ The Producers, which will be shown at selected theaters on June 3 and June 6. I remember seeing it when it first came out. I was in high school at the time and no one wanted to go with me, so I went myself and rarely have had a better time. I couldn’t stop laughing. And so began a love affair with Mel Brooks that has lasted until this day. Although I don’t think every film of his is a masterpiece, he has never failed to entertain me through the years. So if you can, go see this classic. You won’t be sorry.

After being a steady viewer since it premiered, it somehow never occurred to me to recommend one of the best shows on TCM, and with this issue I am inaugurating a special section devoted it to it. That show is Noir Alley, hosted by the one and only Eddie Muller. Usually, with the exception of Ben Mankiewicz, I skip past the host’s introduction to the movie, but not with Muller. He is a font of information and the real deal, having authored several books, all of which are in my collection. Besides his signature book, Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir, check out his Dark City Dames: The Wicked Women of Film Noir, a study of six femme fatales who helped make noir such an interesting genre: Marie Windsor, Audrey Totter, Jane Greer, Ann Savage, Evelyn Keyes and Coleen Gray. Anyone who devotes a chapter to Ann Savage is okay with me. Eddie’s also a novelist, having written the highly entertaining The Distance and Shadow Boxer. The novels concern a character named Billy Nichols, a sportswriter and boxing devotee in 1949 San Francisco who doesn’t have to look for trouble, as it always finds him. All the books are available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.


June 3: A double feature of the Swedish star begins at 2 am with the original – and rarely seen – A Woman’s Face from 1938. (The Joan Crawford remake can be seen on June 15 at 12:30 pm.) It’s followed at 3:25 am by Stromboli, her 1950 film with husband Roberto Rossellini.


June 10: A double feature starring the French actor begins at 2 am with Up to His Ears (1965), a comedy with Belmondo as a unhappy billionaire who hires a couple of hit men to bump him off, but has to change his plans after meeting a woman (Ursula Andress) who makes his life worth living. Following at 4 am is That Man From Rio (1964), a crime adventure with Belmondo as a French military man on an eight-day furlough to visit his fiancée, Agnes (Françoise Dorleac). Arriving in Paris, he learns that her late father's partner, museum curator Professor Catalan (Jean Servais), has just been kidnapped by a group of Amazon tribesmen who have also stolen a priceless statue from the museum. Adrien and Agnes pursue the kidnappers to Brazil, where they learn the statue is the key to a hidden Amazon treasure. Dorleac was the real-life sister of Catherine Deneuve, as just as gorgeous. She was tragically killed when her rental car flipped and burned on a roadway in Nice, France, on June 26, 1967. She was only 25.


June 2: The ensemble flick, Dinner at Eight (1933), leads off at 6:00 am, followed by the Tom Keene Western Scarlet River (1933) at 8:00 am.

June 5: Going Hollywood, director Raoul Walsh’s 1933 musical with Marion Davies and Bing Crosby, airs at 6:00 am.

An evening of Pre-Code musicals begins with The Broadway Melody (1929) at 8:00 pm. Following in order are 42nd Street (1933) at 10 pm, Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933) at 11:45 pm, Lubitsch’s The Love Parade (1929), with Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald, at 1:45 am, and King Vidor’s groundbreaking all African American musical, Hallelujah (1929), at 3:45 am.

June 9: Tom Keene is a rodeo rider who can't face the game after he's almost killed by a wild bronco in The Saddle Buster (1932) at 8 am.


All films air at Midnight and are repeated the next morning at 10 am.

June 2: Bette Davis is a murderess in The Letter from 1940.

June 9: Humphrey Bogart murders wife Rose Hobart so he can be with her sister, Alexis Smith, in Conflict (1945). Sydney Greenstreet figures it all out.


There is seemingly something for everyone in this month’s selection of psychotronic movies.

June 1: Frederic March stars in the 1932 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde at 11:00 am.

A Paul Bartel double feature commences at 2:15 am with his 1972 feature, Private Parts, an offbeat mix of Peeping Tom and Homicidal set in a seedy L.A. hotel. Following at 3:45 am is Scenes From the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills (1989), about two servants (Ray Sharkey and Robert Beltran) making a bet over who can have sex with their female bosses (Jacqueline Bisset and Mary Woronov) first.

June 2: The serial, Red Barry, with Buster Crabbe, continues at 9:30 am, followed by Tarzan and the Mermaids (1948) at 10:00. Before the Tarzans, the station has been been showing vintage Popeye cartoons, so animation fans, tune in.

It’s followed at 4:15 am by the beautiful Tamara Dobson who takes on the scene-chewing Shelley Winters in the Blaxploitation classic Cleopatra Jones (1973).

June 8: Robert Newton plans to give his wife’s (Sally Gray) lover (Phil Brown) an acid bath in Obsession (Midnight), followed by John Ashley and Pam Grier in The Twilight People (1972) at 2 am and Charles Laughton in Island of Lost Souls (1933) at 3:30 am.

June 9: Another episode of Red Barry airs at 9:30 am, followed by Tarzan’s Magic Fountain (1949) at 10 am.

June 13: Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) discovers Professor Moriarty (Henry Daniell) is behind a rash of gruesome murders in The Woman in Green (1945) at 7:15 am. Later, at 8:30 am, Holmes must track down the printing plates for England’s 5-pound notes in Dressed to Kill (1946).

June 15: At 2 am Faye Dunaway is a fashion photographer who develops the ability to see through the eyes of a psycho who is murdering her friends in Eyes of Laura Mars (1979). Tommy Lee Jones is a detective on the case. Producer Jon Peters originally intended this as a vehicle for then-girlfriend Barbra Streisand (she sings the theme song).

Following at 4 am Genevieve Bujold is a doctor investigating a series of strange deaths and disappearing bodies at her hospital in the thriller Coma (1978). Although the film has a few good tense moments, on the whole it’s forgettable.

Monday, May 28, 2018

TCM TiVo Alert for June 1-7

June 1–June 7

THE BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ (June 2, 5:15 pm): There are few actors who had the presence of Burt Lancaster  that voice, the athletic build and his ability to become one with the characters he portrayed. In this 1962 film, he plays Robert Stroud, a murderer, who from all accounts was not a nice guy. In the film, Stroud has a dark side, but comes across overall as a decent person. While in solitary confinement, Stroud adopts and trains a sparrow. After a while, he's got an entire bird collection and inspires other inmates to get birds. When some of the birds get sick, Stroud discovers ways to cure them, and becomes an expert on bird diseases. The concept may sound boring, but the screenplay is outstanding and the acting is first-rate. Besides Lancaster, the cast includes Telly Savalas as a fellow prisoner, Thelma Ritter in the performance of her career as Stroud's mother, and Karl Malden as the warden at Leavenworth. Most of the film – and the book of which it is based  takes place at Leavenworth. Stroud served some time at Alcatraz, where he wasn't permitted to have birds making the title catchy but inaccurate.

THE PETRIFIED FOREST (June 4, 3:30 am): In one of his first major roles, Humphrey Bogart plays Duke Mantee, a notorious gangster on the run. Bogart was so great in this 1936 film as the heavy – bringing depth, emotion and character to the role – that Warner Brothers spent nearly five years casting Bogart in other movies as the bad guy. But very few were of this quality. Duke and his gang end up in a diner near the Petrified Forest in Arizona with the police chasing them. The gang takes everyone inside hostage, including Alan Squier (Leslie Howard), a once great writer who is now an alcoholic. Not fearing death because of what life has become for him, Squier engages Duke in conversation, pushing his buttons. The interaction between the two is outstanding. Also at the dinner is Gabrielle Maple (Bette Davis), who owns it with her father and grandfather. Davis is excellent and even subdued as a secondary character. 


THREE STRANGERS (June 2, 8:00 pm): A wonderful noir. Geraldine Fitzgerald invites two strangers (Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre) to her London flat on Chinese New Year, 1938. She believes if three strangers make the same wish to an idol of Kwan Yin, Chinese goddess of fortune and destiny, the wish will be granted. Since money will make their dreams come true, the three go in together on a sweepstakes ticket for the Grand National horse race, agreeing that they will not sell the ticket if it is chosen, but will hold on to it until the race is run. Each has their plans for the money. Although it is the winning ticket, good fortune is not to be had; rather, they are undone by greed, paranoia, and plain bad luck. Any film with Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre is always worth seeing and this one even more so because of the addition of Geraldine Fitzgerald. The weird screenplay by John Huston and Howard Koch guarantees fascinating viewing.

FAST AND LOOSE (June 4, 1:30 pm): Of all the Thin Man clones that hit the silver screen, this series was the best. If MGM had handled it right, it could have been a solid and profitable B series. But the constant changing of the leads doomed the series. There were three films in all, each with different actors playing the roles of Joel and Garda Sloane, rare book dealers who always seemed to get involved in shady doings. This entry in the series, with Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell, was the best. In this film, the Sloanes investigate the murder of Mr. Oates, a book collector for whom the Sloanes were trying to buy a rare Shakespeare manuscript. Mr. Oater is dead and the manuscript is missing. Since Joel is considered a suspect in the case, he tries to find the murderer. It’s a lively and appealing 80 minutes that doesn’t have one dull moment. Russell and Montgomery fit the roles perfectly, with their banter being one of the highlights of this excellent film. Had the studio decided to commit to the duo and taken the series seriously, they could have given Nick and Nora Charles a run for their money.

WE DISAGREE ON ... McLINTOCK! (June 6, 2:15 pm)

ED: A-. This Western takeoff on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew is a welcome and funny departure from Wayne’s usual Westerns of the ‘60s. It also might be seen as an updating of The Quiet Man set in the West. John Wayne is cattle baron G.W. McLintock, whose wife Katherine (Maureen O’Hara) had left him a while ago with no explanation. She has returned to take their daughter, Becky (Stefanie Powers), who has just returned from school, back to the State Capitol with her. McLintock is a peaceful and respected man who has a hard enough time keeping that peace without his headstrong wife returning to irritate him. O’Hara steals the film as the headstrong Katherine. She also did her own stunts. (Yes, that’s really her sliding into the mudhole.) Look for old Wayne buddy Bruce Cabot in there somewhere, and a bit of nepotism with Wayne’s son, Patrick, in a strong supporting role. The movie never pretends to be something other than what is – a broad farce, unlike some of Wayne’s pictures, which could be described as unintentional farces. But the Ol’ Draft Dodger is in good form here, having surrounded himself with a cast of friends he’s comfortable with in a film that requires no thought whatsoever. Just watch and laugh.

DAVID: D. To be blunt, this is an awful film. It's an out-of-control ego trip for John Wayne. Batjac Productions, owned by Wayne, made the film. One of his sons, Michael, whose movie experience was limited to an associate producer credit on Batjac's The Alamo (another terrible John Wayne film) is the producer. The director is the talentless Andrew V. McLaglen, a John Ford gopher whose directing experience before McLintock! was limited to TV Westerns and two lousy Western movies made by...Batjac Productions. As Ed noted, another of Wayne's sons, Patrick, is a co-star (and surprisingly isn't terrible). The point is the Duke had no one to stop him from making such a crappy film and as you watch it that becomes obvious. He surrounded himself with inexperienced "yes people" who didn't have the nerve, experience or talent to tell Wayne that this wasn't working. It's supposed to be funny, I think, but it failed to make me laugh even once. The slapstick brawl with people falling into a mud pit was ridiculous and too staged. I'm not a fan of The Quiet Man so the reunion of Wayne and Maureen O'Hara did nothing for me. On top of that, O'Hara's character, Katherine, is unlikable. Just like in The Quiet Man, the premise that violence makes people fall in love is on full display only it's worse here. Dev Warren (Patrick Wayne) feels the need to teach Becky McLintock (Stefanie Powers) a lesson about who she should love so he goes to spank her over his knees like a five-year-old child straight out of the Duke's prehistoric thoughts of what the world was like in 1963. Before Dev can strike Becky with his hand, the Duke, who plays her dad, G.W. (short for George Washington, gag!), gives him a small metal shovel to beat her ass. It works as she falls in love with him. Dev returns the favor at the end of the movie when G.W. goes to spank Katherine. Good ol' Dev gives G.W. a metal shovel so the estranged couple can get back together properly. I'd give it an F, but the 127-minute(!) film's color is nice.

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

Friday, May 25, 2018

Red-Headed Woman

Films in Focus

By Ed Garea

Red-Headed Woman (MGM, 1932) – Director: Jack Conway. Writers: Anita Loos (s/p), Katharine Brush (book). Stars: Jean Harlow, Chester Morris, Lewis Stone, Leila Hyams, Una Merkel, Henry Stephenson, May Robson, Charles Boyer, Harvey Clark, William Pawley & Albert Conti. B&W, 79 minutes.

If I had to choose one film that embodies the spirit of the Pre-Code era, this would be the one, especially as it pertains to women. In other Pre-Code movies, women are allowed to go out and sow some wild oats, but must always realize the error of their ways and return to the fold (The DivorceeLet Us Be GayA Free SoulFemale). Even in Barbara Stanwyck’s notorious Baby Face(1933) she realizes the “error” of her ways at the end. 

Not so with Red-Headed Woman. Jean Harlow’s Lil “Red” Andrews not only gets away with it, she has no attacks of conscience along the way. Lil is single-minded and determined throughout the movie, which makes for a refreshing change thanks to writer Anita Loos, who saved the movie from becoming a dull mediocrity as originally adapted by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

In March 1931 publishers Farrar and Rinehart released Red-Headed Woman, a novel written by Katherine Brush, famed for her depictions of “wicked ladies,” playing on the popular conception that red hair on a woman was the sign of a wild spirit and a freewheeling, often aggressive sexuality. It was the same in the movies, as redheads were often portrayed as femme fatales with loose morals and dangerous intentions. (Clara Bow rode to popularity on such a character.) Though the book was not a great piece of literature (I read it), it was very popular with women and MGM bought the rights to it.

Now that they had the novel, the next problem was a script. Thalberg assigned the script to F. Scott Fitzgerald, but what he turned in was not what Thalberg wanted (“Scott tried to turn the silly book into a tone poem!’) At this point Thalberg brought in one of his favorite script doctors, Anita Loos, for a total rewrite. Loos, famous for the novel Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, saw the dark comedic aspects of the book and tailored her script accordingly. 

The next task was to find an actress for the lead role of Lil Andrews. It was originally bought as a vehicle for Greta Garbo, but after reading Loos’ revised script, Thalberg saw that it wouldn’t be suitable for her. It was then offered around, but because of the novel’s trashy nature, many turned it down, including Clara Bow, Colleen Moore and Joan Crawford. Other less-established actresses such as Wynne Gibson, Dixie Lee and Alice White, seeing the potential star-making quality of the role, auditioned. 

But the part was won by an up and coming actress named Jean Harlow. Harlow, despite her image as a blonde bombshell and reputation as a horrible actress, had two important things going for her. One was that the quality of her acting improved greatly since coming to MGM, including in excellent performance in MGM’s Beast of the City (released in February 1932). The other, and even more important, was the backing of producer Paul Bern, who later married his protege shortly after filming was completed, with tragic results. Harlow was willing to take on the role and Bern, with help from Loos (who structured her script around Harlow), convinced Thalberg she was right for the film. He also acted as producer to keep an eye on his protege.

For a director, Jack Conway, known as a house director (he shot what the producer wanted) was chosen. He had 20 years experience as a director and was excellent working with actors, which was important with Harlow starring.

Thalberg knew going in that the biggest problem he would face would be the censors. Motion Picture Producers and Directors of America (MPPDA) President Will Hays, saw its lead character, Lil Andrews, as no more than “a common little tart” and an “out-and-out harlot.” For Hays, the film presented “a very grave problem.” And Hays’ concern would be mild compared to the various state boards, who would surely disembowel the picture. Thalberg decided to go ahead with filming and deal with the censors later. The movie had the promise of a blockbuster.

After filming was completed, the picture was run at a sneak preview. It was decided that the original opening, with Lil in full attack mode, was too jarring. Loos penned three short scenes as an introduction that lessened the shock and emphasized the comedic aspects. First we have the opening in the beauty parlor, then Harlow picking out her outfit. For a capper came the short scene with Lil placing a picture of Bill Legrande in her garter as she says, “The boss’s picture. Well, it will get me more there then it will hanging on the wall.”

With the film’s shock value somewhat softened, Thalberg next dealt with the Hays Office. All in all, 17 cuts were agreed to, including several scenes in which Harlow was partially undressed or making obvious sexual advances.    

Jason Joy, who headed the Studio Relations Committee for Hays, test-screened Red-Headed Woman for an audience. Noting that the audience loved it, he reported to Hays that, “When we saw the picture with an audience we got a definite impression that the audience was laughing at the girl.” He also noted that when seen with an audience the film came off so farcical that, despite his initial reservations, it was not contrary to the Code. Because of the audience reaction, Joy persuaded Hays to pass Red-Headed Woman.

The film opens with Lil “Red” Andrews (Harlow) at the beauty parlor, having just had her locks dyed red (in reality she wore a red wig). “So gentlemen prefer blondes, do they?” she says to the camera. “Yes they do.”

After buying a reveling outfit, Lil has one more task. She places a photo of her boss, Bill Legrande (Morris) in her garter. Bill is happily married to a woman he describes as his “best friend,” with whom he grew up Bill and the leading citizen in the small town of Renwood, Ohio. But Lil has her set and nothing will deter her, including the admonishments of roommate, Sally (Merkel), to whom Lil explains her plan.

Knowing Bill’s wife Irene (Hyams) is out of town, Lil bluffs her way into the Legrande household on the pretext of helping the boss work late. When she starts coming on strong, Bill asks her to leave, but weakens when he sees his picture on her garter. Just as they start to become more familiar, Irene comes home and Lil quickly leaves. An embarrassed Bill tells his wife that nothing has happened,and promises never to see Lil again. 

But Lil isn’t so easily deterred, and continues to pursue Bill. Now at his wits’ end, he goes to Lil’s apartment to confront her. In one of the movie’s strongest scenes he loses control and slaps Lil, whose only response is, “Do it again, I like it! Do it again!” Bill’s resistance is at an end.

Now Mrs. Bill Legrande, Lil finds it’s not all roses and garlands. Her entree to Renwood society has been blocked by the leading citizens, who side with Irene. Though she continues to scheme, nothing is working. She sees an opportunity, however, when Charles Gaerste (Stephenson) one of the Legendres' biggest business connections, comes to town. After he turns down her dinner invitation, she visits him in his hotel room, seduces him, and uses his indiscretion to blackmail him into hosting a party at her home, knowing that Renwood society will be sure to turn out.

It seems everything is going splendidly at the party until Sally points out that the guests, who had left early “to rest up for a big charity function the next morning,” are going across the street to Irene’s house. Lil hits the roof, and in one of the film’s funniest scenes, storms across the street to berate her former guests. “I’m through with the whole cheap hypocritical gang of you,” she declares, as Bill carries her away like a misbehaving brat to the delight of there partygoers, who are firmly on the side of the aggrieved Irene.   

Finally, it’s Bill’s father, Legrande Sr. (Stone) who rids Bill and the town of Lil. Discovering that Lil is having an affair with Gaerste, he decides to dump Lil into Gaerste’s arms by financing her trip to New York. In New York, Lil uses the same tricks to rope in the older Gaerste that she used on Bill, and Gaerste, being a bachelor, falls easily. Lil has Gaerste and is now involved in an affair with his chauffeur Albert (Boyer) on the side. 

As time passes, Bill gets in a little revenge of his own when he shows Gaerste incriminating photos of Lil and Albert cheating behind Gaerste’s back; photos that Bill said he hired a private detective to take for his upcoming divorce from Lil. Gaerste, humiliated, discharges Albert and tells him to take Lil with him. Albert returns to France, but Lil, desperate, wires Bill that she is coming home. Once back in Renwood she finds to her displeasure that Bill has moved to his father's house and has started seeing Irene again. 

Legendre Sr. offers Lil a check for $500 to leave town, but she runs after Bill, who is driving away with Irene, and shoots him, causing his car to crash. Bill recovers from his wounds and refuses to prosecute Lil, who flees town. 

It’s now two years later. Bill and Irene have remarried and are vacationing in Paris, where they go to the races. When Bill peers through his binoculars at the winning horse, who does he see in the winner’s circle accepting the trophy but Lil? We learn that Lil has landed in Paris and has become the mistress of a wealthy older man. As the couple leave in a limousine Lil tells the chauffeur to drive home. As the scene expands we recognize the chauffeur as Albert. 


From start to finish Harlow dominates the film and she is simply wonderful in the role. In her hands, Lil Andrews goes from being a mere tawdry tart to an anti-heroine of sorts. Harlow has made her human, and as the picture unfolds, one can’t help but root for her. Her childlike “Beeeeww” when she wants Bill’s attention is precious and adds loads to her manipulative image. Much of the credit for Harlow’s performance belongs to Loos, who molded the character to the Harlow’s personality, allowing her to act as an exaggerated version of herself. And even though the picture was n to yet re3leased, MGM, noting the strength of her performance, signed her on April 20, 1932 to the standard seven-year deal with a salary beginning at $1,250 per week.

Chester Morris, as the object of her “affections,” provides adequate support, as does Henry Stephenson as her next victim. Una Markel is good in her usual role as the sidekick. (She and Harlow made four pictures together and Una was always the sidekick.) And Lewis Stone makes the most of his small role as Legrande’s father and the moral arbiter of the film. (Is it any wonder he fit so well into the Hardy Family series as just such a moral arbiter?) 

It may surprise some who are watching it for the first time to see a young Charles Boyer in the cast. At the time he was on a six-month option to the studio, but MGM didn't know how to use him. Their complaint was that his accent was too thick to be understood. With only a couple of weeks left on his option, they put him in the picture and dropped him after filming was completed. However, in previews, the studio saw so many raves in the comments from female viewers that Boyer was called back from Paris and offered a contract at ten times the rate he had been paid on option.     

Despite the approval from the Hays Office, several state and local censorship boards throughout the United States and Canada demanded additional cuts before the film was accepted for distribution. Massachusetts and Pennsylvania cut most of the scenes of Lil's romance with Albert while Ohio cut the entire unapologetic ending. England banned the film altogether until 1965, but it was reported that the royal family had their own personal copy for entertaining dinner guests.  

However, while the censors were cool about the movie, critics and the public certainly were not. Critics praised both the film and Harlow’s performance, though some added the rider that they couldn’t quite believe what they were seeing. Typical of their praise was this review from the September 1932 edition of Screenland: “The film follows Katherine Brush's novel with satirical improvements by Anita Loos, who, fed up with blondes, gives red-headed women their due … See this for sheer amusement. Jean plays a mean part so cleverly that you can't help liking this wild red-headed woman.” As for the public, the film was a smash, returning a profit of nearly $400,000. MGM was so impressed that they quickly moved Harlow in the co-starring role opposite Clark Gable in Red Dust (1932) and she continued to be a box-office attraction until her untimely death at the age of only 26 in 1937.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Avengers: Infinity War

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

Avengers: Infinity War (Marvel/Disney, 2018) – Directors: Anthony and Joe Russo. Writers: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely. Stars: Robert Downey, Jr, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Holland, Benicio Del Toro, Chadwick Boseman, Zoe Saldana, Karen Gillan, Tom Hiddleston, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, William Hurt & Anthony Mackie. Color, Rated PG-13, 149 minutes.

Don’t let the fantastic special effects and the sweepingly gorgeous intergalactic scenes fool you. The plot is simple. Thanos (Brolin) has a dream: End starvation and overuse of natural resources by killing off half of the life forms in the universe and thus being its savior. He has a specialized gantlet which will consolidate the powers of the six “Infinity Stones” (Wasn’t somebody after them in the last Avengers movie?) and thereby giving him the means of accomplishing his goal. 

He has the Power Stone already on the outset and is after the Space Stone protected by a tesseract and kept by Loki (Hiddleston) who gives it up when The Hulk/Bruce Banner (Ruffalo) is beaten to a pulp and Thor’s (Hemsworth) life is put in jeopardy. But Loki is killed for his efforts. The Time Stone is held by Doctor Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) and is his major sorcery source. The Mind Stone is embedded in Vision’s (Bettany) forehead. The Reality Stone is in the dubious safe keeping of The Collector (Del Toro) who lives in a place called Nowhere and the last stone, the Soul Stone’s location is known only by Gamora (Saldana), Thanos’ adoptive daughter and member of the Guardians of the Galaxy.

It’s up to the remainder of the cast, including Ironman (Downey), Captain America (Evans), Black Widow (Johansson), War Machine (Cheadle), Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Holland), Black Panther (Boseman), Nebula (Gillan), Scarlet Witch (Olsen), and Falcon (Mackie), among others, to stop Thanos and his minions.

William Hurt plays a pretty good Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross and Stan Lee turns up as a bus driver. Winston Duke reprises his role from Black Panther as the hooting leader of the Gorilla Tribe, and Samuel L. Jackson has a cameo as Nick Fury. The cast is amazing.

The movie is entertaining with lots of action, many cleverly humorous lines to break up the monotonous battles and an excellent soundtrack. It was still too long. And then there is the perplexing end of the movie which had the entire audience saying, “What the…?” Did Thanos win? We don’t know. Will there be a sequel? You can be sure of that.

Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 martini glasses.

485 7th Avenue,  New York

When I first saw the name of this restaurant I thought it was a rogue member of the Legal Seafoods chain based in Boston. But this 10 month old brasserie is with another group, the “TAO” group and is situated in the Moxy Hotel, a Marriott offshoot. Truly, you have to have moxie to open a new hotel in New York City.

The entrance on 7th Avenue leads to a corridor into the hotel with a coat check on the left under a stairway. When you realize you’ve gone the wrong way, you turn around and see the sign overhead for the restaurant up the stairway. The restaurant is sleek with shiny black ceramic brick walls in one room and white in the bar area. The avocado banquettes are comfortable and the tables bare-topped blonde wood. The attractive green glass water tumblers give a hint of the ocean.

My server, Basia, explained all the dishes and I ordered the Moxy Cocktail, a refreshing brew of Finlandia grapefruit vodka, yuzu citrus and a hint of pomegranate. It was pink, perky and perfect. Basia recommended an appetizer that changed my selection ideas.

They were out of my wine of choice, the Greek Assyrtiko, which would definitely have accented my meal more boldly. But the 2015 Chablis from William Fevre Champs Royaux ‘Burgundy’ from France added a dreamy smoothness to the meal.

The next dish was something I would automatically eschew in the best Italian restaurant. But Basia’s description lured me to the Burrata with macerated sliced rhubarb and toasted baguette, rhubarb sauce and balsamic vinaigrette. The mozzarella was fresh and chilled to the perfect temperature, sweet, topped with rhubarb (unheard of) and delicious.

My next dish was Spicy Crab Beignets with chipotle crème fraiche and butter powder. They were wonderful, only a little spicy, stuffed with creamy crab, while the main course was a difficult choice because the list of entrées on the menu did not interest me as much as the grilled fish selections. The Grilled Mediterranean Daurade in lemon vinaigrette and served with quinoa and greens was a filet with visible grill lines and (though attached to the tail) was totally edible (be aware of the occasional bones and you’ll be finished before you know it). But savor every bit. It tasted like the best grilled fish I’ve had in the top Greek estiatorios. The side dish, Haystack Fries with two dipping sauces, (catsup and dijonaise) was excellent, but a little too much to finish. Half went home with me.

I saw the gentleman at the next table get his dessert. It was chocolate, it was decadent, and it was enormous. I chickened out, however, and ordered the Baked Alaska. They were out of it. It was destiny, and I remembered the paper shopping bag sitting on the seat next to me. I ordered the Chocolate Caramel Cake – salted caramel ganache, whipped cream, mint chip ice cream and warm caramel sauce. Sinful, rich, dark chocolate, salty and sweet, with minty ice cream and fluffy whipped cream. Most of it came home with me.

To calm down from this experience my double espresso with a chaser of Remy Martin VSOP brought me out of the clouds and back to my banquette breathing a sigh. I thanked Basia for a wonderful evening and resolved to return to Leagsea.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

TCM TiVo Alert for May 23-31

May 23–May 31


THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (May 28, 5:00 pm): An authentic film that pulls no punches about three soldiers returning home from World War II attempting to adjust to life. The film features incredible performances by the legendary and lovely Myrna Loy, Dana Andrews, Fredric March and Harold Russell (an actual WWII vet who lost both his hands in the war). The film won seven Oscars, including Best Picture. Unlike some multi-Oscar films, this one is truly a classic that remains as real and as powerful as it must have been to movie-goers when it was released in 1946. It's very touching and beautiful. It’s nearly impossible to not be emotionally moved while watching this film.

WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION (May 31, 10:00 pm): This 1957 film, directed by Billy Wilder, is one of the best suspense movies you'll ever see. The story takes many interesting twists and the acting is outstanding, particularly Charles Laughton as an ill, but still brilliant, barrister who takes the case of a man, played by Tyrone Power in his last role, charged with murder. All of the evidence points to Power's character, Leonard Vole, as the killer, but Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Laughton) can't resist defending him. Things take a turn for the worse – or maybe it doesn't – when Vole's wife, played by Marlene Dietrich, is called as a witness for the prosecution. The ending is so unexpected and executed exceptionally well by all parties involved in the film. It is a shock that's heightened by the closing credits asking moviegoers to not reveal the ending to anyone who hasn't seen it. 


THE THIN MAN (May 23, 8:00 pm): Shot in only 16 days by fast working director Woody “One-Take” Van Dyke, this first pairing of William Powell and Myrna Loy proved so popular with the public that it led to numerous sequels. Nick and Nora Charles are investigating the disappearance of an inventor, but the mystery takes a back seat to the romantic and sophisticated screwball comedy. Powell and Loy surprised and delighted audiences with their unconventional doings of the couple, displaying their unique chemistry. Nick Charles was a suave man of the world who only had eyes for his rich, funny and good-natured wife, as they traded witty one-liners and affectionate bon mots, combined with a delightful teasing one-upmanship, all the while downing numerous martinis and tending to their wire-haired pooch, Asta. Adapted from Dashiell Hammett’s novel of the same name by married couple Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich with cinematography by James Wong Howe with a musical score by William Axt and sumptuous art deco sets by Cedric Gibbons. Plotted at a leisurely pace, it takes its time getting there, but it’s a wonderful ride along the way.

THE SAINT IN NEW YORK (May 30, 10:00 am): The Saint, a sort of mysterious Robin Hood created by famed mystery writer Leslie Charteris, has been translated into all three major mediums: film, radio, and television. This is the first of the Saint movies, and in my opinion, the best. It’s also the least known, due to the fact it’s almost never shown on television. In this outing, Louis Heyward plays Simon Templar and never since has Templar been played with such smooth rakishness as that with which Heyward plays him. It’s just plain, good, old-fashioned fun as Templar makes baboons of the bad guys and earns the love of the boss’s moll. Try it and see if you don’t agree about Heyward as Templar.

WE DISAGREE ON ... MANPOWER (May 24, 2:00 am)

ED: B-Manpower is at its heart is a B-movie with an A-list cast as stars. This is the reason I gave it a grade of B-minus rather than C-plus. However, not even the presence of Robinson, Dietrich and Raft and the direction of the superb Raoul Walsh can overcome the weak script. The story of two Southern California power line troubleshooters (Robinson and Raft) in love with clip-joint hostess Dietrich is a testament to the genius of Warner Bros. in recycling an old plot. This was originally filmed by Howard Hawks in 1932 as Tiger Shark, starring Robinson as a tuna fisherman who lost a hand to a shark battling Richard Arlen for the affections of Zita Johann. A box office success, it was remade in 1936 as Bengal Tiger, with wild animal trainer Barton MacLane battling Warren Hull for the affections of June Travis. In 1937 it was again remade as Slim, with power line builder Pat O’Brien battling co-worker Henry Fonda for the affections of Margaret Lindsay. And in 1940 it was remade as King of the Lumberjacks, with Stanley Fields battling John Payne for the affections of Gloria Dickson. So we can safely say that the plot’s been around, and yet it hasn’t gotten any better since Tiger Shark. But although Manpower is not a great film, it is fun to watch old pros like Robinson and Dietrich trying to breathe life into the plot. Even George Raft gives a decent performance (Will wonders ever cease?), which I credit to the direction of Walsh, who certainly knew how to handle actors. (Check out Errol Flynn in Gentleman Jim if you don’t believe me.) It all comes down to what you’re looking for: if you want a well-plotted romantic noir with plenty of twists and turns, this ain’t for you. But if you’re looking for an enjoyable B with two great leads, you can’t do better than this.

DAVID: C-. There are very few actors in the history of cinema who are in the same class when it comes to talent, screen presence and charisma as Edward G. Robinson. That's what makes Manpower so disappointing. I've seen Eddie G. in some lousy films – A Bullet for JoeyDark HazardI Loved a Woman to name a few – and yet I enjoyed his performances. I can't say the same for Manpower. It's dull and lifeless – and as Ed points out, had been done several times before – and Robinson adds nothing to the film. The cast alone should make it good as it includes some very talented actors such as Alan Hale (Skipper's dad), Frank McHugh, Eve Arden and Ward Bond, and the combination of Eddie G. and Marlene Dietrich sounds promising. Also, Robinson and George Raft played well together in plenty of other movies despite their personal dislike for each other. In this film, Robinson is the foreman of a crew constructing power lines. He used to be a lineman (for the county?), but moved into management after a near-death accident that left him injured and gave him the politically-incorrect nickname Gimpy. Raft is a buddy who works the line. The two fall for Dietrich and a silly love triangle ensues. The storyline is lifeless and at 104 minutes, it's too long. Despite the attempts at action, it's a boring movie.

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

Friday, May 18, 2018

Beauty for Sale

Film in Focus

By Ed Garea

Beauty for Sale (MGM, 1933) – Director: Richard Boleslawski. Writers: Eve Greene, Zelda Sears (s/p); Faith Baldwin (novel). Stars: Madge Evans, Alice Brady, Otto Kruger, Una Merkel, May Robson, Phillips Holmes, Edward J. Nugent, Hedda Hopper, Florine McKinney, Isabel Jewell, Louise Carter, John Roche & Charley Grapewin. B&W, 87 minutes.

Beauty for Sale is an interesting little ensemble film. It differs from the usual MGM fare in that the protagonists are working people and not big industrialists, troubled rich folks, or members of the aristocracy. 1933 was a tough year for MGM. With the Depression at its height, the usual stories weren’t that attractive. Thalberg also noticed that one of their hottest stars, Joan Crawford, was at her box office best playing characters from the other side of the tracks. 

Using Faith Baldwin’s best-selling novel, Beauty, as the basis, screenwriters Greene and Sears scripted a film about working women and their travails. It was also a good vehicle for Madge Evans, who the studio was developing for bigger and better fare. Teaming her with solid supporting actors like Una Merkel, Alice Brady, May Robson and Hedda Hopper would give her ample opportunity to shine.

Evans is Letty Lawson, who rooms at the home of beautician Carol Merrick (Merkel) in New York. She confides to Carol that she has gone through the money her poor parents in Kentucky have given her for beauty school and now needs a job in order to make ends meet. Letty asks Carol to get her a job at her workplace, an exclusive salon owned by Madame Sonia Barton (Hopper). Both Carol and her brother Bill (Nugent), who is in love with Letty and thinks she is too good to work in a beauty parlor, warn her that it’s not a fit place for a woman of good character. However, Letty tells them she knows what she’s getting into.     

Soon after starting at Madame Sonia's, Letty is sent to the home of Mrs. Henrietta Sherwood (Brady), a nervous, bored socialite who pays more attention to her dog than to her lawyer husband. After finishing a manicure Letty goes to leave only to notice that Mrs. Sherwood’s dog has chewed up her hat. Mr. Sherwood (Kruger) kindly insists on replacing the damaged hat with a finer one of her choice. When Carol, a self-professed gold digger who has been dating the older, wealthy and married Freddy Gordon (Grapewin), sees the expensive hat (it cost $22.50, which translates into $425 today), she is instantly suspicious of Sherwood's motives.

When Bill sees the hat he confronts Letty about the relationship and chides her for being no better than Carol. Fed up with Bill’s attitude and the interference of his mother (Robson), Letty moves out and rooms with co-worker Jane (McKinney), who is involved with Madame Sonia’s son, Burt (Holmes).

A later chance meeting with Sherwood leads to a series of dinners. During a dinner on his yacht, Sherwood confesses to Letty that he is in love with her and, although presently unable to divorce his wife, wishes to continue their romance. Letty is unsure about this development and asks for a week to think things over.

Meanwhile, Carol has talked Freddy into taking her with him on a business trip to Paris. Seeing her off at the pier Letty runs into the Bartons, who are also taking the same ship, When she mentions this to Jane the next day, Jane reveals that she is pregnant by Burt, who has promised to marry her the next Sunday. Jane becomes hysterical upon hearing the news and despite Letty’s support she jumps to her death from their apartment window.      

Shocked by Jane’s suicide, Letty now heeds Carol’s advice about seeing married men to heart and ends her relationship with Sherwood. Shortly after, Bill shows up at the shop and shyly asks her for a date. Although she’s not attracted to Bill, Letty agrees to date him and later accepts his proposal of marriage. But when the wedding day rolls around, she cannot go through with it. Letty tells Carol, who has returned from Paris engaged to Freddy, of her change of heart.     

Now that Carol has finally gotten Freddy to propose, the couple goes house hunting. The real estate agent takes them to see the newly completed Sherwood mansion, revealing to Carol and Freddy that the reason it’s on the market is because the Sherwoods are divorcing. It turns out that Sherwood had the mansion built to improve his life with Henrietta, but she has fallen in love with the architect, Robert Abbott (Roche) and asked her husband for a divorce. When Carol tells Letty of the new developments, she rushes over to the real estate office to stop the sale and be reunited with her love as his bride-to-be.


Beauty for Sale is a typical programmer for the time, aimed at the female moviegoer. At times it comes across as a working class version of the later The Women (1939). The New York Times described it as “a strange composite of good and bad” with a story “reminiscent of so many others.” But what saves it is the performances from the cast and the energy of director Richard Boleslawski, which give the picture a freshness and a sense of originality. The script is witty, especially in its depiction of the sexual politics of the workplace, with girls who are just glad to have a job in the Depression. They have to wait hand and foot on wealthy, bored customers, who give the girls a yearning of a piece of the good life for themselves. However, the last third of the film sadly becomes predictable, as comedy and romance take over for drama, with the ending  being one of those contrived happy coincidences. 

Evans shines in the film, providing a breath of fresh air into what could have been just another part. She enjoys solid support from the always delightful Merkel as the gold digging Carol and Kruger, who makes for a most unusual romantic lead, to say the least. Hopper turns in an especially inspired performance as Madame Sonia, who will do anything to protect her weak-willed son and who regards her employees with such contempt that she cannot see the relationships forming under her own feet. And watch for Isabel Jewell as Hortense, the shop’s receptionist. Her fast speech and pseudo posh accent  enable her to nearly walk away with the movie. 

The camerawork from James Wong Howe is extraordinary. His use of lighting and depth give the film a look of a more expensive production. He also photographs Evans beautifully; in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen her looking as beautiful as she does here. 

As for Madge Evans, she remains a prime example of actress noted for their beauty and ability, but who came up just short of becoming stars. Signed by MGM in 1931, she was strongly pushed by Irving Thalberg as an up and coming star, but aside from starring roles in lesser productions, she worked in supporting roles in the bigger films. Perhaps with such stars as Shearer, Crawford, Harlow and Garbo on the lot there wasn’t really much opportunity for another star, especially as she was in something of the Harlow mold. When her MGM contract expired in 1937 she freelanced at Universal and Republic before retiring to the stage after marrying playwright Sidney Kingsley in 1939. When television took off in the ‘50s and needed actors for its ever expanding product, Evans found her career revitalized. She remained married to Kingsley until her death on April 26, 1981.