Thursday, August 30, 2018

Cinéma Inhabituel for September 1-15

A Guide to the Interesting and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea


Rebel Without a Cause, the 1955 film that made a star and legend out of James Dean, is coming too selected theaters September 23 and 26. Dean has excellent support from co-stars Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo, who appear to be troubled as he is. Best scene, Jim Backus as Dean’s father parading around in a woman’s frilly kitchen apron, obviously to let us know that Dean’s problems stem from the fact that Dear Old Dad is p-whipped. 


September 2: At 2:00 am comes the film that filled art houses throughout the country, director Alan Resnais’s Hiroshima, Mon Amour. Opinions today are divided as to whether the film is a genuine work of art or just another steaming pile of celluloid. Don’t look at me, I’m ambivalent about the film. Resnais, who made his name in documentaries before this (his most famous feature was the highly acclaimed Night and Fog from 1955, the first film about the holocaust), was originally going to shoot this as a documentary on the bombing of Hiroshima, but decided there was no way to do the subject proper justice in a documentary format. Marguerite Duras, a novelist and playwright, solved the problem with her screenplay about a nameless French actress and a married Japanese man who enjoy a brief affair, during the course of which memories are brought to the fore (using a unique form of flashback to indicate memories) of the woman’s past life as a collaborator and love affair with a German soldier and the man’s recollection of his experiences in World War II. The film is innovative in that, unlike the film structure before it, where character was subservient to plot and action, here plot is characterization and what action there is merely serves as to further define the characterization. By all means, see or record it and form your own opinion. For me, however, Godzilla (the original) was a far better commentary on the horrors of the war than this film.


September 2: At the graveyard hour of 4:15 am comes one of the truly groundbreaking classics, Agnes Varda’s feature debut, La Pointe Courte (1955). The film concerns a husband and wife, known only as Him and Her, who attempt to resolve their marital differences in a nostalgic tip to his hometown, a small fishing village on the Mediterranean coast. While the couple talk over their differences and hope for reconciliation, Varda contrasts it with the everyday life of the village, which seems ultimately to have a therapeutic effect on the couple. This is a fascinating and compelling film about the influence one’s environs can have on a person. The husband grew up in the village while his wife is a native Parisian with cosmopolitan values. Note that couple speak in a reserved, formal master while the sounds of the village display a casualness found in familiarity. Varda seems to be making the point that living in Paris has alienated the husband from his organic roots in the village, which in turn has contributed greatly to the couple’s problems. The villagers, on the other hand, go about their business, plying their trade and battling with government bureaucrats who make their already tough life even harder. Watch for the water jousting festival that comes near the end of the film, and listen for the contribution of composer Pierre Barbaud, whose music goes perfectly with what is occurring on the screen


September 4:  At 8:00 pm, Oscar Micheaux’s breakthrough classic about racism, the 1920 Within Our Gates, will be shown. There is nothing I can say about this classic that can top the touch of Jonathan Saia, and so we provide a link to his provocative and informative essay here.


September 1: Laraine Day is a femme who’s oh-so-fatale in the 1946 noir, The Locket, from RKO airing at Midnight. Brian Aherne and Robert Mitchum are along for the ride.

September 8: Honest truck driver Steve Brodie is beset by gangsters lead by Raymond Burr and forced to flee with wife Audrey Long in Anthony Mann’s Desperate (RKO, 1946), also airing at Midnight. Mann’s noirs are always worth the time, as is the commentary by Eddie Muller.


September 2: Garbo vamps it up as only Garbo can in the entertaining Mata Hari (MGM, 1932) at 6 am.

September 3: The solid Dinner at Eight (MGM, 1933) can be seen at 9:45 am. Ready out essay on it here.

September 6: Clark Gable is a dedicated, though naughty, doctor and Myrna Loy his neglected fiancée in Men in White (MGM, 1934), which can be seen at 9:30 am. We have an essay on it here.

When Paul Muni hits it big in business his success goes right to his head in The World Changes (WB, 1933) at 12:30 pm.

The original The Front Page from 1931 is shown in all its pre-Code glory, starring Pat O’Brien as Hildy Johnson and Adolphe Menjou as his scheming editor Walter Burns at Noon.

September 11: Honest working girl Irene Dunne falls for slick playboy Lowell Sherman in the sophisticated comedy Bachelor Apartment (RKO, 1931) at 8:15 am. It’s rarely shown, so try to catch or record it if you can. It’s worth the trouble.

September 12: Grocery clerk Stuart Erwin travels to Hollywood to become a star in Make Me a Star (Paramount, 1932), airing at 6:15 am. Joan Blondell tries to help him along the way. The film was later remade as the Red Skelton vehicle Merton of the Movies.

September 13: Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert star in possibly the first road picture, It Happened One Night (Columbia, 1934) at 6:00 pm).

September 14: The William Wellman directed social drama, Wild Boys of the Road (WB, 1933) can be seen at 1:15 am.


September 5: The Bat (1959), the remake of the silent classic,starring Vincent Price, Agnes Moorhead and Gavin Gordon is airing at 2:45 pm. It’s rarely shown, so catch it while you can.

September 7: A psychotronic double-feature begins at 2:00 am with Rory Calhoun scraping the bottom of the barrel, as a farmer whose home-made sausage contains a secret ingredient in Motel Hell (1980), followed at 4:00 am by possessed scarecrows in the aptly-named Scarecrows(1988).

September 10: Charles Laughton gives a performance for the ages as Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Norte Dame (RKO, 1939) at 7:15 am. Maureen O’Hara dazzles as the gypsy Esmeralda.

September 12: After a murder takes place during a seaplane ride to Catalina Island, Edna May Oliver, as the delightful detective Hildegarde Withers, sets out to solve the mystery in Murder on a Honeymoon (RKO, 1935) at 9:15 am. Helping out as always is James Gleason as Inspector Oscar Piper.

September 14: For those of you who like breakdancing or bad movies about it, Breakin’ (MGM, 1984) and its sequel, Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo (MGM, 1985) can be seen starting at 2:30 am.

September 15: In a unique double feature beginning at 8:00 pm, the country is treated by epidemics. First, Public Health Service officer Richard Widmark must track down a carrier of pneumonic plague before he infects New Orleans in Elia Kazan’s Panic in the Streets (Fox, 1950). It’s a taut, thrilling drama of gangsters and medics, with Jack Palance (billed as Walter Jack Palance) and Zero Mostel among the bad guys. Following at 10:00 pm, jewel thief Evelyn Keyes has contracted smallpox in Cuba and is in danger of spreading it throughout New York in The Killer That Stalked New York. This entertaining little 1950 B drama from Columbia was based on an actual incident in New York in 1946.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

TCM TiVo Alert for September 1-7

September 1–September 7


CAPTAIN BLOOD (September 1, 9:45 pm): The movie that launched the career of Errol Flynn as a swashbuckling icon is not only historically important, but is an excellent film. The cast is top-notch with Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone, Guy Kibbee and Lionel Atwill. Flynn is Dr. Peter Blood, condemned to a Jamaican plantation to serve out a sentence for treating an English rebel. When the Spanish invade Jamaica, the fun and the action begins. Blood leads a prison rebellion with the men stealing a Spanish ship – the Spaniards are busy looting the town – and later the French on his way to becoming a hero when England is overthrown by William of Orange. Flynn is as dashing as you'll see him on screen showing great charisma during the fight scenes, though he needed work at times with dialogue. The action sequences are top-notch. Flynn and de Havilland are perfect together without being over-the-top in the romance department, and of course, Rathbone is outstanding. 

THE BIG HEAT (September 7, 8:00 pm): When it comes to film noir about cops and gangsters, this 1953 classic is among the absolute best. Glenn Ford is a homicide detective with scruples, unlike anyone else on the police department in this movie. Masterfully directed by the legendary Fritz Lang, this film pulls no punches – literally. While investigating the death of a cop, who we learn soon enough was crooked, Ford's character, Sgt. David Bannion, is urged by those up the chain in command to call it a suicide and leave it alone. Of course he doesn't. But the consequences are dire, including the murder of his wife, who is blown up "Youngstown Tune-Up" style. But that's nothing compared to Lee Marvin's Vince Stone character throwing hot coffee in the face of his girlfriend, played by Gloria Grahame, disfiguring her in one of the most shocking scenes in cinematic history. 


THEM! (September 1, 2:00 pm): Not only is this the best of the “big bug” films that came out in the 1950’s, but it also has elements of a noir mystery. And if that wasn’t enough, it’s also one of the best “Red Scare” films of the period. The cast is terrific: James Whitmore, pre-Gunsmoke James Arness, veteran supporting actor Onslow Stevens, promising actress Joan Weldon, a young Fess Parker, and the great Edmund Gwenn. And look sharp for a very young Leonard Nimoy in a small role. It’s proof that when a sci-fi film is made intelligently, it’s a legitimate classic.

LA POINTE COURTE (Sept. 2, 4:15 am): This first film from renowned French director Agnes Varda, credited by many critics as the first of the French New Wave, concerns a man and a woman, known only as “Him” and “Her” who have come to the small Mediterranean town from which he hails in an effort to repair their marriage. Their effort to work through their differences is interwoven with the everyday lives of the townspeople. This is an original, spontaneous, and, for lack of a better word, earthy film that draws the viewer in on two fronts, the personal story and the town’s story. Varda is a unique talent, her films encompassing both the personal story and the world her characters inhabit. This is definitely a film to see.

WE DISAGREE ON ... LA JETEE (September 2, 3:35 am) 

ED: A. I must admit there aren’t many shorts I’m wild about, but for some reason this is an exception. Perhaps it’s the weirdness of it all. Perhaps it was the manner in which I saw it – in a classroom played along with Un Chien Andalou for a class titled “The Screenplay in Literature,” back in my undergrad days. Whatever, it interested and amused me. Its director, Chris Marker, is known for documentaries. This was one of the few works rooted in fiction that he undertook. And of the other works of his I saw, I have to admit I was not impressed. Marker is an avant-garde filmmaker, with narrative within narratives, much like Godard with films inside films. All in all I think I’ve seen about 10 of his works, and this is one of the only two (the other being Sans Soleil) that I liked.

DAVID: C+. The concept of this film, that isn't even 27 minutes in length, is quite clever. Made up entirely of still photos, except for a single brief moving picture shot, it tells the story of a post-apocalyptic society in Paris (after World War III, according to the narrator who is the only person who speaks, besides a few moments of incoherent talk). Those who "won" the war control society, which is forced underground because of the damage caused by WWIII. Through the use of simplistic-looking technology and injections, they force prisoners to dream in efforts to break through to the past and eventually the future. They want to resume life above ground, but because of war contamination, they can't. However, they can monitor people's dreams. The film focuses on one man who is haunted by the same dream about a woman on an airport platform. As the film moves on, he falls in love with the woman, eventually breaking through to the future by living in the past until we come to the end. The film is considered one of the best shorts ever made. It sounds pretty cool, right? It has potential, but alas it falls flat. Nearly every movie made could stand to trim a few minutes off its running time to make it tighter. This film is no exception despite its brevity. It drags even though it's only a bit longer than a TV sitcom. I saw it again the other day and while it promises a lot, the delivery is a near failure. Also, while I realize it's science fiction, the flaw in the conclusion ruins any semblance of logic. The still-photo concept is much more clever in concept than its implementation.

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

Saturday, August 25, 2018

The Little Giant

Films in Focus

By Ed Garea

The Little Giant (WB, 1933) – Director: Roy Del Ruth, Writers: Robert Lord & Wilson Minzer (s/p). Stars: Edward G. Robinson, Mary Astor, Helen Vinson, Russell Hopton, Kenneth Thomson, Shirley Grey, Berton Churchill, Don Dillaway & Louise Mackintosh. B&W, 76 minutes.

First things first, The Little Giant is a very funny comedy-romance; a wonderful “fish out of water” film that gives Edward G. Robinson the chance to kid his tough guy image. Though it has a story line similar to the much better known A Slight Case of Murder (1938), this is a far funnier film with an excellent mix of slapstick and verbal humor, a wonderful kidding of Robinson’s gangster screen image, and a director in Roy Del Ruth who keeps the film moving at a snappy pace.

As the film opens, Roosevelt has been elected. Bootlegger James Francis "Bugs" Ahearn (Robinson) reads the writing on the wall, and realizing he will soon be out of a job, decides to go straight. “Our racket can’t last much longer,” he tells his gang. “I’m steppin’ out of it tonight, and if you’re smart you’ll all step out of it.” He pays off his gang and his girlfriend, Edith Merriam (Grey), and with his reformed partner and childhood friend, Al Daniels (Hopton), Bugs leaves Chicago for California to establish himself as a respectable millionaire. 

Once in Santa Barbara, Bugs makes plans to mingle with the upper classes. He and Al stay at a ritzy hotel, but when learns the price is $45 a night he turns on all the bathroom faucets and throws dry towels into the tub. “They ain’t gonna make a chump out of me,” he says. A few hours later, he and Al are dining at the hotel restaurant and Bugs threatens a waiter to speak French to him so that a pretty girl seated at the next table may overhear and be suitably impressed. When Al, amazed by Bugs’s “fluency,” (he’s actually speaking a form of fractured French and understanding little of what’s being said back to him), asked him how he learned it, Bugs answers “I had 10% of this French dame.”

Soon he meets socialite Polly Cass (Vinson) and it’s love at first sight. He’ll do anything to impress her, from learning polo to buying a yacht. Tired of the outrageous rates at his hotel he rents a mansion from real estate agent Ruth Wayburn (Astor), whom he also engages as his personal secretary and advisor for gracious living. But Ruth keeps a secret from Bugs: the house he renting once belonged to Ruth's family, who went bankrupt in a shady business deal with Polly's father, Donald Hadley Cass (Churchill). And here’s the beauty of the film: On his own turf Bugs is a smart operator. He built up a bootlegging empire, knew when the game was up, and left it while he was rich and still alive. But out in California Bugs is a fish out of water. His guard is down and the blinders are up. He’s so intent on marrying Polly that Ruth decides discretion is the better part of valor and keeps quiet. Some things are best learned through experience.

There is another secret being kept from Bugs, this time by his amour, Polly. While he’s proposing to her, behind his back she continues her affair with John Stanley (Thomson). The entire family is a bunch of grifters. Polly’s plan in marrying Bugs is to get a quickie divorce and hefty alimony. Her brother Gordon (Dillaway) sells Bugs polo ponies at a huge mark-up. Finally, the father sells the naive Bugs an investment firm on the verge of bankruptcy and which will later have the law coming down on them for fraud. And Bugs’s attitude is that they are doing him a favor by letting him into the family.

When Bugs is featured in Time magazine as the “Beer Baron,” Polly now has the excuse she needs to end their engagement, telling the jilted Bugs that the family plans to immediately leave for Europe. And things get even worse for Bugs because he now owns the fraudulent company and those who were taken have gone to the police, who are now about to indict Bugs for fraud. Ruth, who has fallen in love with the ex-gangster, finally tells Bugs the truth about the Casses and confesses that one of their phony bond deals killed her father. And as for Polly, Ruth has one of the great lines in the movies: “She’s been a sister-in-law to the world.” 

Bugs is apocalyptic at being taken for a sucker. “The toughest mug in Chicago comes out here and gets trimmed by a lot of fags with handkerchiefs up their sleeves,” he says. He goes to the district attorney and works out a deal whereby if he investors are paid back the DA will not press charges. His eyes now open wide, Bugs knows how to repay the investors. He calls in the Chicago mob to get the money back from the grifters, telling them that “once you sold beer, now you‘re going to sell bonds.” The boys waste no time pressuring the crooks to buy back their fraudulent bonds. Recouping his investment from Cass and his partners, Bugs also realizes that the right woman was in front of him all the time. When Ruth apologetically tells him that he hasn’t met one decent person since he came her, Bugs shoots back, “That’s where you’re wrong, sister.” He then proposes to Ruth as the film ends.     


By the time The Little Giant was made, its plot of a likable person being taken to the cleaners by the rich, was a common theme of both comedies and dramas. In order for the movie to be a success it need something that would make it stand apart from others of its ilk. And the movie has just that something in Edward G. Robinson, who displays a natural flair for comedy and isn’t afraid to kid his own image. Without Eddie G. the movie sinks of its own weight. James Cagney might be able to pull it off, but the movie would have a much harder edge. Eddie G. supplies just the right touch of lightness to make it an entertaining comedy.

Bugs Ahern is basically a more human version of Rico in Little Caesar, more self-assured and far more comfortable in his own skin. Having made it in the bootlegging business, Bugs aspires to something greater. He sees himself as a cultured guy – and in comparison to his gang, he is, and tells his buddy Al as much: 

Yesiree. I'm a young guy that knows all the answers and got my whole life before me. Yeah, and I'm all washed up with mugs. I know I came from the gutter, but I'm steppin' right out of it. I'm gonna meet some real people, do something worthwhile, amount to somethin’!” 

According to Bugs, he’s just “dripping with culture.” All he needs is a venue to show it, and that venue is in Santa Barbara, hobnobbing with the elite. That’s where the comedy is the film comes from, a guy from the streets trying to appear sophisticated by taking a do-it-yourself course in culture. The genius of Robinson is the way he flawlessly pulls it off, for try as hard as he does to give the illusion of culture, Bugs always manages to slip into his gutter roots. For instance, when the skeptical Al asks, “When you meet these people, what are you gonna talk about? Machine guns and beer?” 

Bugs answers, “Oh, I'll manage to talk to them all right, and they'll listen. Say, I've been readin' a lot. I've been studyin'. I ain't been wastin' my time these last months. Whattaya think I've been readin' in all them books for?” He shows Al a copy of Plato’s Republic on the end table. 

Greek philosophy! Pluto!” Bugs boasts. “Yeah, I bet you thought Pluto was a waiter. Ah, I'm just crawlin' with education. I've been readin' all them Greeks. They do plenty besides shinin' shoes and runnin' lunchrooms.

There are also some moments that could only occur in a Pre-Code film. Bugs is showing a cubist painting to Al. “You ever see anything like that before?” he proudly tells his friend. Al’s reply is short and sweet: “Not since I got off cocaine.

In his own way, Al (in what was perhaps Russell Hopton’s best performance) is more than a match for his inflated boss. When Bugs declares to Al that he’s just crawling with culture and to ask him anything, “What do you want to know?”, Al’s only question is, “A good reason why I shouldn't get stinkin' drunk.” Al sees the Casses for what they are, but Bugs is so besotted he ignores his friend’s sage advice.

What makes The Little Giant so enjoyable is not only the witty script from Robert Lord & Wilson Minzer, but also the quality of the acting. From the lead on down, everyone involved gives an excellent performance. As mentioned previously, Hopton has his best role and responds accordingly. Mary Astor, with a definitely becoming hairstyle, has never looked lovelier, and Helen Vinson is so nasty and evil as Polly Cass she practically invites one to hiss every time she appears on the screen. But special credit should go Shirley Grey who plays Edith, Bugs’ girl in Chicago. Even though her role is small, she almost steals the film from Robinson, which is a most difficult thing to do. She projects a world weariness that makes us think she may not be acting.

The Little Giant is a film whose humor and plotline of victory over society’s real leeches still works effectively today.


Robinson and Astor had worked together before in The Bright Shawl (1923), Robinson's only silent film, in which Astor played his daughter, and they would work together afterward in The Man With Two Faces (1934). In his memoirs, Robinson was very impressed by Astor, writing that “she had then all the attributes that make for greatness in an actress: beauty, poise, experience, talent, and above all, she did her homework.” Astor, for her part, was equally complimentary of Robinson but dismissive of The Little Giant: “There was something wrong about Edward G. Robinson taking pratfalls from a polo pony.”

Wilson Mizner, a brilliant writer described by Jack Warner described as a "playwright, adventurer, and lovable con man.” It was said by his co-workers that he could write the sharpest dialogue in the business. Mizner wrote such movies as The Dark Horse (1932), 20,000 Years in Sing Sing (1932), and Lawyer Man (1933). He also contributed uncredited dialogue on films like Little Caesar (1931) and Five Star Final (1931). But just before his 58th birthday, he suffered a heart attack at the studio. When asked if he wanted a priest, he said, “I want a priest, a rabbi, and a Protestant minister," he said. "I want to hedge my bets.” He died before The Little Giant was finished.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Mama Mia! Here We Go Again

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

Mama Mia! Here We Go Again (Universal, 2018 – Director: Ol Parker. Writers: Ol Parker (s/p & story), Richard Curtis & Catherine Johnson (story). Stars: Lily James, Amanda Seyfried, Dominic Cooper, Meryl Streep, Cher, Julie Walters, Christine Baranski & Pierce Brosnan. Color, Rated PG-13, 114 minutes.

It’s a sequel! It’s a prequel! Wait! You’re both right. Not only that, it’s much better constructed than the 2008 original and a 10-times better musical than La La Land. This time the writers and the soundtrack team took only ABBA songs that actually fit the story. It’s not cobbled together like the first movie. I was very impressed. They found at least five songs I’ve never heard before and they worked perfectly in their slots in the plot.

In the sequel aspect Sophie Sheridan (Amanda Seyfried), daughter of the now-deceased Donna Sheridan-Carmichael (Meryl Streep) is a young woman engaged to Sky (Dominic Cooper) a young businessman in New York. Sophie is planning a grand opening for her Hotel Bella Donna (no relation to the drug, it’s dedicated to her mother) somewhere in the Grecian Isles.

Sam Carmichael (Pierce Brosnan), who eventually married Donna in the first film is helping her while still mourning Donna’s passing. The main force behind the management of the hotel and staff is Fernando Cienfuegos (Andy Garcia) and he also serves as a Dutch uncle and source of encouragement to Sophie. Think of him as Jiminy Cricket to Pinocchio, only with a deeper voice. The remaining members of the group Donna and the Dynamos, Tanya Chesham-Leigh (Christine Baranski) and Rosie Mulligan (Julie Walters) also arrive to join in the celebration. Sophie’s other two “fathers”, Harry Bright (Colin Firth) and Bill Anderson (Stellan Skarsgård) are seriously delayed by appointments and business deals.

The prequel aspect lies in the flashbacks, which can be confusing at times. They tell the story of how Young Donna (Lily James) became involved with three men; Sam (Jeremy Irvine), Bill (Josh Dylan) and Harry (Hugh Skinner), while trying get her singing group started with Tanya (Jessica Keenan Wynn) and Rosie (Alexa Davies). I say confusing because Lily James is almost a perfect double for Seyfried (excellent casting!) and it made adapting to the new time set difficult until someone called her Donna and not Sophie. This part of the movie takes the audience from flirtations to pregnancy, to the Sophie’s birth.

Adult Sophie sends out the invitations in the beginning and decides to tear up the one for her grandmother, Ruby Sheridan (Cher). But after all the trials and tribulations of a severe storm wrecking the opening decorations and Bill and Harry’s triumphant arrival, Ruby shows up anyway. After all, who better than Cher to sing the only hit song missing from the first movie, only to be the sole “cobbled in” song in this movie, “Fernando.” Appropriately, she sings it to Andy Garcia.

Those of you who love musicals know that whenever a song begins, soon the whole town or whoever is in the scene sing along in joyous harmony. You can expect that here as well. What I loved in particular was that the orchestration and the singing were superbly comparable to the ABBA originals. That could be a result of Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson (the two male members of ABBA and the songwriters) collaborating with the production. They also showed up in cameos as an Oxford professor (Bjorn) and a piano player (Benny) in the “Waterloo” scene.

The humor sprinkled throughout the film is artfully, and sometimes almost lewdly done. Most of the great lines were given to Tanya, who said upon first meeting Fernando, “Have him washed down and brought to my tent.” Then later on first seeing Sky, “I just want to be upfront and say that I visually enjoy you.” She was disappointed upon learning that Fernando and Ruby were an item previously but she finally got what she wanted when Fernando’s brother (Jonathan Goldsmith) shows up toward the end of the film.

If you don’t like ABBA’s style of music, by all means, skip this movie. But if you’re a fan, it’s a feel-good kind of film, full of hope and love. 

Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 martini glasses.

Tir na nOg
254 West 31st Street (8th Avenue)
New York

This “Land of the Young” (in Gaelic) has only been open for two years but the name and the Times Square location (14 years) have graced New York streets for much longer. When I first dined there, the menu was entirely Irish comfort food and was superior to any I’ve had since. 

Would it be as good this visit?

The bartenders are truly mixologists. My two favorites currently are the Botanist Bay’s basil-y gin cocktail and the Smoke Before Fire’s genuinely smoky mescal potion. I’m planning on trying all of their specialty drinks on subsequent visits.

An appetizer well worth trying is the Warm Bavarian Pretzel with grain mustard, horseradish cheese, and beer cheese. Though not shaped like the original, twisted pretzels, these are fat, decadently soft, lightly salted delights that will have you arguing with yourself which of the three toppings is best, or whether they’re better unadorned. An appetizer for those who are not hungry enough for a main course is the Poutine – French fries, beer cheese, stout gravy, mozzarella cheese, and bacon. If you think these ingredients don’t go together, think again. This dish will fill you up with a wonderland of flavors. The potatoes are spiral cut thickly and you’ll probably have to use a knife. You may want to linger over this dish, but try to eat it while it’s hot.

The soup was Carrot Ginger Soup, a remarkably smooth carrot purée served hot, with just enough ginger to make it exotic.

My main course was the Braised Short Ribs nested in Wasabi mashed potatoes, with glazed root vegetables, and in a thyme infused garlic jus. This dish definitely has the “WOW!” factor. The tender, cut-with-a fork meat was almost blackened with the piquant gravy and the mashed potatoes, superb! I’m not a fan of mashed potatoes but these I finished.

One of these days I’ll have to moderate my food intake at Tir Na nOg enough to try one of their desserts. Trust me, the portions are substantial. Come hungry. The entire staff is friendly and will go out of their way to make you feel at home. I’ve already listed this “pub” as one of my “Ahhh!” places.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

TCM TiVo Alert for August 23-31

August 23–August 31


CRIME AND PUNISHMENT (August 24, 10:00 pm): Peter Lorre is outstanding as Raskolnikov, an intellectual yet poor and hopelessly confused criminology student in this 1935 film loosely based on the classic Russian novel. Upset by his financial situation despite his brilliance, he convinces himself that he's a superman and therefore the laws don't apply to him. He needs money and he's going to take it. To prove to himself that he's superior to most people, Raskolnikov kills an old pawnbroker and her sister in a botched robbery. As he was a client of the pawnbroker, he is questioned by the police. Lorre is so good that even his facial expressions show his paranoia and guilt. It's definitely a movie worth viewing largely for Lorre's performance.

ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (August 28, 8:00 pm): TCM shows this film regularly and we are very lucky that it does. This is the greatest anti-war war movie ever made, and that includes Charles Chaplin's The Great Dictator, which is a brilliant piece of cinema. The message of All Quiet on the Western Front is as strong today as it was when it was released in 1930. Beautifully filmed and flawlessly directed by Lewis Milestone, it's about a group of German youths who sign up to fight in World War I after being whipped into a frenzy by a teacher. The boys learn firsthand the horrors of war. What's amazing about this film is it's about Germans fighting and killing Allied soldiers and we have sympathy for every one of them. And it pulls no punches showing the senseless deaths of young men in battle. The final scene is one of the most tragically beautiful you'll ever see in cinema. This timeless and important film comes with my highest recommendation.


ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT (August 24, 2:00 pm): Humphrey Bogart had many good qualities as an actor, but the ability to take a bad film and elevate it with his performance was not one of them. However, give him a good film and he often elevated it with the quality of his performance. This is a perfect case in point – a film with a lead that, in the wrong hands, could potentially sink it. Bogart, however, takes to it like a fish to water and comes off totally believable as a gangster who finds himself up against Nazi saboteurs led by Naughty Nazi Conrad Veidt. The performances supplied by such as Judith Anderson as Veidt’s assistant, Peter Lorre (in a wonderful turn as a sadistic henchman), William Demerest as Bogie’s sidekick, Jane Darwell as Bogie’s mom, and Kaaren Verne as a singer in peril give the film a luster that raises it above others released that year. The fact that this was made as Bogie began to catch fire with movie-going public as an actor to watch certainly helped, but we must also give kudos to director Vincent Sherman (his first film) and producer Hal Wallis, who kept a close watch on the movie as it was shot. It’s a film that works on every level.

GINGER AND FRED (August 30, 10:00 am): This was one of Fellini’s last films and the man who made a career of exposing various charlatans takes on a medium that embraces charlatans: television. Amelia (Giulietta Masina, Fellini's real-life wife) and Pippo (Marcello Mastroianni) are two aging, second-tier hoofers once famous for their impersonations of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. They are years past their prime and have completely lost touch with each other. They have been engaged perform one last ballroom routine on the TV show “We Are Proud to Present,” alongside a veritable sideshow that includes such acts as a priest who has married and will kiss his new bride on the air, a troupe of dancing midgets, a transvestite who offers sexual favors to prison inmates, and an inventor who will eat his new edible panties off of a model. The years have not been kind to the duo, especially Pippo, an alcoholic who is only appearing for the money. Amelia becomes less and less enthused as the freak show nears, with both becoming unsure about whether or not they want to perform. However, when they finally do decide to take to the stage, through their very dignity they manage to transform a vulgar spectacle into a magical recreation of 1930’s Hollywood. The film is replete with all the Fellini touches and both Mastroianni and Masina are engagingly wonderful, even though in real life Ginger Rogers was so insulted she tried to stop the film from being shown. Never mind her, this is a magical and enchanting display of human dignity among the ruins.

WE DISAGREE ON ... CAGED (August 27, 2:15 pm):

ED: CCaged is basically an remake of Barbara Stanwyck’s Ladies They Talk About, and – surprise, surprise – it outdoes its Pre-Code predecessor in grit and innuendo. It was originally scheduled as an A-production starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford (Can you imagine?), but the studio wisely opted for a lesser-known cast and chose Eleanor Parker (she of the limited acting skills) as its star. Though it contains all the tropes we later came to enjoy in women’s prison flicks, because at heart it’s a social message film it mostly eschews the exploitation in favor of characterization and film noir archetypes. The characters include the innocent ingenue, Marie Allen (27-year old Eleanor Parker trying to pass for 19), who will get a the equivalent of a post-grad education for the $40 she heisted; lesbian big shot Elvira Powell (Lee Patrick in an excellent performance); reform-minded warden Ruth Benton (Agnes Moorhead) who naturally has to fight the corruption of the system both inside the joint and out; “Queen Bee” Kitty Stark (Betty Garde), who loses her special status inside the joint when Elvira arrives; and the reason to see this laff riot: Big Evelyn Harper (the deliciously hammy Hope Emerson), head matron and aggressive lesbian. The fact that the film takes itself with the utmost seriousness gives it a distinct camp quality for today’s audiences. I saw it in New York while in grad school, and the audience laughed throughout at lines like “Think it over, sweetie, but get this through your head: if you stay in here too long, you don't think of guys at all - you just get out of the habit.” (Kitty); “Come on you tramps - line up for Christmas.” (Harper); “Don't kid me, Harper's first name is filth.” (Kitty); “At least we have honest matrons in here. When I bribe one, she stays bribed.” (Kitty); and my favorite, “Find me something to wipe my shoe with!” (Harper after she stomps the kitten Marie has smuggled in). And as for Marie, after Elvira puts the fix in she finally gets her parole and sets off on a new career as a hooker. This sets up the terrific last line when Warden Ruth is asked about Marie’s file. “Keep it active. She'll be back.” If Caged was in the public domain, it definitely would have made it to Mystery Science Theater 3000, but as it is the film is something the gang at Rifftrax should check out. Should you want to see an out-and-out exploitation version of the film, check out Reform School Girls (1986), with Wendy O. Williams, Sybil Danning and Pat Ast in the Hope Emerson role. You won’t be disappointed.

DAVID: B+. This is the mother of all women-in-prison films. Unlike nearly all the others in this unusual but often-visited film genre, Caged is well acted. Eleanor Parker was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar as the young innocent Marie Allen, Agnes Moorehead is great as warden Ruth Benton, and Hope Emerson was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar as the deliciously evil matron Evelyn Harper. Almost anything bad you can imagine happens to Marie – her new husband is killed in a robbery, she ends up in prison because she is waiting in the getaway car, she's pregnant while serving her sentence, she's victimized by other inmates and Harper, she has to give up her baby for adoption, and finally becomes bitter and hardened from all of her bad experiences. The story is similar to other women-in-prison movies minus the T&A. We still get a shower scene (no nudity as this is during the Code era) and the stereotypical prison lesbian! But there's a huge difference between Caged and the women-in-prison films of the 1970s. It's not only the excellent acting, but the powerful dialogue and actual plot – it was nominated for a Best Writing Oscar – that makes this gritty, stark, realistic film stand out among others in the genre. The viewer is given reasons as to how and why the innocent Marie turns into a hardened criminal from the brutal scene in which her head is shaved to having her baby taken from her to the hopelessness of one inmate driven to suicide to the murder of Harper by one of Marie's friends who uses a fork to do the job. It's also a damning indictment of a penal system that doesn't try to rehabilitate the inmates, but largely treat them like caged animals. It can be somewhat cliché at times, but it's definitely in a class by itself.

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

Saturday, August 18, 2018

When Ladies Meet

Films In Focus

By Ed Garea

When Ladies Meet (MGM, 1933) – Directors: Harry Beaumont, Robert Z. Leonard (uncredited). Writers: John Meehan & Leon Gordon (s/p). Rachel Crothers (play). Stars: Ann Harding, Robert Montgomery, Myrna Loy, Alice Brady, Frank Morgan, Martin Burton & Luis Alberni. B&W, 85 minutes.      

Over a year since they signed her, MGM finally decided to give Myrna Loy some starring roles. The first was in The Barbarian (released May, 12, 1933) opposite Ramon Novarro. It performed well at the box office so another film was readied for Loy.

Chosen as her next vehicle was When Ladies Meet, a drawing room comedy/drama based on Rachel Crothers’s Broadway play. Ann Harding, who Loy worked with in The Animal Kingdom (see our review here), was borrowed from RKO to play one of the leads. Robert Montgomery, who was making rapid progress at MGM, was chosen as one of the male leads, with Frank Morgan as the other. Acting in a “tits and sand” saga opposite Ramon Novarro was one thing, playing against the likes of Ann Harding was another. The studio was anxious to find out the mettle of their new star. Could Loy hold her own with the sterling cast?

Harding is Claire Woodruf, the wife of philandering publisher Rogers Woodruf (Morgan). His latest love interest is author Mary Howard (Loy) with whom he spends much time rewriting the final chapter of her novel. Complicating things is newspaper reporter Jimmie Lee (Montgomery), who is madly in love with Mary and has proposed to her. He suspects Mary and Rogers are involved, but afraid to alienate her, he decides not to confront her directly. Instead, he tells Mary that the ending of her latest book, in which a mistress confronts her lover's devoted wife and receives her blessing, is unbelievable. Mary dismisses Jimmy's complaints and quietly arranges with her best friend, widow Bridget Drake (Brady), to spend the weekend in the country with Woodruf.  
After Jimmy deduces Mary and Bridget's plans, he becomes determined to nip the affair in the bud. First, he offers to introduce Woodruf to a famous, elusive writer, whose books Woodruf desperately wants to publish, during the weekend. Later, Jimmy interrupts an intimate moment between Woodruf and Mary when he climbs Mary's balcony and drunkenly calls to her. Undaunted, Jimmy plays a game of golf in the country with Claire and, confident that Woodruf already has left for Bridget's retreat, telephones his publishing company and states that if Woodruf wants to meet with the famous author he must do so immediately as he is about to leave New York.

While Woodruf hurries back to the city, Jimmy hatches his plan by first telling Claire about her husband’s latest romance. He then and asks her to pretend to be his "date" in order to make Mary jealous. Amused, the oblivious Claire, amused, agrees to the sham and introduces herself to Mary, Bridget and Bridget’s gigolo boyfriend, Walter Manners (Burton), as "Mrs. Claire," Jimmy's "cousin." As Jimmy hoped, Mary and Claire immediately take to each other and as a storm rages outside, they exchange thoughts about life, love and the ending to Mary's novel. 

At first, Claire confirms Mary's theory that a loving wife could give up her husband were she convinced that he would be happier with another woman. However, later, as the two women talk in Mary's bedroom, Claire reveals that for years she has been aware of her own husband's affairs and senses that he is yet again involved with another woman. She then confesses that if this woman were to ask her what Mary's protagonist asks of the wife in Mary's novel, she would wish the woman dead and hang on to her husband at all costs. 

At this moment, Rogers bursts into the bedroom calling to Mary, and the cat is now out of the bag. Shocked at the turn of affairs, Claire asks her husband to choose between the two of them, but, chagrined, he refuses to comply. In disgust, Claire tells Mary that she is willing to give up Woodruf after all and prepares to leave the house.

Woodruf later confesses to Mary that his intentions toward her are not as serious as she believed they were and that he has decided to make up with his wife. However, Claire tells Woodruf that she no longer loves him and leaves. Jimmy advises Rogers to rival to go after his wife and find a way back into her heart. At the end, while a bemused Bridget tries to make sense of the evening's goings-on, Jimmy consoles a heartbroken but wiser Mary with his love-filled jokes.


When Ladies Meet is an almost literal adaptation of Rachel Crother’s drawing room drama. Except for a few changes of scenery from one locale to another, it remains static. However, once we establish our interest, the characters are strong enough and the actors portraying them appealing enough to hold our interest.

The film is loaded with give and take and scads of witty repartee by the characters. As Claire, Ann Harding givers another one of her patented performances. Oblivious to her husband’s plans, she plays her scene with Montgomery brilliantly, thinking it’s all a lark. Later, conversing with Mary, she puts up a social front. But when blindsided and now faced with the reality of the situation, she shows her true feelings. This is life, not conjecture, and she behaves as any wounded spouse would given the situation. She is absolutely believable. Harding specialized in tearjerkers at RKO, and though this film was on a somewhat more sophisticated level, he adapts beautifully. However, her typecasting in a parade of tearjerkers as the woman always ready to sacrifice herself for good of others caused a decline in her popularity, and combined with a nasty divorce, caused her to leave films in 1937. After marrying second husband Werner Janssen she took a five-year hiatus, returning in 1942 as Norma Lawry in MGM’s Eyes in the Night, starring Edward Arnold. In her autobiography, Myrna Loy remembered Harding as “a very private person, a wonderful actress completely without star temperament, but withdrawn.”

Robert Montgomery handles his role as the lovestruck Jimmie quite well. Knowing that his main function was to play off co-star Loy, Montgomery does so with barely a tic in his performance. By this time he has much experience with this sort of character and makes the most of it. 

It’s Frank Morgan, though, who surprises us. He specialized in playing courtly, sometimes eccentric or befuddled, but ultimately sympathetic, characters, such as the Wizard of Oz. It’s a little startling to see him in a romantic role, and I suspect many of us had trouble at first imagining him as someone Myrna Loy could go head over heels for in a movie. However, once we get used to him as the philandering publisher, we see how well he builds an overwhelming sense of fraud and deceit into the character. When he finally comes clean to Mary after Claire leaves, the difference between the poseur and the real man is startling and well done.

But it’s Alice Brady as the cynical Bridget who almost walks off with the movie. In the role of the observer, obsessed with image and sex, a sort of Greek chorus, she has some of the best lines.

This film is a real test for Loy, for she’s working with extremely talented actors who could easily overwhelm her character. Judging by the results, however, Myrna handled herself quite well in this heavyweight crowd. In her autobiography, she tells of paling around with Montgomery and Alice Brady (who as the cynical hostess, almost walks off with the movie), spending off hours in their company at Brady’s home. The film was later remade in 1941 with Joan Crawford, Greer Garson and Robert Taylor in the roles of Mary, Claire and Jimmie respectively. The remake is far glossier, but the difference in substance is the difference between the Pre-Code movies and their later counterparts. In the 1941 version, the dialogue isn’t as crisp and one gets the feeling that something is missing. Opt for the Pre-Code version, the quality of the dialogue gives it a decided edge.