Monday, August 21, 2017

The Movie-TV Connection Game (August 2017)

Fredric March and Robert Redford.
Welcome to the first 2017 edition of our most popular game! As always, you'll be given a pair or trio of films or performers, your task is to find the common connection. It could be anything--two stars who acted in the same movie, two movies that share a common theme, etc. As always, don't answer all the questions so others can play, too. There is a single best answer for each question.

1. Beach Blanket Bingo and Dr. No.

2. Shindig! and Pajama Party.

3. The Carey Treatment and The Andromeda Strain.

4. Tony Randall and Vanessa Redgrave.

5. Robert Redford and Fredric March.

6. Shelley Fabares and Larry Hagman.

7. Sidney Poitier and Robert Urich.

8. Oliva da Havilland, Jason Robards, Jr., and Richard Carlson.

9. Raquel Welch and James Caan.

10. Tony Musante and Robert Blake.

11. S.W.A.T. and Welcome Back, Kotter.

12. Knight Rider and St. Elsewhere.

13. Raymond Massey and Lionel Barrymore.

14. Cat People (1982) and Copacabana (1985).

15. 101 Damatians (1961) and Cat People (1942).

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Seven Obscure Movies That I Curiously Remember (Volume 3)

1. Johnny Nobody (1961) - In a small Irish village, a ranting atheist dares God to strike him dead--at which point, a mysterious stranger shoots and kills the man. The killer identifies himself as "nobody" and claims that God directed his actions. That becomes his defense when he is brought to trial. I haven't seen this film since the early 1970s, but the premise alone left a lasting impression. Hey, TCM, if you have this one in your vaults, let's get it on the air!

2. The Southern Star (1969) - Set in Africa in 1912, this lighthearted tale concerns a huge diamond, which is stolen soon after its discovery. Adventurer George Segal, diamond miner's daughter Ursula Andress, security chief Ian Hendry, and portly villain Orson Welles all seek the missing stone. This one pops up on TV occasionally because of the cast. For some inexplicable reason, the scene I remember best is a chess game involving liqueur-filled glasses.

Ursula Andress looking groovy!
3. The 10th Victim (1965) - In the future, a television show called The Big Hunt pits participants--known as Hunters and Victims--against each other in multiple rounds of murder with the big winner gaining international fame. In this pop-art vision of the future, hunter Ursula Andress tracks down victim Marcello Mastrianni as they flirt with one another and wear stylish clothes. The 10th Victim is a bizarre film, but has its share of passionate fans. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, it was frequently shown on television (probably due to Ursula's popularity). These days, it's a rarity.

4. Shoot Loud, Louder...I Don't Understand (1966) - Such was Raquel Welch's fame in the late 1960s and early 1970s that most of her films were shown on U.S. network television--even this Italian-made oddity. Marcello Mastrianni (again!) stars as a sculptor who dreams that his neighbor, a notorious gangster, has been murdered. As in , Mastrianni's character has trouble distinguishing between dreams and reality--but, rest assured, this is no Fellini masterpiece.

Angel Tompkins.
5. The Teacher (1974) - What did Jay North do after the Dennis the Menace TV series? Well, one of his few starring roles was in this drive-in picture notable for featuring cult movie favorite Angel Tompkins. Jay plays a high school student who has an affair with an attractive teacher (Angel). This situation doesn't sit well with another young man who has been stalking her--and accidentally causes his young brother's death. The Teacher is not very good, but don't tell that to any of Angel's fans!

6. Paul and Michelle (1974) - One of the surprise hits of 1971 was Friends, a romance about two teens who run away together and have a baby. It was directed by 007 veteran Lewis Gilbert and featured songs by Elton John and Bernie Taupin. This belated sequel picks up the story with Paul, now in prep school, searching for Michelle and then competing with a rival for her affections. It's pretty bland, but, hey, most people don't even know there was a sequel to Friends. Now, you do! So, if you're a Jeopardy winner because of this, you ethically owe a portion of your winnings to us.

7. The Strange Door (1951) - Charles Laughton's 1950s films were a hodgepodge, ranging from excellent (Witness for the Prosecution) to awful (Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd). The Strange Door falls closer to the latter with Laughton as a vengeance-minded nobleman who plans to force his niece to marry a cad (as if locking up her father for 20 years and not telling her wasn't bad enough). The title door has no latch on the inside--so once a visitor enters Laughton's abode, they cannot escape.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Cult Movie Theatre: The Green Slime

Robert Horton as the stoic hero.
What do you do when you learn that a six million ton asteroid is on a collision course with Earth and impact is just ten hours away?

The UNSC (United Nations Space Center?) recalls Commander Jack Rankin (Robert Horton) from retirement and sends him to Operating Base Gamma 3. Once there, Rankin's mission is to plant two explosive devices on the asteroid, thereby reducing it to atomic dust. Rankin's arrival at the space station is a little awkward. He assumes command from former best friend Vince Elliott (Richard Jaeckel), who is planning to marry Rankin's former flame Dr. Lisa Benson (Luciana Paluzzi).

Luciana Paluzzi as Dr. Benson.
Before this revived love triangle can be sorted out, though, Rankin and Elliott must destroy the asteroid. Their mission goes well, but a colleague gets a trace amount of a green organism on his uniform. Back on the space station, the organism begins to reproduce exponentially ("It's spreading like wildfire!"). Pretty soon, Gamma 3 is being overrun by green, one-eyed, tentacled creatures that feed on energy and kill the crew by electrocuting them.

Made by MGM in 1968, The Green Slime was an American-Japanese co-production. It was shot in Tokyo by a Japanese crew, but with an American cast (except for Italian beauty Paluzzi). Many of the extras were not professional actors. Some critics claim it was intended as the fifth installment in an Italian science fiction film series about a space station called Gamma One. (The first movie in that series was 1966's Wild, Wild Planet.

One of the cheesy-looking creatures.
The Green Slime is now considered a camp classic thanks to its atrocious special effects, silly-looking alien creatures, and composer Charles Fox's rock 'n' roll title song. That said, the monster-on-the-space station premise works well enough and foreshadows Alien (1979)--though both movies owe much to It! The Terror From Beyond Space (1958).

As the stoic hero, Robert Horton appears to be having a lot of fun. In one scene, I swears he looks like he's about to burst out laughing. Sadly, the stunning Luciana Paluzzi has little to do. She was one of my favorite Bond henchman, playing fiery Fiona Volpe in Thunderball (1965). She also appeared in Muscle Beach Party (1964), in which she tried to steal Frankie Avalon away from Annette. The unfortunate Vince was played by the always solid Richard Jaeckel, who forged the most successful film career of the three leads.

Shouldn't it be "The Green
Slime is coming?"
The Green Slime was directed by the prolific Kinji Fukasaku. He later produced Asian box office hits like Battles Without Honor and Humanity (1973) and the controversial Battle Royale (2000). The latter film preceded The Hunger Games by eight years with its futuristic tale about high school students who must participate in a government-sponsored game in which they kill one another until only one survives.

Incidentally, there are two versions of The Green Slime. The U.S. release is 90 minutes long, while the Japanese version clocks in at 77 minutes. It omits the love triangle, has a different title theme, and sports a more downbeat ending.

Here's a clip from The Green Slime. You can view it full-screen on the Classic Film & TV Cafe's YouTube Channel. You can also stream the entire movie at warnerarchive.com.



Thursday, August 10, 2017

A Shadow of Death Lingers Over "The Gunfighter"

Released in 1950--the same year as Winchester '73--Henry King's The Gunfighter helped usher in the "adult Western" genre. From its simple title to star Gregory Peck's authentic mustache, this character study works hard to differentiate itself from conventional oaters.

Peck plays Jimmy Ringo, a gunslinger and former outlaw whose body count numbers "10, 12, 15--depends on who's telling." Ringo knows the exact number, as well as the names of the men he has killed. It's not something that he takes lightly. And though there was a time when he wanted to be the fastest gun in the West, he now longs for a normal life with the woman he loves and the son he's never known. Unfortunately, he cannot escape his reputation--and those determined to earn their own fame by killing the notorious Jimmy Ringo.

Millard Mitchell was also in Winchester '73.
Most of The Gunfighter takes place in a practically empty saloon as Ringo awaits his wife's decision on whether she will see him. He reminiscences about the past with his friend Mark (Millard Mitchell), who became a marshal years earlier when errant gunfire killed an innocent boy. He learns that his best friend, another gunfighter, was shot in the back of the head in an alley. He confronts a young hothead named Hunt who unsuccessfully tries to goad him into a shoot-out.

Skip Homeier as Hunt.
But mainly, Ringo awaits his ultimate fate. In addition to Hunt, an elderly man aims a rifle at the saloon doors, hoping to kill the man he believes was responsible for his son's death. There are also three men riding toward town with the goal of gaining revenge on Ringo for the death of their brother (although it was a fair fight). It quickly becomes as clear as the ticking of the loud clock in the saloon that Ringo will not survive the day.

The use of time in The Gunfighter foreshadows the later High Noon (1952). Just as Will Kane prepares for a face-off at noon, Ringo has been given a 10 a.m. deadline for hearing back from his wife Peggy. What he doesn't know--but the viewer does--is that the vengeful brothers are due to arrive in town at that same time. As the clock counts down the minutes, the film turns more somber and the conclusion more inevitable. 

Gregory Peck and Helen Westcott.
In addition to Peck and Mitchell, the strong cast includes Karl Malden as a bartender who remembers Ringo from the old days. Regrettably, Helen Westcott comes off as incredibly bland as Peggy. While that could have been by design--a sort of opposites attract relationship with Ringo--one wishes for more passion on her part in the big scene with her husband.

William Bowers and Andre de Toth (best known for directing House of Wax) wrote the original story for The Gunfighter and received an Oscar nomination. It was initially intended as a vehicle for John Wayne. When a deal couldn't be reached with the Duke, the property wound up at Twentieth Century-Fox. 

Bob Dylan and playwright Sam Shepard co-wrote a 1986 song called "Brownsville Girl" that references The Gunfighter. The opening lyrics are:

Well, there was this movie I seen one time
About a man riding 'cross the desert and it starred Gregory Peck
He was shot down by a hungry kid trying to make a name for himself 
The townspeople wanted to crush that kid down and string him up by the neck.

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Falcon Goes on a Date...and then Strikes Back!

George Sanders as The Falcon.
A Date With the Falcon (1942) is a direct sequel to the series' first film, The Gay Falcon, with Wendy Barrie returning as Gay Lawrence's fiancée. She wants to whisk the Falcon away to get married. Instead, the debonair adventurer gets involved with an investigation into a missing scientist who has invented a near-perfect synthetic diamond. In fact, almost no one can tell the difference--which could be devastating for the jewelry industry.

The Falcon movies, which starred George Sanders and later his brother Tom Conway, were consistently entertaining "B" detective movies. Sometimes, the "comic relief" (typically provided by the Falcon's crony Goldy Locke) was a bit excessive. However, Sanders and Conway always found a way to elevate these fast-paced programmers above the likes of Charlie Chan, Boston Blackie, and Michael Shayne. Certainly, the brothers were charming on screen and seemed to define the word "suave." But I think their true secret was that they looked like they were having fun--and invited the audience to have fun with them.

A Date With the Falcon is a solid entry in the series, though I do find it silly that the writers decided the Falcon should get engaged. Sanders flirts with every woman in sight, inspiring a flower girl to quip: "He's much too nice and undependable to be taken out of circulation." There was no fiancée in sight when Gay Lawrence returned in The Falcon Takes Over, an unusual reworking of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe novel Farewell My Lovely.

Tom Conway as The Falcon's brother.
When George Sanders moved on to bigger roles, RKO casts his real-life brother as Gay Lawrence's brother Tom. The transition was effected rather cleverly in the appropriately-titled The Falcon's Brother (1942). Conway's first solo outing is one of the best in the series, The Falcon Strikes Back (1943).

It opens with Tom Lawrence recovering from a hangover, only to be visited by a beautiful mysterious woman (Rita Corday) that wants him to find her missing brother. Lawrence's search leads to a cocktail bar when he's knocked unconscious. He awakens in the backseat of his convertible and quickly discovers he's been framed for the murder of a bank messenger and the theft of $250,000 in war bonds. When he returns to the cocktail bar, it's now the home of the Volunteer Knitters of America!

Harriet Nelson and Tom Conway.
Lawrence's investigation leads him to the Pinecrest resort hotel, where he encounters more murder, a bizarre puppeteer, and Harriet Nelson from Ozzie and Harriet fame. Who could ask for more?

I've always preferred Tom Conway as the Falcon, perhaps because he seems tougher than George Sanders. The Falcon Strikes Back is an enjoyable series' outing with the added distinction of being directed by Edward Dmytryk one year before Murder, My Sweet cemented his reputation.

Don't you love the irony? An earlier Falcon movie was based on Farewell, My Lovely, which was adapted again in 1944 as Murder, My Sweet. The director of that movie? Edward Dmytryk.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Five Best Gregory Peck Performances


Gregory Peck and Mary Badham.
1. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) - This is an obvious choice for the top spot. After all, Atticus Finch ranked No. 1 on the American Film Institute's list of favorite movie heroes. However, the beauty of Peck's performance is that he doesn't make Atticus a saint. He quietly conveys the character's values and principles, while achieving incredible natural chemistry with the young actors that play Scout and Jem.

2. Twelve O'Clock High (1949) - One of the best films about World War II, this insightful drama stars Peck as an Air Force general charged with replacing a nice guy commander and toughening up a bomb group with low morale. General Savage lives up to his name, telling his troops: "Fear is normal. But stop worrying about it and about yourselves. Stop making plans. Forget about going home. Consider yourselves already dead. Once you accept that idea, it won't be so tough." While Peck delivers those lines with authority, he expresses his character's inner turmoil in the brilliant scene with his executive officer played by Dean Jagger.

Peck kisses Audrey Hepburn.
3. Roman Holiday (1953) - Most film buffs probably think of this lyrical comedy as an "Audrey Hepburn picture." While it's true that she glows in every frame, it takes two actors to create a believable romance and Gregory Peck is ideal as the serious journalist. He provides the perfect balance to Audrey Hepburn's carefree, undercover princess who relishes her temporary freedom from royal responsibilities.

4. The Gunfighter (1950) - This Western stars Peck as Jimmy Ringo, a gunslinger and former outlaw who longs for a normal life with the woman he loves and the son he's never known. Unfortunately, he cannot escape his reputation--and those determined to earn their own fame by killing him. Peck believably captures the loneliness and guilt etched on his character's face.

With Ingrid Bergman on a train.
5. Spellbound (1945) - Alfred Hitchcock's clever suspense film provides Gregory Peck with multiple "roles." Initially, the viewer thinks he's the new intelligent, caring head of a mental hospital in Vermont. However, it's soon revealed Peck is only masquerading as a psychiatrist--he actually has amnesia. Later, it turns out that he may be a murderer. It's a great part and Peck shines as the impostor-victim-investigator trying to sort out what happened to him...and falling in love with Ingrid Bergman at the same time.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Connie Stevens and Dean Jones Make for "Two on a Guillotine"

Connie Stevens as Cassie.
Who is the mysterious young woman at the funeral of The Great Duquesne? She could be the spitting image of the famous magician's wife Melinda, who disappeared without explanation twenty years earlier. And what's up with the casket fitted with a window and wrapped in chains?

The young woman turns out to be Duquesne's daughter Cassie, who was raised by an aunt in Wisconsin and barely knew her parents. As for the unusual casket, a newspaper headline informs us that Duquesne has vowed to return from the dead.

As if being hounded by the press wasn't bad enough, Cassie (Connie Stevens) learns of an unusual condition to her $300,000 inheritance. She must spend seven consecutive nights in her father's mansion from midnight to dawn. If she fails to do so, then the estate will be divided between Duquesne's agent Buzzy and his caretaker Dolly.

The Great Duquesne and his guillotine.
Two on a Guillotine sounds like a William Castle film and one can just imagine the kind of gimmicks that could have accompanied it. However, this easygoing 1965 thriller was helmed by William Conrad. Yes, the man who voiced Matt Dillon on radio and later played Cannon on TV also directed movies. In fact, his follow-up was another 1965 thriller, My Blood Runs Cold, which featured Connie Stevens' frequent co-star Troy Donahue.

Dean Jones as Connie's love interest.
In lieu of Troy, Connie is paired with Disney regular Dean Jones in Two on a Guillotine. The affable Jones plays a newspaper journalist who starts out to get a story on Cassie and ends up falling in love with her. He also helps her figure out the source of the midnight moans and rattling chains in the Duquesne house.

Two on a Guillotine is a genial diversion, though it's easily seventeen minutes too long (90 minutes should be the standard for teen-oriented drive-in pictures!). Also, assuming that there are no ghosts, there's a paucity of suspects trying to drive Connie out of the house (if that's the intent).

Cesar Romero as the magician.
Conrad's direction is pretty straightforward with the exception of one Hithcockian moment. As Dean leans in to kiss Connie in a loud, rock'n'roll club, the music segues to Max Steiner's lush score. Dean pulls back from the kiss to reveal that he and Connie are now alone in her father's house.

There's also a priceless instance of unintentional foreshadowing. When Dean's character wants to reassure Cassie that he's the protective type, he jokes: "I'm half Saint Bernard." Eleven years later, Dean starred in Disney's The Shaggy D.A. His character wasn't a Saint Bernard, but he could transform into a sheepdog. Now, that's spooky!

Here's a clip from Two on Guillotine, courtesy of warnerarchive.com, which you can view full-screen on the Classic Film & TV Cafe YouTube channel. (You can also stream the entire movie at Warner Archive).

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Movie-TV Connection Game (July 2017)

What do these two have in common?
Get out of the heat, take a seat, and try to your hand at our favorite game. The rules are simple: Given a pair or trio of films or performers, your task is to find the common connection. It could be anything--two stars who acted in the same movie, two movies that share a common theme, etc. As always, don't answer all the questions so others can play, too. There is a single best answer for each question.

1. James Cagney and Claude Rains.

2. Olivia de Havilland and Jason Robards (this one might be hard!).

3. Tony Randall and Vanessa Redgrave.

4. Parker Stevenson and Bonita Granville.

5. Russ Tamblyn and Grant Williams.

6. Shirley MacLaine and Pinocchio.

7. Pinocchio and The Naked Jungle.

8. Mel Gibson and Roger Moore.

9. Carole Lombard and June Allyson.

10. Jerry Lewis and Spencer Tracy.

11. Alec Guinness and Jerry Lewis (easy one!).

12. The Men From Shiloh and The Name of the Game.

13. Stella Stevens and Ann-Margret.

14. Peter Graves and Alan Young.

15. Troy Tempest and Lee Crane.


Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Blake Edwards Treatment

James Coburn--looking hip as always.
What can you say about a movie in which a director sued to have his name removed from the credits? Suffice to say that director Blake Edwards was mighty displeased with the version of The Carey Treatment (1972) that was released to theaters. However, before we discuss what happened behind the scenes, let's take a look at the finished product.

Jennifer O'Neill.
The Carey Treatment stars James Coburn as Dr. Peter Carey, a hip pathologist that accepts a job at a Boston hospital because he'll "make more bread" ($45,000 to be precise or $258,600 in today's economy). Carey never actually performs his hospital duties. Instead, he has an older colleague cover for him as he investigates a potential murder and makes out with an attractive dietitian named Georgia (Jennifer O'Neill in an awful performance).

The murder victim is 15-year-old Karen Randall, the hospital administrator's daughter, who died from what appeared to be a botched abortion. The police arrest Carey's friend Dr. David Tao, who admits to performing illegal abortions but not performing one on Karen. Carey clashes with everyone, including his boss and the police, as he aggressively seeks out what really happened to the dead teenager.

The Carey Treatment was based on the 1968 novel A Case of Need, written by Michael Crichton under a pseudonym while he was a medical student. The film version, though, likely owes more to private eye films such as Harper (1966) and Marlowe (1969). Frankly, it's hard to imagine that Peter Carey is actually an M.D. In one scene, he tries to get Karen's roommate to dish on the murder victim by driving recklessly with the girl in the passenger seat (e.g., he even drives over a drawbridge while the spans are separating!).

James Coburn tries to salvage The Carey Treatment by the sheer force of his personality, glittering smile, and ultra-cool silver hair. However, he is undone by more plot holes than your average slice of Swiss cheese. Why does Karen or her mother implicate Dr. Tao? If Georgia has custody of her young son, why does she seem to spend all her nights with Carey? Someone hires a photographer to take a photo of Carey and Georgia making love, but for what reason?

The answers to these questions may be addressed in the many scenes excised from The Carey Treatment after Blake Edwards turned in his final cut. Frankly, I suspect that Edwards might have never directed The Carey Treatment if not for the fact that his career was at a low point. After enjoying boxoffice success in the 1960s with Breakfast at Tiffany's, The Days of Wine and Roses, and The Pink Panther, Edwards started the next decade with a series of flops. The most notable was Darling Lili (1970), a vanity project for his wife Julie Andrews, that boasted a $25 million budget and earned only $5 million at the theaters.

Blake Edwards subsequently signed a deal with MGM--and then unfortunately ran afoul of budget-minded studio president James Aubrey. The executive, who famously sold Dorothy's ruby slippers because they had "no intrinsic value," tampered with Blake Edwards' Western Wild Rovers (1971) as well as The Carey Treatment. Edwards revived his career in 1975 with The Return of the Pink Panther, but he never forgot his awful MGM experiences and gained his "revenge" with the biting Hollywood satire S.O.B. (1981).

Skye Aubrey.
Interestingly, the cast of The Carey Treatment includes James Aubrey's daughter Skye in a key role. Actually, it was quite a family affair with smaller parts being played by Blake Edwards' daughter Jennifer and Mel Torme's daughter Melissa Torme-March. Look quickly and you might also see Olive Dunbar as one of the doctors. She played the lead role in the disturbing short film The Lottery, which we reviewed earlier this year.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Love It or Shove It (Classic Movie Edition II)

In this occasional feature, we'll make a statement about classic cinema and then ask our panel of movie experts to "love it" (they agree) or "shove it" (they disagree). This month, our expert panel is comprised of: Caftan Woman, Silver Screenings, and yours truly.

Vivien Leigh as Miss O'Hara.
1. No one could have played Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind any better than Vivien Leigh.

Caftan Woman:  Love it. Scarlett is on screen for most of the film and when she isn't, she is a presence. If the audience isn't interested or even enthralled with the character, the movie falls apart. The talent Vivien brought to the role was augmented by the audience not identifying her with another character. That combination gives Vivien Leigh ownership of the role.

Silver Screenings:  Love it. Other actresses at the time would have been good, but Vivien Leigh captures Scarlett's essence. She has the look, the attitude(!) and, most importantly, the voice. Leigh-as-Scarlett's overall tone is as sweet as pecan pie, but it also reveals the character's razor-sharp ambition.

Rick:  Shove it. I think Vivien Leigh is very good as Scarlett, but I think GWTW would still be a classic without her. It's Selznick's vision on the screen. Olivia de Havilland provides the film with its heart and Clark Gable provides the needed intensity. Who do I think could have played Scarlett instead of Leigh? I admit that's a toughie. Gene Tierney is one possibility and Paulette Goddard doesn't look bad in her screen test (it's on YouTube).

2. The quality of classic films declined with the end of the studio system in Hollywood.

Caftan Woman:  Shove it. Quality is in the eye of the beholder. Over time fashions, mores, styles and technology bring changes to the art and business of cinema. Each generation of filmmakers and audiences will create their own classics.

Silver Screenings:  Shove it. I feel the quality of classic films initially decreased, then increased over the years. While overall quality may have stumbled somewhat in the 1960s, the 1970s produced some extraordinary films (The Godfather, All the President's Men, Rocky). A person can point to more recent examples, too, such as Dead Poets Society, Schindler's List, and The King's Speech. It's not like the the studio era never produced, um, "forgettable" films.

Rick:  Shove it. The independent films of the 1950s ushered in a new era of provocative cinema with filmmakers like Otto Preminger and Samuel Fuller. I do think the studio system made it easier for young performers to break into the business. Julie Adams once told me that she was thankful to have a "home base" at Universal.

One of the 1939 classics.
3. In terms of quality films produced, 1939 was the best year in the history of classic cinema.

Caftan Woman:  Love it. While many years may lay claim to a plethora of quality titles including personal favourites 1935, 1944 and 1950, 1939 was the year John Ford released Stagecoach. If that is not reason enough, simply check the other nine films nominated by the Academy for Best Picture.

Silver Screenings:  Love it. Although quality films are being made all the time, I agree 1939 has been the Bumper Crop Year so far.

Rick:  Love it. My runner-up would be 1967: The Graduate, In the Heat of the Night, Cool Hand Luke, To Sir With Love, The Dirty Dozen, The Fearless Vampire Killers, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, and Point Blank.

4. The MGM musicals set the standard in terms of innovation, spectacle and entertainment value.

Caftan Woman:  Shove it. MGM created an incredibly talented musical unit and gave us true classics in the field. However, their peak of innovation and spectacle in the 1950s coincided with the unfortunate decline of the popularity of movie musicals. Therefore, I deny they set the standard for other studios which created their own look and stars.

Silver Screenings:  Shove it – with a caveat: My complete lack of objectivity when it comes to musicals. MGM musicals are truly lovely, but I think Warner Bros. set the gold standard with Busby Berkeley musicals in the early 1930s. (Talk about innovation!) Then, of course, you have the sparkling RKO musicals of the mid/late 1930s. (Talk about entertainment!) You can't accuse MGM musicals of not having Spectacle, but they can be a test of endurance.

Rick:  Love it. While I'm a fan of the Paramount and Warner Bros. musicals, MGM produced more outstanding musicals over an extended period. Heck, MGM made four popular compilation films featuring highlights mostly from its musicals. I don't think any other studio could have done that.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers was an MGM musical.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Paul Newman Gets Wet in "The Drowning Pool"

Harper arrives in New Orleans.
It probably sounded like a good idea at the time: Send Paul Newman's California private eye Harper to New Orleans and get him involved with a former flame, corrupt cops, a devious oil man, a dangerous young woman, and a whole lot of water. It took three screenwriters--typically a sign of trouble for a movie--to try to combine these elements into a coherent mystery. "Try" is the operative word here and, to the defense of the writers, I don't think Billy Wilder could have made a decent movie out of The Drowning Pool--though his version would have been more fun.

Newman first appeared as Lew Harper in the 1966 boxoffice hit Harper. That film was based on the Ross MacDonald novel The Moving Target, which featured private eye Lew Archer. There are several stories explaining the name change from "Archer" to "Harper," but--whatever his name--audiences loved Newman in the part. Still, sequels weren't as common in the 1960s as today, so it was something of a surprise when Newman decided to revive Harper nine years later in The Drowning Pool.
 
Joanne Woodward as Harper's client.
This time around, the easygoing detective goes to The Big Easy at the request of an old flame (Joanne Woodward) who has received an anonymous blackmail letter. Harper has barely walked into his motel room before a young woman (Melanie Griffith) tries to entrap him and he's arrested by an overprotective police detective (Tony Franciosa). He spends most of the film asking questions and getting beat up. There are two murders and a suicide along the way, but, to his credit, Harper eventually figures out the identity of the killer.

The Drowning Pool is a sluggish affair peppered with dull characters. It's hard to fault the actors. After all, Newman, Woodward, and Franciosa all appeared in another Southern drama, The Long, Hot Summer (1958), and that turned out marvelously. In The Drowning Pool, though, even Mr. and Mrs. Newman don't seem to have any chemistry in their scenes. It doesn't help that their tender moments are inexplicably underscored by a sappy instrumental version of "Killing Me Softly With His Song."

Newman and Gail Strickland in the best scene.
As for the title of The Drowning Pool, that brings us to the movie's best scene. Murray Hamilton, sporting a stylish red, one-piece jumpsuit, strands his wife (Gail Strickland) and Harper in a hydrotherapy room in an abandoned mental institution. Not wanting to face Hamilton's goons the next day, Harper decides to flood the room so he and his companion can float up to the ceiling and escape. It doesn't work as planned, but Harper still breaks free.

Of course, it could also be that The Drowning Pool refers in some esoteric way to the films's characters who are emotionally drowning in a swamp of apathy. Frankly, though, I think it refers to the angst experienced by unfortunate viewers who sit through this vapid mystery for 109 minutes.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

That Man from Rio: Foreshadowing Indiana Jones?

Cruising Rio to find the lost statuette.
When a priceless statuette is stolen from a Paris museum and a young woman is kidnapped, her boyfriend follows her captors to Rio de Janeiro. He befriends a resourceful shoeshine boy, survives numerous attempts on his life, and rescues his girlfriend. The undaunted couple figures out that the statuette, which forms a set with two others, leads to an ancient treasure. They try to thwart the bad guys while bickering playfully along the way.

Is this a lost script to an Indiana Jones movie conceived by Steven Spielberg? No, it's the plot from the 1964 international hit That Man from Rio, starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Françoise Dorléac.

In the movie, it really looks like Belmondo is on the ledge!
Naturally, there are distinct differences between That Man from Rio and the Indiana Jones movies, with the most obvious being the hero. Indiana is a "professional" adventurer while Belmondo's Adrien is strictly an "amateur" (even though he's a soldier taking a week of leave). Adrien doesn't understand archaeology and he's not proficient with any kind of weapon. Still, his spirit of adventure and determination certainly rival Indy--as evidenced by his willingness to climb onto high building ledges, jump out of an airplane in flight, and participate enthusiastically in a huge barroom brawl.

That Man from Rio is the kind of movie that doesn't withstand close scrutiny; heck, the villain is obvious from his first appearance. Its strengths are swift pacing, quirky touches like the helpful shoeshine boy, and a charismatic star.

Jean-Paul Belmondo as Adrien.
For those film fans who know Belmondo best from foreign classics such as Breathless and Two Women (both 1960), That Man from Rio will be a revelation. The French star runs, jumps, and swings (literally...on vines) in an incredibly athletic performance. Some of the scenes were likely performed by stunt professionals, but Belmondo does his own share of acrobatics (reminding my wife of Cary Grant in Holiday). He seems to be enjoying himself immensely and that feeling of jubilation leaps from the screen.

Françoise Dorléac as Agnes.
As his flighty companion, Françoise Dorléac can't match the charm of her co-star. Indeed, That Man from Rio is at its best when it focuses on Adrien and his attempts to rescue his girlfriend Agnes. I blame the Oscar-nominated screenplay more than Ms. Dorléac. Incidentally, she was the elder sister of Catherine Deneuve and a rising star in her own right when she died in a car accident in 1967 at age 25. Her final film appearance was opposite Michael Caine in the Harry Palmer spy film Billion Dollar Brain.

Director Philippe de Broca, who co-wrote the screenplay for That Man from Rio, has said it was partially inspired by the Tintin comics that first appeared in 1929. Tintin was a young Belgian reporter who had various adventures with his dog Snowy. Spielberg adapted Tintin for the big screen as The Adventures of Tintin, a 2011 animated film. That's not the only Spielberg connection with That Man from Rio. According to a 2015 New York Times article, Spielberg has reportedly watched That Man from Rio at least nine times.

So, perhaps, That Man from Rio really did inspire Indiana Jones....

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Dr. Kildare: Perfect Television Viewing for the Summer

Richard Chamberlain as Jim Kildare.
Most of our summer viewing this year has consisted of movies and TV series on two streaming services: Acorn TV and Warner Archive. The latter features both classic films and television, including all five seasons of Dr. Kildare (1961-66). It has turned out to be the most pleasant surprise of the season! That shouldn't come as a shock, I suppose, since the 1960s produced many of our favorite television shows, including The FugitiveThe Defenders, and The Twilight Zone.

Chamberlain and Suzanne Pleshette.
However, while those three series are widely hailed as critical favorites, I don't recall a lot of praise being heaped on Dr. Kildare. While it may not reach the same heights, the first season of Kildare still boasts exceptional writing and strong acting. It helps, of course, when you have guest stars such as: Suzanne Pleshette, Charles Bickford, Anne Francis, William Shatner, Ross Martin, Ellen Burstyn, Beatrice Straight, Richard Kiley, Dorothy Malone, Glynis Johns, Rip Torn, Joan Hackett, Joseph Schildkraut, Martin Balsam, and Julie Adams. Plus, there are a number of future TV stars in small roles such as Jean Stapleton, Ted Knight, Edward Platt, and Gavin MacLeod.

Raymond Massey as Dr. Gillespie.
The strength of Dr. Kildare, though, is the casting of the leads. Richard Chamberlain earned his reputation as a fine actor after he left Kildare (and appeared on stage as Hamlet and became "King of the Miniseries"). But the truth is that he's quite good as the inexperienced intern in Dr. Kildare. Naturally, it helps when you're acting opposite Raymond Massey, who is marvelous as Jim Kildare's mentor Dr. Gillespie. I have no idea how Massey wasn't nominated for at least one Emmy during his five years in the role. He and Chamberlain share some brilliant scenes during the show's first season.

The writers do a nice job of showing the challenges of being an intern in a large hospital. Jim Kildare makes $60 a month (about $500 today), works long hours, rotates through the various medical departments, and sometimes has accurate diagnoses overruled by more senior physicians. Kildare greatly admires Gillespie, but his mentor often admonishes him for his behavior. Jim would never consider himself Gillespie's favorite, but others have taken note (one bitter doctor refers to Kildare as "Gillespie's fair-haired boy").

Richard Chamberlain and Anne Francis.
Most of the episodes take place at Blair General Hospital, but the series still ventures outside those antiseptic walls. In "The Lonely Ones," Jim visit his parents and we learn that his father is a small-town general practitioner. In "A Million Dollar Property," Jim spends a weekend with an insecure actress (Anne Francis) who wants to find more meaning in her life.

The plots deal with a wide range of medical and social issues. Examples include: a smallpox scare in "Immunity"; an ageing surgeon who may no longer be competent in "Winter Harvest"; drug addiction in "The Lonely Ones"; malpractice in "Admitting Service"; and a mercy killing in "For the Living." In "The Patient," an episode with comedic overtones, Kildare injures his back and learns what it's like to be a patient.

If you've never seen Dr. Kildare or haven't watched it in a long time, then we recommend that you check out the first season. I can't vouch for seasons 2-5, but the inaugural one is quality television that will keep you entertained and make you think. Who could ask for more in terms of summer TV viewing?

Here's a clip from Dr. Kildare that includes Dick York and Dick Sargent--the two future Darrins in Bewitched--in back-to-back episodes. How's that for foreshadowing? You can view this scene full-screen on the Classic Film & TV Cafe's YouTube Channel. You can also stream the entire Dr. Kildare series at warnerarchive.com.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Dirk Bogarde and Olivia de Havilland Seek the Truth in "Libel"

Dirk Bogarde as Sir Mark Loddon?
During a two-day stopover in London, a Canadian World War II veteran named Jeffrey Buckenham sees a snippet of a television show about English country estates on a pub’s television. Buckenham recognizes the estate’s owner and is next seen participating in a tour of the manor house. He remains behind when the tour departs and confronts the owner, Sir Mark Loddon.

Buckenham is convinced that the man claiming to be Loddon is a nefarious imposter named Frank Wellney. Loddon acts perplexed and becomes angry when Buckenham snarls: “I want to see you crawl, Frank.”

Buckenham pursues his contention and convinces a local newspaper to publish an open letter in which he exposes Loddon as a fraud who assumed a dead man’s identity during an escape from a prisoner of war camp.

Loddon claims to have virtually no memory of his pre-war life due to his traumatic war injuries. He wants to ignore the allegations. However, his wife Margaret feels strongly that he should file a libel lawsuit against Buckenham and the newspaper. Loddon reluctantly agrees—even though it’s quite possible that it will become a trial to prove his identity.
Olivia de Havilland and Dirk Bogarde as the Loddons.
Based on a 1934 stage play by Edward Wooll, Libel (1959) is an exceedingly well-crafted film with plenty of drama inside and outside the courtroom. Its most intriguing element is that there are three possible outcomes to the story: (1) Frank Wellney could be impersonating Loddon; (2) Loddon could be the real Loddon; or (3) Loddon could be Wellney, but doesn’t know it because of war-induced amnesia. During the trial, though, the evidence against Loddon becomes so persuasive that even his wife begins to have her doubts. (It’s interesting to note that the plot wouldn’t work today as DNA tests could determine Loddon’s identity.)

Dirk Bogarde is superb in the lead role, leaving the audience to determine if his character’s perpetual haunted look is because he can’t remember what happened during the POW escape or because he fears being exposed as a fraud. His most impressive work is in the flashbacks in which he portrays both Loddon and Wellney in the same scene.


Olivia as Margaret Loddon.
The rest of the cast provides outstanding support. As Margaret Loddon, Olivia de Havilland has one of the best roles of her later career and her climactic scene with Bogarde is charged with emotion. Paul Massie is quietly convincing as Buckenham. The only other film I’ve seen him in was Hammer’s The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll, in which he played Jekyll as a milquetoast and Hyde as a dashing villain. Finally, British veterans Robert Morley and Wilfrid Hyde-White are ideally cast as the battling barristers who are best friends outside the courtroom.


Robert Morley as a barrister.
Director Anthony Asquith obviously knew his way around cinematic courtrooms, having earlier helmed legal dramas The Winslow Boy (1948) and Court Martial (1954). He also directed several other highly-regarded British classics, to include Pygmalion (1938), The Browning Version (1951), and The Importance of Being Earnest (1952).

Libel was nominated for one Academy Award…for Best Sound. Inexplicably, it’s not a well-known movie despite the acting pedigree and intriguing plot. Fortunately, it’s currently available on Warner Archive’s streaming service. Really, though, TCM should have a Dirk Bogarde day and include Libel as part of the schedule.

Here's a clip from Libel. You can view it full-screen on the Classic Film & TV Cafe's YouTube Channel. (You can also stream the entire movie at warnerarchive.com).

Monday, July 3, 2017

Perry Mason Returns!

Nineteen years after the last Perry Mason episode aired on CBS, Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale returned to the small screen in their most famous roles. The only surviving members of the original cast, they reprised Perry and Della for the logically-titled Perry Mason Returns, a 96-minute made-for-TV movie on NBC.

Barbara Hale as Della.
Della has spent the previous eight years working for Arthur Gordon (Patrick O'Neal), a wealthy executive that runs Gordon Industries. Gordon chooses his birthday celebration to inform his three children and wife (stepmom to the kids) that he has written all of them out of his will. He plans to leave the bulk of his fortune to his foundation and appoint Della to manage it. Later that night, Gordon is stabbed to death! We see the face of the murderer, but that's really irrelevant because it's obvious that he's just performing a job and isn't the brains behind Gordon's death.

The real culprit has gone to great pains to ensure that Della is framed for the murder. When she's arrested, Perry Mason steps down as an appellate court judge so he can defend her. In need of a good detective agency, Perry turns to Paul Drake, Jr. (William Katt). Initially, Perry is concerned that Paul, who plays sax at a local jazz club and dabbles in writing, lacks the experience for such an important investigation. Their developing relationship plays out in the background of Della's case.

Holland Taylor as a suspect.
Fans of the Perry Mason TV series may be disappointed with this revival. Whereas the TV episodes were typically concise, well-written mysteries, this TV movie lumbers along and takes its time to reach the courtroom climax. The suspects are a pretty lame bunch, too, with the exceptions of Holland Taylor (who plays the widow) and Richard Anderson (Donovan's lawyer). Anderson was actually a regular on the final season of the Perry Mason TV series, playing Lieutenant Drumm. Taylor later won an Emmy for portraying a judge on the legal TV series The Practice. She also had a connection with Barbara Hale (more on that later).

William Katt as Paul Drake Jr.
Still, the reason to watch Perry Mason Returns is to see Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale return to their famous roles. They do not disappoint--though it did take awhile for me to accept Perry with a beard. This telefilm became the second highest rated show for the 1985-86 TV season and led to 29 additional films that aired between 1986 and 1995. William Katt, Barbara Hale's real-life son, played Paul Jr, in the first nine. He was replaced with William R. Moses portraying a different private investigator in the remaining installments.

Burr starred in 26 of the 30 telefilms. When he died in 1993, each of the four remaining films were subtitled A Perry Mason Mystery (even though Perry was "out of town" during each case). Paul Sorvino was the lead attorney in The Case of the Wicked Wives, while Hal Holbrook played lawyer William "Wild Bill" McKenzie in the last three. Barbara Hale still played Della, though she only appeared briefly in the final installment The Case of the Jealous Jokester. Holland Taylor portrays McKenzie's assistant in that one.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Movie-TV Connection Game (June 2016)

Summer is here...so it must be time for another edition of one of our popular features. The rules to this game: Given a pair or trio of films or performers, your task is to find the common connection. It could be anything--two stars who acted in the same movie, two movies that share a common theme, etc. As always, don't answer all the questions so others can play, too. There is a single best answer for each question.

1. Paul Newman and Danny Kaye (might be a toughie!).

2. Kirk Douglas and Martin Landau.

3. Tony Curtis and Lee Majors.

4. Christopher Lee and Basil Rathbone (at least two connections!).

5. Robert Reed and Raymond Burr.

6. Jim Backus and Wally Cox.

7. Beach Blanket Bingo and Sullivan's Travels.

8. Spencer Tracy and Charlton Heston.

9. Richard Burton and Lee J. Cobb.

10. James Stewart and Keanu Reeves (another potentially hard one).

11. Steve McQueen and James Garner.

12. Gary Cooper and Ronald Reagan.

13. Alec Guinness and Charles Chaplin.

14. Peter Cushing and Laurence Olivier (and the answer is not Hamlet).

15. Bob Hope and Don Knotts.