Monday, July 4, 2022

Chandler: Not Raymond, but Warren Oates

Warren Oates as Chandler.
After a long career as a supporting actor, Warren Oates was ready to headline a major motion picture in 1971. He had garnered good notices in Sam Peckinpah's controversial Western The Wild Bunch (1969) and earned more acclaim as the lead in Two-Lane Blacktop (1971), a low-budget film that became a critical darling. He was poised for a star-making role, but then he made Chandler (1971).

Mike Laughlin, who had produced Two-Lane Blacktop, signed on as producer. Leslie Caron was cast as the female lead. MGM planned to distribute it. In the biography Warren Oates: A Wild Life, Caron notes that her husband, whom she considered a good judge of film properties, was impressed with the script. Chandler must have sounded like a promising endeavor, but, alas, the final product is a convoluted mess.

Oates plays the title character, a washed-up private eye in contemporary L.A. who has gotten desperate enough to pawn his Smith and Wesson. When an old friend offers him a job trailing a woman, Chandler senses something is amiss. However, he needs the money...and perhaps a little self-respect.

Leslie Caron as Katherine.
The woman turns out to be Katherine Creighton (Leslie Caron), the mistress of an East Coast gangster, who wants to start a new life. Neither she nor Chandler realize they are serving as, respectively, the bait and the patsy in an elaborate plot to lure Katherine's ex-boyfriend to Monterey and then kill him.

I suspect the idea behind Chandler was to transplant a tough private eye and a mysterious lady--familiar characters in 1940s film noir--to modern times. The two leads, especially the world-weary Oates, are up to the task of playing a couple of lost souls who find each other. Unfortunately, they are saddled with a muddled plot and esoteric dialogue. (Katherine: "What are we going to do now?  Chandler: "Nothing. Something.") And since Chandler was made in the early 1970s, that means there's always a chance that the ending will be left up in the air (at least partially).

I will say that writer-director Paul Magwood makes maximum use of the on-location filming in Carmel and Pebble Beach. The ocean views almost had me calling a travel agent. However, in addition to the pretty backdrops, Magwood adds some realism to his film by shooting scenes in a real hotel, a pest extermination office building, and along the winding roads of Carmel.

Mitchell Ryan as one of the villains.
It would turn out to be Magwood's only directorial job. He would spend the rest of his career working as an assistant director on TV shows and an occasional movie, like the excellent Time After Time (1979).

A nice surprise in Chandler is what amounts to a cameo by Gloria Grahame as one of Oates' friends.  In the biography Gloria Grahame, Bad Girl of Film Noir, author Robert J. Lentz writes that Magwood and producer Laughlin took out a full page ad in The Hollywood Reporter to apologize for Chandler. They claimed that MGM executive James T. Aubrey had the film re-cut, added scenes, and changed the music score. That is likely true given the film's running time of under 90 minutes and its horribly inappropriate music.

Monday, June 27, 2022

The Movie Quote Game (Billy Wilder Edition)

This month, we're focusing on quotes from Billy Wilder films. We will list a quote from a movie co-written by Wilder and ask you to name it. Try to answer these questions on your own without resorting to Google searches. As always, please answer no more than three questions per day so others can play.  If you have a response other than the intended one, just be able to defend it.

1. "I'd better take that thermos of cocoa with me. It helps me wash down down the pills."

2. "Do you realize that Otto spelled backwards is Otto?"

3. "Story of my life. I always get the fuzzy end of the lollipop."

4. "If I ever run into any of you bums on a street corner, just let's pretend we've never met before."

5. "You know, you see a girl a couple of times a week, just for laughs, and right away they think you're gonna divorce your wife. Now I ask you, is that fair?"

6. "I don't go to church. Kneeling bags my nylons."

7. "From the sound of your footsteps, I gathered that you were not in a particularly amiable mood."

8. "We're both trying, Don. You're trying not to drink, and I'm trying not to love you."

9. "Now, I don't propose to sit on a flagpole or swallow goldfish. I'm not a stuntman; I'm a flier."

10. "The poor dope--he always wanted a pool. Well, in the end, he got himself a pool."

11. "In Italy, the lunch hour is from one to four."

12. "Why don't you get out of that wet coat and into a dry martini?"

13. "I'm his brother-in-law, Sister. And this is his mother, Sister, and this is my wife, his sister, Sister."

14. "It's just like the first time I came here, isn't it? We were talking about automobile insurance, only you were thinking about murder. And I was thinking about that anklet."

15. "Sugarpuss, uh, before you go, would you... would you, eh, yum me just once more?"

Monday, June 20, 2022

Kolchak Returns in The Night Strangler

Things have not gone well for brash reporter Carl Kolchak since he destroyed a vampire in Las Vegas in The Night Stalker (1972). Most people don't believe his story and those who know it's true have quashed it. After relocating to Seattle, Kolchak (Darren McGavin) convinces his former editor Tony Vincenzo (Simon Oakland) to hire him at the Seattle Daily Chronicle. His first assignment involves the murder of a young woman who was strangled.

Kolchak quickly discovers the most recent murder is one of a series of killings with the same modus operandi. With the help of newspaper researcher Titus Berry (Wally Cox), Kolchak discovers a bizarre pattern of homicides: Every 21 years, six women are killed in the vicinity of Pioneer Square within a period of eighteen days. In each case, the victims' necks are crushed and a small amount of blood is drained by the base of their skulls. Kolchak presents his facts to the police, but they reject the notion that they're chasing a killer who is 144 years old!

The Night Strangler (1973) adheres closely to the formula that made The Night Stalker a rating smash the previous year. Once again, Kolchak proves capable of doing anything to get his story--even risking the life of an undergraduate student/exotic dancer played by Jo Ann Pflug (who admittedly agrees to serve as bait). Carl belittles the police for not doing enough and engages in shouting matches with his editor (who took a huge risk in hiring Kolchak after Vegas).

Indeed, the Kolchak character could be downright unlikable if not for the fact that he's played by Darren McGavin. The actor finds the key in portraying his larger-than-life character: For all his huff and puff, Kolchak just wants to uncover the truth. Kolchak provides his own comic relief at times, but he's also willing to do what it takes to make the streets of Seattle safe again.

Wally Cox as Mr. Berry.
Personally, I find The Night Strangler more entertaining than The Night Stalker, largely because producer-director Dan Curtis (Dark Shadows) cast a colorful group of classic Hollywood actors in supporting roles: Scott Brady plays the tough police captain, Margaret Hamilton pops up as a college professor with knowledge of the occult, and John Carradine is the Chronicle's publisher. The best supporting performance comes from the always reliable Wally Cox, whose greasy-haired researcher toils in the bowels of the newspaper's building. Also, be sure to look quickly for Nina Wayne as another exotic dancer; she is the sister of the late Carol Wayne (a semi-regular on The Tonight Show).

Richard Matheson (Duel), who wrote the teleplay for The Night Stalker, penned an original story for The Night Strangler. It also works better than the previous film, because the audience doesn't know what kind of monster is causing the mayhem. The climax in the Seattle Underground is also genuinely creepy. Note that there are two different versions of The Night Strangler, a 72-minute cut that aired in 1973 on the ABC Movie of the Week and a 90-minute cut released overseas for theatrical distribution.

Kolchak confronts his editor--again.
There are numerous stories about planned Kolchak films that were never made. In a 2004 interview, Dan Curtis said he wanted Kolchak to go to New York City and discover that Janos Skorzeny--the vampire from The Night Stalker--was not destroyed after all. Alas, that film was never made because ABC decided to make a TV series with McGavin called Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Now something of a cult show, the series only lasted for 20 episodes. It quickly became redundant with Kolchak fighting a new creature every week. I think Carl Kolchak would have lasted a lot longer had the character been featured solely in one or two movies a year.

Monday, June 13, 2022

Five Favorite Shark Movies

1. Jaws (1975) - It's an obvious choice for the No. 1 spot, but it's also the only choice, isn't it? Time has improved this impeccably-made blockbuster that functions as two films. Its first half focuses on the political and financial implications of closing the Amity Island beaches on the busy Fourth of July weekend. The island's mayor doesn't want to believe there's a people-eating great white shark lurking in the waters, while police chief Brody desperately tries to convince the locals of the impending danger. The second half of Jaws is a masterful suspense "film" that finds an unlikely trio--Brody, oceanographer Matt Hooper, and local shark expert Quint--hunting the killer beast. There's humor (the stories about their scars), drama (Quint's retelling of the USS Indianapolis tragedy), and heavyweight thrills as the vicious shark attacks their boat. Jaws set the bar high in terms of shark movies, but, alas, its sequels ranged from mediocre (Jaws 2) to silly (Jaws 3D) to just plain bad (Jaws: The Revenge).

2. Deep Blue Sea (1999) - Scientists trying to invent a cure for Alzheimer's disease genetically alter the brains of three mako sharks at an isolated off-shore research station. When a tropical storm cuts off all communications with the coast, the super-intelligent sharks set about destroying the facility--and specifically the humans trapped inside. Director Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2) keeps the action going almost non-stop in a movie that successfully blends elements of The Poseidon Adventure and Alien. When one of Deep Blue Sea's best-known stars is suddenly devoured, it becomes apparent that no character is safe in this entertaining sharkfest.

3. The Shallows (2016) - Nancy (Blake Lively), a medical student coping with her mother's death from cancer, goes surfing at an isolated beach in Mexico. After noticing the carcass of a humpback whale, she is attacked by a great white shark lurking in the lagoon. Bleeding from a serious leg wound, she swims to a rock that provides temporary safety. Like the earlier, less successful Open Water (2003), The Shallows is part survivalist tale and part character study. As Nancy tries figure out how to travel the short--but potentially deadly--distance to shore, she rediscovers her own strength and will to survive.

4. Bait (2012) - A tsunami washes a great white shark into a coastal town's supermarket...yes, you read that sentence correctly. The survivors climb to temporary safety atop the grocery shelves as they strategize how to escape from the building without being eaten. With the catchy tagline "Cleanup on aisle 7," Bait (aka Bait 3D) mingles thrills and humor effectively to create a lively popcorn movie. The no-star cast works to the film's advantage, as the audience has no idea who will live or die. Bait's low budget limits the shark's appearances, which (as in Jaws) amplifies the creature's impact.

5. Sharknado (2013) - The most ridiculous of all shark movies became a pop culture phenomenon (thanks to social media) and produced five sequels. It's one of those rare films that's so silly that it's entertaining. Imagine sharks being propelled through the air courtesy of a tornado...it's  such a wacky premise! The original film is played semi-straight with Ian Ziering as a beach bar owner hell bent on rescuing his estranged wife and kids during a flurry of sharknados. Sharknado wasn't the first outlandish shark movie shown on the SyFy channel. It was preceded by gems such as Sharktopus (2010), Dinoshark (2010), and Sand Sharks (2012). But none of them captured the zeitgeist of their time like Sharknado.

Monday, June 6, 2022

In Like Flint: James Coburn Returns as the Coolest Secret Agent

The 1966 spy spoof Our Man Flint was still playing in theaters when 20th Century-Fox gave the greenlight for a sequel once again starring James Coburn as super secret agent Derek Flint.

Actually, the title character is nowhere to be seen in the opening scenes of In Like Flint (1967). Instead, the plot focuses on a group of businesswomen who have set their sites on world domination. Their plans hinge on taking control of a space platform armed with nuclear weapons and replacing the U.S. president with a lookalike actor. 

The latter scheme is almost executed perfectly. While the president is playing golf, a gas is deployed that places him and his colleagues in a trance for three minutes. During that time, the real president is kidnapped and the fake one takes his place. The one hitch is that Lloyd Cramden (Lee J. Cobb), one of the president's closest advisors, was timing the commander-in-chief's golf swing. Cramden can't figure out how it took the president three minutes to hit a golf ball. When he suspects a conspiracy within the White House staff, Cramden turns to Derek Flint to find out what happened.

Flint infiltrates a top-secret government facility, eludes the KGB across the rooftops of Moscow, and confronts the villains at a Caribbean spa resort called Fabulous Face. He also finds time to dance with the Moscow Ballet, talk with dolphins, experiment with sound waves, and--of course--romance beautiful women. Yes, In Like Flint offers nothing new to the formula that made Our Man Flint a success. The differences this time around are that the premise isn't as fresh, the plot is sillier and even more sexist, and there seems to be less Flint. In the film's first half-hour, his screen time is limited to a single six-minute scene.

Coburn's charisma and Cobb's enthusiasm make up for a lot of the film's deficiencies. The typically serious Cobb seems to enjoy the chance to do some comedy, whether flirting with a younger woman or dressing in drag as a disguise. However, it's unfortunate that in a movie where gender plays a major role in the plot that the female cast members are mostly wasted. The exceptions are Jean Hale, who has an amusing scene with Cobb, and Yvonne Craig in a cameo as a Russian ballerina who banters playfully with Coburn's hero.

Composer Jerry Goldsmith recycles some of his marvelous score from Our Man Flint and adds a melodic, instantly hummable title theme. Later in the film, you can hear the unusual, playful lyrics written by the late Leslie Bricusse. The song, known as "Your Zowie Face" (a reference to Cramden's organization, the Zonal Organization World Intelligence Espionage) has been covered by Nelson Riddle and his Orchestra and jazz guitarist Russell Malone.

At its best, In Like Flint is light, frothy fun if you can ignore its 1960s celluloid view of the conflicts between men and woman. Perhaps, Our Man Flint deserved a better sequel, but I'm glad we have one. 20th Century-Fox wanted to make a third Flint film. There are conflicting stories as to why that didn't happen. In 1976, ABC broadcast a made-for-TV movie called Our Man Flint: Dead On Target, a pilot for a TV series that never materialized. It starred Ray Danton as Flint. That just ain't right--James Coburn is the only Flint!

Monday, May 30, 2022

Movie-TV Connection Game (May 2022)

It's back for this month only after a long hiatus! The rules:  You will be given a pair or trio of films, TV series, or performers and will be required to 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. Yes, that's means we're looking for something in particular! 

1. John McIntire and Ward Bond.

2. Get Smart and The Prisoner (and, no, it's not that they're both about spies).

3. Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Muriel's Wedding (it's not that they were made in Australian).

4. Elvis Presley and Robert Goulet (it's not that they're both singers).

5. Alan Ladd and Cliff Robertson.

6. Emergency! and Dragnet (there are at least two connections).

7. Have Gun--Will Travel and Mission: Impossible.

8. Cornel Wilde and Robert Taylor.

9. Robert Wagner and Cary Grant (an easy one!).

10. Muscle Beach Party and Thunderball.

11. The TV series Sky King and Lost in Space.

12. Lou Grant and Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

13. The movie Gunfight at the OK Corral and the TV series Star Trek.

14. Bullitt and Vertigo.

15. The Virginian and The Big Valley (no, it's not single parents nor ranches...the connection is an obvious one--though a little tricky).

Monday, May 23, 2022

Book Review: The Films of Delmer Daves by Douglas Horlock

At long last, the career of Delmer Daves, one of Hollywood's most under-appreciated filmmakers, has received an in-depth, scholarly treatment courtesy of Douglas Horlock's The Films of Delmer Daves: Visions of Progress in Mid-Twentieth Century America (University of Mississippi Press, 248 pages). Horlock examines Daves's films through the lens of political and social values, race and civil rights, and gender. He also provides an overview of Daves's life and career, painting the portrait of a screenwriter and director who crafted his own vision within the confines of the Hollywood studio system.

Daves became interested in acting, writing, and directing theater while studying law at Stanford University. His initial foray into the film industry was as a property assistant on The Covered Wagon in 1924. After graduating from Stanford in 1927, he pursued his interest in movies and received credit for his first screenplay with 1929's So This Is College. Over the next decade, he carved a highly successful career as a screenwriter with films such as Dames (1934), Flirtation Walk (1934), an adaptation of The Petrified Forest (1936), and Love Affair (1939). 

Delmer Daves.
Daves's career took a different turn in 1943 when, after co-writing the screenplay for the World War II drama Destination Tokyo, Warner Bros. executive Jack Warner "ask(ed) an initially reluctant Daves to accept his first directorial assignment." Over the next two decades, Daves became one of the most reliable and successful writer-directors for Warner Bros. Horlock points out that Daves's films Destination TokyoHollywood Canteen, Broken Arrow, 3:10 to Yuma, A Summer Place, and Spencer's Mountain were "among the top-grossing films of their respective years." Daves also showed his versatility by working comfortably in genres such as Westerns, Biblical epics, romances, and family dramas.

Yet, Horlock notes that "Daves has remained largely overlooked in scholarly literature and film retrospectives" and has not achieved the auteur status attributed to directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, Samuel Fuller, and even Douglas Sirk (whose glossy 1950s melodramas are comparable to Daves's later films A Summer Place and Parrish). Yet, like Hitchcock, Daves was intimately involved in the screenplays for his films, even those with which he did not receive a writing credit. Horlock traces recurring themes in Daves's films in chapters devoted to political and social values, race and civil rights, and gender. Horlock also includes this insightful comment from actor Glenn Ford, who worked with Daves on 3:10 to Yuma, Jubal, and Cowboy"Nothing happened in a Delmer Daves film that wasn't intentional, from the camera set-ups to the wardrobe."

Delmer Daves's The Hanging Tree (1959).
Horlock's most engrossing chapter is the one in which he analyzes gender in Daves's films, focusing on the filmmaker's use of strong, independent female characters. Horlock provides a number of excellent examples. In A Summer Place, Molly (Sandra Dee) defies her domineering mother by spending time with Johnny (Troy Donahue). In the 1959 Western The Hanging Tree, one of Daves's finest films, Elizabeth (Maria Schell) seeks independence after being rejected by the man (Gary Cooper) she loves. She forms a partnership with two other men to dig for gold and impresses them with her work ethic. Even in the romantic travelogue Rome Adventure, Suzanne Pleshette plays a young woman who defies a school board and then goes traveling in Italy on her own.

As befits its subtitle, The Films of Delmer Daves: Visions of Progress in Mid-Twentieth Century America is a scholarly volume for movie fans interested in thoughtful analyses. Still, that's not to say it isn't filled with fascinating facts (e.g., Warren Beatty was the original choice for the title role in Parrish, Daves's admirers include Humphrey Bogart, Alan Ladd, and Gary Cooper). At one point in his book, Horlock states: "Despite his working within the confines of a restrictive studio system, Daves's films deserve to be examined as the work of a serious artist of the cinema." That is exactly what the author has accomplished with his new book.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

The Four Favorite Noirs Blogathon in Support of National Classic Movie Day

As is our tradition at the Café, we are celebrating National Classic Movie Day on May 16th by hosting a blogathon. This year's Four Favorite Noirs Blogathon focuses on one of the most popular genres among classic movie fans. The goal is to pay tribute to many of the greatest films noirs, such as Out of the Past and Double Indemnity, as well as highlight lesser-known classics (e.g., Black Angel, Brighton Rock).

We invite you to check out the film noirs selected by the bloggers below!

4 Stars Films

The Classic Film Muse

Classic Film & TV Cafe

Crítica Retrô

Hamlette's Soliloquy

Hometowns to Hollywood

The Last Drive-in

Make Mine Film Noir

Once Upon a Screen

A Person in the Dark

Phyllis Loves Classic Movies

Realweegiemidget Reviews

Shadows and Satin

Silver Screenings

Taking Up Room

Whimsically Classic

Our Picks for the Four Favorite Noirs Blogathon

To celebrate National Classic Movie Day on May 16th, we're participating in our own Four Favorite Noirs Blogathon. For our quartet of noirs, we chose a bona fide classic (Out of the Past), an acclaimed cult film (Gun Crazy), and two lesser-known gems (Black Angel and Phantom Lady). Be sure to check out all the movies profiled in the Four Favorite Noirs Blogathon by clicking this link.

Jane Greer as Kathie.
Out of the Past (1947) – My favorite film noir has Robert Mitchum as a man who has put his shady past behind him and found love with a good woman in a small community where he operates a gas station. But, as is often the case in the movies, his past catches up with him when a former acquaintance passes through town. With its contrasts of bright lights and dark shadows, Out of the Past is a visual feast. It’s also a compelling tale of a man pulled back into the shadows of his past—no matter how hard he tries to escape them. Kirk Douglas nails the manipulating villain; too bad he didn’t play more bad guys. Yet, despite the presence of Mitchum and Douglas, the film belongs to Jane Greer, an underrated and under-utilized actress who created one of the genre’s best femme fatales.

Peggy Cummins and John Dall.
Gun Crazy (1950) - A film noir with a tragic love story involving a femme fatale and a gun-obsessed guy? That's the premise behind this low-budget cult film that was selected by the Library of Congress for inclusion in the National Film Registry in 1998. Director Joseph H. Lewis was a journeyman director with a resume that included some interesting "B" movies (My Name is Julia Ross and So Dark the Night). But none of his work comes close to the innovative style employed in Gun Crazy. The film's highlight is a three-and-half minute bank robbery shot in a single take from the inside of the getaway car. The climax is almost as mesmerizing with the two ill-fated lovers hiding out in a fog-enshrouded swamp as they listen to their pursuers' footsteps in the water. John Dall is superb as the gun-loving Bart, but Peggy Cummins owns the film as femme fatale Laurie. She exudes sexual energy with Dall while coming across as a cold, manipulative killer. But here's the beauty of her performance: Despite Laurie's bad girl persona and many faults, Cummins convinces the audience that her character truly loves Bart. 

June Vincent and Peter Lorre.
Black Angel (1946) - Singer Mavis Marlowe (Constance Dowling) augments her income via blackmail, so it's not surprising when she winds up murdered. The police arrest Kirk Bennett (John Phillips), one of her blackmail victims who had recently ended an affair with Mavis. Despite his pleas of innocence, Kirk is found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to die. His wife Catherine (June Vincent) stands by Kirk throughout his ordeal and never wavers in her belief that he is innocent. As Kirk awaits his execution, Catherine decides to conduct her own investigation--with the reluctant aid of Mavis' ex-husband (Dan Duryea). I'll avoid any plot spoilers here, but will note that Black Angel sports a clever twist, too. However, director Roy William Neill is the reason to see Black Angel. A "B" movie director for Universal, Neill is best known for his Sherlock Holmes films with Basil Rathbone. From the opening  elaborate tracking shot up the side of a high-rise into Mavis's apartment to the innovative use of music, Neill displays a distinctive style that indicated a promising turning point in his career. It's a tragedy that he died of a heart attack at age 59. 

Phantom Lady 
(1944) - After being stood up by his wife, Scott Henderson (Alan Curtis) meets a mysterious, distraught woman at an empty bar on a muggy Saturday night in NYC. When he ill-advisedly asks her to a show, she agrees on one condition: They exchange no names, no addresses, and never meet again. Scott agrees. Later that night, he goes home to find the police at his apartment. His wife has been strangled with one of his ties ("A knot so tight it had to be cut with a knife," says one of the detectives). Scott's alibi falls apart when he can't identify his mysterious date. Phantom Lady benefits mightily from Robert Siodmak's moody direction and Ella Raines, whose character tries to clear Scott. Siodmak creates some knockout visuals once Raines takes to roaming the city's darkened streets to find the killer. The scene in which she follows a suspicious bartender is a tour-de-force as the two move through rainy streets, a shadow-filled train platform, and partially lit arches.


Monday, May 9, 2022

Petrocelli: Night Games

Barry Newman as Petrocelli.
There are few instances of an actor reprising a character from a theatrical film in a television series. Richard Widmark and Richard Roundtree first played Madigan and Shaft in theatrical films and then revived the characters for TV. However, in both cases, the shows were part of an umbrella series and therefore required few episodes. Gary Burghoff famously played Radar O'Reilly in both the 1970 movie version of M*A*S*H and the long-running TV series that started two years later. However, Radar was a supporting character.

That brings us to Barry Newman, who introduced audiences to passionate attorney Anthony "Tony" Petrocelli in the 1970 film The Lawyer. Based on the Sam Shepard murder case, it follows the Harvard-educated Petrocelli, who has relocated from Boston to a small community out West. He soon finds himself defending a physician (Robert Colbert) for murdering his sexy socialite wife. Produced by former actor Brad Dexter (The Magnificent Seven), The Lawyer was a modest box office hit. 

Susan Howard.
Four years later, NBC broadcast Night Games, a pilot movie for a weekly TV series starring Newman as Petrocelli. Susan Howard replaced Diana Muldaur as Tony's wife/legal secretary. Albert Salmi also joined the cast as Tony's "leg man." The location was shifted to the Southwest, but Tony still drove a truck, lived in a camper with his wife Maggie (renamed from Ruth), and outhustled every other lawyer in the region.

The plot finds Petrocelli defending an attractive, wealthy woman (Stefanie Powers) accused of killing her husband. Although the evidence against her is weak, her alibi could be more convincing. She claims to have slept through the night of the murder after taking sleeping pills. With the district attorney (Henry Darrow) pushing for a quick trial, Petrocelli has his work cut out for him. He also receives some unexpected personal news: Maggie is pregnant with their first child.

Barry Newman is well cast as the aggressive lawyer whose expensive three-piece suit (his only one)  and courtroom theatrics clash with his simple lifestyle. While Tony and Maggie try to establish his practice, they live in the camper as he builds their ranch-style home twelve bricks at a time. Both he and Susan Howard would earn Emmy nominations for their performances in the follow-on Petrocelli TV series.

JoAnna Cameron.
The challenge with Night Games is that it tries to pack too much content into its brief 74-minute runnin time. One of the casualties is the strong supporting cast. Actors like Stefanie Powers, Henry Darrow, Ralph Meeker, and Anjanette Comer never get enough time to develop their characters. Even Susan Howard fades into the background as Night Games hurls toward its climax. The lone exception is JoAnna Cameron, best known for her Saturday morning TV series The Secrets of Isis. As a flight attendant who had an affair with the dead man, she projects a calculating coldness behind her innocent girl-next-door demeanor.

Still, Night Games serves as a solid introduction to the Petrocelli TV series, which ran for 44 episodes over two seasons. NBC cancelled it due to low ratings opposite Starsky and Hutch (a top 20 show in the Nielsen ratings in 1975-76). Susan Howard joined Dallas in 1979, where she played Donna Culver Krebbs for eight years. Barry Newman did not return as a regular in a TV series until the short-lived medical drama Nightingales in 1989.

Here's a short scene from Night Games, courtesy of our YouTube channel:

Sunday, May 1, 2022

The Columbus Moving Picture Show: A Festival for Classic Movie Fans

The inaugural Columbus Moving Picture Show will take place May 26 - 29, 2022, at the Renaissance Columbus Downtown Hotel in Columbus, Ohio. The festival will feature 16mm showings of classic films from the silent days to the 1960s, some of them with live musical accompaniment. There will also be vendors, seminars, and book signings by authors such as Scott Eyman (Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise) and James D’Arc (When Hollywood Came to Utah). Festival organizer Samantha Glasser recently took time out of her busy schedule to talk with us about the Columbus Moving Picture Show.

Café:  Over 35 films, short features, and a Red Ryder serial will be shown from Thursday through Sunday. What are some of the titles you’re most excited about presenting?

Samantha Glasser:  I always get excited by the rarest titles, the things you can't see anywhere else. The Silent Fragments program is a collection of three silent films that only exist partially due to decomposition. They survive because the films were issued as cut-downs on 16mm and collectors of that format held the only copies. I'm also looking forward to Stork Bites Man, which is based on a book I enjoyed a lot about a man's perspective of a pregnancy. It stars Jackie Cooper, who was once in Our Gang, and it was through that series that I discovered classic movies in the first place. 

Café:  Which silent films will feature live musical accompaniment?

SG:  All of the silent films feature live piano accompaniment by either David Drazin or Dr. Philip Carli. 

Café:  What are the seminars that are being presented?

SG:  Ed Hulse will present a preview of his forthcoming book Wage Slaves in the Dream Factory, which is about the low-budget studios that operated during the studio era. Eric Grayson has been working for years to compile and restore the King of the Kongo serial starring Boris Karloff and will give a presentation on that process. Nick Santa Maria has an upcoming book titled The Annotated Abbott and Costello and he will give a presentation on that beloved comedy team. Nancy Vass's mother was an actress in a local film company called Kelly's Klean Komedies in the silent movie era, and she will present some of her mother's mementos. 

Café:  What kinds of movie memorabilia will be offered for purchase in the vendor room?

SG:  The dealer room is really a treasure chest of movie-related items. You can find original movie posters (one-sheets, half sheets, window cards, inserts, lobby cards, heralds), pressbooks, stills, autographs, books, movie magazines, 8mm and 16mm films, laserdiscs, DVDs and Blu-rays, kitsch, and more. 

Café:  Does the $65 weekend pass cover the cost of everything?

SG:  The weekend pass covers everything except the t-shirt. It gives you access to the film screenings, the dealer room, the book signings and the seminars and comes with a free program book. 

Café:  Can festival attendees get a discount for hotel rooms and, if so, must they book their rooms by a certain date?

SG:  Yes, they can register at $144 per night at the Renaissance Downtown Hotel, but only until May 3rd.

Café:  What inspired you and the other organizers to launch the Columbus Moving Picture Show?

SG:  I have attended Cinevent for years and worked as a staff member for the last several. Michael Haynes asked me if I would be interested in taking over the show someday and I said yes. Someday came sooner rather than later. 

Café:  I saw where you named Mary Pickford, Van Johnson, Dick Powell, and Betty Hutton as some of your favorite classic movie stars. Name a favorite film for each one!  (I love Dick Powell in Murder, My Sweet…but also really like Cornered and You Never Can Tell).

Esther Williams and Van Johnson
in Thrill of a Romance.
SG:  My Best Girl is always the silent movie I recommend to people because it is sweet and relatively modern so people forget they're watching a silent film. I love Van Johnson in Thrill of a Romance; that's my go-to if I need a pick-me-up. Gold Diggers of 1933 is an incredibly fun movie all around, and Dick sings some great songs in it. Betty Hutton is fantastic in Annie Get Your Gun. I love her fearlessness in front of the camera. I know many people like to say Betty is no Judy Garland, but I don't think Judy could have been as funny as Betty is in that movie. 

Café:  Finally, where can Café readers learn more about the Columbus Moving Picture Show?

SG:  Check out our website https://www.columbusmovingpictureshow.com!

Café:  Thanks so much for talking with us, Samantha.

Monday, April 25, 2022

The Movie Quote Game (Bette Davis Edition)

This month, we're focusing on quotes from Bette Davis films. We will list a quote from a famous Bette Davis movie and ask you to name it. Try to answer these questions on your own without resorting to Google searches. As always, please answer no more than three questions per day so others can play.  If you have a response other than the intended one, just be able to defend it. 

1. "And after ya kissed me, I always used to wipe my mouth! Wipe my mouth!"

2. "I'd like to kiss you, but I just washed my hair."

3. "I didn't bring your breakfast, because you didn't eat your din-din!"

4. "I think I'll have a large order of prognosis negative!"

5. " Lonely people want friends. They have to search very hard for them."

6. "With all my heart, I still love the man I killed."

7. "I've been skating for the first time in my life! I'm told I'm the only person to do a figure eight from the sitting position!"

8. "Can't I? I'm going to. This is 1852, dumpling, 1852! Not the Dark Ages. Girls don't have to simper around in white just because they're not married."

9. "You're a prisoner only if you think of yourself as one." 

10. (In response to "What happened in the bathroom?"): "I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about."

11. "That man is so stupid, it sits on him like a halo."

12. "The only thing I ordered by mistake is the guests. They're domestic, too, and they don't care what they drink as long as it burns!"

13. "Dull, foolish, vulgar to some but not to me. To me, he was a man like a rock."

14. "Dr. Jasquith says that tyranny is sometimes expression of the maternal instinct. If that's a mother's love, I want no part of it."

15. "Do you mind very much, Mr. Shane, taking off your hat in the presence of a lady with a gun?"

Monday, April 18, 2022

My Name Is Julia Ross

Nina Foch as Julia Ross.
After reviewing Gun Crazy, the Cafe's staff decided to seek out more of director Joseph H. Lewis' work. That led us to My Name Is Julia Ross, a 1945 "B" picture with an intriguing premise that sadly fell short of our expectations.

It gets off to a very promising start when unemployed, unmarried Julia Ross (Nina Foch) answers an agency's ad for a live-in secretary to a wealthy widow. After securing the position, she reports that night to her new home and place of work in London. The next morning, Julia wakes up in a different room in a different house overlooking the coast. All her clothes bear the initials M.H. and everyone is calling her Marion--even her husband.

Meanwhile, Julia's almost-boyfriend Dennis is unable to find any trace of her. No one is living at the address she gave him and the employment agency is no longer in business.

My Name Is Julia Ross was adapted from the novel The Woman in Red  by Anthony Gilbert. The author's name is a pseudonym for Lucy Beatrice Malleson, a cousin to British actor-screenwriter Miles Malleson. She was a prolific mystery writer and The Woman in Red was part of a series featuring an uncouth lawyer named Arthur Crook. However, his character does not appear in My Name Is Julia Ross.

Foch and George Macready.
The opening scenes brim with atmosphere (e.g., rainy London streets, the coastal house sitting on a cliff) and mystery. However, much of that goodwill evaporates when the screenplay reveals too many details too quickly. As soon as Julia leaves the employment agency, we learn that a devious plot is afoot. It would have been far more effective to keep the viewer in the dark along with Julia. That way, director Lewis could have even made us question whether Julia was a victim or a patient in need of psychiatric care.

Nina Foch delivers a believable performance as Julia, but she is saddled with a character who makes a number of ridiculous decisions. After successfully hiding in a car that leaves the estate, she tries to jump out much too soon. She reveals the contents of a letter for help to her captors. And she too easily trusts a physician who makes a house call. It's enough to make one wonder if she might murdered at the end after all!

Dame May Whitty.
As she often did, Dame May Whitty steals the film as the sinister Mrs. Hughes, the most intelligent person in the film. Dame May was 72 when she moved to Hollywood in 1937 and promptly earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for Night Must Fall. She died in 1948 at the age of 82, three years after completing My Name Is Julia Ross.

The 1987 movie Dead of Winter, starring Mary Steenburgen and directed by Arthur Penn, is a very loose remake of My Name Is Julia Ross.

Monday, April 11, 2022

Seven Things to Know About Barbara Eden

1. Born Barbara Jean Morehead in 1931, she was using her stepfather's last name, Huffman, as a young actress in Hollywood. In her autobiography, she writes that her future agent, Wilt Melnick, didn't like her last name. He told her: "The name Barbara Huffman sounds like a doctor. Change it and I'll represent you." When she agreed, Melnick added: "You seem kinda innocent, so let's call you Eden, like the garden."

A publicity still with Elvis.
2. Barbara Eden was a contract player for 20th Century-Fox in the late 1950s and early 1960s. She started out with small roles in films like Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? and The Wayward Girl (both 1957), but quickly graduated to larger parts. She was cast opposite Elvis in Flaming Star (1960), played a female naval officer in Irwin Allen's Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961), and worked with Allen again in Five Weeks in a Balloon (1962). One of her co-stars in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea was her then-husband Michael Ansara.

3. On the day that I Dream of Jeannie was sold to NBC, Barbara Eden found out she and Michael Ansara were pregnant. When she told series creator Sidney Sheldon, she thought she would replaced as Jeannie. However, Sheldon rushed the series into production. Eden later told People Magazine: "We did the first 13 shows with me pregnant. I was a walking tent. I had so many gauzy things hanging down. It was one of the happiest times of my life."

4. Ironically, I Dream of Jeannie wasn't Barbara Eden's first encounter with a genie. In 1964, she starred opposite Tony Randall in The Brass Bottle, in which Tony's character buys an antique brass bottle that contains a genie--only this genie is played by Burl Ives!

5. When I Dream of Jeannie was cancelled after five seasons and 139 episodes, Barbara Eden starred in a pilot for her own series. In the The Barbara Eden Show, she played the head writer of a hit TV soap, who juggled life at work and home. Despite co-stars like Pat Morita and Joe Flynn, the pilot failed to result in a regular series.

6. Still, Barbara Eden continued to be in great demand as a TV series guest star and lead actress in made-for-TV and theatrical films. In 1978, she starred in a movie based on Jeannie C. Riley's 1968 hit country song "Harper Valley PTA." Shot on a modest budget, the film did solid business and three years later, Sherwood Schwartz adapted it as a TV sitcom starring Barbara Eden. The series, which also starred Fannie Flagg and George Gobel, lasted for two season and fifteen episodes.

7. In addition to starring on TV and in movies, Barbara Eden has appeared in numerous stage productions (e.g., The Sound of Music, Woman of the Year, South Pacific), recorded an album called Miss Barbara Eden (1967), and headlined resorts in Las Vegas. She has performed the play Love Letters on tour with numerous male stars, such as Barry Bostwick, Hal Linden, and her Jeannie co-star Larry Hagman. She will turn 91 in 2022.

Monday, April 4, 2022

Rosemary Clooney's Red Garters

Rosemary singing the title song.
For years, I assumed that Red Garters was Rosemary Clooney's follow-up to White Christmas. In reality, both films were released in 1954 and Red Garters hit theaters several months before Paramount's huge holiday hit. As Clooney once noted, Red Garters is the only movie in which she received top billing. That's ironic since it's basically an ensemble musical and her role is a supporting one.

The story focuses on Reb Randall (Guy Mitchell), an easygoing gunslinger who has come to Limbo County, California, in search of the man that killed his no-good brother. Reb barely hits town when he falls head over heels for the comely Susan Martinez De La Cruz. Her guardian, Jason Carberry (Jack Carson), runs the town while flirting with every female resident--often in front of his girlfriend Calaveras Kate (Clooney). There's also a Mexican gunslinger (Gene Barry), who strives to avoid any discussion on who might have killed Reb's brother.

Guy Mitchell and Rosemary Clooney.
It's a light plot, but provides enough structure to support the musical numbers given the film's 91-minute running time. What separates Red Garters from other musicals of the 1950s is its unique set design. It eschews realism in favor of minimalist structures and backdrops. The buildings are simply fronts and the backdrop a yellow canvas with some artificial trees. It's an unusual look that works well for awhile, but ultimately grows tiresome. Given that Red Garters was filmed in 3D, the end result is it's the most "stagey" of stagey musicals. Still, it earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Color).

Jay Livingston and Ray Evans composed the score, which is pleasant without being memorable. The best songs are "Man and Woman,"a lively duet featuring Evans' clever lyrics, and "Bad News," a big ballad for Rosemary Clooney. She and Guy Mitchell have most of the solo numbers. Like Clooney, Mitchell was already an established recording star who would have more success on television than on the big screen.

Gene Barry in a gunfight!
Red Garters was not a box office hit, but it's a unique movie that's definitely worth a look. In addition to Rosemary Clooney and the unusual sets, you get to see a very limber Buddy Ebsen and a surprising Gene Barry hoofing it up. Gene's scene is quick, but a great reminder that he was a musical star on stage, earning a Tony nomination for La Cage aux Folles.

Here's a clip of Rosemary Clooney singing "Bad News," courtesy of our YouTube Channel:

Monday, March 28, 2022

The Movie Quote Game (Westerns Edition)

This month, we're focusing on quotes from Western films. We will list a quote from a famous Western and ask you to name it. Try to answer these questions on your own without resorting to Google searches. As always, please answer no more than three questions per day so others can play.  If you have a response other than the intended one, just be able to defend it.

1. "What are we going to do with this one, Frank?"

2. "I've heard that you're a low-down Yankee liar."

3. "Don't shove me Harv. I'm tired of being shoved."

4. "Everything happens to me. Now, I'm shot by a child."

5. "I don't like owing anybody any favors. You saved my life back at the hotel. That's all right, I've broken out of Yuma before."

6. " The old man sired two sons. One was no good... never was any good. Robbed a bank...a stagecoach. Then, when he came home and wanted to hide out, the old man wouldn't go for it."

7. "What do I get to eat when I get home in Lordsburg? Nothin' but frijole beans. That's all. Nothin' but beans, beans, beans!"

8. "I ain't gonna slap no leather with you, Doc Frail."

9. "There are two kinds of people in the world, my friend: Those with a rope around the neck, and the people who have the job of doing the cutting."

10. "This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

11. "The old man was right. Only the farmers won. We lost. We always lose."

12. "A game-legged old man and a drunk. That's all you got?"

13. "It's your great ideas that got us into this mess. I never want to hear another one of your great ideas. Ever!"

14. "Well, folks are all gonna miss you around here. All except a few wives, I suppose."

15. "Now remember, when things look bad and it looks like you're not gonna make it, then you gotta get mean. I mean plumb, mad-dog mean."

Monday, March 21, 2022

Master of the World, or 6,000 Feet in the Air

Vincent Price as Robur.
Jules Verne was a hot property in the late 1950s and 1960s, with movie theaters filled with big-budget adaptations of Around the World in 80 Days (1956), Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959), and Mysterious Island (1961). So, it was inevitable that American International Pictures (AIP) would mount its own Verne extravaganza in 1961 starring Vincent Price. As AIP movies go, Master of the World was a classier effort than usual with a literate script by Richard Matheson and decent special effects.

Set in 1868, it opens with the "eruption" of The Great Eyrie mountain in a small Pennsylvania town. John Strock, an agent for the Department of Interior, enlists the aid of two balloonists to investigate the mysterious incident (townsfolk also reported hearing the "voice of God"). As their balloon nears the mountain's crater, it is seemingly shot down from the sky and crashes. 

Strock (Charles Bronson) and the others awaken aboard a flying fortress called The Albatross. The ship's commander is a pacifist called Robur (Vincent Price), who is willing to employ violence to bring peace to the world. He makes his intentions clear when--after warning a battleship to disarm--he destroys the ship and its crew. Can Strock stop Robur before others die in his path of destruction?

The flying fortress Albatross.
Although based on two Verne novels, Robur the Conqueror and its sequel Master of the World, Matheson's screenplay bears more than a passing resemblance to Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954). Both Robur and Captain Nemo want to end war, both live in fantastic vessels, and are threatened by survivors that they take aboard (portrayed by Bronson and Kirk Douglas, respectively). Whereas 20,000 Leagues employed a sea lion for comic relief, Master of the World uses a French chef!

Also, while Disney's film was a technological marvel for its time, Master of the World has to make do with a modest budget. The special effects range from serviceable (e.g, the Albatross) to woeful (e.g., the flat painting of The Great Erie). Obvious stock footage, mostly from The Four Feathers (1939), is used extensively.

Charles Bronson as the hero.
Vincent Price carries the film with his authoritative presence, whether playing the proud host to his guests or threatening war to end war. Bronson looks bored as the hero, but frankly it's not a well-written part. The rest of the cast includes Henry Hull as a balloonist (and arms manufacturer), Mary Webster as his adult daughter, and David Frankham as her hot-headed fiancé.

AIP considered making a Master of the World sequel at one point. Pre-production artwork exists for a movie titled Stratofin, which would have given Robur a new fantastical ship called The Terror. Alas, the idea was abandoned and we're left with this one and only outing with The Albatross.

Master of the World played frequently on local channels when I was a kid in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I hadn't seen for many years, though, until it popped up recently on a cable channel called ScreenPix.

Monday, March 14, 2022

The Quiller Memorandum

George Segal as Quiller.
When two of its agents are murdered in Berlin, the British intelligence agency MI-6 employs an American spy to locate the headquarters of a 1960s Nazi organization. Known only as Quiller (George Segal), the American follows his own rules--much to the dismay of his British handlers. Instead of pursuing an undercover investigation, Quiller makes his presence known to anyone who might be affiliated with the Nazis. 

He is quickly captured, injected with truth serum, and grilled about the location of the British headquarters. He divulges nothing of interest, but is mysteriously discarded rather than murdered. This is the first indication that Quiller is engaged in a cat-and-mouse game with his query.

Made in 1966, The Quiller Memorandum is one of several serious spy dramas made in the wake of the decade's hugely successful James Bond films. However, despite an impressive pedigree, including an all-star cast and an award-winning screenwriter, The Quiller Memorandum comes across as lightweight compared to The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965), The Ipcress File (1965), and The Deadly Affair (1967).

Senta Berger...as a spy?
Part of the problem lies with the simplistic plot, which serves only as a frame for an overdose of dialogue-driven scenes. Nothing much happens in The Quiller Memorandum. Its protagonist walks the streets of Berlin, chats with people, and gets interrogated under the influence of drugs. There's a short feeble car chase and an explosion at the climax, but there's nothing that drives the story nor injects it with any sense of urgency.

Screenwriter Harold Pinter, who adapted the novel The Berlin Memorandum, presents characters with less depth than cardboard cut-outs. Perhaps, his point is that spies lie so much to everyone that their "real" lives cease to exist. However, the end results of his efforts are characters without any character. Quiller is an cartoonish smart aleck who tosses off quips as he sits strapped in a chair facing torture or death. His attitude might work in a Bond knock-off, but obviously The Quiller Memorandum was intended as an anti-Bond spy film.

On the plus side, director Michael Anderson paints a haunting, noirish portrait of Berlin in the mid-1960s--from the crumbling buildings to the late night streets filled with lonely people. The gloom-ridden atmosphere is augmented by John Barry's dour score, which features Matt Monro singing "Wednesday's Child" (Mack David's lyrics include lines like "I am Wednesday's child, born to be alone").

Fans of Alec Guinness, Max Von Sydow, and Senta Berger may be interested in seeking out The Quiller Memorandum. However, if you're in the mood for a good 1960 spy drama, stick with The Spy Who Came in from the ColdThe Ipcress File, or Funeral in Berlin.