Thursday, June 21, 2018

Hayley and Horst in Tiger Bay

Horst Buccholz and Hayley Mills in Tiger Bay.
It's taken me over 40 years to finally see Tiger Bay, the 1959 film debut of Hayley Mills. I first saw a preview of it on The CBS Late Movie in the 1970s, but missed the movie for reasons I can't remember. It then eluded me over the following decades until I recently discovered it on YouTube--a quality print no less.

Horst Buccholz stars as Korchinsky, a young Polish man who has returned to Wales after working many months on a freighter. Planning to propose to his girlfriend Anya, he is thus taken aback to learn that she has moved without telling him. Even worse, it appears Anya has kept the rent money that Korchinsky sent and shacked up with another man. The angry young sailor sets out to find her.

Concurrently, we follow the story of 11-year-old Gillie (Hayley Mills), a lonely girl shunned by the other children. Gillie is a deceptive child--she pockets the leftover change when her aunt sends her to buy sausages. Her aunt seems nice enough, but thinks nothing of young Gillie staying out alone late at night.

Gillie sees what happened.
Korchinsky finally tracks down Anya to the low-rent apartment house where Gillie lives. He confronts his girlfriend and strikes her. Anya grabs Korchinsky's gun from a drawer, there's a struggle, and Anya is accidentally shot. Gillie watches everything from the hallway and Korchinsky spots her as he hastily departs. Gillie then promptly snatches the gun and hides it in her aunt's apartment.

Tiger Bay is a reasonably compelling film from the outset, but doesn't gel until circumstances pair up Korchinsky and Gillie. That's when its true nature is revealed: This is a study of two lonely people who form an unlikely bond even though they both know it will be short-lived.

Hayley and John Mills.
It's quite a change-of-pace for director J. Lee Thompson, who later became best known for his action films with Charles Bronson. In Tiger Bay, Thompson captures the dark, shabby neighborhoods, which give way to grassy pastures in a scene where Korchinsky and Gillie dream briefly of a better life.

Hayley Mills gives an astonishingly natural performance for a first-time actor. She once said: "Acting is just a natural thing in my family. Other boys and girls go into the family business. So do we." In fact, her finest scene in Tiger Bay is when a Scotland Yard inspector grills her on Korchinsky's whereabouts. That inspector just happens to be played by Hayley's father, the wonderful John Mills.

After gaining popularity in his native Germany, Horst Buccholz made his English-language debut in Tiger Bay. His good looks and sensitive portrayal--especially his natural rapport with the young Mills--likely led to his casting in the following year's boxoffice smash The Magnificent Seven. Buccholz continued to have success with roles in Fanny (1961) and One, Two, Three (1961). He's very funny in the latter, though apparently he and Billy Wilder did not get along.

So, did Tiger Bay live up to my expectations after waiting so long to see it? I would say yes, for the most part. But the moral here is to never give up looking for that movie that you've always wanted to see. And do check YouTube occasionally, because you never known what you might find.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Movie-TV Connection Game (June 2018)

Walter Matthau and Steve Martin.
Welcome to the latest edition of the Cafe's most popular game. As always, you will be given a pair or trio of films or performers and challenged 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. Strother Martin, David Warner, and Stella Stevens.

2. Patric Knowles, Oliva de Havilland, and Rosalind Russell.

3. Clint Walker, Elizabeth Taylor, and Johnny Weismuller.

4. Rod Taylor, Boris Karloff, and Ronald Colman.

5. Jean Arthur and Jill Ireland.

6. David Niven, Dick Powell, and Charles Boyer.

7. Walter Matthau and Steve Martin.

8. Alec Guinness and Clifton Webb.

9. Donald Crisp and Jeanette MacDonald.

10. David Niven, Joseph Cotten, and James Mason.

11. Joan Bennett and Celeste Holm. (This might be a toughie!)

12. Rod Steiger, Spencer Tracy, and Tony Curtis.

13. Clu Gulager and Paul Newman.

14. Jerry Lewis and Fredric March.

15. Hayley Mills and Jeremy Irons.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Seven Things to Know About Anne Baxter

Anne in The Ten Commandments.
1. Producer David Selznick considered Anne Baxter for the title role in Rebecca. He allegedly deemed her too young for the part and it went to Joan Fontaine. Other actresses considered for the role were Loretta Young and Vivien Leigh.

2. Anne Baxter famously played Eve to Bette Davis' Margo in All About Eve (1950). In 1971, she played Margo in Applause, the Broadway musical version of All About Eve. She replaced Lauren Bacall.

3. Here's a more unusual All About Eve connection: In the 1983 pilot for the TV series Hotel, Bette Davis played Laura Trent, the St. Gregory's wealthy owner. When a stroke prevented Ms. Davis from becoming a regular in the Hotel TV series, she was replaced by Anne Baxter. She played Trent's sister-in-law for three seasons until her death.

4. In the book Conversations with Classic Movie Stars, Anne Baxter recalls reading for the part of Sophie in The Razor's Edge with director Edmund Goulding: "I read a scene and the world-weary Goulding said I sounded fine. He told me he'd get me an Oscar. He said, 'I did for Mary Astor and The Great Lie was junk. This is great literature.'" It did indeed earn her an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

5. Anne Baxter was the granddaughter of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. She and first husband John Hodiak owned a unique home in the Hollywood Hills. It was remodeled by John Launter, a well-known architect in his own right, in 1951. The residence is now known as the Baxter-Hodiak Home.

As Zelda the Great.
6. Anne Baxter played two villains on the 1966-68 Batman TV series: Zelda the Great and Olga, Queen of the Cossacks. In the latter role, she teamed up with Vincent Price's Egghead.

7. On the subject of retirement, Anne Baxter once said: "I want to go on until they have to shoot me." She died after suffering a stroke at the age of 62 in 1985.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Search: The Curious TV Series That Should Have Been Named Probe

Burgess Meredith and Hugh O'Brien.
It was like Time Tunnel without the tunnel and the time travel. That's one way to describe Search, a 1972-73 TV series that combined science fiction elements, international settings, and handsome private eyes.

Burgess Meredith plays V.C.R. Cameron, a project director that provides intelligence data to three field operatives for the World Securities Corporation. Each operative is outfitted with high-tech devices that allow two-way communication with Cameron and his staff, one-way video surveillance, and the monitoring of health vitals. By accessing a powerful computer loaded with useful data, Cameron can provide any information the operatives may need--from a street address to a biography of someone they just met.

TV Guide cover with the stars.
It's an intriguing premise that sadly grew old within a few episodes. It didn't help that the show's structure--which focused on a single operative each week--made it difficult for viewers to identify with the hero. One week, the star was Hugh O'Brien as the cynical Hugh Lockwood. The next week, it was Tony Franciosa as tough guy Nick Bianco. And lastly, there was Doug McClure, who looked like he should still be playing Trampas on The Virginian. Of course, there have been popular shows with rotating stars, such as Maverick and The Name of the Game, but they also featured better-written characters.

DVD cover for Probe.
Leslie Stevens, who created The Outer Limits, wrote the pilot for Search, which aired as a made-for-TV called Probe in 1972. It was a cut above other telefilms of the era, thanks in part to guest stars Elke Sommer and John Gielgud. It also featured Angel Tompkins as one of Meredith's assistants, who bantered playfully with O'Brien (a more lighthearted version of Lee Meriwether;s character in The Time Tunnel). Tompkins remained for the first episode of Search, but then disappeared from the series after a second appearance. (Incidentally, the original plan was to call the TV series Probe, but that idea was scrapped to avoid confusion with a public television series).

While Search may be remembered mostly for what it could have been, its catchy theme by Dominic Frontiere still has its fans--including me. Here's a clip from Warner Archive featuring the opening credits to the first episode:

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin

Gordon Liu.
Even film buffs who don’t normally watch martial arts movies may enjoy this 1978 classic that made a star of Gordon Liu (aka  Chia-Hui Liu).

He stars as Liu Yude, a student who joins rebel forces to fight against the tyranny of the Manchus in 17th century China. When his family and friends are killed, a wounded Liu escapes and finds his way to a Shaolin temple. Liu’s hope is that he can train with the Shaolin monks—who are renowned for their martial arts skills—and teach their techniques to his fellow rebels and defeat the Manchus.

The chief abbot rules in Liu's favor.
Liu is almost rejected at the outset, but the temple’s chief abbot overrules his brothers and grants the young man sanctuary because of his strength of spirit. For the first year, Liu—who is given the new name of San Te—does nothing but menial tasks like sweeping the temple. When he finally inquires about learning martial arts, he’s told that he must master 35 “chambers,” that doing so requires many years, and that most of the monks never complete this training regimen.

Undeterred, San Te starts with the 35th chamber, the most difficult one…and fails miserably. As he undertakes the other chambers, he gradually comprehends the importance of speed, balance, vision, strength, and humility. He goes from the weakest student to the best and rapidly works his way through the first 34 chambers (although it still requires several years). When the chief abbot offers him the opportunity to become the master of any chamber, San Te asks if he can create a 36th chamber—which sets into motion the final third of the film.
San Te (on right) defending a lethal blow.
There have been dozens of kung fu films where the protagonist mastered a “special technique” in order to defeat his enemy. However, I can think of no other genre movie with such extensive and engrossing training scenes. Part of the attraction lies in the training events. To learn balance, San Te must jump from floating log to floating log to cross a body of water. To strengthen his wrists, he must repeatedly strike a bell with a large stone attached to a flexible rod. I especially love the details in the scenes. As Liu tries various positions to strike the bell, we see other students waiting behind him, blue and deep red bruises covering their wrists.
San Te striking the bell using only his wrist,
Gordon Liu conveys intensity and determination as San Te. As he tries to figure out how to defeat one of the abbots in a fight, one can almost “see” him thinking. It’s no wonder his strong performance catapulted him to martial arts stardom. (Casual moviegoers may remember Gordon Liu best from Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill movies, where he played two roles. One of them was as the kung fu master who trains Uma Thurman’s character in Kill Bill, Volume II…a sequence likely inspired by The 36th Chamber of Shaolin.)

My only complaint about The 36th Chamber is that the training sequences are so good that the final third of the film is a bit of a letdown. It still includes some amazing fight scenes; the choreography is so intricate that I felt like I was watching a ballet. Director Lau Kar-Leung had extensive experience as a fight choreographer and actor. He and Gordon Liu were brothers (the latter was adopted).

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin was produced by the Shaw Brothers, the studio home of many kung fu classics (but not Bruce Lee’s films). I remember watching a 60 Minutes segment in which studio co-owner and producer Run Run Shaw was interviewed. At that time, his studio was the largest in the world and almost all their films were shot there. Run Run Shaw died in 2014 at the age of 107.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Five Shaw Brothers Films (for People That Typically Don't Watch Kung Fu Movies)

Gordon Liu in The 36th Chamber.
Last year, Amazon Prime added a number of high-quality prints of Shaw Brothers films to its catalog. If you're unfamiliar with the Shaw Brothers Studio (and subscribe to Amazon Prime), this is a great opportunity to sample some of their best movies.

Founded in 1925 (under a different name), the studio grew into the world's largest privately-owned film production company by the 1960s. During that decade, Sir Run Run Shaw popularized action films featuring swordplay and martial arts. Action pictures like Come Drink With Me and The One-Armed Swordsman shattered box office records in Asia.

In the 1970s, the Shaw Brothers took advantage of the international interest in martial arts and produced many of their best known classics. Every fan has his or her favorites, but I tried to pick five that might appeal to film fans not familiar with the genre. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin and Heroes of the East, in particular, are less bloody than the other films on this list. All of these films feature impressive athletic feats and fights choreographed with balletic precision.

1. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin - Martial arts superstar Gordon Liu plays a student who joins rebel forces to fight against the tyranny of the Manchus in 17th century China. When his family and friends are killed, he escapes and finds his way to a Shaolin temple. His hope is that he can train with the Shaolin monks—who are renowned for their martial arts skills—and teach their techniques to his fellow rebels and defeat the Manchus. This classic is famous for its spellbinding training sequences, but its theme of perseverance and dedication resonates strongly, too.

Liu again, this time fighting with knives.
2. Heroes of the East - The arranged marriage of a Chinese businessman's son and a Japanese friend's daughter turns out much better than anyone could have hoped. Indeed, the couple's happiness is marred only by the wife's insistence that her Japanese martials arts are superior to her husband's Chinese boxing. The couple try to find common ground, but she eventually returns to Japan. To get her back, the husband (Gordon Liu again) ends up challenging seven Japanese masters, each highly skilled in a particular style of fighting. Clever and funny, Heroes of the East also features some of the best fights you'll ever see in a movie--plus no one dies!

Jimmy Wang Yu in a snowy scene.
3. The One-Armed Swordsman - An aging teacher plans to turn over his school of sword fighting to his best pupil, Fang Kang (Jimmy Wang Yu). Kang doesn't know that and plans to leave the school because he doesn't fit in with his fellow students. The teacher's impetuous daughter challenges Kang on the night of his departure. When he refuses to fight her with a sword...she chops his right arm off! Miraculously, a young woman finds his bloody body and nurses him to health. Meanwhile, the teacher's villainous old adversary plans to kill everyone in the school. Stylish and graphically violent, The One-Armed Swordsman is an engrossing tale of transformation and determination.

4. Master of the Flying Guillotine - An old evil kung fu master--armed with the title weapon--seeks revenge in a town hosting a martial arts tournament. One of the funkiest and most popular films to emerge from the kung fu craze of the 1970s, Master of the Flying Guillotine has become a cult classic championed by filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino. Part of its popularity can be attributed to the tournament scenes featuring participants from different countries and with different fighting styles. Plus, we get Jimmy Wang Yu again...this time as a one-armed boxer!

5. The Avenging Eagle - An outlaw, being pursued by his former gang, encounters a mysterious stranger in the desert. As the two men travel together and fend off periodic gang attacks, their pasts--and their unique connection--are revealed through flashbacks. The best scenes in this intriguing action yarn show how a Fagin-like father figure manipulates his loyal followers, transforming them from innocent children into young men that have become ruthless criminals.
Two is better than one when our heroes confront the villain!

Other popular Shaw Brothers films include:  Clan of the White Lotus, Crippled Avengers, The One-Armed Boxer, Golden Swallow, The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter, Return of the One-Armed Swordsman, and Five Deadly Venoms.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Billie: A Missed Opportunity to Promote Girl Power

Made between the second and third seasons of The Patty Duke Show, the teen comedy Billie (1965) is a best-forgotten stain on the resumes of its star and her veteran supporting cast. Indeed, the only reason to watch this ill-conceived adaptation of the 1952 Broadway play Time Out for Ginger is to see the cast. In addition to Ms. Duke, there's Jim Backus as her father, Jane Greer as her mother, Susan Seaforth Hayes (Days of Our Lives) as her sister, plus Ted Bessell (That Girl), Dick Sargent (Betwitched), Warren Berlinger, and Richard Deacon.

Jim Backus as Billie's father.
Patty--sporting a disconcerting blonde wig--plays a high school teen who can out-run, out-jump, and out-pole vault any of the boys at Harding High School. Naturally, that earns her a spot on Coach Jones' (Charles Lane) track team. Her father, a male chauvinist pig who is running for mayor, initially rejects Billie's dreams. He's not exactly sensitive to his daughter's teen problems either. When she comments in frustration that she wishes she were a boy, he mutters: "So do I."

However, Dad eventually comes around and supports his youngest daughter. He remains, however, in the dark as to why his oldest daughter Jean has decided to take a break from college. (For the record, I turned to my wife immediately and said: "I bet Jean is married and pregnant.") After some mild misunderstandings, all conflicts are neatly resolved as befits this kind of 1960s comedy.

Billie and her stuffed Wolf.
It's a shame really. Billie could have made an important statement about empowering teenage girls to pursue their dreams and break stereotypical gender molds. I thought Billie might still make that point, but the ending reverses the theme entirely and all that remains is a harmless comedy with a handful of forgettable songs.

Director Don Weis does stage one notable musical number, in which Patty sings "Funny Little Butterflies" to a stuffed wolf in her bedroom. The previous year, Weis directed Annette Funicello warbling Stuffed Animal in her bedroom in Pajama Party. You gotta love coincidences like that! By the way, Weis also helmed several episodes of The Patty Duke Show.

In the original production of the play Time Out for Ginger Melvyn Douglas played the father and Nancy Malone portrayed his daughter Ginger. Her goal was to try out for the boys' football team. I think that might have worked better for Billie. Patty Duke never resembles a track athlete, moving her head back and forth as she hears "the beat" in her head. But, hey, she could have passed for a kicker on the football team. I know...that's nit-picking...but then Billie causes one to start thinking about those kinds of details.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Chase a Crooked Shadow--An Absence of Brotherly Love

Anne Baxter as heiress Kim Prescott.
After a late night engagement, diamond heiress Kimberly Prescott (Anne Baxter) returns to her Spanish villa to be greeted by her brother Ward. Kimberly is see, Ward died in a car accident and Kim identified his corpse. Despite her adamant protests, the alleged brother (Richard Todd) won't leave.

When Kim calls the local police inspector (Herbert Lom), Ward calmly provides a passport to prove his identity. Even more compelling, though, is that the photo of Ward in Kim's bedroom is the spitting image of the man claiming to be her sibling.

The next day, Kim awakes to find that Ward is still there. He has been joined by a female friend and a butler, having sent Kim's maid on vacation. What does this impostor want? Could he really be Kim's brother? Is she losing her mind?

Richard her brother?
Released in 1958, Chase a Crooked Shadow reminded me very much of the British suspense pictures written by Jimmy Sangster for Hammer Films. Structurally, these films (best represented by 1961's Taste of Fear) build tension slowly before climaxing in an effective twist. In the case of Chase a Crooked Shadow, it's a nice twist but the film tips its hand a little with its opening scene. Producer Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. appears just before the final credits to ask viewers not to reveal the film's ending to those who haven't seen it yet.

Anne Baxter, looking smashing in costumes designed by Anthony Mendleson, creates a believable, increasingly perplexed protagonist. As the source of her problems, Richard Todd once again proves his adeptness at playing both heroes and villains (though I'll refrain from saying which one he is in this film!). Todd is one of those actors I didn't fully appreciate until later in my "movie-watching career." (Interestingly, David Niven was once announced as one of the leads, presumably playing Todd's role.)

Capitalizing on its Spanish seaside setting, Chase a Crooked Shadow is an engrossing, well-acted suspense drama that doesn't bear close scrutiny. I rather enjoyed it.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Abbott & Costello Try to Find Out Who Done It

In one of their best films, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello play Chick and Mervyn, a couple of soda jerks who aspire to be radio mystery writers. They catch a break when they're given tickets to watch a recording of Murder at Midnight, a popular series produced in the General Broadcasting Company (GBC) building across the street. Of course, Mervyn (Costello) loses the tickets in a obvious scam and the boys end up sneaking into the recording studio. Thus, they're practically on the set when the show begins...and the network's president is electrocuted.

Chick and Mervyn start to go for the police, but quickly decide to play detective themselves. They figure that if they can solve the murder, their new-found fame will secure their employment as mystery writers. When Mervyn comes into possession of a vital clue, he and Chick become pursued by the killer. To make matters worse for the boys, the real detectives (William Gargan and William Bendix) show up and they're not happy about being impersonated.

Costello on the payphone.
Who Done It? is notable as the first Abbott and Costello comedy without musical numbers. As a result, it moves faster than their previous films and clocks in at a brisk 76 minutes. It also means more funny routines, including some of the duo's best: Costello trying to make a limburger cheese sandwich; Lou trying to make a call on a payphone; and a gag about volts and watts with wordplay similar to their classic "Who's on First?" routine. (It's also fun to note that "Who's on First" is referenced twice in Who Done It?)

Mary Wickes.
The standouts in the supporting cast are two comic pros: Mary Wickes and William Bendix. The former plays the network president's secretary and the object of Lou's affection. Bendix, as one of the detectives, plays straight man to Costello in most of his scenes. It couldn't have been easy playing second banana to Lou, whose style of comedy demands that the camera focus on him. But Wickes and Bendix were consummate performers who knew how to complement their fellow actors. It was a skill that kept them in demand throughout their careers in film, radio (for Bendix), and television.

Chick and Mervyn at the diner.
My only complaint with Who Done It? is that it doesn't take maximum advantage of its setting and plot. The radio series backdrop contributes to a few laughs, but whole sequences take place outside the GBC building (e.g., a big scene where Mervyn learns he has won $10,000 in a radio contest). Likewise, the central mystery--which involves spies sending secret messages--could have been integrated into the hijinks better. Yes, this is an Abbott and Costello comedy, but consider how the plot contributed to their classic farce Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.

Still, you don't watch Bud and Lou movies for meaningful stories--you watch them to laugh. And there are more than enough gags in Who Done It? to satisfy the duo's fans...and maybe even convert some new ones.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Movie-TV Connection Game (May 2018)

Why do Flynn and Shaw have in common?
Welcome to the this month's edition of the Cafe's most popular game. You will 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. The TV series McHale's Navy and the movie How to Frame a Figg.

2. Gene Tierney and Elizabeth Taylor.

3. Cary Grant and Ronald Reagan.

4. Errol Flynn and Robert Shaw.

5. Arthur (1981) and Nashville (1975).  (This one might be difficult!)

6. Ralph Richardson and Ian McKellen.

7. John Carpenter and Robert Mulligan.  (Another potentially hard one....)

8. Maureen O'Hara and Patricia Neal.

9. Fredric March and Bing Crosby.

10. Rod Taylor and Tyrone Power.

11. Lon Chaney, Jr. and John Malkovich.

12. Bert Lahr and Alan Young.

13. Dean Martin and Jack Lemmon.

14. Michael Caine and Ernest Borgnine.

15. The Thrill of It All and Champagne for Caesar.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Celebrate National Classic Movie Day with our Comfort Movie Blogathon!

For the fourth consecutive year, the Classic Film & TV Cafe is celebrating National Classic Movie Day on May 16th by hosting a blogathon. This year, we're shining the spotlight on those special movies that bring us comfort during those times when we most need it.

Recovering from the flu? Didn't get that dream job? Broke up with the person you thought was your soulmate? Then it's time to watch one of those classic movies that inexplicably makes you feel better! And then write about it for the Classic Comfort Movie Blogathon!

If you don't have a blog, you can still participate by listing your favorite classic comfort movie on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, or another social media platform on National Classic Movie Day.

And since May 16th is all about our love of classic movies, it's a great day to introduce a friend to the wonderful films from the silents to the 1970s!

Here's the blogathon schedule--be sure to check out all the great entries!

An American in Paris - Popcorn and Flickers
Annie - Realweegiemidget Reviews
The Apartment - A Person in the Dark
The Awful Truth - Outspoken and Freckled
Between the Lines (1977) - Film Fanatic
Buster Keaton Shorts - Classic Film Observations & Obsessions
Casablanca - Sharing a Sip with Dusty
The Court Jester Caftan Woman
Cover Girl - Musings of a Classic Film Addict
How to Marry a Millionaire - Moon in Gemini
I Know Where I'm Going - portraitsbyjenni
It's a Wonderful Life - MovieRob
Lady for a Day - Silver Screen Modes
The Long, Long Trailer - Whimsically Classic
The Magic Christian - Lo! The Humanities
McLintock! - Anybody Got a Match
My Favorite Brunette - Twenty Four Frames

Parrish: Our Choice for the Classic Comfort Movie Blogathon

Troy Donahue as Parrish.
A "comfort movie" is like a good friend who is always a welcomed visitor, no matter how long it's been since you seen him or her. It's fun to share familiar characters, plots, and settings and remember how one felt when that movie first became your chum. That's certainly the case with Parrish (1961), which I first saw on TNT in the early 1990s.

I think I inherited an enjoyment of big-screen soaps from my mother. Make no mistake, Parrish is unabashedly a soap, but don't let that sway you from watching this opus about young Parrish McLean (Troy Donahue) and the four women in his life. The first of those is his mother Ellen, who has perhaps kept her son too close in the ten years following her husband's death. That changes when Ellen (Claudette Colbert) takes a job as a chaperone for the daughter of Connecticut tobacco farmer Sala Post (Dean Jagger).

Diane McBain as Alison.
Parrish winds up working for Sala and quickly falls for Lucy (Connie Stevens), one of his fellow crop workers. Lucy has the hots for Parrish, too, but is reluctantly seeing someone else. However, what  really cools their passion is the arrival of Sala's debutante daughter Alison (Diane McBain). She wants three things in life: wealth, fun, and Parrish. 

Meanwhile, Ellen is being wooed by Sala's tobacco rival Judd Raike (Karl Malden). Judd is a ruthless, powerful man, but he genuinely cares for Ellen and, as she admits to her son, Judd's fortune is an attraction, too. While the Raike sons, wimpy Wiley and hateful Edgar, make quick enemies of Parrish, Judd's teenage daughter Paige develops a crush on him. 

Who will Parrish end up with? The passionate Lucy, the sultry Alison, or the sweet Paige? Or none of the above?

Troy Donahue and Connie Stevens.
Parrish is a faithful adaptation of Mildred Savage's 1958 bestseller. According to Diane McBain's autobiography, Warner Bros. originally purchased the film rights for director Joshua Logan (Picnic). Logan wanted Vivien Leigh as Ellen and Clark Gable as Judd. He also screen tested Warren Beatty for the lead role. McBain says that Logan rejected the first draft of the screenplay and he was replaced by Delmer Daves. The latter was coming off A Summer Place, a big hit which shared a lot in common with Parrish (e.g., parents experiencing romance as well as the youths, star Troy Donahue).

I can't imagine a more appropriate cast than the one assembled by Daves. Troy Donahue certainly lacks Beatty's dramatic chops, but he brings sincerity and naivety to the lead role. Colbert (in her final film appearance) and Jagger add a nice touch of class.

Malden looking intense as Judd.
But the film belongs to Karl Malden and the young actresses who play Parrish's loves. Malden is delightfully over-the-top as Raike and makes him the most demanding movie boss this side of Everett Sloane in Patterns. Connie Stevens shines as the vulnerable, free-spirited Lucy, her performance earning her the lead in another Daves-Donahue collaboration Susan Slade (1961). Diane McBain smolders as Alison, although she was subsequently typecast as the bad girl in films like Claudelle Inglish (1961). (Interestingly, McBain claims there was a bit of a rift on the set between the young performers and the older ones.)

Actress Susan Hugueny, who played Paige, met producer Robert Evans (Chinatown) while making Parrish. She was 17 and he was 30, but they were married (though it was short-lived). It was the first of seven marriages for Evans, who once described Hugueny as "so pure I felt guilty kissing her."

Susan Hugueny as Paige.
In addition to the cast, Parrish's other virtues are its colorful outdoor photography (a staple of Daves' latter films) and another fabulous score from frequent Daves' collaborator Max Steiner. The famed composer includes separate themes for each of the four female characters, with my favorite being the lilting melody for Paige.

I saved one of the most fascinating facts about Parrish for last. Hampton Fancher, who played Edgar, was relegated to TV guest star roles for much of his career. In 1982, though, he tried his hand as a screenwriter and adapted Blade Runner. He also penned the story and co-wrote the script for Blade Runner 2049 (2017). As always, should this knowledge net you a large cash prize on Jeopardy!, be sure to show your gratitude to the Cafe.

Click here to check out the rest of the awesome schedule the Classic Comfort Movie Blogathon in support of National Classic Movie Day.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

The Five Best Abbott & Costello Movies

Abbott and Costello as a ghost.
1. The Time of Their Lives - I doubt if many A&C fans would rank this effort over #2 below, especially because Bud and Lou aren't a team in this outing. However, I stand by this choice, as it's their most original comedy with a good story, nice performances...and it's very funny. In a prologue set in 1780, Lou and Majorie Reynolds play American Revolutionary patriots who are mistakenly killed as traitors. Their ghosts are condemned to roam the Kings Point estate until their innocence can be proven. When the estate is restored 166 years later, the two ghosts have an opportunity to uncover the evidence that will free them. Bud gets to play two roles and the first-rate supporting cast include Gale Sondergaard and Binnie Barnes.

Glenn Strange and Costello.
2. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein - I adore the wonderfully wacky premise: Count Dracula has recently experienced difficulty with controlling the Frankenstein Monster, so he wants to replace the Monster’s brain. Dr. Sandra Mornay (a female mad scientist—a nice touch) has chosen Costello's brain because of its simplicity. When Lou's character discovers Dracula’s plot, he quips: “I've had this brain for thirty years. It hasn't done me any good!” Packed with many of their best routines, this classic comedy was added the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2001.

3. Hold That Ghost - It used to be that comedians were seemingly required to do a "haunted house" movie. This 1941 classic was actually Bud and Lou's intended follow-up to Buck Privates. It was delayed when another service comedy, In the Navy, was released to theaters first. Hold That Ghost features one of their most famous routines: the moving candle. The plot has the boys inheriting a haunted tavern from a gangster. There's a hidden stash of cash plus a great cast featuring Universal scream queen Evelyn Ankers, Joan Davis, Shemp Howard, and the Andrews Sisters. Alas, the producers added some unnecessary songs, but that's the only drawback.

4. The Naughty Nineties - Take Showboat, insert Abbott & Costello, and you've got The Naughty Nineties. Although the duo originated their "Who's on First" routine many years earlier, this version is considered the definitive one. In fact, it runs continuously at the Baseball Hall of Fame Museum and is one of the museum most popular attractions. The Naughty Nineties includes several famous burlesque gags such as the mirror routine and the swapping of glasses (one of which filled with poison). Plus, there's the "Higher/Lower" bit with Costello singing "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean." I recommend you check it on YouTube!

5. Who Done It? -  In this outing, Bud and Lou play soda jerks who aspire to be radio mystery writers. They catch a break when they're given tickets to watch a recording of the popular radio series "Murder at Midnight"--which, of course, ends up resulting in an actual murder. Notable as their first comedy without musical numbers Who Done It? features some of the duo's best routines: Costello trying to make a limburger cheese sandwich; Lou trying to make a call on a payphone; and a gag about volts and watts with wordplay similar to "Who's on First?"(which is referenced twice).

Honorable MentionsThe Wistful Widow of Wagon Gap, Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, and Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Tarzan in Thailand--or Why Jock Mahoney May Be My Favorite King of the Jungle

Hey TCM, how can you show a Tarzan movie marathon without including at least one of Jock Mahoney's exotic jungle adventures?

I understand that Johnny Weismuller reigns supreme as the favorite Tarzan among classic movie fans. But personally, I prefer Jock Mahoney, whose intelligent, athletic hero is closer to Edgar Rice Burroughs' literary creation. Mahoney's two movies, Tarzan Goes to India (1962) and Tarzan's Three Challenges (1963), are well-made, colorful efforts that transplant our hero from his African home to India and Thailand. I recently watched the latter film for the first time in several decades.

Woody Strode as Khan.
It opens with the emperor of Tarim announcing that the Council of Elders has chosen his successor--and it's not his aggressive brother Gishi Khan (Woody Strode). Khan wants to bring new ideas to the old country and also secure the throne for his teenage son. The Council, though, has chosen a young boy named Kashi who lives in a village far removed from the capital. Kashi must make his vows at a sacred temple, journey to the city, and pass a series of tests before he can become emperor.

A monk has engaged his friend Tarzan to escort Kashi during his perilous trek. However, when the monk is killed, Kashi's guardians question whether Tarzan is who he says he is. Kashi suggests that Tarzan prove his mettle by undergoing tests of wisdom, strength, and skill. (Yes, there are a lot of tests in this movie.) I assume these are the three challenges of the title and they ain't easy! The test of strength requires Tarzan to resist the pull of two buffaloes--going in opposite directions--for five (slow) strokes of a gong.

Do not try this at home!
Having proven that he is indeed Tarzan, our jungle hero escorts Kashi on a trek filled with treachery, a raging fire, and a confrontation with Khan's men. All of that just proves to be the build-up to a climatic duel between Tarzan and Khan--which starts with the duo linked together like Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis in The Defiant Ones.

Mahoney's Tarzan is a different take on the jungle hero. He's a man dedicated to accomplishing his mission, with no time for romance--despite the presence of Kashi's attractive teacher. He doesn't have a chimpanzee chum and he can't call for elephants to come to his rescue. Best of all, this Tarzan speaks in full sentences and relies on his brains as much as his brawn.

It helps, too, that his adversary is a three-dimensional villain. Yes, Khan may be greedy, but there's nothing wrong with wanting to modernize Tarim. The scenes with his son--who has no desire to be a future king--are particularly well-written. Yet, Khan's viciousness is never in doubt as when he orders the death of an innocent man and tries to kill a defenseless boy.

Mahoney as Yancy Deringer.
Jock Mahoney, a former stunt man, may be best known for his TV series Yancy Derringer (though I strongly recommend his "B" Western Joe Dakota, which is reminiscent of Bad Day at Black Rock). Mahoney contracted amoebic dysentary, dengue fever, and other diseases during the filming of Tarzan's Three Challenges in Thailand. He dropped 40 pounds during the movie, but he completed every scene. The experience left him weak for over a year and led to his decision to opt out of future Tarzan pictures.

The supporting cast includes the underrated Woody Strode as Khan and Ricky Der as Kashi. Strode, a former decathlete and professional football player, had a long career as a character actor. He appeared in a previous Tarzan movie (as did Mahoney) and later guest-starred on Ron Ely's Tarzan TV series. As for Der, he co-starred opposite Dennis Weaver in the 1964 sitcom Kentucky Jones.

I think Tarzan's Three Challenges is a superior outing for Burrough's famed protagonist. But don't take just my word for it. In his book, Tarzan, Jungle King of Popular Culture, author David Lemme called it "one of the best Tarzan movies."

Monday, May 7, 2018

Charlie Chan Goes Agatha Christie

Sidney Toler as Charlie Chan.
While Warner Oland is my favorite Charlie Chan, I still enjoy many of Sidney Toler's outings as Earl Derr Biggers' Hawaiian police detective. One of Toler's best entries in the long-running film series is Castle in the Desert.

Like many Chan movies, the setting plays a critical role in the plot. The "castle" in Castle in the Desert turns out be an isolated $20 million mansion in the Mojave Desert with no electricity and no phone. It's owned by Paul Manderley, a wealthy recluse who wears a scarf over half of his face, and his wife Lucy. She is a descendant of the Borgias and, as if that wasn't bad enough, her brother stood trial for murder by poison.

In the film's opening scene, a genealogist named Professor Gleason arrives at the Manderleys' estate. He barely has time to meet his hosts and drink a cocktail before collapsing to the floor--the apparent victim of poison! Shortly thereafter, Charlie Chan receives a typed letter from Mrs. Manderley stating that her life is danger. When Charlie goes to investigate, his No. 2 son Jimmy Chan--who is on leave from military service--follows his "Pop."

Sidney Toler, Victor Sen Young, and Douglas Dumbrille.
Released in 1942, Castle in the Desert shares several similarities with Agatha Christie's classic whodunit And Then There Were None. The most notable is the isolated setting that prevents suspects from leaving. In Christie's novel, the suspects are stranded on an island. In Castle in the Desertsomeone steals the distributor cap from the only automobile--thus stranding everyone at the Manderleys' desert estate. Interestingly, 1974's Ten Little Indians, an adaptation of Christie's novel, changes the novel's setting to the desert (though an Iranian desert instead of the Mojave).

Veteran villain Henry Daniell.
Unlike some of Oland's Chan films, the cast of Castle in the Desert doesn't feature any future stars like Rita Hayworth and Ray Milland. However, it does have villain extraordinaire Henry Daniell as on one of the suspects. But he's too obvious to be the murderer...or is he?

As occasionally happens in older films, there are a couple of lines about Chan's ethnicity that might elicit a groan from modern audiences. For example, when Charlie arrives in the closest town to the Manderleys' castle, someone asks if he is a chop suey salesman. Later, a guest assumes Charlie must be a servant at the house.

The Charlie Chan films aren't for all tastes, but they are among the best of the "B" movies mysteries. The quality gradually declined during Toler's run and the Roland Winters movies are best avoided. Castle in the Desert is an above average Toler outing and chock full of Chan proverbs, with my fave being: "Man without enemies like dog without fleas." Well said, Charlie.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Raquel Welch Skydives and Spies in "Fathom"

Like many males from my generation, I was smitten with Raquel Welch during my teenage years. Yes, I had a poster of her on my bedroom wall (well, technically the back of the door). However, it wasn't the famous one showing her as the world's sexiest cave woman in One Million Years, B.C. Instead, my poster (a gift from my thoughtful sister) featured Raquel in a yellow bikini.

Despite Ms. Welch's early acting challenges, I sought out her movies and suffered through mediocre efforts like The Biggest Bundle of Them All and the Italian-made Shoot Loud, Louder...I Don't Understand. Incidentally, both films were shown on broadcast television in the U.S., which just proves how popular Raquel was during the late 1960s and early 1970s. My favorite of her films during this period was a bit of entertaining fluff called Fathom (1967).

Raquel Welch and Tony Franciosa.
It featured a second-billed Raquel as Fathom Harvill, a skydiver who is recruited by British intelligence (or so she thinks) to help recover a stolen nuclear bomb remote control device (or so she thinks). All Fathom has to do is land in the courtyard of a Spanish villa occupied by a handsome playboy (top-billed Tony Franciosa) and reactivate a listening device on the roof. The plan works to perfection until Fathom finds a dead body in the house and, as film characters often do, picks up the murder weapon.
Raquel front of a bad rear-screen.
She soon finds herself immersed in a plot to obtain what turns out to be a stolen, jewel-encrusted, Chinese artifact called the Fire Dragon. Her biggest challenge, though, is figuring out who to trust. The playboy claims to be a detective trying to recover the artifact for the Chinese government. An eccentric millionaire (Clive Revill) wants to buy the Fire Dragon for his private collection. The British spies eventually admit they aren't spies. And an ultra-cool bartender (Tom Adams), who seems like the most normal of the bunch, tries to kill Fathom with a spear-gun.

Sounds a lot like Charade (1963), doesn't it? Of course, Raquel can't act as well as Audrey Hepburn and, even with blonde hair, Tony Franciosa can't out-suave Cary Grant. Still, Fathom is an agreeable excursion that saves its best scenes--a train sequence followed by an aerial pursuit--for the climax. It certainly won't disappoint Raquel's fans, as her famous figure is showcased in a variety of colorful outfits (most notably a lime bikini). Even the title sequence focuses on her anatomy, presenting Ms. Welch from every possible angle. (I noticed it was designed by Maurice Binder, who gained fame for his James Bond title designs.)

Really, I only have two quibbles with Fathom. The first is the film's irritating, redundant music score, which unnecessarily emphasizes the film's lighthearted tone. My second beef is with Franciosa's character constantly addressing Fathom (see the IMDb for an explanation of her name) as Poppet. After the end credits rolled, I had to look up the definition of "poppet." It's a term of endearment, often used with children.

Wow, who said that Raquel Welch films weren't educational?

Monday, April 30, 2018

Five Awesome TV Series Themes (You May Have Never Heard)

The classic television landscape is filled with great themes from TV shows such as Mission: Impossible, The Avengers, Route 66, and Hawaii Five-O. However, there are a plethora of awesome themes from lesser-known TV series as well. We wanted to highlight five of them today. Best of all, you can click on the videos and listen to these opening themes on the Cafe's YouTube channel without even leaving this page.

1. Coronet Blue - Larry Cohen's short-lived 1967 series was about an amnesiac (Frank Converse) whose only clue to his identity were the words "coronet blue." He spent 13 episodes trying to discover what those words meant. The catchy title song, which reminds me of "Secret Agent Man," was penned by Earl Shuman and two-time Oscar nominee Laurence Rosenthal. Lenny Welch, who provides the vocals, scored a top 5 hit in 1963 with a cover of "Since I Fell for You."

2. The Protectors - Robert Vaughn and Nyree Dawn Porter (The Forsyte Saga) starred in this 1972-73 British series about a trio of international troubleshooters. The title song "Avenues and Alleyways" was a UK hit for Lou Christie, who sings over the closing credits. I prefer the opening instrumental version.

3. UFO - Composer Barry Gray wrote some great themes for Gerry Anderson's marionette TV series (e.g., Thunderbirds, Stingray). So, it was only natural that Anderson would turn to Gray for his first live-action show in 1970. I love how the snazzy music is perfectly synchronized with the rapid editing.

4. The Loner - Jerry Goldsmith had already received one of his 18 Oscar nominations when he composed the theme to Rod Serling's 1965-66 TV Western. The show starred Lloyd Bridges as a former Union officer roaming the West and dealing with issues such as racial prejudice, redemption, and resignation.

5. Man In a Suitcase - This jazzy theme is probably the least-known on this list, but it was composed by Ron Grainer. He was responsible for memorable title tunes for TV series such as The Prisoner and Doctor Who as well the scores for movies like To Sir, With Love (though he didn't write the title song). Incidentally, the Man In a Suitcase theme was later used for the 1996-2000 British entertainment show TFI Friday.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

The Movie-TV Connection Game (April 2018)

Welcome film and TV trivia experts! In this game, you will 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. Diana Rigg, Kenneth More, and Deborah Kerr.

2. The TV series Gunsmoke and the film Deliverance.

3. Johnny Depp and Charles Laughton.

4. Robert Wagner and Kevin Costner.

5. The movies Dark of the Sun and Tarzan and the Valley of Gold.

6. The movies Roustabout and The Naked Gun.

7. The movies Airplane! and High Noon.

8. It Happened to Jane and The Mysterious Island (1961).

9. Hayley Mills and Jeremy Irons.

10. The film Night of the Iguana and the TV series Dark Shadows.

11. Gary Cooper and Audie Murphy.

12. Michael York and Errol Flynn.

13. Bob Hope and George Sanders.

14. Lee J. Cobb and Stewart Granger.

15. Alan Ladd and Cliff Robertson (this one's a bit of a stretch).

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Earthquake Rumbles and Rattles!

Genevieve Bujold and Charlton Heston.
Rumble...rumble. That's the sound of Earthquake (1974), one of several big budget, all-star disaster movies made in the 1970s. Airport (1970) perfected the formula, but it was The Poseidon Adventure (1972) that inspired a dozen or so imitations (not counting the spoofs The Big Bus and Airplane!). Still, Earthquake had one thing that these other disaster pics didn't have--and that was Sensurround. But before we delve into that thunderous technology, let's take a look at the plot.

Ava Gardner and Loren Greene.
Charlton Heston stars as Stewart Graff, a former football player-turned-engineer who, along with other Los Angeles residents, feels an earth tremor in the film's opening scenes. Stewart is coping with a high-strung wife (Ava Gardner) who fakes suicides, while becoming attracted to a young widow (Genevieve Bujold).

Disaster film vet Kennedy also played
a cop on The Blue Knight TV series.
Meanwhile, street cop George Kennedy is suspended after punching a fellow officer (who deserved it, of course) and a motorcycle daredevil (Richard Roundtree) prepares to perform a stunt worthy of Evel Knieval. And then there's the creepy grocery store employee (Marjoe Gortner) who moonlights as a National Guardsman.

While all these folks shrug off the tremor, a young seismology student (Kip Niven) predicts that the Big One is coming. Little does he know that one of his bosses has already died as a result of a crack in the Earth and that a city employee has mysteriously drowned in an elevator shaft at the dam....

Earthquake, which was co-written by Mario Puzo--yes, the author of The Godfather!--differs in scope from most disaster films. Its tapestry is an entire city, not just a towering inferno or a cruise ship turned upside down. Puzo and co-writer George Fox do a nice job of introducing the characters and then weaving them into a single storyline after the earthquake decimates the city.

The big quake, which constitutes a seven-minute sequence--still looks impressive. Yes, there are some obvious miniature sets in some clips, but one can see why Earthquake earned an Oscar for Best Special Effects. The effects team included acclaimed matte artist Albert Whitlock, who was likely responsible for the eerie closing shot of a crumbling, burning L.A. Earthquake also won an Oscar for Best Sound and that brings us to...
Los Angeles in shambles after the first big quake.
Sensurround, which was the brand name for a sound system that allowed theater audiences to "feel" the rumbles from the earthquake by using low-frequency sound waves. According to Shared Pleasures: A History of Movie Presentation in the United States, theater owners rented special speakers and an amplifier for $500 a week when showing a Sensurround movie. While the new technology may have contributed to Earthquake's boxoffice clout, it barely survived the 1970s. It was used in a handful of other films such as Midway (1976) and Rollercoaster (1977). However, the introduction of Dolby high-fidelity stereo had attracted far more attention by the end of the decade.

When Earthquake made its broadcast television debut on NBC in 1976, the movie was expanded into a two-night "event." The running time was extended by inserting leftover footage and filming new scenes, including a subplot about an airplane unable to land due to the quake. My recommendation is to steer clear of that inflated edition and stick with the 123-minute version. It may not be great filmmaking, but it's one of the better disaster movies and the cast seems fully engaged.

By the way, that is Victoria Principal (shown on the right) as the the frizzy-haired Rosa, four years before she starred in Dallas. At one time, she and George Kennedy were among those scheduled to star in an Earthquake sequel. Also, although you may not see Walter Matthau's name in the credits, that's him (of course) as the drunk in the bar. He asked to be credited as Walter Matuschanskayasky.