Monday, July 15, 2024

The All-American and Yankee Pasha

Publicity still with Mamie Van Doren & Tony Curtis.
All American
(1953). Tony Curtis headlines as Nick Bonelli, a star quarterback who transfers to a different university to pursue his interest in architecture after his parents die in a car crash. He faces various challenges and conflicts at his new school, both academically and romantically, and eventually decides to play football again--much to the delight of his new school. All American (aka The Winning Way) is a typical 1950s sports drama, with a predictable plot and stereotypical characters. That doesn't mean it's not an entertaining way to spend 83 minutes. It was clearly intended to provide acting experience for its young cast. Although Tony Curtis is the only one that became a big star, his fellow players include such familiar faces as Lori Nelson (Revenge of the Creature), Mamie Van Doren, Stuart Whitman, and Richard Long (who comes as close to playing an unlikable character as he ever did). Van Doren fares best as a bar waitress who is secretly involved with rich college student Long. It's nice to see her in an appealing role, as opposed to the sexpot types she later played (she also appeared with Tony Curtis in the earlier Forbidden). Sports fans may also spot cameos from real-life football stars Frank Gifford, Tom Harmon (Marks' father), and Jim Sears.

Yankee Pasha
 (1954). Set in New England in 1800, Yankee Pasha stars Jeff Chandler as Jason Starbuck, a fur trapper who falls in love with the beautiful Roxana (Rhonda Fleming). When Roxana sails to France to escape an unwanted marriage to another man, her ship is captured by pirates and she is sold as a slave in Morocco. Jason follows her across the ocean and infiltrates the royal palace, where he becomes a valued advisor to the sultan--all the while plotting to rescue Roxana. Based on Edison Marshall's 1947 novel, Yankee Pasha is a colorful, if modestly budgeted, adventure with a dash of humor. Chandler and Fleming are agreeable, photogenic leads who let their supporting stars deliver all the good lines. Lee J. Cobb seems to be having fun as the sultan, while Mamie Van Doren shows off her comedic skills as the only member of Starbuck's harem. The film's first two-thirds zip along nicely, but then it inexplicitly lumbers to its conclusion with a conventional, boring rescue. By then, though, Yankee Pasha has built enough goodwill so that you'll overlook its ending and remember it fondly.

Monday, July 1, 2024

The Case for Anatomy of a Murder

Stewart as Biegler pleads his case.
Anatomy of a Murder is the best courtroom drama ever made.

Otto Preminger’s enthralling motion picture requires multiple viewings to be fully appreciated. When I first saw it, I focused on the riveting story, which treats the viewer much like the jury. We listen to testimonies, watch the lawyers try to manipulate our emotions, and struggle to make sense of the evidence. When I saw Anatomy of a Murder a second time, I knew the case’s outcome and was to able to concentrate on the splendid performances. James Stewart, Arthur O’Connell, and George C. Scott earned Oscar nominations, but the rest of the cast is also exceptionally strong. In subsequent viewings, I’ve come to appreciate the film’s well-preserved details, from the small town upper-Michigan atmosphere to Preminger’s brilliant direction (e.g., in one shot, as Scott's prosecutor cross-examines a witness in close-up, Stewart—the defending lawyer—is framed between them in the background).

Lee Remick and George C. Scott.
The opening scenes quickly establish Stewart’s shrewd lawyer. After ten years as Iron City’s public prosecutor, Paul Biegler has lost his office and gone into private practice. He’s also lost his passion for the law—he spends most of his time fishing, playing the piano, smoking Italian cigars, and reading old cases with his elderly, alcoholic friend Parnell Emmett McCarthy (O’Connell). His life takes a dramatic turn when he eventually agrees to defend Lieutenant Frederick Manion (Ben Gazzara), who is being tried for the murder of a man who may have raped Manion’s wife Laura (Lee Remick). Manion doesn’t deny killing the man, whom he shot five times. His lack of remorse, his wife Laura’s open sexuality, and the couple’s coldness toward one another tip the scales against them from the start.

Perhaps, it’s those very drawbacks that attract Biegler to the case. With a newly sober McCarthy assisting him, Biegler builds his defense around an old Michigan case in which a man was acquitted of murder because he acted out of “irresistible impulse.” As a psychiatrist (Orson Bean in a great bit part )  explains on the stand, it didn’t matter if Manion knew the difference between right and wrong. He was compelled to act (in the words of another witness, he was a “like a mailman delivering the mail”).

Saul Bass's opening credits as justly famous.
Once the drama shifts to the courtroom, an already-engrossing story seems to shift into a higher gear. The sparring between Stewart and Scott, as an ambitious assistant state attorney, is played to perfection. Remick has a splendid scene as Scott interrogates her on the witness stand. Joseph Welch provides welcome dry humor as the judge, who seems more like a referee trying to keep two fighters from killing each other. Interestingly, Welch was a former Army lawyer who participated in the McCarthy hearings; his real-life wife also appears in Anatomy as one of the jurors.

At the time of its release, Anatomy of a Murder was quite controversial, much of it stemming from the frank discussion of the crime. Preminger seemed to relish in breaking barriers on film content. His sex comedy The Moon Is Blue (1953) shocked audiences with its plot about older men (David Niven and William Holden) pursuing a young virgin. Preminger’s The Man With the Golden Arm (1955) was one of the first mainstream films about drug addiction.

Our favorite Preminger works are the film noir classic Laura (1944), Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965), and, of course, this one. You may disagree with me on whether it's the finest courtroom drama, but I'm not alone in my assessment. Back in 2021, I interviewed Michael Asimow, a professor at the Santa Clara Law School and co-author of Real to Reel: Truth and Trickery in Courtroom Movies. When I asked him what film did the best job of presenting a case realistically, he replied: "Our all-time favorite is Anatomy of a Murder. Almost all of it is a gripping murder trial, with two great lawyers going after each other, full of twists and turns and with an ambiguous ending. Watch this movie—you’ll be amazed at how good it is."

Monday, June 17, 2024

The Alternate Movie Title Game (James Stewart Edition)

Here are the rules: We will provide an "alternate title" for a James Stewart film and ask you to name the actual film. Most of these are pretty easy. Please answer no more than three questions per day so others can play. You may have an answer other than the intended one--just be able to defend it!

1. The Andersons.

2. Me and My Pooka.

3. The Manion Case.

4. The Killer Clown.

5. The Man With One Eye.

6. The Reindeer.

7. Bell on the Saddle.

8. I Spy, You Spy.

9. Matuschek and Company.

10. Desert Wings.

11. The Pollster.

12. Cat and Mouse (this one might be difficult).

13. Teenager Troubles.

14. Vindicator.

15. Trapped Beneath the Waves.

Monday, June 3, 2024

The High and the Mighty and Skyjacked

John Wayne as "Whistling" Dan Roman.
The High and the Mighty (1954). When a passenger airliner en route from Honolulu to Los Angeles experiences engine problems, the pilot faces a critical decision: Does he attempt a dangerous landing in the ocean and hope the Coast Guard can rescue the passengers? Or does he try to make it to the closest airport in San Francisco—even as the plane starts leaking fuel? Directed by former fighter pilot William A. Wellman, The High and the Mighty is considered the granddaddy of the modern disaster film. The now familiar formula augments the tense scenes with a menagerie of characters with background stories of varying interest. Their tales range from a newlywed couple facing the realities of married life to an armed husband who thinks his wife is cheating on him with another passenger. The airplane's crew has its challenges, too, with the lead pilot (Robert Stack) coping with aviation fatigue. There's even the proverbial child on the plane--though, unlike future young passengers--he seems pretty healthy! Bolstered by Dimitri Tiomkin's Oscar-winning score and John Wayne's steady, low-key performance, The High and the Mighty overcomes its weaker characters and subplots (e.g., a gun fired in-flight is quickly forgotten). The result is an engaging film that overstays its welcome at a bloated running time of almost two-and-a-half hours. Here's some interesting trivia: Tiomkin also earned an Oscar nomination for Best Song, though the lyrics are only heard briefly at the end. The tune, with different words, became a pop hit.

Yvette Mimieux and Charlton Heston.
Skyjacked
 (1972). The first theatrical film inspired by the 1970 blockbuster Airport was not, surprisingly, one of the three Airport sequels. Instead, it was Skyjacked, an satisfactory all-star disaster film based on a David Harper novel. The "all-stars" aren't of the same caliber as Airport, with Charlton Heston on-hand as the only big name star. Still, the best part of Skyjacked is its mix of familiar faces (Yvette Mimeux, Claude Akins, Mariette Hartley), TV stars (Susan Dey, James Brolin), and classic film icons (Walter Pidgeon, Jeanne Crain). The plot concerns a potential bomb aboard a commercial jet flying to Minneapolis. The hijacker, whose identity remains a mystery for the film's first half, wants the flight diverted to Alaska--and then on to the Soviet Union. The film might have been more fun if the hijacker's identity was a surprise, but it's obvious from the beginning. John Guillermin, who would go on to direct the disaster movie megahit The Towering Inferno (1975), keeps the pacing tight for much of the film. However, it lags toward the end, with a flashback romantic subplot involving Heston's pilot and Mimieux's flight attendant adding nothing to the story. Still, Skyjacked makes an interesting pairing with Airport 1975Airport 1975, in which Heston plays a pilot-turned-instructor that gets involved in the rescue of a jet damaged in flight.

Monday, May 20, 2024

12 Great World War II Movies of the 1960s...and How to Watch Them for Free

Lee Marvin in The Dirty Dozen.
Last year, I asked my 27,000 (awesome) Twitter followers to rate eleven of the finest World War II films of the 1960s. I wanted to keep my survey to a reasonable length, but it was tough to cut off the list at eleven. In fact, I initially tried to keep it at ten, but I just couldn't do it!

The reason is simple: The 1960s was an amazing decade for first-rate films set during World War II. Although Hollywood produced war movies during the 1940s and the 1950s, the number of major war movies exploded in the 1960s. There were films with big budgets and all-star casts (The Longest Day) as well as intimate pictures with rising stars (Hell Is for Heroes). There were fact-based movies (Battle of the Bulge) and espionage thrillers (36 Hours). Some films focused on daring escapes (Von Ryan's Express, The Great Escape), while others focused on daring missions (The Guns of Navarone, The Dirty Dozen, Where Eagles Dare). There were films about the U.S. Army, the U.S. Navy (In Harm's Way), and the British Royal Air Force (Battle of Britain).

Steve McQueen in The Great Escape.
Interestingly, actors from The Magnificent Seven appeared in a bunch of 1960s war films: Steve McQueen, James Coburn, and Charles Bronson in The Great Escape; McQueen and Coburn in Hell Is for Heroes; McQueen in The War Lover; Coburn in What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?; Bronson in The Dirty Dozen and Battle of the Bulge; Brad Dexter in Von Ryan's Express and None But the Brave; Robert Vaughn in The Bridge at Remagen; and Yul Brynner in The Battle of Neretva, Triple Cross, and Morituri.

Now, without further ado, here's my list of the 11 Best World War II Films of the 1960s, as ranked by the smartest film buffs on Twitter. I have also included a twelfth film, The Train with Burt Lancasterbecause it was mentioned frequently in the responses to my original tweet. Twitter movie guru @CED_LD_Guy secured the rights to make these movies available on his channel on Rumble (which is similar to YouTube). I've added the links for you, so just click on a title below to watch the movie without ads for free! To view a film on your television, you'll need to add the Rumble app to your streaming device or smart TV and subscribe the channel (which is also free). If you want more information on how to do that, leave a comment below.

The Great Escape (1963) - Prisoners of war tunnel their way to freedom in this blockbuster starring James Garner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, David McCallum, Donald Pleasance, Richard Attenborough, and James Coburn.

The Dirty Dozen (1967) - An Army major (Lee Marvin) has to train 12 military convicts for a deadly mission behind enemy lines.

The Longest Day (1962) - Daryl F. Zanuck produced this all-star epic about the D-Day landings at Normandy on June 6, 1944.

The Guns of Navarone (1961) - A team of commandos go undercover to destroy two large German cannons positioned strategically on Navarone Island. Based on an Alistair MacLean novel.

Where Eagles Dare (1968) - Another Alistair MacLean thriller provides the basis for this exciting tale about commandos tasked with rescuing a captured U.S. general from a mountain-top stronghold--but all is not as it seems.

Von Ryan's Express (1965) - Prisoners of war escape and hijack a train, racing through occupied Italy to their freedom in Switzerland. Check out my review.

Battle of the Bulge (1965) - This all-star epic is loosely based on the title battle, which lasted for several weeks near the end of World War II. The cast includes Henry Fonda, Robert Shaw, Robert Ryan, and Telly Savalas.

Battle of Britain (1969) - The Royal Air Force and the German Luftwaffe fight for control of the skies over Great Britain in this all-star picture starring Michael Caine, Trevor Howard, Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson, Michael Redgrave, Christopher Plummer and many more.

In Harms Way (1965) - Otto Preminger explores the lives of naval officers and their wives stationed in Hawaii in the months following the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Hell Is for Heroes (1962) - A small squad of U.S. soldiers must hold off an advancing German company until reinforcements can arrive. The cast includes McQueen, Coburn, Fess Parker, Bobby Darin, and Bob Newhart.

36 Hours (1964) - On the eve of the Normandy invasion, an American intelligence officer (James Garner) gets thunked on the head during a clandestine rendezvous with a spy. He awakes in an Allied military hospital five years later and is told he has been suffering bouts of amnesia. Or is he? Check out my review.

The Train (1964) - The French Resistance seeks to stop a train loaded with art treasures stolen by the Nazis.

Saturday, May 11, 2024

The Alternate Movie Title Game (Sci Fi Edition)

Here are the rules: We will provide an "alternate title" for a film and ask you to name the actual film. Most of these are pretty easy. Please answer no more than three questions per day so others can play. You may have an answer other than the intended one--just be able to defend it!

1. They’re Here Already!

2. Robby & Timmie.

3. The Computer That Ruled the World.

4. Eloi Ahoy!

5. Code Name: Wildfire. 

6. Escape from Metaluna. 

7. Talleah of Venus. 

8. The Mysterious Adam Hart.

9. Dewey, Huey, and Louie.

10. The Sky Is on Fire.

11. I Am a Book.

12. We Are the Martians!

13. The Mirror Earth.

14. The Teleporter Disaster.

15. A City of Three People.

Monday, April 29, 2024

Love Is a Ball and A Big Hand for the Little Lady

Love Is a Ball (1963).  I thought I had seen every 1960s romantic comedy until the blandly-titled Love Is a Ball popped up on the cable channel Screenpix. It stars Charles Boyer as Etienne Pimm, a matchmaker who is part Pygmalion and part con artist. He specializes in pairing titled, but financially poor, European aristocrats with wealthy potential spouses. The catch is that the latter have no idea that they're the "target" of a matchmaking scheme. Pimm's latest client is Duke Gaspard Ducluzeau (Ricardo Montalbán), who not only lacks wealth...he also lacks sophistication. To address Gaspard's deficiencies, Pim hires three men to teach Gaspard how to speak properly, how to drive fast cars and play polo, and how to eat fine food. Problems arise, though, when heiress Millie Mehaffey (Hope Lange) becomes attracted to one of Gaspard's teachers, former race car driver John Davis (Glenn Ford). The first half of Love Is a Ball moves along at a merry pace--and who knew that Ricardo Montalbán could be so funny? Inevitably, the focus shifts to the romance between Millie and John, who are the film's least interesting characters (and seem like a poor match to boot). Shot mostly on-location on the French Riveria, Love Is a Ball is a mildly pleasant romcom that overstays its welcome and mostly wastes the fine performances of Boyer, Montalbán, and Telly Savalas. Director and co-writer David Swift fared better at Disney where he made Pollyanna (1960) and The Parent Trap (1961). In Paul Mayersberg's book Hollywood, the Haunted House, Swift stated that Glenn Ford "approaches his craft like a twelve-year-old temperamental child." Needless to say, they never worked together again.

A Big Hand for the Little Lady (1966).  Well, this is one of those movies that you can discuss with a "spoiler alert" warning. Or, one can tread very carefully when describing the plot. I will opt for the latter in discussing this deceiving Western about an annual high-stakes poker game involving the five richest men in Laredo. Even though the whole town knows about the big event, no one else is allowed to participate, watch it, or even stay informed about the current standings. That changes when a farming family passes through town and is forced to spend the night after a wagon wheel breaks. Meredith, the family patriarch, is a recovering gambling addict with a hefty bankroll--to be used on a purchasing a farm. However, he succeeds in getting a seat at the poker table and proceeds to bet his family's nest egg on what he claims is to a sure-fire winning hand. There is a lot of gamesmanship going on in Big Hand for the Little Lady and your enjoyment of the movie will hinge on your acceptance of the ending. I was pleasantly surprised on my first viewing many years ago, but the plot struggled to hold my interest in subsequent viewings. The cast almost overpowers the premise with solid work from Joanne Woodward, Henry Fonda, Jason Robards, Kevin McCarthy, and a slew of familiar faces. (I recognized the young actor that plays Meredith's son from Samuel Fuller's fascinating The Naked Kiss.) Director Fielder Cook and screenwriter Sidney Carroll based on A Big Hand for the Little Lady on "Big Deal in Laredo," a 1962 episode of the one-hour TV series anthology The DuPont Show of the Week. It starred Walter Matthau and Teresa Wright in the Fonda and Woodward roles. I haven't seen it, but wonder if the shorter running time might have strengthened the premise.

Monday, April 15, 2024

Dean Jones, Walt Disney, and a Quartet of Monkeys (or rather, Chimps)

Yvette Mimieux with one of the chimps.
We've been on a Disney movie run at the Cafe, revisiting some of the studio’s lesser-known live action films. There have been some pleasant surprises (Emil and the Detectives) and a few major disappointments (Dick Van Dyke wasted in Never a Dull Moment). The incorrectly-titled Monkeys, Go Home! falls somewhere in the middle.

The title tune, a breezy piece featuring lush strings, sounds more like a romantic comedy than a family film. And despite the presence of some playful chimpanzees, that's just what Monkeys, Go Home is.

Dean Jones stars as Hank Dussard, an American who has inherited an olive farm in a small French provincial town. He actually knows very little about harvesting olives, so he's surprised when the local priest informs him that the olives fall from the trees and have to be picked up from the ground by children or women because of their light touch (I'm still researching whether this is true).

Maurice Chevalier in his final role.
Father Sylvain (Maurice Chevalier) recommends that Hank get married and have lots of children. Of course, that strategy doesn't account for the fact that the children won't be old enough to pick olives for several years! It also makes Hank, who is already leery about marriage, initially distant when a pretty local woman (Yvette Mimieux) takes an interest in him.

Instead, Hank hatches on to an unconventional plan. He buys four female chimpanzees that he trained for NASA space missions. He figures if they can learn to become astronauts, they can learn how to pick olives.

I saw Monkeys, Go Home! at the theater when I was probably 10 years old. It'd be intriguing to go back in time and ask my younger self what I thought of it. Except for a handful of scenes with the cavorting chimps, I can't imagine any kid being entertained for long.

Dean Jones as Hank.
As a 1960s romantic comedy, Monkeys might have worked better with a different star. I like Dean Jones, but he comes across as a little cold and pragmatic as Hank. A lead with more inner warmth might have worked better, say, James Garner.

Yvette Mimeux isn't required to do much, but look adorable (which she does) and act sweet (ditto!). If you want to see a good example of her acting chops, you'll have to track down the very un-Disney Jackson County Jail (which garnered recognition, too, for her young co-star Tommy Lee Jones).

As you may have noticed, the title of the film is quite misleading. Chimpanzees are not monkeys; they are great apes and related to gorillas and orangutans. Apparently, the Disney executives just didn't understand the difference. Their earlier comedy, The Monkey's Uncle, also featured a chimp. Hey, no one would call Lancelot Link a monkey!

Monday, April 1, 2024

The Alternate Movie Title Game (April 2024)

Here are the rules: We will provide an "alternate title" for a film and ask you to name the actual film. Most of these are pretty easy. Please answer no more than three questions per day so others can play. You may have an answer other than the intended one--just be able to defend it!

1. Running in the Sand.

2. The Man from Z.O.W.I.E.

3. A Man Called Harmonica.

4. Jo and Meg and Beth and Amy.

5. Music Shop Pen Pals.

6. The Town That Became Glad.

7. Eight Dozen and Five Dogs.

8. Looking for Moose's Girlfriend.

9. The Dancing Welder.

10. The Linen Wall of Jericho.

11. The Pie's Big Race.

12. I Saw a Big Bug in the Sewer.

13. Smithy Forgets.

14. The Tunnel King.

15. Car vs. Truck.

Monday, March 18, 2024

Klute and Tender Mercies

Donald Sutherland and Jane Fonda.
Klute (1971). When a businessman suddenly disappears and obscene letters are found among his work papers, the man's wife hires private detective John Klute to conduct an investigation. Klute (Donald Sutherland) quickly learns that the mystery centers around part-time NYC prostitute Bree Daniels (Jane Fonda), the intended recipient of the letters. Bree doesn't remember the missing man, but thinks he could have been a client that beat her up years earlier--and may be stalking her now. More character study than psychological thriller, Klute earned Jane Fonda a Best Actress Oscar for her performance and garnered a nomination for its screenplay. The decision to reveal the villain's identity barely 45 minutes into the movie is an interesting one. Unlike Hitchcock's Vertigo, that knowledge doesn't generate any tension. Rather, it robs Klute of its potential as a whodunit (though the villain's identity is obvious from the beginning, so perhaps that's irrelevant). Clearly, the writers and director Alan J. Pakula are more interested in exploring what makes Bree and Klute tick. In Bree's case, they take the direct approach by including her therapy sessions with her psychiatrist. These monologues provide an acting field day for Fonda, though the character insights are strictly Psychology 101 (e.g., Bree's "tricks" make her feel like she controls her interactions with men for a brief period). As a result, the more interesting character is the quiet and always watchful John Klute. Relentless in his investigation, the introspective detective shows his patience as he develops feelings towards Bree and eventually pierces her self-defensive veneer. Sutherland gives a compelling portrayal and it's a shame that his acting was not as widely recognized as Fonda's. She is very good, but Sutherland is the reason to watch Klute--after all, the movie was named after his character. 

Duvall as Mac Sledge.
Tender Mercies
 (1983).  After a night of heavy drinking, Mac Sledge (Robert Duvall), a washed-up, alcoholic country singer, wakes up at an isolated Texas roadside motel and gas station. The owner, a young widow named Rosa Lee (Tess Harper), allows him work in exchange for room and board. Mac slowly rebuilds his life, creating a family with Rosa Lee and her young son Sonny and even recording music again. Like its protagonist, Tender Mercies is a quiet, slow-moving film that finds emotional resonance in its simplicity. Director Bruce Beresford lovingly captures the rustic setting with the wind whistling gently across the plains. Robert Duvall delivers a low-key, natural performance that earned him a Best Actor Oscar (the motion picture, Beresford, and screenwriter Horton Foote were nominated as well). Although it's a film about redemption, writer Foote ensures that Tender Mercies avoids easy resolutions. Mac's relationship with his ex-wife remains full of friction and his efforts to reconnect with his adult daughter are hindered by tragedy. In the end, Mac finds an inner peace of sorts, but every day will still bring its own challenges so that one has to cherish each moment of contentment.

Monday, March 4, 2024

The Crimson Kimono and The League of Gentlemen

James Shigeta as Detective Joe Kojaku.
The Crimson Kimono (1959). Writer-director Samuel Fuller's once-controversial cult film revolves around two police detectives, one Caucasian and one Japanese, who try to solve a complicated murder case involving a stripper in the Japanese quarter of Los Angeles. Along the way, both detectives fall in love with a key witness, leading to a love triangle that threatens their friendship. Fuller's on-location shooting, in and around Little Tokyo in L.A., gives The Crimson Kimono a vibrant and gritty feel. It's a perfect setting for a quirky film noir and the opening scene, in which stripper Sugar Torch is fatally shot as she runs into a busy street, promises as much. However, Fuller's primary interest lies elsewhere, leading to a plot detour into an examination of the relationship between detective Joe Kojaku (James Shigeta) and Chris, an art student (Victoria Shaw). Joe has to cope with his own cultural norms (his family expects him to marry a Japanese woman) and what he perceives as racial bias from Charlie (Glenn Corbett), his detective partner and longtime best friend. It's an interesting theme and James Shigeta effectively conveys Joe's inner struggle. Still, it's a shame that there's little left time left for the mystery. When it gets wraps up quickly at the climax, I felt that Fuller had cheated me out of a potentially brilliant film noir.

Jack Hawkins as Norman Hyde.
The League of Gentlemen (1960). Forced into retirement, Lieutenant Colonel Norman Hyde (Jack Hawkins) recruits seven former army officers, each facing desperate or humiliating circumstances, for a bank robbery. Hyde convinces the team that a large-scale crime, planned and executed with military precision by former soldiers, is a "can't miss" proposition, It also helps that he guarantees each man a payout of over £100,000 (equates to $2.9 million in 2024). Like the heist it depicts, The League of Gentlemen is a well-executed film that grabs the viewer from its opening shot: Hyde, dressed in black tie, emerges from a manhole on a London street at night. While the climatic heist is sufficiently engrossing, the film's highlight is an earlier theft of weapons from an army depot. It allows the always entertaining Roger Livesey to impersonate an army general looking into a fictitious complaint about inedible army food. In addition to Hawkins and Livesey, the fine cast includes Richard Attenborough, Nigel Patrick (delightful as the second-in-command), and Bryan Forbes (who co-wrote the screenplay with John Boland). My only quibble with The League of Gentlemen is its ending. It works well enough...it's just not what I wanted to happen (which is not a valid complaint at all).

Monday, February 19, 2024

Jeff Chandler Plays a Make-Believe Parent in The Toy Tiger

Jeff Chandler as Rick.
Had a bad day at work? Relatives causing undue stress? If so, then perhaps you need to sit down and watch a mindless 1950s comedy. You know the kind. It's entertaining enough while you're watching it, but it won't linger in your brain. It's like cotton candy--light and tasty, but not filling and quickly forgotten. If that's what you're looking for, then The Toy Tiger (1956)--a remake of the earlier Mad About Music--is the movie for you.

Laraine Day plays Gwen Harkinson, a widowed advertising executive who has shuffled her son off to a private boarding school. Gwen's plan is to work hard, make a lot of money, and then "retire" to spend time raising son Timmy (Tim Hovey). She has no time for romance, which is a bummer for Rick Todd (Jeff Chandler), an art director at the agency who loves her. Rick is fed up with advertising, but agrees to go to a small upstate New York town to convince an ex-colleague to work on a new ad campaign. He is completely unaware that the town is also the home of Timmy's boarding school: The Meadows.

Meanwhile, Timmy is dealing with a bully at school, who suspects (quite rightly) that Timmy has created an imaginary father: a world-famous explorer who sends him letters about his quests. In reality, Timmy is writing the letters and mailing them to himself. When pressured by the bully, Timmy states his father is arriving in town that day on a bus. The other boys become excited to meet Timmy's dad and go to meet the bus. When Rick gets off the bus, Timmy identifies him as his father!

Laraine Day, Tim Hovey, and Jeff Chandler
in a publicity still from The Toy Tiger.
It's a lightweight premise that functions surprisingly well for most of the movie. As expected, Rick eventually decides to go along--not realizing Timmy is Gwen's son--and play the part of Timmy's "famous" father (good thing the Internet didn't exist back then). Jeff Chandler seems to be having a good time as Timmy's make-believe dad and he and young Tim Hovey create a believable father-son relationship. It also helps to have a couple of old pros, Cecil Kellaway and Richard Haydn, playing the brothers that run the boarding school. (Both deserve more screen time!)

The Toy Tiger gets bogged down, though, when Gwen shows up. She is just not a likable character. Granted, Laraine Day and the writers faced a tough challenge: the film hinges on peeling back the layers of Gwen's business-focused persona to reveal a caring mother and a woman who wants to be in a loving relationship. Laraine Day never quite gets there. Perhaps, a more accomplished actress like Doris Day could have pulled it off. Or the writers could have opted for a more realistic ending, in which Gwen finds a way to spend more time with her son, but rejects a relationship with Rick.

Of course, that would be a different movie altogether. And we've already established that you just want to watch The Toy Tiger and enjoy it for what is. There's nothing wrong with that. You'll be pleasantly amused for 88 minutes and then you'll forget it.

Monday, February 5, 2024

Seven Things to Know About Linda Cristal

1. Linda Cristal was born on February 23, 1931, in Rosario, Argentina, as Marta Victoria Moya Burges. In addition to her native language of Spanish, she became fluent in Italian, French, and English. She got her acting break in 1952 when she appeared as a school girl in the Mexican film When the Fog Lifts (Cuando Levanta la Niebla). It was then that she changed her name professionally to Linda Cristal.

2. She had made several Mexican films when she heard that United Artists wanted to cast a Latina female lead opposite Dana Andrews in Comanche (1956). She got the part and was billed in the opening credits as "And Miss Linda Cristal as Magarita."

3. Linda Cristal won a Golden Globe as Most Promising Newcomer in 1959 for her performance in the Tony Curtis-Janet Leigh comedy The Perfect Furlough. She plays a movie sex symbol--the Argentine Bombshell--who accompanies Tony's Army corporal on the "perfect furlough" to Paris.

4. Linda worked with John Ford in Two Rode Together and The Alamo (where he was the uncredited second unit director). She said in an interview: "It was such a wonderful thing to say that I worked under the direction of John Ford. If I never do anything else ever again, I'd die happy." In both films, she played the love interest of men much older than her: James Stewart (23 years her senior) in Two Rode Together and John Wayne (24 years older) in The Alamo.

Linda Cristal as Victoria Cannon.
5. Linda Cristal gained international recognition for her role as Victoria Cannon in the popular Western television series The High Chaparral, which aired on NBC from 1967 to 1971. In a 2015 interview, Cristal's High Chaparral co-star Henry Darrow told me: "The High Chaparral was the first time in a series that a Latino family was on an equal level with an Anglo family." For her performance as Victoria, Linda Cristal was nominated for two Prime Time Emmy Awards and won a Golden Globe in 1970 as Best Actress in a Drama Series.

6. After her 1966 divorce from actor-producer Yale Wexler, Linda Cristal dated celebrities such as Bobby Darin, Adam West, and Christopher George. One Hollywood gossip magazine even published an article about Linda coming between Bobby Darin and ex-wife Sandra Dee (whom fans hoped would reconcile).

Linda Cristal as Cleopatra.
7. Linda Cristal's autobiography A Life Unexpected: The Linda Cristal Story, co-written with her son Jordan Wexler, was published in 2019. Among her many acting credits in film and TV are two unusual ones: Legions of the Nile (1959) and Mr. Majestyk (1974). In the former, an Italian production also known as The Legions of Cleopatra, she plays the title role four years before Elizabeth Taylor. According to one source, 20th Century-Fox bought the rights to Cristal's film so as to limit its distribution in the U.S. prior to the release of Taylor's big-budgeted Cleopatra (1963). Mr. Majestyk, one of her last theatrical films, paired her with Charles Bronson as a migrant worker and union activist. It gave her an opportunity to show what she could do in an action picture. Today, Mr. Majestyk is recognized as one of Bronson's best-reviewed 1970s films.

Monday, January 22, 2024

The Alternate Movie Title (January 2024)

Here are the rules: We will provide an "alternate title" for a film and ask you to name the actual film. Most of these are pretty easy. Please answer no more than three questions per day so others can play. You may have an answer other than the intended one--just be able to defend it!

1. Flex Martian--Bodybuilder.

2. The Pin Is a Mighty Sword. (Note that all spelling is correct!)

3. Will Kane Stands Alone.

4. The Watch of Colonel Mortimer.

5. The Christmas Angel.

6. The Singing Cricket.

7. Masquerade for Money.

8. The Wrong Man Wins the Cake.

9. Love, Love, Love in Rome.

10. Barn Burner!

11. The Red-Haired Pirate and The Spy.

12. Law, Jazz, and Hardboiled Eggs.

13. The Hit Man Who Liked Cats.

14. And the Waves Washed Over Them.

15. Homer's Chapel.

Monday, January 15, 2024

Working Girl and The Verdict

Melanie Griffith and Harrison Ford.
Working Girl (1988). Mike Nichol's R-rated update of a familiar comedy formula, Working Girl earned six Oscar nominations, made a star (albeit briefly) of Melanie Griffith, and transformed Harrison Ford into a romantic lead. Griffith plays Tess McGill, a hard-working, ambitious young woman who thinks she has landed the perfect job when she becomes the personal assistant to business executive Katherine Parker (Sigourney Weaver). Katherine listens to Tess's ideas. It turns out that she also steals one of them, which Tess discovers while Katherine is in the hospital recovering from a skiing accident. Rather than confronting her boss, Tess passes herself off as one of Katherine's fellow executives. She uses her smarts to set up a big business deal, but will she be able to pull it off before Katherine discovers the charade? Kevin Wade's script offers no surprises, so Working Girl relies heavily on Griffith, Ford, and Weaver. Fortunately, they deliver whatever is required: Griffith's plucky heroine is vulnerable yet tough; Ford provides a charming romantic foil; and Weaver delivers a deliciously funny performance as the film's villain. Director Mike Nichols makes fine use of the New York City locations. However, his inclusion of three brief nude scenes (including two of Griffith) seems unwarranted in a film about female empowerment. Carly Simon's song "Let the River Run" earned Working Girl its only Oscar despite those six nominations. (Personally, I think a more deserving Carly Simon song was "Coming Around Again" from Mike Nichols' 1986 movie Heartburn.) 

Paul Newman as Frank Galvin.
The Verdict (1982). Paul Newman earned the seventh of his nine Best Actor Oscar nominations as Frank Galvin, an alcoholic, washed-up Boston lawyer. When a friend tosses a medical malpractice case his way, Galvin chooses not to settle it out of court. Instead, he ignores his clients' wishes and takes the case to trial. The reasons for his decision are unclear. Has Frank rediscovered his passion for law? Is he trying to prove to himself that he can still be a successful attorney? Is he solely concerned with justice for the comatose victim? David Mamet provides no clear answers. In his original draft of the screenplay, the verdict was never even revealed (the movie does include it). While I admire Mamet's intent, I find the The Verdict to be ambitious without being fully successful. There's a twist involving Charlotte Rampling's character that's obvious from the moment she is introduced. James Mason, a fine actor, struggles to find any nuance in his high-powered defense attorney who will do anything to win. On the plus side, Paul Newman breathes life into Galvin and convinces the audience to root for this self-pitying attorney--who may or may not have found his self-respect at the film's conclusion. I know many fans of The Verdict and I encourage them to make their case in the comments below or on Twitter (I'm @classic_film). I have made my final summation.

Sunday, December 31, 2023

Top Ten Posts of 2023

A canine friend visits the Classic Film & TV Cafe.
As the year draws to a close, the Classic Film & TV Café traditionally ends it with a countdown of our ten most viewed posts. Naturally, the countdown is a little skewed, since those posts that came out at the start of the year typically have more views. But that won't stop us...we love year-end lists!

We included only posts that were originally published during 2023. We also omitted our monthly quizzes. To build a little suspense, we'll begin at No. 10 and work our way to No. 1.

But before we get started, we want to thank each of you who visited this blog this year and send some extra love to those who took the time to leave comments.

10. Cornel Wilde's No Blade of Grass.

9. Of Vampire Bats and Manitous!

8. A Study in Terror and The Detective.

7. Lon Chaney, Jr. Makes a Strange Confession.

6. Seven Things to Know About The Jimmy Stewart Show.

5. Seven Classic Made-for-TV Movies...that you can watch for free!

4. Rod Serling Saddles the Wind.

3. Seven Things to Know About Walt Disney's Zorro TV Series,

2. The Deadly Affair and Harper.

1. John Wayne in Hondo 3D!

Monday, December 18, 2023

The Laughing Policeman and Warning Shot

The Laughing Policeman (1973). Walter Matthau starred in two of the finest crime dramas of the 1970s: Charley Varrick (1973) and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974). Sandwiched between those classics, he made The Laughing Policeman, a solid crime picture steeped in urban grittiness. Matthau plays Jake Martin, a San Francisco police detective investigating the brutal murders of a bus driver and his passengers. The case becomes personal quickly when one of the victims turns out to be Jake's partner, who was looking into one of Jake’s old unsolved cases on his own. While the police department mounts a large scale effort to find the killer, Jake follows his own leads--while also dealing with his meddling new partner Larsen (Bruce Dern). The Laughing Policeman differs from most Matthau movies in that its protagonist is something of an enigma. He ignores his wife and teenage son, sleeps in a separate room in his home, and has no close friends at work. He wasn't even close to his dead partner. He definitely doesn't want a bigoted, violent, loud-mouthed new partner--but his evolving relationship with Larsen is the best part of The Laughing Policeman. Bruce Dern injects life into every frame and counterbalances Matthau's low-key performance. Director Stuart Rosenberg, perhaps best known for Cool Hand Luke, effectively contrasts the colorful neon lights of the city with its dour underside. The Laughing Policeman was based on a 1968 Swedish novel written by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. It was one of ten books featuring detective police detective Martin Beck, who was renamed for the film adaptation. 

Warning Shot 
(1967).
Released during the final season of The Fugitive, Warning Shot features David Jansen as L.A. police detective Tom Valens, who kills a burglar in self-defense outside an apartment complex. The problem is that the “thief” was actually a prominent physician and no one can find the gun that Valens claims he saw. When a politically ambitious D.A. charges Valens with manslaughter, the veteran detective sets out to clear his name. Although released theatrically, Warning Shot looks and feels like an above-average made-for-TV movie. Many of the supporting players were working mostly in television at the time. Some of their appearances amount to little more than cameos, such as Walter Pidgeon as a lawyer, Eleanor Parker as the victim’s non-grieving widow, and Joan Collins as Valens’ estranged wife. Janssen is fine as the world-weary detective, but it's the kind of the role he played often in his career. George Grizzard nearly steals the film as a self-proclaimed ladies man who may be involved in shady dealings and Stefanie Powers has some good scenes with Janssen. At its best, Warning Shot has a late 1960s L.A. vibe reminiscent of Harper. It's reasonably engrossing, but the cast is the best reason to see it. 

Monday, December 11, 2023

Tubi or Not Tubi?

It's never been a better time to watch classic movies--even if you don't have TCM.

I know classic film buffs who still bemoan the demise of FilmStruck, TCM's streaming service, which folded in 2018 after two brief years. I was equally sad to see the Warner Archive Instant streaming service be discontinued, as it offered classic TV shows as well as movies. Fortunately, if you want to pay for a subscription service, there's still The Criterion Channel, though I think it's pricey ($99.99 annually in 2023) for what you get.

The fact is there are plenty of free options. I always encourage classic movie fans to scour YouTube and the Internet Archive for their favorites. You never know what someone has uploaded--or how long it will be there before it's removed. My Twitter pal @CED_LD_Guy still has an eclectic collection of movies that you can watch for free on his Rumble channels (Rumble is a YouTube-like streaming service).

If you don't mind occasional commercials, then I recommend you check out Tubi. It was launched in 2014 and bought by the Fox Corporation in 2020. You can access Tubi online, through a smart TV, or through an app on a streaming device like a Roku. You don't have to register for a free account to watch Tubi content. However, you may want to do so if you watch your movies on multiple devices, as Tubi will save your place if you stop watching a film on one device and want to finish it later on another.

Gregory Peck in one of Tubi's offerings.
I'm not to going to review everything on Tubi. It offers "live" TV channels, sports, news, documentaries, programs from networks like Lifetime, original movies, and much more. My interest lies solely with the on-demand movies and, to my delight, Tubi offers a decent selection of pre-1990 titles. I find that the quickest way to view what's available is to browse the website on my computer or tablet. Under Genres, there's a link to a "Classics" collection that currently includes movies such as:

12 Angry Men
2001: A Space Odyssey
Bell, Book and Candle
The Big Country
The Bells of St. Mary's
Big Jake
Exodus
The Gallant Hours
The Great Escape
In the Heat of the Night
The Mysterious Island
Notorious
Rio Lobo

If you're willing to dig around using the "search" function, you can find many more classic movies, such as:

The Alamo
Arrowsmith
Baby, the Rain Must Fall
Birdman of Alcatraz
The Bishop's Wife
Death on the Nile (1978)
The Devil at 4 O'Clock
5 Against the House
Fools' Parade
The Great Train Robbery
A Hole in the Head
In the Wake of Bounty (Errol Flynn's first film)
Inherit the Wind (1960)
It Should Happen to You
Judgment at Nuremberg
Lady of Burlesque
The Last Hurrah
The Magnificent Seven (1960)
The Manchurian Candidate
On Golden Pond
Paths of Glory
Phffft!
Separate Tables
Vera Cruz
Walk on the Wild Side
The War Lover
Witness to Murder

Bad mother Angela Lansbury.
What's the catch, you ask? Well, there are those pesky commercials, which can pop up at any time during the movie--even in the middle of an emotional scene. For the most part, the commercials seem to be shorter compared to other commercial-supported streaming services like FreeVee and Cracker. Some last as little as ten seconds and I don't recall one being longer than thirty seconds. The number of commercials during a break can range from one to seven. I've watched three movies on Tubi during the last week and had to endure only three total breaks with more than five commercials in a row.

The only other caveat is the quality of the prints. Most of the movies I've watched on Tubi have looked very good, but there were some exceptions. I was enthused about watching the big screen soap Where Love Has Gone, but gave up on it because the visual quality was poor. (It was like watching a movie without my glasses--I could see the image, but it looked out of focus.)

New movies are added and current ones dropped from time to time. That doesn't happen as often with the older film titles, but it's still something to remember. When a movie is about to be dropped, Tubi will let you know how much longer it will be there. I recently finished Executive Decision with Kurt Russell one day before it disappeared from Tubi!

Do I recommend Tubi? Definitely. It has a decent selection of classic movies, the commercials aren't obnoxious, the print quality is usually acceptable, and it's free. Let me repeat the last point there: It's free!

Monday, November 27, 2023

The V.I.P.s and The Fog

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.
The V.I.P.s
(1963).  A fogged-in London airport provides the setting—and serves as the catalyst—in playwright Terence Rattigan’s The V.I.P.s. This collage of mini-dramas shares the same structure as films such as Grand Hotel and Rattigan’s own Separate Tables. The principal characters include: an emotionally-withdrawn tycoon (Richard Burton); his ignored wife (Elizabeth Taylor), who plans to leave him; her lover (Louis Jourdan); a businessman (Rod Taylor) fighting a hostile takeover of his company; his secretary (Maggie Smith) who secretly loves him; an elderly, financially-strapped dowager (Margaret Rutherford); and a blustery filmmaker (Orson Welles), who stands to pay a hefty tax bill if he can’t leave the country by midnight. As expected, some subplots are engrossing (Rod Taylor’s dilemma), while others are filler (the plight of Welles’ filmmaker). The standout performances come from Richard Burton and Maggie Smith. Burton’s initially one-dimensional character gains depth as the film progresses, while Maggie Smith shines brightly from start to finish. A scene between Burton and Smith toward the end is a master class in acting. Dame Margaret Rutherford won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar as the befuddled dowager. She’s good, delivering a more reserved portrayal than usual. However, I would have given that award to the luminous Maggie Smith. 

Adrienne Barbeau in the lighthouse.
The Fog
(1980). In his theatrical follow-up to Halloween (1978), John Carpenter opts to create a different kind of horror film with a supernatural tale set in an atmospheric Northern California coastal community. The premise is set up with a nifty recounting of a local story in which a clipper ship’s crew of six died in a crash against the rocks after mistaking a campfire for the lighthouse on a foggy night. A hundred year later, as Antonio Bay prepares to celebrate its centennial, a glowing fog engulfs the town—and brings forth the vengeful ghosts of the ship’s crew. But why are the murderous spirits seeking the lives of six town residents? The answer is somewhat interesting, but therein lies the problem with The Fog. It’s a middle-of-the-road effort that rarely lives up to its potential. The ghosts aren’t frightening, the characters lack interest, and Carpenter fails to generate adequate suspense (a surprise coming on the heels of his superbly-crafted Halloween). The cast—which includes real-life mother and daughter Janet Leigh and Jamie Lee Curtis—is game, but just doesn’t have enough quality material. One suspects Carpenter recognized these flaws as he shot additional footage after viewing the rough cut. The director certainly rebounded, with his next two movies, Escape from New York (1981) and The Thing (1982), ranking among his best.

Monday, November 13, 2023

The Movie Quote Game (John Ford Edition)

This month, we're focusing on quotes from John Ford films. We will list a quote from one of his movies 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. "Everything I ever learnt as a small boy came from my father, and I never found anything he ever told me to be wrong or worthless. The simple lessons he taught me are as sharp and clear in my mind as if I had heard them only yesterday."

2. "A fine soft day in the spring, it was, when the train pulled into Castletown, three hours late as usual, and himself got off."

3. "I know those law books mean a lot to you, but not out here. Out here a man settles his own problems."

4. "Seems like the government's got more interest in a dead man than a live one."

5. "Well, I guess you can't break out of prison and into society in the same week."

6. "Oh, Uncle Guns, please don't fight, don't spoil our party."

7. "I don't believe in surrenders. Nope, I've still got my saber, Reverend. Didn't beat it into no plowshare, neither."

8. "The fact that the city is no longer yours. It's ours. You have this musty shrine to your bluenose ancestors, but my people have the City Hall and that's what sticks in your craw."

9. "That appendix of yours certainly gets around, Reber. Now it's on the wrong side. Two aspirin, marked for duty. Next."

10. "Gentlemen, I did not seek this command, but since it's been assigned me, I intend to make this regiment the finest on the frontier."

11. "I've heard a lot about you, too, Doc. You left your mark around in Deadwood, Denver and places. In fact, a man could almost follow your trail goin' from graveyard to graveyard."

12. "The only lions I ever want to see again are the two in front of the public library."

13. "And now the British think I'm with the Irish, and the Irish think I'm with the British."

14. "Even a dog can go where he likes... but not a Cheyenne."

15. "Private Winkie it is. A full-fledged soldier of the Queen!"