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 
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
The Gallant Hours
The Great Escape
In the Heat of the Night
The Mysterious Island
Rio Lobo

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

The Alamo
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
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!