July 2008

Things have been totally insane lately. Rest assured, we’re all working hard to get things back on track again.

To start that whole “getting on track” thing off, let’s talk about some of the more obscure films showing during TCM’s glorious Summer Under the Stars.

Charles ChaplinAug. 2
Lots of good, little seen Chaplin shorts playing all day long. The Knockout, Sunnyside, and The Idle Class, among others. It always wonderful to see the master, especially in his earlier films.

Marie DresslerAug. 4
It’s wonderful that there’s a whole day devoted to this rather underrated star. Tillie’s Punctured Romance is a great early silent comedy, with Chaplin playing a bad guy. The Divine Lady is an excellent historical romance. Let Us Be Gay is an interesting pre-code with one of Norma Shearer’s best performances. Emma is one of Clarence Brown’s best pre-codes, with a good performance from Myrna Loy.

Claude RainsAug. 5
Rains is definitely one of the greatest character actors ever. Gold Is Where You Find It is an extremely entertaining film from Michael Curtiz. Four Daughters is a really unique film for the 1930s, with outstanding performances from the entire cast, especially Rains, Priscilla Lane, and John Garfield. The Lady With Red Hair is a pretty good movie, based on a true story, with an INCREDIBLE performance from Miriam Hopkins.

Greta GarboAug. 7
I actually saw most of Garbo’s films for the first time during a Summer Under the Stars years and years ago. That time they played mostly her well known films. This time they’re spicing it up with a lot of her lesser knowns. Of course, they’re still playing greats like Camille, Anna Karenina, and Flesh and the Devil, but they’re giving love to some more obscure ones. The Temptress is bizarre and extremely sexy. The Mysterious Lady is better than the similar Mata Hari. A very exciting, atmospheric, and sensual film. Garbo has wonderful chemistry with Conrad Nagel. A Woman of Affairs is definitely one of Garbo’s best performances, and pairings with Jack Gilbert. The Kiss is shot in a very interesting way. Again, Garbo and Nagel are great together.

Fred MacMurrayAug. 9
MacMurray is mostly known for Double Indemnity, but he did a lot of different types of movies. The comedy Too Many Husbands is excellent, and Jean Arthur is, as always, adorable.

Richard WidmarkAug. 11
I’ll just say you might want to watch everything you can. Because there may or may not be a Richard Widmark podcast coming up in the near future.

Kim NovakAug. 12
Phfft! and The Notorious Landlady…. well…. I just think everything with Jack Lemmon in it should be seen.

Greer GarsonAug. 14
Garson was such a dignified, lovely actress. That Forsyte Woman and Valley of Decision are both excellent, sweeping, romantic films.

Rita HayworthAug. 15
They’re showing a lot of Hayworth’s earlier films, the great musicals. Hayworth was one of Astaire’s very best partners, and it shows in the hilarious You’ll Never Get Rich. She also shines in a supporting role in the romance Affectionately Yours.

Fred AstaireAug. 16
There’s no such thing as a truly bad Astaire film, so everything on is worth watching. Flying Down to Rio is his first film with Ginger. Carefree is a hilarious film, and Ginger shines fantastically. Roberta is my personal favorite of the Astaire/Rogers films. Follow the Fleet is so much fun, and packed with awesome dances.

Gene KellyAug. 17
Kelly and Rita Hayworth are great in Cover Girl, one of the best musicals ever made.

Barbara StanwyckAug 19
This might be the best day of the whole month. Instead of playing a bunch of well known favorites, they’re going all out and playing so much obscure stuff. Illicit is a wonderful pre-code about a trial marriage. Night Nurse is simply one of the best and craziest pre-codes. Forbidden is beautiful, one of Capra’s very, very best. Shopworn is adorable. Baby Face is sexy, smart, and amazing. You Belong to Meis worth watching for Stanwyck/Fonda.

Edward G. Robinson – Aug. 20
Kid Galahad is a great boxing movie. I love EG Robinson and Bette Davis together.

Henry FondaAug. 24
Oh, Henry Fonda…… Let Us Live is a really interesting crime film. I Dream Too Much is a fun little love story.

Ingrid BergmanAug. 25
Rage In Heaven is a really interesting thriller. Robert Montgomery and George Sanders on the same screen is a piece of beauty. Intermezzo: A Love Story was Bergman’s first film in Hollywood, and it’s a lovely romance.

Tony CurtisAug. 27
Curtis has a small role in it, but Paris When It Sizzles is a great, totally insane, creative, and hilarious romance.

Spencer TracyAug. 31
This is the most important day of the month. Why? Because they are FINALLY showing Man’s Castle!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Year: 1950

Director: RIchard Fleischer

Cast: Charles McGraw, William Talman, Adele Rogers

Director Richard Fleischer had a paranoid career as a moviemaker. There was the Richard Fleischer who made all those overblown big studio special effect abominations like “Dr. Doolittle,” “Amityville 3_D,” “The Jazz Singer,” and “Fantastic Voyage.” Then there was the Richard Fleischer who made some of the tightest nifty crime thrillers ever like “The Boston Strangler,” “10 Rillington Street,” “Follow Me, Quietly,” “The Narrow Margin,” “The Clay Pigeon” and “Armored Car Robbery.” Fleischer was no auteur but did a solid craftsman like job. Over the course of his career his output was always erratic and in his later years films like “The Don is Dead” was generally poorly received and of deteriorating quality.

“Armored Car Robbery” is a sharp little “B” thriller that starts at a fast pace and does not let up. Dave Purvis (William Talman) is the brains behind an armored car heist that goes wrong. The plan is to rob an armored truck in front of Wrigley Field in Los Angles however; things go wrong when the cops arrive quicker than anticipated. Bullets fly and the chase to capture the criminals is on. Charles McGraw stars as Lt. Jim Cordell who loses his partner in the shoot-out and is stopping at nothing to get the killers. Purvis and his gang of three escape but one them Benny McBride (Douglas Fowley) is wounded. Benny needs the money to support his stripper wife, Yvonne (Adele Jergens) and her expensive taste. Unknown to Benny, Purvis and Yvonne are sleeping together and planning to get rid him in the process. Things continue to go wrong for Purvis and his gang, “Ace” Foster (Gene Evans) takes off, and Al Mapes (Steve Brodie) is captured by Cordell and squeals on Purvis who up until then was the only unknown to the police of the four men involved.

Charles McGraw, the man with the gravel voice, is perfect as the tough weary and determined Lt. Jim Cordell, a precursor to his role in Fleischer’s film noir gem “The Narrow Margin” a few years later. McGraw was a fixture in crime films including “Border Incident,” “T-Men,” “The Killers” and the previously mentioned “The Narrow Margin.” William Tatam makes a terrific sleazy criminal as Dave Purvis, the mastermind of the botched robbery who’s overly precautious personality makes him continually changes his address and cuts all the labels from his clothes. Talman became better known later on in TV for his role as District Attorney Hamilton Burger who always lost his case in “Perry Mason.” Adele Jergens strikes the right cord as Yvonne the sluttish money hungry stripper wife. Jergens career lasted through 1956, though mostly in small roles and some T.V.

“Armored Car Robbery” is a nice little heist film, one of the first, in what would soon become a sub-genre of the crime film. A stripped down forerunner of later heist films such as “The Asphalt Jungle,” “The Killing,” and more recently “The Bank Job”. You get some nice views of 1950’s L.A. with much of the filming on location on the streets of Los Angeles including minor league ballpark, Wrigley Field. This contributes to the gritty and documentary feel of the film. It makes you wonder why so many films today cannot accomplish in two and a half hours, what they do here in less than 70 minutes.

The wonderful Rosalind Russell is TCM’s Star of the Month for July, and I love her so much I thought it would be nice to do a little write up for her.

Where to begin? She was simply one of the most talented actresses of the era. From comedy to drama, she was just fantastic. She really broke out in the late 1930s/early 1940s with roles in films like The Women and His Girl Friday. But she started working in the early 1930s, playing dramatic supporting characters. Many of her early roles were actually quiet, lady-like roles. And she was very good in them. Reckless, China Seas, Forsaking All Others. They aren’t big roles, but she’s completely convincing in all of them, and it’s interesting to watch these roles against her more famous ones.

Her famous flair is noticeable in other films made before her “breakout roles”. She’s goofy and wonderful opposite William Powell in Rendezvous. She shows great dramatic skill in Night Must Fall. She’s hilarious and wonderful as detective Robert Montgomery’s wife in Fast and Loose. She even gives a great performance in the completely bizarre comedy/thriller Trouble for Two.

She shows her greatest comic flair of her early films in Four’s a Crowd, an insane screwball romance. It’s about as close as you’ll get to something like His Girl Friday in her early films – and, I think, just as good.

Starring: Joel McCrea, Sylvia Sidney, Humphrey Bogart, Claire Trevor, Wendy Barrie, the Dead End Kids

Director: William Wyler

Year: 1937

I’d seen Dead End a number of times, but it had been a couple of years since I had last seen it. I don’t know if I had just forgotten what an incredible movie it is, or if I’d never realized quite how amazing it was, but rewatching it again made me realize what a little masterpiece this film is. It did well at the time of its release, received an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, but it hardly remembered today. It’s depiction of slum life in the 1930s might seem a little distant for some film goers to really latch on to, but anybody with a decent understanding of the time and the films of the era should really “get” this film, and feel it right down to their bones.

The film takes place in a slum along the East River in New York, where the wealthy have decided to set up shop as well. Drina (Sidney) is on strike, trying to get the money she feels is owed to her so she can take her brother Tommy (Dead End Kid Billy Hallop) out of the neighborhood. She’s in love with childhood friend Dave (McCrea) who has a budding romance with rich girl Kay (Barrie). Baby Face Martin (Bogart), a childhood friend of Dave’s, is back in the neighborhood to find his mother and his old girlfriend Francie (Trevor).

There are several films from this era that deal with the struggle between the rich and the poor, especially during the Depression, but I don’t think I’ve seen a film do it so blatantly and so honestly as Dead End. The rich look down on the tenements from their big, beautiful building. They sit on their terraces, observing the poor, with the kids from the slums swim in the river. This divide is shown both harshly, when Tommy and his gang get into trouble for beating up a rich boy, and romantically, in the love triangle between Drina, Dave, and Kay. What it shows mostly, for all the characters, is how they dream of being more than just a child of the slums, and how the other world is just slightly out of their reach, both literally and figuratively.

The gentlemen give fine performances. McCrea is one of my favorite stars of the 1930s and 1940s. I don’t think anyone could play the good guy like he could. And Bogart is great as the charismatic bad guy. We find fault with his lifestyle, but can’t help to feel sorry for him when things don’t turn out at all as he imagines. And, as usual, I just loved the Dead End Kids. I don’t know exactly what it is about them, perhaps its the friendship between them, or just the fact that in older films we usually see precocious cuties, not accurate depictions of children living it rough.

But I have to say, it’s the women who steal the show. Sylvia Sidney, an almost impossibly beautiful woman, almost completely carries parts of the movie. Her love for Tommy is honest, her longtime love for Dave is pure. And more than anything, her desire to take her brother away is deep and beautiful. There’s an incredible scene where she describes to Dave a fantasy she has of meeting a rich man. The look on her face as she delivers it is brutal. And Claire Trevor…. boy, I can’t believe more people aren’t familiar with her. With one scene she received a much deserved Academy Award nomination. She’s the complete embodiment of broken dreams and a crushed future. Even Wendy Barrie, who I’m not that incredibly fond of, does a good job of playing the wealthy woman, who remains sympathetic even as she runs from a tenement in disgust.

Another strength of the film is its set design. It’s rare for classic films to take place almost entirely outside. And, when films do venture outside, it usually looks incredibly fake. Dead End creates a very real, vibrant world for these characters to live in. The slum is almost as much a character as any of the living, breathing people on the screen. And it’s a part of each character.

Dead End is simply one of the best films of the 1930s. There’s no other way to say it. It’s just a masterpiece.

So I bet some of you have been wondering what is up with the total lack of updates recently. They can be explained with one simple sentence: I’m a moron.

My internet wasn’t work for several days. I called Verizon, they tell me it doesn’t look like anything’s wrong, but that they’ll give my system a “reset”. That does nothing. I spend several days getting really pissed off. Unplugging the modem. Unplugging the computer. Nothing is working.

This goes on for DAYS. Finally, I take a look at the back of the router.

That’s right, folks. The phone line was unplugged from the router.

I’m officially an idiot.

So I’m going to try to stuff this place full of updates for the next few days to make up for my stupidity. The podcast will, without a doubt, be recorded next Sunday. Depending on how early we finish recording, it will either be up on Sunday night or Monday morning.

Just a note to let you guys know that the podcast is being pushed back yet again. Greg and I got really swamped, and we want to make sure we’ve watched and rewatched a lot of movies so our lists are as good as they can possibly be. So we’ve pushed it back for probably at least another week. So that means you’ve got that much more time to fill out a survey.

Year: 1958

Director: Don Siegel

Cast: Eli Wallach, Robert Keith, Richard Jaeckel

Before moving on to the “A” list and making classic actions films like, Charley Varrick, Madigan, and being a mentor to a fledging director named Clint Eastwood, Don Siegel was a “B” film director. He made classic “B” films like Riot in Cell Block 11, Baby Face Nelson, The Killers, and a little science fiction classic called Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The Lineup fits neatly into the “B” category. Based on a TV series that ran for six years back in the 1950’s The Lineup is an action packed thriller. The TV show, like the movie, was filmed on the streets of San Francisco and was a precursor to latter San Francisco cop shows like The Streets of San Francisco. The show starred Warren Anderson as Detective Ben Guthrie and Marshall Reed as Inspector Fred Asher, both, recreating their roles in the movie, though Reed’s role is small in the movie. According to his autobiography, “A Siegel Film” he also directed the pilot for the TV show.

A porter tosses a disembarking ship passenger’s luggage through the open window of a waiting taxi. The taxi quickly speeds of f along the San Francisco docks crashing into a truck before hitting a police officer. Before dying, the cop shoots the cab driver. All this happens before the opening credits role in this early Don Siegel action thriller. After the credits finish, two police inspectors Ben Guthrie (Warren Anderson) and Al Quine (Emile Meyer) arrive to investigate the scene. They find a gun and a syringe lying next to the dead body. The police confiscate the stolen luggage and back at the station, find a hollow Chinese sculpture stuffed with a bag of pure heroin. The police conclude the local mob is using innocent unsuspecting businessmen and tourists to smuggle heroin into the country.

To ensure safe delivery of the remaining smuggled drugs, the mob brings in Dancer (Eli Wallach), a psychotic crazed killer, and his partner and mentor, Julian (Robert Keith) from Miami, to retrieve the remaining three heroin packages. The first two jobs go smoothly, at least for Dancer, though not so well for the two carriers. The third pickup turns out to be more of a problem. It involves a mother and a young daughter who have come to San Francisco in hopes of reconciling with their husband/father. The package of heroin is hidden inside a Chinese doll the young girl’s mother purchased for her in Hong Kong. While on the ship, the little girl found the package and used it to powder the doll’s face. By the time they were stateside the heroin was all gone. Dancer, ever trigger-happy is ready to shoot the two however Julian, the more level headed of the two, explains that their employer may not understand or believe what has really happened here. He may think they are trying to cheat him and subsequently he and Dancer could become the hunted instead of the hunters. They decide to forcible bring the mother and child to “The Man” to help them explain what happened. They meet at an ice skating rink, which was originally the location for the final drop off for the exchange of heroin and money. Unfortunately, The Man does not understand. Wheelchair bound, he sits there as Dancer explains what happened. Finally, he says, “You’re dead.” Dancer continues trying to explain but “The Man” tells him “No one has ever seen me. You’re dead!” Enraged, out of control Dancer pushes the wheelchair bound drug lord off the balcony of the ice skating rink plunging to his death…on ice, a scene reminiscent of “Kiss of Death with Richard Widmark. In the meantime, the police have been following Dancer’s deadly trail and slowly have been closing in on him and Julian. The film ends with an exciting car chase through the streets and highways of San Francisco cumulating a thrilling and deadly finish.

Siegel moves smoothly back and forth between the police investigation scenes and the criminals. The police scenes are standard 1950’s TV fare, flatly filmed and rather dull. The two police inspectors seem a little too old for the job and very Jack Webb like in their roles. Much better and holding up well are the crime scenes where most of the action is. Credit this to Siegel who started out doing montage sequences at Warner Brothers. Acting honors go to Eli Wallach, Robert Keith and Richard Jaeckel who are all very good in their roles as Dancer, Julian, who seems to have a disdain for women, and MacLain, their professional getaway driver, with a drinking problem, who in the end is the reason they get trapped. However, it is Wallach who is the stand out as Dancer, an unrefined, short-tempered psychopathic killer. The Lineup was only his second film. He first appeared as the Italian husband in the Elia Kazan/Tennessee Williams film Baby Doll. Wallach would go on to have a great career and today is best remembered for his roles as Calvera the Mexican bandit in The Magnificent Seven and Tuco in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

Shot on location, historic scenes of San Francisco are plentiful. Siegel would return to San Francisco some thirteen years or so later with a little film called Dirty Harry. Though many of his films are or have been available on home video, some important ones remain unavailable. Baby Face Nelson, Riot in Cell Block 11, Crime in the Streets are among some of his best and among the missing in the home video market. Writer Stirling Silliphant, best known for The Poseidon Adventure, In the Heat of the Night and The Towering Inferno, wrote the screenplay.

The Man in Possession (1931) and Personal Property (1937)

The Story: Raymond Dabney returns to his family after serving a prison term. His adoring mother welcomes him back with open arms, but his uptight father and brother Claude want to pay him to leave town. Raymond refuses the insulting offer and stumbles into a job working for the sheriff as a man in possession, assigned to the home of socialite Crystal Weatherby. Crystal is formerly wealthy, but has fallen on hard times after the death of her husband and cannot pay her bills, so Raymond must stay at her house and make sure she doesn’t try to sell any of her possessions. Crystal, meanwhile, is attempting to marry a rich man who can take care of her problems.

The fundamental difference between these films comes down to the times in which they were made. Six years may not seem like that much of a difference, but in terms of filmmaking it’s an enormous difference. The Man In Possession was made in the middle of the pre-code era, when a story about a morally questionable man staying alone in a big house with a sexy socialite could flourish. In 1937, the production code was being strictly enforced, and so many possibilities for this story are simply not allowed.

The Man In Possession….. Directed by Sam Wood
Robert Montgomery, Charlotte Greenwood, Irene Purcell, C.Aubrey Smith, Reginald Denny, Alan Mowbry

Robert Montgomery is cast as Raymond, and there’s nobody who could have played the role better. He was the best actor of the era. He had a huge range, but he seemed to delight in playing these kinds of roles – sexually charged, morally questionable, but ultimately decent and incredibly romantic men. He rules the role with a special gleam in his eye. He’s sexy, he’s mischievous, and we can tell from the very beginning that no lady would stand a chance resisting him. He’s not at all intimidating, though. He’s charming, and as the film goes on he becomes more and more romantic.

Irene Purcell is his leading lady. Purcell was a stage actress, and she made less than 10 films (and only a few of note). But she’s really a delightful actress. She has a quality that makes her perfect for Crystal in a way no other actress could be. She doesn’t feel like a movie star, which makes her more believable and likeable as social climbing schemer. Actresses like Joan Crawford or Constance Bennett could have played the role, but not as convincingly as Purcell. Crystal is a really unique character. She’s classy in a way, but it’s a feigned class. Like Montgomery, there’s a little gleam in her eye. She’s just coarse enough to be his perfect match.

The Man In Possession uses its pre-code status to perfect advantage. Like I said before, it’s a story that’s tailor-made for the era. These two beautiful, mischievous people spending the night in a house alone together? How can that be anything else but a pre-code set up. Their chemistry alone in scenes where they’re simply verbally sparring almost seems indecent. And then there’s the sex. It’s some of the most blatant I’ve ever seen in classic film. Obviously, it’s not an explicit sex scene, but it’s more than implied with the two of them kissing, falling back on the couch, the light turning off, and Crystal sighing Raymond’s name. And then, if there was any doubt about what happened, the next morning the maid finds Crystal’s nightgown at the end of the bed. Ripped in half.

But beyond the pre-code goodness, it’s just a great romance because of the chemistry between Montgomery and Purcell. They don’t just have sexual chemistry. They fell like two souls who are perfectly matched. It’s more than sex. It’s completely believable that in the span of one night together the two have fallen completely in love. That’s why the film works so well. It’s more than just a fun sex romp. It’s a wonderful love story.

Personal Property
……. Directed by WS Van Dyke
Jean Harlow, Robert Taylor, Reginald Owen, Una O’Conner

Robert Taylor doesn’t really fit into the role of Raymond. He’s incredibly handsome, and he has a certain sex appeal to him, but not really the kind that the character needs. Try as he might, Taylor never seems like he can really be a bad boy criminal, at least not in this point in his career. In the 1940s, he created a fantastic gangster in Johnny Eager, but obviously in 1937 his talent hadn’t really evolved past the handsome good guy leading man roles. He never pulls off the mischievousness that is the main characteristic of Raymond. Nor does he really pull of that raw sexuality that initially draws Crystal to him in the first place.

I adore Jean Harlow, but she isn’t right for the role of Crystal either. Harlow was a wonderful actress with a huge range, and it seems like she should be able to play Crystal, perhaps as a lighter version of her Dinner at Eight character. But somehow in this film she doesn’t find the proper balance that the character needs between crass gold digger and romantic heroine. Most of the time she simply comes off as too unlikable and completely without class. It’s such an odd performance, because Harlow was one of the sexiest, most charismatic actresses of her time, but here she is neither charismatic nor sexy.

Of course, the biggest flaw of Personal Property is that it’s not a pre-code film. It’s kind of baffling that anyone would think it was a good idea to make this story into a movie during enforcement, and it’s a little baffling that the Hays Office would even allow the story to be made. What results is one of the most ridiculously tame films that’s just huge film of untapped potential, and the whole thing just feels completely off.

Perhaps some of the film could have been saved had Taylor and Harlow had the chemistry to at least make this a decent love story. You’d think that two such beautiful people would have better chemistry, but there’s absolutely none there. It’s impossible to believe these two are even attracted to each other, much less falling in love with each other. It seems possible that they don’t even like each other. Personal Property doesn’t work as a sex romp, it doesn’t work as a romantic comedy. It doesn’t work at all.

By Katie Richardson

As promised in the podcast, here’s a list of sites online where you might be able to find some of Harlow’s films (and a whole bunch of other obscure classics)….

Amazon.com: Yes, obvious. Some great classics are available on DVD, but several that aren’t did receive commercial video releases in the 1990s, and you can get several great classics used on VHS for really great prices.

freemoviesondvd.com: A really wonderful site. It’s not exactly “free”. The films themselves are, you’re just paying for the shipping and packaging. It’s less than $10 a movie, and they have a HUGE library of some really great classics, and you get them on DVD-R. Most of the prints they have are really good condition, and they’re upfront about the ones that aren’t. And shipping is usually very prompt. I don’t think I’ve ever waited more than a few days for one of their movies to arrive.

Robert’s Hard to Find Videos: A little pricier than some places, but they have a lot of really rare movies you aren’t going to find anywhere else. They’re collection stretches beyond just classics as well. Some movies are available on VHS, some on DVD.

Box Office Greats: Not as extensive a collection as some other sites, but very reasonable prices, and they do have a few films I haven’t been able to find anywhere else. And as far as I know, they all come on DVD.

Old Time Entertainment: Not a huge collection, but a lot of really good titles. A good combination of obscure stuff, and better known films that just haven’t been released on DVD.

Hollywood’s Attic: Another site with a good combination of rare, obscure films and well known films without DVD releases.

Scooter Movie Shop: I just found this one recently, but they have a really, really great collection and the prices are really good.

The Timeless Theater: The don’t have a huge collection, but they do have some very good movies.