Archive for March, 2012
Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel (2011). Great documentary on esteemed schlock movie producer Roger Corman. This wasn’t particularly revealing or deep, but it’s a fast-paced and enjoyable combo profile/career retrospective. DVD Talk review is here (I see it got a nice write-up in the new Entertainment Weekly, too).
Deadline at Dawn (1946) and Backfire (1950). These two films shared a disc on the Warner Bros. Film Noir Classics Vol. 5 set from a few years back. A crack RKO production, Deadline at Dawn has wide-eyed sailor Bill Williams and cynical dancing girl Susan Hayward tramping about third-shift Manhattan attempting to solve the murder of a woman with whom Williams shared a few badly-timed moments (not to mention a big wad of cash). The story is a little too out-there to be truly believable, but I found the film enjoyable enough. Hayward is excellent, and Williams was quite the cutie back then (some of his good looks were inherited by his son, William Katt). The Warner Bros. production Backfire also had a gritty appeal, although the film wasn’t nearly as engaging. This one concerns a hospitalized serviceman (hunky Gordon MacRae) who sees a vision of a mysterious dark-haired woman in the night. He convinces his nurse girlfriend Virginia Mayo that the woman has something to do with the unexplained disappearance of his best friend, Edmund O’Brien. The two decide to play amateur detectives and uncover a mess of underworld activity in the L.A. area, which eventually leads to O’Brien’s whereabouts. Nicely paced, attractively cast, and having that vintage W.B. style, but the film never really comes together in a satisfying whole.
Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971) and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972). Having never seen any of the older Planet of the Apes movies besides the original, I put these on the DVR when they showed up on ThisTV. I figured these two sequels were probably pretty cheesy anyhow, so what difference would a few commercial breaks and a pan-n-scan picture make? Escape was actually pretty fun, with the first film’s Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) and Zira (Kim Hunter) going through a time warp and winding up curiosities – and eventual media celebrities – in ’70s Los Angeles. A cheap production (it looks like a TV movie), but McDowall and Hunter contribute good performances underneath all that ape makeup and the silly story (with Zira getting pregnant and the U.S. Feds, fearful of an intelligent ape population, to hold them captive) has just enough intrigue to keep it watchable. Loved Jerry Goldsmith’s campy and delightfully dated score, too. Conquest returns the series to deadly-serious mode, with Cornelius and Zira’s grown son (also played by McDowall) coming to terms with a 1991 America in which the apes have replaced cats and dogs (who were eradicated by a virus) as humankind’s pets/servants. Heavy handed and boring.
No Man of Her Own (1950). An old favorite with Barbara Stanwyck as a destitute single mom who adopts another woman’s identity (in a story that seems to have foreshadowed every film produced by Lifetime Television). I was delighted to find that it’s getting a DVD reissue from Olive Films this month. My DVD Talk review is here.
Out of Sight (1998). You remember this one, right? One of the more acclaimed films of the ’90s concerned the pursuit/flirtation between George Clooney’s suave career criminal and Jennifer Lopez’s tough U.S. Marshall. Although it’s overlong and doesn’t quite hang together sometimes, I found this as excellently written and cast as everybody said. I didn’t quite believe Clooney, but he was charming all the same. Lopez was shockingly good (whatever happened to her movie career, anyhow?). I also loved the supporting players – all of them! This is the kind of film that has talented actors occupying every little corner (including Viola Davis as the consort of one of the thugs Lopez is tailing). Director Stephen Soderbergh employs a fascinating flash back/forward technique here, establishing contrasting moods between the characters and the places they occupy – check out the differences between Miami and Detroit. The film has its share of padded-out scenes (like the Clooney/Lopez seduction), but overall it was successful.
The photos in this Flickr Saturday come courtesy of our new neighbor, Kendall. Since telling her about LitKids, she let me borrow some of these children’s books of yore from her library. These books date from about 1895-1920 and are great examples of the charming illustration/typography that was favored back then. They’re also fun to read – I’m currently checking out Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm on the Kindle and it’s a sweet story with an endearingly cute heroine. A sampling from the Olde Books Flickr set is below.
Dave Steed of Popdose has been doing a weekly exploration of vintage 1990s Bottom Feeders, songs that peaked at #41-100 in the Billboard Hot 100, for a couple of months now. Part 11, covering Brooks & Dunn through Tracy Byrd, has just been posted. Since I generally like most ’90s music except for the twangiest of Country and the most gangsta of Hip-Hop, there’s been a lot to enjoy. The neatest find so far has been this sly, Fugees-like cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody” by a female R&B duo known as The Braids. The single made it all the way to #42 in 1996 – so why is it so hard to believe I’d never heard of it until 2012?
Dick Tracy, Detective (1945) and Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome (1947). We didn’t really have anything to watch last Monday night, so we made a double feature out of these two b-movies RKO did in the ’40s starring Chester Gould’s hook-nosed police detective. Although they don’t get anywhere near capturing the jazzy/ghoulish flavor of the comic, both Detective and Meets Gruesome are workmanlike, occasionally fun b-mysteries. Detective, with Tracy tracking down the common thread amongst several murders of people from varying backgrounds, has the more intriguing story and better pacing of the two. Morgan Conway is bland beyond belief as Tracy, but I enjoyed the salty Tess Trueheart played by Anne Jeffreys. Meets Gruesome‘s more cartoonish plot concerns a smoke which rendered anyone who smells it immobile, which a gang of criminals form into a bomb to help them rob a bank. The investigation by intrepid Tracy, now embodied by the more capable Ralph Byrd (who originated the role in the 1930s serial edition Tracy – are you taking notes?), leads him to Boris Karloff’s menacing ex-con Gruesome. Karloff is a hoot, but the film suffers from glacial pacing and I couldn’t get past all the goofy character names (I.M. Learned – really?). Both of these public domain goodies were on the Mystery Classics 50 Movie DVD set.
Keaton Plus (2004 DVD). This was a DVD that I came across at the local library – it consists of odds and ends involving Buster Keaton that Kino didn’t put on the other discs containing the silent legend’s films and shorts. Exactly the kind of stuff we dig! Overall, the disc is inconsistent but fascinating. The best parts are the films and fragments from his peak, including the short Ten Girls Ago. There are also two shorts he did in the mid-’30s, which are fun but not nearly as inventive, a fragment of an unreleased 1962 comedy, vintage commercials, tributes, photos and more. Probably the most absorbing part has Keaton historian John Bengston outlining various Los Angeles and San Francisco locales Keaton used in his shorts, with now-and-then photos. Tributes from Orson Welles, Gloria Swanson and Lillian Gish offer a neat glimpse into how silent films were repackaged for TV in the ’60s and ’70s. Not everything on this disc is great, but we had a ball combing through it.
Stagecoach (1939). The other disc that I picked up at the library (we recently dumped Netflix streaming, so I’m looking for alternatives). As I previously noted, the local library has a few dozen Criterion DVDs (with booklets and everything) in their stacks. Stagecoach is one of those classic classics that I’ve mysteriously never gotten around to seeing before. Though I’m not normally a fan of Westerns or John Wayne, I found myself swept into this one. John Ford really had a gift for doing engaging characters who interact in a realistic way. Loved Thomas Mitchell and Donald Meek, but probably my fave was Claire Trevor as hooker-with-a-hear-o-gold Dallas. As an IMDb user aptly stated: “She was a very real, honest actress. I never get a sense of phoniness when Claire Trevor is on the screen. She gives a remarkable performance in Stagecoach.” The film seems to be anticlimactic after the expertly staged Apache ambush scene, and the score is overbearing and badly dated, but otherwise it was a terrific ensemble piece. I can’t get enough of John Wayne’s iconic first appearance, in which the camera zooms in, goes out of focus momentarly, then settles on Wayne blinking just after the focus comes back. That’s star quality! The Criterion DVD of Stagecoach also included a quaint but interesting early John Ford silent, Bucking Broadway from 1917.
Vintage video dept… a helpful YouTube user has uploaded two commercial breaks from a 1976 episode of Bozo’s Circus, the long-running kiddie show on Chicago’s WGN. Although I never saw this particular program, the commercials are a hoot and total blast of nostalgia. I was eight years old at the time, the perfect age for Lucky Charms cereal and that super-cool hovering Star Trek thingie (we had something similar, although I think it was a normal helicopter and not the U.S. Enterprise). The popcorn with oil and salt in a separate pouch also looks intriguing.
In this second commercial break, what stands out for me is the nice animation on the Cap’n Crunch commercial – a step up from the usual Hanna-Barbera fare of the time (do you recognize June Foray’s voice, too?). Although I remember the Magician Mickey toy, the build-it-yourself plastic straw kit wound up getting lost in the sands of time, for good reason. What a weird toy!
P.S. The title for this post comes from the affectionate nicknames that my grandmother gave my mom and aunt when they were young tykes. Totally appropos, for sure.