Friday, July 27, 2012

Kiss the Blood off My Hands (3 stars)

Kiss the Blood off My Hands, from 1948, is a film noir/drama starring Joan Fontaine and Burt Lancaster.  Featuring a terrific Miklos Rozsa score, this film is one I had never heard of until seeing someone post about it on The Golden Age of Hollywood (a fantastic classic film social network...HERE).

In the aftermath of the war, ex-POW Bill Saunders (Burt Lancaster), is struggling with anger and, most likely, PTSD.  While in a bar, he gets into a brawl, which leads to the death of the man he punched.  Determined not to be arrested and, thus, imprisoned again, Bill hightails it out of the bar, with the police giving chase.  To elude his pursuers, Bill enters a nearby apartment through an open window, and when the sleeping woman within (Jane Wharton, portrayed by Joan Fontaine) wakens, Bill manages to convince her that he did nothing wrong and that he is being wrongly pursued.  Although she allows him to spend the night in her apartment, Jane tells Bill that he needs to be gone by the time she returns from work the next day.

While Bill does leave Jane's apartment and finds lodging in a hotel, the two begin seeing each other.  Though things are going well between them, Bill's anger problem is never far from the surface, and upon lashing out at a cop, Bill is sent to trial and given a 6-month sentence.  After serving his time, Bill returns to Jane, who is willing to put in a good word for him at the medical institute where she works.  Though Bill wants to begin anew and to make good on the job Jane procured for him, a man who witnessed the barroom killing tracks him down and blackmails him into agreeing to allow his delivery truck of medicine to be hijacked and robbed.

Will Bill go through with the crime?  Will he come clean with Jane about his involvement in the killing?  Will their love survive?  Will Jane's trust in him remain?  These are the questions which will play out in this film.

Kiss the Blood off My Hands is an incredible-sounding film title, is it not?  With such a title, it gives incredibly high hopes for a 5-star Double Indemnity kind of film noir. Alas, the title is more exciting than the movie.  That's not to say, though, that it isn't interesting or exciting.  It is...just not to the extent that I had expected.  Still, though, it is very definitely worth a watch. I don't believe the film is out on DVD; however, it is available on YouTube (in parts), so if you are interested, you could catch it there.

Happy viewing!!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (3 stars)

One of the most solid leading men of the 1940's and 1950's, Dana Andrews was an actor who, sadly, never seemed to get the recognition and appreciation he deserved.  Classic Movie Man, however, is doing his small part to bring Mr. Andrews a bit of recognition---he is hosting the Dana Andrews blogathon on Saturday, July 28th.  As one who places Mr. Andrews firmly among her top 20 favorite actors, I am thrilled to take part in the event and to have the opportunity to bring one of this terrific actor's lesser-known films to the attention of others.  Please visit the Classic Movie Man's blog (HERE) to take part in this event yourself or to read the film reviews and thoughts of the other participants.

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, a 1956 Fritz Lang film, is a crime-drama starring Dana Andrews and Joan Fontaine.  Some sites classify this as film noir, but I think it's only mildly noir.  It's mostly crime/mystery.

The movie begins with the execution of a man who had been convicted solely on circumstantial evidence.  After witnessing the execution, newspaper publisher, Austin Spencer, an opponent of capital punishment, becomes quite concerned about the possibility of convicting and executing innocent men.  Together with his son-in-law to-be, reporter-turned-novelist, Tom Garrett (Dana Andrews), Spencer devises a scheme in which an innocent man will be arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to death, all based solely on circumstantial evidence.  Upon conviction, the scheme will be revealed, showing the prosecuting attorney, the court, and the entire public the danger of capital punishment.

After reading in the newspaper about the unsolved murder of burlesque dancer, Patti Gray, Spencer and Garrett's plan is put into action, with Garrett being the man who will be suspect.  The two men plant Tom's lighter (a gift from his fiance, Susan) at the scene of the crime; additionally, a lady's stocking is planted in his glove compartment, and traces of the kind of makeup Patti used are rubbed on the seats of his car.

After learning that the murdered woman was last seen with a man wearing a gray tweed coat and a top hat, Tom makes sure that is how he is seen.  He begins frequenting the club where Patti worked, coming on to one of her fellow dancers, and eventually, as hoped, that woman begins to suspect that Tom was the man she saw Patti with the night of her murder.  The police are called in, and Tom is arrested and sent to trial.

Upon Tom's conviction, Austin is supposed to reveal the truth, which had been completely documented with photographs of every bit of evidence the men planted.  However, things don't work out as planned, but I won't say more than that so as not to give away anymore of the story.  I will say that there is a totally major twist, which I never saw coming.

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt is a very interesting, exciting film, and up until the very end, I was going to give it 4 stars.  However, in the end, I decided to go with 3 stars (more like 3.5), as I thought the final few minutes were a bit of a letdown.  I think it was just wrapped up too quickly; there could have been a bit more depth.  Even though I was disappointed in the strength of the ending, though, I definitely enjoyed this film and fully intend to watch it again sometime.  Though Joan Fontaine gets second billing, as Andrews' fiance, she has almost nothing to do.  She is hardly more than a beautiful face in a couple of scenes.

The film is out on DVD, plus it is on the TCM schedule for Monday, October 22nd, at 4:45 p.m. (ET).  Try to catch it if you can.  Dana Andrews is always worth watching!

Happy viewing!!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

More of James Cagney's Words

Here are just a few more great passages from James Cagney's wonderful autobiography, Cagney by Cagney.  

About the final scene of Angels with Dirty Faces:

"Through the years I have actually had little kids come up to me on the street and ask, "Didya do it for the father, huh?"  I think in looking at the film it is virtually impossible to say which course Rocky took---which is just the way I wanted it.  I played it with deliberate ambiguity so that the spectator can take his choice.  It seems to me it works out fine in either case.  You have to decide."

About his wife, whom he called Bill:

"I went from chorus boy to specialty dancer---and in the show I met the great girl who became my wife.  I can't conceive of how lucky a guy can get, but this lady and I just celebrated our fifty-fourth wedding anniversary the other day, and it's been joy all the way."  (My take---in Hollywood, where most marriages were filled with unfaithfulness or ended in divorce, Mr. Cagney is one of the brilliant exceptions.  He was a faithful husband to one woman for over sixty years.  You gotta love that!)

About comedies:

"Mister Roberts is the kind of thing I enjoy doing best in the non-musical field, drama with comic overtones.  Comedies as such have never appealed to me particularly.  I have always thought a story with opportunities to drop in some fun was a lot better than trying to be funny for two solid hours."  (My take---most of my blog readers know I don't care much for comedy.  Far and away, I prefer drama---high drama; however, drama with occasional comic relief---the kind Mr. Cagney likes---works for me too.)

About heroes:

After talking a bit about Babe Ruth, he says this:  "It may be hard for young people to get such a kick now because I sense in America these years---and I'm saddened to say it---I sense a systematic attempt to tear down our heroes.  Eddie Robinson just said in his posthumously published autobiography about Charles A. Lindbergh, "To hell with his politics.  He is our last, great hero."  If ever our country needed heroes, it is in these melancholy days (he wrote this in 1976), and when I hear of things like the broadcast not long ago that said Thomas Jefferson slept with his slave girls, I am depressed.  Maybe Jefferson did, maybe he didn't; in any case, why drag that in?  What does that have to do with the greatness of this man?  I've seen announcement of a projected  story on George Washington purporting to prove he was drunk when he instigated a massacre of some French troops.  This robbing us of our heroes is the heritage of some fine so-called liberal thinking that tries to kill one of the finest things we possess---warrantable pride in our past..."

Mr. Cagney's thoughts echo my own; however, he said it far more eloquently than I could have.  I suppose the dismantling of "heroes," of digging up the dirt on people and then publishing a "tell-all" book, of sullying the character of men and women who aren't even alive to refute the story, is the main reason I don't read many biographies anymore.  I think it is important to think highly of people, and when shocking, scandalous stories are published about people long-dead, it only serves to ruin their good names.  Quite honestly, I don't think all "dirty laundry" needs to be made public.  (In my recent review of Slander [HERE], I said this same thing.)

I hope you all have enjoyed this small glimpse into the great Jimmy Cagney's autobiography.  If you are a Cagney fan...or if you would just like to learn a bit more about him...check your library for a copy of Cagney by Cagney.  It is a wonderful read!!

Friday, July 20, 2012

She Aged Beautifully!!

When I was growing up in the 60's and 70's, one of my favorite TV shows was The Big Valley.  It used to be on in the afternoons, around 3:30 or 4:00, so many an afternoon, when I got home from school, I would grab the stereotypical plate of cookies and glass of milk and settle in to watch it.  I'm pretty much thinking I was watching re-runs, because to my recollection, this was happening in the early 70's, and the show ended in 1969 after a 4-season run.  At that time, my draw to The Big Valley was Lee Majors.

When I got into classic films, imagine my surprise to discover that Miss Barbara Stanwyck, who I had known as Victoria Barkley since childhood, was a famous actress with a long and distinguished movie career.  At the time I was watching The Big Valley, I thought that was her only claim to fame.  While I didn't ever hate Miss Stanwyck or her character, as I said, my reason for watching the show was Lee Majors.  I was completely wild about him.

Now, though, I still love The Big Valley; in fact, I would deem it one of my six all-time favorite TV shows.  I don't watch TV shows nowadays except for reality TV shows like The Amazing Race and Chopped, and while I enjoy them, they really don't hold a candle to old-time TV for me, so it is absolutely no lie that The Big Valley is one of my six favorite TV shows.  (The others would be Little House on the Prairie, The Fugitive, The Andy Griffith Show, Streets of San Francisco, and Perry Mason.)  One of the main draws for me now is my beloved Miss Stanwyck.  Besides showcasing her wonderful dramatic abilities, The Big Valley showcases the beauty and grace with which Miss Stanwyck aged.  In her early 60's here, she looks sensational.

About two years ago, I discovered that the first season and the first half of the second sesaon of The Big Valley had been released on DVD.  I immediately purchased them, and have enjoyed watching every single one of the episodes.  Sadly, though, no further episodes have come out...not the remainder of the second season, nor any future seasons.  Recently, however, I discovered a network called The Inspiration Network (INSP), which is part of my dish program, and it airs an episode of The Big Valley every weekday.  So, I am adding to my collection.

So for any of you who are fans of The Big Valley, see if your cable/dish package includes The Inspiration Network.  Even if "the powers that be" won't release the entire Big Valley series on disc, through that network, you will still be able to catch that great show.

Happy viewing!!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

In James Cagney's Words

As previously made known, last month, I read James Cagney's autobiography, Cagney by Cagney.  It was a fascinating, delightful read, and by the time I reached the end, I was more wild about this fabulous actor than ever.  He is easily one of my top 5 actors, and, quite honestly, he isn't very far off the "beloved status" of my top 3 guys.  So that others might get a glimpse into this amazing actor's life, I want to share bits and pieces of some of the wonderful things I've read.

On growing up in a poor family:

"My chidhood was surrounded by trouble, illness, and my dad's alcoholism, but as I said, we just didn't have time to be impressed by all those misfortunes.  I have an idea that the Irish possess a built-in don't-give-a-damn that helps them through all stress.  Moreover, we had the advantage of an awful lot of love in our family..."

"If we didn't have much in material gain, we were amply supplied with the best in nonmaterial gain---lots of laughs."

"It never occurred to us, despite the poverty to hold our heads or feel sorry for ourselves.  We just did the best we could."

About one's work ethic:

"One shouldn't aspire to stardom, one should aspire to be doing the job well."  (My take on this---Mr. Cagney was completely successful at fulfilling this aspiration, because I do believe he may be the most brilliant actor there has ever been.  He always did the job well!)

About what kept him and his brothers from going wild despite being raised in a rough neighborhood:

"A question people have asked me through the years is why the Cagney boys didn't get involved with guns and crime the way my old Sing Sing pals did.  The answer is simple:  there wasn't a chance.  We had a mother to answer to.  If any of us got out of line, she just belted us, and belted us emphatically.  We loved her profoundly, and our driving force was to do what she wanted because we knew how much it meant to her."

Aren't these awesome quotes?!  I hope you all are enjoying the opportunity to get to know James Cagney a bit better through these snippets from his autobiography.  I have a few more passages to share and will be doing so in a future post.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Happy Birthday, James Cagney!!!

Happy 113th birthday to the amazingly talented James Cagney (July 17, 1899-March 30, 1986)

Mr. Cagney is easily one of my top 5 favorite actors of all time; in fact, he's pretty much at "beloved" status in my book.  (Yes, I am extremely feminine and adore romantic dramas, but I also love gangster films.)  I truly believe James Cagney may be the most incredible actor Hollywood has ever known.  I think he was simply sensational in every role he ever took on, and I find it nearly impossible to believe that he received only three Academy Award nominations (which garnered one win) in his entire career.  Truly, I think this man could (and ought to!) have won at least a half dozen Oscars.  He was always THAT good.

My all-time favorite James Cagney film is Angels with Dirty Faces, a film for which he did receive an Academy Award nomination.  His portrayal of Rocky Sullivan is completely brilliant.  With regard to the final scene in this wonderful film, here is what Mr. Cagney had to say (as learned through reading his autobiography):  "Through the years I have actually had little kids come up to me on the street and ask, "Didya do it for the father, huh?"  I think in looking at the film it is virtually impossible to say which course Rocky took---which is just the way I wanted it.  I played it with deliberate ambiguity so that the spectator can take his choice.  It seems to me it works out fine in either case.  You have to decide."

Rounding out my list of five favorite James Cagney films are:

2.  The Public Enemy  (with Jean Harlow---the quintessential gangster film, even today, some 80 years later---reviewed HERE)

3.  White Heat  (with Virginia Mayo and Edmond O'Brien---amazingly, this film didn't even garner Mr. Cagney an Academy Award nomination, let alone the win)

4.  Yankee Doodle Dandy  (his Academy Award-winning role)

5.  Each Dawn I Die  (with George Raft and Jane Bryan---reviewed HERE)

So, Mr. James Cagney, here's to you on your 113th birthday.  You were a completely brilliant actor---probably the best there has ever been.  Thank you for making so many wonderful films!!  And thank you, also, for your wonderful autobiography, Cagney by Cagney.  I have enjoyed getting to know you better by reading your own words.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Happy Birthday, Barbara Stanwyck!!

Today is the 105th birthday of my #3 gal---the sensational Miss Barbara Stanwyck.  (July 16, 1907-January 20, 1990)

Born Ruby Stevens, the four-time Oscar-nominated Miss Stanwyck, had an amazing career which spanned six decades.  She very successfully made the transition from film to television and was appearing in a series only a few years before her 1990 death.  She is easily my #3 gal, and sometimes, she even pushes #2 gal Susan Hayward out of that spot and claims #2 for herself.  Without question, Miss Stanwyck is one of my absolute favorite actresses, and I never tire of watching her films.

My all-time favorite Barbara Stanwyck film is Stella Dallas (reviewed HERE).  One of my top 15 movies of all-time, this heart-tugging tearjerker was said to have been Miss Stanywck's own personal favorite.  As Stella, her task "was to convince audiences that Stella's instincts were fine and noble even though, on the surface, she was loud, flamboyant, and a bit vulgar."  I must say, she definitely convinced me of that, because I see Stella as a woman of sacrifice, not selfishness.

Rounding out my list of five favorite Barbara Stanwyck films are:

2.  Double Indemnity  (with Fred MacMurray)

3.  Ball of Fire  (with Gary Cooper)

4.  Christmas in Connecticut  (with Dennis Morgan)

5.  Clash by Night  (with Robert Ryan and Paul Douglas---reviewed HERE)

So, here's to you, Miss Barbara Stanwyck, on your 105th birthday.  You were an amazingly talented actress, and you will always be one of my absolute favorites.  Thanks for making so many wonderful movies and TV shows.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Slander (3 stars)

Slander, from 1957, is a hard-hitting drama starring Van Johnson, Ann Blyth, and Steve Cochran.  Featuring Marjorie Rambeau in a supporting role, Slander takes a look at the ugly world of tabloid journalism, and given that such media has increased probably a thousandfold in the 50+ years since this film was made, I think it is completely relevant to today.

H. R. Manley (Steve Cochran), publisher of the tabloid Real Truth Magazine knows that circulation is down and that to boost sales, he will need to get a very sensational copy on the newsstand.  Telling his reporters that there is something dirty in everyone's past, he encourages them to dig up the dirt on a squeaky-clean person. Manley believes that the cleaner a person is on the outside, the dirtier they are underneath, and furthermore, he believes that he is only giving his readers what they want---juicy, scandalous truth.  Manley's mother (Marjorie Rambeau), however, who is ashamed of her son's line of work, relates the gossip magazine to nothing less than the provision of opium, in that people may want it, but it is actually very harmful to them.

Scott Martin (Van Johnson) becomes the "dirt" target.  Now a puppeteer who has just recently begun putting his kid-friendly talents to work for a breakfast cereal company, Mr. Martin is an ex-convict.  Though he served a 4-year sentence for the crime committed when he was a 19-year old, given his current clean, good-guy, safe-for-kids reputation, the revelation of his past mistake will be a disaster, plus the publicity will be harmful to his wife, Connie (Ann Blyth), and their young son.  Though the Martins plead with Manley to not publish the long-dead information, the only way Manley will refrain from doing so is if Scott passes on dirt about Mary Sawyer...a new movie star sensation, with whom he grew up.

Will Scott save his own reputation by ruining that of another?  Will Manley listen to reason and come to realize that he is hurting people with his gossip magazine?  Will he decide to pull the article about Scott?  These are the questions which play out in the balance of this film.

Slander is an interesting, exciting film, and as already stated, is totally relevant to today.  With the explosion of the internet, scandalous stories are available 24/7, and we all read them...without ever a thought to the lives which are broken as a result of the ugliness being published.  It's too bad this film didn't convince us of the harmful effects of this kind of writing.  Steve Cochran is his usual sleazy, nasty self here. Both Van Johnson and Ann Blyth are good and solid in their roles, but I think Marjorie Rambeau, as Cochran's mother, takes the prize.  She is fantastic. 

While this film is not out on DVD, it is available in its entirety on YouTube.  I hope you get a chance to see it.

Happy viewing!!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

These Wilder Years (4 stars)

With July being James Cagney and Barbara Stanwyck month here at They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To, I thought it would be appropriate to review the only pairing of those two amazing stars---1956's These Wilder Years, a drama which features Walter Pidgeon and Betty Lou Keim in supporting roles.

Back in 1936, college student Steven Bradford (James Cagney) impregnated his girlfriend, and when he refused to marry her, the little boy she bore was given up for adoption.  Now, 20 years later, having gotten older and lonely, Bradford is on a quest to locate that son and, therefore, makes a trip to the small-town orphanage which handled the adoption.  Used to getting his way, the wealthy businessman first begins his quest at the desk of agency director, Ann Dempster (Barbara Stanwyck), but she assures him that adoption laws are strict and that she will not break them to accommodate Mr. Bradford.  For his part, Bradford maintains that the boy is his son and that no one has the right to keep him away from him...except the boy himself.

While at the agency, Steve makes the acquaintance of Susie (Betty Lou Keim), a sweet 16-year old pregnant girl.  When a couple arrives at the agency to pick up the child they will be adopting, Susie is greatly affected and cannot stop weeping.  Though Steve attempts to comfort the girl, she is grieved because the day of giving away her own baby is drawing near, and she knows she will never get over losing the child.  Because he, too, longs for a child who was given up, Steve understands Susie's feelings, and the two of them form a father/daughter kind of relationship.

Although Steve tells Miss Dempster that he's not looking for the child to take something away from him but rather to give to him all that he has accomplished through the years, the agency director will not be swayed.  She reminds Steve that the boy has parents who have raised him and that it would wrong to try to jump into his life at this late juncture.  Finally, in desperation, Steve gets his lawyer (Walter Pidgeon) involved, and Ann Dempster is taken to court.  However, will Steve, who has begun to like and respect that lady, allow her to be held in contempt of court for not relinquishing the records?  And will Ann, who, likewise, respects and likes Steve, change her mind and reveal the whereabouts of the long-lost son?  How it all plays out is the balance of the film.

First and foremost, I must say that I wish Mr. Cagney and Miss Stanwyck had made more than just this one film together.  They were both terrific in dramatic roles, and I think they would have made a completely sensational team!!  While Miss Stanwyck is her usual solid self here, the film really is James Cagney's, and, as always, he plays it perfectly!  He was completely stellar in this role; in fact, given that he was highly out of character, I think it is actually one of his best performances.  (However, being totally honest, I think Mr. Cagney always gave a "best" performance...he could well be the most brilliant actor there has ever been.)  In this film, he shows a bit of a soft, vulnerable side...and he did it beautifully.  I loved the interaction between him and the young girl, Susie.  It's not often James Cagney plays paternal, so the opportunity to see him in that light, makes this film extra special.

Mr. Cagney and his wife were adoptive parents themselves (having adopted a son and a daughter), so I wonder if that made this film a bit more personal to him than some of his other films?  Regardless, These Wilder Years is a sweet, touching, mildly heart-tugging film, which I believe all James Cagney fans will want to see.

The film is not out on DVD, and I do not believe it is on YouTube either, so it may be hard to track down. Do keep your eyes open for it, though, as I think it is a very worthwhile film.

Happy viewing!!

Thursday, July 05, 2012

James Cagney's Thoughts About Yankee Doodle Dandy

With summer in full force and my dozen-plus fruit trees in need of attention, blogging has definitely been put on the back burner.  However, when I am able to blog this month, it will be mostly about my #3 gal, Barbara Stanwyck, and the "almost at beloved status" James Cagney, since they are the birthdays I'll be focusing on this month.

Last month, I read Mr. Cagney's autobiography, Cagney by Cagney.  It is a fascinating, delightful read, and by the time I reached the end, I was more enamored of this fabulous actor than ever.  I thought it would be fun to share bits and pieces of some of the wonderful things I've read, and since Yankee Doodle Dandy is our family's annual 4th of July movie, I decided to start with Mr. Cagney's thoughts about that film---the one which garnered him his only Academy Award win.

When asked which of his films was his favorite, Mr. Cagney responded:  "In just about every interview, most conversations, one question emerges unfailingly:  what is my favorite picture? Many people assume that one of those knock-down-drag-'em-outs would be my choice.  A discerning critic like Peter Bogdanovich can't understand why I choose Yankee Doodle Dandy over White Heat and The Public Enemy.  The answer is simple, and it derives from George M. Cohan's comment about himself:  once a song-and-dance-man, always a song-and-dance-man.  In that brief statement, you have my life story; those few words tell as much about me professionally as there is to tell."

About preparing for his role:

"Psychologically, I needed no preparation for Yankee Doodle Dandy, or professionally either.  I didn't have to pretend to be a song-and-dance-man.  I was one."

About George M. Cohan:

"Fortunately before George M. (Cohan) died, he was able to see Yankee Doodle Dandy, and he gave it his blessing.  I like to think that this only contact we had was professionally appropriate:  one song-and-dance man saluting another, the greatest of our calling."

I'll be sharing more snippets from this wonderful book throughout the month.  Join me, please, as you are able.