Monday, March 31, 2014

March's "New to Me" Viewings (Part 1)

This past month, I was back in my classic-film-viewing groove.  After not watching many classics in February, it was a real thrill to have enjoyed one at least four nights each week this month.  I was able to catch many "new to me" films, nine of which were 3-star or higher.

1.  Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde  (1931)  Truth be told, I started this film well over a year ago; however, at somewhere around the 20-minute mark, the disc glitched and I was unable to finish. I forgot all about watching it until I saw it on the TCM schedule during 31 Days of Oscar.  So, I'm calling this a "new to me" film; however, it isn't totally.  The classic story of the good Dr. Jekyll and his alter-ego, the evil Mr. Hyde, this film is amazing.  The transformation scenes (from Jekyll to Hyde) are absolutely terrific---hard to believe this is a 1931 film.  Fredric March's performance is outstanding, very definitely Oscar worthy.  I'm going with 4 stars on this, but that's because this is not my genre.  I don't do horror at all, and while this may be considered mild horror to some people, I have to admit that it frightened me.  In fact, after getting out of bed around 2:00 a.m. on the night I had watched it, I nearly ran back to my bedroom (and the safety of my husband) because the memory of Mr. Hyde came to mind while alone downstairs.  So, though, 4 stars from me, if I liked horror, I'm sure this would be a 5-star film.

2.  Tenth Avenue Angel (1948) Starring Margaret O'Brien, Angela Lansbury, George Murphy, and Phyllis Thaxter, this is a sweet, sentimental, heart-tugger about a little girl's faith in God and her family. When she learns that the fantasy stories her mom has been telling her are just stories and not truth, and when she discovers that a beloved family friend has been in prison and not on an extended trip as she had been told, the little girl's heart is hardened and her faith in God and her family grows cold.  How she gets it back and brings love to those around her plays out in the remainder of this very touching film.  (I was brought to tears on several occasions).  The climax of the film takes place on Christmas Eve, making this a delightful addition to one's Christmastime viewing.  I'm going with 3 stars on this, but it's close to 4.

3.  Whirlpool  (1934)  Starring Jack Holt, Jean Arthur, and Donald Cook.   Petty crook Duke Ralston receives a 20-year prison sentence for manslaughter.  Wanting his pregnant wife, Helen, to get on with her life, he forges a letter from the warden, informing her that Duke had been drowned in an attempted prison escape.  Sometime after giving birth to Duke's daughter, Sandra (Jean Arthur, when grown), Helen marries a successful lawyer.  Years later, Sandra happens upon Duke, recognizing him at once from the photo her mother has.  Father and daughter are reunited, but for a variety of reasons, the future for them is bleak.  An interesting, exciting, 3-star film.

4.  The Hook  (1963)  Starring Kirk Douglas, Robert Walker, and Nick Adams, this meaty drama tells the story of three U.S. soldiers who are ordered to execute their Korean prisoner in the waning days of the Korean War.  (I reviewed this 4-star film HERE)

5.  Pushover  (1954)  This Double Indemnity-style noir stars Fred MacMurray and introduces Kim Novak, with Phil Carey, Dorothy Malone, and E.G. Marshall offering support. Directed by Richard Quine, Pushover finds the usually-affable Fred MacMurray, once again, pulled from the straight and narrow due to his attraction to a beautiful woman.  This time, rather than an insurance agent, he's a cop, assigned to follow the girlfriend of a gangster who just pulled a huge heist.  Fred's passion for the moll, coupled with his desire to fill his own pockets with the stolen funds, are his undoing.  I'm between 3 and 4 stars on this, so I'm calling it 3.5.

Later this week, I will share four more "new to me" films I watched in March, one of which joins I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang as a 5-star film discovery of the year.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Let's Celebrate Tyrone Power's Centennial

Hey classic film bloggers, are you ready for one more blogathon?!  I hope so, because Monday, May 5th, is the 100th anniversary of Hollywood mega-star Tyrone Power's birth, and Lady Eve of The Lady Eve's Reel Life and I will be hosting Power-Mad, a one-day-only event in celebration of the actor's life and career.

Participants are invited to review Mr. Power's films (one blogger per film, please), post a photo spread or a biographical essay (you might cover his life in general or strictly his movie career, his military service during World War II or his post-war stage career, or...) - basically, feel free to get creative.

This blogathon is not limited to CMBA members, so any and all of you are welcome to participate. (The more the merrier). If you'd like to be involved, you can get in touch in one of two ways---either leave me a comment on this post, or send an email to my co-host (Lady Eve, at  In your email, please include your name, your blog's name and address, and the title/subject of your entry.

100th birthdays deserve parties and fanfare, so Lady Eve and I are hoping for a huge turnout for Power-Mad.  We look forward to having you celebrate with us.

Lady Eve has created these four gorgeous banners to advertise the event.  Please grab one for your blog, and help us spread the word.

Here is the list of participants:

Barry Bradford---The Razor's Edge
Citizen Screen---The Black Swan
Classic Film Freak---The Mark of Zorro
Critica Retro---Lloyd's of London
Girls Do Film---The Black Rose
Hamlette's Soliloquy---The Sun Also Rises
Immortal Ephemera---Tyrone Power and Alice Faye
Kathleen Nemec---The Long Gray Line
Kevin's Movie Corner---Son of Fury
Lasso the Movies---Jesse James
Laura's Miscellaneous Musings---This Above All
Movie Classics---Witness for the Prosecution
The Nitrate Diva---Daytime Wife
Old Hollywood---King of the Khyber Rifles
Shadows and Satin---Blood and Sand
Sidewalk Crossings---Crash Dive
Silver Screen Modes---Johnny Apollo
The Skeins---Prince of Foxes
Slightly Shabby---Marie Antoinette
They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To---Abandon Ship!
Thrilling Days of Yesteryear---Nightmare Alley
Twenty Four Frames---Rawhide Very Special Memorabilia Collection  Tyrone Power and Annabella, Tyrone Power and Linda Power, King of the Disaster Movies

NOTE:  To access all of the blogathon entries, go HERE.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Old Maid (1939)

Working my way through the titles highlighted in Majestic Hollywood, The Greatest Films of 1939, I recently enjoyed a re-watch of The Old Maid, a period drama starring Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins.  George Brent gets third billing, although he is only around for the first fifteen minutes or so.  Based on Zoe Akin's Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name, The Old Maid features Donald Crisp and Jane Bryan in supporting roles.

Misses Davis and Hopkins portray cousins, Charlotte and Delia Lovell.  As the film begins in the early 1860's, Delia (Hopkins) is about to be married, and on her wedding day, her former love, Clem Spender (George Brent), arrives back in town and stops by for a visit.  Clem had left town a few years before---off to make his fortune---and when he didn't return, Delia assumed he no longer loved her and, thus, made plans to marry another man---one who was wealthy and socially prominent.  When Clem, who is still in love with Delia, declares his intent to make a scene at the wedding, cousin Charlotte (Bette Davis), in love with Clem herself, sets off to reason with him.  Wanting to comfort him, she ends up spending the night with him; the next day, however, Clem, now part of the Union Army, sets off for war...and he never returns, having been killed in battle.

Fast forward a few years...Charlotte, now engaged to Delia's husband's brother, is running a home for war orphans.  It is expected that when she marries, she will give up the home; however, there is one particular child---a girl named Tina---whom Charlotte has no intention of giving up.

On Charlotte's wedding day, Delia discovers that Tina's full name is Clementina and that she is Charlotte's own child, from a man who died in the war; putting two and two together, Delia realizes that Tina is Clem's child...a fact that enrages her.  To think that Charlotte had been with Clem---her love---is more than she can stand; determined to make Charlotte pay, she lies to her brother-in-law and he calls off the wedding.

After Delia's husband dies several months later, Charlotte and Tina are invited to come live with her.   Since Charlotte was never married and cannot publicly call Tina her child, Tina calls her "Aunt Charlotte."  Delia becomes rather a mother to the little girl, and once, to Charlotte's incredible heartbreak, she even calls Delia "mommy."

Fast forwarding several more years, Tina has become a young woman (played by Jane Bryan), and Delia, not Charlotte, receives her love, praise, and affection.  Aunt Charlotte, who has sacrificed for years, is despised and mocked by the girl.  Yet to tell Tina the truth---that the unwed Charlotte is her mother---would destroy all hopes for a legitimate beau, so Charlotte says nothing, all the while being totally brokenhearted because the daughter she loves has rejected her and now calls Delia "mother."  Will Tina ever change?  Will Charlotte's broken heart ever heal?  These are the questions which will play out in the balance of the film.

Pairing two such strong, formidable actresses, who already had hatred/jealousy issues between them, found director Edmund Goulding "more often refereeing than directing; filming went slowly, as each woman fought for every scene she was in.  One co-worker said "Working with these two ladies is a slow drag."  Goulding himself was to say, "There were times when they behaved like perfect little bitches". . . However, the women's intense dislike for each other did have a positive side, for it not only added to their pleasure in making the picture but also proved so mutually stimulating that Warners production chief Hal Wallis planned to team them again."  [1]  The women were paired again, in Old Acquaintance.

A huge Bette Davis fan, I enjoy having the opportunity to catch Bette in a sympathetic role for a change. She's terrific here---as she is always.  What I find so impressive about Bette is that beyond her brilliant acting, she was always willing to take on unglamorous roles and be seen as dowdy, ugly, and unsophisticated.  Her acting was so great that she didn't have to get by on looks alone.

The Old Maid is a lot like one of my top 25 films, Stella Dallas, in that it is the story of a mother's sacrificial love for her daughter.  However, while I give The Old Maid 4 stars, I do prefer Stella Dallas, mostly because of the daughters' character.  Here in The Old Maid, Tina is selfish and obnoxious, whereas Lolly, Anne Shirley's Stella Dallas character, is loving and caring.  Because of Clementina's attitude, I just never had the affection for her that I had for Lolly.

Out on DVD, The Old Maid should be fairly easy to track down.  I hope you get a chance to see it.

Happy viewing!!

[1]  Majestic Hollywood, The Greatest Films of 1939, by Mark A. Vieira, Running Press, 2013.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Ingrid Bergman As You've Never Seen Her Before---The Visit (1964)

It's Ingrid Bergman as you've never seen her before---icy, hard, and incredibly vindictive--- in 1964's The Visit.  Also starring Anthony Quinn, this gripping drama features supporting help from (among others) Claude Dauphin, Irina Demick, and Valentina Cortese.  Based on Friedrich Durrenmatt's play Der Besuch der alten Dame, The Visit received an Academy Award nomination for Best Costume Design.  (For the record, I think Ingrid ought to have received a Lead Actress nomination.)

Two decades after leaving her small European hometown, Carla Zachanassian (Ingrid Bergman) returns for a visit---but it is not any kind of happy reunion she's seeking.  Rather, she has returned to destroy the man who disgraced her when she was a teenager.  Serge Miller (Anthony Quinn) had been her boyfriend/lover, but when Carla found herself pregnant, he refused to marry her. Beyond that, he bribed two men to testify that they had had relations with her, implicating her as a promiscuous woman.  Driven out of town because of her reputation and pregnancy, Carla fell into prostitution.

Now a rich and powerful widow, Carla wants revenge on Serge, and the way she accomplishes it provides for a powerful, riveting film---tackling such issues as greed, corruption, and hypocrisy.

As expected, this is not a feel-good film.  In fact, it's rather difficult to watch, especially as one by one, the townspeople, corrupted by greed, turn on Serge.  While both Ingrid Bergman and Anthony Quinn are fantastic in their roles, Ingrid's performance is absolute mesmerizing.  I have never seen her this icy, hard, bitter, and unforgiving.  Wow!  She really "blew me away" with her portrayal of the revenge-minded Carla.  Her acting is what takes this from 3 stars to 4.

Made available on DVD in late 2012, The Visit is part of the inventory of Classic Flix.  It is also periodically on Fox Movie Channel (which is where I caught it).  If you like Ingrid Bergman (as I do), you will want to track this film down to catch her in what I feel is probably her most evil role. Her fabulous performance will not disappoint.

Happy viewing!!

Sunday, March 09, 2014

The Hook (1963)

Regular readers of They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To know that within the last year, Kirk Douglas began his ascent up my favorite actor list.  Once I discovered what sensational work he does, I began seeking out more and  more of his films.  Last August, during Summer Under the Stars, TCM had a day for Kirk Douglas, so I set my DVR for several of the titles, and now, over six months later, I finally had the chance to watch one of them---1963's The Hook.  Also starring Robert Walker (Jr.) and Nick Adams, with Nehemiah Persoff and Enrique (Pancho) Magalona in support, this George Seaton Korean War-era drama is meaty, powerful, and incredibly gripping.  

In the waning days of the Korean War, a small group of American soldiers is responsible for loading oil onto a neutral freighter.  Before the job is completed, an enemy plane shoots at them, killing one of the GI's.  The remaining three soldiers capture the downed bomber, taking him aboard the freighter with them.  Speaking with his South Korean headquarters, Sgt. Briscoe (Kirk Douglas) receives an order to execute the prisoner, and with 19 years of service under his belt and a military pension on the line, Sgt. Briscoe is determined that the orders be carried out; he instructs Private Dennison (Robert Walker) to do the job.

Insisting that killing a man out of combat is murder, Pvt. Dennison refuses to do as commanded, which puts him at odds with his superior.  Having seen a fellow GI refuse to kill a Japanese soldier at Guadalcanal during the last war, Sgt. Briscoe insists that to refuse to kill the enemy is to be soft and that being soft will result in one's own death at the hands of the enemy. Besides, he tells Dennison, an order is an order, and it must be obeyed.  But Pvt. Dennison will not be swayed---he will  not execute the prisoner, whom he has come to see as a man like himself, with a name, a wife, a child.

Sgt. Hackett (Nick Adams), too, begins to suffer an agony of conscience and will not obey the command to kill the prisoner.  If the man is to die, it will be at the hands of the one given the order---Sgt. Briscoe.  But will he do it?  Or will Privates Dennison and Hackett be able to convince him that such an order is one not to be obeyed?  How it all plays out is the balance of the film.

Based on the French novel L'Hamecon, The Hook is a gripping, wonderfully-acted film. Kirk Douglas gives a terrific, mesmerizing performance.  He is absolutely superb.  Nick Adams is very good too, as is Robert Walker, in his first film appearance. Though billed as Robert Walker, this is Robert Walker, Jr., son of Jennifer Jones and Robert Walker. Wow, does he look like his dad. Enrique (Pancho) Magalona is also terrific.  Because of the language barrier between the men, his character speaks very little---at least with his mouth.  His eyes, on the other hand, speak volumes.

One word of warning---the racial slur "gook" is used dozens of times in this film.  Of course, given that it is a war film and was made in the 1960's, that is to be expected, but I always want to point out those things which viewers will find offensive.  The final line of the film---"Any day a war ends is a good day"---is as meaningful and powerful now as it was then.

A great discussion-piece kind of film, The Hook may, unfortunately, be a little difficult to track down. I don't believe it is out on DVD, nor is it on the TCM schedule anytime soon.  I think it's well worth keeping an eye out for, though. For me, it is easily a 4-star film.

Happy viewing!!

Monday, March 03, 2014

Best Film Discovery for February---The Slender Thread (1965)

When I see Sidney Poitier's name among a cast, I know I am in for an incredible treat.  Mr. Poitier excels at meaty, hard-hitting, dramatic roles, and since those are some of my favorite kinds of films, I always set the DVR, whether I've ever heard of the film or not.  Looking through the TCM February guide, I discovered one such film---a never-heard-of Sidney Poitier title called The Slender Thread.  Also starring Anne Bancroft, with supporting help from Telly Savalas, this 1965 Sydney Pollack drama was my best film discovery for the month of February. It's a 4-star film for me.

When her husband refuses to forgive her for a premarital indiscretion, Inga Dyson (Anne Bancroft) sees no point to go on living.  She downs a bottle of barbiturates, then, wanting someone to talk to while she waits for death to come, she calls the local crisis center, where college student Alan Newell (Sidney Poitier) volunteers once a week.  On this particular night, Newell is alone when the crisis call comes in; he soon discovers that the voice on the other end of the line is not the usual "prank call," but is, indeed, a woman in dire need of help.  With only a short time left before the pills take their effect, Alan engages the troubled woman in conversation, desperately yearning to find out why she has chosen to end her life.  (Her story plays out through the phone call.) Meanwhile, after a trace is put on the call, the authorities race against time to reach Mrs. Dyson before her life is snuffed out.  How it all plays out is the balance of the film.

The Slender Thread is an engrossing, exciting, mildly suspenseful film, with the usual superior performance I've come to expect from Sidney Poitier.  Anne Bancroft, as well, gives a brilliant performance.  Featuring a Quincy Jones score, this meaty drama features future stars Ed Asner and Dabney Coleman in bit parts.  A recipient of Academy Award nominations for Best Costume Design and Best Art Direction, The Slender Thread was Sydney Pollack's film debut, and it's easy to see why he would go on to enjoy the success he did.

Although not on the TCM schedule anytime soon, The Slender Thread is out on both DVD and Blu-Ray. If you are a fan of Sidney Poitier, Anne Bancroft, Sydney Pollack, or hard-hitting dramas, you ought to enjoy this.  I hope you get a chance to see it.

Happy viewing!