Monday, March 31, 2014


Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

This post is a part of the Big League Blogathon started by Todd Liebenow at Forgotten Films.

I gave up on sports a number of years ago, but there was a time when I cared about them. As someone who has lived most of his life in the shadow of Chicago, I was at least a marginal fan of most of the Chicago teams with the exception of the Cubs. In truth, I was born in New Jersey and thus grew up a Mets fan. When you move to a new city, you don’t adopt the rival as your team, which is why I never became a Cubs fan. Well, today is opening day. The Cubs lost and the White Sox won. So I felt like writing about something that was at least marginally attached to baseball just for the hell of it. Thus, Speedy, which happens to be the final silent film in the career of Harold Lloyd.

And…Speedy is only marginally attached to baseball. Its main links are that our title character is a rabid baseball fan and that the special guest appearance here is by Babe Ruth playing himself. I’m sure for the time, Ruth was one of the big draws for this film, but Harold Lloyd was quite the draw himself. Of the great silent comedians, he’s one of the sadly forgotten ones, along with Roscoe Arbuckle. Lloyd had the chops, though, and he should be better remembered.

Sunday, March 30, 2014


Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

Movies are, after a fashion, a sort of illusion, so I tend to find it interesting when a filmmaker creates such an illusion with intent to destroy a particular set of illusions. Darling is an odd film. London in the 1960s is one of those legendary times and places. “Swinging London” was a time and place of hedonism and decadence and endless partying. It was the kind of place that everyone wanted to be. Darling is an evisceration of the time and place, marking it not as a utopia of pleasure and joy, but as a place of emptiness of all sorts—moral, ethical, emotional. This emptiness is explored through the life of Diana Scott (Julie Christie), who is called “Darling” by virtually everyone in the film.

The story is about Diana’s life, told in a sort of vague flashback. There are moments of flashback here, and evidence at the start that this is coming in the form of an interview of our title character. In effect, though, the bulk of the film simply plays out, and these minor jaunts into past tense voice over are easily ignored and forgotten. This is a story of emptiness and intense, unfocused, vague desire. This desire is unfocused and vague, because no matter what Diana gets, she never really wants it. It’s intense because she is entirely unhappy in almost every moment, even those moments when she is deliriously happy.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Chico and Rita (Chico y Rita)

Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

It seems that I’ve got a knack for picking the strange one out of the list of animated features for a given year. In a year where the nominees include Kung Fu Panda 2 and Rango, Chico and Rita (or more properly Chico y Rita) is definitely the odd film out. This is not just because of its old school animation and unique art style. This is a film definitely not for the kiddies. It’s a tale of love, romance, betrayal, and music set in Cuba in the 1940s. Among other reasons to keep the kids out of the room, Chico and Rita features full-frontal cartoon nudity not too far in.

Chico (Eman Xor Ona) is a jazz pianist, and a good one. He’s looking for a break in the music business along with his manager, Ramon (Mario Guerra). In fact, he’s got a song to enter in a competition, with a prize of a month contract at a resort hotel; he just can’t find the right singer. That right singer is Rita (Limara Meneses). When Chico sees her and hears her sing, he’s immediately smitten.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Road to Utopia

Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on laptop.

I’m always a little surprised when I like Bing Crosby in a film. I’m not sure why, but I tend to whenever I see him. For whatever reason, he was immediately likeable on screen. Strangely, I have the exact opposite impression of Bob Hope. With Hope, I get it, though. Hope’s persona was as someone who couldn’t keep his hands of the closest woman. I remember vividly having to watch The Paleface for the 1001 Movies List. In that film, his entire schtick consists of staring at Jane Russell’s tits and barking. With Road to Utopia, we get Crosby and Hope, which is curious for me.

This is my first Bing and Bob “road” picture, so I’m not sure if the amount of fourth wall breaks and meta moments are par for the course or not. It wouldn’t surprise me, since that also seemed to frequently be a part of Hope’s schtick. In this case, though, a big part of this are narration breaks from comedian Robert Benchley. He starts the film, in fact, by telling us that the studio hired him to explain the plot, since it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Benchley pops up throughout the film to explain a couple of scenes and make a couple of jokes.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

Superstition is an odd thing. I don’t cotton to many of them; essentially, I’m not a believer in the idea that wearing a particular color is lucky or that certain events mean ill favor. Athletes (and many fans) are prone to superstition. So are actors. You’re not supposed to say “MacBeth” inside a theater, since the play is allegedly cursed. Telling an actor to break a leg is a long established traditional belief that wishing an actor good luck is the surest way to curse them. (Incidentally, you should never tell a dancer to break a leg, since it’s a possibility and career-threatening.) Dangerous, which features Bette Davis’s first Oscar-winning performance, explores this phenomenon and lends it a great deal of credibility.

Don Bellows (Franchot Tone) is a promising architect with the world in front of him. He’s mortgaged himself to the hilt to create a set of new estates for the wealthy and he has a pending marriage to Gail Armitage (Margaret Lindsay) to look forward to. Gail is supportive of everything Don does, making her the perfect patsy for the turn at the end of the first act.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Triplets of Belleville

Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on laptop.

Imagine if you will that animator Ralph Bakshi and director David Lynch got together. One of them opens up a bag and pulls out a small bag that contains the ashes of Jacques Tati. With a grin, the two of them pack the ashes into a hookah and smoke them, then discuss an animated film project. The results of that would, at least in my imagination, end up looking something like The Triplets of Belleville.

Any summary of this film won’t do it justice, but I’m going to try anyway. A young boy named Champion lives with his grandmother, Madame Souza. Champion appears depressed, and no matter what his grandmother tries, he doesn’t seem to pull out of his funk. Even the gift of a dog named Bruno doesn’t cheer him up. Eventually, she buys him a tricycle, and that appears to be the ticket.

Monday, March 24, 2014

One of Our Aircraft is Missing

Format: DVD from Coal City Public Library through interlibrary loan on laptop.

I’ve mentioned before that when I was a kid, war films were my go-to genre. I wasn’t specific enough. I specifically loved films about World War II. There’s a little part of me that gets excited when I encounter a film of the period that I haven’t seen before. Such was the case with One of Our Aircraft is Missing. I hadn’t heard of this before I made my current Oscar list, and it didn’t take me too long to request it from the library. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the film. Truth be told, I expected this to be something like a police procedural, albeit a military one. You know, missing aircraft, investigation of what happened…

But that’s not it. Instead, we have a bomber crew of a plane known as “B for Bertie” shot down on a bombing raid over Holland. The crew bails out and five of the six men land close enough to each other to make a small unit, with hopes of finding the sixth man. They are eventually found by people from the local Dutch village and are brought back to meet Else Meertens (Pamela Brown), the local schoolteacher and an English speaker. After a few tense moments, the Dutch citizens pledge to help the English. They do this by disguising them in Dutch clothing and smuggling them through the town.

Sunday, March 23, 2014


Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

I made the conscious decision not to introduce my kids to WarGames today. I did this for the simple reason that I didn’t think they would really understand it. I know that Russia is resurgent these days and who the hell knows what’s going to happen in the Ukraine, but the geopolitical realities of the 1980s were very different than they are today. I think you needed to be alive in the 1980s to really grok WarGames or at least have a very deep understanding of the Reagan years to get it at any level. This is particularly true of the technology. I mean, my kids have the equivalent of a laptop computer in their phones. The computers in this movie are the size of rooms.

David Lightman (Matthew Broderick) is the complete stereotype of a disaffected, computer-obsessed nerd, save the fact that he looks like 1983 Matthew Broderick and his pseudo-girlfriend Jennifer (Ally Sheedy) looks like a 1983 Ally Sheedy. He’s bright, but also constantly in trouble in school. One day, after poking around in the school computer to change his grades (and Jennifer’s grades, too), David finds his way into an unlisted computer system that happens to be the backdoor of NORAD. He finds a series of games to play including one called Global Thermonuclear War. Since that sounds like fun, he starts up a game not realizing that the computer doesn’t really know the difference between simulation and reality.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

State Fair

Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’ve never been to the Iowa State Fair. As a matter of fact, I’ve never been to any state fair. The rest of my family has been to the Iowa State Fair multiple times; we have family in Des Moines. Sadly, for me, I’m always busy on the weekend my family goes, which means I spend a weekend by myself while they go eat funnel cakes and spin around rapidly on rides put together a few days before. I bring this up because State Fair takes place at the Iowa State Fair, although we don’t actually see much of it.

This is the story of the Frake family. Father Abel Frake (Will Rogers) spends a good deal of the film obsessing over his prized hog Blue Boy. Abel’s entire time at the Fair is all about tending to his pig and the rather unusual ailment that the pig seems to go through. Essentially, Blue Boy is lovesick over a sow also at the fair. When she’s in a nearby pen, he’s fine. When she’s not, he rolls over onto his side and becomes listless.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Stunt Man

Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I vaguely remember the release of The Stunt Man. Actually, what I remember is seeing a clip of it on Roger Ebert’s and Gene Siskel’s review show in 1980 and thinking it looked cool. These days, I’m more interested in the presence of Peter O’Toole than I am specifically in the story. Now that I’ve seen it, this is especially true, since the story very much seems like the weakest point of the film. I’ve mentioned my need for verisimilitude before; if I can’t buy into the world of the film, or if the film sets up a reality that it then breaks, it loses me. While there’s plenty to like here, there’s also quite a bit I found frustrating.

A Vietnam vet named Cameron (Steve Railsback) is on the run from the police for unknown reasons. The police manage to get a set of cuffs on him, but he escapes, breaks the cuffs, and runs off. Eventually he finds himself on a bridge where the driver of an old car appears to stop to give him a ride. However, the driver turns the car around and drives right at Cameron as if he’s going to run him down. Cameron throws something at the car to defend himself, the car goes off the bridge, and Cameron finds himself looking at several men in a helicopter.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Zorba the Greek

Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

Zorba the Greek is a film I’ve heard about for quite a long time. Heard of it. I knew nothing about it going in except that it starred Anthony Quinn. For years, thanks to this film, I thought Anthony Quinn was Greek. He certainly played a lot of swarthy European types, probably because of his success in this role (for the record, Quinn was Mexican). And so, I figured it was time to watch this. I kind of expected it to be a comedy, or at least to be a sort of Greek Fiddler on the Roof. I’d been led to believe that Zorba the Greek was something life-affirming.

Yeah, not so much. This is actually a pretty dark story in a lot of place. A young half-Greek named Basil (Alan Bates) arrives one day in Greece. He has been a writer but has lost his muse. Seeking to jump-start it, he has come to Crete where he owns a piece of land and a mine, inherited from his father. Along the way, he encounters Alexis Zorba (Anthony Quinn). Zorba is boisterous and seems to enjoy pretty much everything that happens to him. Since he has experience as a miner, Basil hires him to see if he can get the family mine restarted.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Watch on the Rhine

Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

Propaganda is weird. Seriously weird. For whatever reason, during the height of World War II, someone deemed it necessary to start redeeming the German character. Thus we get Watch on the Rhine, adapted from Lillian Hellman’s play of the same name. There’s nothing here that’s an attempt to justify fascism, but one of the central tenets of the film is that not all Germans (or Italians, for that matter) are bad people. In fact, the main villain is Romanian.

As the film begins, the Muller family is arriving in the United States through Mexico, presumably before the start of the war, or at least before the American involvement in the war (or they probably wouldn’t let a German through). Kurt Muller (Paul Lukas) is German while his wife Sara (Bette Davis) is an American expatriate coming home for the first time in 17 years. The Mullers have with them their three children: Joshua (Donald Buka), Babette (Janis Wilson), and Bodo (Eric Roberts, and not the one you immediately thought of). We learn right away that youngest child Bodo is a pretentious little snot.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Nick's Pick: Millennium Actress

Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on laptop.

This is the third in a monthly series of reviews suggested by Nick Jobe at YourFace.

With my third selection from Nick’s list of films, I’ve been given something of a poser. I genuinely attempt to go into every film with the anticipation or at least the hopes of liking it. This was certainly the case with Millennium Actress (Sennen Joyu). On the other end of it, I’m left with a complete puzzle. Did I like it? Hard to say. There are definitely things here worth your time. Did I understand it? Almost certainly not. It’s an interesting film nonetheless and I don’t feel as though my time was wasted on it. I should probably watch it again.

I’ll make this as simple as I can. A movie studio is being torn down. One of the former employees, Genya Tachibana (Shozo Iizuka) and his cameraman Kyoji Ida (Masaya Onosaka) head out to locate one of the studio’s former stars. This star is Chiyoko Fujiwara (voiced at different times by Miyoko Shoji, Mami Koyama, and Fumiko Orikasa), who after a long career suddenly vanished and went into hiding. Genya wishes to see her to make a documentary about her life and for personal reasons. He manages the interview by promising Chiyoko something from her past.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Brother Bear

Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

My original plans this year were to try to knock out an animated feature once a week, something I haven’t done or even come close to. If I hit that pace for the rest of the year, I’ll just watch everything on the Oscars list by around Christmas. To that end, Brother Bear popped up on the queue, so I figured I’d give it a go. It wasn’t long into the film that I wished I had gone with a different one. I’ll apologize now if this turns out to be a beloved film of your youth. Sorry, but this one missed me on pretty much all counts.

Sherman, set the Way-Back Machine for the time following the last ice age when mammoths still roamed the planet and humans used stone tools. We meet up with a band of human hunter/gatherers and focus most of our initial concentration on three brothers. These are Kenai (Joaquin Phoenix), the hotheaded youngest; Denahi (Jason Raize), the middle one; and Sitka (D.B. Sweeney), the eldest and wisest. The day we meet the trio is the day that Kenai will be given his animal totem, the guide he must follow into manhood. The totem he gets is the bear of love (his brothers got the wolf of wisdom and the eagle of guidance). He’s not happy with the selection.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

One Hundred Men and a Girl

Format: VHS from Freeport Public Library through interlibrary loan projected on screen.
Frequent readers here may have noted that I get a lot of the movies I watch from a variety of libraries. Every now and then I request a film through interlibrary loan and it pops up in the form of a VHS tape. I no longer have a working VCR, which means that when I get a tape, I have to find a different way to view it. Fortunately, I can sometimes find a spare classroom and project the movie on a screen. As it happens, One Hundred Men and a Girl is one of those rare VHS films. It’s been sitting on my desk for a week or two waiting for me to get to it. Tonight, I finally got the chance to watch it.

I wasn’t really looking forward to this one, although I was pleased to note that it was really short. So I put it in and started to watch. It’s not a terrible film. It’s just not a great one. It seems like something far too lightweight to be considered for something like Best Picture. The story seems pretty textbook for the mid-1930s. It’s a baby step away from Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland getting the gang together and puttin’ on a show.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Boys Town

Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’ve mentioned WGN and Family Classics here before, and Boys Town is another film that showed up there at least once a year. It’s been years since I’ve seen this, but it’s also probably the sixth or seventh time I’ve seen it and the first time as an adult. I remembered a few key points but also forgot huge swaths of it, which is the primary reason I rewatch everything for this blog before posting about it.

Boys Town tells the story, partly realistic, of Father Flanagan (Spencer Tracy), a Catholic priest, who is called to a prison in the moments before a prisoner is put to death. He offers an impassioned speech about why he went bad, citing mostly the state homes he lived in as a child. This sparks something in Flanagan; when he returns home to Omaha, he immediately encounters a group of boys getting in trouble. At this point, Flanagan has run a home for transient men (read: hobos), but decides, based on the speech of the doomed prisoner, to switch his focus to the young. With the assistance of a local merchant, Flanagan buys a house to keep a group of boys under his protection and tutelage. Eventually, so many boys show up that Flanagan buys a large tract of property and creates an entire town run for and by the boys.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Scent of a Woman

Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

It’s no secret that there are Oscars awarded for performances that may not have earned them for careers that contained performances that did. How else to explain Paul Newman winning for The Color of Money? Well, he didn’t win for Hud and Cool Hand Luke and more than half a dozen other films. I’ve always sort of been under the impression that Al Pacino’s Oscar for Scent of a Woman was of the same variety. It’s caused me to dread the film a little.

This is, in fact, evidence of Pacino in over-the-top mode, but that’s not always a bad thing. Still, there’s that niggling feeling that the Academy realized he’d lost for Glengary Glen Ross, Dog Day Afternoon, The Godfather Part II and a few others and maybe it was time to give the man his due. Even for this role, which is Pacino writ as large as possible without becoming a complete caricature.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Henry V (1989)

Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

Of all of shakespeare’splays, my favorite is MacBeth, which almost certainly means that Kumonosu Jo is my favorite film adaptation of a Shakespeare play. When it comes to the histories, nothing beats Henry V. For my money, the Kenneth Branagh version from 1989 is the best of these going. It’s got everything that I want in this story start to finish, and even pays a slight homage to the Olivier version at the start. It’s got the great speeches, great performances, badassery, and some great battle sequences. This is Shakespeare as it’s meant to be done.

In a nutshell, we have English King Henry V (Kenneth Branagh, who also directed) who is deciding to press his claim as the King of France. It’s only hinted at here, but before he was King Henry, he was Prince Hal, and he had as misspent a youth as possible. He hung around with thieves and gamblers and drunkards, making his eventual ascension to the throne a huge worry for the people under his rule. However, once king, Henry becomes a man of both action and decision, the sort of king that both the common folk and the nobles are willing to follow.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Big House

Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I suppose there are enough prison films that it forms its own subgenre. It’s not one I think of a lot, except to say that in my world, the best prison films are military prison films. A significant percentage of the great World War II films are set in prison. I’m less apt to get all excited when the prison in question is one for hardened criminals The Big House is one of the first films to show life in prison. According to the story, authoress Frances Marion spent time visiting San Quentin to get a handle on the dialogue and endured all manner of verbal abuse from the inmates and the guards both. In truth, that might actually be a better story than what we’re given on the screen.

Kent (Robert Montgomery) is sent away for 10 years for manslaughter, having killed a man in a drunken car accident. Kent is, as many of us would be, not really suited for prison, and things are immediately made worse when he’s housed with hardened killer Butch (Wallace Beery) and professional thief Morgan (Chester Morris). Butch tries to take advantage of the new fish, but Morgan appears to have something approaching a heart and looks out for the new kid. This doesn’t change the reality that Kent finds himself drawn to Butch and distrustful of his new guardian angel. Admittedly, a big part of Morgan’s heart growing three sizes is Kent’s attractive sister Anne (Leila Hyams).

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Hot Millions

Format: DVD from Geneseo Public Library through interlibrary loan on laptop.

There’s something in most of us that enjoys a crime film. I don’t know if it’s because we enjoy seeing the rich and stupid get fleeced or if we enjoy seeing the clever crooks attempting to doing the fleecing. This is especially true of con games. There’s a perverse pleasure in watching the con happen and seeing all of the pieces fall into place. There’s a reason that most con game films are either overtly or are at least partly comedies. Hot Millions is overtly a comedy. It’s a very British comedy, one that requires some effort on the part of the audience to find the funny. It’s rarely laugh-out-loud and much more content to go for a smirk and chuckle.

Marcus Pendleton (Peter Ustinov) has served his time in prison for embezzling, making himself useful doing small services like taxes for the warden. His career as an embezzler came to this temporary halt thanks to his being tracked down by a computer. Rather than causing him to decide that his chosen career is too risky, Pendleton decides that his best option is to understand just enough about computers to fool them. Bluffing his way into a private club, he tracks down a lead on a computer expert named Caesar Smith (Robert Morley). Smith, approaching retirement, has always had a dream of writing the definitive book on moths of the Amazon. Pendleton convinces him to do so, and usurps the man’s identity.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Little Women (1933)

Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I’ve made it a habit in general lately to stick all or most of the “very long wait” films on my NetFlix queue at the top of the list in the hopes of getting a film I might otherwise wait for months to get. It’s been working out in general, in no small part because I have so many of them that one of them is bound to be available. My luck continued, but also ran out this time, with the arrival of Little Women from 1933. I knew within the first 10 minutes of this that it was going to be a rough couple of hours.

I’ll put it this way—I thought upon watching Cavalcade that I wouldn’t come across another film of the same Oscar year that I found more tedious. Well, that ended tonight, because Little Women plays like a grade school stage play. This is acting broader than a typical silent film. I realize that the family in the film has fallen on hard times, but when they get sausages for Christmas breakfast, you’d think they’d all just won the lottery. And then, of course, they donate their breakfast to a poorer family who are starving and freezing cold and have a new baby, and oh! but it’s all so sappy and irritating.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Morgan! (Morgan - A Suitable Case for Treatment)

Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on laptop.

Every now and then I find a film where it feels like the nomination went to the wrong person. I’m not trying to denigrate the performance of Vanessa Redgrave, but her nomination instead of a nomination for David Warner for Morgan! (also called Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment) seems bizarre. David Warner is the heart and soul of this film and it’s his performance that turns it from a little film about obsession and insanity into something potentially far more interesting.

Morgan Delt (Warner) is a failed artist and a communist radical. He also has a failing marriage with Leonie (Redgrave), who comes from a wealthy family. It’s never stated but somewhat implied that Leonie may well have married Morgan as an act of rebellion against her parents. However, she has had enough of Morgan’s various antics and has decided instead to divorce him and marry Charles Napier (Robert Stephens), an art dealer. Morgan is against this plan and will do anything he can think of to keep Leonie married to him. Because Morgan is also sliding directly into insanity, “anything he can think of” covers a lot of territory.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Judgment at Nuremberg

Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

There are a few films out there that are a wet dream from a casting perspective. Judgment at Nuremberg is just such a film. Seriously, Stanely Kramer must have conspired with the devil to assemble these people in one place. Take a deep breath: Spencer Tracy, Maximilian Schell, Montgomery Clift, Judy Garland, Marlene Dietrich, Richard Widmark, and Burt Lancaster, four of whom nabbed Oscar nominations for this film. For fun, you also get early big screen appearances of Werner Klemperer and William Shatner. Holy shit, but that’s a cast that would make any director of the day drool.

The film takes place in the years following World War II, when various members of the Third Reich were put on trial for war crimes. In the film’s present day, the big trials are over and the surviving members of the Nazi brain trust and military have been dealt with. What remains are the civil servants, officials, and in the case of this film, judges who sentenced people cruelly, unfairly, or with malicious intent. American judge Dan Haywood (Spencer Tracy) has been sent to Germany to preside over the case of four judges. His appointed assistant, Captain Harrison Byers (William Shatner) gets him settled in and we jump right into the case.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Dark Victory

Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on laptop.

When I started watching films seriously, I wasn’t much of a Bette Davis fan. I didn’t understand the appeal. One of the things I’ve taken away from the last several years is that my opinions have changed a ton, and being a Bette Davis fan is one of those changes. I do love me some Bette Davis. When she’s good, and she almost always was, it’s hard to think of anyone better. The biggest hole in my Bette Davis filmography was Dark Victory until tonight. This is one of Davis’s better films and one of the more interesting films of 1939, which is saying something when considering how many great films came from that year.

Judith Traherne (Davis) is a spoiled rich girl who spends her days with her horses and partying with her friends. She’s been having headaches, though, and one day while riding a horse she hopes to turn into a steeplechase champion, she takes a tumble. A fall down the stairs leads to her being dragged to the doctor by her best friend Ann (Geraldine Fitzgerald). Her regular doctor, Dr. Parsons (Henry Travers) can’t make headway, so he takes her to a brain specialist named Dr. Frederick Steele (George Brent). A few tests and some worried looks later and we learn that Judith Traherne is suffering from a malignant brain tumor that requires immediate surgery.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Sin of Madelon Claudet

Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

There was evidently a genre of film in the early days in which a woman makes a single bad choice and spends the rest of the film paying for it. Such is the case with The Sin of Madelon Claudet, a film where a rash decision made early in the film leads to continual misery throughout the thankfully short running time. This has all the earmarks of a film destined to appeal to the baser natures of the audience, all about a fallen woman and her various trials and problems.

Young Madelon Claudet (Helen Hayes in an Oscar-winning role) is spirited away from her farmhouse by Larry (Neil Hamilton), an American who she has fallen in love with. The two run off to Paris where Larry attempts to make a go of it as an artist, albeit a pretty poor one based on the work we’re able to take a look at. During their brief affair, Larry receives a cable from home that his father has fallen ill, and he returns to the states, leaving Madelon behind. Once home, he is forced into a marriage to appeal to his parents, leaving Madelon alone to wait for him with her friend Rosalie (Marie Prevost). She’s also pregnant and eventually gives birth to a son she names Larry in honor of the boy’s missing father.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Off Script: Friday the 13th

Format: Independent Film Channel on rockin’ flatscreen.

When you prepare to talk about one of the granddaddies of the horror/slasher genre, you need to be careful. Friday the 13th is a film that has a reputation, a following, and a massive amount of influence over the films that follow it. If I’m not properly deferential, I immediately become ignorant of history and genre or someone who disagrees for the sake of disagreeing. Love it too much and I’m just sucking up. As tends to be the case my feelings fall somewhere in between.

This is a film that is short on plot, something it has in common with most slasher movies. The basic premise of the genre is to toss a bunch of young kids into a remote location and start picking them off one by one through a variety of stabbings, slashings, bludgeonings, drownings, and any other form of mayhem the filmmakers can think up. Typically, the killer is unstoppable and the teens are whittled down to a final potential victim, who usually lives. That’s certainly what happens here.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Heaven Can Wait (1978)

Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I think I can be forgiven if I assumed based on the name that the 1978 version of Heaven Can Wait was a remake of the film of the same name from 1943. It’s not, though. It’s actually a remake of Here Comes Mr. Jordan with a couple of surface changes. This is a film that runs through a lot of genres. It’s a fish-out-of-water comedy, a fantasy, a romance, a sports movie, and a few other things besides. It’s cute, even if it doesn’t all really work, and the casting is truly inspired.

Joe Pendleton (Warren Beatty) is a back-up quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams—yes, it was made before the team moved. He’s rehabbed himself and with his improved play has put himself in a position to take over the starting job. The team’s trainer Max Corkle (Jack Warden) gives Joe the news that he’s been tapped to start in the next game. In celebration, Joe goes out for a bike ride, but is killed in an accident in a tunnel. Sort of.