Archive for the 'Movies and TV' Category

50 Movie Comedy Kings Disc 12

Posted in Movies and TV on April 3rd, 2013

Meet the Mayor (aka A Fool’s Advice), 1932, b&w. Ralph Ceter (dir.), Frank Fay, Nat Pendleton, Edward J. Nugent, Ruth Hall, Berton Churchill, George Meeker, Hale Hamilton, Esther Howard, Franklin Pangborn. 1:03.

I’m guessing this is another case where if you know and love the main character, Frank Fay, you’ll find it hilarious. I don’t and don’t, and I found it mostly sad. Fay plays a schlemiel—a sad little man whose only job has been elevator operator in the (apparently city-owned?) hotel in a seedy little town, who lives in the hotel, owns a bicycle and apparently not much more, but is sort of a Mr. Fix-It for all and sundry. Including helping out his best friend, who’s inventing a new & better cylinder recording/playback device. And who has the same girlfriend Fay’s character thinks he has.

The title refers to a mayoral election—where the 20-year-in-office mayor, again one who’s only had the one job—is up against a wealthy person who actually wants to sell out the town to the railroad. Through a series of plot points, the new recorder winds up recording the bigshot talking about his plans with the three thugs he’s brought in (thugs who don’t actually do much of anything). Fay’s character blackmails him into quitting the race, and at about that time finds out that his “girlfriend” is engaged to his best friend.

All pretty sad, actually, unless you think the character is a hoot. Unfortunately, I just found him sad and a little depressing. Franklin Pangborn’s always good, but he only has about three minutes on screen. The other (original) title is one of Fay’s catchlines. Being generous, $0.75.

When the Girls Take Over, 1962, color? (b&w). Russell Hayden (dir.), Robert Lowery, Marvin Miller, Jackie Coogan, James Ellison, Ingeborg Kjeldsen. 1:20.

A revolutionary comedy! Of sorts… Set in Hondo-Rica, a Caribbean nation trying to gain investors to produce all sorts of things out of sugar cane (since the sugar itself is a glut on the market, but with a threatened Cuban-style revolution. Of sorts… The revolutionary forces consist of Maximo Toro, the Big Bull, a mustachioed-and-bearded young revolutionary; his American writer/thinker/sidekick (who misses his girlfriend); maybe half a dozen reasonable well-trained and armed sidekicks; and perhaps four dozen lazy soldiers armed with wooden sticks (for the moment) and missing women.

This revolutionary force turns out to be no match for a Texan oilman (young and handsome) who’s already been nationalized out of a bunch of countries and who doesn’t want it to happen this time. He somehow manages to gather a bunch of women, buy a whole fleet of jeeps on the spot, and let loose these women—armed primarily with bottles of rum—on the revolutionaries. That’s just part of the plot in what’s mostly a helter-skelter madcap comedy. Not terrible, but far from great.

IMDB says color, and given that it was filmed in “Virgin Isle” and Puerto Rico and has loads of scenery, it would be a whole lot better that way—but the sleeve says B&W and that’s what the picture actually is. (Since the uniformly-negative reviews on IMDB also all say they saw it in B&W, I’m guessing any actual color prints are long gone.) I’ll give it $1.00.

Too Many Women, 1942, b&w. Bernard B. Ray (dir.), Neil Hamilton, June Lang, Joyce Compton, Barbara Reed, Fred Sherman. 1:07.

A madcap comedy involving a young man, the woman he’s engaged to (but too poor to marry yet) and two former or would-be girlfriends. There’s also a probably-crooked land promoter who wants him to sell land; to get rid of the pest, he claims to have just inherited a fortune. As that news spreads around town, he somehow winds up engaged to three people, on a drunken spree—and totally broke, except for a $1,000 bet on a longshot horse. His grandmother, supposedly at death’s door, is part of this. There’s even a butler. The last 20 minutes is pure traditional farce.

I guess it was mildly amusing, if maybe a little incoherent. For fans of this genre, maybe $1.00.

Flying Wild, 1941, b&w. William West (dir.), Leo Gorcey, Bobby Jordan et al. 1:04.

No. Sorry, but I couldn’t. I gave it 25 minutes, which is about 20 more minutes of Leo Gorcey and the East End Kids than I can normally stand. This time, there’s domestic espionage, “un-American activities” and a flying ambulance service involved, and the rest of the East End Kids are working (but Muggs don’t work, it ain’t his thing, he’s an overage JD and proud of it). And…I just couldn’t. No rating. What a sad way to finish up a 50-movie set.

Summing Up

Three movies I gave a full $2 for: Never Wave at a WAC, Nothing Sacred and The Perils of Pauline. Two almost-classic $1.75 flicks: The Milky Way and Three Husbands. Three pretty good ($1.50), three decent ($1.25) and six mediocre ($1) add up to $23.75 for this half—and that doesn’t include two movies I’d already seen on other sets. If you’re really generous, you could count the three almost mediocre $0.75 flicks and the single barely-watchable $0.50—and, of course, if you like the East End Thugs, that would add a bit. Since the 50-pack currently goes for $14.75 at Amazon, that’s not bad. Oh, and, of course, there’s the first half, where the total of mediocre-or-better flicks came out to $26, for a 50-pack total of $49.75. Not bad.

Too clever by half

Posted in Movies and TV, Technology and software on March 20th, 2013

Sometimes companies seem to use technological improvements in a way that may be snazzy…but is also counterintuitive and even baffling.

We encountered one of those a couple of days ago. This isn’t a Serious Story, but it is a little bit of too clever by half.

Background

Most evenings, we either watch a current TV show (if there’s one we’re watching–currently that means two nights out of seven) or an episode of a series we’re watching via Netflix (discs, not streaming). (Saturdays are movies.)

Currently, one of the two series we’re watching via disc, which we’d never seen when it was on, is Smallville.

We pay the Blu-ray premium for Netflix, ‘cuz we do see the difference, which means that anything that Netflix has in Blu-ray will be sent to us in Blu-ray. (If, for some bizarre reason, we wanted the DVD version of a movie, easy-peasy: there’s a pull-down menu on the disc line in the queue. That doesn’t work for series, because Blu-ray versions sometimes/frequently come on fewer discs than DVD versions.)

We finished Season 5 (with some gratitude for being done with it) and started Season 6 last Sunday. Season 6 is available in Blu-ray. So that’s what we got.

Foreground

Put the disc in. No previews: Nice. Also no opening theme and episode menu…it just started in with the first episode.

Well, OK, that’s fine for the first episode. But we’re not marathon viewers: we watch episodes individually, the way they were intended. (Pounds cane on floor; yells at kids to get off our lawn…)

So, I figured, surely Top Menu will get us to an episode menu, as it does in Chuck (which we own in Blu-ray but won’t rewatch for a couple years yet, probably, and which does the same right-into-episode-one trick).

Nope. Top Menu brings up the extras menu.

Maybe Pop-up Menu. Nope: That doesn’t do anything at all.

Yes, sure, I can turn on the chapter display and skip chapters until we get to Title 2 (the second episode); fine for the first four-episode disc, not so great for five-episode or six-episode discs. And stupid.

I look at online fora. This question has arisen. The snarky response was “Use the pop-up menu.” Which did nothing.

The Big Finish

Last night, after skipping chapters to get to and watch the second episode, I thought I’d try something else.

I was aware that one of the Big Vaunted Advantages of Blu-ray is that you can make menu selections while the disc is playing. I guess that’s a big deal; normally, personally, I’d rather pause the picture, make the changes, and then go on. But hey, it’s a nice feature.

So what if I hit Pop-Up Menu while the episode was playing and not paused?

Oh look: There’s what I would think of as a Top Menu along the bottom of the screen. Episode list and special features. Click on the third episode, and shazam: the third episode.

But surely I must have screwed up on Sunday: Surely Pop-Up Menu would do this if you, sensibly, paused to make a selection.

Not so! In Pause, Pop-Up does nothing at all on this disc.

Gee, thanks, Warner: In your infinite wisdom, you’ve hidden what should logically be the top-level menu where a submenu should be–and made it available only while episodes are actually playing and not paused.  Meanwhile, the submenu of special features is available as the top menu. That’s really clever.

Too clever by half.

Mystery Collection Disc 35

Posted in Movies and TV on March 18th, 2013

Dishonored Lady, 1947, b&w. Robert Stevenson (dir.), Hedy Lamarr, Dennis O’Keefe, John Loder, William Lundigan, Margaret Hamilton. 1:25.

Reviewed in May 2008 as part of another set; I didn’t watch it again. Here’s the review: Hedy Lamarr is a successful magazine editor by day, a love-‘em-and-leave-‘em type at night, and it’s killing her. She drops out, moves to Greenwich Village to paint, falls in love with a scientist in the same building (O’Keefe)—and can’t escape an old paramour. Murder ensues, with a solid attempt to frame her. The naïve scientist is disillusioned, but things work out. Fine drama, well acted. Downgraded for a noisy soundtrack, but still worth $1.25.

Whistle Stop, 1946. b&w. Léonide Moguy (dir.), George Raft, Ava Gardner, Victor McLaglen, Tom Conway, Jorja Curtright. 1:25 [1:21]

Not really a mystery, but an interesting film. A woman (Ava Gardner) who’s been a success in Chicago returns to her hometown—a whistle stop. She still owns a house there, to which she returns, greeted by the family she’s been renting it to—including the son, who’s an old flame who goes out every night drinking and (small-stakes) gambling and doesn’t seem to have a job. (The father’s the station master.) There’s also the suave and maybe overslick owner of a local bar & grill, who has a thing for the woman—and who doesn’t get along at all with the son (George Raft). Oh, and the son’s supposed to have another girlfriend, who he basically ignores in favor of the woman.

Various plot bits, various arguments, winding up with a botched burglary/murder effort involving the friendly bartender—and a real murder that’s an attempt to frame the son. Thanks to the bartender having superhuman abilities of a sort (I won’t give away the ending, but it’s a trifle implausible), it all works out.

And, oddly enough, it’s pretty good—even though the chemistry between Raft and Gardner isn’t there, Raft’s character isn’t particularly likable, and some of the plot doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. A bit missing here and there, but overall I’ll give it $1.50.

Dr. Kildare’s Strange Case, 1940, b&w. Harold S. Bucquet (dir.), Lew Ayres, Lionel Barrymore, Laraine Day, Shepperd Strudwick, Samuel S. Hinds, Walter Kingsford. 1:17 [1:15].

It’s a little tough to approach a 1940 medical mystery with millennial standards. Young Dr. Kildare’s brave move to save a patient who’s “lost his mind” while surviving a brain surgery that the patient explicitly refused (a different surgeon) by injecting him with a massive dose of insulin in the middle of the night…well, Malpractice City sounds about right. But these were more innocent times.

Good cast. Decent acting. Plots within plots within… It moves right along. Entertaining enough if you don’t start wincing. I’ll give it $1.25.

Poppies are Also Flowers (or Las Flores del Diablo), 1966, color. Terence Young (dir.), Omar Sharif, Senta Berger, Stephen Boyd, Yul Brynner, Angie Dickinson, Rita Hayworth, Trevor Howard, Trini Lopez, E.G. Marshall, Marcello Mastroianni, Anthony Quayle, Eli Wallach, Gilbert Roland, Grace Kelly, Harold Sakata, Hugh Griffith. 1:40 [1:34]

I spotted trouble right at the beginning, with a Serious Woman telling me how Important the drug problem was and how the UN was involved and how so much of it revolved around that innocent little flower with not much smell. Yes, that’s right, it’s a movie with a message. Also an all-star cast, presumably working for minimal wages because it’s a Message. Xerox sponsored it at the UN’s request.

Too bad it’s also not great. I would go so far as to say that much of it doesn’t make any sense, but that might be too strong. There’s lots of action, in the Iranian outlands (back when Iran was one of the Good Guys, ruled by a friendly despot), in Monaco, in France, on a cargo ship, on a yacht and finally on a train—but it seemed more helter-skelter than anything else. Maybe the missing six minutes would have helped.

The “color” didn’t help. I’m sure it was filmed in color, and sometimes there were some colors in what’s on the disc, mostly reds and browns, occasionally—very occasionally—pale greens and deep blues, maybe even once or twice a little yellow. But at times it was pure black-and-white and there was never either a bright color or a proper flesh tone: Time has not been kind to this flick. Oddly, other than the mostly-missing color, the print is excellent—full VHS quality.

Even given the earnestness, I can’t give it more than a mediocre $1.00.

50 Movie Gunslinger Classics, Disc 1

Posted in Movies and TV on March 3rd, 2013

I’m afraid the set isn’t off to an encouraging start, but things should get better…

Dead Aim (orig. Arde baby, arde), 1975, color. José Bolaños (dir.), Glen Lee, Venetia Vianello, James Westerfield, Virgil Frye. 1:37 [1:27]

I’m tempted to say this spaghetti western (filmed in Mexico, an Italian/Mexican co-production) has continuity problems, but that would suggest more continuity than I found. It starts in the old west with a guy coming home, finding his wife and infant gone (and his wife’s horse), riding out after them, and in the ensuing gunfight (she’s ridden off with another man), everybody dying except the infant Johnny…who’s rescued by John Applebee, a curious old roving undertaker.

He grows up digging graves and wondering when the undertaker will ever cash in the receipts he gets for each body he buries—apparently at the end of the Civil War, when the government will pay him some amount for each receipt. Sometimes, when there aren’t corpses handy, Johnny helps matters along by getting into bar fights (he’s a crack shot of course). He thinks they should rob a bank so they could go build their own funeral parlor and cemetary (they mostly bury people in the desert), but Applebee doesn’t go for that.

That’s one plot. There’s also a criminal pair, combining a former New Orleans prostitute and an incompetent robber; a black deserter from the Union army; a district commissioner who’s pretty much of a criminal himself and I’m probably forgetting a plot line. Johnny is haunted by dreams of the prostitute in her glory days (which he’d never actually seen), to the point where—even though he and Applebee now have enough gold to go build that cemetary—he leaves during the night to go find her. The film more or less ends as it begins, with a set of gun battles in which almost everybody dies, certainly including our—hero?

I think the moral to the story is: Virgins shouldn’t dream of N’awlins Ladies of French descent; it will only get them into trouble.

Good points: Very good print, good cinematography, lots of scenery. Bad points: Somewhat incoherent editing, unless that’s the script, and not much in the way of acting. Maybe the missing ten minutes would make it better? Try as I might, I can’t give it more than $0.75.

The Devil and Leroy Bassett, 1973, color. Robert E. Pearson (dir. & screenplay), Cody Bearpaw, John F. Gott, George ‘Buck’ Flower, James A. Ward, Dick Winslow, Elliott Lindsey. 1:25 [1:32]

I gave this piece of trash almost 45 minutes, then decided I’d rather be doing almost anything else. Seems there’s an Indian (Keema Greywolf) who’s killed a deputy and shot the sheriff because they were chasing him when he had a blowout as he was speeding, drunk, down the highway after getting married—and his wife died in the resulting rollover. And he’d earlier saved the lives of a couple of drunken rednecks (actually two drunken rednecks and their psychotic evangelical brother), so they decide to break him out. There’s banjo music when the rednecks are, variously, drinking, praising God, shooting people and driving. There’s also a bunch of racist deputies and one wisecracking ladies’ man-style deputy.

Anyway, I just couldn’t. Maybe I’m getting tougher, but I’d rather read, play video poker, work on a C&I article, stare at the ceiling, whatever. No rating.

Apache Blood – previously viewed and absolutely worthless. Almost certainly the worst Western ever made.

I’d be willing to watch this again for, say, $1,000. Otherwise, forget it. I somehow own at least four copies of this garbage because Mill Creek uses it as filler on several sets: one of the few negative things I can say about Mill Creek Entertainment.

Boot Hill (orig. La collina degli stivali, 1969, color. Giuseppe Colizzi (dir. & writer), Terence Hill, Bud Spencer, Woody Strode, Eduardo Ciannelli, George Eastman, Victor Buono, Lionel Stander. 1:40 [1:32]

The good: great cast (Hill & Spenser, Stander as the circus head, Buono as the villain), pretty good print except for some noise over the opening titles, an unusual approach to the Spaghetti Western (most of the movie involved an Old West circus troupe, and both little people and aerialists are involved in the big final battle!), some really good cross-cutting between circus performance and other plot elements. The less good: I found the first half of the plot somewhere between bemusing and impossible to follow or discern. Maybe the eight missing minutes have something to do with that?

The second half’s clear enough: A town full of gold miners is being taken over by an evil overlord who either buys out or kills off claimholders so he can create a mining company for the whole mine area; he also takes over retail in the town. Two iconic gunmen and the traveling circus disrupt the overlord’s plans.

Not really sure what to give this; on balance, maybe $1.25.

50 Movie Comedy Kings Disc 11

Posted in Movies and TV on February 22nd, 2013

Three Husbands, 1951, b&w. Irving Reis (dir.), Eve Arden, Ruth Warrick, Vanessa Brown, Howard Da Silva, Shepperd Strudwick, Robert Karnes, Emlyn Williams, Billie Burke, Louise Erickson. 1:18.

Pan up to the heavens, to the Lower Gates Authority, where a couple of newly-dead souls (voices only) ask their wish, which is granted—and then an Englishman who’s lived n California asks to be allowed to observe Earth for 24 hours. The reason: His lawyer is delivering three identical letters to three of his acquaintances on earth, each one confessing that he’d been intimate with the wife.

That’s the setup. The movie’s actually quite good (with, surprisingly, pretty much happy endings). The characters are interesting, it’s a fairly broad range, and the women are—as they should be—more important characters than the men. Eve Arden is, as always, first-rate, but so are the others. Not quite great, but close: $1.75.

The Villain Still Pursued Her, 1940, b&w. Edward F. Cline (dir.), Billy Gilbert, Anita Louise, Margaret Hamilton, Alan Mowbray, Richard Cromwell, Joyce compton, Buster Keaton, Diane Fisher, Hugh Herbert. 1:06.

A send-up of melodramas, almost a little too much so. We get a silly disclaimer up front, a buffoon of a host telling us to applaud the good guys and hiss the bad guys, and then the show (occasionally interrupted by slides with messages). The tale itself involves a widow and her beautiful daughter, the banker who’s just died (who didn’t care if he was ever paid), his Evil Lawyer, the innocent son—and the curses of drink. No scenery goes unchewed, and the fourth wall is ever absent—except that sometimes a character has to wait for passersby to pass by before he can deliver his direct speech to the audience.

Some of it’s very well done: a pie fight, for example, and a discussion between the Best Friend (Keaton in a late role) and the Villain where people keep walking between the two of them until, at one point, the pedestrians must back up because the BF is declaiming with his arms upraised. There’s also a little scene in a barn where the hero, in his drunken abandon, has awoken in the straw after collapsing the last night—and belches. A pig lying next to him rises, offended, and walks away.

It’s an odd one, it is, with a fine cast. All in all, given the length and oddity, I’ll give it $1.00.

A Bride for Henry, 1937, b&w. William Nigh (dir.), Anne Nagel, Warren Hull, Henry Mollison, Claudia Dell, Betty Ross Clarke. 0:58.

A resplendently dressed bride is outraged because the groom hasn’t showed, and all her high-society friends are waiting downstairs…so she sends for her lawyer. And marries him, to show her fiancé what’s what…never quite realizing that her lawyer’s loved her for years.

That’s the highly plausible start for an odd sort of bedroom farce, one that never really gets into bedrooms: The three wind up on a curious honeymoon. The bride is somewhat of a self-centered bitch. The ex—whose excuse is that he got drunk at the bachelor party, woke up puzzled and went to a morning movie instead of the wedding—turns out to be somewhat of an priggish oaf. Tthe lawyer’s quite a charmer—charming all the ladies at the honeymoon hotel, off with his charming wealthy female friend (who may have a thing for him), charming when he sings a number at the friend’s party. All ends well, of course.

The print’s problematic in some ways—a few clips, some waviness at times—but watchable. The movie itself is light romantic farce and works pretty well. Given the length, I’ll give it $1.00.

We’re in the Legion Now, 1936, “color” (but the print’s b&w). Crane Wilbur (dir.), Reginald Denny, Esther Ralston, Vince Barnett, Eleanor Hurd. 0:56.

The sleeve says color. The opening credits include a “color by Magnacolor” line. Unfortunately, that’s the only color you’ll see (other than shades of gray)—it’s another one of those “it should be color, but it’s not” flicks. (Apparently Magnacolor was an early two-strip color process and TV prints—which this is probably sourced from—were b&w.) The story’s colorful enough, I suppose: Two American gangsters (one of whom speaks with a British accent), in Paris on the run, join the French Foreign Legion and wind up in Morocco. One’s a heavy drinker who always throws empty bottles over his shoulder; the other’s a charmer and also a heavy drinker. They wind up in a labor camp—and, in the process, manage to redeem themselves.

I didn’t find it particularly funny; you might feel otherwise. It’s OK, but at best I’d give it $0.75.

Mystery Collection Disc 34

Posted in Movies and TV on February 6th, 2013

The Last Alarm, 1940, b&w. William West (dir.), J. Farrell MacDonald, Polly Ann Young, Warren Hull, George Pembroke, Mary Gordon, Joel Friedkin. 1:01.

Remember when people were “pensioned” at a fixed age—and retired folks really didn’t know what to do with all that leisure time? That bit of nostalgia is at the heart of this film, which begins and ends with a whole bunch of firemen (and spouses) sitting around a dinner table with the fire chief speechifying. In the first case, it’s to send a retiring captain off in style; in the second…well, you’ll get there.

The captain apparently had no interests other than pinochle with other firefighters and firefighting. He’s completely at odds at home, getting in his wife’s way, breaking dishes when trying to help dry them, etc., etc. Meanwhile, an insurance investigator who’s also engaged to his daughter is having problems because an arsonist is at work—an arsonist who appears to be a pyromaniac. Eventually, the retired captain gets involved and—thanks largely to a remarkable coincidence having to do with an antique set of salt and pepper shakers the daughter covets—tracks down the culprit, who responds by…

No, that’s enough. You might really enjoy this. It’s only an hour long, but it’s well done; I’ll give it the maximum $1.25 for a B flick.

The Panther’s Claw, William Beaudine (dir.), Sidney Blackmer, Rick Vallin, Byron Foulger, Herbert Rawlinson, Barry Bernard, Gerta Rozan. 1:10 [1:11]

We open with a mild-mannered middle-aged man (Foulger) clambering over the wall of a cemetery and being picked up by passing cops, since it’s the middle of the night (which we only know because the cops say so: it’s lit like mid-day). He explains that he was there leaving $1,000 on the top of an aunt’s headstone because a letter told him to…

A few hours later, the increasingly frustrated little man is in a lineup (which makes no sense at all, and apparently he’s now charged with suspected robbery for…well, for the fact that when the cops looked at the headstone, the wallet no longer had the $1,000 the man put in it, so he apparently robbed himself?) and winds up in Commissioner Colt’s office, where he sees a bunch of acquaintances, all from the local opera (either New York Opera or Gotham Opera, depending on the scene): he’s a wigmaker and they’ve all dealt with him. And all have had similar letters from The Panther’s Claw—except that the rest of them, instead of forking over the $1,000, went to the police.

That’s just the first fifteen minutes. We eventually get to the murder of an opera diva who’s supposed to be sailing to South America but is actually holed up in an apartment; a DA who’s somehow certain that this meek little man, who has always fully cooperated with the cops, is clearly The Killer Who Should Burn; another wigmaker getting shot; lots—lots—of talk; the apparent reality that in 1942 New York the cops could just walk in and search any apartment any time they wanted, search warrants be damned. Oh, there’s a happy ending of sorts.

It’s slow-moving, the DA’s attitude makes no sense at all, but Colt’s amusing (Blackmer), the framed wigmaker’s amusing, the whole thing’s fairly amusing. Therefore, $1.00.

The Red House, 1947, b&w. Delmer Daves (dir.), Edward G. Robinson, Lon McCallister, Judith Anderson, Rory Calhoun, Allene Roberts, Julie London. 1:40.

It opens with narration about the farm area it’s set in—all the girls are good looking, while the boys tend to graduate a little late because they take time off to help with the harvest. This leads us to our heroine, who lives with her adoptive parents—who are an aging wooden-legged farmer and his sister, living on a remote farm. There’s also a young man who’s involved with the trampy beauty of the high school (a 21-year-old Julie London), and who gets hired on to help the farmer at the girl’s urging. (His single mom runs a failing local store; the family’s short on money.)

Trouble—and the actual plot—begins when the boy works up to suppertime, has supper with the farm family and says he’ll take a shortcut through the woods to get home. The farmer admonishes him not to do that (the girl’s been forbidden and, up to now, has obeyed), but to no avail. There’s a bunch of spooky stuff in the woods, at one point the kid’s clearly been attacked…and winds up running back to the farm, where he stays overnight.

Most of the plot centers on the mystery of the woods and the red house therein, which is specifically forbidden—for good reason, as it turns out. It’s partly a psychological mystery dealing with the farmer’s deep dark secret. The farmer’s even hired a high-school dropout (Rory Calhoun, 25 at the time) to enforce his no-trespassing rule—with gunfire if necessary. The handsome Calhoun and the trampy London…need I say more? All ends well…although in this case “well” includes a couple of deaths.

Defects: Distorted music (unfortunate, since it’s a Rozsa score) and sometimes distorted soundtrack. Pluses: Not a poverty-row picture; this is from United Artists and stars Edward G. Robinson as the farmer and a strong cast in general. Also, it’s quite well done, with a moderately complex and ultimately satisfying plotline. Given the distortion problems, I come up with $1.50.

Tomorrow at Seven, 1933, b&w. Ray Enright (dir.), Chester Morris, Vivienne Osborne, Frank McHugh, Allen Jenkins, Henry Stephenson. 1:02.

This is one of those odd mystery/romance/screwball movies, with the screwball mostly being two Chicago cops, both of them useless, one of them speaking in wholly arcane supposed cop slang. The theme here is a killer who sends people Aces of Spades warning of their impending doom, then kills them with a sharp instrument. A crime novelist planning to write a book on this fiend is on the way to visit a gentleman who seems to be an authority (and in the process “meets cute” with the authority’s secretary’s daughter).

As this mess proceeds, we have every reason to believe the novelist might be the murderer (he’s clearly in cahoots with somebody, for example)…but he’s so cute that he doesn’t fit the scenario. Gee, who else could it be? Four deaths later—including the villain, after a fight sequence—we know.

I’m torn. It’s fast moving, some of the characters are interesting, and all in all I enjoyed it. But the cops are really overdone, there are some glaring holes in the narrative (e.g., after a phony coroner shows up to examine a body, the real coroner shows—with police supposedly in tow—and, after he establishes his bona fides, that’s it: Nothing more is heard from him or from the cops). I guess it averages out to $1.00.

Panasonic Case #29866973: A sad unfinished story

Posted in Movies and TV on January 27th, 2013

This is not about libraries. This is about companies standing behind their products–or not.

We were late to high-definition TV, because we had a magnificent 34″ Sony XBR TV: 10 years old and still working perfectly.

Finally, in September 2010, we took the plunge. We purchased a 54″ Panasonic TCP54G25 plasma TV at Video Only. We’d gone there thinking of an LED-backlit LCD TV, but the clearly more natural picture of the plasma (Video Only turns off “torch mode” in their display models and doesn’t have a super-bright showroom), and the fact that power consumption on plasmas was finally reasonable, convinced us. (My brother’s slightly older 50″ Panasonic plasma uses 540 watts; our 54″ uses 250 watts when viewing <0.5 watts in standby. What a difference a couple of years can make!) We paid $1,600 for the set (plus tax, stand, Blu-ray player, etc.)–a lot of money, but a great set. We were well aware that Panasonic plasmas have the best reliability record in the only real consumer magazine’s reader surveys–3% repair rate in first 4 years–so we didn’t buy an extended warranty.

An interruption here: The Panasonic’s picture, in THX mode (which we use all the time), in a room with reasonably dim lighting, is superb. I couldn’t ask for better–I never saw the old, discontinued, frightfully expensive Pioneer Kuro sets, and everything I’ve seen or read says that the Panasonic plasmas are the next-best displays ever.

We got the set. We loved the set. We don’t watch a lot of TV–one movie each weekend, usually Blu-ray, either one one-hour show or one 45-minute TV episode on DVD on other nights, sometimes one short movie during the week. In other words, about nine or ten hours a week, or say 470-550 hours a year.

25 months later…

Either on turning the set on or off, I’m not sure which, there was a mild bang. And the power light on the front of the set started blinking four times, then pausing, then blinking four times…

Tried a power cycle. Tried unplugging, then replugging. Same deal: The set wouldn’t go on, but the light would blink…

Did some internet searching. Got a couple of suggestions. Tried them. Net result: Sometimes it would blink 10 times rather than 4.

Called Video Only. Noted that we hadn’t purchased extended warranty (based on best advice from all parties). They said “Call Panasonic.” So I did. ["25 months" is significant: The credit card I used to buy the set might have doubled the manufacturer's 12-month warranty--but at 25 months, we were s.o.l.]

Panasonic gave me the number of a “nearby” authorized repair center and said that, if I thought I should get any break on the repair–since, after all, the set was only 25 months old, and for most circuit boards if nothing dies in the first 90 days the board should last at least 10,000 hours–I’d have to get a written evaluation and fax it to them (or scan & PDF) before getting any repair done. That slows down the repair process, but since my internet searching had suggested that this could be a few hundred dollars, I figured to do that.

The repair shop they said to call was fairly far away, and couldn’t make an immediate appointment. I looked online for authorized Panasonic service centers and found one much closer. They quoted $75 just to do an evaluation, but that would be applied against the repair. I had them come out. The technician did a little testing, talked to Panasonic on his cell phone, and wrote up an evaluation and estimate. I gasped: A flat $295 service fee (including the $75) and another $270.79 for the bad board and sales tax. Oh, and they wouldn’t repair the TV set on-site: They’d take it away, repair it in their shop, and return it. I told them I’d bet back to them…

Then I sent the PDF to Panasonic and waited. A few days later, they called and offered me something like $100 toward the repair. I said that was pretty awful–that still left us paying close to $500 to repair a two-year-old $1,600 TV, one that we knew we could replace (with a similar model) for $1,000 or so. On October 15, they upped the offer to $190–but only for that repair estimate from that shop.

We were still trying to decide whether to accept that offer or to decide it wasn’t worth it and buy a smaller, much cheaper set from Anybody But Panasonic. I called Video Only; the manager said he’d talk to Panasonic…but he also said that we should not use the repair shop that did the estimate, and explained why.

(Which is why I’m not naming them: I can’t vouch for what was said.)

He said I should call George at TV.A Repair–further away, but Video Only’s preferred service shop.

I called George. First thing I learned: His flat repair service charge, including estimate, was $100, not $295. And his price for the same board was about $100 less. I called Panasonic about this. They said they’d only offer to pay part of the repair they’d already had an estimate for…but if I sent them the new paperwork after it was done, they’d see what they could do.

So I scheduled the repair. By now it was the last week of October. And here’s where it gets even more interesting: His testing showed that the original estimate was wrong–the board that the other tech had identified as blown, working directly (on the phone) with Panasonic, was fine; another board was clearly, visibly short-circuited. So he went back, ordered the new board, returned on November 1, and replaced it. At our house: None of this “we’ll take it to the shop.” It cost $280 (plus, of course, the $75 we’d wasted spent on an erroneous estimate).

I sent the paper work to Panasonic. Nothing further was heard from them…

34 days later…

Five minutes after I’d turned on the TV, I heard one loud BANG, a softer Bang, and smelled ozone. A lot of ozone. And, of course, the set was dead. We opened the windows to clear out the air, made sure there wasn’t actually a fire, and swore a little. Or a lot.

Called George again, giving him the new red-light-of-doom pattern, informed Panasonic and Video Only again.

George was so certain that it was the same board blowing again that he didn’t come out; he ordered the board. And Panasonic, apparently because it was a replacement under 90-day repair warranty, took two weeks to send it to him rather than the usual week or so. And when he did bring it out…well, turns out that board was blown, but so were two smaller board. So another order, another long wait.

Finally–a full month later, on January 4, 2013–George replaced the three boards, charged us (only for the two other blown boards, not for his labor or for the replacement board: $80 total), apologized for the situation, and left.

I scanned the invoice, added cover materials, and sent it to Panasonic and Video Only.

I felt that, at the very least, Panasonic should refund the $75 wasted on evaluation by their approved shop. Ideally, the company should do more than that: This was an expensive set, Panasonic is supposed to have great reliability, we really don’t watch that much TV, and the repeat failure seems wholly unreasonable. We were without an HDTV for all but 34 days of the period from October 5, 2012 to January 4, 2013, much of that time because of the delays caused by Panasonic’s procedures. (Hey, a voucher for a really good soundbar/subwoofer might make us happier…we still haven’t gotten one.)

Since January 4, 2013

So far, the set’s working. In my Candide mode, I’m hoping that, in fact, the first blown board had degraded the two smaller boards in the process of blowing, so that maybe everything’s fine now and we’ll get the kind of lifespan you should get from a fairly expensive top-rated TV–which, I’ll suggest, is at least 10,000 hours of use. (Right now, 5,000 hours would be a huge improvement. 1,100 hours just does not cut it.)

I have not heard from Panasonic. Period. No check, no offers, no nothing. I tried calling, a couple of times, but gave up.

We’re out $355 plus loads of aggravation and doing without.

And, at this point, much as we love the picture on the Panasonic–and let there be no mistake, we do love the plasma picture at THX settings–we would certainly not buy another Panasonic if this happens again. Not with Panasonic’s lack of apparent support for their own products.

Seems a shame. By the way, if the company does belatedly come through, I’ll certainly add a postscript to this post.

Panasonic knows where we live: Thus the case # above. If not, I can be readily contacted: waltcrawford @ gmail.com

 

Box Office Gold Disc 13

Posted in Movies and TV on January 24th, 2013

C.C. and Company, 1970, color. Seymour Robbie (dir.), Joe Namath, Ann-Margret, William Smith, Greg Mullavey. 1:34.

We start with this oddly handsome dude strolling through a grocery store, cutting open various items to make himself a ham & cheese sandwich, eat it, have some milk, have some cupcakes, wipe his mouth and, after destroying probably $10-$15 worth of goods, buy a $0.10 candy and walk out. So: He’s a sociopath, probably the villain, right?

Nope. That’s the hero, played by Joe Namath—and, see, he’s only an everyday casual criminal (thief, possible rapist, whatever), where the motorcycle gang he hangs out with is headed up by some hard-core criminals. Just for starters: The four young women who are part of the gang are also the gang’s primary means of support through prostitution.

We get a sense of our hero’s predispositions when he and two of the really bad cases in the gang, after harassing some non-criminal motorcyclists, run upon a stranded limousine (hood open) with a very shortskirted Ann-Margret in the back seat. He starts looking at the engine, with her alongside. The other two get into the limo, start drinking the booze and watching cartoons on the TV, then grab her to join them. When she starts to resist, they’re ready to beat up on her, and only at that point does the hero make a move, saying (paraphrased) that it’s fine to rape her but don’t actually hit her.

You know how this is going to work out: Of course these two wind up together.

Sad. The print’s in great condition (better than VHS, I’d say). As an actor, Joe Namath was a great quarterback. Roger “Mr. Ann-Margret” Smith wrote the screenplay,. Ann-Margret’s always fun, there’s some good motocross racing (and a fair amount of casual nudity: this one earned its R rating. But it’s mostly trash. Being generous, $1.00.

The Concrete Cowboys, 1979, color (TV). Burt Kennedy (dir.), Jerry Reed, Tom Selleck, Morgan Fairchild, Claude Akins, Roy Acuff, Barbara Mandrell, Ray Stevens, Lucille Benson, Gene Evans. 1:40? [1:31]

This one’s a hoot—intended that way, and for me (at least) it works. Two Montana cowboys decide to head out for Hollywood on a bus—but wind up in Nashville via freight train. One thing leads quickly to another and they’re posing as private eyes trying to track down a supposedly dead young woman with a decidedly mixed recent past. There’s lots more plot and, while I won’t provide any spoilers, I will say that they wind up on another freight train, this time at least headed west.

If you like Jerry Reed circa 1979 as a good ol’ boy, you’ll love this. If you like a young (well, 34-year-old) Tom Selleck as a cowboy who wants to read everything he can get his hands on—well, you’ll love it too. If you hate country music, you probably won’t care for it: There’s a live Ray Stevens performance, some Jerry Reed songs on the soundtrack, and bit parts by some of country’s greatest stars at the time. And there’s Morgan Fairchild, as always playing a gorgeous woman of negotiable morals. Each chapter (i.e. sections between commercial interludes) begins with a painted title page, very nicely done.

Decent print. I found the whole thing a thoroughly enjoyable 90 minutes of fluff—just as it was intended. It aired as a TV movie and returned as a series that lasted all of seven episodes in 1981—with Jerry Reed but without Selleck or Fairchild. $1.50.

Mean Johnny Barrows, 1976, color. Fred Williamson (dir.), Fred Williamson, Roddy McDowall, Stuart Whitman, Tony Caruso, Elliott Gould, Jenny Sherman. 1:30 [1:25]

I came close to giving up on this sad little movie about halfway through. That would have been a good decision. We meet Johnny Barrows (Fred Williamson) as he’s being set up—in Vietnam, I guess—by a couple of crackers who slip a live mine into his training mine field; he cold-cocks one of them. Next we see, he’s on a bus: dishonorably discharged. Next, he gets mugged and taken downtown as a drunk…silver star and all. (Elliott Gould has a two-minute part as a “retired professor of philosophy” who’s a talented bum and wants to show Johnny the soup-kitchen ropes.)

Through various plot twists we get to him offing a bunch of gangsters on behalf of another gangster—but it’s OK because the new gangsters were selling dope to “his people.” And apparently falling for a woman who, if he had a lick of sense, he would know is trying to set him up.

Williamson’s apparent strength is not talking, which frequently makes no sense. He mostly stands around being moody. The cinematography—with odd random shots here and there—is on par with the acting. We get martial arts sequences which would make more sense if we didn’t know the parties were armed. Lots of deaths. No heroes. No even plausibly likable characters. The ending is remarkably stupid, but I won’t spoil it. The theme seems to be “peace is hell.” It’s also one of those cases where a director-star manages to louse both roles up pretty badly. A lousy print makes this, even charitably and for Williamson fans, worth at most $0.75.

Mesmerized, (aka My Letter to George), 1986, color. Michael Laughlin (dir.), Jodie Foster, John Lithgow, Michael Murphy, Dan Shor, Harry Andrews, Philip Holder. 1:34 [1:30

An odd one, this, set in New Zealand and supposedly based on a true story. It begins with Jodie Foster as defendant in a courtroom, then proceeds in flashback—to an infant being dropped off at a foundling home, then not quite 18 years later to Foster at the home being asked to see a visitor. Who, it turns out, is the tall and very strange John Lithgow, who’s there to take her hand as an arranged bride…and then return her to the home until she’s of legal age a few months later.

Then…well, he runs a chains of shops, lives in a fairly remote area, is somewhat of a brute and has a much more brutish brother and a kinder younger brother. After enduring his charms, she manages to sneak off, pawn a carriage for enough money to purchase passage to America—but the brute and father catch her (and the younger brother), and in the ensuing brawl, she brains the younger brother with a candlestick or something (presumably aiming for her husband). The husband and father pronounce the brother dead, whisk her away…and a bit later assure her it’s all been covered up. Then there’s a letter, which they hide from her but which she eventually finds.

Anyway, this tale also involves mesmerizing (hypnosis), a preacher and friend of the couple, the idiot husband breathing in mercury vapors while helping to poison rats and nearly dying as a result…and his eventual death. From chloroform poisoning.

It’s all a bit much, even if there is sort of a happy ending and even if it is based on a true story. But Foster and Lithgow are both fairly effective and the print’s decent, so I’ll give it a middling $1.25.

Summing Up

So what do we have in the second “half” of this set (a bit more than half, as I included discs 7 through 13 in the second half)? Nothing worth $2 or more, and three I was unwilling to finish watching. One very good $1.75: Cold War Killers. Six good at $1.50, eight so-so $1.25, five mediocre $1.00. That adds up to $25.75. In an odd sort of symmetry, the first half (22 movies) totaled $25.25 for movies I gave $1 or more. That adds up to $51, then, if you’re reasonably generous—and the set sells for around $45 at this point. Certainly not one of the better bargains among these fifty-movie packs, and with lots of weakness—but an interesting lot. And hey, it’s all in color.

Comedy Kings Disc 10

Posted in Movies and TV on December 28th, 2012

Riding On Air, 1937, b&w. Edward Sedgwick (dir.), Joe E. Brown, Guy Kibbee, Florence Rise, Vinton Haworth, Anthony Nace. 1:10 [1:07]

Whether you find this amusing, hysterical or annoying will depend mostly on how you feel about Joe E. Brown, the rubber-faced comic who here plays the managing editor (and only staff) of a small-town daily newspaper, which he’s saving up to buy for $5,000. He has a thing for a young woman whose father owns a department store and doesn’t much care for him. There’s a romantic rival, who has a job as a stringer for a Chicago paper and stands to inherit $10,000…with which he plans to buy the small-town daily. Oh, and Brown’s character wins a radio essay contest with a $5,000 prise.

That’s just the start. In all, it involves perfume smuggling, radium deliveries, radio-controlled airplanes (not model airplanes), swindlers and a whole bunch of physical humor. I’m somewhere in the middle where Brown is concerned: At the start of the movie I found his schtick tiresome, but by the end I was enjoying it. Incidentally, both plot summaries at IMDB are almost entirely wrong, as is the plot summary on the disc sleeve. $1.00.

Road to Bali – Previously reviewed.

St. Benny the Dip, 1951, b&w. Edgar G. Ulmer (dir.), Dick Haymes, Nina Foch, Roland Young, Lionel Stander, Freddie Bartholomew. 1:20

I’m not entirely sure why, but this one’s absolutely charming. Maybe it’s the strong cast (consider: Topper—Roland Young; Max from Hart to Hart—Lionel Stander, who by the way was blacklisted during the HUAC years; this was his last credited film role until 1963; and there’s no gainsaying any of the other players, surely not Nina Foch or Dick Haymes); maybe something else. The plot: A trio of con men are pulling a little sting, where they play poker with a guy, dope his drink, convince him—before he passes out—that four women are coming up for an evening of fun, and then take off; he’d be too embarrassed and worried about his wife’s reaction to his obvious philandering to call the cops.

Except that the hotel switchboard operator who’s calling him with the setup call has also notified the cops. And the three con men wind up on the lam, which takes them to a Catholic church, which somehow—with the indirect help of a priest who doesn’t care for a cop’s attitude—leads to them being back out on the street dressed as priests. And winding up in a derelect tabernacle or mission…where the police discover them and decide it’s a miracle: They’ve been sent to resurrect the mission.

That’s how it starts. How it ends? Oddly—but with a load of heart and good humor, despite few belly laughs and nearly zero credibility. It’s even a romantic comedy of sorts. And Dick Haymes has one good musical number. The music on the soundtrack tends to distort, and that’s the biggest strike against it. Still, $1.50.

Swing It, Sailor!, 1938, b&w. Raymond Cannon (dir.), Wallace Ford, Ray Mayer, Isabel Jewell. 0:57 [1:02].

I’m guessing this movie might be good…if you’re a Wallace Ford fan and think he’s insanely funny. or if you think Navy comedies must be funny (and quite a few of them are). Otherwise? Not so much. The plot is based on a sailor who consistently gets his muscular, unable-to-swim buddy Husky to loan him money, do his work, take the blame, whatever. When they come back into port, Husky’s planning to propose to a woman…and the moocher wants to make sure that doesn’t happen, and that Husky reenlists. To that end, the moocher courts the woman (who’s on the make in any case).

Real amusing stuff, right? Sure, there’s some physical comedy, but it’s mostly a little depressing (yes, it was set in the depression, but that’s no excuse). I’m being extremely generous in giving this one $0.50.

Box Office Gold Disc 12

Posted in Movies and TV on November 28th, 2012

Angels Hard As They Come, 1971, color. Joe Viola (dir.), Scott Glenn, Charles Dierkop, James Iglehart, Gilda Texter, Gary Littlejohn, Gary Busey. 1:26.

We open with some motorcycle dudes (one driving a motorized tricycle) trying to close a drug deal, but the man’s watching. From there, we get some of them—the Angels—tooling down the road, where they meet up with members of another outlaw cycle gang, the Dragons. They’re told of an ongoing party with some hippies in a ghost town, so of course they drop everything and join it.

All’s fine until some of the Dragons gang-rape (apparently) one of the hippie girls, she winds up dead, the Angels wind up in the ghost town’s jail and things start going south. Eventually—after a whole bunch of violence and some topless dancing—most of Dragons are dead and the hippies and Angels leave. That’s about it. Gratuitous everything.

Utterly worthless. Good print, but even as an exploitation flick this one’s just pointless and vile. For fans of motorcycles and truly worthless biker flicks, maybe $0.25.

Jane Eyre, 1970 (TV movie), color. Delbert Mann (dir.), George C. Scott, Susannah York, Ian Bannen, Jack Hawkins, Jean Marsh. 1:50 [1:39]

This is one of those “why is this in a cheap 50-movie set?” movies. I mean: George C. Scott. Susannah York. Jane Eyre. Music by John Williams. And a pretty respectable British production. Not a great print, but usually near-VHS quality. I won’t comment on the plot, which I assume is fairly true to the original (depressing, although love sort-of triumphs in the end). Scott (as Rochester) leaves a few toothmarks in the scenery, but probably no more than the role calls for. York does a pretty good imitation of being plain, and a fine job in the role.

All in all, a solid piece of work. OK, it’s a TV movie (but a good one), and there appear to be a few minutes missing, but it’s still pretty solid. (I list Jean Marsh above because she’s Mrs. Rochester, in a crucial but non-speaking role.) Not great, but certainly worth $1.50.

The Seniors, 1978, color. Rod Amateau (dir.), Jeffrey Byron, Gary Imhoff, Dennis Quaid, Lou Richards, Rocky Flintermann, Priscilla Barnes, Alan Reed, Edward Andrews, Ian Wolfe, Alan Hewitt, Robert Emhardt. 1:27.

An odd little confection about four men, seniors in college who share an old house and a beautiful “nympho who loves to cook and clean” and who are terrified of graduating and going to Work. They have a dweebish friend who lusts after their nympho and who is a lab assistant to and buffer to the world for a “three-time Nobel winner” entomologist (there are so many entomology Nobel categories) who gets any grant he asks for and will sign anything the lab assistant puts in front of him. So the four prepare a $50,000 grant request for a study on sexual preferences of liberated college women (or something like that).

From there on, well, part of it seems like an excuse for half a dozen or more college women to drop their tops (but did all college women in 1978 really wear such long and dowdy clothing?), and we learn that hundreds of beautiful coeds will rush at the opportunity to have sex with strangers for $20 an hour. After the four (the original men in the “study”) realize the money may eventually run out, they decide to expand the study to involve other male participants paying $50 an hour to participate in the study…and take over a motel to serve as a research source. (The coeds get $20; the rest goes for overhead and expansion and…well, and profit. All in the name of science, to be sure.)

In other words, it’s a comedy about the joys of prostitution. (At this point, the always-willing coed participants are signing up for 6 days-a-week two-hour shifts: Sure it’s just research.) It also involves venal leaders of the community, a foundation person hot after the 72-year-old scientist (who’s breeding an indestructible mosquito to take over the world) and more uplifting material.

A trashy little item with some up-and-coming and down-and-going actors. (Quaid was 24 at the time; Barnes was 20.) Not badly done for what it is. I’ll give it $0.75.

The Deadly Companions, 1961, color. Sam Peckinpah (dir.), Maureen O’Hara, Brian Keith, Steve Cochran, Chill Wills, Strother Martin. 1:33.

Another “how did this get into a cheap megapack?” movie—a decent Western with reasonable starpower and a first-rate director. (Ah, but it was early in Peckinpah’s career.) The basic story: A guy shows up in an Arizona town, sees another guy hanging from a rafter in a “torture him to death” situation, saves him. Well…turns out the first guy—who never takes off his hat—is a former Union officer who was almost scalped by a Johnny Reb and has been looking for him. Guess who?

The rest of the plot is complex and involves an accidental killing, a bank robbery, a love story of sorts, various forms of betrayal, loads of Arizona scenery and about as much of a happy ending as makes sense for this kind of flick. All in all, well done, a pretty good print, not a great movie but not a bad flick. $1.25.

In case you’re wondering: This isn’t the last disc in the megapack. Because these are all full-length movies, the 50-movie set requires 13 discs.


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