Archive for the 'Movies and TV' Category

They’re Just Movies

Posted in Movies and TV on February 28th, 2012

After seeing some long, heated stuff about certain movies (and, indeed, about how any good movie should “change your life”), I find that I either want to join TJM or found it.

TJM: They’re Just Movies

Case in point:

I went to high school in the same school and class as a moderately short guy who’s now a billionaire in the movie industry, has kept his operations in Northern California, and has in some ways transformed quite a few aspects of the field (and some associated fields–certification of one display setup on our new HDTV is a great idea, and choosing that option yields a fine, natural picture).

A caveat: I didn’t know this person during high school–it was a full-size high school, with 530 people in our graduating class, and we ran in different circles. I don’t know him know. At one high school reunion, the only one I’ve attended (he gets to all of them, I believe), we were at adjacent tables, but since he was being thronged and I never knew him, I neither introduced myself nor talked to him. There were two stretch limos at that reunion. Neither was his. That told me something…

This person made a true starmaking movie, about our graduating class, Thomas Downey High School, 1962–and that’s certainly where I was in ’62 (although he couldn’t film it in Modesto because Modesto didn’t look like that any more).

He also made several tributes to the scifi-tinged serials from his youth–but this time with a lot bigger budget and vastly superior special effects. Just to make things interesting, he made the (programmatically) fourth of six related tributes first.

He’s also kept tinkering with those movies as they’ve been released on DVD and on Blu-ray.

People take these movies awfully damn seriously. But, y’know,

They’re Just Movies.

I’m not putting them down. I loved the movie about our high school. We loved the first (that is, second in terms of story line) trilogy of movies. We enjoyed the other trilogy, mostly. We own the DVD (not Blu-ray: since we already purchased the DVDs, we’ll probably stick with those) set of the first trilogy with his tinkerings–and with a great fourth disc documentary.

But they’re just movies. I can’t get that excited about whether what I saw originally is more canonical than what the creator wants to show me now.

In a related item, I saw earnest discussion from people disappointed by the Academy Award winner–not because it wasn’t a fine picture but because it didn’t change their lives.

Really? A movie should change your life?

They’re just movies.

But, hey, starting an organization would be too much like work, especially since, by denying the importance of movies, the organization would be indirectly endorsing the importance of movies. And, after all, they’re just movies.

Mystery Collection Disc 29

Posted in Movies and TV on February 16th, 2012

The Hoodlum, 1951, b&w. Max Nosseck (dir.), Lawrence Tierney, Allene Roberts, Marjorie Riordan, Lisa Golm. 1:02.

The term “film noir” and the vaguer “noir” have been applied by various amateur reviewers to many of the flicks in this massive set, and I suspect this one’s no different. (As I discovered checking IMDB: Yep—”a very underrated B film noir.” You can get away with almost any crap as long as it appears to be noir.) Unfortunately, “noir” has become a lazy way to glamorize cheap, nasty flicks—ones that revel in the dark side of humanity without the skill to suggest deeper meanings. I suspect much of what’s celebrated as noir is actually a browner color that gives off a certain stench: film crap. This one doesn’t even have the excuse of being filmed during the Depression.

This sad little B movie gives it away in the title. It’s about a hoodlum—a piece of work who’s arrested pretty much every year from age 15 onward for increasingly serious acts of casual thuggery. This time, he’s in for 5 to 25—and although the warden sees a lifetime criminal for what he is, the aging mother somehow convinces the parole board to free him.

Which, of course, does not go well. Need I recount the plot? He betrays his brother, seduces his brother’s girlfriend (who later commits suicide), sets up a really dumb armored car robbery that yields two dead in his little gang and two dead armored car employees…and eventually even his mother tells him what a piece of work he is, then dies. As does he, shortly thereafter. He never grows as a character; he’s scum, and seemingly proud of it.

I see no redeeming qualities in this other than its brief length. If you’re a believer that all noir has its worth (as, apparently, most of those who deigned to review this on IMDB do) and that badly-done cheap flicks with no redeeming virtues are all noir, I suppose this could get $0.50.

Dick Tracy’s Dilemma, 1947, b&w. John Rawlins (dir.), Ralph Byrd, Lyle Latell, Kay Christopher, Jack Lambert, Ian Keith, Bernadene Hayes, Jimmy Conlin. 1:00.

It’s a Dick Tracy B programmer, and that means slightly over-acted fun with silly character names, oddly-named villains, and good clean fun. This time, the villain is The Claw, a criminal whose right hand was replaced with a hook in the same accident that messed up one of his legs. We also have Honesty Insurance (with Peter Premium as a VP), Vitamin Flintheart, Tess Trueheart, Sightless the ‘Blind’ Beggar (whose sign is honest: “I am Sightless”), Longshot Lillie and more.

The setup: A furrier’s fortune in furs is stolen from his vault—by somebody who clearly knew the combination, changed just a couple days ago when the furrier changed insurance companies. In the process, the night watchman was slain. Who did it and why? We find out in a spirited hour. Great fun, but also a one-hour flick (and exactly the right length); I give it $1.00.

Black Gold, 1936, b&w. Russell Hopton (dir.), Frankie Darro, LeRoy Mason, Gloria Shea, Berton Churchill, Stanley Fields, Frank Shannon, George Cleveland, Fred ‘Snowflake’ Toones, Dewey Robinson. 0:57 [0:54].

What we have here is a musical, with original songs. Or it’s a romantic dramedy, with a young couple meeting cute and immediately falling for each other. Or it’s a tale of industrial sabotage and ruthless oilmen. Or it’s a tale of rebellious youth. It’s really all of those, with easily enough plot for a three-hour extravaganza…and the whole thing runs 54 minutes. Of which the first 2+ minutes are essentially waste footage showing various oil-rig scenes and showing off the cinematographer’s love of fancy dissolves, and another couple of minutes are apparently stock footage with the star overlaid, also showing off both fancy dissolves and fancy picture overlays.

What it isn’t is a mystery. The villain’s obvious from the first time we meet him, the ending has to be a happy one (although there’s a twist to it that makes no sense at all to me, but to explain it would be a spoiler), and very little is mysterious along the way. I think the movie relies primarily on fans of Frankie Darro, and it’s one of those movies that starts out by showing each major character with the actor’s name. It’s certainly fast-moving, and enjoyable enough in its odd way. I’ll give it $1.00.

Blonde Ice, 1948, b&w. Jack Bernhard (dir.), Robert Paige, Leslie Brooks, Russ Vincent, Michael Whalen, James Griffith, Emory Parnell, Walter Sands, John Holland, Mildred Coles. 1:13.

This flick, which is a noir film of sorts (of the femme fatale variety) starts out fast and never stops moving. We’re at a wedding, where various men are bemoaning the fact that their onetime girlfriend is marrying a wealthy man—and some of them have engraved cigarette cases from her. One throws the case away from a verandah (the wedding’s at the wealthy groom’s home), shortly before the new bride comes out and assures him that she loves him (not the groom) and will write to him from the honeymoon…

Now the couple are on the honeymoon. She’s writing a love letter to the spurned man; when her husband enters the room, she covers it with a brief letter to somebody else. Unfortunately, when he’s reading the innocent letter, he drops it, reveals the other letter, and walks out on her, flying back from the LA hotel to his home in San Francisco.

Without revealing too much of the plot, let’s just say that the next day the new widow goes after her old flame again…and then gets engaged to an up-and-coming Congressman, shedding some more blood along the way. Oh, and pretty convincingly framing the old flame who she still professes to love.

It all works out in the end, and it’s quite an amalgam of newspaper life (the old flame’s a newspaper columnist, she was a society writer and has become the society editor) and sheer coldblooded ambition mixed with sociopathy. The only problem I had is that this woman strikes me as so absurdly cold that, stunning as she may be, I couldn’t see how she got so many men falling for her so rapidly. But I’m sure it happens. Despite that, this is a good one, worth $1.50.

It’s not film noir, they’re Mist Filme

Posted in Movies and TV on February 9th, 2012

As I’ve been going through the 250-movie Mystery Collection, I’ve seen quite a few flicks that some cineastes would label as cinema noir or film noir–most of them low-budget black-and-white movies, usually badly filmed and seeming to celebrate the darker side of humanity.

Some of them probably are film noir. Some of them I’ve even enjoyed (as I have some of the classics of the supposed genre). All of them, as far as I can tell, have been labeled as noir classics or at least interesting noir by IMDB’s merry band of amateur reviewers, for some of whom almost any movie has not only redeeming but praiseworthy characteristics. [I just checked: Yep, some of the IMDB reviews for Apache Blood, almost certainly the worst Western ever filmed and a strong contender for worst movie of all time, manage to find some merit in it.]

Mist Filme

But some of them aren’t. They’re not subtle or existential inquiries into the darker side of humanity. They’re not … oh, you can supply your own set of noirish comments.

They’re mist filme. I would have called them cinema merde, but that phrase has been taken (both in that form and as cinema de merde), and seems to be used for the “so bad they’re entertaining” stuff like, well, Plan 9 from Outer Space.

Mist filme is German for “shit films” or “crappy films” according to Google Translate–at least it’s the version that doesn’t require special characters. I plan to use it in the future as shorthand for movies that are just plain crappy–not “if only they had more talent” bad, not “worth satirizing” bad, just bad.

I don’t remember how many movies from the first 28 discs of the 60-disc set fall into this category. I certainly don’t plan to go back and find out. My most recent run-in with mist filme came yesterday, when I began viewing Disc 29 with The Hoodlum, the first of four movies (three of them around one hour long, all presumably B “programmers” filmed to fill out double bills) on the disc.

The movie has no redeeming virtues that I could find. I watched the whole thing partly because it was short, partly because I kept hoping there would be something to redeem it. Nope. But look at the IMDB page: an average rating of 6.2, which would make it a pretty good flick. Maybe so, if mist filme is your thing.

I’ve been down to one old flick a week, but this time I moved on to the next movie just a day later, if only to balance out the crappy movie. The next one: Dick Tracy’s Dilemma, By comparison, it’s a masterpiece. (I’ll post the review after I watch the other two flicks on this disc, as usual.)

Mist filme. A genre to be avoided at all costs.


Update: On further reflection and the advice of sensible folk, I realize that there’s no way I’ll make a neologism like this work. So it’s back to either “film merde” or just “crap” as a descriptor.

Box Office Gold, Disc 7

Posted in Movies and TV on February 2nd, 2012

In all the old movie sets I’ve reviewed, I’ve only failed to complete a few movies—one because it was too gruesome, at least one because my tolerance for a gang of juvenile delinquents had run out, a couple for other reasons. But I’ve also sat through some movies that were really, truly uninteresting even after half an hour.

No more. Nobody should be reading these “reviews” for anything other than casual amusement. So I’m adopting a flick version of the Nancy Pearl Rule (you know: If after 100 pages minus your age a book doesn’t hold your attention, give up), which itself is a codification of Life is Too Short. From now on, if I just don’t give a damn about a movie after half an hour, I’m inclined to give up. Life really is too short. I’ll include a short note as to why I didn’t watch it, but no $rating. The situation arises right away with this larger half of the set.

Choices, 1981, color. Silvio Narizzano (dir.), Paul Carafotes, Victor French, Lelia Goldoni, Val Avery, Demi Moore, William R. Moses. 1:30.

The plot from the sleeve—and I got pretty well into it within the first 30-40 minutes: A high school student is a great football player and a virtuoso violinist (in the school orchestra that’s taught by his grandfather), and of course good-looking and popular. But he’s also deaf: Completely deaf in one ear, half-deaf (well, a lot more than half-deaf without his hearing aid: he can’t hear somebody speaking behind him at all) in the other, as the result of a swimming accident when he was eight.

The new school doctor says he can’t play football because he’s deaf. As his father and the coach are trying to appeal this situation, he starts withdrawing and hanging out with a punk acquaintance just back from Juvie. Oh, he also tries to get it on with a girl he’s known for something like 15 minutes…and this is before he gets knocked off the team.

This rates as “Box Office Gold” because of a very young Demi Moore in a small role, I guess (she was 18 and it’s her film debut, but it’s a tiny part). The problem is that I really didn’t find the kid sympathetic or believable, I found the movie listless and boring, and I didn’t feel like watching the rest of what felt like an Afterschool Special flick. Life is too short. (I thought of “Afterschool Special” before I saw just that description in the first IMDB review). No rating.

Crossbar, 1979, color, made for Canadian TV. John Trent (dir.), Brent Carver, Kim Cattrall, John Ireland, Kate Reid. 1:18.

Another movie about a young sports star with a disability problem—but this one’s quite different. The hero is a Canadian Olympic-class high jumper (the sleeve says “pole vaulter” but he doesn’t use a pole), winner of a bronze medal, who goes back to his farm and winds up missing a leg because of a combine accident. He’s not a virtuoso in some other field, he’s not an amoral asshat, and while he certainly goes through some issues, the film is largely about bravery and relationships (family and otherwise) and it winds up being decent. A young Kim Cattrall (22 at the time) plays his ex-girlfriend/coach and does it well.

The plot, basically: His sometime girlfriend, an Olympic-class runner, comes out to visit—but she’s actually planning to move to her new boyfriend’s place with superior training facilities as she prepares for the next Olympics. He doesn’t know this. He’s more than a little down and sneaks off one day to canoe a river with rapids, with no safety vest, apparently thinking he might just die. He doesn’t—and decides he wants to get back into jumping. Which he does, despite his father’s “freak show” comment, with the help of the ex-girlfriend, now coach, and—eventually—all the other Canadian jumpers.

Far-fetched? (A one-legged man hopping up to the bar and clearing a 7′ crossbar height?) I dunno. Nicely done, with some realistic family portrayals? Yes. Of course it’s schmaltzy and includes some of the typical stuff you’d expect, but it also has some fairly good acting (including John Ireland and Kate Reid as the guy’s parents). Not great, but not terrible, and a very good print: $1.25.

Lovers and Liars (orig. Viaggio con Anita), 1979, color. Mario Monicelli (dir.), Goldie Hawn, Giancarlo Giannini, Claudine Auger, Aurore Clement, Laura Betti, Andrea Ferreol; score (and conducted) by Enrico Morricone. 2:00 [1:35]

I suppose you could call this odd little Italian movie a romantic comedy, if your definition of “romantic” is based on Elvis Presley’s classic “Hounddog”—or, in this case, horndog, the apparently sole motivation of the male protagonist. It’s most definitely European, even if it does feel like a TV movie: Casual full frontal nudity (no, not Goldie), extremely casual sex (yes, Goldie), not terribly sophisticated writing.

The plot: Guido, our “hero,” gets a call while he’s at home with his attractive wife and rebellious teen: His father’s doing badly and he needs to go to the family home up north. So he packs…and goes over to where his girlfriend from the last summer lives, so he can pick her up and take her with him. She’s moved on (as is demonstrated when she resists his charming attempt to have sex with her while she’s still asleep), but her temporary roommate—Here’s Goldie!—would be happy to have him drive her north. (She works at the U. of Chicago, met an Italian there, fell for him…and bought a 14-day excursion air fare so she could visit him. He, of course, is no longer interested. So she’s trying to see Italy on no money.)

After various misadventures including a multicar crash and his attempt to have sex with her while she’s asleep—in the car—which she responds to as sort of “I’m not interested, but if that’s what you want…” they wind up on a tourist island, but it’s off-season. Then we get various other bits of nonsense as he’s trying to keep her available (“interested” doesn’t seem to be an issue: she has no apparent qualms about whatever partner’s handy) while he deals with his family. The trouble is, he doesn’t appear to have any personality other than being a horndog—he’s mostly tiresome.

It all climaxes in a long set of scenes where we learn that his father—now dead—had had a mistress for 18 years; his brothers knew; so, for that matter, did the mother (but didn’t say); and, well…the movie ends. I kept hoping for it all to mean something. That was clearly a forlorn hope. Maybe the missing 25 minutes explains why this “screwball comedy” just seemed sort of blah. Goldie Hawn is very Goldie Hawnish. The Enrico Morricone score? Meh. A very soft print. Charitably, $1.

Twisted Nerve, 1968, color. Roy Boulting (dir.), Hayley Mills, Hywel Bennett, Billie Whitelaw, Phyllis Calvert, Frank Finlay, GBarry Foster, Salmaan Peerzada. 1:58 [1:52]

In the opening scene, a young man is playing ball with a person with Down syndrome. This turns out to be at an institution, the young man is the other’s brother, the doctor says not to disturb their mother by bringing her around. Did I mention that the filmmakers found it necessary to have a voice-over before the movie emphasizing that people with “mongolism” (and their siblings) aren’t necessarily psychotic or criminals…and, yes, used the term “mongolism” repeatedly in a 1968 film.

Next: The young man’s in a toy store. He goes up to the counter looking at a duck. While an attractive young woman is discussing the price of something with the clerk (and smiles at him at one point) and then buying something, he pockets the duck. Two store detectives follow both of them out of the store, interrogate them on the assumption that the young woman is his confederate in shoplifting, and eventually free them when she pays for the toy after convincing them that she has no idea who the young man is. The young man, calling himself Georgie (his name’s Martin) and frequently referring to himself in the third person, says he loves ducks…

With a start like that…OK, I probably should have given up on it early, but Hayley Mills (the young woman—home from college from the summer and working in a public library while studying for her exams) and some of the other characters in her mother’s boarding house kept me watching. The young man is, as we gradually learn, some sort of schizophrenic and definitely a murdering psychopath. But he’s so cute… Along the way, we get exposed to a fair amount of casual racism among all British classes, including the other doctors who refer to an Indian doctor (one of the boarders) with various “amusing” epithets. This doctor, who winds up saving the day, is perhaps the only likable character other than Mills’ character, but that’s two better than some movies.

It’s not a particularly good picture, and the suggested genetic link between Down syndrome and sociopathic behavior (explored at some length in a hospital lecture) is truly offensive—but it’s an excellent print and both Hayley Mills and Billie Whitelaw (as her mother, who’s been having it on with one boarder and develops a fatal attraction for the strange young man) offer good performances. I wouldn’t watch it again, but I’ll give it $1.25.

50 Movie Comedy Kings Disc 7

Posted in Movies and TV on January 9th, 2012

The Lady Says No, 1951, b&w. Frank Ross (dir.), Joan Caulfield, David Niven, James Robertson Justice, Lenore Lonergan, Frances Bavier. 1:20 [1:22]

The setup: An unmarried photographer for Life (Niven) is driving to Carmel to photograph a young woman who’s written a bestseller opposing romance—The Lady Says No. He’s towing a trailer containing his photo equipment. He stops for a comely young hitchhiker—who, as it happens, is married and brings along her soldier husband. She insists that they stop a little farther down the road, packing the car with another five or six soldiers and girlfriends. They all want to go to Monterey (where the action is)—but first, he has to make his Carmel stop.

When he does, he assumes the aunt is actually the author, not the beautiful young woman. After various nonsense, he tells her to show up the next day at the beach, and goes off to Monterey. Then, the aunt’s wandering husband shows up and…oh, well, there’s just too much plot to summarize. As you might expect, the photographer convinces the woman that romance isn’t such a terrible thing. It’s all light, including an interesting dream sequence. Not great, but amusing. I found it more than a little sexist, which reduces the overall score to $1.25.

Life With Father, 1947, color, Michael Curtiz (dir.), William Powell, Irene Dunne, Elizabeth Taylor, Zasu Pitts. 1:58.

Previously reviewed in Family Classics 50 Movie Pack: See Cites & Insights 5:4. What I said then, with price modified for changing expectations:

Charming period family comedy based on Clarence Day’s own writing about his father, wife, four sons, and complex household. Taylor—two years older than in National Velvet, and already a beauty—has a secondary but important part. Well acted. Good print with occasional flecks and, near the end, a vertical streak. $1.50, reduced for damage.

I haven’t watched this version at all. With less damage, I’d give it a full $2: It’s a fine comedy.

Lonely Wives, 1931, b&w. Russell Mack (dir.), Edward Everett Horton, Esther Ralston, Laura La Plante, Patsy Ruth Miller, Spencer Charters, Maude Eburne. 1:25.

This one’s a knockabout farce with a lawyer prone to “blooming” (infidelity) after 8 p.m., his wife gone to the mountains (but returning by surprise), his mother-in-law trying to keep him from blooming, a new secretary with quite a walk…and a vaudeville impersonator who wants to add the (famous) lawyer to his act. Oh, and a nervous butler and French maid. And the impersonator’s wife…who’s brought into it by her friend, the secretary, on the basis that she can get the lawyer to get her a divorce, cheap, if she plays along on a date.

Put them all together, mix with the lawyer’s bet that if the impersonator can fool the mother-in-law (and give the lawyer an out to spend the night, um, blooming), he can add the lawyer to his act…and it’s supposed to be hilarious (and risqué!), especially the last 20-25 minutes. Maybe it is. Edward Everett Horton certainly gives it his best shot. But, well, I found myself nodding off in early parts and regarding the last part as more action than comedy. Maybe that’s just me. Not just me: The print’s a little soft, and the sound’s pretty bad, with dialog getting softer and louder for no apparent reason. All considered, I can’t possibly give this more than $1.

Peck’s Bad Boy With the Circus, 1938, b&w. Edward F. Cline (dir.), Tommy Kelly, Ann Gillis, Edgar Kennedy, Benita Hume, Billy Gilbert, Grant Mitchell, Nana Bryant, George ‘Spanky’ McFarland, William Demarest. 1:18 [1:06]

I find this movie almost impossible to review entirely out of context—except to note that it’s a good example of how to pad a 20-minute plot out to feature-film (albeit short feature) length, in this case by including whole gobs of circus acts, some of them twice.

The basic plot: our hero, a “bad boy” in the prankster sense of “he’s a caution!” rather than one of the future thugs in a “cute” Boys or Kids series that will go unnamed, is such a caution (finding a frog and putting it in his soup bowl at lunch) that his parents tell him he can’t go to camp as they’re going on their fishing vacation—and he’s planning to win the obstacle race the third year in a row, which would mean he could keep the cup that he shines incessantly.

Just as they’re leaving, the husband and wife, separately, each relents and gives him $5 to cover the train ride to the camp and his expenses. (Hmm. $5 in 1938 would be $76 in 2010. Still a pretty cheap train ride and camp expenses.) But he goes out to hang with his buds and discovers that a circus is coming to town, that day, one night only. In ensuing plot twists, he loses his $10, he winds up in a girl’s dress, he…well, of course there’s a happy ending.

It’s padded all to pieces but it is good fun, probably the more so if you’re a fan of the series (of which this is apparently the third and last). Good cast, including one of Spanky McFarland’s few appearances as somebody other than Spanky. It’s also missing 12 minutes, apparently. I come up with $1.25.

Mystery Collection Disc 28

Posted in Movies and TV on December 23rd, 2011

Shoot to Kill, 1947, b&w. William Berke (dir.), Russell Wade, Luana Walters, Edmund MacDonald, Robert Kent, Vince Barnett, Nestor Paiva, Charles Trowbridge. 1:04.

The first in a quartet of barely-feature-length films, all just over an hour. This one is all told in flashback by a woman in a hospital bed, there after surviving a car crash following a police chase and shootout—a chase in which her husband (the incoming district attorney) and a gangster (escaped from prison, where he was sent for a murder in a case tried by the husband) both die. She tells the story to a newspaper reporter who’s obviously much more than that.

It’s quite a story: Civic corruption on a grand scale, crooks battling crooks, a phony marriage (to avoid bigamy)…and ever so much more. It’s mostly fast moving and it holds together quite well. While it’s not a great film, it’s well-made, well-acted and more plausible than quite a few of this ilk. Oh yes: There are two musical numbers written and performed by pianist Gene Rodgers, who is damn good. I’ll give it $1.50.

Shadows on the Stairs, 1941, b&w. D. Ross Lederman (dir.), Frieda Inescort, Paul Cavanagh, Heather Angel, Bruce lester, Miles Mander, Lumsden Hare, Turhan Bey, Mary Field. 1:04.

An odd one indeed, mostly set in a London boarding house (explicitly identified as 1937, I guess to make it explicitly pre-war) but starting with a mysterious scene on the docks. So many people seem involved in various shenanigans, mostly with no apparent purpose, that it’s hard to either follow the plot or perceive that there is a plot. There are various subplots (possible adultery being one), but nothing that really hangs together.

Indeed, that’s true for about half of the film: All very odd, little of it leading much of anywhere. Then the murders and suicides, and cursory police work from an idiot police sergeant, begin and, well, it doesn’t hang together very well even then. The surprise ending makes it all sensible, or maybe not.

Here’s the thing: Silly and confusing as it all is, it’s also well played. It’s a trifle with an odd, meandering plot, but the print is excellent and I’ll give it $1.25.

Prison Train, 1938, b&w. Gordon Wiles (dir.), Fred Keating, Dorothy Comingore, Clarence Muse, Faith Bacon, Alexander Leftwich. 1:04.

The hero (?) of this brief, not especially mysterious, flick is a racketeer, who runs the policy (numbers) racket, also owns a nightclub and is a charmer. A rival nightclub-owner/racketeer wants to bring him down and agrees to cooperate with the crusading DA (you know, the kind of crusader who goes out looking for racketeers as compatriots).

The “taking down the numbers man” plot never amounts to much. Instead, we have the racketeer’s lovely and innocent sister, the handsome lawyer son of the rival crook, and a sequence that results in the racketeer “accidentally” killing the son. (Hey, he only meant to teach him a lesson…) And getting sent up for it. And the father—the rival racketeer—trying to shoot the first racketeer for killing his son, but botching it. But the rival gets out on bond, even though he was caught in the act and is pretty clearly intent on offing his rival. Oh: Side plot: The first racketeer was trying to turn the numbers racket over to the rival and go off to Europe with the sister.

Anyhoo…this brings us to the film’s title and the simple fact that filming on a moving train always adds class and interest. It does not, unfortunately, add plausibility, and the whole rest of the flick (another con on his way to Alcatraz keeps telling the racketeer that he’ll never make it to the last stop; he doesn’t; there are lots of complications along the way) just seemed to amount to very little. It seemed a lot longer than it actually was. I’m being charitable with $1.00.

They Never Come Back, 1932, b&w. Fred C. Newmeyer (dir.), Regis Toomey, Dorothy Sebastian, Edward Woods, Greta Granstedt, Earle Foxe. 1:04 [1:02]

The title refers to the idea that boxers never successfully return to the ring once they’re sidelined with an injury—in this case, the hero’s left arm. That’s after ten minutes of somewhat aimless boxing footage; along with another five minutes or more later in the movie, that’s a quarter of the flick for which no dialogue or acting was required—which, in the case of this film, may be a good thing. In the middle, I think another five or six minutes are taken up with some really bad dance routines (don’t high-steppers usually make some attempt to synchronize with the music?)—so, in essence, there’s about half an hour of acting.

The plot? The washed-up boxer, whose mother died as he was preparing for the fight, is living with his sister (who he brought out from the mother’s house, I guess) and looking for a job. He finds one as the “assistant manager”—that is, bouncer, as he says—for a nightclub. He gets interested in a showgirl, who’s also a focus of the club’s owner, and meets the cashier—the showgirl’s sister. Before too long, we get a scene where the cashier asks the bouncer to hold the fort while the cashier runs an errand; at the end of the evening, the house is $500 short and, lo and behold, there’s the money in the bouncer’s jacket. It’s a frame, of course, but he winds up spending six months in the joint (apparently without benefit of trial). During those months, the showgirl comes to see him every week.

Partway through, the cashier admits to his sister (the showgirl) that he framed the boxer, because he had to: He’d “borrowed” $1,000 from the club and knew he’d be sent to jail if he didn’t do the frame. The sister figures she’d better play ball…

Anyway, the boxer gets out, sees the sister with the owner, finds out that his sister and the cashier are an item (I think that happens earlier), and—rather than knocking the cashier’s block off for framing him—goes to sign up for a fight to get the $1,000 to clear the cashier. It all winds up with a big fight at the club and, apparently, all living happily ever after.

That’s way more description than this sad little flick deserves. No mystery, no drama, nothing of any particular interest, and not much in the way of acting. Unless you’re heavy into poorly-filmed boxing or are a big Regis Toomey fan, there’s nothing here. Generously, $0.75.

Box Office Gold, Disc 6

Posted in Movies and TV on November 30th, 2011

Callie & Son, 1981 TV-movie, color. Waris Hussein (dir.), Lindsay Wagner, Jameson Parker, Dabney Coleman, Joy Garrett, Michelle Pfeiffer, Andrew Prine, James Sloyan. 2:22.

The stirring tale of a mother who loved her son a little too much… Well, not incest, but that’s the key to this tearjerker that feels like (and is) a TV movie, but a very long one. Lindsay Wagner is Callie, who in the opening scenes is in a hospital bed after Being Wronged…and being pressured into giving up her baby for adoption without ever holding him (for $2,000 plus a couple hundred in prenatal expenses). She leaves Chillicothe and moves to Dallas, where she moves into an absurdly restrictive (and probably historically accurate for the 1950s) rooming house and takes a job as a waitress. Since she’s gorgeous and pleasant, she does well…including good tips from the wealthy newspaper editor (Dabney Coleman, in a wholly positive role) who never says much and always just has coffee. In a little side plot, she hires a sleazy PI to find her son—and he winds up decamping entirely (leaving an empty office) after taking another $200 from her.

Moving forward a bit, she learns to be a court stenographer; we then see her doing the stenography for a deposition involving—guess who? He suggests coffee, they talk, he realizes she’s the former waitress, and a little while later she’s the Cinderella who’s married the prince (and is received badly by the local elite). Further down the line, she becomes pregnant, then miscarries and can’t bear children; eventually, she reveals the existence of her son. In the most implausible bit (in my opinion) of the flick, the editor manages not only to find the son but to have him returned to his mother, apparently without difficulty. (What? The adoptive parents didn’t really want him?)

And she turns into SmotherMom. She wants her son to take over as editor. The editor had planned to sell the paper, move to his ranch and run a few head of cattle, but she talks him out of it—and when, shortly after the JFK assassination, he’s shot dead in the newsroom along with two other newspaper staffers, she takes over as editor (after rejecting her husband’s drawn-up but not yet signed plan to make the paper employee-owned). She tries to get her son, now a pot-smoking guitar-playing slacker (Jameson Parker), to get involved in the paper; it doesn’t work.

Third section of the interminable plot: She gets her son involved in politics—but instead of marrying the Suitable Prospect, he elopes with a very young Michelle Pfeiffer (23 at the time, but she plays even younger). A few years later, as he’s planning to move up a rung in office, there’s a big party at the ranch with lots of dove hunting—and SmotherMom winds up shooting and killing Pfeiffer after a struggle (but just a little too late to believe it’s an accident). And a determined local DA gets a grand jury to indict the son for first-degree murder (there was adultery and various other nonsense implied between the not-so-happy couple). The rest of the picture is courtroom drama, remarkably unconvincing, especially when the rotten PI (who SmotherMom had prevented from becoming a judge) lies through his teeth to convict the son and apparently faces neither effective cross-examination nor background checking. The movie almost ends with the son”s execution—but not quite: She goes back to Chillicothe, adopts a baby boy, and we start all over.

Long description because there’s a lot of plot. It’s not terrible, it’s not great. Really good cast, pretty good print. All in all, I’ll give it a middling $1.50.

Dear Mr. Wonderful, 1982, color. Peter Lilienthal (dir.), Joe Pesci, Karen Ludwig, Frank Vincent, Ed O’Ross, Ivy Ray Browning. 1:56 [1:52].

I’m all in favor of naturally-paced movies, but this one is so naturally-paced that it seems to fall apart repeatedly. I think the plot goes something like this:

Ruby Dennis (Pesci) owns a bowling alley in New Jersey, where he sings in the lounge and has apparent dreams of being a lounge singer in Chicago or Las Vegas. He also writes the occasional song. He lives with his divorced sister and her son. There’s some stuff involving a frequent dinner guest (?), an older Jewish man who barely speaks but insists on full observance of rites; also some stuff involving the ex-husband, who’s apparently a leech but trying to get back in touch: Dennis won’t even let him in the door (to his sister’s place).

The mob (I guess) wants to take over the bowling alley for a big new development, and make it clear that they’re going to get it one way or another, one favored way being that it burns down overnight and he collects the insurance. Meanwhile, he’s taken to a daughter of someone who’se involved with the mob (I think), is seeing that she gets singing lessons and dating her in his own awkward way. There’s a Tony Martin cameo, very much as himself. Oh, and along the line, his sister basically disappears, quitting her job in a garment factory to go work with—what? urban rehabilitators?—and, I guess, moving in with a family of them. The son is a cheap street criminal who presumably means well; he has a gang ripping chains off of people and sells them to another cheap criminal in a boxing gym, getting ripped off himself in the process.

There’s probably more to it. Eventually, Dennis does sell the place, winds up with the girl (I think), the mom moves back in (I guess) and…well, the movie ends. Frankly, if I hadn’t been down with a cold, I would have turned this off half an hour in and done something more exciting, like staring at the wall. But fans of Pesci might enjoy it. According to IMDB, the German version is 1:56 and the U.S. version is 1:40. This version was 1:52—and I’m sure cutting 12 minutes wouldn’t hurt. It’s a German production, which may or may not explain anything. Charitably, $1.

Twisted Obsession (orig. El sueño del mono loco, also The Mad Monkey), 1989, color. Fernando Trueba (dir.), Jeff Goldblum, Miranda Richardson, Anemone, Daniel Ceccaldi, Dexter Fletcher, Liza Walker. 1:43.

There are some oddities with this one. First, it’s in stereo—unusual for movies in these collections. And I do mean stereo, not reprocessed mono: The orchestral score underlying most of it is well-recorded stereo. Second—well, it’s in English, except for a few minutes of dialogue in French with no subtitles, and it was filmed in Spain (Madrid stands in for Paris).

The plot? The very tall and very strange Jeff Goldblum (he always seems to do best with semi-deranged roles) narrates the movie as an entire flashback about a movie he won’t see, that shouldn’t have been made, that he shouldn’t have written. That’s right: He’s a screenwriter, an American in Paris, whose wife leaves him early in the movie for no apparent reason, leaving behind a son whose apparent indifference masks his total need for his mother. None of which has much to do with the plot.

The plot? A producer wants him to write a screenplay based on a “treatment” that’s one line handwritten on a sheet of paper—a line, as it turns out, that’s from Peter Pan and used in front matter to the screenwriter’s failed novel. The very young director (whose previous experiences is music videos) who wants to make the movie points this out and hands him an annotated copy of the novel—annotated, we find out, by the very young director’s extremely young sister (16 years old, but a very mature 16), who also seems to make any difficulties in the way of the film go away, apparently by various acts the screenwriter summarizes with the word “whoring.”

The plot? Oh, let’s not forget the screenwriter’s agent, a lovely wheelchair-bound 30-year-old who pretty obviously has a thing for the screenwriter. And who we later find also has some backstory with the director and sister. Nor should we forget the screenwriter’s final development of exactly the screenplay the director wants, which the producer knows to be unbankable unless a major star is on board—and, oddly, the screenwriter knows such a major star.

The plot? I give up. There’s also drugs, death, various forms of love, the seeming absence of any deep human emotions on the part of most everybody involved—and, in the end, it felt like an art film, in the reading of “art film” that keeps them out of the commercial marketplace. To wit, after one hour and 45 minutes that seemed much longer, I had no idea what the outcome was, I didn’t know where things would lead, but…well, but I’d kept watching. For those who might enjoy this sort of thing, this is exactly the sort of thing they’d enjoy, and for them it’s probably worth at least $1.25.

Summing Up

So here we are at the first half—or, really, not quite, since this 50-movie pack lacks very short films and so is spread over 13 discs. The first six discs include the first 22 movies; the “second half” includes 28 over 7 discs. (For the other movies, see the posts for discs one, two, three, four and five.)

It’s a truly odd set, a combination of TV movies, foreign films that apparently weren’t headed for stateside DVD release, and at least one movie that should never have been in this bargain set. There’s one absolutely firstrate film, The River Niger, and two very strong contenders, Christabel and A Hazard of Hearts. I count four more good $1.50 flicks, seven at a reasonable $1.25 and five at a mediocre-but-passable $1, for a total of $25.25. Ah, but as I look now, the prices of Mill Creek Entertainment’s 50-packs have firmed up a lot—I see $44.49 at Amazon, about three times what I would have expected. At that price, the first half is neither a bargain nor a cheat. (Of the three other films—two at a weak $0.75 and one at a miserable $0.25—the less said, the better.)

Mystery Collection, Disc 27

Posted in Movies and TV on November 2nd, 2011

OK, so I don’t spend all my time on the two overlapping book projects—that would drive me nuts. I’m also reading books from the library and magazines (although I’m way behind on those), I’m playing video poker (not for money—and maybe the topic of another post at some point), I’m going for the usual Wednesday hikes and, on Wednesday afternoon when I’m not much good for serious writing or research, I usually watch an old movie. That’s down from the two a week I was watching… meanwhile, here’s a foursome from the 60-disc 250-movie Mystery Collection.

The King Murder, 1932, b&w. Richard Thorpe (dir.), Conway Tearle, Natalie Moorhead, Marceline Day, Dorothy Revier, Don Alvarado, Huntley Gordon. 1:07.

Right off the bat, you get this feeling that you’ve been dropped into the middle of a longer movie—a classy woman’s standing next to a counter, a cop walks by, seems to sneer at her, and walks out of what’s labeled a Homicide Bureau. Things don’t get better.

I can’t even begin to summarize the players and the plot, partly because I found little to differentiate them; I’m not even sure I know how many characters there were. I know there’s a society type, his (wife? fiancée?), his (girlfriend? mistress? blackmailer?), a second-story man, a thug involved with the mistress/blackmailing her, and apparently lots more, most of them with motives… It may be indicative that the seemingly most important character is eighth in the IMDB list.

This one’s just a mess: Lots of odd plots that seem tossed in at random and don’t cohere very well, with a murder weapon that seems absurd and a denouement that’s equally silly. Either this was just poorly written and filmed on no budget and with no directorial skill, or it’s a badly-edited selection from a longer movie or a serial. In any case, I can’t give it more than $0.75.

The Lady in Scarlet, 1935, b&w. Charles Lamont (dir.), Reginald Denny, Patricia Farr, Jameson Thomas, Dorothy Revier, James Bush, Lew Kelly. 1:05.

A wise-cracking detective and his sidekick/secretary/girlfriend/wife?, who he refers to as “Ignorant” or “Stupid” as seeming cute names, and who seems to have his office in a bar, finds himself investigating the murder of an art dealer because he’s friends of the dealer’s wife (who used to be in musicals and who the dealer correctly thought was cheating on him with a doctor). That’s part of a complicated plot involving another murder (the doctor), suspects galore, a stolid and seemingly stupid police detective who consistently lets the private eye run the show—and a final Everyone In The Same Room bit.

But it’s cute, the plot’s not bad, and it moves right along. Not great, but maybe worth $1.25.

Sinister Hands, 1932, b&w. Armand Schaefer (dir.), Jack Mulhall, Phyllis Barrington, Cranford Kent, Mischa Auer, Louis Natheaux, Gertrude Messinger, and James P Burtis as Detective “Don’t Call Me Watson” Watkins. 1:05.

We begin with a lady consulting a swami and his crystal ball. We continue with an odd set of scenes involving people around a swimming pool, apparent hanky-panky between residents of two adjacent mansions, a known gangster who’s trying to marry the daughter of a rich man man and more. Oh, and the rich man’s dictating letters to his secretary (on a Dictaphone, wax cylinder and all) and, in the process, recording what could be the argument that proves who killed him…or not. That evening, all and sundry are gathered at the man’s estate with his wife (the lady consulting the swami) and the swami. Turn off the lights for a proper reading and, shazam…the man’s been stabbed to death.

After that (and it’s actually much slower than the summary might suggest—this is a slow-paced movie), we get the police detective conducting pretty cursory interviews with each of the apparent suspects, with a judge (who’s among the guests) in on the interviews. The judge writes down a list of all the suspects, at the end of which the detective makes a joke about whether the judge should add his own name. At this point, we know how it’s going to turn out, don’t we?

In the interim, we have a “heavily-guarded house” (where all the suspects are sleeping over) where it’s easy to sneak around, remove the knife from one body, stab someone else, go in and out of bedrooms past sleeping police…and a running joke about a stolid policeman’s last name. Followed by the time-honored traditional closing: The Big Scene with Everybody in One Room, where the detective points out each suspect and then says why he or she didn’t do it. (The extreme case: The suspect was not only the only one who was loyal to the first victim, he was the second victim.) Although it’s a little on the slow side, it’s good enough; I’ll give it $1.25.

The Lady Confesses, 1945, b&w. Sam Newfield (dir.), Mary Beth Hughes, Hugh Beaumont, Edmund MacDonald, Claudia Drake, Emmet Vogan, Barbara Slater. 1:04.

A young woman answers a knock on her apartment door, to be confronted by her fiancé’s wife—who disappeared seven years earlier and was presumed dead. The wife says she’ll make sure he never marries the young woman or anyone else, and storms off.

Meanwhile, the man—Larry—shows up at a nightclub several sheets to the wind, downs two more double Scotches rapidly, and winds up sleeping it off in the singer’s dressing room, after first making sure he confronts the club’s owner. A few hours later, the singer wakes him up to answer a phone call from the young woman; he picks her up and drives her to his wife’s place (he says she showed up a couple of weeks earlier but intends to divorce him)…and when they get there, a bunch of police are present along with the wife, strangled with a cord.

He has a perfect alibi, clearly. Her alibi isn’t as good. The club owner also knew the wife (she’d loaned him serious money to start the club). As things progress, with the young woman doing her own detective work, we wind up with another murder along the same lines—the singer this time—and almost a third.

It’s pretty well done, but I think there’s one serious flaw: We learn the murder’s identity about halfway in, and it would have been a much better movie if we were in the dark. (Oh, and the Beaver’s dad had a darker side in his earlier movie career…) Given that (and, frankly, that portions of the motivation just don’t make sense), I can’t give it more than $1.25.

50 Movie Box Office Gold, Disc 5

Posted in Movies and TV on September 21st, 2011

Christabel, 1988, color (TV). Adrian Shergold (dir.), Elizabeth Hurley, Stephen Dillane, Geoffrey Palmer, Ann Bell, Nigel Le Vaillant. 2:27.

When I look at the running time (nearly 2.5 hours), the date (1988) and the cast (Elizabeth Hurley), I immediately think “Why is this on a Mill Creek Entertainment set?” The answer—or a possible answer—comes at the end of the movie.

Christabel is an upper-class British woman who marries a German lawyer she met a Cambridge, to the considerable dismay of her father. Did I mention that this starts in 1934? The two move to Germany, start a family, and by 1938—well, you probably know what was happening in the late 1930s in Germany. At her husband’s request, she moves back to England for a while, but that doesn’t stick. A fair amount of middling intrigue later, it’s mid-1944—and he’s been arrested after a plot to kill Hitler fails. She’s off in the Black Forest (where he sent her after the bombing began, although she came back to Berlin at least once)—but she sets out to find him and see what she can do for him. It’s gritty, includes some interesting (and, I suspect, plausible) details about ordinary people in Berlin coping with the situation (they learn to count to eight for the bombs in each U.S. heavy bomber during nighttime raids), and—well, I guess it ends happily.

It’s a little slow, and maybe that’s intentional. It’s also quite good, with some remarkably good scenes and Hurley doing subtle, generally deglamorized work. If you don’t mind a fundamentally serious movie, you’ll probably like this. The print is usually better than usual: Somewhere between VHS and DVD quality—but about 10% of the time, something happens and it’s got jaggies and vertical jitters. All in all, though, the problems don’t distract from a very good picture.

The answer? It’s a BBC television production, and since it’s not a series, BBC probably didn’t think they could gouge sell pricey DVDs successfully in the U.S. (Reading IMDB, I see that this is apparently based on a true story.) This one’s worth $1.75.

Ginger in the Morning, 1974, color. Gordon Wiles (dir.), Monte Markham, Susan Oliver, Mark Miller, Sissy Spacek, Slim Pickens, David Doyle. 1:30 [1:33]

This begins with two entirely different scenes. In one, a young woman—OK, let’s say it, a hippie chick (Sissy Spacek)—is getting out of a truck, thanking the driver, and starting to thumb her way along the highway again, suitcase and guitar case in hand. In the other, a vaguely worried man (Monte Markham) is deplaning and being pestered by someone he must have been seated next to on the plane, a middle-aged dirty old man (David Doyle) telling him he should go out and get laid a lot (he’s been divorced for a couple of months), that he should say “motel” right away when picking up a woman so he knows where he stands… And then they come together, as he (Markham, not Doyle—thankfully, we never see Doyle again) passes her on the highway, turns around, gets a flat tire in the process, and they wind up in the car together.

After this “meet cute,” we have a three-day story (starting on December 30) that winds up with an odd sort of Happily Ever After ending and involves the worried man, the young woman, the man’s rowdy friend who’s in Mexico but flies back to see him, the rowdy friend’s ex-wife who also happens to be in town…and, for good measure, Slim Pickens as the sheriff of Santa Fe (where this is all set).

I want to like this movie more than I do. Unfortunately, much of it is drunken carousing, and neither of the primary characters seem concerned that they’re apparently both badly-functioning alcoholics. That, and the somewhat vapid characterization by Spacek, diminish an otherwise interesting little film. (OK, so Spacek was probably 22 at the time this was filmed, and had to work with a poor script. She apparently wrote her own songs; they’re actually pretty good.) Good print. This has the feel of a TV movie, but apparently it wasn’t. All told, I’ll give it $1.25.

The River Niger, 1976, color. Krishna Shah (dir.), Cicely Tyson, James Earl Jones, Louis Gossett Jr., Glynn Turman, Jonelle Allen, Roger E. Mosely. 1:45.

A superb cast, a generally very good print (except that the music, written & performed by WAR, is sometimes wavering as though there were soundtrack problems), a Tony Award-winning play opened out into a movie.

I’m not sure how much more to say. I’m probably not the natural audience. The movie, set in an LA ghetto (presumably Watts), features James Earl Jones as an alcoholic house-painter/poet trying to keep his family together, Cicely Tyson as his wife, stricken with cancer, Louis Gossett Jr. as the best friend and local doctor—and a remarkable crowd of other actors. It’s a movie of its time, and very well done. Summarizing the actual plot would be of no particular use.

I don’t quite understand how this movie could be in this set, but that’s a common theme here. I’ll give it $2.

50 Movie Comedy Kings, Disc 6

Posted in Movies and TV on August 30th, 2011

The Groom Wore Spurs, 1951, b&w. Richard Whorf (dir.), Ginger Rogers, Jack Carson, Joan Davis, Stanley Ridges, John Litel, James Brown, Victor Sen Yung. 1:20.

Romantic comedy with a plot line that may seem preposterous, but maybe not. A beautiful and all-business young female attorney shows up at a doorway, summoned to meet with an actor who stars in singing-cowboy films (but neither does his own riding nor his own singing)—and the first thing she sees is his awful fast-draw performance. But she likes him, and agrees to take on the unusual case: He lost $60,000 to a gambler in Vegas and doesn’t either want to pay the full amount or have the gambler’s friends-with-guns show up.

Next thing we know, she’s on his private plane to Vegas. They meet the gambler, but he has other problems and postpones a meet until 2 a.m. Now the two are in a convertible stepping out to view Hoover Dam, there’s some awkward/cute conversation, and next thing we know the two are married. And, as it turns out, the gambler was helped out by the attorney’s father, and writes off the 60 big ones as a wedding present.

She concludes she’s been had—in addition to mostly being a phony on screen, the actor’s clearly a ladies’ man. But she clearly still has Feelings. Lots more comedy, much of it pretty good, although there’s also a murder as part of the plot. If you accept the premise that two rational adults could meet and become engaged or married on the first date, the rest is semi-plausible. As for that premise…well, it’s absurd, of course, except that I’ve now been married for more than 33.5 years to a woman who I proposed to on our first date.

Ginger Rogers is Ginger Rogers: Lovely, amusing, and does a great job in any role. The rest of the cast is also excellent, part of the reason this lightweight film gets a solid $1.50.

Heading for Heaven, 1947, b&w. Lewis D. Collins (dir.), Stuart Erwin, Glenda Farrell, Russ Vincent, Irene Ryan, Milburn Stone. 1:05 [1:11]

The comedy setup here is common enough: Guy gets a physical exam, overhears the doctor discussing someone else’s case, assumes he’s dying when he’s actually healthy. In this case, the background is that a small-town realtor has held on to 100 acres east of town, where his father and grandfather both assumed the town would grow, turning down offers to make it an amusement park or a cemetery or whatever…while the town continues to grow west.

After the local banker says the town would like to buy the land for a town dump and gets turned down, two guys from an airline show up wanting to buy it for an airport—and, when he won’t take a pretty good price, suggest they might instead buy an adjacent 60-acre plot (which, as they note later, wouldn’t work because the adjacent land is overrun by power lines). The realtor buys the adjacent land—and then finds out he’s dying. Meanwhile, the banker and a swami who’s been doing séances for his wife and the local ladies wants to swindle him out of most of the airline’s money, so concocts a phony telegram saying the airline’s no longer interested.

That’s just the first part of a fast-moving plot that involves assumed suicide, hobos, applejack and an unusual séance. All turns out well. And it’s actually fairly amusing, although certainly lightweight. If you’re in the mood, it’s worth $1.25.

His Private Secretary, 1933, b&w. Phil Whitman (dir.), Evalyn Knapp, John Wayne, Reginald Barlow, Alec B. Francis. 1:00.

Previously reviewed as part of 50 Movie Hollywood Legends. What I said then:

A young John Wayne plays the playboy son of a millionaire businessman. The father demands the son take over as collection agent. He goes to a nearby small town to collect a debt, in the process picking up (and offending) a beautiful young girl—who turns out to be the daughter of the near-deaf minister he’s supposed to collect the debt from. He winds up forgiving the debt and getting fired for his trouble.

After various shenanigans and his continued stalking attempts to get on the right side of the girl, he succeeds and marries her—but his father assumes she’s a gold-digger and tells him to get rid of her. Somehow, she winds up becoming her father’s new private secretary—the best he’s ever had—but then leaves town because she thinks the playboy’s still a player. Everything works out in the end: This is, after all, a romantic comedy, if a surprisingly short one. Nothing spectacular, but not bad. I’ll give it $1.25.

I’m From Arkansas, 1944, b&w. Lew Landers (dir.), Slim Summerville, El Brendel, Iris Adrian, Bruce Bennett, Maude Eburne, Cliff Nazarro. 1:10 [1:07]

The sleeve plot description is almost entirely wrong, except for the key “plot” point in this set of songs thinly disguised as a comedy: It all starts with Esmerelda, a sow in Pitchfork, Arkansas who gives birth to 18 piglets. And ends with Pitchfork (now Pitchfork Springs) becoming a state spa resort for its healing springs—foiling the designs of a Pork Magnate to turn it into the world’s biggest pig farm.

In the middle, we have a Western radio big band, all of whom go back to Pitchfork for their summer break—and a female troupe of entertainers (singers & dancers) whose manager thinks the Sow Sensation should make Pitchfork a great place to play and takes them there, without bothering to find out whether Pitchfork even has a theater or nightclub (which it doesn’t). Naturally, the two groups wind up in the same room & board place, owned by the sow’s widowed owner, and the Western band plays a little joke on the female entertainers (who respond to a whole bunch of stereotypical hillbilly behavior by assuming they’re dealing with hillbillies) by turning into extreme hillbillies. Who also happen to be professional-quality musicians.

All of which is probably more discussion than the “plot” deserves. There are ten songs, all well done, in a 67-minute flick; the rest of the movie comes off as a semi-amusing wrapper for the songs. I would have been offended by the stereotyping (pretty extreme in some cases), except that the band playing with it defuses it somewhat. Oh: The daughter of the sow-owner/hotelier is the damnedest yodeler I have ever heard, and the female troupe’s manager does some great doubletalk routines. Amusing, and probably worth $1.25.


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