Archive for the ‘Movies and TV’ Category

Service, part 2

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

I need to catch up on some open-ended posts/topics–and, for various reasons, I’m doing an unusually crappy job of it. Even by my low standards. This is a start…

On May 22, 2013, I posted “Service, part 1“–an upbeat (at least in how it turned out and in the generally good attitude of all involved) service story about the Social Security Administration. Here’s the thing: SSA doesn’t precisely have to treat customers well so it can attract them. SSA doesn’t go out looking for customers. But I’m generally impressed with how things were handled.

A less positive story

I’ve already told this story, in a January 27, 2013 post: “Panasonic Case #29866973: A sad unfinished story.”

It’s now a little more than four months later.

Nothing has happened.

I consider this unsatisfactory customer service.

Yes, we eventually got the set repaired. (It’s still working. It’s still the best picture I’ve ever seen–in THX mode–on a reasonably-priced HDTV, when it’s working. We hope it keeps working for years to come.)

Did Panasonic owe us anything? That’s hard to say. When you have what’s usually rated as the brand with the best reliability, you don’t expect circuit board failures just 25 months after purchase of an $1,800 set, especially when that set’s only used about an hour or two a day.

You also don’t expect to be referred to an Authorized Panasonic Service Agency that misdiagnoses the failure (while talking to Panasonic reps), charges a VERY high price for the diagnosis, and quotes an outrageous price for the repair–and wants to take the set away to do that repair.

Oh, and you probably don’t expect that the same circuit board will fail not too long after it’s replaced.

I believe Panasonic should at least pay for the overpriced mis-diagnosis. But I’m not going to hold my breath.

Do we love the set? Yep.

Would we buy another Panasonic if/when this one needs replacing? Almost certainly not.

Nothing more to say here. Soon (hah!), I’ll wrap up another unfinished post or two.

Mystery Collection Disc 36

Monday, May 20th, 2013

A typical “sixth disc” with six short movies—except that this time around two of them aren’t all that short. (At least according to the sleeve—which turned out to be wrong in both cases.)

Night Life in Reno, 1931, b&w. Raymond Cannon (dir.), Virginia Valli, Jameson Thomas, Dorothy Christy, Arthur Housman, Dixie Lee, Clarence Wilson, Carmelita Geraghty, Pat O’Malley. 0:58

Here’s what the sleeve says: “A woman finds her husband in a compromising position and decides to seek a divorce from him. Heading to Reno to secure a divorce, the woman learns it will take six weeks for her divorce to be granted. Finding she has to wait in Reno for the six weeks, the woman ends up living the wild life and taking up with a married man.”

Here’s what I saw: The first two sentences are accurate enough, with the divorce attorney being somewhat of a comic character. But then we get a long, slow, languid…sequence where the husband (who’s followed her, finds the attorney, and pays him to attempt a reconciliation) is drunk in a casino (where only the swells play and all they play is roulette), hangs out with another stiff, attempts the world’s worst pickup and, somehow, winds up drinking with the other stiff’s friend and with, well, his wife (under an assumed name). The wild life appears to consist entirely of playing roulette and drinking way too much.

In any event, the last ten minutes have all the action—almost enough action for a five-minute short. The wife goes off with the other man, he makes a pass, she deflects it and phones her soon-to-be-ex, she leaves the apartment, the other guy’s ex (or soon-to-be-ex?) shows up and plugs the guy. Next morning, the maid arrives, sees the corpse, the cops show up and, given obvious evidence, arrest the heroine. At which point her husband shows up and confesses (falsely). Fortunately (?) as she’s released and back in her hotel room, the other woman shows up to kill her as well, and since she was about to call someone through a switchboard, cops show up to save the day. The woman and husband reunite and leave Reno, with the attorney doing an odd sort of bit.

Damned if I can tell what this was supposed to be. Badly paced, incredibly slow, with acting seeming mostly to consist of looking one way and then the other…and if that was Reno in 1931, its reputation as a hot town was exaggerated. Maybe the missing 14 minutes make a big difference, but this one already made 57 minutes seem an eternity. As a period piece, very generously $0.75.

Convicts at Large, 1938, b&w. Scott E. Beal & David Friedman (dirs..), Ralph Forbes, Paula Stone, William Royle, John Kelly, George Travell, Charles Brokaw. 0:57.

Two setup plot lines: A prison break on one hand, an architectural office where one architect is clearly moonlighting—when he should be drawing up a basement design for a building, he’s busy with plans for his own Happy Home LLC company to build homes that are “scientifically designed” to maximize the happiness of residents—a concept he just can’t shut up about (including selling an idea as though it was a going concern). He’s also hung up on a local singer, to the dismay of his housemates.

He goes for a walk to escape his housemates’ incessant chatter. One escapee grabs him, knocks him out, and takes his clothes. As he wakes up—third plotline—two thugs (one a typical comic thug) from the nightclub where the singer works drive by and toss a bundle of clothing out to what they assume to be the escapee (the nightclub owner paid for the escape). Oh, and in the pocket of the clothes is some money, but the comic thug used badly-made counterfeit money instead of real money.

You can almost see how things come together. The architect, wearing the clothes in the bundle, finds himself in front of the nightclub and goes in to get something to eat. He strikes up a conversation with the singer (who, for unclear reasons, is almost immediately taken with him). The thugs and owner—who have no idea what the escapee (a jewel thief who’s supposed to split a $200,000 haul with them) looks like—decide this guy must be the thief and bring him and the singer back to the Back Room.

Anyway: Lots more action, the assumption that—when the actual thief shows up—the couple (which is apparently what they are now, an hour after they met) will be killed, and a Happy Ending. Yep: As they’re being held in adjacent cells until the architect’s sister shows up to clear them, he proposes to her—and she accepts even before he finishes the proposal. All of this within, what, 12 hours of them first meeting?

What it is, is a combination of romantic comedy and farce with some crime thrown in for good measure. (Definitely some farce: When the architect, pretending to be the thief, is drawing a map of where the heist is supposedly hidden, he makes a mistake and asks for an eraser—at which point the dumber thug hands him his pistol. You know: His eraser.) You even get one song on the radio and another song-and-dance number (Paula Stone has a good voice and did a fine dance routine). Another indication as to its plausibility: When the thugs, the club owner and the actual thief—all of them obviously armed—are digging up the jewels, the other three apparently have no idea at all that the thief could possibly double-cross them. But hey, it’s a romp—and not a bad one. Given the length, I’ll say $1.00.

Tough to Handle, 1937, b&w. S. Roy Luby (dir.), Frankie Darro, Kane Richmond, Phyllis Fraser, Harry Worth, Betty Burgess, Johnstone White, Burr Caruth, Stanley Price. 1:00 [0:58]

For some of you, “a Frankie Darro flick” may be all that needs to be said, for good or for bad. He’s not the East End Kids, but he’d never be my favorite actor either. That said, this wasn’t a bad little B/second-feature flick, especially using one trick (more on that later), although it was an odd mix of thriller (not really much mystery), romantic comedy and musical, a lot to pack into 58 frequently slow-moving minutes.

The basic plot (the sleeve copy gets it entirely wrong): a nightclub owner is running an Irish Sweepstakes racket—or, rather, he’s sort of running it. The racket: Print up phony tickets, sell them, PROFIT. Except that one set of plates accidentally had real sweepstakes numbers instead of impossible ones—and one of them wins. Darro enters (right at the start) as the winner’s grandson and a newspaper peddler, who sells his grandfather the “Sweepstakes Extra” that prints all the winning numbers and names—and is surprised as his grandfather (a) says he has a winning ticket (for $16,000) and (b) says the newspaper prints the winner’s name as some woman in another state. Naturally, Darro also sells his paper to the nightclub owner/crook—oh, and Darro’s sister is a singer dating an investigative reporter. Can you see where this is heading?

I guess there actually is a mystery (in addition to the absurdly bad “drunk” play by a club patron who turns out to be, supposedly, an undercover agent—and who’s clearly acting in cahoots with the bartenders who feed him no-alcohol drinks all day, which makes no sense at all): who’s actually in charge of the racket? By now, you’ve probably figured that one out.

Did you know that most modern DVD players can play a DVD at exactly double speed without chipmunk noises? You hear the dialog (or singing) at its original frequency, just twice as fast. That’s how I made it through this movie, especially once the musical numbers started. (It also made the absurd fistfights more tolerable.) Given that I watched the 58-minute movie in 45 minutes, it was appropriately paced. For Frankie Darro fans, maybe $0.75.

The President’s Mystery, 1936, b&w. Phil Rosen (dir.), Henry Wilcoxon, Betty Furness, Sidney Blackmer, Evelyn Brent, Barnett Parker. 1:20 (0:53).

The setup (accounting for the title) is unusual: Supposedly, Franklin Delano Roosevelt loved mystery stories and wondered how a millionaire could disappear (and start a new life)—with his money. Six writers put together a story; this movie is based on that story (and the story is referenced in the film); the lead titles say the proceeds from the story and the screenplay both went to FDR’s Warm Springs Foundation.

That said, it’s very much a movie of its time, in the heart of the depression—when, at least according to this flick, predatory businessmen were shutting down competition and refusing to grow and employ people because it might cut profits. They were also sending hotshot lawyers to Washington to assure that bills to ease credit and reopen factories wouldn’t pass. The hotshot lawyer in this case also loves fishing and has a loveless marriage, and goes fishing in a town that’s essentially shutting down because the local cannery went under. The owner of the bankrupt cannery is a beautiful young woman (Betty Furness) who feeds the town using illegal fishing methods (actually, her father owned the cannery and committed suicide when it went under).

You can probably guess where this all leads. A combination of Message film, love story and good old American (cooperative) save-yourself knowhow, it’s a pretty good story for a one-hour flick. I do wonder about the missing 27 minutes (actually, the first IMDB review suggests that it’s all exposition, setting up the lawyer’s method for “losing” his money without losing it). I’ll give it $1.25.

Racing Blood, 1936, b&w. Victor Halperin (dir.), Frankie Darro, Kane Richmond, Gladys Blake, Arthur Housman, James Eagles, Matthew Betz, Si Wills, Fred ‘Snowflake’ Toones. 1:01 [0:55]

What? Another Frankie Darro B flick? Yes—but this one’s not too bad. Darro’s the kid brother (named Frankie) of a jockey and the proprietress of a horse-themed diner (parents never in evidence); he begs $4.85 from his sister to buy an injured colt about to be shot. (The seller gives him back the $4.85 to go towards hay.) After lots and lots of calendar-pages flying by, the colt’s healthy, fast, and will only let the kid ride him. Which he does in a $1,000 race, after scrounging the $100 entry fee from various friends. And, of course, wins—racing against his brother, the favorite, who was deliberately fouled by riders in the employ of a ruthless gambler. Oh, and after that, the kid’s naïveté leads to his brother’s being barred from racing (don’t ask).

One thing leads to another, and we have—in short order—the brother seriously ill and lacking the will to live, the colt being poisoned by the gambler’s henchmen (except that they actually poison another horse), the kid being kidnapped and, in a truly bizarre last 10 minutes, the kid conquering all odds (he’s shot, he’s loaded into an ambulance, he steals the ambulance and drives off, he can barely stand as he goes to get weighed in…) and winning the Derby. Your suspension of disbelief has to be really firmly in place (e.g., since the gambler had already decided to kill the kid so there are no witnesses, why doesn’t he just do that?). But, hey, for what it is, it isn’t bad. Mostly for Darro fans, maybe $1.00

The Shadow: Invisible Avenger (aka The Invisible Avenger), 1958, b&w. James Wong How & Ben Parker (dir.), Richard Derr, Mark Daniels, Helen Westcott, Jack Doner, Jeanne Neher, Steve Dano, Dan Mullin. 1:10 [0:57]

I think this is the first of several “The Shadow” flicks I’ve seen in which The Shadow’s mystical powers actually come into play. To wit, with the counsel of his compatriot Jogendra (who seems to be telepathic or at least able to project thoughts), he’s able to fade out in the minds of beholders, leaving only a shadow. Jogendra can apparently instantly hypnotize anybody by staring at them, even from across the room, and get them to do anything he chooses, so “disappearing” is no big deal.

The plot? Set in New Orleans, where the deposed president of Santa Cruz (your basic Caribbean nation) is in exile after being overthrown by a dictator—a dictator with lots of hired hands and guns working for him, who fears (correctly) that the president’s supporters may overthrow the dictatorship. The hired hands do in a jazz trumpeter who’s trying to help the president and who has contacted Lamont Cranston to see whether he can contact The Shadow. And the race is on…

Jogendra on more than one occasion points out that if somebody fires (accurately) at the shadow, Cranston will be just as dead as if he hadn’t overused his power—but the only time this comes into play, it’s somehow the person behind the shadow who dies. Never mind. We have a present in which executions are actually shown on TV—and, of course, all the Hispanics in Santa Cruz speak English. There’s a little low-key sort-of romance, a lot of music (some pseudo-jazz, one fairly bizarre misogynistic semi-reggae piece under the opening credits, a little Nawlins stuff), and all turns out well. Except that, given the way things turn out, I don’t see that Cranston’s/The Shadow’s activities really made much difference at all. The flick has the feel of being a clumsily-assembled set of serial episodes, with total blackouts between segments. (It was originally intended as a TV pilot.) Oh, and The Shadow’s tagline (“Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? Only The Shadow knows. Bwahahahah…”) ends with a laugh that would have you think The Shadow is a villain, not a hero. The missing 13 minutes might have helped. But it’s not bad: $1.00.


50 Movie Gunslinger Classics Disc 2

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

Cry Blood, Apache, 1970, color. Jack Starrett (dir.), Jody McCrea, Marie Gahva, Dan Kemp, Robert Tessier, Jack Starrett, Don Henley, Rick Nervick, Joel McCrea (briefly). 1:22.

Despite the common words, this is not Apache Blood, and nowhere near as bad—although it fails one of my tests for a movie I can actually enjoy, which is that there has to be at least one sympathetic character. Actually, now that I think of it, with two of the three words in the other flick, it’s about two-thirds as bad.

The closest one here is the oldish Westerner who begins and ends the film, riding out with an old shotgun to look over a scene…which becomes the flashback that makes up the rest of the movie. His younger self is the least awful of five savages who first party among a group of Apache, then slaughter them—leaving one young woman, who they bring along with them to lead them to gold (one of the group had some gold nuggets). She speaks Spanish, and the younger version of the oldish Westerner also speaks Spanish and manages not to actually kill anybody in the massacre himself, although he doesn’t prevent any of the savagery or refrain from accompanying the rest of them. (Let’s be clear: The five savages in this case are all Anglos.)

As they’re riding slowly toward the Arizona desert and the promise of gold, we’re split between dealings within this odd, nasty group and seeing the Apache who’s returned to the camp, seen all the death—and set out stalking the five. (Well, six, but he doesn’t know his sister’s still alive and with the others.) The five include, in addition to the bilingual less-vicious-than-the-rest “hero,” one fat sociopath who relies on glasses, his brother (I guess), a top-hatted cardplayer named Two-Card, and a “Deacon” who’s pretty clearly a little off his nut. Along the way, we get one big fight in a running stream and a number of other incidents.

Eventually, the Apache catches up with them, releases their horses and does most of them in—with some viciously slow deaths that take away any chance for him to be the sympathetic character, even if was the most wronged. In the end…well, never mind. Good points: Good print, good color, great scenery (Arizona and Sequoia National Forest). Bad points: Except for possibly the young woman, who’s not a major character, there’s nobody likable in this lot. Most of the acting is pretty bad (including the not-very-graceful Apache); notably, the director and assistant director were also in the cast (and McCrea produced it). It got an R rating, probably because there’s one scene with some distant partial nudity, involving another Indian woman—and we never do find out what happened to her. On balance, and concentrating on the scenery rather than the acting or plot, I’ll give it $0.75.

Deadwood ’76, 1965, color. James Landis (dir.), Arch Hall Sr. (screenplay and producer), Arch Hall Jr., Jack Lester, La Donna Cottier, Arch Hall Sr., Liz Renay, Robert Dix, Richard Cowl, David Reed. 1:37.

Set in the near future in Deadwood, South Dakota, this movie eerily foretells a future TV series…. Nah, this one’s set in 1876 when it was still The Dakotas and a territory, but the timing’s right in other respects: The Black Hills gold rush is beginning and this illegal settlement—the Black Hills belonged to the Lakotas by treaty—was the heart of it. The movie’s set in Deadwood (and has lots of great Black Hills scenery), but it’s mostly about Billy May (Arch Hall, Jr.), a young man who’s fast with a gun and out to make his fortune, after drifting away from Georgia at the end of the Civil War (he enlisted at age 12). Things start as he comes along an old coot in a wagon full of cats (I’m not making this up) who’s been accosted by a group from the local tribe—who, in fact, don’t shoot the old coot but seem to find the cats awfully amusing. Billy May gets the drop on them, takes away their rifles—but doesn’t shoot them, to the old coot’s dismay. (The old coot’s from Tennessee, on his way to Deadwood to sell the cats to raise a stake to mine for gold and make his fortune.)

That’s just the start of lots’o’plot, involving the local madame, the too-sleek gamblin’ man, some locals who think they’re mighty fast with a gun, the belief after Billy outdraws them that he’s Billy the Kid (and Wild Bill Hickock’s on his way for a showdown), some gold mining, a remarkably civilized and peaceful tribe who’s now sheltering Billy’s long-lost father, who has a harebrained scheme by which the Confederacy shall rise again, a young Indian woman who falls for Billy and, well, that’s just some of it.

It does not end happily for all concerned. I’ve already included some spoilers. There is at least one interesting cliché reversal at the end of the film, but I’ll leave that for those who watch it.

I have mixed feelings about this one. The intertwined plots are interesting if overdone, the scenery’s good, the print’s pretty good, it moves right along and there are remarkably few deaths (and very little blood) for the kind of movie it is, and the tribe is treated as civilized, not savages. Unfortunately, as with the two other Arch Hall-backed movies starring Arch Hall, Jr., that I’ve seen, I find Jr. irritating—this time he doesn’t sing, but the smirk on his face gets real old real fast and he is just a bit shy of being a profound actor. All things considered, I’ll give it $1.25.

Jesse James’ Women, 1954, color. Don ‘Red’ Barry (dir., writer, producer, star), Peggie Castle, Jack Bustel, Lita Baron, Joyce Barrett, Betty Brueck. 1:24.

The story is that Jesse James and his gang (eight men including one Robert Ford, one deaf woman who manages their hideaway) have moved to Mississippi, where he’s triple-timing various women in a small town along with the world’s easiest bank holdup. Various subplots, such as they are, lead up to James double-crossing pretty much everybody except his two closest cohorts and somehow making up for it by giving a bunch of loot to the local preacher, as they ride off into the sunset.

I knew I was in trouble from the opening credits. Starring Don Barry. Screenplay by Don Barry. Story by Don Barry (and others). Directed and produced by Don Barry. He’s got a nice smile, very obvious makeup (many of the actors are so made up they look artificial), no apparent acting skills, not a clue as to how this clown could be Jesse James.

The only similarity between Don Barry and the real Jesse James is that he managed to rob me of an hour and twenty-four minutes. Being very generous, and factoring in the lack of serious bloodshed (and one epic catfight among two of the women James is busy wronging), this might be worth $0.75.

God’s Gun, (orig. Diamante Lobo), 1976, color. Gianfranco Parolini (dir.), Lee Van Cleef, Jack Palance, Richard Boone, Sybil Danning, Leif Garrett, Robert Lipton. 1:34 [1:37].

Originally reviewed as part of the small set of spaghetti westerns (C&I 10.7). I didn’t watch it again; you can read the full review where it first appeared. Despite an impressive cast, this was an awful, awful film—not as bad as Apache Blood, but remarkably crappy. I said that, although I thought it was worthless, dedicated Lee Van Cleef fans might give it $0.50. Or not.

Kudos for great customer service

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

A few words about Amazon customer service going above and beyond…

We watch Grey’s Anatomy a season late, on DVD (‘cuz we started in late). We space things out, as we do with other TV-on-DVD series.

So Sunday night, we were at Episode 19 of Season 8. Ten minutes in, the dread digital breakup happens, followed by the dread freeze. I could skip 7 minutes and go on, but…nah.

Looked at data side of disc. Whoops: Two long scratches of exactly the kind that can disrupt playback–that is, more-or-less along the playing path (somewhat radial) rather than across it. In case of possible dirt, rinsed the disc. Nope: Still there, still wouldn’t play.

[I normally do a visual check and spot playback check for each disc of a new season or collection when it arrives. In this case, GA’s been reliable enough for seven seasons that I either didn’t bother or didn’t do a sufficiently careful visual check.]

Here’s the thing: We purchased the season in November 2012 from Amazon. WAY past the return window.

Well, I thought, we can hope that either Amazon or Buena Vista Home Entertainment will be kind enough to replace the disc. Otherwise, we can finish up the current Stargate SG-1 disc (watching that from Netflix on disc) and get the GA disc from Netflix…but, really, we want a clean copy, since eventually we’ll rewatch this. After all, we own it.


Yesterday (Monday) morning at 7:30 a.m. I wrote two emails. One to Amazon, noting that this really wasn’t their problem (after all, 5 months…) but wondering whether there was anything they could do (and noting the original order #, readily available on my account page). One, with some difficulty, to an email address that seemed to be attached to BVHE.COM, the only Buena Vista site I could locate that has anything to do with DVDs. (The ABC site lacks any DVD info and just does autoresponses if you do send email.) It seemed that I needed to register, a process clearly not intended for consumers.

Then here’s what happened:

1. Within two hours–TWO HOURS–I got a response from Amazon saying they’d send a replacement (the full season: that seems to be the only way they can do it) by two-day shipping (I’m not a Prime member).

2. Later that day, I got a response from asking for details for registration–who at Disney referred me, what stores do I buy for–that made it clear the site wasn’t for me. So I responded appropriately.

3. But very late that day (or early today, Tuesday), I also got a response to the email saying the person would forward it to Buena Vista’s customer support–which I still don’t see how to reach directly.

4. This afternoon, I got email from Buena Vista customer support asking me to call to discuss the problem. BUT…

5. By that time, our mail had arrived. With a package from Amazon. Via good old USPS–one day after I’d asked about the problem.

So: I’ve checked the replacement Disc 5, which is absolutely clean; put it in our existing set and put the bad disc in the new set (with a sticky note on the outside wrapper noting the defect); printed out the return label; and prepared the package for return. Which I’ll do tomorrow.

Based on the eventual response from Buena Vista Home Entertainment, my guess is that they would have replaced the defective disc. The main problem there is that I still can’t figure out how you’d send them notice of a defective disc.

But Amazon…came through rapidly, politely, and way beyond what they needed to do.

Count me impressed.

[Amazon was similarly impressive and rapid in replacing, sigh, the entire monster West Wing Complete Series because the set was missing one disc entirely–but that was during the 30-day period, actually a day after it arrived.]

50 Movie Comedy Kings Disc 12

Wednesday, 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

Wednesday, 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.


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.


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

Monday, 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

Sunday, 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

Friday, 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

Wednesday, 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.