Archive for the ‘Movies and TV’ Category

Panasonic Case #29866973: A sad unfinished story

Sunday, January 27th, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

25 months later…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

34 days later…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Since January 4, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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


Box Office Gold Disc 13

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summing Up

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

Comedy Kings Disc 10

Friday, December 28th, 2012

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

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

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

Road to Bali – Previously reviewed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Box Office Gold Disc 12

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mystery Collection Disc 33

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

Murder by Invitation, 1941, b&w. Phil Rosen (dir.), Wallace Ford, Marian Marsh, Sarah Padden, Gavin Gordon, George Guhl, Wallis Clark, Minerva Urecal, J. Arthur Young. 1:07 [1:05.]

In some ways this is a murder-mystery cliché: Aged wealthy person sends a command invitation to the relatives to go to his/her estate or be stricken from the will—and said relatives start to disappear.

But this one has considerable pizazz. The aged wealthy person starts out as defendant in a court hearing in which her nephew the attorney and other relatives want to have her declared mentally incompetent and sent to an institution—so they can take care of her $3 million. That goes nowhere, as she’s mildly eccentric but clearly not incompetent. Then she sends The Invitation. Along the way, a columnist and his Girl Friday get involved, first at the competency hearing and then with the murders.

It’s nicely done for this kind of fast-moving B mystery, with a couple of twists toward the end that I certainly didn’t see coming. Funny, surprising, fast-moving. Nothing great here, but even as a B flick an easy $1.25.

The Murder in the Museum, 1934, b&w. Melville Shyer (dir.), Henry B. Walthall, John Harron, Phyllis Barrington, Tom O’Brien, Joseph W. Girard. 1:05.

The museum, in this case, is a sideshow—a set of carny attractions whose owner also runs a drug-running operation out of the back room. Based on a series of tips, a city councilman shows up, with the police commissioner along—but there’s also the commissioner’s beautiful niece and a young reporter, both of them arriving independently.

The councilman winds up shot. The commissioner was clearly an enemy (both were running for mayor) and becomes a natural suspect because he was one of few who could have smuggled a gun out. The reporter (who’s already a hot item with the niece) sets out to clear his name by discovering the truth.

There’s more, to be sure, including a happy ending of sorts, but it’s all somehow slow-moving and languid in an odd way, with some actors seeming to be reading their lines. The best parts may be the sideshow and the sad set of people involved—including a cohort of Pancho Villa turned knife-thrower and a philosophy professor turned magician. It’s not terrible, but it’s a long way from being top-notch even for a B murder mystery. Charitably, $0.75.

I Cover the Waterfront, 1933, b&w. James Cruze (dir.), Ben Lyon, Claudette Colbert, Ernest Torrence, Hobart Cavanaugh, Maurice Black, Purnell Pratt. 1:15 [1:01].

Previously reviewed as part of 50 Movie Pack Hollywood Legends in Cites & Insights 9.1 (January 2009). Here’s what I said then:

The waterfront reporter promises his editor a big story on Chinese immigrants being smuggled. He winds up with a “bad lead” because the fishing captain involved is so ruthless he’ll cheerfully drown an immigrant rather than risk exposure. Eventually, the reporter gets the story through a plot involving romancing the captain’s daughter; he also gets shot along the way. There’s a side story involving a drunken reporter who turns up in his apartment. Unfortunately, the whole thing seems scattered, possibly because of missing footage. It’s not bad, but hardly a classic in this rendition. $1.00.

The Dark Hour, 1936, b&w. Charles Lamont (dir.), Ray Walker, Berton Churchill, Irene Ware, Hobart Bosworth, Hedda Hopper, E.E. Clive, Harold Goodwin, William V. Mong. 1:04 [1:09]

We begin with a middle-aged man (in full suit) bantering with a younger man about the younger man’s courtship of the older man’s neighbors’ niece (with the two meeting at the older man’s house because the two greedy and wealthy old uncles can’t stand the young man). We progress from there to…well, quite a bit. The middle-aged man is a retired police detective; the younger one is a current police detective. There’s a third neighboring house, with the uncles’ sister-in-law living there to protect the niece.

During the course of the film, one uncle winds up dead—stabbed, but with remarkably little blood resulting. The uncles’ butler also winds up dead, stabbed with the same knife (and this time there’s blood). A chemist boarding with the retired cop (and also after the niece) disappears. We learn that the uncles own apartment buildings that were torched (and heavily insured). There’s a Lady in Black who may not be a lady. And lots, lots more—culminating in two impending marriages, a guilty party taken off for justice (for both murders and burning down his own buildings)—and a triple twist at the end involving the real killer of the uncle, with the clarity that nobody involved much cares about the death.

Surprisingly good. Not great, but even as a B flick it’s an easy $1.25.

Box Office Gold Disc 11

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

The Day Time Ended, 1979, color. John ‘Bud’ Cardos (dir.), Jim Davis, Chris Mitchun, Dorothy Malone, Marcy Lafferty, Natasha Ryan, Scott C. Kolden, Roberto Contreras. 1:19 [1:20].

The sleeve description is wrong on many counts—but it’s hard to fault it, because trying to come with a right summary of this film, other than “They grow that stuff strong in California,” isn’t easy—unless the moral is “Don’t power your house with solar energy: It draws strange neighbors.” Consider any attempt at plot description here to be useless: There really is no plot. Although at two points there is a truly odd little (about 6″ tall) dancing and beckoning alien—or possibly the same footage used twice.

Jim Davis (Jock Ewing in the first seasons of the original Dallas, until his death), the classic crusty old Westerner, is with his son (or son-in-law?) picking up both of their wives, his daughter (or daughter-in-law) and son (or other son) and granddaughter, and taking them to their spectacular new vaguely pyramid-shaped adobe solar-powered house, with its similar stable.

From there on out, things just get strange. The little girl sees a big tall green semi-pyramidal building that makes music, befriends her and somehow becomes an inch-tall building she can carry around—and that makes things happen for her. There’s a presumably-evil alien (?) hovering machine that never actually harms anybody (IMDB calls it the “Vacuum Cleaner of Doom,” which is a good description); a simultaneous triple supernebula that basically takes over the whole sky, lots of strange alien lights and whirly things and…

I don’t know what to say. At one point, the alien force acts as an instant glazier, fixing a broken wall mirror. At one point, “prehistoric monsters” that were never in any Earth history are doing battle in the yard. At one point, the front 400 acres seems to have become some sort of universal graveyard for flying and other machines. There’s a huge daytime moon taking up one-third of the sky at one point, a sun (or not) taking up even more at another. Especially in the last third of the flick, the family—whatever there is of it at any time—seems to have turned spectators in their own story.

And at a key point, the crusty old father says it must be a space-time warp, the two missing people (they’re not missing for long) must have been swept into the vortex, and they’ll just have to make do. Oh, and before this all begins there’s a starscape with some distorted narration about trying to reach people but not knowing where or when the person was, but now he knows that time is all there at once. Or something. This was Jim Davis’ final picture, but I’m sure he was prouder of his legacy as Jock Ewing: The plots made a lot more sense and the general acting level was higher.

I suppose you could call it sci-fi, but even most bad B flicks have a slightly more coherent “plot” than this thing. It’s bizarrely amusing (but doesn’t make a lick of sense) and the visuals aren’t bad; for that, I’ll give it $0.75.

Hard Knox, 1984, color (TV movie). Peter Werner (dir.), Robert Conrad, Red West, Joan Sweeny, Bill Erwin, Dean Hill, Dianne B. Shaw, Stephen Caffrey. 1:36

The plot’s familiar enough, with a number of variations: New [student, teacher, administrator, recruit, headmaster, whatever] shows up at [school, military school, platoon, whatever] full of misfits and turns it or them around—changing himself or herself in the process.

Whether you like this formula or not depends primarily, I think, on how you like the protagonist. And I like Robert Conrad just fine, in this case as Col. Joe “Hard” Knox, the most decorated fighter pilot in the Marine Air Corps, who’s just been grounded for medical reasons and has a 30-day leave before he accepts (or doesn’t) a promotion and a desk job. He returns home—and to the low-rent military school he graduated from, which has fallen on hard times. You can almost guess the rest. He agrees to be headmaster for two weeks; his trusty sidekick shows up to help out; and, well, the rest is what it is.

I found it surprisingly enjoyable. Nothing terribly deep, not lots of character development, and clearly not a huge-budget movie. I wasn’t surprised to find that it was a TV movie. But, well, I thought Conrad and his crew did a good job of what they did. $1.50.

Arch of Triumph, 1984, color (TV movie). Waris Hussein (dir.), Anthony Hopkins, Lesley-Anne Downs, Donald Pleasence, Frank Finlay. 1:33 [1:35].

I found it impossible to watch this movie to completion. That was partly the print: portions were so dark it was difficult to tell what was happing. It was partly the way it was directed and cut. And it was, I’m afraid, partly my own unwillingness to sit through such a downbeat movie.

A shame, probably, as the cast is first-rate. Since I didn’t finish it, I provide no rating. Maybe more serious cineastes would love it. Or, given that it’s a TV movie and the reviews I read, maybe not.

Jory, 1973, color. Jorge Foris (dir.), John Marley, B.H. Thomas, Robby Benson, Brad Dexter, Anne Lockhart, Linda Purl. 1:37.

Fifteen-year-old Jory and his father get off a stagecoach, are told Santa Rosa’s just over the hill, and drag a trunk and a suitcase to this tiny little town. (Presumably a mythical Santa Rosa or possibly Santa Rosa, New Mexico; even that early on, Santa Rosa, California was a lot bigger than this.) It’s not quite clear why they’ve come out west from St. Louis; the father’s a lawyer, and there’s clearly no law in this version of the old west—as we find out when the father gets stabbed to death in a saloon the first night there, with the only reaction being the bartender suggesting that the killer might want to leave. Jory returns the favor, bashing the killer’s head in with a rock, which nobody sees but might just make him a target for relatives. So he heads out with a horse run (like a cattle run but with horses) on its way to a Texas ranch by way of Hobbes, New Mexico. (Why do the horsemen let him come along? Well, this flashy cowboy [B.J. Thomas] who’s a hot gun handler but who’s never shot anybody takes a fancy to him, and…)

In Hobbes, town of bright lights and loud saloons, the flashy cowboy gets shot in an unfair fight. Jory shoots his killer in a slightly fairer fight. Later, there’s an attempted stampede which Jory prevents, he’s hired on as the bodyguard for the rancher’s roughly 15-year-old daughter (since the neighboring rancher’s a thief and scoundrel)… And that’s just part of the plot, which culminates in, well, Jory leaving the ranch to find his own future. With his pa’s lawbook but no pistols (one rifle, however). I guess it’s a coming-of-age film, but it’s all so compressed and Jory seems to learn so little that it’s hard to say.

How you feel about this film may depend heavily on how you feel about the very young Robby Benson (he was 17 when the film was released, probably 15 or 16 when it was made, and certainly looked 15—it’s his first credited movie role). If you think he’s a fine young dramatic actor with great looks, you’ll probably give this flick $1.50, maybe more. If you find him vapid and irritating, you’ll probably downgrade this to a buck. I’m somewhere in the middle. I was sad that an uncredited Howard Hesseman only got about two minutes (he’s the bartender). It’s a good cast in general, and it’s a fine-quality print, but it’s a slightly empty picture. $1.25.

Is Netflix Shoving Us to Stream? Apparently not

Monday, August 20th, 2012

UPDATE: Maybe it is just a run of odd luck. It does seem odd that Smallville Season 4 Disc 4 suddenly becomes unavailable, that Stargate Season 4 Disc 1 is suddenly hard to get, and that at least one or two other old, presumably not-much-in-demand others won’t ship…but they are, finally, shipping us a TV DVD. I’m still a little suspicious (given Netflix’ past history of manipulating queues), but…

Second update: Netflix has gone out of their way to provide Stargate SG-1 Season 4 Disc 1. We’re happy.

Original post:

Maybe it’s just a run of odd luck on our part, but I wonder…

We have a disc-only subscription to Netflix, because our DSL–while fast enough for all other purposes–isn’t fast enough to deliver a streaming Netflix picture that we consider watchable on our HDTV.

We have a three-disc subscription because we watch old TV series on disc. Otherwise, a single-disc subscription would be jes’ fine: we watch one movie a week.

Until last week, Netflix was working the way I’d expect: you send back a disc, you get the next disc in your queue…almost always. (We don’t pop the latest movie releases up to the top of our queue.)

And then…

We sent back a TV disc, with another TV disc at the top of our queue (I pop the next one up when one’s finished). We didn’t get the next disc; instead, we got another movie.

We sent back the movie, with two TV discs at the top of our queue. We got another movie…and both TV discs suddenly said “Very long wait.”

We moved those discs down the queue and another, entirely different, TV disc to the top of the queue. And completed the only TV disc we had on hand, and sent it back.

And got another movie.

I’ve now put three TV discs, none of them showing a wait, on top of our queue. Two discs are on the way back to Netflix.

If we get more movies, frankly, I’m gonna get suspicious. Suspicious that Netflix is deliberately ignoring TV discs in an effort to force us to use streaming for TV and pay the extra $8. (Which would require at least an extra $30-$50/month to get adequate bandwidth.)

Which would also backfire, since we’d drop back to a single-movie (Blu-ray) subscription, and the differential is a heck of a lot more than $8.

I trust it’s just some odd sequence of accidents. But the fact that Netflix has, over the years, always handled the queue properly (and we’re very early subscribers), does make me, well, a little suspicious.

Is this happening to anybody else? Or are we just oddballs? (OK, maybe the fact that we don’t pay a fortune to have Really Broad Broadband and actually watch TV series on discs makes us oddballs…)

Mystery Collection Disc 32

Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

Hold That Woman, 1940, b&w. Sam Newfield (dir.), James Dunn, Frances Gifford, George Douglas, Rita La Roy, Martin Spellman, Eddie Fetherston. 1:07 [1:04]

This fast-moving comedy (not much mystery, although there’s plenty of crime) is set in an LA where apparently nobody actually pays for anything and people move every few days to avoid being held accountable, thus keeping an army of skip tracers employed: People who go out to either get some money from the skipper or retrieve the item.

Skip-Tracers Ltd. has a star tracer—and another guy who doesn’t do so well (and who deeply resents the fair-haired boy but never says why). He’s told that he has 30 days to ship up or ship out, and given to easy assignments to do before his date that evening: A fur coat and a radio. Next thing we see, he’s picking up his date—the beautiful daughter of a cop—and hands her this great new coat to wear for the evening. Oh, and they have to stop on the way to the nightclub to pick up that radio…and when he tries to do that, he gets arrested.

Anyway, one thing leads to another, with repossessions and “un-repossessions” all over the place, a jewel robbery with an obvious suspect (who’s obviously guilty: Not much mystery here), a wealthy Hollywood starlet with an odd accent and a tendency to love whoever’s handy…and this skip tracer who has impulse problems. As with: When you’re about to get fired and have $600 to your name, what’s more reasonable than to propose on the spot, get married, rent a house and spend the rest of your cash on a houseload of furniture. (Which turns out to be…you guessed it.)

Lots of action, a fair amount of fun, reasonably well played. Silly, but (or “Silly, and”) I’ll give it $1.00.

Midnight Limited, 1940, b&w. Howard Bretherton (dir.), John King, Marjorie Reynolds, George Cleveland, Edward Keane, Monte Collins, L Stanford Jolley. 1:02.

The night train from New York to Montreal is the setting for a series of robberies—always in Car 1 (next to the baggage car), always the same MO. In the first one, a young woman—not the intended victim—has crucial papers stolen because the robber wants to intimidate her. She needs the papers and keeps bugging the railroad detectives until one of them takes a fancy to the case (and to her).

That’s the basic plot, and as you’d expect it winds up with the couple getting married, with a fair amount of plot in between. (The plot doesn’t always make sense, but…) The problem I had with this fairly typical low-budget B mystery is the dialog and acting of the head detective and the hero: They both sounded like they were reading from a dictionary, and the dialog seemed wholly artificial. That clumsiness reduces an otherwise typical buck-a-pop hour-long B to $0.75.

Murder At Dawn, 1932, b&w. Richard Thorpe (dir.), Jack Mulhall, Josephine Dunn, Eddie Boland, Marjorie Beebe, Martha Mattox, Mischa Auer, Phillips Smalley, Crauford Kent, Frank Ball. 1:02 [0:51]

There is a plot, to be sure. A young couple about to get married head upstate to her father’s mysterious lodge/laboratory, accompanied by another married couple (the husband a cheerful alcoholic). They arrive at some remote train station where the only conveyance is the source of some sad ethnic humor…and eventually at the house (which the driver didn’t want to take them to). Meanwhile, the father’s just completed his invention, a solar-powered source of unlimited energy! which works equally well under artificial lighting! and will revolutionize the world! According to one review, the lab equipment (with lots of sparks and the like) was the same used in the original Frankenstein.

From there we get lots of secret passages, lowkey-spooky housekeeper, mysterious characters of all sorts, the drunken bumbling and childish screaming of the male friend, one murder, at least one assumed murder and some varied number of unknown folks stalking other unknown folks. I guess it all ends well, but it’s so incoherent that it’s hard to tell. Apparently 11 minutes of an already-short flick are missing; it’s possible (but unlikely) that it would be more coherent if it was complete. Mostly this is just dumb, in a mediocre print. Charitably, $0.75.

Murder at Glen Athol, 1936, b&w. Frank R. Strayer (dir.), John Miljan, Irene Ware, Iris Adrian, Noel Madison, Oscar Apfel, Barry Norton, Harry Holman, Betty Blythe. 1:04 [1:07]

The suave detective on holiday (at a wealthy friend’s home, the friend conveniently gone), trying to write a book while his former-prizefighter pal (they’ve saved each other’s life) is vacuuming, butling, and generally interfering. The neighbors with complicated family stuff—including a golddigger who’s divorced one person for a fat settlement, driven a husband into the asylum, and now wants to get rid of him and marry his brother…and who comes on to the detective, but also has a beautiful and not quite so bizarre friend. Gangsters (I guess) also come into the play—partly because the slut/golddigger/party girl is blackmailing one of them.

What follows: Lots’o’plot but remarkably little real motion, to the point that I may have nodded off once or twice. Three murders (well, five deaths…) It all winds up with the detective marrying the beautiful friend after a (courtship? a few conversations) lasting perhaps two or three days, and justice sort-of done.

Somehow, this one just didn’t work. I didn’t care about the mystery, I didn’t care about the detective, the friend, the victims, anybody. Charitably, $0.75.

Comedy Kings Disc 9

Friday, July 6th, 2012

The Nut Farm, 1935, b&w. Melville W. Brown (dir.), Wallace Ford, Betty Alden, Florence Roberts, Spencer Charters, Oscar Apfel, Bradley Page. 1:05 [1:07]

A small businessman’s wife gets a postcard from her mother and brother, living in sunny California—and he’s just been offered $40,000 for his store (from a chain), a lot of money in 1935. Maybe they should move to California and buy a nut farm…

Next thing we know, they’ve arrived, first meeting the mother and brother’s half-deaf landlord (whose daughter is the brother’s girlfriend). The brother’s a wisecracking “producer”—or, rather, assistant director who hasn’t actually had a call in six weeks. And the wife has been reading an ad about Hollywood’s need for new faces and a great acting studio.

So we get the plot. She falls into the hands of a slick “producer”/drama coach, while her husband’s out looking for nut farms. He finds one—but she says she can star in a movie for an investment of $40,000, guaranteed to triple the money. And the smooth operator manages to con the husband as well—and even the brother, who he chooses on the spot to direct.

Caution: Spoilers ahead, but not the final round. Since the “producer” has already, um, spent all the money, filming will shut down early—but the kid’s going to shoot those final scenes somehow. When it all comes together and gets its premiere showing, it gets laughed off the screen. As a drama, it’s a pretty good comed…oh, wait… Anyway, after a few more twists, all winds up happily. And it’s funny: fast, well played, funny. Not a major motion picture, but a nice little flick. I’ll give it $1.25.

Palooka, 1934, b&w, Previously reviewed in C&I 7.5.

The Perils of Pauline, 1947, color. George Marshall (dir.), Betty Hutton, John Lund, Billy De Wolfe, William Demarest, Constance Collier, Frank Faylen, William Parnum, Chester Conklin, Snub Pollard, Bert Roach. 1:36.

The good news here is that the film is in Technicolor—a little faded but still wholly enjoyable—and the print is about as good as these ever get: Still VHS quality but very good VHS quality. The better news is that this is a thoroughly enjoyable comedy about movie-making, with Betty Hutton showing herself to be a great physical comedienne as well as a fine singer and accomplished deliberate scenery-chewer.

Hutton plays Pearl White—who did star in the actual serial The Perils of Pauline, but whose life had only certain points in common with this combined romance, musical comedy and satire of early silent churn-em-out movie-making. The first introduction to the movie factory, in which Hutton winds up raging through a series of doors and, in the process, through four or five entirely different movies being made, is nothing short of classic. The supporting cast is also first-rate.

I could go on, but the plot itself is somewhat secondary. If you’re looking for a pure biography of Pearl White, this ain’t it—but I don’t think it was ever intended to be. (Reading the negative reviews on IMDB, I can practically smell the grinding compound on the axes.) This movie is delightful, and I couldn’t possibly give it less than $2.

The Rage of Paris, 1938,b&w. Henry Koster (dir.), Danielle Darrieux, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Mischa Auer, Louis Hayward, Helen Broderick. 1:18.

The plot, such as it is: French girl in New York, trying to find work, bluffs her way into a modeling job but takes the wrong address slip—and soon finds herself half-stripped when a businessman walks in to his office. After she flees following an odd conversation, her friend in the apartment house convinces her she needs to marry a rich man, and engages a maître d’ who’s just about saved up enough to open his own restaurant to underwrite the girl so she looks uptown and can snare a millionaire.

Which she does—except that the millionaire’s a good friend of the businessman, who knows she’s up to no good. This leads to him kidnapping her, a variety of stuff happening, her realization that she loves him, his saying “and just when did you find out I’m wealthier than my friend?”—and, of course, it all works out in the end.

It’s an early romantic comedy with some screwball elements, and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. plays the businessman with flair. (Darrieux and Auer—the maître d’—are also first-rate, and the rest of the cast is more than adequate.)It’s charming and in the best romcom tradition, years before the genre was really solidified. The print’s pretty good, and I think it’s easily worth $1.50.

Mystery Collection Disc 31

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

Double Cross, 1941, b&w. Albert H. Kelley (dir.), Kane Richmond, Pauline Moore, Wynne Gibson, John Miljan. 1:02.

One of those hour-long programmers that keeps right on moving. This time, a cop’s gotten friendly with a hard-edged woman who co-owns (?) a nightclub/gambling hall. He’s visiting her when he should be on duty. When the cops raid the joint, she manages to grab his gun, shoot another cop, and shove the gun into his hands as the cops shoot him. That’s just one double-cross in a movie that has its share.

The bulk of the plot involves another cop (friend of the first one), his fiancée (who takes photos at the club), his father (a police captain who’s about to be named commissioner), some semi-undercover work, the backer of the club who sees to it that it keeps reopening (big surprise here), and a surprisingly effective movie. Nothing really special, but this one works. Given the length, I’ll give it $1.

Ellis Island, 1936, b&w. Phil Rosen (dir.), Donald Cook, Peggy Shannon, Jack La Rue, Joyce Compton, Bradley Page, Johnny Arthur, George Rosener. 1:07.

This oddity is really a semi-slapstick comedy about a park ranger who cheats on his long-time fiancée, gets caught at it, wants his buddy ranger to bail him out by lying (saying it was the buddy’s cousin and the ranger was just meeting her at the train as a favor)…and eventually Gets the Girl. Which is a little sad, actually.

The movie’s “mystery” plot is about a ten-year-old bank robbery (one that suggests Federal Reserve guards are worthless) that yielded $1 million, with the trio of robbers—all immigrants—captured and put away for ten years. Now they’re out and being deported (through Ellis Island, where part of the action takes place), with a deportation process that seems to assume nobody’s ever going to put up a fuss or try to escape. Various shenanigans happen, with hoodlums trying to find out where the money’s hidden, a phony Treasury agent also trying to find the money, the niece of one of the bandits involved, and a moderately clever twist.

Not great, not terrible, but an unsettled blend of semi-mystery, romantic comedy, slapstick comedy and more (there’s a stereotypic farmer-with-shotgun, the “get offa’ my land, you chicken thieves!” type). It does not help that the cheating boyfriend is an incredibly annoying character. I can’t really give it more than $0.75.

Exile Express, 1939, b&w. Otis Garrett (dir.), Anna Sten, Alan Marshal, Jerome Cowan, Walter Catlett. 1:11 [1:09]

Another one that’s part slapstick, part murder mystery (with a spy story and an evil chemical formula thrown in), part romance. And partly seems as though they’re making it up as they go along.

The plot: A beautiful Ukrainian immigrant is a chemist’s assistant, on the eve of getting her citizenship. She’s being courted by a handsome young rogue she doesn’t really love. The chemist has combined a number of specific pesticides to create a super-pesticide that’s sort of a permanent Round-Up: It not only kills all the pests and all the crops, it makes the land useless for years to come. He plans to turn it over to the Feds…and when a spy shoots him, he manages to spill acid on the formula before he dies. (The assistant, having been approached by a spy from her homeland, calls him and warns him—and as he’s about to put the formula in his safe, he gets shot.)

The cops assume that the woman had something to do with it and send her off for deportation after she’s acquitted (I guess—it’s just a bunch of headlines). Since she’s in San Francisco and you can only deport people from Ellis Island, she’s put on the “exile express,” a four-day train ride, along with a tax evader/big-shot criminal who’s happy enough to be going home. And a dashing young reporter who’s looking for some story, although it’s not quite clear what. Oh, there’s also a bedraggled Bolshevik; after anybody talks to him, they start scratching themselves.

Anyhoo…the young rogue sees to it that she escapes from the train with the story that she’ll get married to some American chump, go across the border to Canada, then come back as the wife of a citizen—but, of course, the young rogue’s really the spy’s boss. Without going into the rest of the plot, let’s just say that she winds up happily (I guess) married to the reporter.

All a little helter-skelter. OK, it’s a mess. The print’s mixed, but the sound’s worse: It fades in and out, possibly due to some automatic attempt to reduce background noise (it’s dead silent except when there’s dialog or sound effects, at which point there’s lots of background noise—and sometimes the fade-in misses a line of dialog). I suspect this kind of mixed-genre short movie was enormously popular at one point, but it’s hard to make work well. $0.75.

Hollywood Stadium Mystery, 1938, b&w. David Howard (dir.), Neil Hamilton, Evelyn Venable, Jimmy Wallington, Barbara Pepper, Lucien Littlefield, Lynne Roberts, Smiley Burnette.

Based on the description, I was expecting another variation on the “Who in this big crowd pulled the trigger?” theme—but this nonstop flick isn’t quite that. There’s a murder in the first two minutes, but that’s not the crime. We have a beautiful female mystery writer and a handsome male DA who meet cute, are immediately antagonistic to one another, and of course are going to wind up married by the end of the movie. We have a couple of actual murders—one of them the challenger to a boxing title, murdered in a way that involves an odd scent. We have a comedian playing himself, doing a little act to distract people being held for questioning. We have a murderer who seems like an unlikely candidate. There’s humor, some misdirection, and generally almost too much plot for a short film. All in all, fun and well done. Based on the sleeve’s “66 minute” timing, the movie’s missing 13 minutes. In any case, I’ll give it $1.00.