Sunday, October 22, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Desert Gold (1936)

I celebrated Marsha Hunt's 100th birthday last week by watching one of her very earliest films, DESERT GOLD (1936).

DESERT GOLD, based on Zane Grey's novel of the same name, was Marsha's second film. Happily she gets to do a bit more than a traditional "B" Western leading lady; she plays a spunky gal, and in fact it's her courage which ultimately saves the day during the climactic shootout.

As the movie begins, Judy (Hunt) is engaged to marry much older businessman Chet Kasedon (Monte Blue). Then a handsome young mining engineer, Randolph Gale (Tom Keene) arrives in town, along with fellow engineer Fordyce Mortimer (Robert Cummings), throwing Judy's romantic life into turmoil.

Gale and Mortimer are hired by Kasedon to find a mine only the local Indians know about; but meanwhile Kasedon also kidnaps Indian Chief Moya (Larry "Buster" Crabbe) and attempts to torture him into divulging the mine's location.

When the engineers learn what Kasedon's up to they rescue Moya and side with the Indians. It also makes it imperative that Gale break up Judy's wedding plans pronto -- especially as he wants to marry her himself!

I found this film quite enjoyable, starting with the use of stock footage of a stagecoach in Lone Pine's Alabama Hills, intercut with the driver and passengers against back projections! Scenes like that are, well, gold for a "B" Western fan.

IMDb says that the film used Bodie as a location, but that's in error. (For more on Bodie, see my review of HELL'S HEROES.) The cast did do quite a bit of filming at Southern California's Iverson Ranch.

Hunt, Cummings, and Leif Erickson (billed as Glenn Erickson) seem impossibly young here. Cummings and Erickson had each been in just a handful of films at this point. Cummings is very goofy, front and center with the leads as Keene's toothache-ridden sidekick; Erickson mostly blends into the background in a supporting role.

It's fun to watch Hunt battle with Keene in a love-hate relationship; he's determined to marry her from the moment he meets her, but she doesn't want to give him the satisfaction of falling too easily. Keene was also in the enjoyable Western CROSS FIRE (1933), reviewed here in August.

Marsha's father is played by Raymond Hatton. The cast also includes Si Jenks, Frank Mayo, and Walter Miller.

The same year DESERT GOLD was released, Hunt, Crabbe, and Hatton also appeared in the Zane Grey film THE ARIZONA RAIDERS (1936).

DESERT GOLD was directed by James P. Hogan and filmed by William Clemens. It runs a quick 56 minutes.

DESERT GOLD is a Paramount Pictures film which is now in the public domain. It's available on DVD from Lions Gate. The print is soft but not as faded as some '30s public domain prints. I found it quite watchable.

Amazon Prime members can stream DESERT GOLD at no extra charge via Amazon Prime Instant Video.

Quick Preview of TCM in January

The tentative January schedule for Turner Classic Movies is now available!

As an introductory side note, a reminder that while the header photo at the top of the linked schedule is for the current month of October, the schedule itself is for January. The web address for the January schedule ends in "2018-1-01."

Charles Boyer will be the January Star of the Month. If my records are correct, this will be Boyer's first time for that honor. Over 20 Boyer films will be shown on Thursdays in January, with many wonderful films on the schedule. (Where, though, is my favorite Boyer film, HISTORY IS MADE AT NIGHT? Sigh...)

In other January TCM news, I'm especially pleased that Paramount's HOLIDAY INN (1942) turned up on the New Year's Day schedule. It's been rarely shown on TCM...if ever? (P.S. Further research shows HOLIDAY INN aired on TCM as recently as 2015!)

The January Spotlight theme seems to be survival movies, with titles such as FIVE CAME BACK (1939), INFERNO (1953), and RUN FOR THE SUN (1956) being shown on Friday evenings.

January multifilm tributes will include W.C. Fields, A. Edward Sutherland, Yul Brynner, Luise Rainer, Joel McCrea, Fred Astaire, Claudette Colbert, and Ernst Lubitsch, plus prime time tributes to Gene Tierney and Edmond O'Brien.

I suspect a prime time double bill of James Stewart and Henry Fonda in THE CHEYENNE SOCIAL CLUB (1970) and FIRECREEK (1968) might feature Scott Eyman, author of a new book on Stewart and Fonda.

Among TCM's January themes: Heist films, biographies, sci-fi, animal movies, the Soviet Union, sports, farmers, midnight, New York City, and 1960s musicals.

I'll have more detailed information on TCM's January schedule posted here ahead of New Year's Day.

In the meantime, Anthony Perkins is the October Star of the Month, with James Stewart in November and Lana Turner in December.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Danielle Darrieux Dies at 100

Actress Danielle Darrieux has passed away at the age of 100.

Darrieux died in France on Tuesday, October 17th.

Please visit the centennial tribute I posted earlier this year on the occasion of her 100th birthday.

Darrieux leaves behind an impressive body of work, with 140 screen and television credits in her long career.

For more on this special actress, please visit obituaries at the New York Times, Washington Post, and Variety.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Happy Centennial Birthday, Marsha Hunt!

Today is a very special day for all of us who love classic films, as we celebrate the 100th birthday of a lovely, talented, and very special woman, Marsha Hunt.

Marsha Hunt was born on October 17, 1917, in Chicago, Illinois.

Turner Classic Movies will pay tribute to Marsha with an eight-film tribute today; they'll also show a short she made with Eddie Muller, THE GRAND INQUISITOR (2008). Be sure to also catch Eddie paying tribute to Marsha this Sunday, October 22, when he screens RAW DEAL (1948) on TCM's Noir Alley series. She's seen below in RAW DEAL, flanked by Claire Trevor and Dennis O'Keefe.

I've been privileged to hear Marsha speak on a number of occasions, and I even had the honor of sitting at her table at a luncheon once. I was in the audience for a great 2012 interview she gave at the Egyptian Theatre which can be seen on YouTube; additional parts of the interview are at the YouTube page's right margin. In his introduction Eddie Muller describes Marsha as "the most remarkable woman I've ever met in my life." Watching it again brought back a really wonderful evening; I think I floated home afterwards!

It's not the best photo (my apologies to the gentlemen), but I like this April 2011 snapshot of Marsha with Eddie Muller and Alan K. Rode which I think captures the fun of being in her beaming presence:

Marsha Hunt is a remarkable lady who has withstood losses over her long life yet radiates gratitude and serenity. When I met her in 2011 she told me "I've had a wonderful life!"

I've paid tribute to Marsha Hunt on her birthday on three past occasions, her 90th birthday in 2007, her 95th birthday in 2012, and last year's 99th birthday. Each post is a little different, and I encourage Marsha's fans to visit each one for more stories and photos of this remarkable, elegant lady.

Happy birthday, dear Marsha Hunt!

Marsha Hunt films reviewed at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings: THE ACCUSING FINGER (1936), EASY LIVING (1937) (bit part), ANNAPOLIS SALUTE (1937), THESE GLAMOUR GIRLS (1939), WINTER CARNIVAL (1939), IRENE (1940) (also here), FLIGHT COMMAND (1940), I'LL WAIT FOR YOU (1941), UNHOLY PARTNERS (1941), KID GLOVE KILLER (1942) (also here), THE AFFAIRS OF MARTHA (1942), SEVEN SWEETHEARTS (1942), PILOT #5 (1943), LOST ANGEL (1943), MUSIC FOR MILLIONS (1944), BRIDE BY MISTAKE (1944), A LETTER FOR EVIE (1946), THE INSIDE STORY (1947), RAW DEAL (1948), MARY RYAN, DETECTIVE (1949), TAKE ONE FALSE STEP (1949), THE HAPPY TIME (1952), and BOMBERS B-52 (1957).

Update: Here's a review of one of Marsha's earliest films, DESERT GOLD (1936).

Monday, October 16, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Flight Angels (1940) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

FLIGHT ANGELS (1940) is a most enjoyable Warner Bros. "B" film, available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

Dennis Morgan and Wayne Morris play hotshot commercial airline pilots of an American Airlines Flagship Skysleeper. As the movie opens, they pilot a plane to Chicago, landing in thick fog while stewardess Mary (Virginia Bruce) delivers a baby in the back of the plane. How can you not love this movie?!

Unfortunately Morgan's character flunks his vision test, which leads him to make irrational plans to fly in China, where they won't care about such niceties as vision tests and licenses; the odd thing is that in his self-absorbed pity -- and egotistical self-confidence -- he never considers the potential impacts his decisions will have on his passengers or those on the ground.

However, since the movie runs a quick 74 minutes, he's forced to snap out of it and stop focusing on himself pretty quickly. WWII being right around the corner has the needed effect.

The guys are cute, Bruce is at her absolute loveliest, and Jane Wyman is a hoot as Morris's aggressive girlfriend.

FLIGHT ANGELS the kind of film where Ralph Bellamy is the airport operations manager and John Litel is the pilots' doctor, with fave WB stalwart John Ridgely as an Army lieutenant.

That's William Hopper, many years before PERRY MASON, as another pilot, and Jan Clayton as a student stewardess; Clayton was still half a decade away from starring in the original Broadway cast of CAROUSEL and even more years away from TV immortality on LASSIE.

Between the stewardesses and Morgan's girlfriends, many young actresses turn up onscreen, including Mary Anderson (GONE WITH THE WIND, LIFEBOAT), Margot Stevenson, Rosella Towne, Maris Wrixson, Dorothea Kent, Lynn Merrick, and Carol Hughes. Janet Shaw is the expectant mother.

As Warner Bros. contract players, Morgan, Morris, and Wyman all worked together regularly, including being reunited the following year for BAD MEN OF MISSOURI (1941).

Like many films of the era, Glendale Airport turns up as a location. It's recognizable by its distinctive arches.

There's a sad footnote to the plane seen in this film. According to IMDb, the plane left Puerto Rico and disappeared on December 28, 1948, ostensibly at the Bermuda Triangle. It has never been found.

FLIGHT ANGELS was directed by Lewis Seiler and filmed in black and white by L. William O'Connell.

The Warner Archive DVD is an especially good-looking print. The disc includes the trailer.

Fans of "B's" and aviation films should find this one fast-paced fun.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Beauty for the Asking (1939) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Lucille Ball stars in BEAUTY FOR THE ASKING (1939), an enjoyable RKO "B" film just released by the Warner Archive.

BEAUTY FOR THE ASKING was released on VHS over a quarter-century ago, but this is the first time it's been on DVD. I found it quite entertaining, and Lucille Ball fans should particularly enjoy catching up with it.

Lucy plays Jean Russell, a beautician who's dumped by her fiance Denny (Patric Knowles) when he has the chance to marry Flora (Frieda Inescort), a somewhat plain multimillionairess who's head over heels for him.

Jean bounces back with a wildly successful cosmetic line and beauty salon, thanks in part to the marketing efforts of Jeffrey Martin (Donald Woods). Jeff carries a torch for Jean, but she's still hung up on Denny -- who comes back into her life when Flora invests in the company, making Denny an executive.

Denny starts wooing Jean again; Jean is tempted but then resolutely sends him to the West Coast on business for six weeks, and while he's away she helps Flora with a makeover and tips on how to keep her man. (Shades of Claudette Colbert and Miriam Hopkins in 1931's THE SMILING LIEUTENANT!) However, ultimately things don't go as either Jean or Flora expect.

I found this quite an entertaining 68 minutes, not least because of its unpredictability. For instance, I tend to think of Frieda Inescort playing haughty women, like Miss Bingley in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (1940), but she might be the most appealing character in the film, desperately in love with her husband but gradually facing up to the realization that he loves her money but not her.

Without giving anything away, I also didn't expect the way the last ten minutes or so unfolded. It was interesting to me that the filmmakers avoided a too-pat ending.

Ball was at her loveliest in the late '30s, and she's simply gorgeous here. Beyond her appearance, she has the chance to play an interesting woman who works hard to build her own business; she also discovers compassion for her would-be rival and genuinely tries to help her. This helps offset her character's less appealing moments, when for a brief time she puts ethics aside and starts "Looking out for No. 1."

There are some interesting faces in the film, such as Whitney Bourne and Kay Sutton, who were leading ladies in other RKO "B" films. The cast also included Inez Courtney, Charles Coleman, Leonard Carey, Leona Maricle, and Frances Mercer.

I was interested to note that one of the women who provided the idea for the story and screenplay was Adele Buffington. Buffington scripted countless Westerns, with one of her last projects being the very enjoyable COW COUNTRY (1953), reviewed here last month. She also wrote the terrific Johnny Mack Brown Western FLAME OF THE WEST (1945).

The movie was directed by Glenn Tryon, who as an actor starred in the charming LONESOME (1928). It was shot in black and white by Frank Redman. The movie has the great RKO "look" which makes their films of the late '30s so appealing.

The Warner Archive DVD is a nice print. There are no extras.

For another thumbs up review of this little-known but entertaining film, please visit Raquel's post at Out of the Past.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

Tonight's Movie: Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

This has been a good year for fans of Republic Pictures serials, with Blu-ray and DVD releases of DAREDEVILS OF THE RED CIRCLE (1939) from Kino Lorber and PANTHER GIRL OF THE KONGO (1955) from Olive Films.

Now comes the highly regarded ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN MARVEL (1941), recently released on Blu-ray and DVD by Kino Lorber.

The new Blu-ray was my first exposure to Captain Marvel -- who I was interested to learn has nothing to do with Marvel's Captain Marvel! I thought ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN MARVEL was the best of the three serials I've seen to date, with a more interesting storyline and characters, plus really good special effects.

Frank Coghlan Jr. plays Billy Batson, a young man who finds himself in a tomb face to face with a wizard. (It's a long story...) As long as the "Golden Scorpion" is threatened, which has lenses which can turn rocks to gold, Billy has only to say "Shazam!" and he turns into Captain Marvel.

Captain Marvel, played by Tom Tyler, is more mature (a dozen or so years older than Coghlan) -- and more importantly, he's a superhero who can fly! The square-jawed Captain Marvel is a pretty tough customer, not hesitating to turn a machine gun on the bad guys when needed.

The hooded villain of the piece, billed as "The Scorpion" alongside actors' names in the opening credits, of course wants to get his hands on all those magic lenses, but Captain America stands in his way, throughout 12 action-packed chapters. Along with Billy and Captain Marvel, our other intrepid heroes are plucky secretary Betty (Louise Currie) and Billy's loyal friend Whitey (William "Billy" Benedict).

The good guys and gal face no end of disasters and dangers in the film, from a conveyor belt headed toward a guillotine, to numerous sequences with driverless cars, to trip-wired machine guns and a sinking ship.

That said, while in DAREDEVILS OF THE RED CIRCLE I felt the characters were mere cogs to go through the serial disaster grinder, here the characters are more personable and livelier, and the problems they face feel more integral to the story rather than simply being gimmicks.

I also like that the escapes from "disaster" aren't as pat as one might expect. For instance, there's a scary shot where Captain Marvel is guillotined -- I was amused to see how he got out of that one!

Bullets also deflect off his superhero costume -- which did make me wonder why they didn't aim for his head, but maybe bullets would bounce back from there too...!

ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN MARVEL is distinguished by particularly good special effects for the era. The "Shazam" changes from Billy to Captain Marvel look good, there's effective use of miniatures here and there, and the flying sequences are impressively staged. (Stuntman David Sharpe, who acted in DAREDEVILS OF RED CIRCLE, took care of the takeoffs and landings.) Sure, you can see some wires or, for instance, tell it's a dummy that's launched into the camp in Episode 1, but the overall effects are strong, especially when it comes to the flying; meanwhile those effects which are weaker lend a sort of charming quaintness to the whole thing.

Although I couldn't spread out watching the 12 chapters, which total 216 minutes (!), over a dozen days, I did watch a few chapters at a time, hoping to more closely mimic the effect of seeing them in the theater.

ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN MARVEL was codirected by William Witney and John English. According to the commentary track, they would trade days, with one prepping for the next day while the other directed; they were said to accomplish as many as a hundred setups in a day, which sounds like a near-impossible feat.

The Blu-ray print looks good throughout, save for slightly scratchier opening credits. The black and white filming by William Nobles is nothing flashy, but it's a nice crisp print. The movie mixes lots of filming at Southern California locations like good ol' Iverson Ranch with stock footage shot up north in Lone Pine's Alabama Hills.

There's an elaborate, informative commentary track with 10 participants, with one to three people at a time speaking during different chapters. Commentators include cartoon historian Jerry Beck, film historian Leonard Maltin, Western historian Boyd Magers, and director William Witney's son J.D., plus six additional participants: Chris Eberle, Shane Kelly, Adam Murdough, Constantine Nasr, Donnie Waddell, and Tom Weaver. I liked the different perspectives contributed over the many chapters and thought handling the commentary in that fashion was a great idea. I especially enjoyed Maltin, whose love for CAPTAIN MARVEL is contagious, and Witney; codirector English was his godfather!

There's also a colorful illustrated booklet with an essay by Matt Singer. As an additional plus, the cover art can be removed from the Blu-ray case and flipped over to a different illustration; the two options may be seen at the top and bottom of this review.

Those who are interested might also want to check out Leonard Maltin's post on this set.

I had a good time watching ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN MARVEL, and fans of serials will be especially thrilled with Kino Lorber's presentation. The company has been doing some top-quality releases, and this is another terrific example.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.

The 28th Lone Pine Film Festival: Saturday and Sunday

After a great Opening Night and a very busy Friday at the Lone Pine Film Festival, we were up early again on Saturday!

We started our day watching two episodes of the TV series HAVE GUN, WILL TRAVEL: "The Road to Wickenburg" (1958), written by Gene Roddenberry and directed by Andrew McLaglen, and "The Marshal's Boy" (1960), written by Robert James and directed by series star Richard Boone.

Both episodes guest-starred Harry Carey Jr., whose daughter Melinda was a festival guest, although she didn't participate in this particular event. I've only seen a few episodes, spread over many years, and seeing these entertaining shows definitely made me interested in checking out more. (The complete series is out on DVD.)

After watching the shows it was back into the Alabama Hills to check out the locations! Our tour guide, Don Kelsen, mentioned that while the locations for "The Road to Wickenburg" were fairly straightforward and easy for a camera crew to access, the locations selected for the episode Boone directed showed more creativity. They were quite a bit more challenging to get to, requiring some hikng up and downhill.

As a sample of just one of the spots we took a look at, the booklet here includes a photo (center bottom) of Richard Boone riding around a rock...

...and here's the rock seen more clearly:

Boone's Paladin hides in this hole during a gunfight, then later emerges to jump an unsuspecting villain!

A terrific shot of the tour group:

Click on any photo to enlarge it for a closer look.

Special festival guests Rob Word and Bruce Davison came along on the tour, and Davison spoke to us briefly on what it meant to him to be standing in the places where the Westerns he enjoyed as a child were filmed.

I also had the chance to tell Mr. Davison that I had fond memories of seeing him in a stage production of AS YOU LIKE IT in Long Beach, California, as a teenager. He immediately remembered the production and his costars, Stockard Channing and Ian McShane.

He then reminisced about seeing AS YOU LIKE IT himself, in Stratford-on-Avon with Alan Rickman, and he begin imitating how Rickman delivered the "Seven Ages of Man" speech. That was quite a fun and slightly surreal moment out in the Alabama Hills!

Back in town there were numerous interesting events taking place, and difficult decisions had to be made, along with eating a meal once in a while! We shot some photos at the panel discussion on "The Image of the American Cowboy: John Wayne and John Ford," although we regretfully had to move on in order to fit in lunch and get to our next event.

Left to right at the panel, seen above: actor Ed Faulkner, who appeared in half a dozen Wayne films; historians Bob Boze Bell and Ed Hulse; Wayne and Ford biographer Scott Eyman; and Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz, who moderated.

Above is a wider shot, showing some of the audience. The panel discussion took place in the quad at Lone Pine High School.

We had a good lunch at the Frosty Chalet, which was recently written about in the Los Angeles Times:

After lunch we watched Harry Carey Sr. and Hoot Gibson in John Ford's STRAIGHT SHOOTING (1917), with excellent accompaniment by pianist Jay C. Munns.

I enjoyed it but honestly the print of this century-old film was so faded that it was difficult at times to maintain concentration and follow it. The movie is on YouTube, and I intend to watch it again soon and try to get more out of the experience. It was fun to notice certain Carey mannerisms, such as stroking his chin, which were still part of his film persona in movies released three decades later.

The fun Tim Holt film RIDER FROM TUCSON (1950) immediately followed STRAIGHT SHOOTING, and if anything I enjoyed it more than I did the first time I saw it four years ago.

The movie provides a great overview of Lone Pine locations, including the Alabama Hills, Anchor Ranch (photographed by me in 2014), and the "Tim Holt Cabin" (also photographed in 2014).

RIDER FROM TUCSON costars Richard Martin as Tim's pal Chito, plus Elaine Riley, who was Martin's real-life wife. She passed on in 2016 at the age of 98.

Earlier in the day Don Kelsen remembered meeting Martin in Lone Pine not long before he passed on and said Martin was a great guy, always wonderful to hear!

Dinner was a good meal at The Grill; then, as sunset fell... was time to head back to the high school for the evening's keynote film, THE CHEYENNE SOCIAL CLUB (1970).

I've honestly never particularly cared for this film about an unsuspecting cowboy (James Stewart) who discovers he's inherited a high-class bordello, which costars Henry Fonda as his loquacious buddy. It did play better with an audience, and I thus enjoyed it more this time around than I expected. I plan to write more about it here in the near future.

Here are Scott Eyman and Ben Mankiewicz getting ready to take the stage after the movie:

For over an hour Eyman and Mankiewicz had an interesting discussion, inspired by Eyman's new book on Stewart and Fonda's long-running close friendship. Though different in some ways, including politically, they remained the best of friends for decades.

The story I found most touching centered around Stewart's beloved movie horse Pie, who went on location for CHEYENNE SOCIAL CLUB but was nearing the end of his life and wasn't well enough to appear on screen. Stewart spent his lunch breaks in Pie's company, and at some point Fonda began sketching Pie, which ultimately turned into a painting which he presented to Stewart. For the rest of Stewart's life the painting hung in Stewart's living room, with a light shining on it day and night. We were told it now hangs in Stewart's stepson's home, and the light is still on 'round the clock.

Sunday morning I had the pleasure of revisiting Glenn Ford and Eleanor Parker in John Sturges' very good ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO (1953) for the first time in a decade. It was also nice to see it again in tribute to Richard Anderson, who costars in the film and recently passed away.

All too soon it was time to get on the road back to Orange County! This year the festival added a few tours on Monday's Columbus Day holiday. We might stay a day longer in the future; among other things, I'd love to see the Sunday festival parade and attend the informal Cowboy Church hosted each year at Anchor Ranch.

Coming soon: Reviews of SERGEANT RUTLEDGE (1960) and THE CHEYENNE SOCIAL CLUB, as well as a gallery of some images from ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO.