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Portrait of Alison (1955)
Pretty good Brit murder/suspense
This UK film from 1955 opens with a car racing along the road, over the cliff it goes, and bursts into flames when it hits the canyon below. Geoffrey Keen is Inspector Cobly, who is investigating the accident. We are introduced to Tim and Dave, the brothers of the deceased driver. You'll recognize "Henry" (Allan Cuthbertson) from Fawlty Towers, and whole lot of British TV. I see Hopscotch (AWESOME film) in Cuthberson's list of roles, but can't remember what he did in it. Tim (Robert Beatty) also starts checking out what's going on, and he bumps into people who have the answers, but don't want to give them up. Terry Moore stars as Alison, and seems to be at the center of all this grand adventure. Pretty entertaining. I've never seen this one before, and as of today, doesn't have any comments on the discussion board. Must be new to Turner Classics. There is a twist here and there, but nothing earth shattering. Story by Francis Durbridge, who wrote this in between all the (British) TV series for which he was known. Directed by Guy Green, who had received an Oscar for directing the 1948 Great Expectations.
A Letter from a Soldier (1951)
shortie chapter from during wartime
"Letter from a Soldier" opens with a soldier knocking on a door, and says he is a friend of Mrs. Wrenley's (Marjorie Main) son, who also went off to war. She lets him in, and they talk over old times, and a letter the son had sent to "Maxie Klein" (Keefe Brasselle), who for some reason was called Joe-Joe... It's only nine minutes long, but it's such a typical scene from the post-war days when some sons came home and some didn't make it. This film-let is taken from the larger film "It's a Big Country: An American Anthology", which is composed of several short episodes of various stories. This explains the LARGE list of directors on Big Country. It's entertaining, and was probably extra meaningful to the families of soldiers during that time of the Korean War, which of course was still going on when this was released (1951). Not bad. SO similar to the WW II films from the 1940's. M.Main had made this in between Ma Kettle films. Brasselle would go on to play the starring role of Eddie Cantor, but the reviews of it are not so good. This is one of the first things directed by Don Weis, and he was still directing right up to 1990.
Code of the Secret Service (1939)
not Ronnie's best.
There be minor spoilers in here, matey. Ronnie Ray Gun is Brass Bancroft, agent for the Secret Service. We must be in Washington DC, since we see all those monuments at the opening. Bancroft rushes off to El Paso Texas to meet with another agent who is trying to bust up some counterfeiters in Mexico. There are some iffy comedy bits in here, to try to keep it from being too serious, like a documentary, but most of the bits fall flat. Then we're off across the border to check out the casinos, where the counterfeiters are. I can see why R.R. was NOT happy with this one -- some improbable, unlikely, and even impossible things going on in here. At only 58 minutes, i wonder if scenes had been cut, which didn't help the story. It's slightly amusing, but not really much of a believable story. Reagan had only been in the biz a couple years, and he would go on to make MUCH better films (and some crummy ones too). His "comedic" sidekick is Eddie Foy in all of these; Foy plays a game of strip poker with the locals (really!). This ends up as a campy vaudeville bit, and one wonders why the Mexicans sometimes speak English amongst themselves. Moroni Olsen is "the friar", and plays a pretty large role as the villain.
Directed by Noel Smith. Not a lot of info on him, but wikipedia.org thinks he was born in 1895, but IMDb claims he was born in 1893. You can find this one in a collection of four Brass Bancroft films from Warner Brothers.
What Price Jazz (1934)
okay shortie on TCM... jazz hands
Thar be spoilers below: Opens with Ted Fiorito and the orchestra playing a fast, jazzy tune. They highlight several instruments and we even get some special effects, like a kaleidoscope used on a musical chorus scene. Then we switch to Mr. Blue Laws on a street corner preaching to the public about the "evils of jazz". It's a skit with the preacher-like character and some guy standing up to the jazz. The crowd behind him is just a projection screen. Singers Shirley Ross, Muzzy Marcellino, and Joan Gale are highlighted for just a few short moments each. Then the silly skit continues, with Ted and his orchestra on the run from public opinion. They start playing again.
Directed by Sidney Lanfield, who directed Bob Hope films, and Basil Rathbone in Hound of the Baskervilles, according to wikipedia.org before doing Addams Family and McHale's Navy on TV. This goes on for about 17 minutes, but I was only waiting for the next film to show on TCM. I probably would have switched to something else if there were anything better on...
Millionaires in Prison (1940)
amusing prison flick
From RKO. At the open, we see the warden describing some new additions to his prison. One big name in here (besides Lee Tracy) is Shemp Howard as "the Professor", a prisoner, who is clearly here for comic relief. Of course, they make fools of themselves the first day, expecting the blue chip treatment, which doesn't happen. Brent and Keats come up with a plan to try to scam the other cell mates over a copper mine. Keats is played by Chester Clute, who always played background roles, typically with no lines. Often hotel clerks, or waiters. I remember him from Copacabana, Easy Come Easy Go, Saratoga Trunk, Mildred Pierce. When you see his face, you'll say "of course, that guy!". Burton (Lee Tracy) is one of the smarter prison mates who knows what's up, kind of the ringleader. The girlfriends of the prisoners meet on visiting day, and also form an alliance. It's pretty entertaining. Some left turns along the way. Keep an eye out for Grady Sutton, the nephew who comes to see his uncle on visiting day. Sutton had been in a bunch of W.C. Fields' films. There is a comedic side to this mostly serious plot, and according to wikipedia.org director Ray McCarey had directed Our Gang episodes, as well as Laurel and Hardy and the Three Stooges. McCarey croaked quite young (44), but I haven't been able to find the cause of death. Film is mostly well done. A little over the top, but not a bad way to spend 64 minutes.
Glimpses of Guatemala (1946)
Color travelogue on Guat-a-mala
Glimpses of Guat-ah-mala. This is one of James Fitzpatrick's color travelogues, and you have to love the way he says GUATTT-AH-MALA. Fitzpatrick describes the chicleros, those who collect the sap from the trees. We see the entire processing of "chicle"... the rubber, from collection, to processing, and the transportation by plane. We see the very humble homes and living conditions of the natives on their way to and from market, balancing their goods in baskets on their heads. At one point, the narrator says "we see these young native ladies in their modern dress, which is funny, seeing the very modest, long dresses of the time. Describing the island of Flores, and how trade is connected, we see the natives moving about in small boats, and going to church. It's a shortie, at only eight minutes, but for the movie house viewers in the forties, it must have been a real treat to see lands and people from so far away, living such a different way of life. Looking over his projects, it looks like Fitz stayed mostly in the US and Mexico during 1944 and 1945, since the war was raging in Europe. Fun to see these little bits of history caught on film.
Two Smart People (1946)
Lucy and Hodiak kind-of-noir from the 1940s
Oil paintings and oil wells. Ricki ( Lucy) and her friend "Ace" are somehow involved in selling things. John Hodiak is "Ace" Connors, and he and Ricki are trying to sell oil wells or paintings, but neither one seems to be authentic, so the buyers back out, and then there are the mysterious missing bonds. Elisha Cook is the dark horse "Feletti". It's all very 1940s noirish, with Lucy all dolled up in fancy costumes, and many things are only partially explained. They all meet on a train when Bob Simms (Lloyd Nolan), is bringing Connors in for justice. Simms tells Ricki why they are on the train, and tries to get her on his side. Then, they end up on the Mexican side of the border. Now, they are all at a Mardi Gras party. Wow, they sure have a lot of adventures for someone on their way to Sing Sing; it's all in good fun as we wait to see if Simms, Feletti, or someone else will find the stolen bonds. You have to really pay attention or you'll miss important details. It's more of a get-away adventure than a who-dunnit. It's okay, but not a lot of meat on the bones of this story. This was a couple years before I Love Lucy. They hardly ever show this one, but her best films were Long Long Trailer, Big Street, Fuller Brush Girl, and Meet the People. Hodiak had just done Hitchcock's Lifeboat, and Harvey Girls.
Directed by Jules Dassin, nominated for two Oscars for "Pote tin Kyriaki" 1960. He had also directed Rififi and Topkapi, and was harassed by the House Unamerican Activities Committee in the 1950s. Looks like this is the only time Dassin and Lucy worked on a project together.
East Side, West Side (1949)
Lots of big names in this one
Check out that cast list... the first EIGHT names are all HUGE, or became huge eventually. They must have blown the budget on just the payroll. Even further (farther ?) down the list, there are biggies. Wm Frawley (FRED!) and Vito Scotti. Poor Barbara S... kept getting nominated for Oscars; should have won it for sure for a couple of those. Stanwyck had just made a run of GREAT films during the 1940s, so it's no wonder this one isn't as well known. In this one, Jessie (Stanwyck) confronts her husband's mistress Isabel (Ava Gardner). James Mason is the playboy husband Brandon Bourne, and tries to have his cake and sleep with it too. Some amazing, big time co-stars - Van Heflin, Nancy Davis Reagan, Cyd Charisse, Gale Sondergaard. Bad stuff happens, and then the cop (a young Williamm Conrad) tries to figure out who-dunnit... so many suspects and motives. Really great film... surprised we don't see this on TCM more often, but so many movies, only so much time, i guess. Directed by Mervyn Leroy, who had worked on some biggies during the 1930s and 1940s.
Strictly Unconventional (1930)
okay drama from S. Maugham
Well, it's a somerset maugham story, so we know its going to be a drama, with lots of pain for someone at some point. The story opens with Arnold Champion Cheney (Tyrell Davis) fawning over a chippendale chair he just received. We see signs of trouble, as his wife Elizabeth (Catherine Owen) complains that he likes his belongings more than he likes her. Then it is announced that Champion's mother (Alison Skipworth) is coming for an unexpected visit. LOVE Alison Skipworth, so fun to see her as Lady Champion, stirring things up. Elizabeth starts spending time alone with Ted the Canadian, so we can see there is trouble in paradise. At one point, we see Tyrell Davis with an "alfalfa" type hairdo... not sure what the point of that was ? The main story is about the friction between Elizabeth and Arnold, and with Arnold's parents as well. Lots of dinner party scenes, lots of talking, but you can tell we are missing some of the story, with 20 minutes cut from the film. No big deal really. Not Alison Skipworth's best work. This was her first talkie.... she was SO much better in her later films. See her in one of the W.C. Fields films instead. Lewis Stone (from Grand Hotel) is in here as well.
Owen stopped acting in 1931, so she doesn't seem to have done well in the talkies. Directed by David Burton, who only directed about 15 films, mostly in the 1930s. He doesn't seem to have stuck around long. Screenplay by Sylvia Thalberg, the sister of big-time producer Irving Thalberg.
Wise Girls (1929)
so so lover's quadrangle
"Of course I'm going to marry you... sometime." That's what Duke (Roland Young, from Topper and Philadelphia Story) tells Kate, played by Norma Lee, in one of the two credited roles she ever did. in the very next scene, she marries the next guy she meets, who happens to be "Kemp" (Elliot Nugent), who her dad treats like enemy number one . Kemp's claim to fame is : "I rule my own life, and I don't stammer!" You can see why she fell for him. This is all quite silly, but the picture and sound quality are actually pretty good for a film from 1929. It's all a family affair, because Kate's dad in the film is Elliott Nugent's actual father, J.C. Nugent. To confuse things further, Norma Lee was actually married to Elliott Nugent, who also wrote and directed. The Nugent father and son team had written the play on which this film is based. The editing is pretty rough. About halfway through, there's a scene where the camera stays on sister Ruth, while she makes eyes at Kemp for a minute or two; the camera stays on her for an extra long time, which is awkward in itself, then we cut back to the wide shot, and suddenly her mouth is down-turned, in an unhappy, dour look. The whole story starts with the question of the family deciding whether or not to accept the new husband, when everyone had expected her to marry Duke. More silly, smarmy looks from sister Ruth towards Kemp. Much ado about nothing. Elliott Nugent's acting is terrible... he should have stuck to writing. and Marion Shilling keeps turning to stare into the camera after she says a line. lame. At one point, she fondles his wrench VERY slowly and suggestively as she says: "Just think, here we are all alone in the world...". Could leave this film on while you are doing homework, or cleaning house, or something. big yawn.