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singing amid the battles, 27 February 2015

Jeannette MacDonald and Allan Jones star with Warren William in "The Firefly," a 1937 MGM film.

MacDonald plays Nina Maria Azara, a singer, who is also a spy for Spain during the Napoleonic Wars. She is to seduce French officers and find out Napoleon's plans for Spain.

She meets Don Diego, who pursues her while she is working as a singer. She has to stave him off in order to meet with those who can give her information, among them Major de Rouchemont (William).

Don Diego keeps showing up, including on her trip to Bayonne. There, the famous Donkey Serenade is introduced. Unknown to her, Don Diego is actually Captain Andre, who is sent to Spain to spy on her.

The story is a backdrop for all of the music, and there is a ton of it. MacDonald's voice was highly touted; with today's ears, it was a lovely voice, particularly in the middle, but I was never crazy about her top notes. I think it was just the way women were trained by then. She was a beautiful woman and a fine, fiery actress, and her popularity was well deserved. She does a good job here.

Allan Jones was not the most sparkling presence -- he certainly was no match for MacDonald in that department -- but he truly had a beautiful voice. Warren William was very good in a villainous role.

Most of the music was written by Rudolf Friml and Herbert Stothart, so you need to like operetta in order to like this film, and also classical voices.

great story not particularly well done, 27 February 2015

Someone who read this book described it as riveting. This is not a term I would use for 2014's Monuments Men, despite a wonderful cast that included George Clooney, Matt Damon, John Goodman, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville, and finally, George's father, Nick Clooney.

The story concerns the real-life Monuments Men, who are assigned the job of saving as much art from the Nazis as possible. The Nazis, as has been highly publicized, stole art belonging to Jews, and pilfered valuable art, sculptures, and church icons from churches and museums.

The suspense and excitement come in bits and pieces. There are some stunning scenes as the soldiers go into mines and discover huge numbers of treasures. There are also some moving scenes, particularly concerning the character of Donald (Bonneville).

We really don't find out too much about the soldiers, but the script has a lot of humor and repartee in it, making it like the Oceans Eleven films Clooney stars in with Damon and others. A little of it is fine and even necessary, but there isn't enough pathos to offset it.

The best scene for me took place in the home of the dentist's son.

In reality, 350 soldiers made up the Monuments Men. It's only seven here.

This is one of those films about a fascinating, important, and interesting subject that makes one want to learn more about it. Unfortunately, despite some good scenes, Monuments Men isn't good enough to convey the layers of this amazing story.

a welcome surprise, 26 February 2015

Marjorie Main and James Whitmore are Mrs. O'Malley and Mr. Malone in this delightful 1950 comedy that was probably a second feature. I wish some main features were as good.

Let me get this out of the way first. George Carlin, before he became what he was most known for - political comedy, black comedy, etc. - was just a regular comic. He once referred to Marjorie Main as "that saucy little Italian tart." I can't hear her name or see her without remembering that.

Onto our story. Mrs. O'Malley lives in a Podunk town and wins $50,000 on a radio show. She has to take a train to New York in order to pick up her prize. Meanwhile, a womanizing, money-hungry attorney, Malone, is after a paroled embezzler who owes him $10,000. The man, Kepplar, was in prison for a robbery, but the money was never found. Malone is sure Kepplar has the money on him.

Kepplar jumps parole by boarding the same train on which Mrs. O'Malley is traveling. Malone jumps on as well, in hot pursuit. He's not alone in searching for Kepplar. It's a merry band: his ex-wife (Ann Dvorak) and a police inspector Tim Marino (Fred Clark).

Kepplar is murdered, and the murderer is trying to set Malone up to take the fall. With the help of Mrs. O'Malley in the berth next to his, the two of them start moving Kepplar around, all along trying to catch the killer.

Whitmore and Main are fabulous together, and Whitmore's comic timing is excellent. The dialogue is snappy and funny, and the slapstick is great. Fred Clark's serious and frustrated demeanor makes his scenes even funnier.

Phyllis Kirk is Malone's pretty secretary. Ann Dvorak, as Kepplar's ex-wife, is marvelous in a light role. This is a late-ish part for her she was most prolific in the '30s and '40s. It's a shame she didn't stay in films, but she would retire the next year.

This should have been followed up with more films featuring O'Malley and Malone. A shame it didn't.

If you spot this on TCM, don't miss it.

Crazy and funny, 26 February 2015

Stephen Mangan is a riot as Dirk Gently, who runs a "holistic detective agency." Gently believes in the interconnectedness of all things and that the universe will solve his cases. The universe might, but they won't pay his bills or clean his office. Darren Boyd is sort of his partner, MacDuff, and Gently drives him nuts.

This is a wildly funny show, with one client paying Gently to find out who is stalking him, which turns out to be Gently himself, in another case he works on finding a cat and uses time travel, that sort of thing.

Mangan is intense and outrageous as Gently, with wild hair and a declamatory voice. Everyone around him looks fairly discouraged. Unfortunately this series only lasted one season, but I notice there's a TV movie made in 2015. Maybe it will be back.

early film with Joan Blondell and George Brent (with no mustache), 26 February 2015

Joan Blondell is nicknamed "Miss Pinkerton" in this 1932 film also starring George Brent and Ruth Hall. She's nicknamed Miss Pinkerton by Brent when she attempts to help solve a murder. She's actually Nurse Adams, bored with her hospital job. She's offered a chance to take care of an elderly lady who has gone into shock after finding someone dead in her house from an apparent suicide. Nurse Adams is supposed to keep an eye on things. She's thrilled.

Miss Pinkerton doesn't believe the suicide - she thinks it was murder. The house gives her plenty of ammunition to believe it. It's an old, dark with a mean-looking maid, a scary butler, the frightened patient, and the doctor who doesn't seem too stable either.

A young girl shows up (Hall). She was married to the murder victim but in love with someone else. This someone is Elliot (Donald Dillaway) who has been caught sneaking around the house. There is also a stenographer (Mary Doran). Then there is a second murder.

George Brent is the investigating detective, and he's young and unmustached here. Normally he played opposite a major leading lady. He's charming here.

Fast-moving mystery with the delightful Blondell keeping things lively. Some interesting camera work, including a gigantic shadow of a man over the house. Lots of screaming, too, as befits this kind of movie.

Three vignettes about a yellow Rolls Royce, 26 February 2015

The Yellow Rolls Royce was one of French film star Alain Delon's American films. Unfortunately, like Dirk Bogarde, American success would not be his. Dirk Bogarde turned down Gigi to do a biopic about Liszt; Hollywood just did not put Delon in films that made any money.

A huge cast stars in The Yellow Rolls Royce, a 1964 film, and the production is truly sumptuous, with glorious European scenery. It is a series of three vignettes about people who have owned the car.

The first is set in England, and stars Rex Harrison, Jeanne Moreau, and Edmund Purdom. Harrison buys the car for his wife's (Moreau's) birthday; little does he know that she has a lover (Purdom). Frantic for a place to make love before Purdom leaves the country, they choose the car.

The second is set in Italy, and stars George C. Scott, Shirley Maclaine, Art Carney, and Alain Delon. Scott is an American mobster who brings his girlfriend (Maclaine) to Italy to introduce her to his family. She falls for an Italian photographer (Delon) while Scott is away taking care of some business in America. She and Delon's first tryst is in the yellow Rolls Royce.

The third is set in Yugoslavia (actually filmed in Austria), where one Mrs. Millet (Ingrid Bergman) finds herself sneaking a rebel (Omar Shariff) into his country to fight the Germans. She takes him to the village where the rebels are gathering and sleeps in her car...until she is joined by a grateful Shariff.

The third episode of this film is the best and the most fun, with Bergman a determined woman who will stop at nothing to do just as she pleases, including pouring wine while the restaurant is being bombed around her. Bergman is truly wonderful in an exciting, warm, and moving story.

The other two parts of the film for me moved somewhat slowly, though they were well acted.

This is a good film. When you see the scenery, you'll wish you were there. And the exterior of the house where Rex Harrison and Jeanne Moreau live - unbelievable!

good, but please stop shouting, 22 February 2015

"Hostile Witness" is a British film starring Ray Milland, who also directs.

Milland plays an excellent barrister, Simon Crawford, whose daughter is killed in a hit and run accident. Crawford vows that if he finds the person who did it, he will kill him.

Later on, his neighbor is found dead, and Crawford is blamed. He decides to defend himself when his counsel, a young woman (Sylvia Syms) whom he's mentoring, quits in anger.

This is a neat mystery that will really have you guessing up to the denouement, what people are calling here "a Perry Mason moment." Ray Milland shouts his way through this, and I was very aware of his hairpiece. His hair fell out after it was curled for Reap the Wild Wind in 1942. The rest of the acting is fine, particularly from Syms, but Milland has the largest role.

Rendition (2007)
what happens post-9/11 when you have the wrong last name, 22 February 2015

Rendition is one scary movie. It's scary because I believe what happened to the central character can happen to anyone.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays CIA analyst Douglas Freeman. While in North Africa, a suicide bomber strikes, killing 19 people instead of the person the bomb was intended to kill, an interrogator named Abasi.

Though Anwar El-Ibrahimi (Omar Metwally) is a successful chemical engineer living in Chicago with his wife and son, he is detained when he tries to leave for the U.S. after a conference. It turns out that there are telephone records that show a terrorist, Rashid, called his cell phone. Anwar doesn't know anything about it.

Anwar is taken to a detention center. His pregnant wife (Reese Witherspoon) doesn't know what happened to him. She calls on a friend of hers in government, but ultimately, he is stonewalled and his boss orders him to let it go.

Freeman is asked to observe the interrogation of Anwar by Abasi. Anwar is tortured, but still doesn't know anything. Ultimately he talks -- he gives the names of men on a soccer team as his accomplices in bomb-making and says he was paid $40,000 by Rashid. Freeman realizes that it's a fake confession. But what can he do to help him? There is a parallel story, of Abasi's daughter Fatima who has left home with her boyfriend Khalid. She doesn't know that he is a terrorist and that Abasi is responsible for the death of his brother.

The question is asked - is it ever right to torture? Will it only serve to elicit false confessions? And Freeman asks what useful intelligence has ever come out of these interrogations. Meanwhile, back home, even though the United States doesn't torture people, it instead lets other people torture American citizens.

Meryl Streep has a supporting role, and she does a good job as a cold bitch. I thought Reese Witherspoon was terrific in a very emotional role, and the rest of the acting was solid. Some of the scenes were too graphic for me to watch.

I think one of the reviews on here says it all. It's from an Egyptian man now living in the U.S. who was detained. What happened in this film could easily have happened to him. And it could happen to anyone with the wrong last name.

I know Homeland Security was set up to protect us, and it's a good thing to have the various governmental organizations communicating with one another. And it seems to me that they've stopped quite a few attacks. However, the flip side is that now the police or anyone in authority can accuse you of terrorism just because they don't like you. I had a brush with it myself, so I know of what I speak.

It's not a great film, but it made its point.

Warren William as a bookie turned insurance man, 21 February 2015

"Don't Bet on Blondes" is a short Warners comedy from 1935 starring Warren William, Claire Dodd, Guy Kibbee, William Gargan, and Errol Flynn in an early appearance.

William is a book who decides to go legitimate and become an insurance man, but a special kind of one. He's going to take high risk cases, and some of them are real doozies: whether a man will have twins, whether someone will lose her voice, etc.

One case concerns a southern man (Kibbee) who is supported by his daughter. He's writing a book proving that the south won the Civil War and he doesn't want his daughter to marry before he finishes it. It's a high risk because she's a gorgeous showgirl (Dodd) and she's practically engaged already.

William steps in as a distraction. You can guess the rest.

Warren William was all but forgotten before TCM; now he's very familiar to viewers and there's a new appreciation for his work. In silents, he played dark, villainous characters; in sound he could be a con man, a detective, or Perry Mason. He had a wheezing laugh and his line readings often indicated wonderful humor. It's interesting that this type of leading man -- the Barrymore-type profile, the mustache -- went out of style.

This is a fast film, briskly directed, and enjoyable.

great adaptation, 20 February 2015

Poirot travels for what was to be an idyllic, lovely weekend in the country and walks into murder in "The Hollow," from the ninth season of Poirot. While relaxing at his country cottage, neighbors, Sir Henry and Lady Angkatell, invite him to dinner. Poirot partakes of the meal but leaves shortly after.

The next day he visits and learns that one of their weekend guest, John Christo, has been found dead. As usual there is no dearth of suspects. His old girlfriend, actress Veronica Cray, is staying nearby. They had not seen one another in 12 years when she shows up at the Angkatell home to borrow matches, and John walks her home, leaving behind his wife Gerda and mistress Henrietta. Two more suspects.

Another woman, Midge Hardcastle, was in love with Christo, but he pays no attention to her. Edward Angkatell is in love with Midge, but she pines for John.

Unfortunately, when Poirot investigates, he finds that the evidence points to each of the above suspects in some manner.

Excellent story, absorbing and entertaining, with Sara Miles as Lady Angkatell and Edward Fox as the butler nearly stealing the show with their colorful performances. Edward Hardwicke, Jeremy Brett's Watson, is on hand as well as Henry.

Highly recommended.

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