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Cause for Alarm!

A great time capsule of 50s middle America
The first frame takes you from the outside of this Stepford Wives worthy Leave It To Beaver neighborhood with its picket fences and neatly trimmed lawns into the house where things are not well at all. George Jones (Barry Sullivan) is upstairs suffering from an unnamed heart condition. He is tormenting his wife Ellen (Loretta Young) with his foul words and foul mood. And this is where Young just gets so Stepford wife like - "I have to remain cheerful for George"... "Even the housework was drudgery" she says. OF COURSE it's drudgery! If it wasn't drudgery MEN would want to do it!

George believes his wife is cheating on him with his doctor and planning his early demise. His wife and the doctor were dating before George came along. So he is writing a letter to the DA saying that if he dies suddenly that it was probably poisoning from the medicine they gave him and to look into it. He waits until Ellen gives the letter to the mailman - with her thinking it is work for his job - and then he tells her what he just did. He gets a gun and prepares to kill Ellen himself and leave the good doctor to the DA, when he has a heart attack and dies, the gun still in his hand.

At this point Ellen just freaks out and does everything wrong. Rather than realizing that the coroner will see it was natural causes with the gun in his hand proving that George went unstable, she just draws the shades and leaves George's body in the room while she goes franticly looking for that letter. First the pedantic postman will not return a letter to her written by her husband, then she goes downtown - first stopping to dress up and put on the perfect hat ??? - where she gets denied and patronized some more. Did I mention she removed the gun from George's hand - it went off in the process - and put it in a drawer. Now if they check it has HER prints on it and they can prove SHE fired that gun.

She would have continued to spin out of control if not for the doctor reappearing and getting her to stop and think and calm down. The last twist at the end that resolves things - I'll leave one surprise for you anyways.

And don't feel too sorry for old George. The flashback by Ellen showing when she met George during WWII indicates he was, even during the good times, manipulative and possessive. Then there was that little speech he gave about a ship in a glass bottle he had as a child and how he almost beat a kid to death who touched it. And George's aunt had a few choice words to say about him too.

What doesn't happen? Young finally settling down realizing awful George is dead, realizing she is in for a sizable life insurance payoff, kicking off her shoes in relief, lighting up a cigarette, when there is a knock at the back door. It's Robert Mitchum. They embrace and he says "You did it baby". No, instead, this was supposed to be exactly what it was - a short drama that plays out in a fashion suitable for TV, gauging whether or not Loretta Young is ready for that jump from film to TV.

Red Hot Tires

Surprisingly good but goofy programmer
I wasn't expecting much, honestly. But this little film took some unexpected and also some illogical turns and kept me guessing and wondering. If I could I'd give it a 6.5.

Lyle Talbot plays Wally Storm, a mechanic for the wealthy Sanfords' race car. Apparently the family business is to build and innovate these cars, though no background information is given. The Sanford driver is Robert Griffin (Gavin Gordon). Robert Griffin has romantic aspirations with Patricia Sanford (Mary Astor), but she prefers Wally. Griffin, always a bad sport, gets Wallace fired by lying to Mr. Sanford about him - saying he is a drunk and difficult. So Wally goes and gets a job as a mechanic on another racing team. Meanwhile Griffin and his evil pal, Curley, put a feature on the race car guaranteed to knock other cars out of the race. At the next race, one of the drivers is ill and Wally substitutes and gets to show off his developing racing skills. Complications ensue, but not necessarily the ones you think you see coming from a mile away.

In the end this film involves crime and punishment and a case that could end up before the Supreme Court, cops that don't listen, extradition treaties, sloppy law enforcement and evidence collection, the potential adoption of an adult by two other adults, and an imaginary girlfriend who miraculously materializes out of thin air.

Because of all of the obvious stock footage and back projection going on, the film depends on its fast plot so there is no time for acting or even questions. I'd recommend this as a worthwhile way to spend an hour.

Fashions of 1934

Obscure Busby Berkeley...
... who actually only directs one number, because William Powell is the whole show. Powell really only did the fast talking hustler routine at Warner Brothers, and this was one of those films. Here he plays Sherwood Nash, initially a stock broker. You find out all you need to know in the first scene where he is on the phone selling and buying stock as somebody comes in his office. Only to find out the guy is there to take the phones. They were cut off three days ago.

So with Nash and his buddy Snap (Frank McHugh) out of an office and furniture and phones, they go looking for a new racket. Meeting up with down and out yet talented fashion designer Lynn Mason (Bette Davis) whose designs are great but can't get her foot in the door because she is unknown, Nash gets an idea. He steals shipments of garments coming from Paris to New York and produces cheap knockoffs. Naturally the big name dress stores are annoyed to get phone calls from irate socialites whose nannies are parading around in the same dresses that they have. So then Nash goes to the fashion houses and makes an offer - Why spend all of this money on fashions from Paris when Nash can supply them at a fraction of the cost.

So everybody is in on the grift. Some reviewers are saying - "Who cares about fashion, this is boring!". But the high fashion is just a McGuffin. William Powell's Nash could be swindling anything. It's how he confidently maneuvers any obstacle that is the delight. Plus, remember this is still the height of the Depression. Most people felt they had been swindled to some extent. It was probably fun for movie goers to see rich people swindled for a change. 30s Warner Brothers got that.

The one number that Berkeley directs is supposed to be a fashion show towards the end that nobody sitting in a room with the chorines could appreciate due to all of the camera angles and close ups involved. This is still the precode era so the girls are revealing more than their doctors probably got to see. The tune "Spin A Little Web of Dreams" is very melodious and memorable. It will get stuck in your head.

Watch it for Powell and those great Warner Brothers contract players, watch it for the Berkeley number, and watch it for Bette Davis, who decades later still talked about how she seethed at being made up like a clothes horse during this film.

Captain America: Civil War

A master class in screenwriting
What impresses me about this movie is how much good was done in a short amount of time for each character. There are really clever time-saving 'tricks' like Tony using the broom to bust open the hatch that caused the Spidey costume to come dangling down. That saved them minutes of precious dialogue; it just cut straight to the point. And during that whole scene in Peter's place, almost every line of dialogue counted toward something important, with just enough 'fluff' to make it sound like a real conversation instead of 'movie dialogue' (the funny asides like 'please move your leg' and 'your ridiculously hot aunt'), etc.

The same is true about the scene near the beginning with Tony's holographic 'flashback' . That scene served so many purposes at once - first, it got me caught up in the background story; then, it gave me an insight into Tony's attitudes and regrets concerning his parents; then, when it was shown that it was a therapy technique, it showed me that Tony still has unresolved emotional issues concerning his parents, which then set up the stage for a reveal that causes Tony's later actions.

These two previously mentioned scenes took about four or five minutes tops, and many other scenes in the film managed to squeeze in a half-hour's worth of material (per scene) into 5-minute snippets by accomplishing a lot of stuff simultaneously (story-building AND character-building AND plot development) , and making it feel natural and not rushed or forced.

This film serves as a great example for others to study when it comes to screenwriting effectiveness. Something really remarkable was done here. And it was very refreshing after seeing so many big-budget blockbusters with horrible screenwriting.

British Agent

What a goofy movie!...
And yet I liked it! Leslie Howard can give any part in any film dignity - this one proves it! And Kay Francis can make any man seem appealing - again, Leslie Howard proves it! Take that Scarlet O'Hara!

Howard plays, Stephen Locke, a British diplomat, in the last days of Czarist Russia and the first days of Communist Russia. He meets Elena Moura (Kay Francis) when she runs into the British embassy with the Cossacks in hot pursuit since she is a Bolshevik. And also because she was shooting at them. Locke shields her from harm as the consulate is British soil.

They meet again after the revolution when Stephen tries to convince the new Soviet government not to make a separate peace with Germany. But Elena tells her comrades that Stephen is just an unofficial representative, and therefore Stephen is ignored and Russia does make peace apart from the Allies Meanwhile, Stephen and Eleana fall in love. Why I don't know because Eleana keeps telling her bosses all that she knows about Stephen. Egads this could get embarrassing if this is a compulsion of hers!

So then some diplomat friends of Stephen come to him about a plan to arm the White Army against the newly found Soviet government, the hope being that any new Russian government will rejoin the war. Meanwhile Elena still loves her country AND Communism AND Stephen AND still has these troublesome tattle tale qualities.

This has got to be the most pro-Soviet film Hollywood produced prior to WWII when they went wholesale propaganda on the subject during the war years. Lenin is clearly portrayed as a hero. Kay Francis tells us that the emotion she feels for Lenin is "reverence." Lenin's recovery from an assassination attempt is a cause for rejoicing. The Soviet official in charge of tracing down opponents of the regime says that some call it terror, but it's what has to be done. I interpreted that line as a defense of Stalin's policies in the 1930s.

The historical background is more accurate and detailed than most Hollywood films, with Howard articulating the reasons the Allies were concerned about Russia's withdrawal from the war. Also, both leads managed to be annoying characters without annoying me, the viewer. William Gargan's character, on the other hand, annoyed me tremendously. Why must every American abroad in a 1930s film sound like he should be running a lunch counter in the Bronx?

Voyage of the Damned

I'd been curious about this one... the studio had floated this one as their big Oscar-bait of the year before it pretty much dropped off the face of the earth, and it's easy to see why--For the first hour, in the story of a thousand 1939 German refugees relocated to Cuba as a propaganda stunt, we get so many of the standard "Wartime passengers of destiny" subplots, those who didn't know their history would think it was a rewritten Titanic epic, and the ship was going to sink. The story, of course, is that a corrupt, bureaucratic Cuba didn't want them, a 30's isolationist US wouldn't take them, and the doomed passengers might ultimately be sent back to Germany. That should be drama but it's oddly uninvolving--Compared to the less realistic Wartime Passengers of Destiny in Robert Wise's The Hindenburg that same year, that one had a better feel for prewar tensions hiding in luxury class..."Hindenburg" made you dream of traveling on luxury zeppelin, "Voyage" just makes you feel like you're on a long trip with a rude staff.

Director Stuart Rosenberg plays the Jewish-history angle too subjectively, since he acts as if the audience is already on his side from the beginning, like "Schindler's List Goes to Havana". 70's-era Faye Dunaway plays her usual ruthless hysterics, Max Von Sydow is the sympathetic ship captain, and Ben Gazzara gets the noble speeches as the government representative, but most of it falls apart in the over-the-top climaxes. Malcolm McDowell looks a bit confused at having to play a good character as a teen steward who finds romance (when he helps foil a German-intelligence ploy, watch the Alex deLarge bad-boy come back out again) . Orson Welles shows up as a Cuban bureaucrat, but with his strange 70's-Welles delivery, you're genuinely not sure whether he's trying for "casual raconteur", or whether he's befuddled by his own lines because he was at the career point where he couldn't remember them anymore.

The Fountainhead

A message in search of a problem...
... in that Americans simply do not talk or act this way. In America you are generally celebrated if you go your own way, especially in a creative field like architecture. Yet Ayn Rand, who was heavily involved in this film adaptation of her novel, has people talking like good little Soviets. About something that I doubt the Soviets would care about either.

Plus, if you are going to be a success, you tend to do things the way the client wants them. Unless the client wants to skimp on materials or build an unsafe building, but then that film is "Towering Inferno" from 25 years later. But I digress.

So when Rand's hero, architect Howard Roark, ends up a day laborer in a quarry because he refuses to compromise "his vision" - whatever that is - I say that is capitalism at work. Rand always celebrated capitalism, and yet her hero is a failure at it.

It does have some steamy if overwrought love scenes between Patricia Neal and Gary Cooper, because Rand was always good at writing that stuff. Then the film rather ruins even that by having the lovers talk to each other like good little Soviets, which I doubt even the Soviets ever did in the heat of passion.

Director King Vidor thought the entire thing ridiculous, especially the ending. He asked Jack Warner "Do you think the courts would forgive me if I threw the film into the fire?" Warner responded "The court might, but I won't." By the way, why would a newspaper have two architectural critics? The film is a glorious trainwreck, I can't make myself look away anytime it shows up on Turner Classic Movies.

Annie Get Your Gun

There are lots of haters of this film...
... many of them fans of Judy Garland, some of them fans of the actual characters in the film, insulted by how Annie Oakley is portrayed as a backwoods hick, how Frank Butler (Howard Keel) is turned into a jerk that the real Annie would have shot full of buckshot, and how Irving Berlin's music may be as toe-tapping as ever, yet his lyrics strip every bit of dignity, and intelligence from these two fascinating people and gives us whining stereotypes in their stead. Their feelings not mine.

Yes, the film is a bit over-produced in typical MGM fashion, but is generally very good. Too bad a few lovely tunes from the Broadway show were cut, as well as Betty Hutton's touching "Let's Go West Again" number. As much as I adore Judy Garland, Betty Hutton is fabulous as Annie and far more similar in temperament to original creator Ethel Merman than Judy could ever have been and especially by 1949-50. Annie was tailor made for Betty and her energy and talents. The film was a tremendous box office hit and MGM attempted but failed to buy Hutton's contract from Paramount, despite how she was treated on the set.

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Housing Discrimination
Episode 18, Season 8

An informative episode...
... but I'm not sure what to make of the conclusion.

John starts out strong with the story of the African American Bruce family who purchased a California beachfront resort in the early 1900s. When the Klan couldn't scare them off (Bet you never saw palm trees in Birth of a Nation, did you?), the local government took the Bruce family land through eminent domain. They were paid 14K for land that was worth 70K at the time. Today that land is worth twenty million dollars.

John's point is to say that for most middle class people, the thing that they possess that accumulates the most value throughout their lives is their home. And prime real estate in good neighborhoods has been systematically denied African Americans certainly before and even after the Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968. So of course land wrongfully taken should be returned. Whoever owns Bruce Beach now is basically the receiver of stolen goods, and in those cases the buyer is out of luck.

But then John segues into the more general issue of reparations. But he never addresses two basic questions. Taken from whom? Given to whom? Should immigrants from other countries who came here after 1870 and definitely after 1970 pay reparations? Why should we pay reparations to people of African heritage who didn't arrive here until after 1970? Take two famous cases of biracial people. President Obama has a white mother and an African father who never lived in the US. Should President Obama get reparations? Kamala Harris has a mother from India and a Jamaican father whose ancestors were never slaves. Should VP Harris get reparations? Doesn't the whole issue of a rapidly growing multiracial population in the US complicate this entire issue?

And maybe a line from one of Warren Beatty's lesser known films "Bulworth" made over 20 years ago is right in the solution - Paraphrasing, most racial problems will be solved when we are all the same color. Senator Bulworth was cruder in his expression of the sentiment.

Dark Passage

This is so engrossing that the story line never gets in the way!
Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall would attract any film lover to this movie. Add Agnes Moorehead and a host of excellent character actors and this is an enthralling film noir. Granted, some of the plot is a bit far fetched. The idea that one could have facial plastic surgery and be fully recovered in twelve days is out there. But that's a minor point. There is daring cinematography considering that for the first half of the film, we never see Bogart's face. We see the world through his eyes and hear his voice but never see him. It's brilliant. And his image of Lauren Bacall had to be the way he really did see her. She is incredibly beautiful and remarkably moving in her role as the rescuer of Bogart's character.

I always enjoy Agnes Moorehead in any film, but I sometimes wish she had been given roles of kinder and better characters. However, as the "bad guy" in this movie, she is absolutely outstanding. She poured her heart and soul into her character. She is evil but also vulnerable. That's not an easy combination.

San Francisco is the perfect setting for this creepy tale with its hills, spectacular views, the waterfront and views of the Golden Gate Bridge (especially the scenes under the bridge). These are not tourist views. The film is black and white and the scenes are often seedy, gritty, dark, unforgiving. And they combine to absolutely make this film work. This is an extremely good movie. It's an excellent murder mystery and it is remarkably creative. It has to rank as one of the very best films noir ever made. And the ending would bring a smile to any fan of the great Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.

Three Cases of Murder

British anthology film with three slants on the subject
The first, "The Picture", stars Alan Badel as a wonderfully devilish character who breaks the glass on a painting in a museum and then sits and waits for the guide (Hugh Pryse) to notice. Milquetoast Pryse is fascinated by this eerie painting of a stark dark house on a hill. Little does he know Badel is the artist (deceased) who's going to take him 'inside' the painting and into the bizarre house where the structure and it's inhabitants are a little 'off'. There's very dark comedy in the house without lights, and the conclusion is spooky enough to stay with the viewer.

Tale two, "You Killed Elizabeth", is a more typical plot: two men are in love with the same woman. She's murdered, but which one did it? And how? There's a nice little twist at the end, but this is reminiscent of several 40's films about being 'set up'.

The third segment, "Lord Mountdrago" gets a lot of attention because of it features Orson Welles. Welles plays a powerful pompous politician who gleefully belittles younger lawmaker Alan Badel (yes..him again). He then begins having recurrent dreams, in which Badel has the upper hand. The dreams are so disturbing, he seeks help to no avail, and feels his life unraveling in his waking hours. The end is interesting, but the dream sequences are a bit overboard, with Welles' hamming it up, and too many choruses of "Daisy Bell". Evidently, Welles pretty much took over the directing of the scenes from George O'Ferrall.

Overall, it's an interesting watch and the wonderfully disturbing performances of Badel in two stories are noteworthy.

The Petrified Forest

A great claustrophobic drama
This one may not be a certified classic, but I absolutely loved it. I've always had a fondness for hostage dramas and siege stories, something about people trapped together in desperate circumstances makes for intimate and intense storytelling and this one really delivers.

The stage is carefully set with Leslie Howard, the world weary wanderer stumbling upon a lonely roadside cafe where he inflames the imagination, and passions, of a young Bette Davis. She dreams of the larger world but her father and grandfather keep her in check and she suffers the advances of the loutish hired hand. Also thrown into this mundane situation are Paul Harvey and Genevieve Tobin as a bickering wealthy couple on their way to Phoenix. The drama explodes with the arrival of Humphrey Bogart and his cronies, on the run for robbery and murder. They all spend the night in the cafe as Bogart holds them hostage as he waits to rendezvous with his girlfriend and the rest of the gang.

The conversation is fantastic as Howard cleverly exposes the hopes, fears and failings of all concerned. The best bits are when Tobin, who came off as a shrewish rich wife, reveals how she wasted her life marrying into a loveless marriage to please her family, and there is some racial commentary when a black member of Bogart's gang mocks Harvey's black chauffeur for serving white people. Even Bogart, who exudes a cruelty and meanness we'd expect from a gangster, reveals a tender vulnerability after being pressed by Howard for a "favor". Wonderful stuff.

I must also mention the set, mostly inside the diner, but with the fake scenery and matte paintings in the background, it has a haunted and surreal atmosphere which enhances the tension.

The Millionaire

George Arliss is charming, funny, and delightful...
... and it's a shame that he is largely forgotten to film history. He was in Warner Brothers' earliest talking films, and even scored a Best Actor Oscar for his performance in Disraeli in 1929. He was later lured to Fox, and I think that was a mistake since his best film work was at Warner Brothers. He was largely known for his stage work.

Here Arliss plays James Alden, owner and founder of an automobile company. When his doctor tells him he must stop work at age 60 and take a prolonged rest or die, at first he wants to ignore the warnings, but then thinks of his wife and daughter (played by Arliss' actual wife and Evalyn Knapp, respectively).

So off the trio goes to California, and the next we see of Alden he is sitting at a table in a garden wrapped in a blanket surrounded by prescription bottles, looking entirely unhappy about his situation. He is visited by an insurance agent, Scofield (James Cagney) who wants no part of selling him life insurance once he finds out Alden is retired, because he says the retired tend to die quickly. Scofield says if he had Alden's money what he would do is find one of the small business opportunities in the newspaper, and take an interest in running some small place so that he has a sense of purpose.

Alden takes Scofield's advice, but in the meantime he must fool his wife and daughter so that they don't worry or put a stop to his plans, and he must also fool his new business partner (David Manners) because he doesn't want him to think/know that they can just go to James Alden for any money they need. He wants to live by his wits, like he did when he started out, because he thinks the challenge might refresh and thus cure him. Things get complex when Manners' character gets interested in Alden's daughter, independent of the business venture. Noah Beery plays the villain here, trying to thwart the plans of Alden and his partner. It is rather refreshing here to see him play a normal kind of villain for a change.

I can't help but believe that Arliss might have been, in real life, the same kind of person he played on the screen - mischievous, impish, energetic, and always trying to help out the younger crowd. He gave Bette Davis her start at Warner Brothers, and I wonder if this cameo role for James Cagney wasn't his doing too.

At any rate, this film is a light hearted delight and I'd recommend it.

The Empty Man

Chris Stuckmann brought me here...
... and I'd like to thank him. I would have never looked for it on HBO Max and I would have never stuck with it for the 2 1/2 hour running time if he hadn't reviewed it on his youtube channel as being something worth watching. If a Blu came out of it I would definitely buy it, but I would be so disappointed if there was not a commentary. If you go to Chris' review about this film there is a link to an interview with the filmmaker.

So this thing is almost a miracle. It was the last thing that Fox did before they were absorbed into Disney like the blob. As Chris points out, there's lots of money up there on the screen. In a global pandemic year a large studio gave a first time filmmaker a bunch of money and said "go make your vision". Disney would have never allowed this to be made because there are no light sabers in it. But I digress.

So Empty Man has a 25 minute prologue set in 1995 which is horrific enough that seemingly has nothing to do with the other 2 hours of the film and that just suddenly ends. The two hour part of the film after the prologue is set in Missouri in 2018 and the action is set in motion by a teenage girl going missing. Ex detective James LaSombra is a friend of the girl's mother, and so he goes looking for her after he and her mother determine the police will probably do nothing.

He encounters what appears to be a religious cult, and suicides by teens who were not depressed or in trouble with the words about The Empty Man written nearby.

This is almost a silent film. The dialogue is minimalist. And if you are looking for all of the answers of what transpired you are not going to get them. It is beautifully shot and does a great job of building tension. And don't think that some of the dialogue is cartoonish as others have said. For example, LaSombra keeps saying to the strange people he encounters that he gets it, that he is from San Francisco. It makes sense that somebody who is nervous and having their concept of reality challenged would revert to something that grounds them - like saying where they are from.

I would highly recommend this one, just realize you are probably going to need to watch it twice to pick up on everything. I think this thing is headed towards cult classic territory.

Her Cardboard Lover

In the sound age, this film was the kiss of death for the lead actress
This version was so bad that Norma Shearer retired from the screen. I actually liked the quirky 1931 version with Irene Purcell in the same role, but it had the same effect on her career, and would be the last film in which she ever performed, though she was primarily a stage actress. Only the silent 1928 version with Marion Davies did not destroy the career of the leading lady.

Anyways, back to this version. In it Norma Shearer hires a lovestruck Robert Taylor (sporting a Bela Lugosi Dracula haircut with a point down the middle) to protect her from herself. Norma plays a Palm Beach vacationer hopelessly in love with a womanizer, played by, who else, George Sanders. Shearer hates that she can't control her desires for Sanders. Since Taylor owes her a gambling debt, he can pay it off by being Norma's secretary. His job doesn't involve typing. He's there to keep her away from Sanders, a job he performs too well, practically keeping her hostage in her own room. The chemistry between Shearer and Taylor is okay. But not as charged as her scenes with Sanders. You get the sense the two of them could have a happy open marriage. Shearer excels at playing liberated women (A Free Soul), (Private Lives). Norma wouldn't lose sleep over a philandering husband, as she would have her own trove of lovers. Of course, this is not Pre-Code Hollywood, which was something that worked in the favor of the 1931 version - "The Passionate Plumber".

I give Taylor credit for playing against type. Some of the comedic tropes for keeping Norma and George separated are funny, and some come across as creepy. This film has gorgeous sets, Harry Stradling's rich B&W photography, the elegant atmosphere, and of course Norma Shearer. But still, it just feels like the story is playing out in the wrong era.

Norma Shearer retired after this film. Apparently, during its making, someone said she had "jiggling grandma arms", and that was enough to have her hang it up at age 40. Although she still looked mighty fine to me.

We Were Dancing

Yes, it's silly, but Norma Shearer never looked better.
The combination of Norma Shearer, Melvyn Douglas, and their troop of solid MGM cast mates plus newbie Ava Gardner, make this sophisticated romantic comedy by Noel Coward a delight. The plot is supposed to be silly and fun, with witty banter and the butter smooth interaction of all the cast, doing total justice to Coward's brilliance.

Norma is always at her best but she is particularly relaxed and excellent and Melvyn is perfect as her playboy husband. No wonder so many actresses were envious of Norma's talent, she was truly and deservedly the Queen of Metro for many years. Oh, and by the way, MGM is unequalled for Art Direction by the brilliant Cedric Gibbons and his staff. The sets are noticeably fantastic and fully in the beautiful, authentic MGM style.

This movie marks the end of a never-to-be-regained period of sophistication, elegance, and paradoxically innocence, before the shattering war experience changed American tastes. This is a late and overlooked masterpiece in a genre that postwar filmmakers and audiences could never again do or enjoy so well.

Man Walking Around the Corner

Not the first film, but Le Prince had the right idea
Louis Le Prince, motion picture pioneer, took 16 photos, one each from a different lens on his special made camera, of a man rounding a corner in Paris. The 16 images were combined to produce the effect of a motion picture one second in length of the man turning the corner. The following year Le Prince would develop a one lens camera that operated on a similar principle and make what is now considered the first film - "Roundhay Garden Scene".

Le Prince would disappear mysteriously on his way to America in 1890, never to be seen again. The book "The Missing Reel" deals with the mystery and what might have happened to him. The documentary "The First Film" discusses Le Prince's work in the invention of motion pictures.

The Dave Ramsey Show

This was great back when it was on Fox
I'm having to go way back here, I think to around 2004. Dave was on Fox or Fox Business on Saturday nights, and it was just himself answering calls from people about finances. This show may have had several incarnations, but the original is usually the best, before producers get hold of the format and muss it up a bit.

I remember a couple of things about Dave. For one, he hates bill collectors and encourages people to insult them every time they call. He hates time share sales people and encourages you to just stay away. I think he is currently in a fight with one of them in particular.

Also, he realizes he is often dealing with people who have poor impulse control and so his advice is often not the best if you do have some control. For example, he tells people to pay off the small debts first so that they feel like they are making progress and continue. If the bigger debts have a higher interest rate, you should probably tackle them first.

He tells people to never have credit cards just debit cards. Everybody I've ever known who got their bank account cleaned out by thieves was using a debit card. If you can use a credit card as a substitute for cash and pay them off every month then there is nothing intrinsically wrong with them.

Finally, some of his advice is bad if you are dealing with bad actors. One time a woman called and said that her husband was refusing to help pay the college debts of her son from a previous relationship. Husband refused to combine finances so as to not make himself a target for current wife's debts. Dave said this was wrong and either they were married or they were not. Hey, I'm married but I'm not going to let people I never met clean me out because of some symbolic gesture that has legal implications.

Now for the recent changes to Dave's show. I think he has mainly a radio show now. And he usually has some other usually younger person cohosting who is plain vanilla with their advice. I think Dave is best just like he was in the 2000s on Fox - just him alone and a microphone, answering peoples' questions.

Dave has a folksy, common sense approach and a Christian perspective. Overall I'd recommend him, but that doesn't mean that every piece of advice he gives may be right for you.

The Great Train Robbery

Never rob a train just before lunch!...
...Because people with low blood sugar make bad decisions. It's what they do. First the robbers go in guns drawn but faces NOT covered, to deal with the depot office boy. He does seem bored at their presence. But then they hit him over the head and tie him with the world's skinniest rope. It seems like they are getting a train schedule from him and don't seem worried he can identify them. At this point the clock on the depot wall reads fifteen minutes until noon. That's why I say the robbers should have eaten lunch first. The clock reads the same time when the employee is found after the robbery. I doubt he lay there for exactly 24 hours.

Then the robbers board the train. This time, when they deal with the man in the baggage compartment, the robbers do have their faces covered. This baggage fellow must be the same one in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, because he locks up the money - it's not HIS money - and shoots it out with the robbers and is killed. And what is it with that open door on the compartment? If money just fell off the train he could have been fired! But instead he has been fired at and has died.

Next the robbers take control of the locomotive and stop the train. I see the point of this, as you don't want to jump off of a moving train. But then they rob the passengers. There seem to be about 100 passengers and only four robbers. Now really. This is the old west or at least the old pseudo west. Is it worth it to pick up whatever change is in the passengers' pockets when you already have bags of money to chance such odds? Especially in the days when both men and women often carried concealed guns and might take a shot at you?

But the robbers take off unharmed to horses they left nearby. Someone fetches the Union Army - who I guess have had nothing to do since the end of the Civil War but participate in square dances such as the one shown - and the pursuit is on. Either they have the Lone Ranger to look on the ground and say which way the horses went, or the Union Army gets extremely lucky and catches up with the bandits. I'm sure the local sheriff was upset to be left out of this posse. And such has been the tug of war between local and federal government ever since.

Now I realize I am doing this early film an injustice by poking fun of it so, but the real fun is in the watching of this early attempt at film narrative. Up to this point films were actualities - either actual events such as a fire or the tearing down of a building, or reenactments of short historical events such as the beheading of Mary Queen of Scots. This was made by the Edison company, which ironically lost out in the competition of filmmakers as movies became longer and more sophisticated.

Altered States

A very frustrating film...
... and an early example of psychedelic horror.

I wanted desperately to like Altered States, because the things it gets right it gets so right. But sadly it's such a tonally inconsistent film, and one that can't seem to focus on anything at all. First it's about a Judeo-Christian concept of hell and the devil, and then it's about some ancient indigenous deity and spirituality, and then it's about some extra-dimensional being, and then it's about genetic memory and body horror, before finally referencing alternate universes. The tone of the film is also sadly inconsistent. At times it's closer to a romantic drama than anything else. When it actually gets down to the horror part it swings strangely between themes of the paranoid mad scientist and the grand tone and sweep of man vs God.

It's memorable for some of the great special effects of its time, but overall it feels like a conversation you have when you're 19, think you know everything, get really baked, and then start rambling about philosophy with your friends.


I always thought of "Marnie" as a guilty pleasure of mine
In many ways it is a cheesy film, well executed by a master director who knew what he was doing.

First, the idea that Marnie can successfully disguise herself by changing her hair color is akin to believing that King Lear effectuated a good disguise by rubbing dirt on his face.

Second , casting Sean Connery ( a truly amazing looking leading man, no complaints here) as a patrician Philadelphian is hilarious. Even Alan Napier, who is a lot more believable as a Main Line scion is stretching things. Philadelphians of that class look patrician but have very flat, nasal voices, not the distinguished British accent which Napier brings to his role. Maybe Hitchcock should have asked Grace Kelly what she sounded like before she eradicated her Philadelphia accent. (Louise Latham also sounds implausible as a Baltimoran. Their accents are even more nasal than Philadelphians' accents).

Third, the rear screen projection which is acceptable in the 30's and 40's is too passe in a 60's film, as is the painted backdrop of the Port of Baltimore at the end of Mrs. Edgar's street. By this time, Hitchcock could have done some location filming, or had his production designer and a second unit director film these brief scenes to edit into his movie.

Fourth, the plot requires the suspension of disbelief to swallow. Both Connery and Hedren are so psychologically mixed up as to be dysfunctional, who would want either one of them, no matter how good looking? As for Hedren's performance, I see her as a heavy handed actress , who at times is too hammy, and at other times too plodding. I rarely think of her as giving a delicately wrought performance.

Somehow Hitchcock is so masterful at his art, that he manages to turn out an entertaining movie in spite of all of these and more problems.

Hollywood: Single Beds and Double Standards
Episode 3, Season 1

The story of the original cancel culture...
... and how it was unleashed on comic actor Roscoe Arbuckle and ushered in an era of self censorship into Hollywood.

The first half of the episode is concerned with the Roscoe Arbuckle case involving his alleged rape of actress Virginia Rappe that was supposedly so violent that it culminated in her death due to a ruptured bladder days later. This allegedly happened during a Labor Day weekend party being held at a San Francisco hotel by Arbuckle and two of his friends. It was the original "bonfire of the vanities" in which the press printed big headlines about Arbuckle's alleged debauchery, the local district attorney saw a chance to make a name for himself by bringing down such a big star, and then there was "the crowd", just as dangerous and easily swayed as it always has been. Arbuckle went through three trials before he was ultimately acquitted with even an unprecedented apology being issued by the jury to Arbuckle.

By the time this happened, though, nobody was paying attention anymore, and the land was calling for Hollywood to clean itself up or shut down. The industry was not so entrenched that this could not have happened at this point either. The studio execs called on postmaster general Will Hays to be the industry censor, and he managed to convince all of the local and state censorship boards that Hollywood would police itself. But first, there had to be a sacrificial lamb, and that was Arbuckle, who at the peak of his career was ousted from motion pictures despite the acquittal which nobody remembered anyways.

The rest of the episode is about how Hollywood continued to broach taboo subjects and even have licentious scenes by showing an orgy, such as in De Mille's Ten Commandments, but then saying "BUT THAT WAS WRONG!". There were other taboos such as not showing women drinking, holding kisses to three seconds, etc. But the censorship would not become severe until the sound era starting in 1934 with the Joe Breen era which would usher a naive viewpoint of life into the movies that would last through the 1950s and not die out completely until the mid 1960s. But that's another story.

I'd recommend this one, but do realize that some of the statements made about Virginia Rappe and about Arbuckle are now known to be wrong. I would point the interested viewer in the direction of the book "Room 1219", which has its problems too, but is a more complete picture of what happened.

So This Is Paris

A great slice of roaring 20s life...
... but other than the names of the characters, I see nothing about this film that would indicate anything particularly Parisian about it.

A doctor's wife, Suzanne Giraud (Patsy Ruth Miller) , laps up romance novels about sheiks. Across the way, the apartment of the Lalles, who are professional dancers who dress in Middle Eastern attire, is visible via the window. Through a misunderstanding, Suzanne thinks the man living there has exposed himself to her, and demands her husband (Monte Blue as Dr. Girard) go over there and "get satisfaction" by caning him. It turns out the man's wife is an old flame of Dr. Giraud, Georgette (Lilyan Tashman), and the two begin an emotional affair. Meanwhile, Mr. Lalle, who never even encounters Dr. Giraud, goes to the Giraud apartment to return the doctor's cane, and becomes enamored of Suzanne. She does not return the sentiment. It turns out she likes her sheiks two-dimensional, as in books, not in the flesh.

Suzanne is the only one not cheating or attempting to cheat on anybody, but she does have the knowledge - eventually - of the behavior of everybody else.

This is just a very light enjoyable film that is a great showcase for the fashions and dance styles of the time. The best scene in the movie is the Artists' Ball with a rowdy band and a rowdier Charleston. It was highlighted in the documentary series "Silent Hollywood" as an example of silent film not having any problems with musical numbers. Warner Brothers recently restored it, and it looks terrific, but I think the music that was used, particularly at the Artists' Ball, was not nearly as good as what was used in Silent Hollywood.

I'd recommend it as a good example of that Lubitsch touch in the silent era. It also showcases Lilyan Tashman as being as good in silents as she was in sound films, her natural mischief coming through.

The Ice Follies of 1939

A rare chance to see Crawford in Technicolor...
... and that is about the best thing I can say about it.

This was one of MGMs' biggest bombs of the 1930's, critically and financially. If this was the quality of scripts Joan Crawford was getting, she definitely did the right thing in campaigning for the role of Crystal in The Women (1939). Joan Crawford and James Stewart played married skaters (stop laughing!). But Joan is a terrible skater, and causes them to lose job after job. Complications ensue, but not terribly interesting or original ones.

The real purpose of "Ice Follies of 1939" was to hype the latest MGM find, "The International Ice Follies" show, and a long sequence at the end of the film features a technicolor ice extravaganza, with Joan and Jimmy sitting in the audience. Crawford was supposed to have at least five songs, and all were cut except a fragment of one; judging by that fragment, MGM was wise to cut them.

It's also rumored that by 1939 MGM was giving these terrible scripts to the Irving Thalberg era actresses, including Norma Shearer and Greta Garbo so Louis B. Could use the poor showings to clean house and bring in fresh faces, and three years later he did do just that. James Stewart's star was rising at the time, and so I have no idea how he ended up in this dog, but he was the best thing in it with his pratfalls, acrobatics, and energy.

This is the film for which, at the beginning of "Mommie Dearest", Joan Crawford was rising before dawn and going through her morning routine in preparation.

The Last Time I Saw Paris

Van Johnson is too likeable to play his part
At the end of the war years his character, Charles, is a writer for the Stars and Stripes, and wants to continue a career in journalism. He meets James Ellswirth (Walter Pidgeon), an aging member of the lost generation, and his two grown daughters. There is level headed Marion (Donna Reed) and frisky flirtatious Helen (Elizabeth Taylor).

Charles and Marion are first an item, but then Helen steals him away from her own sister. Marion settles down with somebody else. That is to say, she settles for someone else. Houses tend to settle, and it's usually no fun to watch. But I digress.

Then the barren worthless oil fields that James gave Charles and Helen as a wedding present come in big time and suddenly Charles and Helen are fabulously wealthy and they transform into a second lost generation in the tradition of dear old dad, except this time with the money to make a really big mess of their lives. Charles quits his job and just becomes a huge drunken womanizing jerk, feeling sorry for himself because all of his rejection from publishers. This is where we get to the hard to believe part. I just don't buy Van Johnson as this tortured yet shallow soul. Louis B. Mayer, when he was redecorating MGM after Irving Thalberg's death, specifically hired Johnson because of his easy, song and dance man's likability and uncomplicated face. The part cries out for Kirk Douglas or maybe even better - Montgomery Clift.

A huge tragedy ensues, and Marion, taking time off from settling, comes back into the picture to make things even worse. Who do I really feel sorry for in this film full of unlikeable characters? Marion's husband, who at the end, finally figures out he's been settled for all of these years. You can see it in his face. And if that face looks familiar, it's because the actor is the father of Monkee Mickey Dolenz.

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