Christmas-tery: Deanna Durbin in LADY ON A TRAIN (Universal 1945)


cracked rear viewer

Deanna Durbin was the best Christmas present Universal Studios ever received. The 15-year-old singing sensation made her feature debut in 1936’s THREE SMART GIRLS, released five days before Christmas. The smash hit helped save cash-strapped Universal from bankruptcy, and Miss Durbin signed a long-term contract, appearing in a string of musical successes: ONE HUNDRED MEN AND A GIRL, THAT CERTAIN AGE, SPRING PARADE, NICE GIRL?, IT STARTED WITH EVE. One of her best is the Christmas themed comedy/murder mystery LADY ON A TRAIN, one of only two films directed by  Charles David, who married the star in 1950, the couple then retiring to his native France.

Our story begins with young Nikki Collins travelling by train from San Francisco to New York City to visit her Aunt Martha, reading a murder mystery to pass the time. Nikki witnesses a real-life murder committed through a window, and after ditching her wealthy…

View original post 579 more words

Cleaning Out the DVR #20: ALL-STAR PRE-CODE LADIES EDITION!


cracked rear viewer



I know all of you, like me, will be watching tonight’s 89th annual Major League Baseball All-Star G
ame, and… wait, what’s that? You say you WON’T be watching the All-Star Game? You have no interest in baseball? Heretics!! But I understand, I really do, and for you non-baseball enthusiasts I’ve assembled a quartet of Pre-Code films to view as an alternative, starring some of the era’s most fabulous females. While I watch the game, you can hunt down and enjoy the following four films celebrating the ladies of Pre-Code:

DAUGHTER OF THE DRAGON (Paramount 1931; D: Lloyd Corrigan) – Exotic Anna May Wong stars as Princess Ling Moy, an “Oriental dancer” and daughter of the infamous Dr. Fu Manchu (Warner Oland)! When Fu dies, Ling Moy takes up the mantle of vengeance against the Petrie family, tasked with killing surviving son Ronald. Sessue Hayakawa (BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI)…

View original post 827 more words

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Lost Horizon (dir by Frank Capra)


Long before there was Lost, there was Lost Horizon!

Much like the famous television show, the 1937 film Lost Horizon begins with a group of strangers on an airplane.  They’re people from all walks of life, all with their separate hopes and dreams.  When the plane crashes, they find themselves stranded in an uncharted land and, much like the Lost castaways, they are shocked to discover that they are not alone.  Instead, they’ve found a semi-legendary place that is ruled over by a man who has lived for centuries.  Much as in Lost, some want to return to civilization while others want to remain in their new home.  Both Lost and Lost Horizon even feature a terminally ill woman who starts to recover her health after becoming stranded.

Of course, in Lost, everyone was just flying from Australia to America.  In Lost Horizon, everyone is trying to escape the Chinese revolution.  Among the passengers on the plane: diplomat Robert Conway (Ronald Colman), his irresponsible brother, George (John Howard), a con artist named Henry (Thomas Mitchell), a paleontologist (Edward Everett Horton), and the very ill Gloria (Isabel Jewell).

While Lost featured a plane crash on a tropical island, Lost Horizon features a plane crash in the Himalayas.  In Lost, the sinister Others sent spies to infiltrate the survivors.  In Lost Horizon, the mysterious Chang (H.B. Warner) appears and leads the survivors to a place called Shangri-La.

Shangi-La is a lush and idyllic valley that has somehow flourished in one of the most inhospitable places on Earth.  The happy inhabitants inform the survivors that they never get sick and they never fight.  They’re led by the High Lama (Sam Jaffe), a philosopher who explains that he is several hundred years old.  The valley is full of magic and the Lama tells the survivors that Shangri-La is their new home.

Now, I’ve seen enough horror movies that I spent most of Lost Horizon waiting for the Lama to suddenly reveal that he was a vampire or an alien or something.  Whenever anyone in a movie seems to be too good to be true, that usually means that he’s going to end up killing someone about an hour into the story.  But that didn’t happen in Lost Horizon.  Instead, the Lama is just as wise and benevolent as he claims to be and Shangri-La is as much of a paradise as everyone assumes.  I guess we’re just naturally more cynical in 2018 than people were in 1937.

Of course, the Lama isn’t immortal.  Not even the magic of Shangri-La can prevent the inevitably of death.  The Lama is looking for a successor.  Could one of the survivors be that successor?  Perhaps.  For instance, Robert absolutely loves Shangri-La.  Of course, his brother George is determined to return to the real world.  He has fallen in love with one of the inhabitants of Shagri-La and plans to take her with him, despite the Lama’s warning about trying to leave…

Frank Capra was a huge fan of James Hilton’s book, Lost Horizon, and he spent three years trying to bring it to the big screen.  Based on Capra’s previous box office successes, Colombia’s Harry Cohn gave Capra a budget of $1.25 million to bring his vision of Shangri-La to life.  That may not sound like much today but, at the time, that made Lost Horizon the most expensive movie ever made.  The production was a notoriously difficult one.  (The original actor cast as the elderly Lama was so excited to learn he had been selected that he dropped dead of a heart attack.)  As a result of both its ornate sets and Capra’s perfectionism, the film soon went overbudget.  When Capra finally delivered a first cut, it was over 6 hours long.  Capra eventually managed to edit it down to 210 minutes, just to then have Harry Cohn order another hour taken out of the film.  When Lost Horizon was finally released, it had a running time of 132 minutes.

Seen today, Lost Horizon is definitely an uneven work.  With all the cutting and editing that went on, it’s hard to guess what Capra’s original vision may have been but, in the final version, much more time is devoted to the characters discussing the philosophy of Shangri-La than to the characters themselves.  (It’s always good to see Thomas Mitchell but he really doesn’t get much to do.)  Since you never really feel like you know what any of these characters were like outside of Shangi-La, it’s hard to see how being in Shagri-La has changed them.  You just have to take their word for it.  That said, it’s a visually stunning film.  Capra may have gone over budget creating the look of Shangri-La but it was money well-spent.  If I ever find myself in a magic village, I hope it looks half as nice as the one in Lost Horizon.

Despite all of the drama that went on behind the scenes and a rather anemic box office reception, Lost Horizon was nominated for best picture.  However, it lost to The Life of Emile Zola.

Cleaning Out The DVR, Again #31: The Gay Divorcee (dir by Mark Sandrich)


(Lisa is currently in the process of trying to clean out her DVR by watching and reviewing all 40 of the movies that she recorded from the start of March to the end of June.  She’s trying to get it all done by the end of July 11th!  Will she make it!?  Keep visiting the site to find out!)

The_Gay_Divorcee_movie_poster

The 31st film on my DVR was the 1934 musical, The Gay Divorcee, which I recorded on June 7th when it aired on TCM.

The Gay Divorcee is a Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers musical, which means that the plot is less important than the dancing, the singing, and the charm.  The charm is especially important.  Don’t get me wrong — The Gay Divorcee includes some wonderful music, including Night and Day and The Continental, which went on to be the first song to win an Oscar for Best Original Song.  The dancing is incredible, as you would expect from any film featuring Astaire and Rogers.

But it’s the charm that makes The Gay Divorcee especially memorable.  Full of sophisticated dialogue delivered by a cast of wonderful 1930s character actors, The Gay Divorcee offered up an escape to a country that was still reeling from the Great Depression.  Some audiences went to a Warner Bros. gangster film and some audiences went to an Astaire/Rogers musical but what they all had in common was that the movies provided them a break from the harsh realities and hopelessness of everyday life.

As for the plot — well, it’s about rich people doing silly things.  Mimi Glossop (Ginger Rogers) wants to get a divorce from her husband, a gynecologist named Cyril (William Austin).  Apparently, Cyril doesn’t want to give her a divorce so Mimi, her aunt (Alice Brady), and her lawyer (Edward Everett Horton) come up with a plan that could only work in an Astaire/Rogers musical.  Mimi will visit England and, while staying at a properly luxurious hotel, she will pretend to have an affair with Rodolfo Tonetti (Erik Rohodes), a professional gigolo.

However, upon arriving at the hotel, Mimi runs into Guy Holden (Fred Astaire).  Guy is a friend of Rodolfo’s and he also happens to be in love with Mimi.  Mimi, meanwhile, mistakes Guy for the gigolo and they proceed to dance the night away…

Listen, the plot doesn’t matter!  What matters is that The Gay Divorcee features Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers at their best!  This, after all, is the film that features Fred Astaire singing Cole Porter’s Night and Day

And, of course, there’s The Continental

The Gay Divorcee was one of the ten films nominated for best picture of 1934.  However, it lost to an equally charming film of the 1930s, It Happened One Night.

The Gay Divorcee was a fun and needed escape for viewers in the 30s and you know what?  We still need an escape today.

 

The Fabulous Forties #46: The Town Went Wild (dir by Ralph Murphy)


51BRWYTCMZL

The 46th film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set was 1946’s The Town Went Wild!  Nice name, huh?

The name is actually a lot nicer than the movie, which is a bit incoherent.  Basically, David (Freddie Bartholomew) is a nice guy who has lived his entire life in the small town.  His best friend is Bob (Jimmy Lydon) and David is also in love with Bob’s sister, Carol (Jill Browning).  David is an engineer who has just been assigned to go work in Alaska.  Before he leaves, he is determined to marry Carol.

Unfortunately, Bob’s father (Edward Everett Horton) and Carol’s father (Tom Tully) hate each other.  They have been feuding for so long that they’re not even sure what they’re feuding about.  However, Carol and David are determined to get married so they decided to elope.  Getting a ride from their friend Mille (Roberta Smith), they go to the next town over and ask the justice of the peace to marry them,

However, before the justice of the peace can marry them, he needs them to publicly post their wedding plans in the local newspaper.  And before David can post those plans, he needs to get his birth certificate from the local registrar.  When David gets his birth certificate, he discovers something shocking.  There was a mix-up at the hosptial!  His Dad went home with the wrong baby.  David is actually … CAROL’S BROTHER!

So, what can they do?  How can David and Carol still get married despite apparently being related?  And will the fathers be able to set aside their feud long enough to help their children out?  The entire town wants to know!

I have to admit that I’m struggling a bit to come up with anything to say about The Town Went Wild.  The movie is a mess and David and Carol are such boring characters that they even make incest look dull.  Unfortunately, the version I saw of The Town Went Wild suffered from one of those infamously cheap Mill Creek transfers, complete with grainy picture, inconsistent sound, abrupt cuts, and the sneaky suspicion that certain scenes did not make the transfer from film to video.

With all that in mind, it’s hard to fairly judge The Town Went Wild but I can say that at least it provided good roles for Edward Everett Horton and Tom Tully.  If nothing else, these two character actors appeared to enjoy playing loud and frequently stupid rivals.  Otherwise, The Town Went Wild is one of those poverty row films that can safely be forgotten.

Cleaning Out The DVR #28: Top Hat (dir by Mark Sandrich)


(For those following at home, Lisa is attempting to clean out her DVR by watching and reviewing 38 films by the end of this Friday.  Will she make it?  Keep following the site to find out!)

220px-TopHatORGI

The 1935 film Top Hat is a film that, much like An American In Paris, is pure joy.

Top Hat features Fred Astaire as Jerry Travers, a famous dancer who has come to London to star in a show that’s being produced by his friend, Horace Harwick (Edward Everett Horton).  (Oddly enough, Gene Kelly also played a character named Jerry in An American In Paris.)  Jerry may be sophisticated and refined but he’s still enough of an American that, upon leaving a snooty British club that insists on total silence, he still breaks up the tedium with some impromptu tap moves.

Back at his hotel, Jerry is practicing a tap routine and makes such a racket that he ends up waking up the guest staying in the room below him, Dale Tremont (Ginger Rogers).  When Dale goes upstairs to complain, Jerry immediately falls in love with her.  Soon, he is pursuing her all over London, trying to win her heart.  Eventually, he even follows her to Venice.

And Dale is definitely attracted to Jerry.  Whenever they get near each other, they start dancing.  (Needless to say, whether they’re dancing or talking or merely looking at each other from across the room, Astaire and Rogers have wonderful chemistry.)  However, Dale thinks that Jerry is actually Horace.  And Horace happens to be married to her friend, Madge (Helen Broderick.)  Convinced that Jerry is pursuing an adulterous affair with her, the indignant Dale makes plans to marry the Italian fashion designer, Alberto Beddini (Erik Rhodes).

The plot is typical screwball comedy stuff and the fact that you don’t even end up getting annoyed with all the misunderstandings is a testament to the abilities of Astaire, Rogers, and their wonderful supporting cast.  Even if not for the dancing, Top Hat would be a success because of the chemistry between the actors and film’s mix of sophistication with just pure silly fun.  I imagine that for audiences dealing with the daily realities of the Great Depression, Top Hat offered a wonderful escape.  And you know what?  It still provides a wonderful escape for today, as well.

(Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just dance this presidential election away?)

And then, of course, there’s the dancing.  That really is the main reason that we’re here, right?  Check out a few scenes.  They’ll make you happy.

(Incidentally, I’m a bit disappointed that YouTube does not feature more from Top Hat.)

Top Hat was nominated for best picture, though the award itself went to Mutiny On The Bounty, a film that did not feature quite as much dancing.

Curiouser & Curiouser: ALICE IN WONDERLAND (Paramount 1933)


cracked rear viewer

alice1

Lewis Carroll’s 1865 children’s classic ALICE IN WONDERLAND was turned into an all-star spectacular by Paramount in 1933. But the stars were mostly unrecognizable under heavy makeup and costumes, turning audiences off and causing the film to bomb at the box office. Seen today, the 1933 ALICE is a trippy visual delight for early movie buffs, thanks in large part to the art direction of William Cameron Menzies.

alice5

Menzies’ designs are truly out there, giving ALICE the surrealistic quality of the books themselves. He actually storyboarded his ideas right into the physical script, earning a co-writer credit along with Joseph L. Mankiewicz . Menzies was the cinematic wizard whose art direction brought the magical 1924 THE THIEF OF BAGDAD to life. He was co-director and special effects designer for 1932’s CHANDU THE MAGICIAN, and the title of Production Designer was invented for him on the classic GONE WITH THE WIND. Menzies also directed a few films; especially of…

View original post 494 more words