Cleaning Out the DVR Pt. 22: Winter Under the Stars


cracked rear viewer

I haven’t done one of these posts in a while, and since my DVR is heading towards max capacity, I’m way overdue! Everyone out there in classic film fan land knows about TCM’s annual “Summer Under the Stars”, right? Well, consider this my Winter version, containing a half-dozen capsule reviews of some Hollywood star-filled films of the past!

PLAYMATES (RKO 1941; D: David Butler ) – That great thespian John Barrymore’s press agent (Patsy Kelly) schemes with swing band leader Kay Kyser’s press agent (Peter Lind Hayes) to team the two in a Shakespearean  festival! Most critics bemoan the fact that this was Barrymore’s final film, satirizing himself and hamming it up mercilessly, but The Great Profile, though bloated from years of alcohol abuse and hard living, seems to be enjoying himself in this fairly funny but minor screwball comedy with music. Lupe Velez livens things up as Barrymore’s spitfire…

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6 Good Films That Were Not Nominated For Best Picture: The 1930s


1937 Oscar Banquet

Continuing our look at good films that were not nominated for best picture, here are 6 films from the 1930s.

Frankenstein (1931, dir by James Whale)

Henry Frankenstein may have created life and revolutionized the horror genre but his creation got absolutely no love from the Academy.  Starting a very long history of snubbing successful horror films, the Academy failed to nominate Frankenstein for Best Picture.  Not even Boris Karloff got a nomination!  Fortunately, the public recognized what the Academy failed to see and Frankenstein remains a classic film.

Scarface (1932, dir by Howard Hawks)

Gangster films may have been all the rage with the public in the 1930s but the Academy felt different.  Little Caesar, The Public Enemy, and Scarface may have excited audiences but none of them received much love from the Academy.  It was hard to decide which gangster film to specifically use for this post.  In the end, I went with Scarface because of George Raft and his sexy way with a coin.

King Kong (1933, directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack)

King Kong thrilled audiences, impressed critics, made a ton of money, and has gone on to influence just about every monster film made since.  It received zero Oscar nominations.

My Man Godfrey (1936, dir by Gregory La Cava)

My Man Godfrey, one of the best of the screwball comedies of the 1930s, received a total of 6 Oscar nominations.  It was nominated in all four of the acting categories.  It was nominated for best screenplay.  It was nominated for best director.  However, it was not nominated for Best Picture.  (My Man Godfrey is the first and, as of this writing, only film to receive four acting nominations without also receiving a nomination for best picture.)  Best Picture that year would go to The Great Ziegfield, which, like My Man Godfrey, starred William Powell.

Bringing Up Baby (1938, dir by Howard Hawks)

My Man Godfrey was not the only screwball comedy to be ignored by the Academy.  Bringing Up Baby features Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn at their best.  It also features an absolutely adorable leopard.  Somehow, it was not nominated for best picture.

The Women (1939, dir by George Cukor)

The competition was fierce in 1939.  If you want to know why 1939 is considered to be one of the best years in Academy History, just consider the ten films that actually were nominated for best picture: Dark Victory, Gone With The Wind, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Love Affair, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, Ninotchka, Of Mice and Men, Stagecoach, The Wizard of Oz, and Wuthering Heights.  Amazingly, even with that list of nominees, some equally good film went unnominated.  One of those films was The Women.

Based on Clare Boothe Luce’s play, The Women features a witty script, assured direction from George Cukor, and an amazing talented, all-female ensemble cast.  Though the competition was undeniably fierce in 1939, it’s still a shock that this film received not a single nomination.

Up next, in about an hour or so, the 1940s!

Scarface (1932)

30 Days of Noir #17: Loan Shark (dir by Seymour Friedman)


The 1952 film, Loan Shark, opens with a familiar film noir situation.

A man walks down a dark city street.  Judging from the way that the man keeps looking over his shoulder, he’s obviously nervous about something.  Suddenly, we hear two sets of footsteps approaching him and it quickly becomes apparent that the man has good reason to be so nervous.  The man is being pursued by two gangsters.  (We know that they’re gangsters because of the suits and the fedoras.)  The gangsters toss the man in an alley and proceed to beat the Hell out of him.

The local tire factory has a problem.  Though its employees are highly valued, they’re not highly paid.  In order to make ends meet, many of them have resorted to gambling.  Plant foreman Charlie Thompson (Russell Johnson) always seems to have the latest tip on a sure thing.  Interestingly enough, the tips never seem to pan out and, as a result, the workers are forced to go to the local loan shark, Lou Donelli (Paul Stewart).  Lou always loans them the money but he charges exorbitant interest and, when the workers can’t pay back the loans, he sends his thugs to beat them up.  The factory’s management knows that they have to do something to take this loan shark out of commission.

Now, what would you do if you were a part of management?  Would you go to the police and maybe see if they could arrange to put a trained undercover cop in your factory?  Or would you hire an ex-con and tell him to just take care of it on his own?

The ex-con in question is Joe Gargen (George Raft).  He’s just been released from prison, though the film is quick to point out that Joe didn’t really do anything that bad.  He just hit a guy who was being obnoxious.  The guy fell back and hit his head and, as a result, Joe was charged with assault with a deadly weapon.  (As Joe explains it, he’s a former boxer and, as a result, his fists are legally considered to be deadly weapons.)  When Joe is first offered the clandestine job at the tire factory, he turns it down.  As he explains it, he’s not looking to get in any more trouble with anyone.  But then when the loan sharks kill his brother-in-law, Joe reconsiders.

Soon, Joe is working at the tire plant.  (If you’ve ever wanted to see, in meticulous detail, how a tire is made, this is the film to watch.)  After Charlie gives him a bad tip on a horse, Joe finds himself in debt to Donelli.  However, when Joe manages to beat up the thugs that Donelli sends to collect, Joe finds himself with another job offer.  Soon, Joe is working for the loan sharks!  Because he can’t reveal that he’s undercover, everyone — from the administrative assistant (Dorothy Hunt) who he once took dancing to his own sister (Helen Westcott) — is disgusted by Joe’s actions.  Joe finds himself a pariah but he’s still determined to discover the identity of Donelli’s boss.

With it’s combination of the mob and exploited blue collar workers (not to mention it’s use of an ex-boxer as its protagonist), Loan Shark lightly treads on the ground that would later be covered, in a far more exacting manner, by On The Waterfront.  Unfortunately, Loan Shark suffers a bit from the miscasting of George Raft in the lead role.  Raft was a charismatic actor but, when he made Loan Shark, he was 51 and looked about 9 years older.  When Raft shares what is meant to be a romantic dance with Dorothy Hart, he looks more like a proud father dancing with his daughter at a wedding reception than anything else.  Loan Shark is one of those films that calls out for a younger actor, a William Holden or maybe a John Garfield.  That said, Raft was a genuine tough guy and, despite his advanced age, he still looked like he could go a few rounds.

That said, Loan Shark is a tough and shadow-filled film, one that features some genuinely exciting fight scenes.  Miscast or not, when George Raft throws a punch, you believe it.

Fabulous Forties #32: Outpost in Morocco (dir by Robert Florey)


Otmorpos

After watching the excellent The Last Chance, I was really hoping that the 32nd film in the Fabulous Forties box set would turn out be a classic as well.  Sadly, that was not the case.  1949’s Outpost in Morocco is a generally forgettable adventure film about the French Foreign Legion.

George Raft plays Capt. Paul Gerard, a captain in the French Foreign Legion.  Now, I happen to like George Raft.  He may not have been the greatest actor of Hollywood’s Golden Age but he did have a roguish charm and he was a great dancer.  Unfortunately, while the role of Paul Gerard did call for a bit of charm, it didn’t call for much dancing.  Instead, Paul Gerard is rather stolid and dependable and a little bit boring.  Needless to say, George Raft was more than a little miscast in the role.

Speaking of miscast, the beautiful but very American Marie Windsor plays Cara, the daughter of the Emir of the Moroccan city of Bel-Rashad.  The French are not allowed to enter the city and there are rumors that the Emir has been using this situation as an opportunity to plot against France.  Since Cara has spent the last few years studying in France, she is willing to go into Bel-Rashad and report on whether or not the rumors are true.  Gerard is assigned to escort her to the city.  Gerard’s superiors suspect that Cara might even fall in love with Gerard and, as a result, will be willing to turn against her father.

And that’s exactly what happens!  It takes exactly 10 days for Cara and Gerard to fall in love.  (We know this because the film is full of excerpts from a journal that Gerard keeps as he escorts Cara across the desert.)  However, once they reach Bel-Rashad, Cara does discover that her father is indeed conspiring against the French.  It is up to Gerard to put down the revolution and defeat the Emir, even if it means potentially sacrificing his love for Cara.

It’s interesting to note that there’s a few scenes where Raft sounds like he’s trying to imitate Humphrey Bogart, which immediately reminded me of how so many of Bogart’s great roles were initially offered to Raft.  I found myself wondering if Raft agreed to do Outpost in Morocco to make up for refusing Bogart’s role in a certain other film that was set in Morocco.

Unfortunately, Outpost in Morocco is no Casablanca.  Whereas Casablanca is a classic that holds up to this day, Outpost in Morocco is best described as being … well, dull.

How boring in Outpost in Morocco?  George Raft looks bored.  Marie Windsor looks bored.  Even the great character actor Akim Tamiroff looks bored!  Portions of the film were shot on location in Morocco so there are a few nice shots of the desert (if that’s your thing) and the ending is a bit darker than you might normally expect for a 1949 adventure film but otherwise, Outpost in Morocco is a fairly forgettable film.

The Fabulous Forties #19: Whistle Stop (dir by Leonide Moguy)


Whistle_stop_poster_small

The 19th film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set was 1946’s Whistle Stop and I’m sad to say that I ran into some trouble when I tried to watch it.  As much as I love the Mill Creek box sets, the DVDs within are somewhat notorious for getting easily damaged.  That was the problem that I ran into when I tried to watch Whistle Stop.  From the minute I hit play, the film would randomly pause.  The picture would randomly pixelate.  The sound would randomly vanish.  As you may have picked up, it was all very random but it also made it impossible for me to watch Whistle Stop.

However, like almost every other film that’s ever shown up in Mill Creek box set, Whistle Stop is in the public domain and, therefore, it’s been uploaded to YouTube by dozens of different accounts.  Once I realized that the DVD wasn’t going to work, I switched over to YouTube and I finally got watch Whistle Stop.

Really, I probably shouldn’t have gone to all the trouble.  Of the 19 Fabulous Forties films that I’ve watched so far, Whistle Stop is perhaps the least interesting.  Half of the film is a film noir and the other half if a small town melodrama but, with its convoluted plot and uninspired direction, it really doesn’t work as either.

Mary (Ava Gardner) grew up in a small town but, eventually, she left and went to the big city, hoping to make a new life for herself.  Apparently, she didn’t succeed because, two years later, she returns to the small town.  (The town is so small and obscure that it’s mostly known for its train stop.  Hence, it’s a “whistle stop.”)  When she returns, she discovers that her ex-boyfriend, Kenny Veech (George Raft) has become a loser in her absence.  Kenny is still in love with her but he’s also bitter at her for leaving town.

Making things even worse, from Kenny’s point of view, is that Mary is now dating a sleazy nightclub owner named Lew Lentz (Tom Conway).  Kenny’s best friend, Gitlo (Victor McLaglen), comes up with a plan, in which he and Kenny will kill Lew and make it look like a robbery.  However, Lew has plans of his own and…

You know what?  I’m probably making Whistle Stop sound more interesting than it actually is.  This is one of those films were the plot manages to be absurdly complicated without actually adding up to much. On the plus side, Ava Gardner, one of my favorite of great femme fatales, is beautiful and sultry as Mary and reminded me of why, for several years, Film Noir Femme Fatale was my default Halloween costume.  Tom Conway makes Lew Lentz so amazingly sleazy that you can’t help but admire his commitment to the role.  On the other hand, George Raft is totally miscast and way too handsome and naturally rakish to play a total loser like Kenny Veech.  Watching the film, you can tell that he wasn’t particularly comfortable playing such an insecure and passive character.

Whistle Stop wasn’t particularly memorable but if you want to watch it, you can do so below.  It’s free!

Cleaning Out The DVR #5: Around The World In 80 Days (dir by Michael Anderson)


Last night, as a part of my effort to clean out my DVR by watching and reviewing 38 movies in 10 days, I watched the 1956 Best Picture winner, Around The World In 80 Days.

Based on a novel by Jules Verne, Around The World In 80 Days announces, from the start, that it’s going to be a spectacle.  Before it even begins telling its story, it gives us a lengthy prologue in which Edward R. Murrow discusses the importance of the movies and Jules Verne.  He also shows and narrates footage from Georges Méliès’s A Trip To The Moon.  Seen today, the most interesting thing about the prologue (outside of A Trip To The Moon) is the fact that Edward R. Murrow comes across as being such a pompous windbag.  Take that, Goodnight and Good Luck.

Once we finally get done with Murrow assuring us that we’re about to see something incredibly important, we get down to the actual film.  In 1872, an English gentleman named Phileas Fogg (played by David Niven) goes to London’s Reform Club and announces that he can circumnavigate the globe in 80 days.  Four other members of the club bet him 20,000 pounds that he cannot.  Fogg takes them up on their wager and soon, he and his valet, Passepartout (Cantinflas) are racing across the world.

Around The World in 80 Days is basically a travelogue, following Fogg and Passepartout as they stop in various countries and have various Technicolor adventures.  If you’re looking for a serious examination of different cultures, this is not the film to watch.  Despite the pompousness of Murrow’s introduction, this is a pure adventure film and not meant to be taken as much more than pure entertainment.  When Fogg and Passepartout land in Spain, it means flamenco dancing and bullfighting.  When they travel to the U.S., it means cowboys and Indians.  When they stop off in India, it means that they have to rescue Princess Aouda (Shirley MacClaine!!!) from being sacrificed.  Aouda ends up joining them for the rest of their journey.

Also following them is Insepctor Fix (Robert Newton), who is convinced that Fogg is a bank robber.  Fix follows them across the world, just waiting for his chance to arrest Fogg and disrupt his race across the globe.

But it’s not just Inspector Fix who is on the look out for the world travelers.  Around The World In 80 Days is full of cameos, with every valet, sailor, policeman, and innocent bystander played by a celebrity.  (If the movie were made today, Kim Kardashian and Chelsea Handler would show up at the bullfight.)  I watch a lot of old movies so I recognized some of the star cameos.  For instance, it was impossible not to notice Marlene Dietrich hanging out in the old west saloon, Frank Sinatra playing piano or Peter Lorre wandering around the cruise ship.  But I have to admit that I missed quite a few of the cameos, much as how a viewer 60 years in the future probably wouldn’t recognize Kim K or Chelsea Handler in our hypothetical 2016 remake.  However, I could tell whenever someone famous showed up on screen because the camera would often linger on them and the celeb would often look straight at the audience with a “It’s me!” look on their face.

Around The World in 80 Days is usually dismissed as one of the lesser best picture winners and it’s true that it is an extremely long movie, one which doesn’t necessarily add up to much beyond David Niven, Cantinflas, and the celeb cameos.  But, while it may not be Oscar worthy, it is a likable movie.  David Niven is always fun to watch and he and Cantinflas have a nice rapport.  Shirley MacClaine is not exactly believable as an Indian princess but it’s still interesting to see her when she was young and just starting her film career.

Add to that, Around The World In 80 Days features Jose Greco in this scene:

Around The World In 80 Days may not rank with the greatest films ever made but it’s still an entertaining artifact of its time.  Whenever you sit through one of today’s multi-billion dollar cinematic spectacles, remember that you’re watching one of the descendants of Around The World In 80 Days.