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


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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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Horror On TV: Thriller 1.28 — Yours Truly, Jack The Ripper (dir by Ray Milland)


Since I reviewed Robert Bloch’s novel, The Night of the Ripper, earlier today, it seems only appropriate that tonight’s excursion into televised horror should be based on another Robert Bloch story about Jack the Ripper!

Yours Truly, Jack The Ripper is a classic episode of the 60s anthology series, Thiller.  This episode aired on April 11th, 1961 and it was directed by the Oscar-winning actor, Ray Milland!

Enjoy!

 

Games People Play: Alfred Hitchcock’s DIAL M FOR MURDER (Warner Brothers 1954)


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Alfred Hitchcock  wasn’t afraid to take chances. When the 3-D craze hit in the 1950’s, the innovative director jumped on the new technology to make DIAL M FOR MURDER, based on Frederick Knott’s hit play. The film is full of suspense, and contains many of The Master’s signature touches, but on the whole I consider it to be lesser Hitchcock… which is certainly better than most working in the genre, but still not up to par for Hitch.

Knott adapted his play for the screen, and keeps the tension mounting throughout. The story is set in London, and revolves around ex-tennis pro Tony Wendice, whose wife Margot is having an affair with American mystery writer Mark Halliday. Tony comes up with an elaborate plot to have her murdered by stealing a love letter Mark has written and blackmailing her, then setting up his old school acquaintance C.A. Swann, a man…

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A Movie A Day #328: Panic in Year Zero! (1962, directed by Ray Milland)


The year is 1962.  Lights flash over California and the news on the radio is bad.  What everyone feared has happened.  Atomic war has broken out and the world is about to end.  Refugees clog the highways as a mushroom cloud sprouts over Los Angeles.  This is year zero, the year that humanity will either cease to exist or try to begin again.

Harry Baldwin (Ray Milland) and his family were among the lucky ones.  They were camping in the mountains when the war broke out.  Harry does not hesitate to do what he has to do to make sure that his family survives.  Harry alone understand that this is a brand new world.  When a local storekeeper refuses to allow Harry to take any goods back to his family, Harry takes them by force.  While his wife (Jean Hagen) worries about whether or not her mother has survived in Los Angeles, Harry’s teenage son and daughter (Frankie Avalon and Mary Mitchel) try to adjust to the harshness of their new situation.  Harry may now run his family like a dictator but his instincts are proven correct when the Baldwins find themselves being hunted by three murderous, wannabe gangsters (Richard Bakalyan, Rex Holman, and Neil Nephew).  This is year zero.

As both a director and an actor, Ray Milland does a good job of showing what would be necessary for a family to survive in the wake of a nuclear apocalypse.  Milland doesn’t shy away from showing Harry as being harsh and violent but he also makes a good case that Harry has no other choice.  Everyone who tries to hold on to their humanity is either killed or sold into slavery.  What sets Panic In Year Zero! apart from so many of the other nuclear war films that came out in the 60s is that, instead of focusing on an anti-war message or calling for disarmament, Panic In Year Zero! seems to argue that end of the world is inevitable and only those who prepare ahead of time are going to survive.  Get a gun and make sure you know how to use it before it is too late to learn, the movie seems to be saying.  That the movie is probably correct in its pessimistic view of humanity makes it all the more powerful.  Panic in Year Zero! is a little-known but gritty and effective film about the end of the world

 

Halloween Havoc!: ALIAS NICK BEAL (Paramount 1949)


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The worlds of supernatural horror and film noir collided to great effect in ALIAS NICK BEAL, John Farrow’s 1949 updated take on the Faust legend. The film wasn’t seen for decades due to legal complications, but last August the good folks at TCM broadcast it for the first time. I have been wanting to see this one for years, and I wasn’t disappointed! It’s loaded with dark atmosphere, a taut screenplay by hardboiled writer/noir vet Jonathan Latimer , and a cast of pros led by a ‘devilish’ turn from Ray Milland as Nick Beal.

The Faust character this time around is Joseph Foster, played by veteran Thomas Mitchell . Foster is an honest, crusading DA with political ambitions. When he says aloud he’d “give my soul” to convict racketeer Hanson, Foster receives a message to meet a man who claims he can help. Summoned to a seedy tavern on…

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Horror On The Lens: The Dead Don’t Die (dir by Curtis Harrington)


For today’s horror on the lens, we have a 1975 made-for-television movie called The Dead Don’t Die!

The Dead Don’t Die takes place in Chicago during the 1930s.  George Hamilton is a sailor who comes home just in time to witness his brother being executed for a crime that he swears he didn’t commit.  Hamilton is convinced that his brother was innocent so he decides to launch an investigation of his own.  This eventually leads to Hamilton not only being attacked by dead people but also discovering a plot involving a mysterious voodoo priest!

Featuring atmospheric direction for Curtis Harrington and a witty script by Robert Bloch, The Dead Don’t Die is an enjoyable horror mystery.  Along with George Hamilton, the cast includes such luminaries of “old” Hollywood as Ray Milland, Ralph Meeker, Reggie Nalder, and Joan Blondell.  (Admittedly, George Hamilton is not the most convincing sailor to ever appear in a movie but even his miscasting seems to work in a strange way.)

And you can watch it below!

Enjoy!

Lisa Cleans Out Her DVR: The Girl In the Red Velvet Swing (dir by Richard Fleischer)


(Lisa is currently in the process of cleaning out her DVR!  How long is it going to take?  Forever!  For instance, she recorded 1955’s The Girl In the Red Velvet Swing off of FXM on February 1st and has now gotten around to actually watching and reviewing it.)

The story of Evelyn Nesbit is an interesting one, even if it is now a largely forgotten one.

In 1901, Evelyn Nesbit was a showgirl in New York City.  While she always claimed that she was 16 at the time, there are some historians that think it more likely that she was only 14.  One night, the beautiful Evelyn was introduced to Stanford White.  At the time, White was 47 years old and the most successful and prominent architect in New York City.  White was also a notorious womanizer and Evelyn soon became his latest mistress.  He moved her into one of his many apartments.  Years later, when the details of their relationship became public knowledge, people were shocked to hear that Stanford White kept a red velvet swing in the apartment and that he enjoyed watching Evelyn swing back and forth.  They would be even more scandalized by the news that Stanford also had a “mirror room.”  As Evelyn would later testify, she “entered the room a virgin” but did not come out as one.

Though Evelyn occasionally claimed that she and Stanford were truly in love, she never married him.  (Indeed, Stanford White apparently never married anyone over the course of his life.)  Instead, she ended up meeting and marrying Harry K. Thaw.  Harry was the heir to a 40 million dollar fortune.  He also had a long history of mental illness.  When he learned that, before meeting him, Evelyn had lost her virginity to Stanford White, he was outraged.

(It’s debatable how well Stanford and Harry knew each other.  Some historians claim that they were barely acquainted.  Other accounts claim that Harry and Stanford were business rivals even before Evelyn Nesbit arrived in New York.)

In 1906, Harry and Evelyn ran into Stanford White at Madison Square Garden.  Harry promptly pulled out a pistol and, in front of hundreds of witnesses, shot Stanford dead.

Harry’s subsequent trial was reportedly the first to ever be described as being “the trial of the century.”  Because hundreds of people had seen Harry Thaw shoot Stanford White and the Thaw family was adamant about not publicizing Harry’s history of mental illness, Harry’s defense team attempted to make the trial about Stanford White.  The defense attempted to portray Stanford as being such a depraved predator that Harry really had no other option but to shoot him in cold blood.  Evelyn took the stand and testified to every single detail of her relationship with Stanford White.  The details appeared in every major newspaper in America.

In the end, Harry was found not guilty by reason of insanity and was committed to the  Matteawan State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.  (Reportedly, due to his great wealth, he had the best room in the hospital.)  Meanwhile, Evelyn became one of America’s first reality stars.  Her notoriety led to her appearing in several silent films.  It’s a fascinating story, one that very much feels ahead of his time.  If Evelyn was a star in 1906, just imagine how famous she would be today.

The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing is about Evelyn Nesbit and her relationships with both Stanford White and Harry Thaw.  It’s a shame that the film isn’t as interesting as the real life story.  Ray Milland plays Stanford White.  Farley Granger is Harry Thaw.  Joan Collins is Evelyn Nesbit.  They all give good performances, especially Farley Granger.  But the film itself is just so bland.  Perhaps because it was made in the 1950s, it leaves out the majority of the sordid details that made the story so fascinating to begin with.  For instance, the red velvet swing appears but, in this film, no time is spent in the mirror room.  This true life story is pure tabloid material but The Girl In The Red Velvet Swing is way too respectful for its own good.  By refusing to come down firmly on the side of Harry Thaw or Stanford White, the film feels shallow and a bit empty.  (All good melodramas — even fact-based ones — need a good villain.)  And poor Evelyn Nesbit!  In real life, she was a savvy self-promoter who knew exactly how to manipulate the press.  In this film, she’s just an innocent ingenue.  Considering the facts of the case, the film version is unforgivably dull.

So, I don’t recommend The Girl In The Red Velvet Swing but I do recommend Paula Uruburu’s fascinating 2008 biography, American Eve: Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White, The Birth of the ‘It’ Girl, and the ‘Crime of the Century.’  It goes into all of the fascinating details that were left out of this film.