Wednesday, March 04, 2015

TCM in March: Highlights

Welcome to March on Turner Classic Movies!

The 31 Days of Oscar Festival came to an end yesterday, and it's now time to take a look at this month's schedule.

The month starts in fine style as tonight kicks off the celebration of Ann Sothern as the March Star of the Month.

Over three dozen Sothern films will be shown on Wednesday evenings, including a 10-film MAISIE series marathon on March 11th.

Due to an unusually busy schedule this week, I'll be incorporating information on Sothern's films into this March Highlights post, rather than doing a separate Star of the Month post.  As will be seen below, I've previously enjoyed quite a number of this month's Sothern films; there's great viewing ahead!

Fun fact: This is Ann Sothern's second time as TCM's Star of the Month. She was also the SOTM nearly 14 years ago, in July 2001.

The Friday Night Spotlight will be devoted to "roadshow musicals" of the '60s and '70s, hosted by Michael Feinstein. Some of these movies are very good (FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, showing March 6th) or underrated (FINIAN'S RAINBOW, March 27th); others are, shall we say, not so good.

This topic recently inspired a book, ROADSHOW! THE FALL OF FILM MUSICALS IN THE 1960S by Matthew Kennedy.

Below are just some of this month's highlights; click on any hyperlinked title for the related review.

Tonight, March 4th, Ann Sothern month kicks off with several of the fun RKO musical comedies she made with Gene Raymond, including SMARTEST GIRL IN TOWN (1936), THERE GOES MY GIRL (1937), and SHE'S GOT EVERYTHING (1938). All of these movies are quite short, ranging from around an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes, and they're delightful entertainment with excellent supporting casts and the great RKO "look" of the '30s.

Also slated for tonight: TRADE WINDS (1938) with Fredric March and Joan Bennett -- this is the movie where Bennett famously changed from blonde to brunette, and stayed that way for the rest of her career -- and BLIND DATE (1934), another very good film costarring Paul Kelly and Neil Hamilton.

...The snowy setting of AIRPORT (1970), showing on Thursday the 5th, makes it perfect "misery loves company" entertainment for viewers who've been buried in snow themselves of late!

...A Guy Kibbee birthday tribute on March 6th includes M'LISS (1936), also starring Anne Shirley and John Beal. It's based on a story by Bret Harte.

...For those who want to escape thoughts of snow, why not take a ROMAN HOLIDAY (1953)? It's showing as part of the ESSENTIALS series on Saturday evening, March 7th.

...Silent Sunday Nights on March 8th features several Harold Lloyd shorts, all costarring his future wife, Mildred Davis: FROM HAND TO MOUTH (1919), HIGH AND DIZZY (1920), GET OUT AND GET UNDER (1920), and I DO (1921).

...Pregnancy is the theme of the day on March 9th, including the rather odd Loretta Young pre-Code LIFE BEGINS (1932) and Kay Francis in a pre-Code favorite, MARY STEVENS, M.D. (1933).

...The theme on March 11th is London mysteries, including Hitchcock's STAGE FRIGHT (1950), Lang's MINISTRY OF FEAR (1944), and Sirk's LURED (1947). These underrated titles provide some excellent entertainment.

...PICTURE SNATCHER (1933) is an entertaining James Cagney pre-Code showing on March 12th. It costars Ralph Bellamy and Patricia Ellis.

...Ray Milland stars in the excellent crime thriller THE BIG CLOCK (1948) on March 14th. Charles Laughton and Maureen O'Sullivan costar in this film, directed by John Farrow. The sets are fabulous! THE BIG CLOCK inspired a loose remake three decades later, NO WAY OUT (1987) starring Kevin Costner.

...Sunday, March 15th is the second evening of the new quarterly series "Treasures From the Disney Vault" which debuted in late December. The evening's lineup will feature a St. Patrick's week showing of Sean Connery and Janet Munro in DARBY O'GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE (1959), paired with the promotional short I CAPTURED THE KING OF THE LEPRECHAUNS (1959). Next up will be the Silly Symphony cartoon BABES IN THE WOODS (1932) and the short THE STORY OF THE ANIMATED DRAWING (1955).

The Disney evening continues with Donald Duck in the classic THE THREE CABALLEROS (1944), followed by the documentary WALT AND EL GRUPO (2008), about the South American tour which inspired Disney and his animators to create both THE THREE CABALLEROS and SALUDOS AMIGOS (1943). The evening concludes with a lesser-known live-action film, THE FIGHTING PRINCE OF DONEGAL (1966). TCM did a wonderful job last December, with most of the films copresented by Ben Mankiewicz and Leonard Maltin, and this evening is sure to be special as well.

...Robert Osborne's picks on March 16th includes Clark Gable and Jean Harlow in CHINA SEAS (1935).

...This year TCM has programmed a dozen films for St. Patrick's Day, including Dennis Morgan in MY WILD IRISH ROSE (1947), Ray Milland and Anna Neagle in IRENE (1940), and Fred Astaire in FINIAN'S RAINBOW (1968), which is also showing on March 27th.

...Ann Sothern night on March 18th: includes the MGM musicals NANCY GOES TO RIO (1950) and LADY BE GOOD (1941). THe pick of the evening is the charming WALKING ON AIR (1936) with Gene Raymond, which has a delightful score. This is one I'm hoping will be released by the Warner Archive sooner rather than later.

...FIFTH AVE GIRL (1939) with Ginger Rogers is a film I really enjoy. When I saw it at UCLA a little over a year ago I wrote it "deserves to be better known." It will be shown on the 20th.

...I saw Bette Davis and Paul Henreid in NOW, VOYAGER (1942) for the first time recently and thoroughly enjoyed it. It's showing as an "Essential" on the night of March 21st.

...LOVELY TO LOOK AT (1952) is an MGM musical which might not be one of their best, but it's a personal favorite which is really entertaining, especially when Marge and Gower Champion take the dance floor. Howard Keel, Kathryn Grayson, Ann Miller, and Red Skelton costar. It will be shown on Sunday the 22nd.

...Joan Crawford's birthday will be celebrated on March 23rd with titles ranging from TORCH SONG (1953) to GOODBYE, MY FANCY (1951) to MILDRED PIERCE (1945), and a few other titles as well.

...A day of Cole Porter musicals includes several very entertaining MGM titles, including SILK STOCKINGS (1957), KISS ME KATE (1953), and HIGH SOCIETY (1956). To borrow from some other composers, "That's Entertainment!"

...There's more great Ann Sothern on March 25th with a diverse grouping of movies including A LETTER TO THREE WIVES (1949), THE BLUE GARDENIA (1953), SHADOW ON THE WALL (1950), DULCY (1940), FAST AND FURIOUS (1939), and THREE HEARTS FOR JULIA (1943). I particularly liked SHADOW ON THE WALL, a murder mystery costarring Zachary Scott and Nancy Davis.

...TCM follows last year's evening of "Hammer Noir" with a sequel on March 26th. The British-made films with U.S. stars airing that night are HEAT WAVE (1954) with Alex Nicol, PAID TO KILL (1954) and THE GAMBLER AND THE LADY (1952) with Dan Clark, and Zachary Scott in DEAD ON COURSE (1952), which I reviewed under its original British title WINGS OF DANGER (1953).

...A day of "spring" movies on March 27th includes Maureen O'Sullivan, Lew Ayres, and Ruth Hussey in SPRING MADNESS (1938) and Yasujiro Ozu's EARLY SPRING (1956).

...Danny Kaye and Virginia Mayo star in WONDER MAN (1945) on the 28th.

...I recently saw Spencer Tracy and Hedy Lamarr in I TAKE THIS WOMAN (1940). It doesn't have a great reputation but I found it quite enjoyable. It's showing on the 29th.

...Anne Shirley stars in SORORITY HOUSE (1939) on March 30th, costarring James Ellison and Barbara Read.

For more information on TCM in March, please visit the online schedule.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Cinderella (2015)

I was fortunate to attend a free D23 preview screening of Disney's new live-action CINDERELLA (2015) this evening. I'm pleased to report that CINDERELLA is a lovely cinematic experience which I thoroughly enjoyed. As it ended I thought "That made me happy," and what more could one ask for from a Disney fairy tale?

Longtime readers know I'm not the world's biggest fan of remakes, especially when Hollywood keeps going to the same well over and over instead of creating original stories. At the same time, I think there is always room for a new vision of a classic story; just as one of the pleasures of Westerns is seeing how different filmmakers execute familiar Western themes, it's fun to take in a brand-new telling of a fairy tale such as CINDERELLA.

Within the last couple of years I've seen Disney's classic animated version, as well as the overlong '70s musical THE SLIPPER AND THE ROSE (1976). In the past I've also enjoyed the TV versions with Julie Andrews (1957) and Lesley Ann Warren (1965) on multiple occasions. Disney's new live-action version takes its place as a lovingly rendered, straightforward telling of the famous tale.

Unlike MALEFICENT (2014), an inside-out villain's eye telling of SLEEPING BEAUTY -- which I haven't yet seen -- CINDERELLA does not break new story ground. And that's just fine. The filmmakers treated the material with respect, aiming for an excellent telling of the story, as opposed to a whole new take on it. It was actually rather refreshing to discover such a polished version of the story I expected and wanted to see.

Young Ella (Eloise Webb) lives happily with her father (Ben Chaplin) and mother (Hayley Atwell of AGENT CARTER, seen at left). The death of Ella's beloved mother means that by the time Ella is a young lady (now played by Lily James of DOWNTON ABBEY), eventually her lonely father marries Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett).

Lady Tremaine moves in with her obnoxious daughters (Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera, the latter another DOWNTON ABBEY alum). When Ella's father dies, her stepmother makes her life very difficult -- and she acquires the nickname Cinderella -- but she meets a handsome prince (Richard Madden) and manages to see him again at the royal ball thanks to her Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham-Carter). And we all know what happens when the clock strikes midnight...

The film benefits most from outstanding casting.  Derek Jacobi was inspired casting as the King, and no one will be surprised that Bonham-Carter made a perfect zany Fairy Godmother and that Blanchett was wonderfully convincing as the icy, cruel stepmother.

James and Madden, the lead couple, are appealing and had very good chemistry, providing a couple one wanted to see together at last. They felt like well-developed real people, not simply placeholder characters going through the expected motions. The climactic sequence trying on the glass slipper was especially well done by the two actors. I might admit to having had a bit of a tear in my eye.

I was rather fascinated that Disney decided to populate its fairy tale kingdom with "colorblind" casting. One of the most enjoyable supporting actors, for instance, is Nonso Anozie as the Captain who plays a key role in locating Cinderella. I was initially a bit surprised by the diversity in this fairy tale kingdom but I think it worked quite well.

The only drawback for me was that the film is almost entirely a "CGI" world, and I just don't care for the CGI "look," where one is aware at all times of the green screen fakery. That said, many aspects of the film are beautiful, especially the sumptuous costumes and the set decoration.

CINDERELLA runs 112 minutes but is well paced and doesn't overstay its welcome. It's a far more successful live-action version than the overstuffed THE SLIPPER AND THE ROSE, which had some hummable tunes but never knew when to quit, running a very bloated 146 minutes. Based on the CINDERELLA trailer, some scenes were left on the cutting-room floor; I'd really like to see them and hope they'll be on the DVD.

CINDERELLA was directed by Kenneth Branagh from a script by Chris Weitz. Branagh also did a very nice job on last year's JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT (2014). The cinematography was by Haris Zambarloukos.

Stay tuned through the end credits for a lovely tribute to Disney's classic animated CINDERELLA, as Lily James sings "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes" and Helena Bonham-Carter sings "Bibbidy-Bobbidy-Boo."

Parental Advisory: CINDERELLA is rated PG for "mild thematic elements." Seriously? Yes, some parents die. If CINDERELLA isn't a G-rated movie, I don't know what is. Unfortunately Hollywood seems to see a G rating as a curse and doesn't want one even if it's earned it!

This is one I'll be adding to my Disney shelf to enjoy again in the future. Recommended.

"Have courage. Be kind." Good words to live by.

The CINDERELLA trailer is at IMDb here, and a clip is here. There is also an official website.

CINDERELLA was preceded by Disney's new short FROZEN FEVER (2015), a brief sequel to FROZEN (2013). FROZEN FEVER was, alas, a disappointment. Although it had a couple of cute moments, I can't understand why anyone who worked on it thought the story was a good idea.

The short, which runs seven minutes, basically takes Disney's recent habit of slipping a crass moment or two into a movie -- yes, there was such a moment in CINDERELLA as well -- and builds a whole short around an unpleasant idea, the results of Queen Elsa's sneezing.

The TANGLED EVER AFTER (2012) short was brilliant, and it's a shame the FROZEN short wasn't equally as good. Perhaps they'll go back to the drawing board and attempt something more worthy of the original in the future.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Around the Blogosphere This Week

Miscellaneous bits of news and fun stuff from around the internet...

...Additional announcements have been made regarding the TCM Classic Film Festival. George Lazenby will introduce ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE (1969), while Shirley MacLaine will be honored at a screening of THE APARTMENT (1960). 100-year-old Norman Lloyd will introduce Anthony Mann's REIGN OF TERROR (1949) -- I saw Lloyd introduce the same movie three years ago at the Noir City Hollywood festival, when he was "just" 97! For me the "can't miss" screening of the festival thus far is the chance to see MY DARLING CLEMENTINE (1946) on a big screen for the very first time; it will be introduced by Ford biographer Scott Eyman along with Peter Fonda.

...More festival announcements, including information on Sophia Loren's appearance, may be found here. It's anticipated that the complete schedule will be announced in a few more days!

...TCM has also announced initial details on the next TCM Cruise, which will take place aboard the Disney Magic November 1-6, 2015.

...Thanks to Maricatrin for passing on the YouTube link to this great extended promo trailer for CHARLEY'S AUNT (1941), teaming Jack Benny with Tyrone Power and Randolph Scott. Lots of fun!

...What an amazing '50s Westerns class is being taught in New York this spring, including wonderful films such as DAWN AT SOCORRO (1954) and RIDE CLEAR OF DIABLO (1954). I hope Westerns fans in the area take advantage of the chance to see some top-drawer movies.

...I very much appreciated Glenn Erickson linking to my review of the Warner Archive DVD INCIDENT (1948) at the end of his recent review of the film at DVD Savant. We both thought the movie was a fun watch.

...Coming to Blu-ray from Kino: Tim Holt in THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD (1957). (Via Toby at The Hannibal 8 and 50 Westerns From the 50s.)

...The John Wayne Birthplace in Winterset, Iowa, will celebrate the grand opening of its new museum from May 22 to 25, 2015. May 26th is the 108th anniversary of the Duke's birth.

...Here's Kim writing on the UCLA Festival of Preservation, including her favorite picks, for I See a Dark Theater. I wrote about the festival earlier today.

...The SOUND OF MUSIC "children" recall recording the movie's songs. The movie turns 50 this month. I'll be reviewing a couple of books on the topic in the weeks to come!

...Ruta Lee turns 80 this spring and is still a busy actress, most recently starring in a theatrical production of STEEL MAGNOLIAS in Fort Worth. The Star-Telegram has an interview.

...Vienna writes about James Mason and Dan Duryea in ONE WAY STREET (1950) at Vienna's Classic Hollywood. Readers can compare notes with my take from last spring's viewing here. We were pretty much in agreement: really good opening and closing, but oh, that middle section...

...TV nostalgia: Dean Cain (LOIS AND CLARK) and Helen Slater (SUPERGIRL) will appear in a new SUPERGIRL pilot.

...More TV nostalgia: The 2015 High Chaparral Reunion takes place from March 19th to 22nd in Tucson, Arizona. Actors Henry Darrow, Don Collier, and Rudy Ramos are confirmed as guests, along with behind-the-scenes talent Kent and Susan McCray.

...Notable passing: Leonard Nimoy, whose Mr. Spock of STAR TREK became a durable cultural icon, passed away last week at 83.

...TCM's 31 Days of Oscar comes to a close on March 3rd, and I'll have my preview of TCM's March highlights up in the near future. In the meantime, you can check out the great detailed article by Cliff at Immortal Ephemera, along with Kristina's guide and TCM link roundup at Speakeasy.

...For more classic film links, please visit last week's roundup!

Have a great week!

Tonight's Movie: Home, Sweet Homicide (1946)

I've been very interested in seeing HOME, SWEET HOMICIDE (1946) since first hearing about it, and thanks to the kindness of reader Maricatrin I was able to enjoy it tonight!

HOME, SWEET HOMICIDE is a melding of mystery and family comedy, starring Randolph Scott as a police detective and Lynn Bari as a widowed crime novelist raising a trio of precocious children.

The movie begins with an amusing opening credits sequence, with the tune "Home Sweet Home" punctuated with screams and sirens. In short order we're introduced to writer Marian Carstairs (Bari) and her three very self-sufficient children, who run the household while their mother is locked away with her typewriter. The children, played by very fine child actors, are Dinah (Peggy Ann Garner), April (Connie Marshall), and Archie (Dean Stockwell).

One afternoon the children are walking to the neighborhood malt shop when they hear what might be gunshots. Being the children of Marian Carstairs, they note the time. They soon learn a neighbor (Lenita Lane) has been killed. Was it her husband (Shepperd Strudwick), his girlfriend (Anabel Shaw), another neighbor (Stanley Logan), or someone else?

Detective Bill Smith (Scott) is on the case, along with his partner, Sgt. O'Hare (James Gleason). Marian and the children are all tickled that handsome Bill's name matches that of the hero of Marian's 28 novels. That seems like a good omen!

The children unfortunately decide they will make better detectives than the police, and if they can solve the crime their mother's career will benefit from the publicity. This means they don't tell the police the correct time of the murder or a couple other important details, ultimately endangering their lives.

Their childish decision in a matter of life and death, despite being such otherwise intelligent children, was the only part of the plot which went off kilter for me, although some of the repercussions are amusing. I loved Sgt. O'Hare's constant refrain that "I have six kids of my own, four of them girls!" which has a nice payoff in the final scene.

Other than not caring for the children's "coverup," this movie is a great deal of fun, played by a bright, able cast. Scott and Bari are charmers -- it's hard to believe someone as cute as Scott wasn't already snapped up, and Bari in particular strikes all the right notes as the children's savvy mother. This was one of Scott's last couple of non-Westerns, along with CHRISTMAS EVE (1947).

The children are played by three of the best child actors of the '40s, plus Dinah's best friend is played by Barbara Whiting, her costar in the previous year's excellent JUNIOR MISS (1945). It's a lot of fun watching the children manage the household, particularly young April's expertise at roasting a turkey, calculating "15 minutes per pound." At the same time, they seem like "real" children in their interactions with one another. All three of them are quite good, but Stockwell is particularly adorable as Archie, who detests his oldest sister calling him "Baby."

Some aspects of the film are interesting as a peek into daily life in the '40s. For instance, when Archie wheels out the trash can, it's quite small for a family of four (not to mention two pets). Was the trash picked up much more frequently then? (I remember trash was picked up twice a week when I was young, and now it's just weekly.) Was there less disposable waste in the '40s? Or was the can simply an unrealistic size?

Similarly, I was curious when Bill told Marian he went to a "rental library" and picked up a couple of her books to read. (She chides him, saying authors want books to be purchased rather than borrowed, to increase the royalties!) I thought "rental library" was odd terminology. Were there libraries other than free public libraries in the '40s? Had he actually rented the book, like one would a video? (Talk about an antiquated term, but you know what I mean...) Or perhaps it was just an unusual way to refer to a regular library.

HOME, SWEET HOMICIDE was directed by Lloyd Bacon and filmed in black and white by John F. Seitz. I'd love to know where the Carstairs house was located; it seems like a real neighborhood rather than a backlot.

F. Hugh Herbert's screenplay was based on a novel by the prolific Craig Rice (a pseudonym for Georgiana Craig). The film runs 90 minutes.

This film from 20th Century-Fox is currently very hard to come by; I'm unaware of it ever having been shown on Fox Movie Channel in the last few years, nor has it had a VHS or DVD release. Peggy Ann Garner's JUNIOR MISS (1945) has come out on DVD from the Fox Cinema Archives; perhaps one day this film will follow. My children would have loved this one when they were younger! Audiences in general deserve having access to this very enjoyable film.

The 2015 UCLA Festival of Preservation

Opening night of the 2015 UCLA Festival of Preservation is this Thursday evening, March 5th.

The Festival of Preservation is a biennial month-long series celebrating the work of the UCLA Film and Television Archive. The screenings take place at UCLA's Billy Wilder Theater at the Hammer Museum in Westwood.

I thoroughly enjoyed the 2011 and 2013 festivals. In 2011 I saw two films, and in 2013 I attended four different screenings, seeing a total of seven films. All of the festival screenings have been terrific experiences, and I particularly appreciate that the festival has introduced me to a couple of favorite films, the Dick Powell film noir CRY DANGER (1951) and Joan Leslie's noir fantasy REPEAT PERFORMANCE (1947).

The festival will kick off Thursday with a screening of Anthony Mann's MEN IN WAR (1957), starring Robert Ryan and Aldo Ray. Cast member L.Q.Jones will appear that evening to discuss the film with Archive director Jan-Christopher Horak.

This year I hope to again attend several screenings, starting with the film noir double bill of TOO LATE FOR TEARS (1949) and THE GUILTY (1947) this Saturday, March 7th. I saw TOO LATE FOR TEARS at last year's Noir City Festival, and it was so much fun I'd enjoy seeing it again. The late Lizabeth Scott stars along with Dan Duryea, Arthur Kennedy, and Don DeFore. I've never seen THE GUILTY, which stars Bonita Granville, Don Castle, and Regis Toomey. The Film Noir Foundation's Alan Rode will be on hand Saturday night to introduce the movies.

I also hope to attend a pre-Code double bill on Sunday afternoon and a great-looking double bill of Bing Crosby in THE BIG BROADCAST (1932) and Harold Lloyd in THE MILKY WAY (1936) later in the month.

Hopefully I'll also be able to see Arianne Ulmer Cipes introduce HER SISTER'S SECRET (1946), which I thoroughly enjoyed at last year's TCM Classic Film Festival. The TCM Fest movies sometimes blur a bit in memory due to seeing so many in such a short time frame, so I would love the chance to take a second look at this very good film, which stars Margaret Lindsay and Nancy Coleman. There's an excellent review of this movie by Moira Finnie at Silver Screen Oasis.

Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times has many more details on what promises to be an exciting festival.

Please visit UCLA's Festival of Preservation schedule for a complete list of titles and times.

There's much more great stuff ahead for classic film fans in Southern California. I will again be credentialed media at this year's TCM Classic Film Festival, which takes place from March 26th through 29th, and I'll be providing complete coverage here at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings.

The weekend after the TCM Fest it's time for the 17th Annual Noir City Hollywood Festival, which takes place at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood the first three weeks of April. Meanwhile in early April UCLA will kick off what's sure to be a spectacular three-month-long William Wellman Festival!

A look back: The 2013 UCLA Festival of Preservation and The 2011 UCLA Festival of Preservation.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Badman's Territory (1946) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

BADMAN'S TERRITORY (1946) is an enjoyable RKO Western which is part of the five-film Randolph Scott Classics Collection from the Warner Archive.

Scott plays Sheriff Mark Rowley, who ends up in the wild little town of Quinto when Jesse James (Lawrence Tierney) and James's henchman Coyote (Gabby Hayes) save the life of Mark's brother John (James Warren).

Quinto is in lawless "Badman's Territory," but in an unusual story flip, Marshal Bill Hampton (Morgan Conway) is the bad guy who tries to frame fellow lawman Mark for murder (it's a long story), and the bad guys aren't always all that bad. As mentioned, the James boys help Mark's brother, and the Rowleys also become friendly with Bob Dalton (Steve Brodie) and Belle Starr (Isabel Jewell, who also played the role in 1948's BELLE STARR'S DAUGHTER). Despite the fact that he's a lawman, Belle makes no secret of her interest in the handsome Mark.

Unfortunately John ultimately decides to ride with the Daltons, with tragic results. Meanwhile Mark romances a crusading newspaper editor, Henryetta (Ann Richards), and battles the evil Marshal Hampton.

There's enough story in BADMAN'S TERRITORY for three movies and it would have benefited from a more streamlined plot, but it's engrossing and a little bit different. Naturally, there's a bit of time spent on the outlaws' exploits and posses riding around after the bad guys, but much of the film is a leisurely look at life amidst the outlaws in Quinto, where there's time for a horse race and a dance. I wasn't expecting moments such as Mark's laid-back attitude when he encounters the James brothers, nor was I expecting perennial comic sidekick Gabby Hayes to be an outlaw. The movie is nicely unpredictable at times.

The cast also includes Tom Tyler (STAGECOACH), Ray Collins, Virginia Sale, John Halloran, Richard Hale, Phil Warren, Nestor Paiva, and Andrew Tombes. Other familiar Western actors scattered in bits throughout the film include Harry Harvey, Jason Robards Sr., Kermit Maynard, and Emory Parnell.

Robert J. Wilke is said to have been a deputy, but I didn't spot him. However, stay alert near the end of the film, when Marshal Hampton arrives in Quinto -- one of his deputies, who has a couple of lines, is a young Ben Johnson. Johnson was also a stuntman on the film.

BADMAN'S TERRITORY was directed by Tim Whelan and filmed in black and white by Robert De Grasse. The movie runs 97 minutes.

Although there are a couple of scenes dotted with speckles or somewhat faded, for the most part this DVD looks good. It's interesting to note that the opening card indicates it's a British print. There are no extras.

Previous reviews of other titles in this DVD collection: TRAIL STREET (1947), RETURN OF THE BAD MEN (1948), and CARSON CITY (1952). The other movie in the set is WESTBOUND (1959).

In addition to the five-film Randolph Scott Classics Collection, BADMAN'S TERRITORY can be purchased from the Warner Archive as a single-title release.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD collection. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive at the WBShop.

Tonight's Movie: The Smiling Lieutenant (1931)

Over the years I've enjoyed many films directed by the great Ernst Lubitsch, but I'd never caught up with THE SMILING LIEUTENANT (1931). I wanted to be sure to finally see it this year, so I included it on my list of 10 Classics to see for the first time in 2015.

By chance Kristina also included THE SMILING LIEUTENANT on her own list of 10 Classics to see in 2015, posted at Speakeasy. We decided to follow up our joint reviewing of Kurosawa's HIGH AND LOW (1963) earlier this month by comparing notes this weekend on THE SMILING LIEUTENANT. You can read Kristina's thoughts at Speakeasy. We both loved this one and enjoyed many of the same aspects of this artfully made comedy.

The title character refers to Niki (Maurice Chevalier), a Viennese soldier who happens to smile and wink at his mistress, violinist Franzi (Claudette Colbert), just as a carriage passes carrying Princess Anna of Flausenthurm (Miriam Hopkins).

Shy Princess Anna thinks Niki winked at her and is insulted until she's led to believe that Niki is attracted to her. Having no idea of Franzi's existence, the smitten Anna arranges for Niki to marry her, and there's nothing Niki can do to avoid it.

The depressed Niki, who still loves Franzi, baffles Anna by leaving her alone on their wedding night, and when Franzi arrives to perform in Flausenthurm, she and Niki resume their relationship.

Everything changes when Anna learns Niki is "stepping out" and tricks Franzi into coming to the palace. The women come to a meeting of the minds, as Franzi realizes "women who start with breakfast don't stay for supper." Franzi gives Anna some tips on how to hold her man and then slips out of the palace, leaving behind a soon-to-be happily married couple.

THE SMILING LIEUTENANT is akin to a piece of cinematic candy, elegantly made and fun from start to finish. In the wrong hands this story could easily be leaden, coming off as sad or tasteless. Lubitsch keeps it all floating happily along, even though each of the characters goes through a certain amount of trauma; they're all basically nice people, they've got some hilarious dialogue, and all will turn out for the best in the end.

The "romantic" undercurrents Lubitsch managed to subtly pack into one 89-minute film are quite something. Nothing is overtly discussed and everyone keeps their clothes on -- though Franzi does eventually teach Anna how to "Jazz Up Your Lingerie" -- but while a child could watch the film and have no idea what's going on, an adult watches it with amused amazement, reading what the words and gestures really mean between the lines.

I've always been a fan of Claudette Colbert, and it was interesting to see one of her very earliest films. She's quite touching, particularly in the worldless scene where she sees the despondent Niki return from the palace and realizes their relationship is over. She quickly packs up her things, leaves him a note, and slips out of his apartment, tugging at the viewer's heart without ever saying a word.

She has another wordless moment near the end as she leaves Anna, giving a gallant little wave of her hand as she leaves the man she loves to his wife. For a movie which is so funny, there are some deeply moving movements.

As I wrote in my review of THE LOVE PARADE (1929), I'm not a particular fan of Maurice Chevalier; at the same time I love the early musicals he made with Lubitsch and Rouben Mamoulian, and it's rather impossible to imagine someone besides Cheavalier starring in baubles such as THE LOVE PARADE (1929), ONE HOUR WITH YOU (1932), and LOVE ME TONIGHT (1932), as well as THE SMILING LIEUTENANT. Since seeing MONTE CARLO (1930) with an absolutely awful Jack Buchanan opposite Jeanette MacDonald, my appreciation for Chevalier's role in these classic pre-Code musical comedies has deepened. He may not be my type, but he was the right actor for these movies.

The special revelation of THE SMILING LIEUTENANT is Miriam Hopkins. I'd previously enjoyed her in Lubitsch's masterpiece TROUBLE IN PARADISE (1932), but she's even better in this; she's simply hysterical, adorably spoiled, sweet, naive, and very, very funny. Every line reading is a gem.

When someone misspells Flausenthurm, Anna sees it as an insult: "They're trying to make us feel, just because we've a little country, we shouldn't have so many letters!" And when her father balks at Anna marrying the lieutenant, she makes the ultimate threat: "I'm going to marry an American!"

Yet Anna is never really a brat; the things she blurts out come from being sheltered and from trying to stand on her own feet and find happiness within her royally constrained world. Ultimately, she wants to make her husband happy, and in so doing find happiness herself.

The cast also includes Charlie Ruggles (whose role should have been larger), George Barbier, and Elizabeth Patterson.

THE SMILING LIEUTENANT is available on DVD in a beautiful print as part of Criterion's Lubitsch Musicals Eclipse collection.

I've previously reviewed the other three films in the set: THE LOVE PARADE (1929), MONTE CARLO (1930), and ONE HOUR WITH YOU (1932).

I'm very glad this movie was on my list to see this year! Recommended viewing.

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