Thursday, August 27, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Radar Secret Service (1950)

RADAR SECRET SERVICE (1950) must have the lowest IMDb rating of any film I've ever seen -- and yet I quite enjoyed it!

I love this kind of rather geeky police procedural, with overly earnest members of law enforcement rhapsodizing about the wonders of RADAR! I'm not sure I'd say it's so bad it's good, but there's definitely something about its quaint attitudes and manner of storytelling which I find most enjoyable. Add in a good cast including Adele Jergens, Ralph (DICK TRACY) Byrd, and Myrna Dell, and it makes for a fun and breezy 59 minutes.

The story concerns a unit of law enforcement which uses various radar gadgets; a handheld unit helps locate a gun buried in the dirt, and radar on a police car and a helicopter helps track down stolen atomic materials!

It's not always believable, but the fantastic uses for radar are part of the fun. For instance, I was never quite clear on how the radar beamed a crystal clear picture of various highways back to headquarters so that the police could watch car chases and note license plate numbers. And a chopper armed with a radar detector can sweep an entire city and zero in on atomic materials?

As told in this film, it seems like there's nothing radar can't do, causing femme fatale Adele Jergens to wring her hands about law enforcement and their radar getting in the way of her schemes. There are also delightful periodic hewspaper headlines about another win for the radar unit.

The lead agents are played by John Howard (George Kittredge in THE PHILADELPHIA STORY) and Ralph Byrd, who I very much enjoyed in STAGE STRUCK (1948).

Tom Neal leads the bad guys. The cast also includes Pierre Watkin, Tristram Coffin, Sid Melton, Robert Kent, Riley Hill, and Robert Carson.

RADAR SECRET SERVICE was directed by Sam Newfield and photographed by Ernest Miller for Lippert Pictures.

The movie is part of VCI's nine-film Forgotten Noir & Crime Vol. 4. It's a beautiful print.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

2015 D23 Expo: Disneyland: The Exhibit - Part 2

Here's the second part of my visit to the amazing Walt Disney Archives presentation, "Disneyland: The Exhibit."

Click any photo to enlarge for a closer look.

While touring the Archives exhibit I had the pleasure of meeting Ron and David DeFore, sons of actor Don DeFore. They were so nice and friendly. When I shared how much I enjoy their dad in RAMROD (1947) they exclaimed "You're a real fan!"

The next day Ron and David did an hour-long presentation on their Dad's 1957-1961 Frontierland restaurant, Don DeFore's Silver Banjo Barbecue. More on that in a future post!

From Peter Pan's Flight:

The Matterhorn Bobsled ride:

Monsanto's Adventure Through Inner Space:

Mr. Toad's Wild Ride:

A float from the Main Street Electrical Parade:

One of my favorite things in the exhibit was learning that actor Harold Lloyd took a number of 3D photographs of the park in 1955, the year it opened. The photos were displayed on a monitor and were absolutely fascinating!

Maps, brochures, ticket books, and more!

And so the exhibit comes to an end...

...but as Walt said, Disneyland will never be finished!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

2015 D23 Expo: Disneyland: The Exhibit - Part 1

This year's D23 Expo was a terrific experience in many ways, but for many of us the highlight was the elaborate exhibit from the Walt Disney Archives, Disneyland: The Exhibit.

As will be seen below, the exhibit displayed everything from maps to ride vehicles, tickets to costumes, parade floats to postcards. What a walk down memory lane! If there weren't so much to do at the Expo, I could easily have spent a couple more hours going through the exhibit more slowly, savoring every last detail. As it is, I'm doing that a bit revisiting my photos!

Click any photo to enlarge for a closer look.

The charming Little Golden Book LITTLE MAN OF DISNEYLAND was just reissued. Here's the original cover art:

John Lasseter loves this story about a leprechaun displaced by Disneyland construction to much that he was filmed reading it aloud, and it plays on a continuous loop in the exhibit.

Best of all, during the Expo weekend Disneyland unveiled the Little Man of Disneyland's tiny home in a tree near the Indiana Jones ride in Adventureland. There's more on the Little Man of Disneyland at D23.

Ticket Number 1 for Opening Day of Disneyland:

Artwork to announce the grand opening:

The Mouseketeers were at Opening Day. Here are Cubby and Annette's uniforms:

Pirates of the Caribbean memorabilia...

...and artifacts from the Alice in Wonderland ride:

Place settings and decor from the fabled private restaurant Club 33 in New Orleans Square:

Betty Taylor's gowns for her role as Slue Foot Sue in the Golden Horseshoe Review:

A vintage popcorn cart which was used in the park:

Ephemera about various restaurants, including Aunt Jemima's Kitchen...

... and Hills Bros. Coffee House:

Please visit again tomorrow for Part 2 on this amazing exhibit!

For even more photos of this exhibit, please visit MiceChat.

Previously: Back From the 2015 D23 Expo!

Monday, August 24, 2015

A Birthday Tribute to Preston Foster

One of my favorite actors, Preston Foster, was born in New Jersey on August 24, 1900.

A multitalented man, Foster was a singer and composer in addition to being an actor with 117 film and TV credits between 1929 and 1967. In 1964 he also cofounded the El Camino Playhouse in Oceanside, California.

Foster loved sailing and fishing, and during World War II he served his country in the U.S. Coast Guard, becoming a Captain in the Temporary Reserve. He was later an honorary Commodore in the Coast Guard Auxiliary, in which he was active for many years. (I was interested to locate photos of Foster at Coast Guard Auxiliary events here, here, and here.) Foster was thus perfectly cast in the TV series WATERFRONT (1954-56) in which he played a tugboat captain in L.A. Harbor.

Another interesting note is that Preston Foster was one of the very first actors who received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, as part of an initial demo project.

Foster did a bit of everything, including pre-Code melodramas, romantic comedies, Westerns, family films, war movies, and film noir. He was the charming leading man of both "A" and "B" pictures and also played many substantial supporting roles.

I must have first seen Preston Foster on screen in the MGM musical THE HARVEY GIRLS (1946), which I initially saw at a young age and have seen countless times since.

There's something about Foster's genial personality I find very appealing, especially when he had the chance to play romantic leads. My personal favorites from his long career include the most enjoyable "B" film DOUBLE DANGER (1938), in which he's a jewel thief reformed by love; TWICE BLESSED (1945), a forerunner of THE PARENT TRAP (1961) in which he and ex-wife Gail Patrick are the parents of identical twins Lyn and Lee Wilde; and THE HUNTED (1948), in which he's a lovelorn cop.

Foster also appeared in notable films such as I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG (1932), John Ford's THE INFORMER (1935) and SUBMARINE PATROL (1938), the excellent war film GUADALCANAL DIARY (1943), the classic "horse film" MY FRIEND FLICKA (1943) with Roddy McDowall (seen below, with Rita Johnson), Samuel Fuller's I SHOT JESSE JAMES (1949), and the film noir classic KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL (1952).

With Carole Lombard in LOVE BEFORE BREAKFAST (1936):

Facing off with Joel McCrea in RAMROD (1947):

Preston Foster passed away on July 14, 1970. He was buried at El Camino Memorial Park in San Diego, California.

There's more information on Foster's post-retirement life in the 2004 San Diego Union Tribune obituary of his widow, actress Sheila Darcy (UNION PACIFIC).

Foster had one child, Stephanie, from an earlier marriage. Stephanie passed away just a few weeks ago at the age of 76.

With Joan Fontaine in YOU CAN'T BEAT LOVE (1937):

Although I'm a fan, I was still a bit surprised to realize that to date I've reviewed over two dozen of Preston Foster's films! Happily there are still many ahead of me to enjoy for the first time.


Sunday, August 23, 2015

Spenser For Hire: The Complete Second Season - A Warner Archive TV Series Review

SPENSER FOR HIRE returns to DVD thanks to the Warner Archive, which has released SPENSER FOR HIRE: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON.

Robert Urich stars in the title role of this series, inspired by the novels of Robert B. Parker. Spenser is a literate private eye with side interests in boxing and cooking. The show shot many of its exteriors on location in Boston, which gives it an authentic feel.

Things have changed for Spenser since Season One, which I reviewed last fall. In Season Two, which aired from 1986 to 1987, the Boston Fire Department has reclaimed the empty firehouse in which they'd allowed Spenser to make his home, so he's remodeling a run-down apartment in Charlestown, just down the road from the Bunker Hill monument.

First things first: while most of the apartment is having its wiring and plumbing redone, gourmet cook Spenser has already installed a fabulous stove! The plumber rhapsodizing over Spenser's blueberry muffins is a typically cute food-related moment; I definitely appreciate the "foodie" aspect of the show, which distinguishes it from your run-of-the-mill P.I. series.

Spenser's longtime girlfriend Susan (Barbara Stock) is no longer on the scene; although I enjoyed him being in a committed relationship, it must be said that Stock's Susan was bland and it wasn't apparent what had drawn the couple together in the first place. Although Susan is gone without much explanation, she will eventually return to the series.

Carolyn McCormick joins the show in Season 2 as D.A. Rita Fiore, whose clothes and hairstyle definitely scream "1980s!" Rita is initially obnoxious, but her character becomes more pleasant after her introductory episode.

Other aspects of the show haven't changed at all -- Spenser's friendship with the mysterious, savvy Hawk (Avery Brooks) and his conflicted relationship with police Lt. Martin Quirk (Richard Jaeckel).

Best of all, there's still plentiful use of a variety of Boston locations; the show doesn't cheat with stock shots, but instead we actually see Spenser jogging in the Public Garden or walking down his street in Charlestown. The second episode of the season has beautiful location filming in Gloucester.

The show's strengths and weaknesses are very much the same as Season 1. In some ways the storytelling style is plodding and a bit dated, including swelling background scoring at the points where commercial breaks originally fell.

On the plus side, Spenser and Hawk ("SPEN-suh!") are unique characters, with Spenser's reflective voiceovers and the atmospheric locations distinguishing the series from other detective shows, along with Spenser's aforementioned interest in cooking.

It also continues to be interesting noting just how much daily life has changed since the 1980s; for instance, a plot point early in the season revolves around an answering machine cassette tape. The '80s really don't seem that long ago, yet there are constant reminders of how technology has marched on.

Marg Helgenberger guests in the first episode of Season 2. Other Season 2 guest actors include Samuel L. Jackson, Laurence Fishburne, Ruby Dee, Janice Rule, John Spencer, Lauren Holly, Patricia Richardson, David Hyde Pierce, William H. Macy, Kate Burton, and star Robert Urich's wife, Heather Menzies.

The print quality is outstanding; the shows look brand-new. Like the Season 1 set, the episodes include the original network "Tonight on SPENSER FOR HIRE" promos.

SPENSER FOR HIRE: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON contains 22 episodes on 5 discs. Although the website doesn't mention it, the set I received contained pressed silver-backed discs rather than the purple-backed burned discs. This is a frequent practice for the Warner Archive when they initially release a set which is expected to be in high consumer demand. Typically the pressed discs are only available from the WBShop.

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 Collection at the WBShop.

Tonight's Movie: Gentleman's Fate (1931) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

GENTLEMAN'S FATE is a gangster melodrama starring John Gilbert. It was just released by the Warner Archive as part of a "wave" of Gilbert titles.

GENTLEMAN'S FATE is the interesting, if somewhat depressing, tale of Jack Thomas (Gilbert). As the movie begins Jack has it made; he's a wealthy gentleman of leisure who lives in a swell NYC apartment and has just become engaged to lovely Marjorie (Leila Hyams).

Jack is shocked when his guardian (Paul Porcasi) suddenly dumps the news that Jack isn't the orphan he thought he was; his name is really Giacomo Tomasulo, and he has a father (Frank Reicher) and brother Frank (Louis Wolheim) living in New Jersey.

But wait, there's more: Jack's father and brother are mobsters, and Jack's father is dying of a gunshot wound and wants to see him.

Jack's life quickly escalates out of control, especially when the "family heirloom" emeralds Jack's dying father gives him for his fiancee turn out to be stolen -- from someone she knows! Next thing you know, Jack's marriage to Marjorie has been put on hold and he's working in the family business.

Gilbert is quite good in this; I liked him much better than I did in QUEEN CHRISTINA (1933), when he was a little too goofy for my taste. I admired the still, quiet way he stands and attempts to take in one shocking piece of news after another. There's also a beautiful scene late in the film when he and Anita Page look at one another for a very long moment and then he walks away and leaves her.

The movie's main problem for me, other than the fact that it's a bit sad watching someone's life gradually circling the drain, is that I find Louis Wolheim exceptionally tedious to watch. A few years ago I strongly disliked him in the film he made just before GENTLEMAN'S FATE, THE SILVER HORDE (1930), and I didn't like him any better in this one. The character did at least have some nuance, not turning out to be quite the villain we expect when we first meet him, but I simply don't enjoy the actor.

That said, I'm sorry to report that Wolheim died the month before this film was released. He was 50 years old. Wolheim had one other film released in 1931, THE SIN SHIP.

It's an additional sad footnote that Gilbert would himself die in 1936 and supporting actress Marie Prevost died in 1937. Each was 38 years old.

GENTLEMAN'S FATE was directed by Mervyn LeRoy, whose gangster classic LITTLE CAESAR (1931) was released just a couple of months previous to this title. GENTLEMAN'S FATE is a quieter film about a restrained man who is the polar opposite of Edward G. Robinson's Rico.

GENTLEMAN'S FATE runs 90 minutes. It was photographed by Merritt B. Gerstad. The supporting cast includes the previously mentioned Anita Page (seen at right) and Ferike Boros, George Cooper, John Miljan, and Ralph Ince.

The Warner Archive DVD print is quite good, especially considering the film's age. There are no extras.

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

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...My recent review of the Western SHOWDOWN AT ABILENE (1956) led to a nice exchange of information on star Jock Mahoney and the biography of Mahoney written by Gene Freese and published by McFarland. I'm pleased to share that I've just received a review copy of the Mahoney book and will be posting a review of it here in the coming weeks. I'm sure the book will be of great interest to many of my fellow Western fans!

...Summer of the Binge? Streaming may be replacing vacation reading. (Guilty as least to an extent. It's an option which didn't exist in the past!)

...There's another great blogathon on the way! The Criterion Blogathon is coming this November, sponsored by Aaron of Criterion Blues, Kristina of Speakeasy, and Ruth of Silver Screenings. I'll be writing about Yasujiro Ozu's EARLY SUMMER (1951). There's one post per Criterion film, so check out the titles which are already taken and then sign up!

...A national stage tour of THE SOUND OF MUSIC starts in September. Southern California stops are the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles from September 20th to October 31, 2015, and Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa from July 19 to July 31, 2016. Kerstin Anderson and Ben Davis star as Maria and Captain Von Trapp, with Ashley Brown (MARY POPPINS) as the Mother Abbess. I've seen Brown sing a couple of times including a concert at the 2013 D23 Expo.

...Continuing in a Broadway musical vein, the 1955 and 1956 telecasts of Mary Martin in PETER PAN are coming to DVD and Blu-ray. The 1955 telecast is a Blu-ray exclusive extra; the 1956 version is available in either format. I'm still waiting for the 1960 Mary Martin version to come out on DVD; I recorded it to Beta (!) in 1991, and our oldest daughter just about wore out that tape, she played it so often!

...John Ford's adventure classic THE HURRICANE (1937) will be released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber this November.

...There's a sweet interview with Michael Learned about THE WALTONS by Danny Miller at Cinephiled.

...Hoping that the Angels Flight Railway in Downtown Los Angeles will return.

...The hilarious BACHELOR'S AFFAIRS (1932), starring Adolphe Menjou, was one of my favorite films at this year's UCLA Festival of Preservation. I just caught up with Kim's July post on the movie at I See a Dark Theater; she loved it too! This one needs to come out on DVD ASAP.

...I'm pleased to announce my recent post on Bill Williams and Barbara Hale in THE CLAY PIGEON (1949) has been cross-posted at Movies Unlimited's MovieFanFare site. Please click on over and check it out!

...Loved seeing that Kristina enjoyed THE HIRED GUN (1957) with Rory Calhoun and Anne Francis. I'll be revisiting that movie at the Lone Pine Film Festival, as well as touring the movie's locations!

...Also announced for the Lone Pine Film Festival: William Wellman Jr. and Wyatt McCrea will team to introduce BUFFALO BILL (1944), starring Joel McCrea, Maureen O'Hara, and Linda Darnell. Having heard both men speak on several occasions, I know this screening is going to be a treat!

...Alan Ladd's THE GREAT GATSBY (1949) was just released on a Region 4 DVD which Lou Lumenick of the New York Post tells me is an authorized released. Let's hope this terrific film shows up on a Region 1 DVD sometime soon.

...The Blonde at the Film takes a look at "History Through Hollywood," including train and plane travel, dunking donuts, and how coffee was served decades ago (almost no modern coffee mugs seen on screen in the classic film era!).

...The Hollywood Reporter describes Kirk and Anne Douglas's philanthropic work.

...Notable Passings: The Official Yvonne Craig site announced the actress's passing on August 17th. A veteran of many movies and TV shows, including the Elvis Presley films IT HAPPENED AT THE WORLD'S FAIR (1963) and KISSIN' COUSINS (1964), the actress is best known for her role as Batgirl on the '60s TV series BATMAN. She was 78...Actress Melody Patterson, best known for the '60s TV comedy F TROOP, has passed on at 66...Another TV veteran, Gerald S. O'Loughlin, passed away July 31st. O'Loughlin appeared on the 1970s TV series THE ROOKIES and the 1980s series OUR HOUSE, along with countless other TV appearances. His films included LOVERS AND LOLLIPOPS (1956), A HATFUL OF RAIN (1957), ENSIGN PULVER (1964), and ICE STATION ZEBRA (1968)...Ric Holt, who as Ricky Holt played Melanie's baby Beau in GONE WITH THE WIND (1939), has passed away at the age of 77. Holt, who was named for Richard Arlen, was married for a few years to Barry Goldwater's daughter. His brother David had a busy career as a child actor, including BEAU GESTE (1939).

...Please check out my latest article for ClassicFlix, "Uncovered Classics, Vol. I: Westerns and Noirs." My dozen recommendations include George Brent and Marguerite Chapman in MAN BAIT (1952).

...Around the Blogosphere This Week will not appear next weekend. It will return Labor Day Weekend!

...Although I'll be traveling for the next week and a half, I've prescheduled several posts, including a look at Turner Classic Movies in September, so please check back regularly for new content while I'm away!

Have a great week!