Monday, September 15, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Fort Osage (1952) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Western fans will like FORT OSAGE (1952), an entertaining Rod Cameron Western available as part of the Monogram Cowboy Collection, Vol. 2, from the Warner Archive.

Last night I reviewed another Cameron film in the set, the entertaining WAGONS WEST (1952), and I thought this one was even better. Western specialist Lesley Selander directed FORT OSAGE with his typical vigor, making it an enjoyable 72 minutes.

Cameron plays wagonmaster Tom Clay, who arrives in Fort Osage with news that the Osage are on the warpath. He advises wagon train organizer Arthur Pickett (Morris Ankrum) against sending the wagon train on its way to California until the situation with the Osage tribe is resolved.

It turns out that Pickett's confederate George Keane (Douglas Kennedy) had encouraged Pickett not to give the tribe goods due to them as part of a treaty, and without Pickett's knowledge five Indian braves were murdered by Keane and his men.

Clay tries to untangle the problems of the tribe and the westward-bound settlers, and meanwhile he's also got his eye on pretty Ann Pickett (Jane Nigh).

Like WAGONS WEST, FORT OSAGE was written by Daniel Ullman and photographed by Harry Neumann in Cinecolor, but this Walter Mirisch production feels stronger overall, with a more coherent script which includes a sympathetic treatment of Indians. Director Selander also stages a strong fistfight between Cameron and a would-be assassin (Fred Graham).

The DVD looks absolutely terrific; it has the usual strong Cinecolor greens, browns, and oranges, but the print is more stable than some Cinecolor prints, and the film's look will really appeal to Cinecolor buffs such as myself. The colors do fade in and out a bit during a scene where Cameron goes to meet the Osage, but for the most part this is one of the best-looking Cinecolor prints I've ever seen. It was a real pleasure to watch it.

It's another plus that the movie's Southern California exteriors are free of annoyances such as rear projections and day for night shooting. This is a very nice-looking low-budget film.

The cast is filled with faces who feel like old friends. In addition to Cameron, Kennedy, Ankrum, and Nigh, the cast includes John Ridgely, always a favorite of mine, plus Myron Healey, Stan Jolley, Dorothy Adams, Lane Bradford, Barbara Woodell, and Iron Eyes Cody.

Pretty Anne Kimbell, who has a small role as Annie Winfield, was also in last night's film, WAGONS WEST (1952), as Noah Beery Jr.'s pregnant wife. Kimbell was busy on screen throughout the '50s; IMDb indicates she retired for life as the wife of a foreign service officer. She also worked at one time for the University of Southern California. Kimbell now writes spy thrillers; she has an Amazon page. She is also the President of the Board of Directors of the Westcliffe Center for the Performing Arts in Colorado. What a very interesting life!

The Rod Cameron Westerns in Vol. 2 of the Warner Archive's Monogram Cowboy Collection have made this set a winner for me thus far. Look for reviews of the set's Whip Wilson films here in the future, as well as additional reviews of Vol. 1 films starring Jimmy Wakely and Johnny Mack Brown.

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 at the Warner Archive website.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Wagons West (1952) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

WAGONS WEST (1952) is an enjoyable Western starring Rod Cameron and Peggie Castle. It's available as part of the Monogram Cowboy Collection, Vol. 2, from the Warner Archive.

Cameron plays Jeff Curtis, a kindly wagon train guide hired by Cyrus Cook (Frank Ferguson). Cook and his nephews Clay (Henry Brandon) and Gaylord (Riley Hill) are unfortunately nasty types, the kind who would order a boy to shoot his dog rather than bring it on the journey west, and they're also the types who would smuggle guns to sell to the Cheyenne.

What's more, Clay has it in for Jeff when Jeff takes a shine to Ann (Castle), and Clay is even more enraged when Ann gets past her initial skepticism of Jeff and returns his affection.

WAGONS WEST has a strictly paint-by-the-numbers plot and at 70 minutes could have stood to have a few more scenes explaining characters and building relationships, but I had quite a nice time watching it. Simply put, it stars actors I like in the kind of story I enjoy.

This pleasant, undemanding but entertaining film was a great way to wrap up a relaxing day's movie watching. (With temperatures here hovering over 100 degrees, taking it easy with some movies made for a perfect Sunday.) I expect my fellow Western fans will probably like it as well.

It's no secret here I'm a fan of both Cameron and Castle, and I really enjoyed them paired in the leads. Noah Beery Jr. heads the supporting cast as a man with a mysterious past and a very pregnant wife (Anne Kimbell). The personable Beery always adds a little something extra to the Westerns in which he appears, and this film is no exception.

Michael Chapin plays Peggie Castle's younger brother; Michael was the brother of child actors Lauren (FATHER KNOWS BEST) and Billy Chapin. Sara Haden of the ANDY HARDY series plays Frank Ferguson's wife. Other familiar faces include Glenn Strange and I. Stanford Jolley.

The movie was shot in the inexpensive Cinecolor process, and the colors in the early scenes are quite variable. It seems to settle down as the movie goes on, or perhaps I just got used to the film's look after a while! The cinematographer was Harry Neumann. The movie was almost entirely shot outdoors on Southern California locations.

The film was directed by Ford Beebe from a screenplay by Daniel Ullman. Ullman is a recurring name in my viewing in recent months, providing a number of enjoyable films including the Warner Archive's WICHITA (1955) and CANYON RIVER (1956).

WAGONS WEST is one of two Cinecolor Cameron Westerns included in Vol. 2 of the Archive's Monogram Cowboy Collection. It's a fine print, given the inherent limitations of Cinecolor. There are no extras.

The other six films in the set star Whip Wilson, an actor whose work I don't yet know. Look for more reviews of films in this set in the future.

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 at the Warner Archive website.

Tonight's Movie: The Moon is Blue (1953) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

THE MOON IS BLUE (1953) is a very entertaining romantic romp starring William Holden, Maggie McNamara, and David Niven. It's available from the Warner Archive.

THE MOON IS BLUE is based on a 1951 Broadway play directed by Otto Preminger, which starred Barbara Bel Geddes, Barry Nelson, and Donald Cook. Preminger also directed by film version, from a screenplay by the original playwright, F. Hugh Herbert.

The screenplay was notorious in its day for using words such as "seduction" and "virgin" which weren't approved by the Production Code. Preminger refused to trim them, so the film was released without Production Code approval. Despite this "scandalous" background, the film was a success, including receiving three Oscar nominations.

The movie definitely shows its theatrical origins from time to time, with limited sets and being something of a talk fest, but it transcends the staginess and proves to be quite an engaging ride. The Oscar-nominated McNamara can be a bit exhausting, as she never seems to stop talking -- in a rather high pitch -- and some of her dialogue is a bit too precious, but those are minor quibbles.

The three lead actors propel the action forward in a fast-moving 99 minutes. Though it might have been considered racy in its day, now it just seems cute, with the dialogue underscoring that the heroine is actually quite a proper young lady with marriage on her mind.

Architect Donald Gresham (Holden, at his most attractive) notices cute Patty O'Neill (McNamara) in the Empire State Building and follows her to the observation deck, where he chats her up. Before you know it, Patty is sewing on his button and cooking dinner for Don at his apartment, confounding him with her very frank and direct questions and observations. He can't quite decide if she's charming or has a screw loose, but he's enjoying figuring it out.

Don's bachelor neighbor David (Niven), who also happens to be the father of Don's ex-girlfriend Cynthia (Dawn Addams), comes to see Don and before the evening is over he's proposing to Patty, which makes Don jealous. And then Patty's protective Irish cop father (Tom Tully) arrives...

There's a whole lot more to the story, which takes place in the span of just 24 hours, and it's all quite fun. Holden is so charming it's completely believable that a sweet young girl he picks up would agree to accompany him to his place, and towards the end of the film Niven works himself up to a couple of laugh-out-loud funny moments.

Although at times I felt she would wear me out trying to keep up with her character's chattiness, McNamara keeps you watching, and it ends up being completely believable that Holden would fall for her. Despite her Oscar nomination, McNamara had a surprisingly sparse screen career; her other best-known film is probably THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN (1954). She died in 1978. A couple of years ago Kristen wrote about McNamara at her blog Journeys in Classic Film as part of the "Gone Too Soon" blogathon.

An odd bit of trivia: Preminger also filmed a German version of this story, DIE JUNGFRAU AUF DEM DACH (1953). The stars of that film are the couple who want to use the Empire State Building telescope William Holden is monopolizing in the last scene of THE MOON IS BLUE. Holden and McNamara returned the favor in the German film.

The Oscar-nominated title song was written by Herschel Burke Gilbert and Danny Kaye's wife, Sylvia Fine -- an interesting coincidence since I also watched Kaye's THE KID FROM BROOKLYN (1946) today.

The Warner Archive DVD is a typically nice print showing off the black and white cinematography by Ernest Laszlo. The disc includes the trailer.

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 at the Warner Archive website.

Around the Blogosphere This Week

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

...Coming this month from the Warner Archive: a remastered DVD of Nicholas Ray's THE LUSTY MEN (1952), starring Robert Mitchum, Susan Hayward, and Arthur Kennedy. The initial copies will be pressed, rather than burned, "in anticipation of high consumer demand."

...Yesterday was the anniversary of Mel Torme's birth on September 13, 1925. Scott Johnson has a great tribute at Power Line. As I've mentioned before, Mel was a great classic film fan and was in the audience a couple times when I saw movies as a kid, including at the Filmex Film Festival in Century City.

...For anyone who may have missed the news in my preview of December on Turner Classic Movies, there's a new book out in late December, CHARLES WALTERS: THE DIRECTOR WHO MADE HOLLYWOOD DANCE by Brent Phillips. Can hardly wait to get my hands on this one!

...Next month's Jack Webb Blogathon hosted by Toby at The Hannibal 8 is taking shape! Click on over and sign up. :)

...Nora shares 26 favorites in Pre-Code A to Z. A terrific pre-Code primer.

...Requiem for the iPod.

...Royalty Watch: The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are expecting their second child. Prince George turned one in July.

...Every single episode of GILMORE GIRLS will be available for streaming on Netflix beginning October 1st. Here's a list of 18 key episodes. This eminently quotable GILMORE GIRLS is one of our most-used DVD sets.

...Reese Witherspoon has a Peggy Lee bio in the works.

...Leonard Maltin's daughter Jessie offers video thanks for everyone who has shared what her dad's MOVIE GUIDE has meant as it ceases publication after 45 years. The Classic Movie Guide continues with an edition next year!

...This book has an interesting topic, as my parents and grandparents all lived in Long Beach in the '40s: FIGHTING FEAR: LONG BEACH, CA, IN THE 1940S. It's by Claudine Burnett, via the self-publisher AuthorHouse. Visit the author's website for more information.

...The USC School of Cinematic Arts is hosting an exhibition of photos taken by actor Dennis Hopper from September 2nd through November 26th.

...Vanessa Hudgens (HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL) is due to star in a new Broadway production of GIGI, which will play the Kennedy Center next January and February before moving on to New York.

...At the Classic Film & TV Cafe Rick writes on "7 Obscure Movies That I Curiously Remember," including Jock Mahoney in JOE DAKOTA (1957), which has been recommended to me by others.

...A home once owned by Ginger Rogers and Lew Ayres is for sale. It's fun to see the photos, although the current "mod" decor in that setting is, shall we say, very unfortunate.

...The Ohio State Marching Band has a fun field show devoted to TV themes. I was clueless on the newer TV shows but loved the clever tributes to old favorites.

...The Hallmark Channel's Countdown to Christmas starts this year on November 1st, plus there's a preview on Halloween. The dozen new Christmas movies airing on the channel this year include stars such as Jane Seymour, Robert Wagner, Jill St. John, Teri Polo, and Candace Cameron Bure.

...Glenn Erickson reviews the new Warner Archive Blu-ray of THE GREAT RACE (1965) starring Tony Curtis, Natalie Wood, and Jack Lemmon.

...Alicia Mayer, a friend to all in the online classic film community, will be hosting a new online radio show, Hollywood Time Machine, which debuted yesterday. It can be heard live on Saturdays or later via streaming. Alicia is the great-niece of Louis B. Mayer. The first show has a guest co-host, our friend Will McKinley. Guests include Victoria Wilson, author of the recent biography of Barbara Stanwyck, and Susan King of the L.A. Times.

Have a great week!

Tonight's Movie: The Kid From Brooklyn (1946) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

THE KID FROM BROOKLYN (1946) is another colorful musical comedy which is part of the Warner Archive's wonderful set Danny Kaye: The Goldwyn Years. This four-film set is part of the Archive's Samuel Goldwyn Classics series.

THE KID FROM BROOKLYN is a remake of one of Harold Lloyd's sound-era comedies, THE MILKY WAY (1936). I've never seen the original and have pulled my Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection Vol. 1 set with the intent of watching THE MILKY WAY soon.

One of the fun things about THE KID FROM BROOKLYN is that Lionel Stander repeats his original 1936 role as the trainer, Spider Schultz. Another connection with THE MILKY WAY is that THE KID FROM BROOKLYN director Norman Z. McLeod had done uncredited work on the original film.

Danny Kaye plays Burleigh Sullivan, a milquetoast milkman who through a series of unusual incidents becomes a boxing champion. Virginia Mayo plays Burleigh's sweetheart Polly, met when he needs a phone in the middle of the night to call a vet for his beloved milk wagon horse.

Vera-Ellen plays Burleigh's sister Susie, and a young, very handsome Steve Cochran has a rare comedic role as Speed McFarlane, a middleweight champion who's sweet on Susie.

The cast also includes Walter Abel as Burleigh's manager, Eve Arden as Abel's wisecracking girlfriend, Fay Bainter as a matron who sponsors a charity fight, and, in the final scenes, Jerome Cowan as the ring announcer. Clarence Kolb owns the milk company. Bess Flowers sighting: Look for Hollywood's best-known extra ringside at the first fight.

I had previously seen this film only once, as a child, and I think I liked it even more than the previously reviewed UP IN ARMS (1944) and WONDER MAN (1945). The cast is simply fantastic, and there's plenty of room for everyone to shine, whether it's Abel convincing Kaye to fight near the end, Cochran being knocked out by Kaye's horse, or Bainter taking fighting tips from Kaye. There's some dazzling dancing from Vera-Ellen, and Virginia Mayo is gorgeous performing "You're the Cause of It All" (dubbed by Betty Russell). Kaye's comic routines were also toned down a little and didn't take as much screen time, which I think made for a better movie overall.

The color is absolutely stunning, and every aspect of this film combined for a most enjoyable afternoon of movie watching. I watched much of this film with a smile on my face.

THE KID FROM BROOKLYN runs 113 minutes. The Technicolor cinematography was by the great Gregg Toland.

This Warner Archive DVD is an outstanding print. The disc includes the trailer.

Coming soon: A review of the final film in the set, A SONG IS BORN (1948).

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 at the Warner Archive website. Please note that the initial sets of this series sold at the Warner Archive site are traditionally replicated (pressed) rather than burned on demand.

Today at Disney California Adventure: Meet Oswald the Lucky Rabbit!

There was a nice-sized line waiting on Buena Vista Street early this morning for the first-ever appearance of Oswald the Lucky least during regular business hours. Oswald recently made a brief appearance at an Annual Passholder event.

Many in the crowd were wearing Oswald shirts or ears, and when he appeared an enthusiastic cheer went up.

Disney was well prepared to handle the crowds and had two to three people manning the cameras, snapping pics on cell phones and personal cameras along with the official PhotoPass photos. They also allowed each guest to snap quick solo shots of Oswald.

There was obviously quite a bit of interest in seeing Oswald today, and hopefully that will continue in the weeks to come.

For those who aren't yet familiar with Oswald, he was a pre-Mickey Mouse creation of Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks, but Disney lost the rights when he left Universal Studios, after which he created Mickey Mouse.

Decades went by and Disney finally regained the rights to Oswald in a unique trade for sportscaster Al Michaels in 2006. Oswald's Gas Station was part of the brand-new Buena Vista Street which opened in 2012, and now two years later Oswald himself has arrived at the park.

To learn more about Oswald, I recommend the 2007 Disney Treasures DVD set The Adventures of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. It includes a featurette, "Oswald Comes Home," and a 1999 documentary on Disney colleague Ub Iwerks.

We had a short but very successful trip this morning, enjoying breakfast at Flo's, walking right on Radiator Springs Racers via the single rider line, and using a FastPass to quickly get on Grizzly River Rapids. We left after that, as Anaheim could reach 104 degrees this afternoon!

Earlier this weekend: Today at Disneyland: Halloween Time 2014.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Today at Disneyland: Halloween Time 2014

September 12th marked the start of this year's Halloween Time festivities at Disneyland.

Unlike last year, there was no Friday the 13th kickoff event, which kept the crowds manageable, although the park was still quite busy due to both Halloween Time and Dapper Day; the park was filled with hundreds of people dressed to the nines, many wearing vintage styles.

Since we don't really get weather "seasons" in Southern California -- it's mid September and we're heading into a week of temps over 100 degrees! -- it's nice to experience seasonal changes at Disneyland.

The Ray Bradbury Halloween Tree has returned to Frontierland again this year:

Dia de los Muertos at Zocalo Park in Frontierland:

Space Mountain once again has the Ghost Galaxy overlay:

New holiday popcorn bucket and travel mug:

The submarine lagoon has been refilled and will reopen soon!

It's wonderful seeing that part of the park come back to life. Now if only they would do something to wake up Tomorrowland, which is a rather sad-looking area of the park the last few years.

We enjoyed Fantasmic for the first time in a couple of years!

As my daughter remarked, this was "Fantastic Lite"; no dragon, no Flotsam and Jetsam, and with the Mark Twain in drydock, Disney characters came out on Tom Sawyer Island for the grand finale, which is decidedly less impressive than the Mark Twain suddenly floating into view.

We also enjoyed the Remember fireworks show. It's hard to believe that show is nearly a decade old.

We had a nice moment after the fireworks when my daughter, who had come straight from work in Hollywood with no time to eat, tried to buy a pretzel. The Fantasyland location had just closed, but the Cast Member surprised her and handed her two free pretzels he still had on hand, saying "Magic Moment!"

It's going to be an unusually hot weekend in Southern California, but we may try to head out to Disney California Adventure for a bit on Sunday to take a look at Oswald the Lucky Rabbit's triumphant arrival as a character who will be greeting guests on Buena Vista Street. I'm delighted that this historic early Walt Disney creation will now be part of the park.

Update: Today at Disney California Adventure - Meet Oswald the Lucky Rabbit!

Previous Halloween Time Posts and Photos: September 29, 2006, September 30, 2006, October 21, 2006, September 28, 2007, October 12, 2007, October 17, 2008, October 9, 2009, October 15, 2010, plus the 2011 Annual Passholder Private Party (October 17, 2011); October 21, 2012, September 13, 2013, and October 18, 2013.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Play Girl (1941)

PLAY GIRL (1941) is an enjoyable 75-minute RKO "B" movie with Kay Francis as a beautiful gold digger.

Francis, whose career was on the downhill slope in the '40s, remains great fun to watch, and she gamely takes on the role of Grace, a woman used to luring wealthy men who don't want to marry; after having pretended she believes the man has proposed, she then hits him up for a settlement to avoid a breach of promise suit.

Grace realizes she's getting too old to keep attracting rich men so she takes on a pretty young protege, Ellen (Mildred Coles), and teaches her the ropes. Their first mark is William Vincent (Nigel Bruce), a bachelor from Chicago.

Grace and Ellen successfully extract $50,000 from Vincent, but Ellen doesn't enjoy it and is much more interested in Tom (James Ellison), a young cowboy. (Ten years later Ellison was still playing young cowboys, as seen last week in OKLAHOMA JUSTICE.) When Ellen learns Tom is actually quite wealthy, she breaks off their relationship because she doesn't want him to be Grace's latest moneybags or to learn her own background and think she doesn't love him. Grace then decides maybe she'll land Tom herself...

This is a quick-moving little movie which is quite entertaining. There are a couple momentarily distasteful scenes, with Ellen "leading on" a man old enough to be her father, but they are offset by the very humorous later scenes in which two of Grace's "victims" find themselves at her mercy all over again, ruefully writing her checks.

The movie is also lifted by Grace's final scenes with Tom's mother, played by the always-wonderful Katharine Alexander. She meets Grace and gently mentions that Grace is two years older than she is! The women end up becoming friends and everything works out quite nicely, though it would have been even better to see the romantic storylines tied up onscreen rather than off.

In an era when actresses could be sensitive about their age, it's nice to see an actress like Francis so enthusiastically embrace a story with the premise that she's heading over the proverbial hill. Of course, she looks like a million bucks anyway, so that might have made it a bit easier!

PLAY GIRL was directed by Frank Woodruff from a story and screenplay by Jerome Cady. It was shot by Nicholas Musuraca (OUT OF THE PAST) so it looks good!

Margaret Hamilton has a fun role as Grace's loyal maid.

Part of what attracted me to purchase this Warner Archive DVD, along with the presence of Kay Francis, was the beautiful cover art! I think it's one of their best covers ever.

There are no extras on the disc. It's a very nice print.

PLAY GIRL may also turn up on Turner Classic Movies.

Quick Preview of TCM in December

Many thanks to Ivan for the tip that TCM has released its online December schedule!

Cary Grant is the December Star of the Month. It will be great having so many wonderful films with Grant playing on TCM during the holiday season. Over 40 Grant films will be shown Monday evenings in December.

If my records are correct, this will be Grant's third time as Star of the Month; he was also the SOTM in 1997 and 2004.

As much as I love Cary Grant, I'm even more excited about December's Friday Night Spotlight, which will be, in essence, a master class on the career of the wonderful MGM director Charles Walters.

The Spotlight series will coincide with the publication of CHARLES WALTERS: THE DIRECTOR WHO MADE HOLLYWOOD DANCE by Brent Phillips so I suspect we will be seeing Phillips on TCM in December.

As I wrote a few years ago, I had the chance to meet Chuck Walters when my parents attended a class he taught at USC not long before his passing. He was a wonderful man and very kind to me and my family. I had the chance to spend an evening sitting and chatting with him and listening to his stories; as an MGM musical fan I was in heaven.

The films directed by Chuck Walters which will be shown on Friday evenings in December include treasures such as GOOD NEWS (1947), EASTER PARADE (1948), SUMMER STOCK (1950), LILI (1953), THE GLASS SLIPPER (1955), THE TENDER TRAP (1955), and many more.

As always, December features many Christmas films. Robert Osborne's Christmas Eve picks this year include several Christmas movies plus the Columbia musical COVER GIRL (1944) with Gene Kelly and Rita Hayworth.

New Year's Eve features documentaries on rock musicians, which won't tempt me away from our family's New Year's Eve tradition of watching a disaster movie -- this year's top candidate is ROLLERCOASTER (1977) -- but BRIGHTON ROCK (1951) with Richard Attenborough is showing earlier in the day and I'm happy about that!

December also features multi-film tributes to Joan Crawford, Warren William, Rhonda Fleming, Ingmar Bergman, Otto Preminger, King Vidor, Errol Flynn, Thomas Mitchell, Edward G. Robinson, Ruth Roman, and Henry Fonda.

I'll have more detailed information on the December schedule, including a post on Christmas movies airing in December, around December 1st.

Janet Leigh is the October Star of the Month, with a "Silent Stars" theme following in November.