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DVR Alert: Keaton, Chaplin & Lloyd on TCM primetime 9/9

9 Sep

chaplin-portadaIn conjunction with the second episode of The Story of Film: an Odyssey,  TCM has loaded it’s schedule 8:00 p.m. into the wee hours with much of the best of the Holy Silent Clown Trinity, beginning with Keaton (One Week, Three Ages & The General), then Chaplin (City Lights & The Kid) and winding up with Lloyd (Never Weaken & Safety Last!).

I hope this bodes well for the loss of the sense of dour gravity that the first episode emphasized. While striving to maintain my Thumper’s Father policy, I have to say that there was an overall sense of debunking rather than one of enlightening. Even when the information is the same, the attitude makes a difference.

And more importantly, I hope we’ll spend some time appreciating Comedy Itself this week. This sort of thing generally leans into glorifying the Epic/Emotional more than the serious business of laughter.

Birthday and Sherlock, Jr. (1924)

5 Sep

And what does one do when one is me, it was one’s birthday, and one had the morning free until about 3:00 p.m.?

After some quality time with the morning’s musical instrument of choice, it turns out one watches the Kino blu-ray of Sherlock, Jr., once without the commentary and once with.

I can’t decide which image felt more like Forty Years Old to me – this one:

Keaton. Sherlock Jr. bike sit frontor this one:

sherlock-jr-5…but it’s in there somewhere.

These discs are just beautiful, and I’ve been digesting them slowly as I’ve had the time. I hesitate to write a whole megillah about Sherlock, Jr. because we’ll be visiting the nephews, 11 and 13, later this month and they’ve decided independently (in a proud avuncular moment) that they really want to see some movies that feature some combination of the following: detectives; murder; black & white, in particular The Maltese Falcon.

Now clearly something comic has to be in there somewhere, so I’m bringing A Shot in the Dark (which, based on the success of The Great Race should do nicely) and this one (which, based on the success of The General and various shorts, should do even better).

(For the record, later in the evening, the Torchy Blaneity continued with The Adventurous Blonde. I would have watched Playtime, the movie that reminds me how glorious it is to be alive, but there were dinner plans, and it is better to be with people. It was a happy birthday.)

Off to roll the bottoms of my trousers.


1 Sep

It seems that my previous post was my hundredth. This is a week of milestones-I-don’t-really-recognize-as-milestones.

I mean, “Huzzah! For I have stumblingly typed out one full hundred posts which may or may not have been read in their entirety by a handful of people! Peel back the foil on that 1952 Moët & Chandon, and throw your glasses against the hearth!”


Quickie: Hopscotch (1980)

24 Aug

hopscotch posterClearing off the DVR and watching Hopscotch, a thirty-three-year-old movie, this afternoon, I was struck by the confusing lack of remake.

I’m no lover of remakes. Ninety percent of the time I’d rather a new writer got a chance with a new idea.

But – and I don’t know if you’ve noticed this – the news is plumb stuffed with government secrets being leaked out by all kinds of technological (and non-) means. Stuffed.

If you watch/read the stations/sites I do, sympathy is generally with the leakers. And, while I will summarily ignore any and all discussion of this in the comments, I tend to agree.

And then we have Miles Kendig, the charming classical-music-loving ex-CIA operative who blows a massive and loud whistle the old fashioned pre-Internet way: by publishing it internationally.

The odd thing about a modern remake in light of the recent stink about the NSA’s web peekery is that the best way to accomplish the same thing now would be just like then: type it on a typewriter and mail the hard copy to secret locations people would have to go and find. All of which is a) more securely secure and b) a hell of a lot more interesting to watch than any scene involving people looking at screens.

Anyway. Mark my words. It’s coming. Hopscotch with Will Ferrell. Enjoy.

hopscotch beattyPS – this is also a lovely Ned Beatty role. Beatty and I share a hometown in which he is, to my way of thinking, insufficiently acknowledged. I wrote the following song for the main theater company I work with in Louisville. Enjoy…

Miss me?

13 Aug

Well, The Pirates of Penzance is open, and as such I am no longer directing but simply have to show up every night, sing pirate songs, and occasionally threaten a major general or a ward in Chancery. Piece of Jaffa cake.

And now that I have time again, I anxiously await throwing as much of it as possible away on the consideration of those old movies I haven’t seen and the reconsideration of those I have, as well as the blogging about said films for the benefit of my own thought processes and that of the three people who occasionally see this nonsense.


DVR Alert: The Spanish Main (1945)

9 Jul

The Spanish Main is a seafaring, swashbuckling classic being shown late late Tuesday, July 9 (at 4:15 a.m.) as part of TCM’s monthlong Paul Henreid celebration. And I celebrate him. Really, I do.

But I celebrate Maureen O’Hara more.


For reasons that I do not feel the need to explain.

Also, Pirates. Which usually means Walter Slezak. And in this case Binnie Barnes as the one and only Anne Bonney!

This one is really a lot of fun – by the 1950s, the swashbucklers were, with a few exceptions, starting to fray at the cuffs, but at this point, they were still pretty lush. And I don’t just mean because of Maureen O’Hara. There are ships and costumes and battles. But, yes, also because of Maureen O’Hara.

For example, compare this one to 1953’s The Siren of Baghdad next week (Tuesday, July 16 at 10:15 p.m.). With the exception of Henreid’s charm and of course, OF COURSE, Hans Conreid as Ben Ali, it’s a little shady. Still fun, yes, but not nearly as much. Maybe if you replaced the dancing slave girls with Maureen o’Hara.

Quickie: The Devil Doll (1936)

7 Jul

Look, if you’ve never seen Tod Browning’s The Devil Doll (airing on TCM Sunday, July 7 at 9:30 p.m.), I have a few choice phrases for you:


Lionel Barrymore in old-lady drag. For most of the movie;


Raphaela Ottiano’s line about making them “smaallll;”

devildoll1Lionel Barrymore in old-lady drag. For most of the movie;

devildoll3Fascinating shrunken-people effects (part of the evening’s programming theme).

Do it. You owe it to yourself. The Devil Doll.

Thrill of a Romance (1945), and Esther Williams

7 Jun

thrill1 estherI have fond memories (though it’s possible they’re semi-fever-based) of being home sick from middle school and watching Thrill of a Romance (which is on TCM late Thursday, June 13, part of a last minute 24 hour Esther-a-thon tribute that begins at 8:00 p.m.).

It was on AMC in the days when its name made sense and there were no commercials, only Bob Dorian (this was pre-Clooney). It’s not the best Esther Williams vehicle – in the sense that there’s precious little water in it, and no Neptune’s Daughter/Million Dollar Mermaid inherent swim-necessity – but you don’t choose the puppy by looking at it’s charts; you just make eye contact with the right one at the right time.

Thrill of a Romance, I’ll remind you (because they’re easy to jumble, except maybe Fiesta), is the one where war hero Van Johnson falls in love with Williams, who has just married this businessman who leaves yet hasn’t even managed to consummate said marriage – one of the least plausible elements in the history of her films, and that’s saying something. “I just married Esther Fah-reaking (it’s a family name) Williams, but actually I’m very busy.”

Also, the surreal elements of Lauritz Melchior, the singing bellboy,Tommy Dorsey, Helene Stanley (later a Disney princess live-action model in the 50s), et alia all meeting up for some reason at a resort (not by the sea – Esther is stuck in a tiny pool) sell it for me in the great tradition of studio system throw-it-at-the-wall vehicles. All that’s missing is Jose Iturbi. These are cultural documents, people!

1944_bathing-beauty_esther-williams-and-carlos-ramc3adrez_1_f30s-3Late last night, after our work was done, The Wife and I put in the Bathing Beauty DVD and talked about something. Within the first couple of minutes, Carlos Ramirez is singing “Magic is the Moonlight” as all up in her face as he can get considering she’s clearly a head taller, and while she was no grand actress, as she was the first to admit (I add here without shame that hers is one of few movie star memoirs I’ve read; Million Dollar Mermaid is fun, honest and incredibly trashy. We Highly Recommend), her silent responses as he sings are very different than the typical being-sung-at starlet’s: she looks not blandly model-smiley but really legitimately annoyed. “I’m trying to get to the diving board, dude, and I don’t want to get this complicated cape I’m wearing wet – If you could just –come on! I don’t even speak Spanish! What are you even singing?” Then, as she finally ascends the ladder to the board, he starts going for his money notes and she gives in at least enough to be appreciative – “Alright, that’s impressive, and kind of sweet. Thank you. Really, I have to dive now, but thank you.”

It’s a little moment in a little film, but it’s illustrative of her whole career – she was never Ethel Barrymore, but she was never dishonest. Which is a lot. Swim on, Esther.

thrill2 esther

Quickie: Mask of Dimitrios & Background to Danger

3 Jun

dimitriosThe Mask of Dimitrios and Background to Danger (on TCM late Tuesday, June 4 at 2:15 a.m. and 4:00 a.m., respectively) are not particularly well-known but are a great deal of fun if you enjoy a) convoluted WWII-era espionage and b) the glory that is the Peter Lorre/Sydney Greenstreet teamup. (George Raft is a comically wooden miscast mess in  Background, but even that’s entertaining if you know it’s coming.) In Dimitrios, the two of them aren’t even oily! It can happen! Sad that they never got their own detective duo series. Next to Powell & Loy, I can’t imagine anyone I’d rather see indulge in wry murder investigations. But it was never to be.

Anyway. These are fun.

Quickie: Modern Times/The Great Dictator

2 Jun

I won’t recapitulate my feelings on the Chaplin/Keaton/Lloyd schisms beyond saying again that I love ‘em all.

I do think Lloyd made the most effective transition to talkies, though few mention his post-silent work (Movie Crazy, anyone?), but Chaplin got out of that argument altogether by not really doing it for a dozen or so years. (Yes, a few words are spoken in Modern Times, but it’s really a silent film.) And this option – which none but one with the popularity of a Chaplin could get by with – allowed him to mature in a form everyone else abandoned. Even The Great Dictator is silent in much of its logic, and its language use spends almost as much time on gibberish and double talk than English.

My way of saying that Modern Times is just a lovely thing, one of those films full of images people who haven’t seen it don’t even know they know.


Ditto The Great Dictator.


I’m going to remind my sister to tape these (Modern Times is on TCM Monday June 3 at 6:00 a.m., Dictator at 11:15 a.m.) for the nieces. The four-year-old’s response to The Gold Rush was surprising and vehement and she’s become a Charlie fan. While these two are trickier to comprehend, she doesn’t seem to care.

Nor should anyone. Both have aged superbly (Dictator surprisingly so – I’d even argue that its oft-derided final speech plays better now) and if you’ve missed them somehow, they’re must-sees.