Tag Archives: classic film

TCM Cruise Report #3: What We Saw Tuesday & Wednesday

29 Oct

We’re at that point in our old movie watching lives, The Wife and I, that I’m pretty sure there were no movies on the TCM Cruise Screening list I’m about the put forward that we hadn’t seen. It had been many years ago for some, and others had been patchwork viewings and not start-to-finish affairs (one quite intentionally, but I’ll get to that in a bit). They’re none of them exactly dug from the cellars of obscurity, so I won’t get all review-y with them, but I’d like to note some impressions of seeing them on a big screen for in most cases the first time.

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir

A little introduction from Ben beforehand about Bernard Hermann’s love of this score and Ben’s his great-uncle’s lovely weird spectral romance included a list of as many movies with “ghost” in the title that he could come up with and his observation that they were all either comedy or horror and this was the only romance he could think of. (I was tempted to ask “What about Ghost?” but I’m not that much of a jerk.)

My word, the cinematography, though. This immediately becomes a film I always thought was nice and all, but became incredibly moving when all the details were available to my eye.

And that’s going to be the thread here – so many of these I had seen so many times, but a large, clear, full-screen viewing on snappy Disney ship sound systems makes them into new movies entirely. Louisville had a revival house in my college days, but the Vogue died around ‘98 (the marquee is still there because it’s all cute and Deco and there ought to be a law that if you won’t leave the cinema standing you do NOT get to keep the marquee for “architectural color,” bastard landlords of the world. But I digress).

For example, a couple of hours before TG&MM, we saw

House of Wax in 3D

which, aside from its insane paddleball sequence (by Reggie Rymal, who had a career of his own, thank you, as is evident around 4:20 here:


features some lovely depth work of the Viewmaster school during all the time can-can girls aren’t in your lap. I will say I was surprised the line “You never saw a show like this in Provincetown” didn’t get a bigger laugh, but to each his own.

After a day in Bahamian hammocks at Castaway Cay, the next evening brought a prime example of what I’m talking about.

The Palm Beach Story

isn’t even my favorite Sturges, but it seems to be going through a new period of appreciation (there’s a Criterion on the way) and it was, if I may risk spraining my Caps Lock key, MAGNIFICENT with an audience and a proper screen size. Tiny, tiny things like Mary Astor’s shifts of eye focus from one part of Captain McGlue to another or the visible shards of pince nez on Rudy Vallee’s face got laughs of their own. And the rhythm of any comedy from this era makes more sense with multiple viewers instead of lonely, lonely movie geeks at home rather wishing they were more effective evangelists.

(That one was preceded by a fun little Bruce Goldstein montage of some of the wildly varied character actor faces from the Sturges stable and beyond. Nice to be in an audience where Frank McHugh gets some applause recognition.)

The next one I’ve seen several times on the big screen, and

Rear Window

has been spoken of plenty, but I will note that recent news about some remodeling at Disney Hollywood Studios made us riff for a while on what a TCM/Disney partnership would look like there: some college students dressed as giant plastic-headed Bob & Ben; Illeana is already there on the Aerosmith ride, but she’d have a more prominent role as real estate guide on the Mr. Blandings (wild) ride (Melvyn’s narration would be worked in, too) . Clearly our plans also involved a life size replica of the view out Jeff’s rear window. Though I’m sure the people who own the rights to the Chipmunks would find a way to fight Disney on that. (Geek joke.)

rear windowWe split, The Wife and I, for a while because she cannot be restrained from Errol Flynn, and while I love to see a buckle well swashed, simultaneous to The Sea Hawk was the reason I was excited about this cruise in the first place,

Elmer Gantry

which I haven’t seen in years but which I fell in love with at 13 or 14. Weird kid. It holds up well, and while I remember it looking more, shall we say, 1960s, the production design at proper scale was lovely – the textures of Lancaster’s seedy salesman wardrobe and those of the rural congregations were downright distracting, as were the wallpapers, the general hues and, of course, Shirley Jones. But Lulu was always distracting. Maybe I wasn’t such a weird kid.

That’s plenty, isn’t it? Well, we had three more days of this mishegoss, two of them entirely at sea with no port to distract from the matter at hand. More tomorrow.

TCM Cruise Report #2: The People

29 Oct

20141024_000158389_iOSNow, this is probably true of any such gathering, but it occurred to me at some point on this little jaunt about the seas that the TCM Cruise is rather like a university filled with people who are fancy honor students in their respective high schools.

Among your friends, on your pub quiz team, for your family who still calls you asking what that one guy’s name was, the one with the hair, you know, the one your mother doesn’t like, among these people you are a one-person IMDB for all their recommendation and 2am argument-solving needs. But once aboard…well, let’s just say that every pub quiz team on the Eastern seaboard would’ve been doomed had anything happened to this ship.

Fortunately, this was an atmosphere not of competition but of glee. Everyone there was just so happy not to be the one weirdo who wanted to have a conversation about William Castle or Buster Keaton or whichever or both that a bunch of people of wildly varying ages and levels of social comfort seemed able to chatter away without much concern. We weren’t boring each other the way we do the rest of you, is what I’m saying. We were like ugly towel ducklings who in each other’s presence blossomed into beautiful towel swans.


(Sometimes with towel elephants on our backs for some reason that may have involved unwillingness to undo the towel origami.)

The very first couple we ran into, sitting at lunch on day one (Bill & Michael, Sarasota, early 60s?) were friendly enough at first, probably thought us younger even than we are, but at some point our mutual copious knowledge of the life and work of Esther Williams became clear. Suddenly we were in. “Oh, so you know movies,” one of them said, as if perhaps one runs into casual flik-watchers on this ship. And the bond was formed. From there we could get down to specifics – that scene in that movie filmed on that Thursday afternoon, etc. No one to impress and no one playing catch up. It was time to spend a week watching these things and talking about them, their history, their influence, our love.

And God forbid one of us should run into Shirley Jones in the atrium.

(As far as that goes, we didn’t have much luck with the Fancy Old Movie Star guests. We’re too polite; if Shirley or Dreyfuss showed up in a hallway or sat in a bar they were accosted by a coot swarm, or sometimes one Little Old Lady with the aggressive force of a coot swarm on her own. And into the woodwork we’d fade. Fortunately, The Wife encountered Ann Blyth long enough to tell her her Ann Blyth Story of being compared to her by a college professor while she studied musical theatre, something she still holds as a high compliment. Ann seemed to think that was lovely as well. There were cheek-pressing hugs. Yes, the cheek that Joan Crawford slapped.)


It was also a pleasure to meet, however briefly,  a couple of TCM Party frequenters, Scott McGee and Illeana Douglas. Nice to finally put faces with their names. I KID!

We were even lucky enough to have great dinner companions, two couples in our generational ballpark (there were plenty, of course, but it was nice of whatever powers handle such things to lump us together) with a general liberality and quiet appreciation of a good drink. Not to mention the couples and individuals we ran into regularly at screenings.

(The only source of mild social tension I noticed on board was our sudden realization that because of the aforementioned Little Old Ladies, we were never ever going to be able to take an elevator. But it’s a cruise. I kept saying that to myself. Over. And over.)

Good people, is what I’m saying. The part one worries about on such an excursion was no worry at all.

More to come.

TCM Cruise Report #1: Surprises & the Dreyfuss/Douglass Debates

28 Oct

First, a note about this Slight Return:

I haven’t added to this blog for months – solid workload with a Shakespeare festival throughout the spring and summer was tremendous, lovely, sweaty, and made me very happy. But there was no time for writing random thoughts about old movies. Scarcely time to watch them.

But The Wife and I also spent the bulk of that time anxiously anticipating the TCM Cruise. In that special way only two Virgos can: checking and rechecking packing lists, schedules, schedules and packing lists, pretending that new information is being added when we know in our hearts it’s just an excuse to gleefully obsess.

So we did that. Then we went on the cruise. On which I shall now report in a couple of manageable-sized posts.

I don’t know how long this will last. Life is busy and part of that busyness involves writing other stuff, which often keeps me from writing this stuff. Plus, it’s Christmas gift knitting season. Priorities.

The TCM Cruise Overview:

We loved it.


Rather than a dull chronology, I’ll try to bounce from highlight to highlight. This post will be on one minor and one major surprise.

MINOR – the screening of Mildred Pierce involved, as screenings of Mildred Pierce often do, Jack Carson. I don’t care much for Jack Carson. He bugs me. I don’t have to explain this to you. It’s visceral.

Then I saw him on the big screen, on which he has, and there’s no other way I can put this, sclera. Whites in both of his beady little eyes. Apparently that’s where he was hiding his acting. On my TV, he’s got shark eyes. Lifeless eyes, black eyes like a doll’s eye.  But on a full movie screen, he was… pretty good.

And dammit, now I have to reconsider Jack Carson. I DO NOT HAVE THAT KIND OF TIME. *shakes fist* “Carson!!!!”

phffft_9MAJOR – There was onboard tragedy during the cruise with the passing of Frank Mankiewicz, Really Impressive Human Being and father of TCM host Ben Mankiewicz. Ben left the ship at Key West, which I hope didn’t prevent him from finding out about the sizeable and sincere outpourings of sympathy from the screening audiences as they heard the news.

This also made for some serious schedule wiggling behind the scenes, obviously. There was, for example, a “Meet Ben” event slated for Saturday morning (we were fortunate enough to see the Wednesday edition) in which he was to be interviewed by Illeana Douglas. This was replaced by a conversation between Douglas and Richard Dreyfuss on the craft of acting.

What this meant was that over the course of two days, The Wife and I saw Douglas interview Dreyfuss in a general way for an hour, then heard them talk shop for another hour, then heard a solo Dreyfuss’s Q&A after a screening of Jaws.

It was the greatest thing ever.


One of our favorite takeaways was that Dreyfuss has what I will gently describe as a tendency to digress (that’s by no means a dig – the path is curvy but leads to fascinating places) and their mutual enjoyment of each other’s company makes Douglas a dab hand at the dropping of breadcrumbs to remind him how he got there and bringing him back. We enjoyed this because in telling a story in our own lives, I am the wandering Dreyfuss and my wife the jovially restraining Douglas.

Anyway, many tales were told, of hero-to-both Spencer Tracy, of the Adler acting legacy (the Brando meeting), of those moments onstage when the actor is a conductor and the audience an orchestra. Douglas confessed to having used “What Would Dreyfuss Do?” as a fallback acting strategy, finding out that Dreyfuss did the same thing but with Tracy, and therefore there were moments in her career in which she may have been doing Dreyfuss doing Tracy. (Leading the Wife and I to talk later about what ours might be – it’s entirely possible our most common Emergency WW_D? go-tos are Gene Wilder and Madeleine Kahn. Though mine might also be Frank Morgan. Not sure how to feel about that.)

We had a couple of questions – about whether they thought it might be an effective acting strategy for a young actor to do just that, to seek inspiration from actors of the opposite sex, because they’ll be making choices that you won’t be able to/asked to replicate exactly and therefore will give you a more distinctive perspective. Also, why hasn’t Dreyfuss played Theodore Roosevelt in a film about the Amazonian River of Doubt expedition? – but as with all Q&A sessions in the world, the majority of the questions are from well-meaning people who more or less say, “mostly I want to have a private moment with you in public where I tell you you’re great.”

Though there was an attendee who asked him a question about academics studying his work that allowed for a really nice moment about self-confidence, depression and perseverance that was worth ten of the “that was great; you’re great” questions. And after this Dreyfuss spent the Jaws Q&A trying to encourage the audience’s impulses to dig deep. Some did. Some didn’t. Admirable effort at any rate.

It wasn’t supposed to happen, but that whole conversation about craft was one of the accidental highlights of the cruise and the sort of thing I hope TCM is encouraged to include on the slate next time. The audience got less anecdote and more nuts-and-bolts, but seemed to enjoy it just as much. Or perhaps I project.


TO COME: Tales of My Wife Trying Not to Weep on Ann Blyth; Social Encounters with Fellow Travelers; Why We Totally Skipped Key West to Watch Even More Movies; and more!

DVR Alert – Essentials, Jr.: The Pirate (1948) tonight

23 Jun

The Pirate (airing on TCM tonight at 8:00 p.m. as part of Bill Hader’s always well- curated “Essentials, Jr.”) is one of my wife’s favorite movies. It flopped when it came out (that wasn’t her fault, of course – she missed that by a couple of decades), and is still a love-or-hate to many.

pirate-1948-04-gI enjoy it, myself (The Nicholas Brothers alone make it an easy sell for me), but my wife experienced this at the right time of childhood to make it one of those Beloveds. She will also defend it with vehemence against all those who denounce its silliness as the wrong kind. The quotes that follow are hers.

“I think they were doing something stylistically that not many other musicals of the period were doing, creating a melodramatic, swashbuckly land that includes poses that don’t exist in the standard musical.”

“The scene where Kelly & Garland are looking out over the ocean – the scene with the big white hat…the insane banter, THAT is what they’re trying to do stylistically with the whole movie…they’re Lunt-and-Fontanneing. Sublime Ridiculousness.”

(Big But Full is a common phrase the two of us use in talk about comic (or any stylized) performance – there’s a lot of that around our house. It’s not all me. )

“This was the first thing I saw Walter Slezak in.” (I interrupt her here to ask, “What young girl doesn’t remember her first Walter Slezak movie?” That fact alone tells you everything you need about her and our marriage.)  “I’m always confused when I see him in other things that are not this…I like his voice. It was also where I was introduced to the idea of Pirates-As-Businessmen.” (Did I mention the thing with her and pirates? It long predates the arr-yelling trends of the last decade. I’m guessing it goes back to this movie.)

Her one complaint: “Be a Clown.” “THAT’S the end?” After the melodrama-romance-parody of the rest of the movie, ending on this (admittedly well-executed) number feels weird, like it was meant for another place on the storyboard and was tacked on the end later. As it turns out, it was indeed a result of the usual executive compromise.

kelly serafinI pointedly avoided asking her about Gene Kelly’s remarkably revelatory-of-thigh dream outfit . Most of her other talking points get fuzzy when we get up to that one, so it’s important to make her save it for last or pass it by altogether if possible, which it isn’t. But I reserve the right to edit that out.

Bells Are Ringing (1960) & more Judy Holliday

19 Jun

Bells Are Ringing (on TCM Friday, June 21 at 10:00 a.m.)  is a sweet little thing, with  Comden/Green book and lyrics, score by Jule Styne, directed by Vincent Minnelli, and featuring Judy Holliday, Dean Martin, the recently-late-always-great Jean Stapleton and Frank Gorshin. (This is all by way of pedigree, not to show off that I read the credits.) It’s fun, it’s Holliday’s last film and it’s worth watching. But that’s not what I want to talk about.

bells are ringingThere really aren’t any telephone operators anymore. I think they’re self explanatory. But it really wasn’t that long ago that the world had answering services. Technically they still exist, but let’s be honest: no one uses them.

As an actor in college we were told (among the other legal and businesslike pyramid schemes we were encouraged to to take advantage of) that getting an answering service in New York City was a must whether one lived there or not. That long-sought-after Veneer of Professionalism you’ve heard talk about would be yours for a low monthly fee.

Now, you pay for the privilege to record your own outgoing message which you check yourself. No chance for an accidental romantic entanglement with the likes of Judy Holliday. Siri does not and will never care about you, pretend though she may.

(Bells Are Ringing is showing as part of a morning of Holliday films including  Adam’s Rib at 6:30 a.m. and Born Yesterday at 8:15 a.m.)

Looking Forward: Holiday (1938)

17 Jun

Holiday 2Holiday (on TCM Wednesday, June 19 at 8:00 p.m.) is of a breed of film that scarcely exists anymore: comedies full of characters that are intelligent and erudite yet still well-rounded weirdos about whom you care deeply. This is one of them.

I have fond memories of Holiday, but I must admit I haven’t seen it in about twenty years. So I’m just going to look forward to this right along with you.

See you back here after.

The Awful Truth (1937) & My Favorite Wife (1940)

17 Jun

my favorite wife 33I’ll have a lot more to say about Irene Dunne very soon as part of the Funny Lady Blogathon at the end of this month, so in lieu of detail let’s just say I’ll be re-watching that glorious Louisvillian in two of her finest comic performances, both of which are conveniently airing on TCM this week: The Awful Truth at 2:30 p.m. on June 17 and My Favorite Wife at noon on June 23. They’re both splendid, they both also feature Cary Grant, and they’ll both figure into my look at Dunne’s comic oeuvre on or about June 29. They’re both fine examples of screwballery and not to be missed.

Scaramouche (1952) and a note

15 Jun

(Travel and business will make my posts shorter this week. I know, I know, neither of you can live without this, but alas, there’s nothing to be done.)

scaramoucheScaramouche (on TCM Monday, June 17 at 8:00 p.m.) is based on, I say without shame, one of my favorite novels. I don’t claim it’s the best of all time; just one of my favorites. And while the necessities of running time mean this adaptation cuts out at least a third of the book’s events (the silent version covers more, but I still crave a nice six-hour BBC version, I admit), it still captures the excessive swashbucklery of Sabatini so nicely in all its Technicolor grandeur. Nina Foch as Marie Antoinette, for gods’ sakes.

I recommend this without reservations. Enjoy!

The Kid (1921)

14 Jun

Chaplin – or I should say a Chaplin film seen through modern eyes – is occasionally a little…you know…gooey with sentiment. Some are guiltier than others, but times change, and anyone who’s ever attempted to deal with the comic parts of Shakespeare can attest, comedy ages in complicated ways. The twentieth century moved faster than most.

Chaplin, Charlie (Kid, TheThe Kid (on TCM Sunday, June 16 at 12:30 am as part of the usual Silent Sundays) could be one of those movies. Should be one of those movies. For crying out loud, a pauper adopts an abandoned child (for whom the child’s suddenly wealthy mother pines) – very much the stuff of Victorian melodrama.

But by golly. It works. Considering the kind of maudlin excesses it would be easy for it to indulge in, it’s plumb restrained. Relatively, of course. But still. Watched in the right spirit, it’s both moving and funny, is in fact one of the few comedies the National Film Registry has seen fit to honor with preservation.


Surprise Looking Backward: A Slight Case of Murder (1938)

11 Jun

slightcaseI am still of the unshakeable opinion that there are too few movies based on the work of Damon Runyon. I see on a list that there are twenty. That is not half enough. But A Slight Case of Murder is a heck of a one. Like Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, but in a legal instead of a racial context.

These little flicks are not just for fun, you know. They provide an education. Here is an example:

Mrs. Marco (Ruth Donnelly) upbraids her husband’s employees when they do not talk genteel-like. One of them keeps saying “O.K.” Which is still, along with words like “job” and “kidding,”  low-end slang circa 1938.

Which is why it still grinds my gears when people (especially of the high-end sort) say “O.K.” in more recent period scripts and novels. The thing is called “research,” writer-types. Do some.

I know, I know; no one else is bothered by this. But as I say, it still grinds my gears.

PS – I was reassured to find that Margaret Hamilton’s character name is spelled “Cagle.” I am not equipped to think of her as “Mrs. Kegel.”

edward-brophy-02A Sonnet for Edward Brophy


Your squeaky voice spoke fluent Comic Foils

For gangsters’ pals, wisecracking bubble-bursters –

In Cover Girl your line “I don’t think poils

[spoken by Joe the barkeep] come from ersters,”

Still looms large in my brain’s repository

Of great words said by history’s great men,

And incomplete for me is any story

Without your shining pate and double chin.

Slugs, Lefty, Torso, Rollo, Joe Morelli

(Leave us neglect not  Timothy Q. Mouse)

Were made well-rounded roles by your round belly.

He who agrees not is a dirty louse.

Thank goodness Buster dragged you out of props

That you could give us years of yeggs and cops.

I thank you.