What’s on TCM: November 2014

Clara Bow in It

Happy November, everyone! October was a great month with all of those horror movies and I’m sorry to see Halloween season drawing to a close, but TCM has some amazing stuff planned for November.

First and foremost, I am so excited for the Star of the Month spotlight on silent film stars. Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd, Swanson, Brooks, Bow, Gish, Pickford, Fairbanks, so many of the greatest stars of the silent film era can be seen this month. Between this and the 24-hours marathons of pre-codes on Fridays a couple of months ago, TCM has been right up my alley lately.

For November’s Friday Night Spotlight, they’ll be showcasing movies about road trips and there are a lot of excellent ones on the schedule.

Without further ado, let’s get to the schedule:

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It’s Back!

30 Days of Pre-Codes 2014

Returning for a fifth year is my annual 30 Days of Pre-Codes post-a-day marathon! However, this year will be a little bit different from past years. In the past, I’ve always done straightforward reviews of the movies. But after all these years, I’ve reached a point where my list of pre-codes I haven’t written about (and that I have access to) was looking really lackluster. Since I don’t want to spend a month writing reviews that are basically just, “Meh, it was OK,” and I don’t think you want to read that either, I’ve decided to take a new approach.

This year, I’ll be looking at some of my favorite pre-codes; the ones I’d say are essential pre-codes. Many (but not all) of the movies I’ll be writing about are ones I’ve written about before, but I’m not going to just be re-posting old content. It will be new content that focuses more on what makes these movies so definitively pre-code and why I consider them to be essentials. I hesitate to call it a countdown because my posts will only have a vague order to them, but I will say that the whole month will gradually be building up to the most scandalous ones of the bunch.

So get ready for yet another wild ride of innuendo, grit, gangsters, and chorus girls because every movie I’ll be writing about in November offers something that had the censors seriously clutching their pearls.

 

Universal Classic Monsters: The Essentials Blu-Ray Collection

Universal Classic Monsters: The Essentials Blu-Ray Collection

Artwork for the US version

Simply put, if you love watching classic horror films around Halloween, you’re going to want the Universal Classic Monsters: The Essentials Blu-ray set in your collection. You really do get some of the best of the best horror movies Universal Studios has to offer: Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, Phantom of the Opera (1943), Creature from the Black Lagoon. For me, I thought of it as getting an instant Halloween movie collection because it has a so many of my annual must-see Halloween favorites. Only one movie in this set is new-to-me, The Phantom of the Opera (1943), but for the others, getting this set was like getting to see them for the first time all over again. The picture quality is consistently beautiful throughout the set; these movies look like they could have been released yesterday. I have never seen these movies look this good before.

Each disc is also rich with bonus features. If you have the standard DVD versions of these movies, many of the bonus features will be familiar to you, but I don’t mind that since the bonus features are still great. Each movie comes with a featurette with historians and other film authorities discussing the film. I’ve been enjoying watching these featurettes almost as much as I’ve been enjoying watching the movies themselves. If you have a 3-D TV and Blu-ray player, you’re in luck because the Creature from the Black Lagoon disc includes the 3-D version of the movie as a bonus feature.

It’s been a long time since I had this much fun with a Blu-ray or DVD set. Pretty much the only way this collection could have been better is if it had the 1925 version of Phantom of the Opera instead of the 1943 version. But I am still so thrilled with the collection that I can forgive that. If you’re interested in ordering it for yourself, my one big recommendation is to buy the UK import version instead of the US version. The UK version comes with the exact same movies as the US one, has the exact same extra content, and it’s region free so it will work in US players. The only differences are the packaging and the price. With the US version, the discs are packaged in a book style where the discs slide in and out of cardboard pages. But in the UK version, the discs are housed in a more typical DVD style, which I personally prefer over the book style. But you know what the best part is? The UK version is considerably cheaper than the US version. The UK version is available on amazon.co.uk or on the Amazon US store, but at the time of writing this post, it’s about $20 cheaper to order it through the Amazon UK store.

Universal Classic Monsters: The Essentials Blu-Ray Collection UK Import

The UK Import version.

Rita Moreno and West Side Story at the Redford Theatre

Rita Moreno West Side Story

The Redford Theater in Detroit has a great history of rolling out the red carpet whenever a movie star visits the theater. In the past, I’ve attended unforgettable VIP events when Tippi Hedren and Karolyn Grimes were there and I’ve seen how they rolled out the red carpet for Pam Grier and Shirley Jones for screenings of Foxy Brown and The Music Man. When Rita Moreno came to town over the weekend for screenings of West Side Story, the reception was exactly what I have come to expect from the Redford.

Before the movie on Saturday night, I had the honor of attending a VIP event with about 200 other fans where we were treated to desserts and a special discussion and Q&A session with Rita Moreno.  To be in the same room as Rita Moreno is an electrifying experience. At 82, Moreno remains incredibly vibrant, hilarious, and so full of energy that you can’t help but pick a little bit of it. As I was standing in line for dessert, I was standing just inches away from her and I saw multiple people come up to her in awe of how amazing she looks. She must have heard it a few more times after that because when she came out on stage, she came out jokingly asking, “I look good?”

If you ever have the chance to listen to Rita Moreno talk about her life and career, you really need to listen to what she has to say.  She’s a remarkable storyteller and has so many insights about what it was like to be an immigrant and to be a Hispanic performer in show business. Early in her career, the only roles open to her were horrifyingly stereotypical roles as Native and Hispanic women; all roles she despises. She very un-affectionately refers to those as her “dusty maiden” roles and denounced them harmful, degrading, and humiliating. Over the years, she’s heard the suggestion that she simply should have done something else if she didn’t like the stereotyped roles she was being offered, to which she explained that she didn’t have anywhere else to go. When she was cast in Singin’ in the Rain, she had hoped that would open doors for her to get away from the stereotypical roles, but unfortunately, it did not. She later spent years in psychoanalysis, due in no small part to years of having those offensive images forced upon her.

When it came to talking about people she worked with, she really didn’t hold back. Of West Side Story director and choreographer Jerome Robbins, she described him as a man with a lot of self-loathing issues, which seemed to channel their way into the way he worked with people. But she also called him a genius and said that she wishes he was still alive so she could work with him again. Rita worked with James Garner on The Rockford Files and also had the distinction of being his screen partner for his first ever screen test. According to her, the screen test was a complete disaster for both of them. They were asked to do a scene Grace Kelly and William Holden had done together, so Rita was stuck wearing an awful wig and make-up that she said made her eyes look red and her teeth look yellow. As for Garner, she called him, “A beautiful man and a crappy actor…at first.” She explained that he needed to find his niche and that scene was definitely not it. Once he found his stride, though, he was wonderful and the two remained friends for a long time.

She also spoke with great fondness of her time working on The Electric Company and her appearance on The Muppet Show. She encouraged us all to look up her performance of “Fever” with Animal playing drums:

For the movie, it was a packed house; very close to sold out. The crowd was absolutely crazy for Rita, it was hard to get anywhere near her. As a special treat, before the movie started again after intermission, we were treated to an appearance by dancers from the Casali School of Dance, who did a performance of the song “America” while Rita watched from the audience. The dancers were amazing and Rita was so gracious. When she got on stage to take a picture with them after the performance, she couldn’t resist breaking out a couple of dance steps of her own.

Rita remains a very busy woman. Lately, she’s appeared on the TV Land sitcom Happily Divorced with Fran Drescher, which she said she really misses working on, lent her voice to the movie Rio 2, and just recently finished a movie for the Hallmark Channel. She is now working on a Spanish language album with Emilio Estefan.

Rita Moreno Autographs

What’s on TCM: October 2014

Janet Leigh Psycho

Happy October, everyone! I don’t know about you, but I am so looking forward to watching a whole lot of classic horror movies this month. The idea of coming home after work and spending a chilly Fall evening at home watching something eerie sounds like a quality night to me. And luckily, TCM will definitely be delivering in that department this month. Every Thursday night this month will be all about ghost stories. Some will be perfectly creepy for Halloween, others are more lighthearted ghost stories like Topper. Either way, I’ll definitely be tuning in for those. Other great days for classic horror fans are October 28th, October 30th starting at 8:00 PM, and of course, October 31.

Janet Leigh will be TCM’s Star of the Month, so we’ll have the chance to see the ultimate slasher film, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, on October 29th at 8:00 PM. Janet Leigh’s films will be shown every Wednesday night this month.

October’s Friday Night Spotlight series will highlight movies set in Africa.

One night that is definitely not to be missed is October 6th. Starting at 8:00 PM, TCM will be showing 28 shorts from animation pioneers Windsor McCay, Bray Studios, and Van Beuren Studios. These are true landmarks of animation, the vast majority of which have never been shown on TCM before. And where else are you going to have the chance to see Gertie the Dinosaur in prime time? This is going to be a real treat.

Now, let’s get on to the rest of the schedule!

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Joan of Paris (1942)

Joan of Paris PosterWhen five RAF pilots are shot down over Nazi-occupied France, the pilots, led by Paul Lavallier (Paul Henreid), head to a bar to steal some civilian clothing so they can blend in until they can find a way out. They’re found by a German soldier, but they knock him out, take his wallet, and decide to split up and meet again at a cathedral in Paris. Before they can get away, more German soldiers arrive and start shooting at the pilots, hitting the pilot nicknamed Baby (Alan Ladd) in the shoulder. When word about the German soldier gets back to Gestapo leader Herr Funk (Laird Cregar), he puts the word out for shopkeepers to be on the watch for the stolen money, which was marked with a distinctive stamp.

Father Antoine (Thomas Mitchell) is an old friend of Paul’s and he’s the father at the cathedral where the pilots are meeting. Paul gets Father Antoine to help him hide the pilots and make contact with British intelligence. At Father Antoine’s suggestion, the pilots hide in the sewers while Paul, who suspects he’s being followed, goes into a nearby cafe to get away. There, he accidentally tears barmaid Joan’s (Michèle Morgan) dress sleeve and sneaks upstairs to hide from his pursuer. Unbeknownst to him, he sneaks into Joan’s room and when she comes in to change her dress, he overhears her praying for a new dress. Paul comes out of hiding to offer Joan the money he stole and tells her to buy a new dress and asks her to deliver a message to Father Antoine.

Joan buys the dress as Paul told her to, but the stamp on the money gets the attention of the shopkeeper. When Paul goes to see Father Antoine, he’s followed and arrested by the Gestapo. He’s brought to Herr Funk and talks his way out of it, but Funk only pretends to buy his story in hopes Paul will lead him to the other pilots. When Paul gets the name of an important British intelligence contact, he needs Joan’s help to get the information he needs to escape and get the pilots to safety. While working together, Joan and Paul fall in love and Joan is willing to risk anything for the sake of helping Paul.

What a way to end this year’s installment of Blogging Under the Stars! The whole point of doing this event every year is to get myself to watch movies I’ve never seen before and hopefully discover some great stuff I might have otherwise overlooked. Joan of Paris is exactly the type of movie I spent this month wanting to find. I loved everything about it. A wonderfully romantic story full of non-stop intrigue and suspense; phenomenal direction by Robert Stevenson; beautifully lit and designed sets. Paul Henreid and Michèle Morgan both gave great performances; Morgan in particular seemed so perfectly understated. Definitely keep an eye out for this one, it doesn’t get nearly as much recognition as it should.

The Dolly Sisters (1945)

The Dolly Sisters 1945

As little girls, twin sisters Jenny (Betty Grable) and Rosie Dolly(June Haver) immigrate to America with their uncle Latsie (S.Z. Sakall). They arrive in New York and are a  hit dancing for diners in a restaurant. Years later, they’re still dancing in that restaurant, but decide to go into vaudeville to help Latsie with a debt he owes. On the train to their first job, they meet Harry Fox (John Payne), who leads them into believing he’s a big star and is left in an awkward position when he arrives at the theater and finds himself being billed beneath a seal and the Dolly Sisters. It isn’t long before Harry and Jenny fall in love.

Harry and the Dolly Sisters go their separate ways, but Jenny and Harry promise to wait for each other. When they cross paths with Harry again, he helps them get the attention of Oscar Hammerstein, who launches their career. While the Dolly Sisters’ career is on fire, Harry’s isn’t doing as well and struggles with the fact that Jenny is so much more successful than him. They’re on the verge of ending their relationship when one of his songs catches the attention of a big publisher and Jenny decides to retire to marry Harry.

Jenny’s retirement is short lived, as just before Harry’s first show is set to open, he enlists in the Army and is sent overseas. Jenny and Rosie take the stage again and are a smash hit in Paris and London. Jenny still loves Harry, but when he sees a picture in a magazine of her talking to Tony, the Duke of Breck (Reginald Gardiner), he becomes extremely jealous and demands she come back to America with him. Jenny is forced to choose between Harry and Rosie, as she and Rosie already have a contract to perform in Paris again. She ultimately chooses Rosie and her career, but her divorce from Harry absolutely devastates her.

A depressed Jenny turns to gambling and Tony to ease her pain, while Rosie falls in love with Irving Netcher (Frank Latimore). Tony wants to marry Jenny, but she refuses to leave her sister until she overhears Rosie telling Irving she won’t marry him and leave Jenny all alone. Reluctantly, she agrees to marry Tony, but as they’re on their way to get married, they get into a car accident, disfiguring Jenny. After some plastic surgery, Jenny and Rosie hit the stage together one more time as part of an all-star benefit show, where she’s reunited with Harry.

The Dolly Sisters were a real sister act who got their start in vaudeville and rose to starring in shows produced by Florenz Ziegfeld. Like most biopics, The Dolly Sisters is pretty highly fictionalized. First of all, Jenny and Dolly are played by Betty Grable and June Haver, two blondes. The real Dolly Sisters were not blonde. The movie shows them as being devoted to being a sister act, but in reality, the Dolly Sisters did attempt to have careers separate from each other. The real Rosie Dolly also did not wait until her sister was on the verge of her second marriage to get married herself; she and Jenny each married their first husbands fairly close in time to each other. The Dolly Sisters also suggest that Jenny was the only one notorious for her gambling, but in reality, they both were.

Despite The Dolly Sisters creative liberties with reality, it’s still a pretty enjoyable movie. Betty Grable and June Haver are extremely believable as sisters. The only movies where I’ve seen more convincing looking twins are in cases when an actor is doing a dual role. The Dolly Sisters is full of extravagant musical numbers, which I have a such a weakness for (except for the musical number involving blackface.) The story is full of melodrama and soapiness, but it’s entertaining and when I watch Betty Grable movies, that’s exactly what I’m looking for — pure entertainment.