Spending Time With Turner Classic Movies: A CAROL FOR ANOTHER CHRISTMAS (1964)

Hard to believe that there are only eight days until Christmas.  This year has been much more hectic than last year, when I was able to watch several Christmas themed movies by this point, what with the holiday hosting/planning, gift buying and wrapping, Santa picture taking, decorating, etc.  That being said, I still am intending on watching at least a few more Christmas movies if I can manage it.  But here at last is my first Christmas film of the season and it really struck me.


Daniel Grudge (Sterling Hayden) is spending his Christmas Eve as he always does, alone and in the dark.  He is interrupted by the arrival of his nephew, Fred (Ben Gazzara), who is angry at his uncle for stopping an international exchange of professors from the United States and Poland.  Grudge tells Fred to stop being such a bleeding-heart and begins to extoll the virtues of isolation and neutrality.  Grudge not only wants to stay out of all conflicts and keep on his own “side of the fence”, but he also wants to build up armor, defenses, and bombs in order to make sure that the rest of the world knows that the United States can not only destroy them but they can do it faster and better than anyone else.  Fred is horrified at this speech and calls Grudge on what he believes is the true reason for his uncle’s bitterness.  It was on this very night in 1944 that Grudge’s son Marley was killed in action overseas.

Grudge freely admits that he is still angry over the loss of his son and wonders why Fred would still want to be involved with other people and other countries after seeing what that involvement got Marley.  Fred just shakes his head and takes his leave.  With his nephew gone, Grudge begins to see flashes of his dead son and hear music playing in his long empty room.  When he opens the door to investigate, he finds himself on the deck of a transport ship.  A soldier approaches him and introduces himself as The Ghost of Christmas Past (Steve Lawrence).  The vessel is a World War I troopship returning with the bodies of the many dead, not all from the United States but all sons of mothers and fathers.  The Ghost of Christmas Past will share with Grudge the need for international powers to “keep talking” because “when the talking stops the fighting starts”.  Grudge remains unconvinced until the Ghost of Christmas Past takes him back to the day where he visited a makeshift hospital in Japan, after the bomb fell.


Moving on, Grudge is confronted by The Ghost of Christmas Present (Pat Hingle) and a table covered in food.  The Ghost beckons him over and offers him some of the bounty, before flicking a switch and illuminating a barbed wire fence nearby.  On the other side of the fence are numerous “displaced people”, each homeless and hungry, huddling together for warmth.  Grudge is sickened by this and demands to know how the Ghost can eat with all these hungry people nearby.  In response the Ghost asks Grudge how HE can eat, as there are always hungry and homeless people in the world needing help even if you can’t see them.  He begins to give Grudge statistics and numbers of just how many people in the world are homeless, sick, and needy.  Before too long, Grudge can take no more and rushes away.


He comes into a ruined town square, surrounded by rubble and destruction.  It is here that he finds the Ghost of Christmas Future.  The Ghost tells Grudge that he is in his own hometown at some date in the future.  Some time before nations stopped talking to each other and others began dropping out of the United Nations.  Before too long information became clouded and suspicions rose, leading to the dropping of several nuclear bombs.  What remains now are the few members of humanity who survived.  While Grudge and the Ghost watch these people gather into the center of the rubble and celebrate the entrance of their leader, the Imperial Me (Peter Sellers).  These people value selfishness and isolation, and the Imperial Me has come forth to declare war on the other surviving members of humanity “over yonder and across the river” who want to band together against their common problems.  Grudge is already highly disturbed by what he sees until a man comes forward he recognizes.  This is Grudge’s butler Charles (Percy Rodrigues) and he has decided to speak to try and convince the mob to have dignity, decency, and respect once again.


A CAROL FOR ANOTHER CHRISTMAS was written by Rod Serling at a time when the world seemed to be at its worst.  The threat of nuclear destruction felt ever present and the recent assassination of President John F. Kennedy hung over the nation.  Shot at the Michael Myerberg Studios in New York City, A CAROL FOR ANOTHER CHRISTMAS was to air as part of a series supporting the United Nations.  Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, this special aired on December 28, 1964 and not again for forty-eight years when TCM showed it in 2012.

Many people have said that while A CAROL FOR ANOTHER CHRISTMAS is a must-see film, it is too much a product of its time and must be viewed in that historical context.  I could not disagree more.  A CAROL FOR ANOTHER CHRISTMAS is just as important and relevant to the state of the world today as it was in 1964.  We still live in an age where nuclear war is a real and terrible possibility.  We still live in a world where we are confronted by the senseless deaths of sons and daughters in fights that we don’t always agree with.  We still live in a world where people want to close out those who don’t match up with their own sensibilities.  Especially in light of recent events in Syria, in Paris, in California, in the race for the Presidential Nomination, this television special from 1964 is not only important but it is needed.  Watching it in 2015 I could not help but feel that these important issues being raised in 1964 were still in dire need of being talked about.

A CAROL FOR ANOTHER CHRISTMAS should be a part of everyone’s holiday viewing no matter where you live, no matter what part of the world you are in, no matter what religion you practice.  While it is based on A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, it is not just a Christmas story…it is a call for peace and goodwill for all men.  We still live in a world where we need to encourage ourselves, our neighbors, and our leaders to “keep talking”.  I am so grateful that TCM pulled this film from obscurity an brought it back into the public eye.  But since there are many people in the world who do not get TCM and because there is no DVD copy available, though I sincerely hope that someone will put one out soon (hint hint TCM), here is a copy that I found on YouTube.  Please take some time out this holiday and watch it.  I think that you will find it just as startling and relevant as I did.


Spending Time With Turner Classic Movies: THE WIND (1928)

THE WIND is one of those films that I am always meaning to watch but somehow never do.  I see previews for it or spot an upcoming showing on TCM and make a mental note to watch it…and then I don’t.  So when The Essentials was showing THE WIND earlier this month I made sure to DVR it and then WATCH it!

Spoiler Warning!  This will be an overview of the film and while the ending will NOT be revealed some major plot points will be.  If you don’t want to know stop reading and go watch THE WIND, then come back and read!

A young woman, recently impoverished, makes her way by train west from Virginia to meet her cousin.  The young woman, named Letty (Lillian Gish), is traveling to live in Sweet Water with her cousin Beverly (Edward Earle).  While onboard the train she meets a charming cattle rancher called Wirt Roddy (Montagu Love) who tells her tales of women being driven mad by the constant and wild winds in the area.  Letty pretends to be unfazed by Roddy’s strange way of flirting but the battering gusts and clouds of dust just outside her window make it difficult to completely ignore his words.  Once the train arrives in Sweet Water, Letty is met by two men claiming to have been sent my Beverly to retrieve her.  The younger man is named Lige Hightower (Lars Hanson) while the older is called Sourdough (William Orlamond), and they are Beverly’s nearest neighbors living about fifteen miles outside of Sweet Water.  Put off by the less than refined manners of these two men, Letty turns back to Roddy who assures her that he will return soon to check in on her.

As the trio sets out the two men fight like schoolboys over who will sit next to the pretty newcomer.  Letty, as a Southern belle, is less than enthused by this and she is becoming more and more disturbed by the wind.  Lars assures her that this wind is nothing compared to a “norther” which can tear men apart and send wild horses into a frenzy.  Not surprisingly, this does not help Letty’s nerves and neither does the appearance of Sweet Water Ranch.  Her cousin Beverly is thrilled to see her and welcome her into the little shack he calls home.  His wife Cora (Dorothy Cumming) on the other hand is less than pleased, especially when she notices the particular shine Beverly takes to the pretty young thing.  Cora spends her days caring for the children and doing much of the work around the ranch as Beverly is not in the best of health.  During dinner the men continue to fawn over Letty, much to Cora’s dismay, and Letty continues to be unnerved by the wind.

Frontier life is nothing like Letty has ever experienced before and she is not well prepared for it. She tries her hand at ironing for the family and develops her first set of blisters.  Cora is not sympathetic as she is too busy gutting a cow in the living room.  Cora can hardly contain her hurt and anger as she watches her own children and husband flock to Letty with open arms, while ignoring or rejecting her altogether.  Some time later the town holds a dance and while Cora is busy caring for the entire town’s children, Letty is having a grand time as the belle of the ball.  She slips away from Lige and Sourdough, who are continuing their adolescent pursuit of her, when she spots a familiar face.  Roddy has returned as promised and he sweeps Letty onto the dance floor.

Lige and Sourdough meanwhile, have found Cora and have each declared to her their intentions to ask Letty to marry them.  Unsurprisingly Cora is all for this plan.  Roddy is wooing Letty, declaring that he came back just for her, when the warning comes that a tornado has been spotted.  Roddy and Letty take shelter below with Cora, the children, and other members of the town, while Lige and Sourdough stay above to brace the doors and windows.  Pressed together, Roddy tells Letty that she must come away with him because he loves her.  Letty hesitates and Roddy advises her to think it over as he will be in town until the next day.  At this point the threat of the tornado has passed and the party continues on.  Roddy takes his leave, and this is the moment that Sourdough and Lige decide to pop the question to Letty.  Unfortunately for them both, Letty cannot believe that they are serious and just laughs at them.  Besides, Letty has the love of a cultured man like Roddy so why would she ever marry a rough person like Lige or Sourdough?  When she shares the joke with Cora, she learns that Cora doesn’t see it as funny.  She warns Letty that she had better decide which man she will marry because she is no longer welcome at Sweet Water.  She knows that something is going on between Letty and Beverly, and she will not let her destroy their family.  Beverly overhears this and tries to come to his cousin’s defense but is brought down by a racking cough.  Cora rushes to her husband’s side and as the two embrace, Letty decides that she must fend for herself.  She tells Cora not to worry, she knows where she can go.

Unfortunately, Roddy is not quite the stand up guy she thought he was.  Turns out he actually has a wife so he won’t be marrying Letty any time soon, but if she would like to become is mistress…  Letty leaves in disgust and is now forced to tell Cora that her plans have fallen through,  Cora stops short of just leaving Letty in town but does tell her that since she has two men who want to marry her, she had better pick one and quick as she will not be spending one more night at Sweet Water Ranch.

Letty and Lige are quickly married and return to his bachelor home, which he happens to share with Sourdough.  The place is quite a mess and the wind blows great piles of dust into the home.  Lige tries to make Letty feel welcome by offering her a cup of coffee, which she secretively disposes of in the wash basin, and the two share some awkward conversation and even more awkward first kisses as man and wife.  Lige leaves to give Letty some privacy and as soon as she is alone, Letty’s demeanor crumbles and her nerves leave her.  The wind is driving her up the wall and she is terrified at the prospect of a wedding night with a man she doesn’t love.  Lige is pacing in the next room, unsure of how to react to his new wife’s strange and distant behavior.  He finally can take no more and returns to Letty, this time trying more forcefully to stir the desires of his new wife.  This pushes Letty too far and she tells Lige that while she didn’t want to at first, she now hates him.  Lige realizes that Letty did not marry him to be his wife, to work with him, live with him, and love him, but that she married him simply because she had no where else to go.  Lige promises Letty that he will never touch her again and as soon as he has enough money saved he will send her away from the wind, the ranch, and from him.

Lige and Letty live their lives in quiet separation.  Lige has changed and his formerly boyish advances are replaced by a quiet and stoic man, who cares for Letty as well as any husband ever could while never attempting to make any advances on her.  Faced with this new treatment from Lige, Letty begins to soften in her earlier aloofness and starts to see Lige with in a new light.  Having been scorned by Roddy, she is touched by a man who treats her with honesty and respect, and one who honors his word.

Speaking of Roddy…  One day while Letty waits for Lige to return from one of his mustang round ups, the other men come to the home.  They have found an injured man and while Letty is at first fearful that it is Lige who has been hurt, her fear turns to horror when she discovers that it is in fact, Roddy who will now be staying with her and Lige while he recovers.  Roddy spends his recovery time begging Letty to come back to Virginia with him, once again playing on her fears of the wind.  During one such session, Lige returns just as Roddy appears to be making a move on Letty.  Letty is so relieved that she runs to her husband and throws her arms around him.  Lige is surprised by this affection but does not return it.  He tells Roddy that all the men are gathering to take part in a mustang roundup and that includes formerly injured ones.  Roddy heads out as does Lige, but Letty stops him and begs him not to go.  Lige tells her he has to, as this is the only way he can get enough money to send Letty away.  Then, perhaps emboldened by her display earlier, he takes his chance and kisses her as he has not done since that fateful night.  This time Letty does not push him away and as Lige rides off into the wind Letty runs out onto the porch yelling him name, but he does not hear her.

Letty returns to the house where she is tormented by thoughts of Roddy, Lige, and the wind.  The entire house begins to shake and her terror grows.  Little does she know that Roddy has turned back and is heading right for her with plans of his own.

When you mention THE WIND most people will have some thoughts about the ending.  Now, I am not going to get into the discussion about whether or not the frequently related story that there was an original “sad” ending is true or not.  If you want to read some of the different arguments and theories regarding this view I will include some links below, just in case you want to learn more.  What I would like to talk about is whether or not the ending to THE WIND could still be considered a positive and almost feminist one.

Without revealing the major plot points of the ending, I would say that the ending as it stands now not only makes sense in terms of the story that has been created up to that point, but it also is an ending that is quite powerful for the character of Letty.  Up until the end Letty has mostly been driven by her circumstances.  She has come to Sweet Water because she has no money, she  leaves the ranch and her cousin because Cora wants her out, she marries Lige because she has no where else to go, she becomes involved with Roddy because he is offering to save her from the frontier life.  She constantly fears being left alone with the wind and the dust.  But at the very end she begins to do things not because she is afraid or has no choice, but because she wants to.  She takes matters into her own hands at last and finally conquers her fear of the world around her.  For his part Lige does a remarkable thing and simply accepts Letty’s actions and thoughts without questioning them or her.  He never accuses her, or disbelieves her, never treats her like a child who doesn’t know her own mind.  He accepts her as a woman and an adult who has done what she did for the right reasons.  In this way, I think that this ending can be looked on as a very powerful one for Letty.  Maybe there is a predisposition to discount the ending of THE WIND as too Hollywood or happy to be worthwhile, but I would tend to disagree.  If the ending is true to the story being told and the characters created then it is just as valid an ending as an artistically virtuous one.

This is my first time seeing Lillian Gish and I was, forgive the pun, blown away.  The things that she could do with just her eyes are remarkable.  She can subtly shift her expressions in ways that portray about twenty-five different emotions in the span of two minutes.  In her hands Letty becomes a spoiled southern belle, an anxious young woman trying to adjust to a harder life, a woman frightened and alone in the world, and a new wife married to a man she neither knows nor loves in such a way as to allow the audience to feel everything she feels and sympathize with her.  She also does all this in just the first thirty minutes of the movie.  Needless to say I will be on the lookout for more Lillian Gish.

Her co-star Lars Hanson also deserves a mention because without his portrayal of Lige, THE WIND would not have the emotional impact that it does.  In order for Letty’s emotional distress and eventual decisions to have any meaning there has to be a reason or an anchor for us to root for her to survive.  Lige starts the film as a goofy and big-hearted country boy but after being rejected by Letty, the woman he had hoped would love him and stand by him in the rough landscape as a wife, he transforms into a quiet and stoic man.  We never feel like Lige stops caring for Letty but rather he respects her enough to stay away from her, something he believes she wants, and work to get her away from Sweet Water and back to where she feels she belongs. He never treats her unkindly and we get to see Lige for the man he truly is, just as Letty does.

The other supporting characters are also well done, with special credit due to Beverly and Cora.  Beverly could have easily been a throw away character, almost a plot device, but in his few short scenes we see a man who is weaker than he wants to be in every way.  Cora could have become a one-dimensional shrewish wife but Dorothy Cummings shows Cora as a woman who has had to become harder and stronger than she wanted to be simply in response to her situation.  We get the sense that at one point she was like Letty, young and delicate, but her marriage to a man of weak constitution (in every sense of the word) has changed her and turned her into the “man of the house”.  When Letty threatens that by stealing the affection of her husband and children, can any of us really blame her for wanting to remove that threat?

If you would like to read more about THE WIND you can find a great write-up here.  If you would like to read about some different theories regarding the “sad” ending you can read them here and here.

Spending Time With Turner Classic Movies: DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1920)

The story of DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE is not a new one to movie-goers.  Among classic film fans there are at least four different versions to choose from.  Frederic March is notable for his pre-code take on the tale while Spencer Tracy starred with a young Ingrid Bergman in the post-code one.  In 1920 two silent versions of the film were made but this version, starring John Barrymore in the role that would push him over into star status, is thought to be the superior of the two.

Dr. Henry Jekyll (John Barrymore) is a young and successful London physician.  He spends most of his time treating the poor of London in his free clinic, while the rest of his day is spent in his laboratory experimenting much to the chagrin of his more conservative friend, Dr. Lanyon (Charles Lane).  He is also a bit of a goody-two shoes, at least according to some of the older physicians.  The lead tempter is Sir George Carew (Brandon Hurst), who also happens to be the father of Jekyll’s sweetheart, Millicent (Martha Mansfield).  One evening over dinner, Sir George expresses his dismay over Jekyll’s purity.  “No man can be so good!” he proclaims but his cronies and Dr. Lanyon assure him that with Jekyll what you see is what you get.

Jekyll enters the dinner at this point, after taking a moment to tenderly greet Millicent, and is met with derision from Sir George.  “You are so good and perfect but aren’t you neglecting your other needs?” he asks.  Jekyll is shocked at this speech and what it implies but like a bachelor party gone wrong the men drag Jekyll off to a dance hall to help him “experience” the parts of life they believe he is missing.  Once there the men are treated to the sight of exotic Italian dancer, Gina (Nita Naldi).  Sir George invites Gina over to their little group for some “quality time” with Jekyll who is initially drawn to Gina but remembers himself just in time.

Some days later Jekyll is still conflicted over the events of the dinner party and wonders aloud to Dr. Lanyon if it wouldn’t be possible for science to devise a way to separate the baser instincts of men from their more noble souls, thus leaving their immortal souls untouched while allowing temptation to have its way with their desires.  Dr. Lanyon is, of course, horrified at this notion and advises Jekyll to forget the idea ever occurred to him.  But of course Jekyll can’t and it isn’t long before he has come up with a potion that will do exactly what he desired.  Jekyll takes the potion one night and is immediately transformed into Mr. Hyde, a man with no soul and unbridled desire.  At this early stage however, Jekyll still has enough control over Mr. Hyde to immediately return to his laboratory and take the serum that will return him to his normal state.  He then tells his servant that his friend, Mr. Hyde will be coming to visit and is to be allowed free reign over the house and laboratory.

Mr. Hyde needs a lair and soon rents a room in the seedier part of London.  Once this base is established he makes a beeline to the dance hall and Gina.  He claims her as his own and takes her back to his room.  After using and abusing her for a time, Mr. Hyde throws her out having taken from her all that he desired, including a ring that holds a dose of poison.  Gina is shattered by her relationship with Hyde and returns to the darkness a much different woman.  Jekyll meanwhile has since become engaged to Millicent but has begun to realize that his darker side is growing more and more powerful.  He is afraid that Millicent may be exposed to his depravity and realizes that he has begun to lose his control over Mr. Hyde.  How long will it be before Dr. Jekyll is powerless to stop Mr. Hyde from committing a terrible crime?

Shown on TCM Silent Sundays as part of their celebration of the macabre, I can definitely say that this film creeped me out at moments.  Several shots of Mr. Hyde leering at the camera as he  moves closer and closer definitely gave me the heebie-jeebies.  There is one moment that I highly recommend that you do not watch with the lights off.  Dr. Jekyll sleeps fitfully as Mr. Hyde in the form of a giant spider climbs onto the bed and disappears inside him.  Super creepy.  The score also gave the film some terrific tension and unease, with the musical accompaniment sometimes discordant and sometimes abruptly stopping and starting again.

John Barrymore really goes to town here.  While I would say that some of the other characters are rather one-dimensional, Sir George is a bit too lecherous and Dr. Lanyon a bit too proper for example, Barrymore goes to town and I think the characters are better for it.  Some have called his performance “broad” and I would agree that there are some really big bite marks in the scenery, I would also argue that this is what makes the whole film work.  DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE is a story of the two extremes of man.  Hyde is the manifestation of pure temptation without any restraint, evil without any soul.  As such, Jekyll must be the model of restraint and control, purity on the edge of piety.  In other words, this is not a story for subtleties.  Yes there are a few laugh worth moments of over the top reactions, the first time he drinks the potion for example, but these just serve to make the movie more fun.  And for all his over the top behavior, Barrymore also has moments of true restraint and remarkable nuance.  In one scene he is transformed back into Jekyll and Barrymore does a wonderful job of portraying relief at being back to normal followed by horror as he remembers what his counterpart has done.  It is also worth noting that the initial transformation of Jekyll into Hyde was done with no makeup or effects.  That was all Barrymore contorting his face and affecting his posture.  If that isn’t impressive then I don’t know what is.

There are many Jekyll and Hyde tales available to the classic film fan but I would say that this one should be on the list of “Must See”.  At a time when so many films are reliant on makeup and special effects to convey characters and plot, it is truly enjoyable to see what happens when a film relies on actor’s skill and story instead.

If you would like an in-depth look at this film, here is another review from Movies Silently.

September 2015 Highlights for Turner Classic Movies

September is here and that means that it’s time for another look at what is coming up on TCM, as well as what I am excited to see!

The Star of the Month is Susan Hayward!  Tune in every Thursday night during September to see such films as The Lusty Men (a personal favorite), Beau Geste, and They Won’t Believe Me.  Every Tuesday in September the TCM Spotlight will be on Five Came Back.  Based on the 2014 book by Mark Harris, who will be serving as co-host, TCM will showcase 47 films demonstrating how WWI changed and impacted five filmmakers who witnessed it first hand.  The films will feature the works of John Huston, William Wyler, Frank Capra, John Ford, and George Stevens, and twenty-seven of the films will be TCM premieres.  I am planning on reading Harris’ book during the month to go along with the programming, so hopefully I will be able to have a review up at some point.  I am very excited for this TCM Spotlight and cannot wait to see the films TCM has in store.

September 4th is all about W.C. Fields and 100 years in Film.  TCM will show four films including It’s A Gift, You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man, and The Bank Dick.  September 7th will celebrate the Telluride Film Festival with twenty-four hours devoted to twelve movies and one special in tribute.  A major director of the French New Wave moment, Jean-Luc Godard will be featured on September 16th with seven films.  James Dean will be the focus on September 25th with eight shows demonstrating his television legacy.  On September 30th the TCM Guest Programmer will be Diahann Carroll, whose picks include Claudine, Glory, and Gilda.

The Essentials will feature Now, Voyager, The Nun’s Story, The Red Shoes, and The Man Who Would Be King.  TCM Underground is showing The Born Losers, It’s Alive, The Mack, and Hausu.  Silent Sunday Nights is back with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (!!!), Kurutta Ippeiji, The Kid Brother, The Mysterious Lady, He Who Gets Slapped, and Laugh, Clown, Laugh.  Finally, TCM Imports will present Hakuchi, The Face of Another, Eyes Without A Face, Amarcord, and The Confession.

Here are some daily themes that look interesting!

September 2nd – George Cukor

September 4th – Hollywood on Hollywood

September 11th – Robert Osborne’s Picks

September 15th – Birthday Tribute to Agatha Christie

September 16th – Divorce Comedies

September 21st – TCM Memorial Tribute: Omar Sharif

September 22nd – Robots

September 23rd –  TCM Birthday Tribute to Walter Pidgeon

September 29th – Irene Dunne

Now here are some films that I am excited to see!  I will highlight the films that I think are must sees!




September 5th –  THEODORA GOES WILD (12PM EST)




September 12th – THE MOUSE THAT ROARED (12PM EST)

September 14th – THE STRAWBERRY BLONDE (2:45PM EST)


September 17th – I’LL CRY TOMORROW (12AM EST), I WANT TO LIVE! (2:15AM EST)



September 24th – BUTTERFIELD 8 (6:15AM EST)


September 28th – WHY BE GOOD? (8PM EST), FIVE AND TEN (12:30AM EST)


It looks like it is going to be a great September on TCM!  For more monthly guide goodness head over to Speakeasy and see what Kristina has in store this month.  Some other great guides come from Angela of The Hollywood Revue, Danny of Pre-Code.com, Cliff from Immortal Ephemera, Laura of Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings, and Lindsey of The Motion Pictures.

Spending Time with Turner Classic Movies: THE SET-UP (1949)

Some time ago I asked for suggestions of films I should watch and post about here.  Among the suggestions was a movie called THE SET-UP starring Robert Ryan, which was recommended to me by Karen of Shadows and Satin.  Well thanks to the Summer Under the Stars my DVR has been working overtime and I am now finally getting a chance to watch some of the films I recorded in the previous months in an effort to make more space!  Which leads me to this post as I finally watched THE SET-UP.

Stoker Thompson (Robert Ryan) is an aging boxer.  At the age of thirty-five he is considered ancient by his sport’s standards.  He is also not a very successful boxer, usually being the one down on the mat rather than standing up and basking in the cheers of the crowd.  Thanks to his reputation pretty much everyone has counted Stoker out.  The older boxers have a fondness for him but for the most part Stoker is a joke to everyone else.  Among those who have little respect for Stoker are his manager Tiny (George Tobias) and his trainer Red (Percy Helton).  So it should come as very little surprise to anyone that Tiny and Red have very little compunction about taking bribes.  They are doing just that on the night of Stoker’s fight against a new boxer.  Apparently the new kid is the personal fighter of  one Little Boy, a gambler with big dreams for his new champion and even bigger threats to back them up.  Little Boy’s man offers Tiny money in exchange for Stoker to take a dive in the second round.  Tiny and Red agree but don’t tell Stoker, figuring he is bound to get beaten anyway, and pocket the money for themselves.

In the hotel across the street from the boxing arena, Stoker and his wife Julie (Audrey Totter) are arguing.  Stoker wants Julie to come and see him fight just like she always has.  But Julie, after dutifully supporting her husband all these years, is tired of watching the man she loves be beaten to a pulp night after night.  She is tired of hearing that he is just “one punch away from the top”.  She tells Stoker that she has a headache and will not be going to the fight.  She begs him to retire from the ring, fearing that the fights will one day kill him.  Stoker is hurt but leaves any way, telling Julie “when you’re a fighter, you fight”.

Backstage at the arena Stoker is surrounded by fighters old and new.  The older fighters chat easily while they prepare, while the new guys are more energetic.  One young kid prepares for his very first fight with a few trips to the bathroom before heading out.  Some fighters win and others lose.  Stoker watches them all, pensive and disturbed by Julie’s words.  He believes that he can beat his opponent, that he can come out on top this time, but he feels Julie’s sadness and concern.  It all becomes too possible when the door to the backroom bursts open and one of Stoker’s buddies, a washed up fighter named Gunboat Johnson, is rushed in in bad shape from a severe pummeling.

Stoker prepares for his fight and looks out the window to the hotel across the street.  Julie begins to head out and at the last minute takes the ticket her husband left her.  Stoker sees the light go out and happily believes his wife is coming to see him fight.  Julie makes her way to the arena but as she enters the door she hears the familiar sounds of the crowd reacting to a man being beaten to within an inch of his life.  She turns and hurries away into the night.  Stoker heads to the ring full of confidence, unaware of what awaits him.  Tiny and Red advise him to hold back and keep away from his opponent but Stoker insists that he is going to beat the newcomer.  Tiny and Red share a look and a smirk as they send Stoker off to meet his fate.

This is one of the first movies to utilize the concept of taking place in real-time.  The film lasts little more than seventy-two minutes and packs quite a bit of action into that short amount of time.  The various clocks shown during the film not only give a sense of the passage of time but they also give a feeling of doom as the countdown closes in on an unsuspecting Stoker.  It is a very similar experience to that of watching HIGH NOON, as the audience knows what is coming for the main character and we can see time slipping away as he tries to prepare.

Watching THE SET-UP I noticed how much of the action and drama actually takes place in the facial expressions, reactions, and unheard thoughts of the characters.  The noises and conversations of the other people often seem to be just so much noise as we try to watch the faces of Stoker, Julie, Tiny, and Red.  Robert Ryan is just fantastic at this, often saying so much with just one look.  He is definitely an actor that I am growing in appreciation of.  He brings a quietness and a stillness to his role, one that gives the viewer the feeling of a man who has been beaten down and made fun of for so long that he has almost started to believe it.  Almost.

THE SET-UP also gives a look at the corruption of the boxing world without being too heavy handed.  Instead of holding Stoker up on the moral high-ground and having Tiny get what should be coming to him, director Robert Wise simply shows the corruption as part of the environment that everyone acknowledges and accepts.  THE SET-UP is a fast, tense, and brutal film about a man surrounded by darkness with no way out except to fight.

Spending Time with Turner Classic Movies: TROUBLE FOR TWO (1936)

There are certain movies that I want to see simply based on the synopsis, and then there are certain movies that I want to see simply based on who is starring in them.  TROUBLE FOR TWO was a film I wanted to see for both reasons.  Rosalind Russell and Robert Montgomery tangling with a suicide club?  How could I say no?

Prince Florizel (Robert Montgomery) of Carovia is bored and unhappy.  He is entertaining himself by having a traveling circus teach him to balance on stilts, but his spirits cannot be raised.  He is set to be married to Princess Brenda of Irania, a woman he hasn’t seen since childhood.  Florizel’s father, the King of Carovia, decides that his son needs a holiday in London in order to clear his head before the wedding.  Florizel goes off under the assumed name of Mr. Theopholus Godall, along with his faithful right hand man Colonel “Gerry” Geraldine (Frank Morgan).

The boat voyage to England starts off quite normally and Florizel is bored again in no time.  But then, several days into the journey, Florizel meets an enchanting and mysterious young woman named Miss Vandeleur (Rosalind Russell).  Miss Vandeleur asks Florizel to hide some papers for her which he agrees to do.  Later Florizel seeks Miss Vandeleur out in her cabin where they are confronted by a shady individual who is searching for the very papers Florizel is hiding.  The would be robber leaves empty handed and Gerry is feeling a little less enthused about Florizel’s vacation from home.  Florizel for his part is having a great time and welcomes the change of pace.

Once the boat docks Florizel goes in search of his new crush but finds that the cabin Miss Vandeleur was occupying were listed as empty on the ship’s log.  What’s more, the papers he was guarding for her were simply blank pieces of paper.  Florizel resigns himself to never knowing the truth about the mysterious woman from the boat.  He and Gerry go off to eat dinner at a local tavern.  While they are enjoying their meal a young man enters with a tray of cream puffs, yes cream puffs.  He offers up his tray of sweets to the tavern as he has no more need of such earthly delights as has decided to end his own life.  Florizel and Gerry are quite shocked, as you might imagine, and invite the young man to eat with them.  While they eat the cream puffs the young man, whose name is Cecil Barnley, relates his story of a misspent youth.  Rather than cause his family more shame by continuing on living, Cecil has resolved to end his life by joining a suicide club and thereby sparing his family’s honor.  The suicide club works in a unique way allowing the members to die but not by their own hand, rather at the hand of another.  Florizel, much to Gerry’s shock, then proposes joining Cecil and becoming a member of the suicide club himself.  Cecil is delighted to have fellow members with him and escorts Florizel and Gerry to the club’s meeting place so they might speak with the club president.  As they leave Gerry demands to know just what Florizel is thinking.  The young prince wants to save Cecil and believes that if he joins the suicide club with him, he might be able to talk him out of going through with it.  Neither Gerry nor Florizel notice Miss Vandeleur eavesdropping in a booth nearby, and neither notice when she follows their carriage to the suicide club.

Once at the club Florizel and Gerry talk to the President of the club (Reginald Owen).  They are allowed to become members, after paying a hefty admission fee and explaining their reasons for wanting to die.  The men begin to mingle with the other club members when the door opens and Miss Vandeleur enters.  Florizel tries to make his way over to speak with her but the President calls the meeting to order.  The members assemble around a table and draw cards from the deck.  Cecil draws the Ace of Spades, which signifies that he will be the victim, while Miss Vandeleur draws the Ace of Clubs, which signifies she will be the executioner.  These two then leave the room to receive their instructions from the club President while the other members return to their homes.  Florizel remains behind, hoping to run into Miss Vandeleur before she leaves but he is stymied once again.  He is not overly concerned however, as he still believes that the suicide club is a big joke.  The joke seems to be on him the next morning when the paper runs the story of Cecil’s death.

Gerry wants to go home but Florizel is determined to find Miss Vandeleur again.  And so it is that the next night the two men return to the suicide club.  Once again the members assemble and draw cards.  Once again Miss Vandaleur draws the card of the executioner, but this time her victim will be…Florizel.  Gerry is horrified as his young master and the woman who might as well be a black widow, are lead off by the club President.  The two are escorted to a waiting carriage and head off to a secluded spot.  Specifically they go off to the zoo, even more specifically they go off to the lion cages.  Florizel attempts to talk to Miss Vandeleur but she isn’t very forthcoming.  Finally he gives up, just as they reach the lions.  Miss Vandeleur then turns to him and begins to unlock the cage door.

I really enjoyed this film, it was such a pleasant surprise.  Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell have such great chemistry together, they make what could have been a pretty bland B-picture come alive with a terrific energy.  I love Robert Montgomery, I would like to throw out an appeal for someone to write a biography about him, and he has such a twinkle in his eye during this film.  His prince never comes off as spoiled or petulant, rather as a lovable rascal who you would really love to get to know.  And you can never go wrong with Frank Morgan, who is terrific as the put upon friend/servant to Robert Montgomery.  Also, this happens:

Rosalind Russell makes any film she is in exponentially better just by being there.  She also has this really excellent quality about her that translates into her characters.  Her women always seem to be up for anything, able to handle just as much as the men, and have fun at the same time.  She and Robert Montgomery pair up so well because they are both irrepressible and irreverent.  Their relationship and chemistry is what takes this film from being blah to being really fun and enjoyable.  I will say that Robert Montgomery is not a terribly impressive swordsman, Errol Flynn he is not, and there are a few clunky moments that made me chuckle at their awkwardness.  But all in all this was a really fun film and a very nice way to spend an afternoon.

Spending Time With Turner Classic Movies: THE CRASH (1932)

This summer has been so chocked full of things to do that I have been remiss about posting about some of the films that I have seen.  I did manage to watch three films from my list (Ten Films for 2015) including MILDRED PIERCE and YANKEE DOODLE DANDY, but I haven’t been able to sit down and blog the way I would like to.  So allow me to remedy that by talking about THE CRASH from 1932, a recommendation from Kristina of Speakeasy.

In the later part of the 1920s, Linda Gault (Ruth Chatterton) uses her feminine charms to help get stock tips for her financier husband, Geoffrey (George Brent).  She carries on affairs with various men of power in the banking world and returns home with insider trading information.  Linda has decided to end her affair with one such banker, John Fair, seeming to grow tired of being used and abused in this way.  However Geoffrey has other plans and begs Linda to charm John once more at a party, hoping for more information about the state of the stock market.  Linda is hurt, feeling betrayed by Geoffrey’s cavalier use of her assets and his lack of concern for her.  Perhaps it is because of this that she is unable to fool John Fair into believing that she is still in love with him.  John refuses to part with any insider secrets but when Geoffrey asks Linda what she has learned she tells him a small lie that will destroy everything.

The market crashes soon after, causing Geoffrey and Linda to loose everything.  Linda has feared this event, having spent her childhood in deep poverty.  Not wishing to live in a manner other than that to which she has become accustomed, Linda convinces Geoffrey to allow her to go to Bermuda with a letter of credit.  She promises to return once Geoffrey regains his former wealth and glory.  This begins to take much longer than either of them expected and Linda becomes bored.  Never one to sit around at home, Linda soon meets Ronnie Sanderson (Paul Cavanagh) an honest-to-God Australian sheep rancher.

Linda and Ronnie begin spending a lot of time together and Ronnie falls in love with Linda.  He often asks her to come away with him but she refuses believing that Australia will be “boring”.  But that all changes when she finds out that Geoffrey has lost everything and her maid has stolen her pearl necklace.  Soon Linda must return to New York and to Geoffrey to not only get her necklace back, but to get a divorce as well.

This was an interesting little film for sure.  Being a pre-code it packs quite a bit into a very short run time and the story definitely moves.  Not too much time is spent building up character background but there is still a good sense of Ruth and Geoffrey’s relationship.  George Brent is quite good as the husband who clearly loves his wife but has no idea how to get the large amounts of money needed to keep her happy, aside from using her to get insider information.  He doesn’t want Ruth to leave him to go to Bermuda, fearing what will become of him once she is gone and not around to help him.  He loves her deeply, and surprisingly even though he has pushed Linda to have affairs in the past he never suspects her of having an affair on her own.

Ruth Chatterton is an interesting combination of fierceness and defeat.  She loves Geoffrey but is tired of using herself to get information.  She feels cheap and worthless being the mistress of so many men with nothing but encouragement from her husband.  The sense I got from her portrayal was that she is so hurt and saddened by Geoffrey’s continued encouragement of her affairs that she decides to lie simply to hurt him and perhaps dissuade him from future encouragement.  She lives her life after that moment in guilt, anger, and fear believing that since she was able to escape poverty once before by using her wiles that she must do so once again to regain what she has lost.

All in all this was an interesting an unique look at the effects of affairs and financial ruin on a marriage.  Thanks to Kristina for the suggestion!

July 2015 Highlights for Turner Classic Movies

As the summer rolls on here is some of what is worth looking into on TCM, as well as what I am excited to see!

The Star of the Month is Shirley Temple and you can catch some of her best films every Monday night.  To celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Technicolor TCM will be showing 25 movies over July 7th and 8th including THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (a personal favorite of mine), THE THIEF OF BAGDAD, GENTLEMAN PREFER BLONDES, and THE LEOPARD.  The Summer of Darkness continues with a total of 68 great film noirs this month which you can catch every Friday.  July 15th will feature six films for the UCLA Archive Tribute and July 30th will honor the AFI Life Achievement Awardee Steve Martin with two films, a special, and an interview.  Joan Collins is the guest programmer for the month and she will introduce her four films on July 22nd which include BOOM TOWN, THE OPPOSITE SEX, and THE WOMEN.  July 28th will feature the documentaries of Les Blank and will show eleven of his films.


Here are some daily themes that look interesting for July!

July 5th – Anti-War Comedies

July 11th – Going Hungary

July 12th – Good Things Come In Small Packages

July 14th – Mail-Order Brides

July 15th – Barbara Stanwyck In The 30’s (!!!!)

July 19th – Frtiz Lang

July 22nd – Spencer Tracy

July 25th – Cold Feet

July 27th – Magicians and Hypnotists

July 29th – TCM Birthday Tribute William Powell

Here are some films that I am looking forward to seeing for the first time!

July 3rd – THE WINDOW (9:45PM EST)

July 7th – DOCTOR X (8:30AM EST)


July 10th – A WOMAN’S SECRET (7:30PM EST)



Clearly I need to just stay home and watch TCM from July 14th-15th…


July 21st – STAR OF MIDNIGHT (1935)


July 25th – PICNIC (6PM EST)

July 29th – ONE WAY PASSAGE (7:15AM EST)


Now a new feature that I am trying out this month!  Here are five picks for films that I strongly suggest you check out!

5.) THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, July 5th at 12PM EST – Simply one of the best films about soldiers returning home from war ever made

4.) THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, July 7th at 8:30AM EST – This film was the first classic film that I remember watching and getting swept away in, a personal favorite

3.) CLASH BY NIGHT, July 24th at 11:15 AM EST – Love this Fritz Lang film, Barbara Stanwyck is amazing

2.) NIGHT NURSE, July 15th at 7:30AM EST – Barbara Stanwyck at her pre-code best in this William Wellman film

1.) BALL OF FIRE, July 12th at 4PM EST – Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper directed by Howard Hawks in this terrific film about a nightclub singer who teaches a bunch of professors about music while hiding out from the law to protect her gangster boyfriend

Can you tell I am excited about all the Barbara Stanwyck on TCM this month?

Be sure to check out Kristina’s monthly guide over at Speakeasy!

Spending Time with Turner Classic Movies: THE TUNNEL (1935)

Lots of things happening around the blog lately.  As I posted previously I am taking part in the Classic Film History Blogathon with not one but TWO entries, as well as the upcoming Beach Party Blogathon.  AND lest we forget I am also taking part in the Summer 2015 Classic Film Reading Challenge…which means that very soon there will be BOOK REVIEWS!  I am still trying to find time to watch other films for the blog, and clear off my DVR in the process, which leads me to THE TUNNEL…

A group of millionaires gathers to take in an evening of music at some unspecified date in the future (there is an illusion to a past event being in the 1940s so it is safe to assume that we are at least in the 1950s) somewhere in England.  They are introduced to brilliant engineer Richard McAllen (Richard Dix) who has come up with a crazy idea.  Having already built “The Channel Tunnel”, McAllen now wants to build a tunnel underneath the ocean to connect America and England.  While he pitches his idea, McAllen’s wife Ruth (Madge Evans) and his best friend Freddie Robbins (Leslie Banks) wait anxiously outside.  Though initially skeptical the millionaires, lead by arms dealer Grellier, finally agree to back the Tunnel Project.

Years pass and the tunnel construction moves head, now improved by the newly invented radium drill.  McAllen is a celebrity but is constantly pulled away from spending any time with Ruth and their growing son Geoffrey.  In fact he cannot even attend Geoffrey’s birthday because he is summoned to New York to take part in a publicity promotion lead by Varlia Lloyd (Helen Vinson), daughter of one of the Tunnel Project backers.  Varlia has been in love with McAllen for years and the photos of the two together plant doubts into Ruth’s mind.  Feeling increasingly isolated and distant from her husband, Ruth decides to join the Tunnel Project as a nurse without letting McAllen know.  While working there she becomes affected by the mysterious tunnel gases and begins to go blind.  Not wanting to be pitied and tired of playing second fiddle to the Tunnel Project, Ruth takes Geoffrey and leaves her husband with no explanation.  Heartbroken at this turn of events, McAllen throws himself into his work and even begins to alienate Robbins.

Still more years pass and the project begins to take its toll both in funds and in lives.  The leaders of America and Great Britain (Walter Huston and George Arliss respectively) continue to promote the project and the peace that they hope it will bring.  McAllen is now just a shell of the man he used to be, Robbins is losing his patience, and Ruth lives in the countryside with Geoffrey who is now trying to get a job in the tunnel alongside his father.   The project is nearing completion when disaster strikes.  While digging the men hit an underground flow of fire and lava, causing the deaths of hundreds.  When the smoke clears and the situation is assessed, it is discovered that they are digging straight towards an underwater volcano.

This film was based on the 1913 novel Der Tunnel by Bernhard Kellermann, which sold 100,000 copies in its first six months of publication and became one of the most successful books from the first half of the twentieth century.  The book had been filmed several times, the first being in 1915 as a silent film directed by William Wauer.  The other three versions were all filmed at roughly the same time (from 1933-1935) in German (Der Tunnel), French (Le Tunnel), and English (The Tunnel).  This was not uncommon as at the time the studios didn’t have the technology to dub dialogue for different languages and so just filmed a movie multiple times in multiple languages.  The films would utilize the same sets and locations but different actors and directors.

THE TUNNEL is what I would call a curio.  It is not a fabulous film but it is certainly an enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half, especially if you like British melodrama (which I do).  The fact that it is set in the future makes it interesting as the sets and props are unique interpretations of what the movie makers felt the future would be like.  It is a combination of 1930s fashion and design mixed with imagined futuristic technology, transport, and architecture.  Combine that with the engaging dynamic of Richard Dix and Leslie Banks, and this is a film that is at least deserving of a look.

June 2015 Highlights for Turner Classic Movies

Here are some of the upcoming items of note for TCM in June!

The Star of the Month is Pin-Up Girls and on June 3rd you can catch Betty Grable in the TCM premiere of 1944’s PIN UP GIRL!

This is the Summer of Darkness on TCM with every Friday in June showcasing various film noir.  Totaling fifty-three films this month, the Summer of Darkness will show such gems as BORN TO KILL, NIGHTMARE ALLEY, GUN CRAZY, THE STRANGER, DARK PASSAGE, and many more!

Sundays in June you can attend TCM Movie Camp for four entertaining and family friendly films like CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND and MR BUG GOES TO TOWN.  The TCM Movie Camp will also show STEAMBOAT BILL, JR and MONSTER ZERO.

June 1st is all about Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward with six of their films being shown, including PICNIC and RALLY ‘ROUND THE FLAG BOYS!  June 4th will feature eight films about the fictional British hero created in 1920 by H.C. Mcneill, Bulldog Drummond.  June 18th is all about giant marauding creatures and will bring viewers six movies of bug and beast smashing goodness to enjoy.  Guest programmer Edgar Wright will choose four movies on June 23rd, among them DAMES and O LUCKY MAN!


Here are some daily themes worth keeping in mind this June!

June 1st – Birthday Tribute to Frank Morgan

June 8th – WWII Thrillers

June 11th – Starring Richard Dix

June 16th – Robert Osborne’s Picks

June 18th – Birthday Tribute to Jeannette MacDonald

June 23rd – Tuesdays with Monty (Montgomery Clift)

This month I am doing something a little different with my movie “check-out” suggestions.  Here are some films that I am looking forward to seeing for the first time!

June 1st – A LOST LADY (6:30AM EST) Frank Morgan and Barbara Stanwyck?  Yes please!, TROUBLE FOR TWO (1:45PM EST) Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell in a film about a prince who gets mixed up in a suicide club right before he gets married…tell me you aren’t intrigued.

June 2nd – SPLIT SECOND (11:45PM EST) Escaped cons holding hostages in a ghost town that is the target of a nuclear test!

June 3rd – THE KILLERS (2AM EST) Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner in film noir heaven.

June 5th – M (6AM EST) After reading Citizen Screen’s post about this film I am intrigued to see it!

June 8th – I SEE A DARK STRANGER (2:30AM EST) I can’t wait to see this film about reading about it on Nitrate Diva’s blog!

June 10th – WITHOUT LYING DOWN (6AM EST) A documentary about the women who helped shape Hollywood by taking on traditionally “male” roles such as writing, directing, and producing.

June 14th – RUGGLES OF RED GAP (8AM EST) Basically I want to see this because it has Charles Ruggles and Charles Laughton in it.

June 15th – THE FALLEN IDOL (12PM EST) A boy thinks that the servant he idolizes has committed a murder..bonus Ralph Richardson, HEAVEN CAN WAIT (8PM EST) Ernst Lubitsch directing Gene Tierney and Don Ameche.

June 19th – HOLLOW TRIUMPH (8PM EST) Paul Henrid stars as a crook on the run posing as a psychiatrist.

June 22nd – JEANNE EAGLES (8PM EST) A biopic of the famed actress starring Kim Novak!

June 26th – THEY WON’T BELIEVE ME! (8AM EST), LADY IN THE LAKE (11AM EST), POSSESSED (2:45PM EST), THE MASK OF DIMITRIOS (8PM EST), Basically just call in sick and stay home to watch TCM Summer of Darkness all day because this is awesome!

June 27th – THE MOON AND SIXPENCE (10PM EST) A film loosely based on the life of Gaugin but I am excited to hear the melodic tones of both Herbert Marshall and George Sanders in the same film!

Also, just pointing out that my favorite movie, THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, is being shown on June 30th at 1PM EST…which also happens to be my birthday!