Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2022) on… Murder By Death (1976)

-Sidney Wang (Peter Sellers) – “Never consider murder to be business, Mr. Diamond”

And yet, for the Fall 2022 blogathon from the Classic Movie Blog Association (CMBA), that is the business, as the theme is “Movies Are Murder!” On that note, I decided to go with a murder comedy I’ve enjoyed for a long time (but haven’t gotten around to writing about yet), 1976’s Murder By Death, starring Eileen Brennan, Truman Capote, James Coco, Peter Falk, Alec Guinness, Elsa Lanchester, David Niven, Peter Sellers, Maggie Smith, Nancy Walker and Estelle Winwood!

Five famous detectives and their associates have received an invitation to “dinner and a murder” at the mansion of Lionel Twain (Truman Capote). This group includes Dick Charleston (David Niven) and his wife, Dora (Maggie Smith); Inspector Sidney Wang (Peter Sellers) and his adopted son Willie (Richard Narita); Milo Perrier (James Coco) and his chauffeur, Marcel Cassette (James Cromwell); Sam Diamond (Peter Falk) and his secretary, Tess Skeffington (Eileen Brennan); and Jessica Marbles (Elsa Lanchester) with her nurse, Miss Withers (Estelle Winwood). In the leadup to the dinner, there are various attempts on their lives, which all fail. During the dinner, their host (who had previously kept to himself) appears, and explains why he brought them all there. Every one of those detectives had a reputation for solving every one of their cases, and Mr. Twain wanted to bet them all that he could solve a murder before them. He predicted that one person sitting at that table would be murdered at midnight, and another would be the murderer. While he disappears, everyone else vows to stay together, although at various times, they leave the room to investigate some of the goings-on in the house. At midnight, Mr. Twain himself appears, dead (and murdered exactly as he had predicted). So, the detectives and their associates all set out to figure out who indeed murdered Twain. But will they succeed, or will Mr. Twain get the upper hand (even though he’s dead)?

Ah, the murder mystery. The genre has long been a favorite with readers and moviegoers alike. Of course, with good murder mysteries come various detectives, who become famous for their wit and their ingenuity in solving these crimes. Some authors were able to create memorable detectives that audiences loved and followed through entire series, both on the big screen and in the written word. Murder By Death was writer Neil Simon’s spoof of the detective genre. In particular, he parodied detectives from Agatha Christie (Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple), Dashiell Hammett (Nick and Nora Charles, Sam Spade) and Earl Derr Biggers (Charlie Chan). A number of big stars were offered roles (including original Thin Man actress Myrna Loy), but they turned them down. Those that did decide to take part in the film enjoyed themselves. Alec Guinness in particular thoroughly enjoyed himself, as he made the trip to Hollywood to make the film (not something he was prone to doing). In fact, he had to reassure author Neil Simon that he was having fun with it (since the author liked him so much that he offered to rewrite anything to suit him). Admittedly, some of the cast didn’t exactly have a lot of faith in the film, as Peter Sellers sold his share of the percentage back to the producers of the film, and the company that David Niven’s son was working for (and which had invested in the film) believed they would be writing it off as a tax loss. And yet, the movie ended up being the eighth biggest hit of 1976.

I first saw this film when it was given to me on DVD along with two other Peter Falk films (this film’s 1978 “sequel”, The Cheap Detective as well as the 1979 film The In-Laws). Even though I had no experience with any of the detectives that the film was spoofing (outside of Humphrey Bogart’s Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon), I took to the film right away! The movie has a lot of twists and turns as we see the murder occur and then get solved (if you can call it that) by the film’s end. Admittedly, the film’s ending does leave you with a number of rather big plot-holes, but, at the same time, it’s so fun that I can easily forgive the movie as I get swept up in the proceedings! In general, I think all of the cast do quite well, from Peter Falk’s excellent imitation of Humphrey Bogart, to David Niven and Maggie Smith, who come off quite similarly to William Powell and Myrna Loy’s Nick and Nora Charles from the Thin Man films. Personally, I think that Alec Guinness’ role as the blind butler Jamessir Bensonmum is one of his best, as he is quite funny (especially with that name!). I have to throw in a SPOILER ALERT to say this, but he is at his absolute best when we see him at the end of the film, revealed as the culprits by the various detectives, and he changes his manner and character so well every time that one of the detectives comes in and accuses him of being somebody different. END SPOILER ALERT

Besides Alec Guinness, I also really like Peter Sellers here. Normally, I don’t care for him at all, but his performance as Sydney Wang is a real delight (even if it isn’t exactly politically correct, since he’s wearing yellowface to appear Asian). Quite frankly, he’s one of the most quotable characters in the film for me, with this line being a personal favorite:

-Sidney Wang (Peter Sellers) – “Conversation like television set on honeymoon. Unnecessary!”

But aside from some of his sayings (or “stories” as he calls them), I most enjoy his interactions with Truman Capote’s Lionel Twain, who is almost a grammar Nazi with regards to Wang’s ability to speak English, as exemplified by this exchange:

-Sidney Wang (Peter Sellers) – “What meaning of this, Mr. Twain?”

-Lionel Twain (Truman Capote) – “I will tell you, Mr. Wang, if you can tell me why a man who possesses one of the most brilliant minds of this century can’t say his prepositions or articles. ‘The,’ Mr. Wang, ‘What is the meaning of this?”

-Sidney Wang (Peter Sellers) – “That’s what I said. What meaning of this?”

Of course, I just love how Wang refers to a moose head mounted on the wall (which Twain is using to watch them) as a “cow on wall.” Quite frankly, my only really serious complaint about this movie is that these two don’t interact enough.

Apart from that, I do know that this movie isn’t for everyone. Aside from Peter Sellers being made up to look Asian, the movie has a number of other things going on that keep it from being politically correct. In general, there are a handful of racist comments (usually directed towards Peter Seller’s Wang or his Japanese son, played by Richard Narita). There are definitely some issues with sexism going on, and a number of homophobic comments as well. Plain and simple, it’s not a perfect film. But, it’s one I have enjoyed seeing on an almost yearly basis (especially around the Halloween season) ever since I first saw it, and it’s one that I highly recommend (at least, for those who can get past its issues). And with that, I leave with a quote that admittedly needs another spoiler warning (since it comes from the end of the film, and hints enough at the film’s ending), but it’s one that feels apropos for the whole “Movies Are Murder!” blogathon (not to mention, it’s certainly how things sometimes feel when things don’t go our way). So thank you all for reading (and don’t let the “murder” referred to in this quote be the situation for you this weekend, either 😉 )!

SPOILER ALERT

-Willie Wang (Richard Narita) – “I don’t understand, Pop. Was there a murder or wasn’t there?”

-Sidney Wang (Peter Sellers) – “Yes. Killed good weekend.”

What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2018) with… Murder By Death (1976)

This movie is available on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory. The transfer seems to be using an HD scan. For the most part, it looks pretty good. There is some damage in the form of specks and dirt, but it’s really only visible on bigger and better TVs. Overall, it’s the way that I would recommend seeing the movie.

Film Length: 1 hour, 35 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

*ranked #9 in Top 10 Movies Watched In 2022

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Robin And The 7 Hoods (1964) – Peter Falk

Naughty Marietta (1935) – Elsa Lanchester

Magnificent Doll (1946) – David Niven

The Notorious Landlady (1962) – Estelle Winwood

As an Amazon Affiliate, this site gets a small percentage for every purchase made upon using one of the Amazon links, even if it’s not the movie I linked to (and it’s at no extra cost to you). If you like what I’m doing with the blog, please consider using them so that I can continue to do more!

“Star Of The Month (June 2021)” Featuring Claudette Colbert in… Cleopatra (1934)

Next up for actress Claudette Colbert (June’s Star Of The Month), we have her 1934 film Cleopatra, also starring Warren William!

Coming Up Shorts! with… Genie With The Light Pink Fur (1966)

(available on Blu-ray and DVD as part of The Pink Panther Cartoon Collection: Volume 2 (1966-1968) from Kino Lorber)

(Length: 6 minutes, 7 seconds)

The Pink Panther tries to become a genie, to hilarious effect! Of course, nobody seems to care about the possibility of the genie in the lamp, as everybody has a different use for the lamp! I’ll admit, the tea drinker being scared when the Panther pops out of the lamp is one of the funniest reactions, but all the trouble the Panther gets into here is guaranteed to make me laugh! Another one of the better shorts, in my opinion!

And Now For The Main Feature…

Cleopatra (Claudette Colbert) is in a fight for control of Egypt with her brother, Ptolemy.  She and her philosopher/adviser Apollodorus (Irving Pichel) are kidnapped by Pothinos (Leonard Mudie) and left in the desert ahead of the arrival of Julius Caesar (Warren William).  However, Cleopatra returns secretly, and quickly gains an audience with Caesar.  She offers him the wealth of Egypt, as well as the treasures of India.  Caesar brings Cleopatra back with him to Rome, where he plans to divorce his wife Calpurnia (Gertrude Michael) and marry Cleopatra.  However, this idea doesn’t go over well with the Roman Senate, as they fear that will make him a king, and they plan to kill him.  Their plans are successful, and Cleopatra leaves to return to Egypt.  However, Marc Antony (Henry Wilcoxon) and Caesar’s nephew Octavian (Ian Keith) now share power as the rulers of Rome, and Antony vows to bring Cleopatra back in chains while he conquers Egypt.  Unfortunately for him, Cleopatra is wily enough that she seduces him easily.  Octavian makes use of this opportunity to brand Antony as a traitor, and vows to have him (and Cleopatra) killed.  With all his Roman troops and generals deserting him, will Antony and Cleopatra have a chance against the Roman army?

Earlier in 1934, Cecil B. DeMille made his second film (of three) with actress Claudette Colbert, Four Frightened People.  However, unlike their earlier film The Sign Of The Cross, that film was a flop.  That prompted Paramount Studios head Adolph Zukor to push DeMille to do another historical epic in a similar fashion to The Sign Of The Cross. Of course, part of that earlier film’s appeal was the pre-Code elements, and, with the Hays Code being implemented in 1934, that made that harder to do. Still, Cecil B. DeMille still tried to flaunt the restrictions while he could, to great effect. The movie was popular at the box office, and garnered five Oscar nominations (and one win, for Best Cinematography).

It wasn’t quite an easy film for leading lady Claudette Colbert, though. She struggled with health issues, as she had contracted appendicitis while making her previous film Four Frightened People, which made it harder for her to rehearse for Cleopatra. And, just as bad, her fear of snakes resulted in DeMille delaying her scene with a snake as long as he could. Using psychology, he brought in a big boa constrictor, and, when she asked him not to use that, he offered up a small garden snake instead (which she was happier with). Regardless of her issues, she gives a great performance here, still against type, as she seduces two Roman men. She proves quite wily, and in control most of the time, as she throws the men off their game.

I will freely admit, I hadn’t heard of this film before it was announced for release on Blu-ray back in 2018. I had known of the later 1963 film starring Elizabeth Taylor in the title role (but have never been interested in that one because of her). With actress Claudette Colbert in the title role for the 1934 film (and Cecil B. DeMille in the director’s seat), I was a lot more willing to try it. I wasn’t disappointed! This movie was a thrill from start to finish. I’ll admit, the opening was slightly confusing, starting with her kidnapping already in progress, but the rest of the film was great fun! I really feel like all the performances worked here (which made it better, in my mind, than the earlier The Sign Of The Cross), and I would also include the sets, the costumes and everything else in that statement! I enjoyed this movie, and I would certainly recommend it highly!

What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2018) with… Cleopatra (1934)

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Universal Studios.  According to the Blu-ray case, it has been restored from 35mm original film elements, and I would say that this movie certainly looks wonderful!  The detail is superb, and there is very little print damage showing.  It looks (and sounds) even better than the previously reviewed The Sign Of The Cross, and for my money, is well worth it!

Film Length: 1 hour, 41 minutes

My Rating: 9/10

As an Amazon Affiliate, this site gets a small percentage for every purchase made upon using one of the Amazon links, even if it’s not the movie I linked to (and it’s at no extra cost to you). If you like what I’m doing with the blog, please consider using them so that I can continue to do more!

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

It Happened One Night (1934)Claudette ColbertThe Bride Comes Home (1935)

Upper World (1934) – Warren William

TFTMM 2020 & WOIANRA 2018 on… Down Three Dark Streets (1954)

As we continue to celebrate the month of “Noir-vember,” we now come to the 1954 film Down Three Dark Streets, starring Broderick Crawford and Ruth Roman.

FBI agent Zack Stewart (Kenneth Tobey) finds himself trying to work on three different cases: 1) the hunt for a killer, Joe Walpo (Joe Bassett); 2) interstate car thefts, with Vince Angelino (Gene Reynolds) involved and unwilling to tell what he knows; and 3) somebody trying to extort money from Kate Martell (Ruth Roman) by threatening her daughter.  Zack does what he can with those three cases before he is called by another woman, Brenda Ralles (Suzanne Alexander), who claims she needs to see him that night about one of his cases.  However, when he goes to her home, he is shot by somebody else.  Fellow agent John “Rip” Ripley (Broderick Crawford), who had gone along with him on that call, is assigned Zack’s three cases, in the hope that, by solving them, the FBI can find his murderer.  To go after Joe Walpo, Rip tries to get a rise out of Walpo’s girlfriend, Connie Anderson (Martha Hyer).  As for the car thieves, Rip believes Vince to be innocent, and tries to ask Vince’s wife, Julie (Marisa Pavan), to help out.  As for Kate Martell, he tries to learn from her who could possibly try to extort money from her, and tries to help protect her and her daughter.  Of course, none of them know anything about Brenda Ralles (who is soon murdered herself), and so all Rip can do is try to help everybody out.

Down Three Dark Streets was based on the novel Case Files: FBI, written by the husband and wife team of Gordon and Mildred Gordon.  Gordon Gordon was himself a former FBI agent, which certainly lends a bit of authenticity to  the story.  They actually ended up being the screenwriters for the movie, with the original plan being to retain the novel’s title. However, at the time, most screenplays that dealt with the FBI were submitted to the FBI itself to be approved, and J. Edgar Hoover himself objected, claiming that the movie could help criminals, not only by showing what extortionists could do, but also what the FBI would do to combat them.  I’m not sure what else was changed, but the film’s title switched from Case Files: FBI to the film’s current title.

I’ll admit, this one is more police procedural than noir, but I still like it.  It’s interesting watching them trying to solve three cases at once.  Admittedly, this is also part of the movie’s failing, as it FEELS like the three cases don’t get equal screen time, and the one that seems to get more, well, you can guess it’s importance to the overall story. Not to mention, in some respects the billing gives it away. Still, I enjoyed it, with a familiar face or two, plus characters that you want to cheer for, characters that creep you out, and everything in between. It’s not the best police procedural I’ve seen, as I easily think He Walked By Night surpasses it (and maybe T-Men as well), but it’s worth trying. If you get a chance to see it, give it a shot!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Classicflix.  It’s a typical transfer from them (which means it looks pretty good)!  There are some specks and dust here and there, but they’re almost not worth mentioning.  If you want to see this movie, then the Classicflix release is the way to go!

Film Length: 1 hour, 26 minutes

My Rating: 8/10

Audience Rating:

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Ruth Roman – Great Day In The Morning (1956)

Coming Up Shorts! with… Puppet Love (1944)

(available on Blu-ray and DVD as part of Popeye The Sailor: The 1940s Volume 1 from Warner Archive Collection)

Disclaimer: On the disc case, it is noted that the set is intended for the adult collector, which is because these shorts were made at a time when a lot of racist and sexist stereotypes were prevalent. All I’m trying to say is, parents, be careful about just sticking these on for your kids.

Welcome to my new feature on various theatrical shorts! Sometimes my comments will be on shorts included as extras on a disc set I am reviewing, and other times, they will be completely unrelated to the movie being reviewed (and I will try to indicate which). Hope you enjoy!

(Length: 7 minutes, 32 seconds)

Bluto creates a life-size puppet that looks like Popeye, and uses it to make Popeye look bad with Olive. A fun little cartoon with the Popeye puppet and Popeye using Bluto as a puppet. Yes, it’s still Popeye vs. Bluto, but it still feels a lot more fresh than later cartoons. This is one I’ve seen a number of times over the years, and I still enjoy the various gags. Of course, I also enjoy seeing this short restored and looking better than it has in a long time!

And stay tuned for more of Coming Up Shorts! featuring more of Popeye (and the eventual post on the entire 1940s Volume 1 set), along with other shorts!

Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2020) on… Five Steps To Danger (1957)

Starting off the month of “Noir-vember,” we have the 1957 film Five Steps To Danger, starring Ruth Roman and Sterling Hayden.

Coming Up Shorts! with… Pickled Pink (1965)

(available on Blu-ray and DVD as part of The Pink Panther Cartoon Collection: Volume 1 (1964-1966) from Kino Lorber)

(Length: 6 minutes, 22 seconds)

A drunk invites the Pink Panther into his home, but they have to avoid his wife, who threatens to throw any of her husband’s “friends” out of the house. Not as original a cartoon, with the drunk and his wife having speaking roles. The gags seem a little too familiar, taking away from the fun. Definitely a lesser Pink Panther cartoon, but, considering it was early on, with them still trying to figure out what to do, it can be forgiven.

And Now For The Main Feature…

John Emmett (Sterling Hayden) is on his vacation when his car breaks down. When towed to a garage, he finds out that it will take too long to repair, and sells the car. There, he meets another traveler, Ann Nicholson (Ruth Roman), who offers him a ride if he will help her drive to Santa Fe, to which he agrees. However, at a diner, he meets Helen Bethke (Jeanne Cooper), a nurse who claims that Ann has had a mental breakdown. She says Ann is being encouraged to take a trip by her psychiatrist, Dr. Simmons (Werner Klemperer), and asks John to go with her, which he still agrees to do. The trip becomes more interesting, however, when two sheriffs pull John and Ann over and try to arrest them for a murder in Los Angeles supposedly committed by Ann. They get away, but John becomes suspicious of Ann and her rush to get to Santa Fe. So she tells him she had been sent by a friend of her brother’s to bring some information about guided missiles to an old family friend, Dr. Reinhardt Kissel, and she had discovered he was in Santa Fe. John decides to come along with her anyway, although when they come to a college that they had heard that Dr. Kissel was teaching at, they learn from Dean Brant (Richard Gaines) that he wasn’t there at all! So John takes Ann to a hotel, where he leaves her with Dr. Simmons and her nurse before moving on to the fishing lodge he had a reservation at. However, Dr. Simmons believes Ann needs to be put in a sanitarium, and makes arrangements to do so (although Ann escapes before she can be taken there). Meanwhile, CIA agent Kirk Patrick (Charles Davis) comes to John and tells him that Dr. Kissel is working for them at a nearby government testing facility. After the CIA agent leaves, Ann shows up. Figuring out that they love each other, they decide to get married and then go to the government facility to see Dr. Kissel. However, Ann determines that the man working there as Dr. Kissel is an imposter, and she tells CIA agent Kirk Patrick. But can they catch all the undercover Soviet agents?

I will admit, Five Steps To Danger, which is based on the Donald Hamilton story The Steel Mirror, barely qualifies as noir. It has hints of it, don’t get me wrong, but it also feels like more of a combination of Cold War-era spy thrillers and Gaslight. Admittedly, I wouldn’t say that the gaslighting that goes on here is anywehere near as good as what happens in that classic film, nor is it necessarily that good of a spy thriller. But, I blame that mostly on the script, which wanders around a little too much. I think the actors do a decent job with what they are given, especially Werner Klemperer (and boy, after having seen him for years on the TV series Hogan’s Heroes, it sure feels weird seeing him actually playing a competent, smart character). It’s not the best movie I’ve ever seen, but it has enough good points to it that it is a movie I would recommend giving a try!

What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2018) with… Five Steps To Danger (1957)

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Classicflix. According to the disc case, this movie was restored from the original camera negative. I will definitely say that this transfer looks pretty darn good! Sure, there are a few specks and dirt here and there, but they are minor at best, and do not take away from an otherwise good-looking release. So for its transfer alone, this is the best way to see the movie!

Film Length: 1 hour, 20 minutes

My Rating: 7/10

Audience Rating:

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Great Day In The Morning (1956) – Ruth Roman

Crime Of Passion (1957) – Sterling Hayden

TFTMM 2020 & WOIANRA 2018 on… Tammy And The Bachelor (1957)

Now we have another fun movie, the 1957 classic Tammy And The Bachelor starring Debbie Reynolds, Leslie Nielsen and Walter Brennan.

Coming Up Shorts! with… Tar With A Star (1949)

(available on Blu-ray and DVD as part of Popeye The Sailor: The 1940s Volume 3 from Warner Archive Collection)

Disclaimer: On the disc case, it is noted that the set is intended for the adult collector, which is because these shorts were made at a time when a lot of racist and sexist stereotypes were prevalent. All I’m trying to say is, parents, be careful about just sticking these on for your kids.

(Length: 6 minutes, 46 seconds)

Popeye becomes sheriff of a western town, until Wild Bill Bluto shows up. Yes, it’s still Popeye fighting Bluto over Olive, but at least this time, it takes a few minutes for Bluto to show up, as Popeye cleans up the town. A few different gags related to the situation, which make it fun. One of the better shorts from this group, as I enjoyed it very much!

And Now For The Main Feature…

When Peter Brent (Leslie Nielsen) crashes in a Louisiana swamp, he is rescued by preacher John Dinwitty (Walter Brennan) and his granddaughter, Tambrey “Tammy” Tyree (Debbie Reynolds). Peter is in bad shape, but Tammy helps nurse him back to health. After he leaves, Tammy’s grandfather is arrested for bootlegging, and he sends her off to stay with Peter and his family. Walking with her goat, Nan, she makes it to Brentwood Hall, where she falls asleep from exhaustion. Peter and his family, which includes his father, Professor Brent (Sidney Blackmer), his mother (Fay Wray) and his aunt Rennie (Mildred Natwick) take her in. Peter, much to his family’s consternation, is trying to grow tomatoes in an attempt to make the farm self-sustaining again, while his mother is preparing for Pilgrimage Week to show tourists what things were like in the Old South. Tammy disturbs them with her plain ways and her refusal to keep quiet. She has fallen in love with Peter, but has competition from his girlfriend, Barbara (Mala Powers). Peter’s aunt Rennie likes Tammy, however, and she encourages Tammy to stay on and help Peter out.

Tammy And The Bachelor, which started a movie franchise, owed much of its success to the title tune! The movie was based on the novel Tammy Out Of Time by Cid Ricketts Sumner, but didn’t start out as much of a success at the box office. The title tune, written by Ray Evans and Jay Livingston, was recorded by the Ames Brothers for the opening credits, and by Debbie Reynolds, who sang it partway through the film. Unlike the movie’s slow start at the box office, Debbie’s record took off. The executives at Universal Studios pulled the movie from theaters, giving the song a chance to catch on, and then reissued the film to great success! A sequel was planned, but by the time they got to it nearly four years later, Debbie Reynolds (about 25 playing a 17-year-old for Tammy And The Bachelor) was about thirty and very busy, so they recast the role of Tammy with Sandra Dee for the next two movies, before casting Debbie Watson for the one season TV series (with four episodes cobbled together for one last movie).

In spite of the fact she was already leaning a little too old for the part, I still say that Debbie Reynolds is what makes this movie work so well! I love watching how she is able to tell others what she thinks most of the time, as her observations tend to be correct. Of course, she is still a bit naive, and that makes for some fun when she says some things that the adults mis-interpret as innuendo! And I know I don’t mind the idea of just sitting and listening to her telling her story when all the tourists are listening during Pilgrimage Week! Now, there are some things about this that don’t work, such as how some of the characters make light of slavery, whether it be Aunt Rennie claiming some of her paintings were done by slaves in an attempt to sell them, or making their black servant wear a slave bandanna (although, to be fair, the character doesn’t like it, and Debbie’s Tammy doesn’t like the look either). Still, I’ve enjoyed seeing this movie multiple times, and it’s one I have no trouble recommending!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Universal Studios.

Film Length: 1 hour, 29 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

The Tender Trap (1955) – Debbie Reynolds – It Started With A Kiss (1959)

The Opposite Sex (1956) – Leslie Nielsen

To Have And Have Not (1944) – Walter Brennan

As an Amazon Affiliate, this site gets a small percentage for every purchase made upon using one of the Amazon links, even if it’s not the movie I linked to (and it’s at no extra cost to you). If you like what I’m doing with the blog, please consider using them so that I can continue to do more!

Film Legends Of Yesteryear (2019): 1939 & What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2019) on… Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)

Next up from 1939, we have the classic Young Mr. Lincoln, starring Henry Fonda.

In New Salem, Illinois, Abe Lincoln (Henry Fonda) is running for the state legislature. After making a speech, he makes a trade with the Clay family, who is passing through in their wagon. Since they don’t have any money, he takes a barrel containing some books, including Blackstone Commentaries. The book inspires him to learn more about law and Ann Rutledge (Pauline Moore) encourages him to study it. After Ann’s death, Abe moves to Springfield, where he tries to set up as a lawyer. One Independence Day, Abigail Clay (Alice Brady) comes to town with her two grown sons, Adam (Eddie Quillan) and Matt (Richard Cromwell). That night, they get into a fight with deputy Scrub White (Fred Kohler, Jr.) who pulls a gun on them, but ends up being killed by a knife. Abigail gets there just before it happens, and Scrub’s buddy J. Palmer Cass (Ward Bond) gets there, and starts accusing the two of murder. The sheriff comes and arrests them, but a crowd gathers and gets riled up, becoming a lynch mob. Abe gets in their way and manages to talk them down, while declaring himself to be their lawyer. So now he has the challenge of going against a more experienced lawyer as he tries to help the Clay family avoid either brother being hanged.

All I can say is this is just an absolutely wonderful movie! Of course, it goes without saying that Henry Fonda as Abraham Lincoln is the best part of the movie. He just seems to fit the part, giving us a performance of a man who wants to learn, and wants to do the right thing, no matter what. His speech may be simple, but he is still smart! My own opinion is that, if this were released in any other year, I would have said he should have at least been nominated for a Best Actor Oscar (if not win it). But, this was 1939, Hollywood’s golden year, with so many great films and performances.

But I would hardly say Henry Fonda is the only reason to see this movie. The rest of the supporting cast is great, too! With a few future TV stars, such as Ward Bond (from Wagon Train), Milburn Stone (from TV’s Gunsmoke) and a very young Jack Kelly (Maverick), it’s a lot of fun! And Donald Meek as the opposing prosecutor is wonderfully nasty, making us hate him when he tries to make Abigail Clay reveal which of her sons killed the deputy. And the whole courtroom section of the movie is worth it alone, not just for some of the drama, but for some of the humor, too (especially when Henry Fonda’s Abe Lincoln is grilling Ward Bond’s character about his name 😉 ). Honestly, the only really disappointing thing about the movie is that it is, for the most part, fictional (although the court case was based on one Lincoln dealt with in the 1850s). Still, it’s fun to see some of the various historical figures connected to Abraham Lincoln. However you look at it, I can very easily say this is a wonderful movie, and one I would highly recommend!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion Collection.

Film Length: 1 hour, 40 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

As an Amazon Affiliate, this site gets a small percentage for every purchase made upon using one of the Amazon links, even if it’s not the movie I linked to (and it’s at no extra cost to you). If you like what I’m doing with the blog, please consider using them so that I can continue to do more!

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Jesse James (1939) – Henry Fonda – The Lady Eve (1941)

TFTMM 2019 & WOIANRA 2018 on… Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure (1959)

And now we’re here for the 1959 adventure movie Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure, starring Gordon Scott!

Under cover of darkness, four men raided an African village, stealing some dynamite and killing two people in the process. Led by Slade (Anthony Quayle), they took their boat up the river, barely escaping Tarzan’s (Gordon Scott) notice. When he heard about the raid, Tarzan went off in his canoe after them. He was slowed down when he had to rescue Angie (Sara Shane) after her plane crashed. With Tarzan slowly following the men, Slade and his crew continue to make their way towards a hidden diamond mine, with everybody slowly turning on each other for different reasons. As Tarzan catches up, he finds himself hunting down fewer men, but has to rely on Angie for help when he is injured by dynamite.

For years, my only experience with the classic Tarzan movies was some of the Johnny Weissmuller films. So, comparatively, this is a different beast. As you could see from my plot description, there’s no Jane in this movie, and while there’s a hint of romance between Tarzan and Angie, they don’t end up together at the film’s end. Tarzan’s chimpanzee buddy Cheeta is also barely there, mostly showing up at the beginning and then not being around for the remainder of the movie. As well known as Tarzan is for swinging on vines and that famous Tarzan yell, he doesn’t do either until near the end of the movie, spending a good deal of the movie in a canoe and on foot.

In spite of so much being different from the Tarzan movies I am used to, this turned out to be a wonderful surprise! It was fun seeing Sean Connery in one of his early film roles (and he was asked to be in more Tarzan movies, but he had to decline because he had been given a certain role in a little movie called Dr. No). The movie looked fantastic in high definition (although it does make Tarzan’s fight with the crocodile look a little more obviously fake, but that can’t be helped). The scenery just looks so fantastic, and it works, since it was filmed on location in Africa. Depending on how you want to look at it, the beginning might bother some, when the villains raid the village, all clad in blackface. Of course, as I say, it is the film’s VILLIANS who do this, so it’s not exactly portrayed as a positive thing here. I certainly enjoyed this movie, and would easily recommend trying it out, as it certainly comes close to living up to its title!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Warner Archive Collection, and is one hour, twenty-seven minutes in length.

My Rating: 9/10

Audience Rating:

Thoughts From The Music(al) Man 2019 on… Home From The Hill (1960)

Next up, we have the 1960 drama Home From The Hill starring Robert Mitchum, Eleanor Parker, George Peppard and George Hamilton.

Wade Hunnicutt (Robert Mitchum) is a big man in town. However, his son Theron (George Hamilton) is a bit of a “mama’s boy.” After some of the men in town play a prank on Theron, Wade decides to teach him to be more of a “man’s man,” much to the dismay of his mother Hannah (Eleanor Parker). Wade has Rafe Copley (George Peppard) help Theron learn to hunt. Theron learns hunting quickly, and becomes a town hero after he single-handedly kills a wild boar that has been terrorizing the area. Theron also asks Rafe for help in asking out Libby Halstead (Luana Patten). While her father doesn’t approve, she likes Theron, and they go out together. However, when Hannah tells Theron that Libby’s father didn’t want Theron dating his daughter because Wade had a reputation of sleeping around (a fact Hannah had tried to keep hidden from Theron), then he tries to go off on his own, which results in even more trouble.

Coming off my first time seeing this movie, one word kept going through my mind : “Wow” (and I mean that in a good way). For the most part, I’ve never really gone in much for melodramas, but I enjoyed this one! The cast alone is fantastic! Robert Mitchum gives a wonderful performance as a flawed but powerful man who usually gets what he wants (except from his own wife). Eleanor Parker is wonderful as his hate-filled wife, angry with him ever since… wait, I didn’t mention it in the plot description, so I better shut up, but still, it is such a departure from the main role I associate her with, that of the baroness in The Sound Of Music. George Hamilton as Theron does well as a son who wants his father’s approval, but the constant hate between his parents has driven him to improve himself on his own. But George Peppard has the greatest presence, as a guy who has had to work hard his whole life and live in a less than ideal situation, all the while still making the best of things. All wonderful performances, which easily make this a movie I would highly recommend!

What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2018) with… Home From The Hill (1960)

I tried this one mainly after seeing Warner Archives announce it for Blu-ray (also available from them on DVD).  I had some recognition of some of the cast members from other movies that I’ve seen over the years, not to mention director Vincente Minelli, so I thought it would be worth trying (and it was). As usual, Warner Archive has given us a first-rate transfer, and it just helps bring to life a fantastic story!

Film Length: 2 hours, 30 minutes

My Rating: 9/10

*ranked #9 in Top 10 Disc Releases of 2018

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Fire Down Below (1957) – Robert Mitchum

The King And Four Queens (1956) – Eleanor Parker

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Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… Never So Few (1959)

We’re off to the jungles of Burma for the 1959 war movie Never So Few, starring Frank Sinatra and Gina Lollobrigida.

Captain Tom Reynolds (Frank Sinatra) leads a force of American and Kachin fighters in Burma during the second World War. After losing his aid in a skirmish with the Japanese, Tom sends a message to headquarters to request a meeting with his commander. In Calcutta, he demands medicine and a doctor to help deal with his wounded soldiers. Tom and British Captain Danny De Mortimer (Richard Johnson) are forced to take two weeks leave. They are invited to stay with a wealthy merchant named Nikko Regas (Paul Henreid). Tom immediately falls for Nikko’s mistress, Carla Vesari (Gina Lollobrigida), but she rejects him at first. Tom and Danny return to their troops in time for Christmas, but during the holiday celebrations, they are attacked by the Japanese. They are able to repel the attack, but Tom is wounded and sent to the air base hospital. When he recovers, he is given orders to attack an airfield, with support from a supply convoy. When the convoy doesn’t come, they go on ahead to the airfield. Their attack is successful, but they lose quite a few men in the process. On the return trip, they run across what remains of the supply convoy, which was apparently attacked by a group of rogue Chinese, and so they cross the border of China to go after them, which has political consequences.

Originally, this movie was apparently intended to feature three members of the “Rat Pack:” Frank Sinatra, Peter Lawford and Sammy Davis, Jr. However, an argument between Frank and Sammy over some of Sammy’s recent comments resulted in him being fired. So then-newcomer Steve McQueen (who at that time was mainly known for the western TV series Wanted: Dead Or Alive) was cast in his place. Between the director, John Sturges, and Frank’s urging, Steve McQueen was given a relatively prominent role, which gave him his big chance in the movies. Several years later, McQueen would work with the director again in the classic The Great Escape.

Honestly, my main problem with this movie is the romance between Frank’s Captain Reynolds and Gina’s Carla Vesari. It just feels off, and because of that, it takes up a little too much of the movie’s two hours and five minutes runtime. If there could have been less of that, and a little more time spent with the men under Captain Reynolds’ command, including a young Dean Jones (before he started doing live action movies for Disney) and Charles Bronson, the movie would have been much better. I think the war scenes work quite well (although anybody expecting lots of blood and gore would come away disappointed, as I think the censors still had enough power at the time to minimize that). So, while it has its problems, I do like this movie and would recommend giving it a shot!

What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2018) with… Never So Few (1959)

Previously available on DVD from Warner Home Video, Never So Few has been given a Blu-ray upgrade by Warner Archive Collection. As the Blu-ray is my first time seeing the movie, I can’t really speak to any earlier releases/transfers, but I think that Warner Archive has given this the transfer it deserves (or better, depending on your opinion of the movie). I have no complaints on the picture quality, which allows the action and the scenery to shine through!

Film Length: 2 hours, 5 minutes

My Rating: 8/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Some Came Running (1958)Frank SinatraOcean’s 11 (1960)

Easter Parade (1948) – Peter Lawford – Ocean’s 11 (1960)

Deep In My Heart (1954) – Paul Henreid

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TFTMM 2019 & WOIANRA 2018 on… Gun Crazy (1950)

Now we have another couple-on-the-run film noir, the 1950 classic Gun Crazy, starring Peggy Cummins and John Dall.

As a kid, Bart Tare develops an obsession with guns (although he can’t bring himself to kill after he kills a baby chick).  This obsession leads him to break into a store and steal some guns. He is caught, however, and sent off to reform school.  After several years in reform school and a stint in the army, Bart (John Dall) returns home.  His childhood buddies take him to a carnival, where he meets sharpshooter Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins). Bart briefly joins the carnival with Laurie, but they are both soon fired.  They get married, but, after a while, they start running out of money, and Laurie convinces Bart to help her rob a few places.  Bart reluctantly goes along, with the condition that they don’t kill.  They are successful on their crime spree, but their luck starts to run out when Laurie kills two people during a robbery. They find themselves on the run from the FBI and the police, as the law slowly closes in on them.

I admit, I was going into this movie for my first viewing after having just seen the recent Netflix movie The Highwaymen. After watching that movie, I was definitely feeling interested in seeing another Bonnie-and-Clyde type of movie, and this one was in a stack of Blu-rays given to me for my birthday, so it jumped to the front of the pack. Watching it, I found myself very impressed with what the filmmakers were able to do with this movie. I know one famous scene from this movie is the long take from the back seat of a car as they drove up to a bank, robbed it, and then drove away. The fact that it was apparently filmed at a real bank (plus the fact that the two leads did most of their own driving) really astounded me, and it helped their performances, considering they had to deal with the real problem of parking and improvise some of their dialogue. I definitely have to applaud the director and how he was able to do so much with so little, especially for the final scene (I’m not saying anymore, so that I don’t spoil anything). So, yes, I do like and recommend this noir to anybody that would be interested (and certainly to those familiar with the classic Bonnie And Clyde, which was apparently influenced by this movie)!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Warner Archive Collection.

Film Length: 1 hour, 27 minutes

My Rating: 9/10

*ranked #7 in Top 10 Disc Releases of 2018

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Something In The Wind (1947) – John Dall

As an Amazon Affiliate, this site gets a small percentage for every purchase made upon using one of the Amazon links, even if it’s not the movie I linked to (and it’s at no extra cost to you).  If you like what I’m doing with the blog, please consider using them so that I can continue to do more!