What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2021) with… Alias Jesse James (1959)

I’ve covered two of comedian Bob Hope’s western comedies previously, and now I’m back for the third one, the 1959 film Alias Jesse James, which also stars Rhonda Fleming and Wendell Corey!

Coming Up Shorts! with… Bargain Day (1931)

(available on Blu-ray as part of The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 2 (1930-1931) from ClassicFlix)

(Length: 19 minutes, 1 second)

Wheezer (Bobby Hutchins) and Stymie (Matthew Beard) take the other kids’ things, and try to sell them door-to-door. When they come to the home of a poor little rich girl (Shirley Jean Rickert), they come in and get into trouble. This was another fun one, particularly following Stymie around the house as he got into various mischief. I particularly got a good laugh out of the three kids doing their little “Watt Street” comedy bit (a strong reminder of “Who’s On First” and similar comedy routines). Again, this one was a lot of fun, and one I certainly would recommend for its charm and humor!

And Now For The Main Feature…

It’s the early 1880s. At the Plymouth Rock Insurance Company in New York City, Titus Queasly (Will Wright) is looking at how his insurance salemen are doing. When he sees that Milford Farnsworth (Bob Hope) hasn’t sold a good policy in quite some time, he decides to fire Milford. At a local bar, Milford tries to get his job back by selling a policy to the bartender when he is overheard by a stranger in town. That stranger likes what he hears, and decides to buy a $100,000 policy and pays it in full. Taking the policy back to his boss (after getting a doctor to sign off on the policy), Milford is welcomed back with open arms. That is, until Mr. Queasly gets a look at a newspaper, and sees that the infamous outlaw Jesse James (Wendell Corey) has been in the city. When he shows the picture to Milford, he realizes that the stranger he had sold the policy to was indeed the famous outlaw. Mr. Queasly orders him to take the train to Angel’s Rest, Missouri to either buy back the policy from Jesse or protect him at all costs. On the train ride there, Jesse James stops the train and robs everybody, including Milford. Once he gets to town (after the robbery), Milford has the telegraph operator send his boss a message to wire him more money to pay Jesse. He tries looking for Jesse in town, but Jesse’s men pick on him and chase him out of town on the train. When Jesse learns from the telegraph operator that Milford had sent for more money, Jesse goes after him on the train, and brings him back to the James ranch as a guest. That night at a party being held at the ranch, Milford formally meets and falls for saloon singer Cora Lee Collins (Rhonda Fleming), who is Jesse’s “girlfriend” (as in, she doesn’t like him, but he likes her and he always gets what he wants). Afterwards, Milford finds out that a gunslinger has come calling for Jesse, planning to shoot him in the morning in the town. To prevent that, Milford dresses himself in Jesse’s clothes and rides into town. When facing the gunslinger, Milford pretends to surrender, then lifts his hat to fire his two guns (which were wired together), wounding the gunslinger. Impressed, Cora Lee kisses him and asks him to leave town before he gets hurt, although he refuses, still believing he needs to protect Jesse. When Jesse comes riding in, he realizes that, if Milford is killed (while dressed like Jesse), then they can claim that Jesse James is dead, and he can collect the insurance money (that would go to his beneficiary, Cora Lee). With Jesse now planning to kill him, will Milford be able to survive? Or will he need the insurance that he’s been peddling?

With Bob Hope returning to spoof the Western genre again, following his earlier films The Paleface (1948) and Son Of Paleface (1952), it’s a natural that this one is a lot of fun, too! Personally, I feel that Alias Jesse James‘ tone is somewhere in between those two, as it does have some elements that are almost cartoonish in nature, while still not going full-fledged live-action-cartoon (like Son Of Paleface). Regardless of tone, it’s a film that promises a lot of hilarity, and keeps that promise! I know that I get a good kick out of watching Bob Hope’s Milford getting pushed by his horse into the gunfight with Snake Brice (played by Jack Lambert), and then winning by lifting his hat (which, as I said, had strings tied to the triggers of his gun, which wing the gunslinger enough to end the fight). Then, of course, when Wendell Corey’s Jesse James first tries to kill Milford after holding up the train, Milford later arrives at the ranch while riding a cow! Then, of course, there is the slow-motion fight when Jesse and his men are all under the influence of mushrooms! I could also mention the film’s finale (and I will, but I’ll do that to end this post under a spoiler alert). Plain and simple, this is a fun film! Sure, it’s not perfect. The film certainly treats the Native Americans better than the earlier two films (where they were essentially one-dimensional villains), although Milford referring to two Native Americans on the train as “foreigners” hasn’t aged the best (even if it was the character being angry at discovering that they were salesmen for another insurance company after he gave them his sales pitch). To a degree, there’s not a lot of character work here, as far as arcs are concerned. And, for better or worse, Bob Hope’s age was showing, particularly off-camera, as he passed out (when trying to film what I can only assume was the final chase sequence, which was done on a treadmill in front of a rear projection screen) and had to be taken to the emergency room. Still, for a film made when it seems like Bob Hope’s movie career was already going downhill, I feel like it’s his last really great comedy (with the rest after it ranging from decent to awful). I think it’s one that anybody can enjoy (and I certainly like watching it with some frequency!), so I have no problem whatsoever in recommending it!

This movie is available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. This release seems to be using an older HD scan. It’s definitely got some good moments, where the detail looks quite good, as well as the color. That’s not completely true of the whole film, but most of those other issues are still relatively minor, and likely source-related. As good as this film is, I wish it could get a full restoration to improve the detail and color (but it’s owned by the current MGM, which would seem to mean that that is unlikely in the near future). So, for now, this is as good as it gets (and that’s good enough for me)!

Spoiler Alert:

Well, now that we’re under the spoiler alert, we can talk about this film’s very memorable finale. The whole thing starts with the aforementioned chase sequence, with Milford (Bob Hope) and Cora Lee (Rhonda Fleming) riding through the countryside on a buckboard (well, she’s riding, as he is forced to run in the hole he created when he tried to jump on the buckboard from a roof). Once they get to town, Milford faces off against the James gang. Like in The Paleface, Hope’s character is a poor shot with a gun. However, he doesn’t know that, as he is being secretly helped in what I can only call “the Western crossover to end all Western crossovers!” On the TV side, we’ve got Roy Rogers (from The Roy Rogers Show, as well as Bob’s Son Of Paleface co-star), Hugh O’Brian (Wyatt Earp, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp), Ward Bond (Major Seth Adams, Wagon Train), James Arness (Sheriff Matt Dillon, Gunsmoke), Fess Parker (Davy Crockett, Walt Disney’s Davy Crockett), Gail Davis (Annie Oakley, Annie Oakley) and Jay Silverheels (Tonto, The Lone Ranger). We also get Western movie star Gary Cooper and the requisite “Bing Crosby cameo in a Bob Hope film” (because, as he says in the movie, “This fella needs all the help he can get.”) Granted, all of these appearances feel like the stars just filmed them whenever their schedule allowed, so nobody interacts with each other (or the film’s main characters). That, and a few of them do something that feels out of character (not only for their characters, but for anybody in a Western): they put their guns back in their holster even before the gunfight is finished! Still, this scene is a lot of fun, and the movie is worth seeing just for this sequence alone!

End Spoiler Alert

Film Length: 1 hour, 33 minutes

My Rating: 9/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Road To Bali (1952)Bob HopeThe Road To Hong Kong (1962)

The Killer Is Loose (1956) – Rhonda Fleming

The Killer Is Loose (1956) – Wendell Corey

Love In The Afternoon (1957) – Gary Cooper – They Came To Cordura (1959)

High Society (1957)Bing CrosbyHigh Time (1960)

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!

Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… The Killer Is Loose (1956)

Continuing on with the month of “Noir-vember,” we move on to the 1956 movie The Killer Is Loose, starring Joseph Cotten, Rhonda Fleming and Wendell Corey.

During a bank robbery, bank teller Leon Poole (Wendell Corey) tries (and fails) to stop the robbers. The policemen on the case, led by detective Sam Wagner (Joseph Cotten), soon deduce that it was an inside job, and learn from a wiretap that it was Leon Poole’s idea. Catching up to Leon Poole at his apartment, where he starts shooting at the police, they go in with guns blazing. However, Sam accidentally shoots Leon’s wife (who they had been told wasn’t there), and Leon is caught without any further fight. As he blames Sam for his wife’s death (even though Sam was cleared), he threatens to get even with him. After being a well-behaved prisoner for a few years, Leon is sent to a state honor farm. When one of the guards requires his help with a load of produce, he takes advantage and kills the guard, making his escape. Sam is brought in, as he is assumed to be Leon’s target. However, as Leon gets by the roadblocks and into the city, they learn from his former cellmate that his target is not Sam, but his wife, Lila (Rhonda Fleming)! So Sam tries his best to keep that fact from Lila, since she knows about Leon’s escape and believes Sam to be the target. Poole manages to keep ahead of the police and slowly racks up a body count, forcing Sam to offer himself as a target while trying to get Lila away.

In some respects, this movie still has a particular relevance due to its message on bullying. When we first meet Leon Poole, he ends up talking to his sergeant, Otto Flanders (as played by John Larch), who had humiliated him in the army by giving him the nickname “Foggy” since he couldn’t really see very well without his glasses. As Leon would later admit, everybody laughed at him. Everybody, that is, except his wife. Losing her was enough to send him over the edge. Wendell Corey does a great job with the character, on the one hand giving us a character who doesn’t seem like he should be a threat, but at the same time showing that even a mild-mannered bumbler can be a threat when pushed too far, and everybody around him suffers for it.

Of course, the rest of the cast is no slouch, either! Joseph Cotton does great as Sam Wagner, who does the job because it’s what he wants to do, but tries to accommodate his wife (even taking a desk job, as a compromise). Alan Hale Jr. gets to be involved a little as Sgt. “Denny” Denning. But Rhonda Fleming gives a great performance as Lila. On the one hand, it’s easy to sympathize with her, as she wants her husband to be safe, but on the other hand, we can see her getting on everybody’s nerves as she doesn’t like her life being changed, and she has a hard time understanding what her husband is going through, as she can only think of herself. It’s only when her friend tells her off that everything sinks in, and even then she still has to get herself into trouble. While I have seen better noirs, I still would recommend this one, as I do enjoy watching it every now and then!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Classicflix. What more can I say? Their restoration of this movie looks fantastic! I tried this movie mostly because of what I had seen before from them, and it was well worth it! So I would indeed recommend their release of this movie!

Film Length: 1 hour, 13 minutes

My Rating: 7/10

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

I’ll Be Seeing You (1944) – Joseph Cotten

A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court (1949) – Rhonda Fleming – Alias Jesse James (1959)

Holiday Affair (1949) – Wendell Corey – Alias Jesse James (1959)

Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court (1949)

Time for a bit of time traveling, by way of the 1949 movie A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court, starring Bing Crosby, Rhonda Fleming, William Bendix and Sir Cedric Hardwicke.

Coming Up Shorts! with… Shrimps For A Day (1935)

(available on Blu-ray as part of The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 4 (1933-1935) from ClassicFlix)

(Length: 20 minutes, 42 seconds)

The Gang are taken to a party hosted by the sponsor for their orphanage, where an adult couple finds a lamp and wishes to be kids again. They are mistaken for being part of the group of orphans, and are brought back to the orphanage. This short managed to be both hilarious and full of heart. As the two adults-turned-into-kids, George and Olive Brasno do a pretty good imitation of adults as kids, and quickly gain our sympathy as they are forced to deal with the problems the other kids are facing, like being forced to take castor oil, and listen to the mean couple in charge of the orphanage, Of course, Spanky (George McFarland) keeps getting into trouble, and manages to provide most of the humor (especially when the “new” orphan tries to get to sleep in between the squirming Spanky and Scotty). To nobody’s surprise, I really liked this one, and can’t wait to see it again!

And Now For The Main Feature…

In 1905, blacksmith Hank Martin (Bing Crosby) is trying to return a horse to his owner during a storm, and is knocked out by a tree branch.  When he wakes up, he finds himself in Camelot, circa 528 A.D., where he is discovered by Sir Sagramore Le Desirous (“Saggy”) (William Bendix). After being taken to the court of King Arthur (Sir Cedric Hardwicke), Hank is then condemned to be burned to death.  Performing a “miracle,” he is freed and then knighted by the king, becoming “Sir Boss.”  At a ball given in his honor, Hank meets one of King Arthur’s nieces, the Lady Alisande la Carteloise (Rhonda Fleming), and falls in love with her, even though she is engaged to Sir Lancelot (Henry Wilcoxon).  Hank jousts with Sir Lancelot, winning his own way, but “Sandy” goes back to Lancelot.  Hank decides to leave, but reconsiders his decision when he sees a regular family broken up by the plague and some unjust laws. To see if he can fix the overall problem, Hank convinces the king and Saggy to join him on a trip through the kingdom so that King Arthur can learn what his people really think of him.  However, the evil wizard Merlin (Murvyn Vye) overhears, and decides to take matters into his own hands. Will Hank, Saggy and the king be able to evade Merlin’s men, or will Merlin take over the kingdom?

In 1889, famous American author Mark Twain published his story A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court. In the years following, the story was adapted for several films (including a 1921 silent film and a 1931 talkie with Will Rogers) and a 1927 stage musical (with music by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart). In 1944, Bing Crosby starred in Going My Way for his home studio Paramount Pictures, a role for which he won the Best Actor Oscar. With that Oscar win under his belt (and a few major hits that followed it up), Bing became a big enough star that his contract with the studio gave him his choice of directors, writers and cast. For A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court, he chose director Tay Garnett (known at the time for directing the 1946 drama The Postman Always Rings Twice, although he had had his start in 1920 as a gag writer for Mack Sennett and Hal Roach). It had been hoped that they could use the score from the 1927 Broadway show, but they were unable to do so as a result of it being purchased by MGM for their musical tribute to Rodgers and Hart, Words And Music (1948). So Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen composed some new songs for the film to add to Victor Young’s score. For the leading lady, the role was offered to Deanna Durbin (who turned it down), before being given to Rhonda Fleming (who had recently attained leading lady status, and would gain the nickname of “Queen Of Technicolor” alongside Maureen O’Hara). The movie was filmed in 1947 with retakes occurring in 1948, but, for reasons unknown to me as yet, was released in 1949 to great success.

This is one of those rare book-based films that I can actually claim to have read the original novel (not only that, but the Wishbone version as well). Outside of the 90s film A Kid In King Arthur’s Court that I saw as a kid, and the bits and pieces I’ve seen of the Disney film Unidentified Flying Oddball (1979), I haven’t really seen any other adaptations of this story, so my comments are mostly with regard to this film. My feeling has long been that the film’s writers essentially took a few moments and characters/character names from the book and changed things around to build this film around Bing Crosby and his persona. In the novel, the incident with the solar eclipse, for example, was the method for which Hank proved his sorcery (and become “Sir Boss”) near the beginning of the story, but in the movie, it’s used towards the end of the film. For the movie, the character of Alisande la Carteloise (portrayed by Rhonda Fleming) was made one of King Arthur’s nieces, instead of being a commoner. We also saw Merlin (Murvyn Vye) become the central villain, with the church not being included at all (no doubt due to the Production Code). The film also seems to take place over several weeks versus several years in the original novel. Many other changes were implemented beyond this handful of examples, so how you feel about the original novel will certainly impact how you look at the movie (at least, if you have read the novel).

Me, personally? I like Bing Crosby and his screen persona, so I definitely prefer this film over the novel. I have long enjoyed some of the music, with the romantic duet “Once And For Always” (performed by Bing and Rhonda Fleming) and the comedic song “Busy Doing Nothing” (performed by Bing, William Bendix and Sir Cedric Hardwicke) being the main standouts. The comedy is superb as well, with two scenes in particular really imprinted in my mind. One is the ball where Bing’s Hank modernizes the music and dancing, much to the initial chagrin of the king and his guests (at least, before they also realize that Hank’s ways are more fun)! The other would be the unusual (to say the least) jousting tournament between Hank and Henry Wilcoxon’s Sir Lancelot. It’s not a perfect film, with some otherwise ridiculous moments that don’t really make much sense (seriously, why was Bing’s Hank allowed so much movement when he was supposed to be getting burned at the stake?). Still, it’s a film that I’ve enjoyed many times since I got it on DVD years ago as part of a double-feature with the equally fun (in my book) The Emperor Waltz (1948), and for that reason alone, I have no hesitation in recommending this musical comedy!

The movie is available on DVD from Universal Studios.

What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2022) with… A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court (1949)

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On August 23, 2022, Universal Studios released A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court (1949) on Blu-ray. This Blu-ray seems to be working with an HD scan that looks pretty good. Most (if not just about all) of the dust, dirt, and other artifacts have been cleaned up. For the most part, the color looks pretty good, similar to the recent Blu-ray release of Blue Skies (1946) from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. There are some minor sections where the color doesn’t look quite as vivid as it seems like it should, but it’s an overall good release of a wonderful film (and certainly as good as it is likely to get anytime soon).

Film Length: 1 hour, 47 minutes

My Rating: 9/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

The Emperor Waltz (1948)Bing CrosbyThe Adventures Of Ichabod And Mr. Toad (1949)

Out Of The Past (1947) – Rhonda Fleming – The Killer Is Loose (1956)

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!

Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2018) on… Out of the Past (1947)

Time for another noir for the wonderful month of Noirvember: that 1947 classic Out of the Past, starring Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, and Kirk Douglas!

Robert Mitchum plays Jeff Bailey, a former private eye.  As we find out, he was hired by mobster Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas) to find his girlfriend, Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer), who had run out on him (after shooting him) with $40,000.  Jeff finds her and falls in love with her, as they try to keep away from Whit.  Jeff’s private eye partner finds them, and threatens to turn them in, but Kathie kills him and leaves Jeff.  Later, after hiding out as the owner of a gas station, Whit finds Jeff again and hires him, with the intent to frame him for another murder.

From what I gather, the movie helped propel the careers of its various stars.  This managed to be the second starring role for Robert Mitchum, and it would make him a star, particularly in the film noir genre, which he would revisit numerous times over the years.  At the time, Kirk Douglas was a bit of a newcomer, but his role in this movie helped to establish him as a good villain for a few noirs, while he continued to rise as a star.  It also helped Jane Greer, who was just starting to become noticed.  Of course, the movie itself would be remade again in the 80s, as Against All Odds, which would feature Jane Greer playing the mother of her character!

Now, I’ll admit, prior to seeing this movie, I hadn’t really seen too many film noirs.  Oh, maybe a few of Humphrey Bogart’s movies, but that was it, for the most part.  I had seen Warner Archive release this movie on Blu-ray, but I wasn’t really interested in it until my family recorded it from Turner Classic Movies on our DVR a few months later.  While I missed bits and pieces of it as my father watched it, from what I could see, it looked like it would be a worthwhile movie.  Once I got my hands on the Blu-ray, I was able to see for myself just what the movie was like (and be able to understand the plot a whole lot better).  This is a movie I enjoyed, and I have been seeking out a few other film noirs ever since.

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

Film Length: 1 hour, 36 minutes

My Rating: 9/10

Audience Rating:

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Robert Mitchum – Holiday Affair (1949)

Kirk Douglas – Young Man With A Horn (1950)

Rhonda Fleming – A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court (1949)