Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… Lovely To Look At (1952)

“To me, dancing is the loveliest way I know to meet a girl. It’s the only way I can hold a girl in my arms in a crowded room and still have her all to myself. Dancing is the whistlestop before romance.” – Gower Champion in Lovely to Look At

Now we’re back for the 1952 musical Lovely To Look At, starring Kathryn Grayson, Red Skelton and Howard Keel.

Tony (Howard Keel), Jerry (Gower Champion) and Al (Red Skelton) have plans for a Broadway show, but find they are under-financed to convince anybody to back the show. Then Al receives a letter stating that his Aunt Roberta had passed, and he had inherited half of her dress shop in Paris. So Tony, Jerry and Al make the trip to Paris to sell Al’s half to finance their show, but they find that the shop, now run by Stephanie (Kathryn Grayson) and her sister Clarisse (Marge Champion), has seen better years. With the creditors closing in, the three men decide to convince them to put on a big fashion show with music, dancing comedy. Of course, there are different romances brewing, as Jerry and Clarisse fall for each other, while Al falls for Stephanie, she likes Tony, and Tony likes her, except his girlfriend Bubbles Cassidy (Ann Miller) shows up (but ends up falling for Al). But when one of the models (Zsa Zsa Gabor) introduces them to producer Max Fogelsby (Kurt Kasznar), who offers them the chance to do their show immediately, will they stay to help with the fashion show or will they return to New York?

As the second filmed version of the Broadway musical Roberta (following the Astaire/Rogers film from the 1930s), this film brought back some songs dropped from the earlier film while retaining some that were written for the previous movie. Having seen the earlier Roberta many times, Lovely To Look At was a movie I was curious about, but had low expectations for when I first saw it nearly a decade ago. All I can say is that I’m glad I was curious, as it has become one of my favorite movies, usually one I try to watch at least once a year!

The score, with music written by Jerome Kern and lyrics by Otto Harbach (and some updated lyrics by Dorothy Fields), is absolutely wonderful! In That’s Entertainment, Part 2, Fred Astaire said that “Jerome Kern wrote some of the loveliest melodies I’ve ever heard, and none lovelier than this one, sung by Kathryn Grayson” (referring, of course, to the song “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes”). That’s a sentiment I very much agree with, as I very much prefer this sung version of the song. Kathryn does it so wonderfully and with so much emotion, I know I can’t help but want to cry along with her as she finishes. That being said, the instrumental version used earlier in the movie for husband-and-wife dance team Marge and Gower Champion is even better yet! It is such a wonderful combination of beautiful music and breathtaking dancing, I look forward to it every time I watch the movie (and, for those who noticed, it made my Top 10 Dance Routines list, too)! Also worth noting for Marge and Gower is the song “I Won’t Dance,” a fun and flirtacious dance between the two that is full of fun and lifts as well!

Of course, with Red Skelton in the cast, you can bet there is room for some comedy, too! Early on, he gets a chance as he rides an elevator that looks so unsafe in how it moves that most of us would much rather walk up the stairs after seeing it in action (and then a bit later when somebody else tries to use it, and we listen to him with his badly mangled French). But his best moment is probably his “Irish Tenor” comedy bit later in the movie. Seriously, if you can get through that without laughing, then I don’t know what you’re even reading about this film for, it’s so good!

Overall, this is very much a fun musical that I always enjoy. I admit, the fashion show sequence at the end of the movie is a bit odd (partly due to the fact that that sequence was directed by Vincente Minelli instead of Mervyn LeRoy who directed the rest of the movie), with the Marge and Gower dance routine to “Yesterdays” really being a jolt, but over time and multiple viewings, I’ve still come to appreciate it just as much as the rest of the movie! A very highly recommended movie if you get the chance to see it!

This movie is available on DVD from Warner Archive Collection, and is one hour, forty-two minutes in length.

My Rating: 10/10

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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

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Original Vs. Remake: Ninotchka (1939) Vs. Silk Stockings (1957)

Now that we’re back for another edition of “Original Vs. Remake,” let’s take a look at the 1939 comedy Ninotchka and its 1957 musical remake, Silk Stockings. Since the two plots have enough differences, I’ll just borrow the two plot descriptions from each of the individual reviews.

Ninotchka: Three Russian commissars (Sig Rumann, Felix Bressart and Alexander Granach) come to Paris with the intention of selling jewelry that had once belonged to the Grand Duchess Swana (Ina Claire). However, Swana is living in Paris, and she learns about the jewels through a former Russian nobleman working at the hotel the commissars are staying at. She sends her lover, Count Leon d’Algout (Melvyn Douglas), to delay the sale of the jewelry in the hope that she can reclaim it. Leon helps introduce the commissars to some of the pleasures of Paris and capitalism, but special envoy Nina Ivanovna Yakushova, or Ninotchka (Greta Garbo) is sent to to take over the case. Leon accidentally meets her on the street, and is instantly smitten (although at first neither realizes who the other is). Once she overhears his telephone call with one of the commissars, they realize who they are with. Leon still likes her, and keeps trying to go out with her, which becomes easier after he is able to make her laugh and loosen up. Swana sees all this going on, and jealously takes advantage of Ninotchka when Ninotchka comes back to her hotel room drunk and leaves the safe containing the jewels open. Swana agrees to relinquish her rights to the jewelry if Ninotchka would immediately return to Russia, which she reluctantly agrees to do. (Length: one hour, fifty-two minutes)

Silk Stockings: Movie producer Steve Canfield (Fred Astaire) wants Russian composer Peter Boroff’s (Wim Sonneveld) music for his new movie, and tries to help him stay in Paris. The Russian government is displeased with this, and sends three commissars (Jules Munshin, Peter Lorre and Joseph Buloff) to bring him back. When Steve distracts them with wine, women and song, special envoy Nina Yoschenko (Cyd Charisse) is sent to try again. She proves to be more resilient, but as the attraction between the two develops, even she manages to loosen, and Steve proposes to her. However, when Nina, Peter and the three commissars hear how Peter’s music has been changed for the movie, they are all offended and they all return to Russia. (Length: one hour, fifty-eight minutes)

This is another instance where it’s not really worth noting the similarities. With Silk Stockings being a remake of Ninotchka (with a Broadway musical in between the two film versions), there is definitely some similar dialogue. We do get George Tobias in both movies, although he plays different parts in each movie (and neither are very long). But really, not much else beyond the very basic story is the same.

So let’s get some of those obligatory surface differences out of the way. First, Ninotchka = comedy, Silk Stockings = musical. Secondly, outside of the leading lady’s character having the same first name (and nickname), none of the characters share names between the two movies. Thirdly, Ninotchka had the Russians coming to sell some jewelry to buy food for the Russian people, with the sale being delayed by the original owner and her lover. Silk Stockings has the Russians coming after a Russian composer who is seeking asylum and providing music for a movie producer, who is trying to prevent him being taken back to Russia.

There are certainly some differences in characterization, but the three commissars do seem to be a bit more vivid. In Ninotchka, when we first meet them, they are already showing signs of wanting to enjoy some of the benefits of staying in a capitalistic society. Instead of staying in the hotel their government had already arranged for, they are arguing themselves into a better and classier hotel, and decide to go with the royal suite, at least partly because it has a safe for them to store the jewels in. In Silk Stockings, since they are coming after Boroff the composer, it’s up to Fred’s Steve Canfield to distract them with the glitz and glamour, almost like a devil who knows how to tempt some of the people he has to deal with and keep them from their mission.

Another major difference, to me, is how the two movies treat the Russians. While Ninotchka is intended as a comedy and a satire of communism, the Russians are not being portrayed in a completely negative light. Sure, the three commissars want to enjoy the benefits of capitalism away from their own country and we see some of the problems of communism itself (including the reference to the then-recent mass trials that resulted in “fewer and better Russians”), but the fact remains that they are in Paris to sell the jewelry to buy more food for their people. Which really puts the Grand Duchess Swana in a bad light, as she just wants her jewels and doesn’t really seem to care at all what happens to the Russian people. And, to a degree, Melvyn Douglas’s Count Leon comes around to the idea of communism, at most, being frustrated with the Russian government for denying him a visa to come and see Ninotchka when she goes back to Russia. Silk Stockings goes a different route, not portraying them as well. In between them trying to force composer Peter Boroff to return (and the three commissars), the political philosophy is never embraced by Fred Astaire’s Steve Canfield (which in some respects injects a bit of sexism and American disregard for other cultures into the story, considering it is used as this story’s excuse to separate the two lovers and have her return to Russia of her own free will). Personally, I suspect this change was partly due to how society changed between the two movies, in between the start of the Cold War and the anti-communist feelings that had swept the country.

As to which movie I prefer? Silk Stockings. It’s been the version of the story that I’ve seen the most (and for many more years). While I do think Greta Garbo was the better actress (both overall and in this role), I still can’t deny that, for me, Fred Astaire brings a magic of his own, that I have enjoyed for a number of years. Not to mention my opinion that I much prefer watching Cyd’s Ninotchka transformation between Fred dancing with her to “All Of You” and Cyd’s solo dance to the title tune as she changes from her drab outfit into a dress. The music by Cole Porter is catchy, the dancing is fun to watch, and it’s just overall easier to sit down and watch Silk Stockings. I can’t deny there are some things that require either seeing Ninotchka or at least some knowledge of what the Soviet Union was like, such as the one guy who passes through Ninotchka’s living area (in Ninotchka, we are given the explanation that he is the type that you can never tell whether he is just going to the washroom or to the secret police, and that explanation is absent when he walks through during the “Red Blues” number in Silk Stockings). But, while I do prefer Silk Stockings, Ninotchka is no slouch, either, and I would definitely recommend both movies highly!


My Rating: 9/10

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Silk Stockings

My Rating: 10/10

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The Winner (in my opinion): Silk Stockings

Screen Team Edition: Fred Astaire & Cyd Charisse

And we’re back to talk about another screen team! This time, it’s Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse! Going into The Band Wagon, Cyd Charisse was coming off her successful partnered dance with Gene Kelly for the “Broadway Melody” ballet in Singin’ In The Rain resulting in her being promoted to leading lady for The Band Wagon. On the other hand, Fred was coming off The Belle Of New York, which had flopped. This put him in a similar situation as his character in The Band Wagon, where he was considering retirement or trying to figure out how to keep going.

In The Band Wagon, washed-up movie actor Tony Hunter (Fred Astaire) decides to leave Hollywood and go to New York City to do a Broadway show written by his friends Lester (Oscar Levant) and Lily (Nanette Fabray) Marton. Lester and Lily have convinced actor/ director Jeffrey Cordova (Jack Buchanan) to do their show, and he quickly signs ballet dancer Gabrielle Gerard (Cyd Charisse) as the leading lady, along with her boyfriend/ manager Paul Byrd (James Mitchell) as the show’s choreographer. However, Tony and Gabrielle don’t hit it off well at first, and Jeff quickly gets out of control making the show quite different than what Lester and Lily had written. When the show opens out-of-town, they find just how badly out-of-control Jeff had gotten, and they all regroup to figure out how to salvage the show. (Length: one hour, fifty-two minutes)

While they had worked alongside each other a little in the 1946 Ziegfeld Follies, The Band Wagon was the first opportunity that Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse would have to actually work together. As such, Fred did have some concerns about working with her (which ended up being written into his character for the movie). He did worry about her being a little tall for him, which would be fixed either by him wearing a hat or by her wearing flats. And of course, her ballet background made thing different, as Fred had had some ballet when he was much younger, but hadn’t done much for years, and was generally not fond of doing it. We see that in the movie, and it helps drive the early portion of the film, as we only see them “rehearsing” together (but it’s not exactly going well). It’s only when they go to the park, with the intention of seeing whether they can dance together, that we get their iconic “Dancing In The Dark” duet. From there, we see them “rehearse” (admittedly, running into trouble with all the out-of-control smoke, which in some respects was the movie’s director Vincente Minelli making fun of some of the bubble trouble he had with one segment of the aforementioned Ziegfeld Follies). Then we get the “Girl Hunt Ballet,” which was spoofing a lot of the various private eye/detective stories of recent years, with Michael Kidd being brought in due to his work on the Broadway show of Guys And Dolls to choreograph another iconic dance (with Cyd pulling double-duty as a femme-fatale and a “damsel in distress”).

In Silk Stockings, movie producer Steve Canfield (Fred Astaire) wants Russian composer Peter Boroff’s (Wim Sonneveld) music for his new movie, and tries to help him stay in Paris. The Russian government is displeased with this, and sends three commissars (Jules Munshin, Peter Lorre and Joseph Buloff) to bring him back. When Steve distracts them with wine, women and song, special envoy Nina Yoschenko (Cyd Charisse) is sent to try again. She proves to be more resilient, but as the attraction between the two develops, even she manages to loosen, and Steve proposes to her. However, when Nina, Peter and the three commissars hear how Peter’s music has been changed for the movie, they are all offended and they all return to Russia. (Length: one hour, fifty-eight minutes)

Going into filming Silk Stockings, producer Arthur Freed had it pegged as another film for Fred and Cyd. Having established their chemistry in the previous film, they were able to work with another story. The song “All Of You” in effect replaced the attempt by Melvyn Douglas’s Count d’Algout in Ninotchka to make Greta Garbo’s Nina laugh in an attempt to loosen her up with Fred’s Steve Canfield trying to get Cyd’s Nina to loosen up through dance. While she resisted at first, he was able to get through, and she danced with him. While she still resisted a little, by the time they got to the song “Fated To Be Mated” (a new song written specifically for the movie), she has loosened up, and the dance is a more joyous one (and even borrows some of the music from “All Of You” for part of the dance)!

In commenting on Silk Stockings, New York Times writer once said that “There should be legislation requiring that Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse appear together in a musical picture at least once every two years.” While I agree with that statement, sadly, it was not to be. Upon completing the movie, Fred announced he would be retiring (mainly from dancing, although he made a few dance specials for television and would return again for the 1968 Finian’s Rainbow and dance again in That’s Entertainment Part 2). It would also mark the last musical for Cyd as well, although she would continue to do dramatic parts, as well as some dancing here and there, both on the big and small screens. According to some, Silk Stockings underperformed at the box office, resulting in a loss. Personally, I enjoy both of their movies, with a greater preference for Silk Stockings as the better of the two (again, that’s my opinion), so I would very heartily recommend seeing these two work (and dance!) together in either of these movies!

The Band Wagon

My Rating: 10/10

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Silk Stockings

My Rating: 10/10

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Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… Silk Stockings (1957)

Now we have a movie that proves that Paris loves lovers, the 1957 MGM musical Silk Stockings starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse!

Movie producer Steve Canfield (Fred Astaire) wants Russian composer Peter Boroff’s (Wim Sonneveld) music for his new movie, and tries to help him stay in Paris. The Russian government is displeased with this, and sends three commissars (Jules Munshin, Peter Lorre and Joseph Buloff) to bring him back. When Steve distracts them with wine, women and song, special envoy Nina Yoschenko (Cyd Charisse) is sent to try again. She proves to be more resilient, but as the attraction between her and Steve develops, even she manages to loosen up, and Steve proposes to her. However, when Nina, Peter and the three commissars hear how Peter’s music has been changed for the movie, they are all offended and they all return to Russia.

This movie was based on a then-recent Broadway musical with music by Cole Porter (which was based on the 1939 comedy Ninotchka). A lot of the score from the Broadway show was kept for the movie, with a couple of new songs written specifically for the movie. These include the songs “Fated To Be Mated” and “Ritz, Roll And Rock” (and a few altered lyrics on some others in order to comply with the censors). Personally, “Ritz, Roll And Rock” is probably my favorite song from this movie (although most of the music is a lot of fun). It’s a song Fred Astaire apparently asked composer Cole Porter to write for the movie, due to the recent popularity of rock and roll. For me, it’s just a fun song to remember, and it’s one that almost always seems to be at least partly stuck in my head!  The song “All Of You” also manages to be quite memorable (although it’s one of those songs that I’m surprised made it past the censors, considering the suggestive nature of some of the lyrics)!

Just in general, this movie is one that I very, very much enjoy! For me, the cast just makes it work! Fred and Cyd dazzle, alone and together, in their dances. Janis Paige is hilarious, with a character essentially spoofing the famous swimming actress Esther Williams. All three of the Russian commissars are fun to watch (including Peter Lorre, who certainly seems like an odd choice in a musical, especially considering his dancing seems to be very limited, but still manages to make the comedy work). Again, a movie I have so much fun watching (and getting the music stuck in my head), and one I definitely would recommend highly!

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

My Rating: 10/10

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What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2019) with… The Thin Man (1934)

If you’re ready for mystery mixed in with a bit of screwball comedy (not to mention one that works at Christmastime, too), then look no further than The Thin Man from 1934, starring William Powell and Myrna Loy!

Dorothy Wynant (Maureen O’Sullivan) announces to her inventor father Clyde Wynant (Edward Ellis) that she plans to marry her boyfriend Tommy (Henry Wadsworth) just after Christmas. Clyde says he has a business trip (which he refuses to discuss), but he promises to return before Christmas. However, when he doesn’t show up by Christmas Eve, Dorothy begins to worry. At a party, she runs into an old family friend, former detective Nick Charles (William Powell), who is in New York for the holidays with his wife, Nora (Myrna Loy), and their dog Asta. She tries to convince him to look for her father, but he doesn’t want to become involved. After Clyde’s mistress Julia Wolf (Natalie Moorhead) is discovered murdered, Nick can’t help but get dragged into the case, pushed along by his wife. After a thug is murdered and another body is discovered in Clyde’s laboratory, Nick and Nora gather all the suspects together at a dinner party, where the murderer is revealed.

Ah, yes, the movie that was the beginning of a franchise (and yet, in making it, who knew that would be the case). MGM had gotten the rights to the novel, written by Dashiell Hammett (who had also written The Maltese Falcon, amongst other novels). Director W.S. Van Dyke, himself a fan of detective novels, wanted to do it. And he wanted William Powell and Myrna Loy to do it, after working with them on the 1934 film Manhattan Melodrama and seeing how well they had gotten along on that film behind the scenes. However, the MGM executives were against the idea. At most, they were willing to let William Powell do it, since he had already portrayed some other detectives, but they weren’t as thrilled with Myrna Loy, supposedly only giving in if the movie could be done within three weeks so she could start her next film. Of course, Van Dyke (known to some as “One-Take Woody”) ran with it, getting the movie finished within twelve to eighteen days, and the movie became a big classic, spawning five sequels, many copycats and a two season TV series in the late fifties starring Peter Lawford and Phyllis Kirk, not to mention seven more films (besides the already mentioned Manhattan Melodrama) that paired up William Powell and Myrna Loy.

Going into the recent Blu-ray release, this was my first time seeing this movie. It turned out to be a wonderful and very enjoyable surprise! While the mystery itself was fun, it was very much secondary in this movie. Instead, the focus was on the relationship of William Powell’s Nick Charles and Myrna Loy’s Nora. For a film that was shot in a very short period of time, they give us such a rich relationship! Their banter alone makes the film fun (with some lines definitely showing the movie to be a pre-Code).  And, of course, they clearly make good use of the then-recent repeal of Prohibition, considering how much they imbibe martinis and other alcoholic drinks. But the comedy works, and for that alone, I have absolutely no trouble whatsoever with recommending this movie to anybody!

Of course, as with a lot of older movies, being a popular film proves to be just as much a curse as it is a blessing. Due to its popularity, the studio made so many release prints off the original camera negative that it was in bad shape, and was essentially destroyed back in the late 1960s. Partly because of that, this movie has apparently never looked that great on home video. But in preparing this movie for Blu-ray, the good people working for the Warner Archive Collection made use of a safety fine grain film stock (made before the original camera negative was gone) and a dupe negative in place of some sections that were in bad shape to restore this movie. All I can say is that, in my opinion, their hard work has paid off, resulting in one of this year’s best film restorations (so far)! So I would definitely recommend WAC’s recent Blu-ray release of this great film! The movie is one hour, thirty-one minutes in length.

My Rating: 10/10

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TFTMM 2019 & WOIANRA 2018 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!

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! This movie is two hours, thirty minutes in length.

My Rating: 9/10

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