Thursday, June 30, 2005

"Mister, your climate's bum."

Read the W. Somerset Maugham story "Rain" upon which the Joan Crawford movie of the same name is based. It's a fabulous read.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

We're having a heat wave, a tropical heat wave

Pretty darn close; it's been over 90 almost every day for the past week and a half. But it was purely by coincidence that my latest movie, Only Angels Have Wings, was set in the steamy jungles of Panama, where if it's not cinematically pouring rain, it will be any second. Luckily, I was able to cuddle up with my air conditioner and enjoy the film.

I had never seen Jean Arthur in anything before, and I liked her well enough, although after awhile her voice kind of got to me. Not to be mean or anything, because she was a fine actress, but it sounded sort of squeaky to me. I could believe her as a chorus girl, though, so it worked in its own way. I'd rented the movie promarily because of Cary Grant and Rita Hayworth (who had a smaller role and lower hairline than I'd anticipated); as an added bonus there was also Thomas Mitchell, perhaps best known as the beloved Gerald O'Hara. Movies with pilots always have the best character (nick)names: Kid Dabb, Bat McPherson, Dutchy, Sparks, Tex, and Gent. Heh.

I don't think I'd buy it or rent it again, but I was well worth the Netflix rental.

After that, I was in the mood for another movie in a rainy, tropical setting, so I popped in my copy of Rain. While it may sound like a big cliche to say so, every time I see this movie I am astounded all over again. It is so beautifully and, in places, cleverly shot, it's amazing for its time, I think. Right from the beginning, where the rain starts to fall on different areas of the beach, I'm hooked.

The scene where the drunken quartermaster is trying to find the door, and instead keeps circling the table saying, "Goodbye, Mr. Davidson," as the camera pans around the table right along with him, is just wonderful. I imagine that must have been quite a difficult shot back in 1932. The scene of Davidson saving Sadie's soul as he stands on the steps and she kneels at the bottom, is amazing, too. Some of the long pans up and out of the rooms bring so much to the story and the mood of a particular moment. And the shots of Joan as Sadie, after she's been saved and is waiting to go back to San Francisco...I don't think she's ever looked more beautiful on film. Just breathtaking. Davidson's last scene, as he's standing on the porch listening to the native drums and trying to overcome temptation...when he opens his eyes after that brief prayer, and you can tell by the look on his face he's going into Sadie's room...I involuntarily back away a little, every time, even though I know by now it's coming. Well done, Walter Huston.

It would be interesting to see this movie remade today, but it would also be a shame, because you know that scene when Davidson goes to Sadie wouldn't end with him going around the corner, her door creaking, and a fade to black. No, today we'd probably have to have screams and heaving bosoms and furniture overturned. I think the way it's filmed is much more shocking, because it leaves it up to the viewer's imagination. When Sadie comes out the next day and she's back in her old clothes and makeup, you don't have to have seen what happened, what Davidson did to her. You just know.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Return of the Box Set

I had so much fun last time creating my own box sets, I decided to have another go. As an aside, imagine how much money the studios could make if they made their movies -- all their movies, including the old ones, whether released on VHS but not DVD, or not ever released commercially at all -- available for download to burn to DVD, a la Napster. I would be downloading black and white movies until the cows came home. Ted Turner, call me! I’ll let you have the idea for a modest fee. ;)

So, next up is...

Flynn and Hale: The Buddy Movie Collection
  1. Adventures of Don Juan
  2. Dodge City
  3. Adventures of Robin Hood
  4. Desperate Journey
  5. Footsteps in the Dark
  6. Gentleman Jim
  7. Prince and the Pauper
  8. Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex
  9. Santa Fe Trail
  10. Sea Hawk
  11. The Sisters
  12. Virginia City

I would have sworn Alan was also in Captain Blood. My bad. Anyhow, some of these movies I’ve never seen, and some I’ve seen where Alan has the bittiest of bit parts (Prince & Pauper, for example) but any pairing of Alan and Errol (yeah, we’re all on a first name basis) is full of buddy goodness. These guys started the genre. Well, as far as I’m concerned. Okay, I guess technically Laurel & Hardy came earlier, and others before that, but I’m talking action buddy, not comedy buddy. Although Alan can be very droll.

Bela Lugosi: Only the Good Movies (or ones I’ve heard are good)
  1. Dracula
  2. Murders in the Rue Morgue
  3. White Zombie
  4. The Black Cat (1934)
  5. The Raven
  6. Black Friday
  7. Son of Frankenstein
  8. Ghost of Frankenstein
Poor Bela. So underrated, so typecast. So delicious with the haunting eyes and exotic accent. I’m tentative on Rue Morgue because I’ve heard good and bad about it. So we could trim that one and leave it at seven. Ed Wood would make kind of a nifty addition, though, now that it’s finally released on DVD. For real. Not to be withdrawn later. Sheesh.

You could do a Lugosi and Karloff "good movies" set, which would have maybe four of five movies (IMHO). If that sounds slim, keep in mind that James Dean’s collection is only three. The...only three movies he ever made (or at least the only ones he made in which he wasn’t an uncredited extra). Now that’s fame.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Make your own box set!

I can’t believe I didn’t think of this sooner. Well, actually, Borders thought of it already; I think it was last summer. Buy 3 DVDs, get the 4th one free, and you got a handy little sleeve that you could color yourself. I checked it out, but none of the movies appealed to me. Mostly action, sci-fi, that kind of stuff. I’m going to pretend I have the power to release movies on DVD, and create a few box sets that need to be created, posthaste. Major studios and Ted Turner, are you listening? Here we go...

Joan Crawford: The Best of the 1930s

  1. Dance, Fools, Dance
  2. Laughing Sinners
  3. Possessed (1931, obviously)
  4. Rain
  5. Dancing Lady
  6. Sadie McKee
  7. Chained
  8. Forsaking All Others
  9. Love on the Run

Okay, this would obviously be a rather hefty box set**, but I would totally buy it. The new Garbo one coming out this fall has seven sound movies (eight if you count both the German and English versions of Anna Christie) plus three silents and a documentary on ten discs for $69.94 (Amazon price). So how about nine Crawford movies for, say, $49.95? There are more good movies of hers from the 1930s, I just picked my favorites. You could also toss in Letty Lynton, I Live My Life, Gorgeous Hussy, The Last of Mrs. Cheyney, or The Bride Wore Red.

**Pausing to look over some of the other "signature collection" box sets, I see that 9 movies in a set wouldn’t be outrageous at all. Here’s how many movies are in various other box sets:
Cary Grant – 5
Judy Garland – 7
Hitchcock – 9
Errol Flynn – 5, plus a documentary
John Wayne – 4
Hepburn & Tracy – 3, plus a documentary
Elizabeth Taylor – 4

So the bigger, the better is now my motto!

Moving on, let’s take a look at Jean Harlow, who should have had a box set long ago.

Jean Harlow: The Signature Collection
  1. Hell’s Angels
  2. The Public Enemy
  3. Platinum Blonde
  4. Red-Headed Woman
  5. Red Dust
  6. Hold Your Man
  7. Dinner at Eight
  8. Bombshell
  9. China Seas
  10. Wife vs. Secretary
  11. Libeled Lady
  12. Saratoga

I think that would about do it. Most people would probably take out Hold Your Man as it’s not one of her better known films, but I included it because I adore it. Also Saratoga could go, because it is kind of morbid to play "spot the body double." So that would make it an even ten. There’s room to fiddle – I could easily take out China Seas and put in The Girl from Missouri. I find myself inexplicably fascinated with Reckless, but that was pretty much a bomb, so we’ll skip it.

How about...

Judy and Mickey: The Collection

  1. Babes in Arms
  2. Babes on Broadway
  3. Strike Up the Band
  4. Love Finds Andy Hardy
  5. Life Begins for Andy Hardy
  6. Andy Hardy Meets Debutante
  7. Girl Crazy

Or you could just whip up an Andy Hardy box set, although the last one, Andy Hardy Comes Home, has always seemed like a depressing idea to me.

Oh! How could I have almost neglected to mention...

Clark Gable: The Signature Collection

  1. Red Dust
  2. It Happened One Night
  3. Manhattan Melodrama
  4. Mutiny on the Bounty
  5. Test Pilot
  6. Idiot’s Delight
  7. Mogambo
  8. Run Silent, Run Deep
  9. The Misfits

I know I’m missing a lot here, because there are quite a few of his films I haven’t seen. I know there’s one or several documentaries out there, so toss your favorite in. Another idea would be a Clark Gable and Joan Crawford collection.

Norma Shearer: The Signature Collection

  1. The Divorcee
  2. A Free Soul
  3. Private Lives
  4. Strange Interlude
  5. Riptide
  6. The Barretts of Wimpole Street
  7. Romeo and Juliet
  8. Marie Antoinette
  9. Idiot’s Delight

I skipped The Women because it’s been released by itself as well as part of Joan’s new box set. Marie Antoinette should be released on DVD right now, just by itself, because it is a wonderful film, and Norma is fabulous in it.

Other random films that I’d love to see on DVD, not necessarily as part of a box set:

Jane Eyre
No Man of Her Own
I Love You Again
To Each His Own
Love Crazy
The Raven
The Black Cat (1934)

Okay, whoever owns the distributions rights to these movies, you’ve got your work cut out for you. Get cracking!

Friday, June 24, 2005

I hate bootlegs

I knew bootlegs existed, of course. I didn’t see the appeal, personally. If I want to own a movie, I want to own it, with box art and inserts and a real case. I am a movie consumer in every sense of the word.

So last year when I saw a listing on eBay for a "rare!" Joan Crawford movie, you would think all my alarms and sirens would have gone off. But no, I was in the throes of discovering both eBay (it was my second auction) and a passion for collecting Joan Crawford memorabilia (save your wire hanger comments). My collection has since expanded to an entire shelf, but at the time I was just starting out, and I was dazzled by the listing. Crawford! Franchot Tone! Robert Montgomery! All in the same movie! And it’s rare!

So I bid. And won. Promptly paid, promptly got the movie. Promptly left feedback – my first mistake. The movie had looked kind of dodgy to me right out of the package. No cover art – a clear plastic box. Well, I’d seen that mentioned in the listing. Label on the tape itself that looked suspiciously homemade. Hmmm. Well, it’s not like it was written in crayon, so maybe I was just being suspicious for no reason. Still, I had what I’d paid for, so I left positive feedback: fast shipping, glad to have hard to find movie, blah blee blah.

In retrospect, I think my comment makes me look like an even bigger rube.

I pop the movie in the VCR, and we’re off. So far, so good. Until about 20 minutes into the movie, when Ted’s TCM logo appears in the bottom right corner of the screen, as it is wont to do. I literally can’t believe my eyes. I end up watching the same scene with Edna Oliver a zillion times because I just could not fathom that I was really seeing that logo.

Then I got mad. Logged back on to eBay, amended my feedback. Emailed the seller and requested a refund, post haste. Fumed for awhile. Watched the scene again. Checked IMDB – this movie has never been commercially released, duh. So "rare" applies in the "rare because it’s an illegal copy" sense. Finally went to bed.

The next morning, I have an email from the seller. He strives for satisfaction, and since I’m not satisfied, here’s my refund. I can keep the movie. (Damn right I’m keeping it! Now it’s evidence!) I also have a PayPal refund. Well, at least it didn’t turn into a bloodbath.

I’m still ticked, though, especially when I check the seller’s listings and see that he has over 200 movies for sale. A cursory check leads me to believe they’re all bootlegs. Fucker. Now I’m ready to bring the pain.

I report him to eBay. They suspend him. He comes back, lists more movies. I report him to eBay again. They suspend him. He comes back, lists more movies. I report him to eBay yet again. They suspend him. He comes back, lists more movies.

(Cutting and pasting was used in creating the above paragraph. Just repeat until you’re dizzy. I reported him 12 times before I stopped counting.)

I see the Joan Crawford movie listed again – by another seller with a suspiciously similar name. Sing it with me: I report him to eBay. They suspend him. He comes back, lists more movies.

I contact TCM. Thanks, they say, they’re always interested in protecting their intellectual property, la la la. I report him to the MPAA. No response. I report him to the FBI, with some embarrassment, because obviously more important things are going on in the world. They thank me, and advise me to contact the MPAA. Hey, what about those warnings at the beginning of movies about ginormous fines and jail time and all that? No public flogging? No arrest in front of a gaggle of TV cameras? Oh, well.

As of this writing, the seller is, of course, still on eBay. However, I haven’t seen him list any movies in a long time. At least not under any IDs that I am aware of. I know he has at least three. I occasionally check for that Crawford title, and nothing comes up. So I suppose some kind of justice did eventually prevail. Just not the publicly humiliating kind I was hoping for. And I learned a lesson, at no cost to myself, which I can now pass along to you.

In case you’re curious, the seller’s ID was besttrader2004. Look at all that positive feedback. Either people are stupid or don’t care that they’re getting illegal copies, that this guy is profiting off of them with blank tapes and his cable hook-up. His other ID was beststuff4, which has since been suspended – yay! I can’t remember the third one, it had the word gift in it. I don’t check every day anymore – I eventually gave that up for the sake of my sanity – but if you ever see him or anyone else selling bootleg movies on eBay, report their asses, won’t you?

Another offender (I somehow find all the Crawford ones) is billiecassin (get it?) who sells "rare" DVDs of Joan Crawford’s television appearances and commercials. I’ve reported her a boatload of times, but the listings keep on coming. Gah, just looking at them again makes me grit my teeth. If I were a vengeful person, or someone who disrespects the law as much as these people do, I would get another eBay ID and start some ridiculous high bidding just to fuck up her auctions. Or win and not pay. But I’m not, so I never would. Plus I’m too much of a weenie.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Only one to report

The movie viewing has kind of slowed down lately, for a variety of reasons. Only one this weekend, That Touch of Mink. I don't usually go for these "watch Doris Day remain a virgin" comedies, although they are cute in their own way. That whole wacky 60's, retina-burning Technicolor, bongo-drum-music movie type is not my style at all, as previously stated. Which is why my definition of "classic" stops around 1960, and also why I was so, so disappointed in Ted Turner the other weekend when a Clint Eastwood/chimp buddy movie was playing. Ted, what have I done to be treated so disrespectfully?

Anyhow, I gave Mink airtime based on that fact that it contained 1: Cary Grant and 2: Audrey Meadows. I would watch Cary read the phone book, and I love (love!) Audrey from The Honeymooners. Looking over her credits, actually, it seems Mink is one of only three movies she made. She had a boatload of guest appearances on TV, though, her last ones being on Dave's World a few months before she died.

So, the movie. I liked it well enough, Audrey was great as the well-meaning best friend who works in an Automat -- why did those go out of style, anyway? I think they're a neat idea. Cary was his usual delicious self, and I liked Doris, even if I don't like the twinkly kind of character she portrayed. Rounding out the cast was Gig Young, who kind of gave me the creeps, knowing how he ended up.

On another note, I got my two boxes from Barnes & Noble today, which contained all kinds of goodies. One DVD, Pre-Code Hollywood: The Risque Years, which contains Millie, Kept Husbands, and Of Human Bondage. I'd rented this from Netflix before and really liked the first two movies -- Human Bondage was just okay. Also, in books: Garbo, by Barry Paris, Evenings with Cary Grant, by Nancy Nelson, Joan Crawford: Her Life in Letters, by Michelle Vogel, Dishing Hollywood, by Laurie Jacobson, and Lion of Hollywood: The Life & Legend of Louis B. Mayer by Scott Eyman. Ooh, which to start first? I can't decide, maybe I'll have to draw numbers. ;)

Recent viewing has been mostly the early seasons of "Cheers" on DVD. I love Nicholas Colasanto, the show was never the same without Coach. I feel sad when they have the little special feature about him, and Ted Danson and George Wendt talk about working him, and what a sweet man he was. I wrote Nick's Find-A-Grave biography, check it out.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Dodge City

Errol Flynn slips into some buckskin for his first (I believe) western, Dodge City, along with a boatload of character actors: Alan Hale (with the biggest part in which I think I've ever seen him), Victor Jory (egad, it's Jonas Wilkerson, the evil overseer of Tara!), Guinn Williams (who appeared in yesterday's movie You'll Never Get Rich), Gloria Holden (it drove me mad trying to recognize her, and I couldn't, I had to look it up -- I saw her in Dracula's Daughter), Henry Travers (hi, Clarence!), and Frank McHugh, who I just adored in the Powell/Loy movie I Love You Again.

I think I prefer Errol when he's buckling swashes (or is it swashing buckles?), but I enjoyed him as a cowboy/cattle herder/reluctant yet effective sherriff, too. Olivia de Havilland is always beautiful and delightful as his love interest; as Robert Osbourne pointed out during the special feature, in most (if not all) of their movies together, their characters hate each at first, then end up falling madly in love. Usually when Errol insists upon it, but who could resist him, anyway?

I was never much for westerns, and I don't think this movie is going to make me run out and start renting them by the wagonload, but I did like it, mostly for the enjoyable performances by all the actors mentioned above. My grandfather was a big western fan, and he and my mom would go to the movies almost every week. I don't know why, they just never grew on me. I'll take a WWII movie for action and adventure over a western.

I have now officially seen all the movies in the Errol Flynn box set. Now I can rest up for the Garbo set coming out in September. ;)

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Upcoming DVD goodness

God bless the studios that are deciding to release classic movies on DVD, thereby eliminating my need to feverishly bid for VHS tapes on eBay. Coming up this summer we have:

And so on. I've completely reorganized my Netflix queue to keep up. Yes, I am that nerdy. The first 3 items listed above are already on my wish list at Amazon. I already have Possessed and Humoresque on tape; I liked them okay, but not really enough to rush out and buy the DVD, too. I've never seen The Star, and I don't always like Bette Davis, but I'll give it a test drive.

The most recent movie viewed is You'll Never Get Rich. The verdict: okay. Fred is always good, Rita was lovely as usual, Robert Benchley is cute, and a shout-out to Garry Owen, who was also in Hold Your Man, one of my favorites (although IMDB doesn't even list him in the full cast, the title is listed on his page). I like military movies, and backstage dramas, and I got two for the price of one here.