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"The Duchess of Idaho" (1950)--Starring Van Johnson and Esther Williams.

 

This was the fourth film with Johnson and Williams, and the theme of comedically mismatched couples was wearing thin.  Film is connect-the-dots fare, with Williams only doing two swimming numbers.  Johnson's comedic talents come in handy, and Lena Horne and Eleanor Powell are pluses (even though each only has one song).  Connie Haines does well with her songs.  TDoI  is a painless time killer; but the non-musical moments without Van Johnson may put you to sleep.  2.3/4

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The Pony Express (1925)

 

If you’ve ever wanted to see Ricardo Cortez in a western, this is your chance. Actually, the film isn’t bad, but the print I saw on youtube was dark, and apparently truncated, running a little over an hour.

 

Cortez plays “Frisco Jack Weston,” who is hired to ride for the Pony Express by a California senator who wants California to secede from the Union. All the while, Cortez is in favor of keeping California in the Union (main plot).  Ernest Torrence is trying to open a church, while his daughter (Betty Compson) falls for Cortez … but then she begins to suspect he is a traitor to California (subplot). George Bancroft is in cahoots with the senator, and has eyes for Compson (still another subplot). Then, inexplicably, some of Bancroft’s henchmen are in cahoots with the Indians and want to destroy the town (that’s a subplot I couldn’t follow at all).

 

Part of the problem is that some of the film is missing. While there is a young character named “Billie Cody” (who is obviously supposed to grow up to be Buffalo Bill), contemporary newspaper reviews also mention that Mark Twain and Brigham Young show up as well – but they don’t in the version I saw.

 

Cortez is pretty good in this, and he can apparently shoot his guns without aiming and knock off the bad guys. Wallace Beery shows up as a character named Rhode Island Red; he rescues a young girl during the final Indian attack, which is well-staged. Bancroft plays an interesting villain who eventually sees the light.

 

Probably worth a look. The full version is no doubt better.

 

Torrence, Cortez, Beery, and Bancroft seem to be having a ball:

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Sleep, My Love (1948)

 

An independent production released through United Artists, this thriller starts off with Claudette Colbert asleep on a speeding train and screaming soon after awakening because she has no idea how she got there. At home husband Don Ameche is being interviewed by the police after he calls them because of her disappearance the previous evening. This will be just the first in a series of bizarre circumstances for Colbert.

 

This suspenser is nicely photographed and has some impressive sets. It also features Robert Cummings as a nice young man Colbert meets who becomes interested in her, George Coulouris in thick horn rimmed glasses playing a creepy guy, something that came very naturally to George Coulouris, and Hazel Brooks, looking very seductive and slinking around, much as she had recently done in another independent production of considerably more fame today than this one, Body and Soul.

 

Once you realize, however, that this is another Gaslight-type thriller (and it gives its hand away fairly early), it all starts to seem like territory a little too familiar. It also gets more than a little silly when the husband puts a sleeping potion into his wife's hot chocolate at night which seems to make her highly susceptible to any suggestion that he may whisper into her ear once she falls asleep.

 

For myself, recalling the charm that Colbert and Ameche had brought to the screen almost a decade before when they appeared in director Mitchell Leisen's sly, sophisticated comedy bauble, Midnight, I was a little dismayed to see them together again under these Gaslight circumstances. Still, Sleep, My Love, while far fetched at times, is an adequate thriller for fans of the genre.

 

This film is available as a DVD from Olive Films with a very nice looking print.

 

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2.5 out of 4.

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i fleetingly checked out parts of THE LAST TIME I SAW PARIS (1954) the other day.

Man...he seems like he was nice and all, but Van Johnson just wasn't a particularly good actor at all, was he?

 

ps- interesting story about how PARIS ended up in the public domain because of a mistake with the roman numerals noting the year on the master print.

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and THE MISFITS (1961.)

 

THE MISFITS came immediately to mind for me too, particularly as the deaths were premature in most cases.  Another that I quickly thought of was THE WHALES OF AUGUST, but that's a different thing entirely.

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I see that Van's daughter, Schuyler, is releasing a book of family album photos in November, called "Van Johnson's Hollywood", featuring a lot of his Hollywood celebrity friends.  I think I had read after his death that they had a strained relationship, but this doesn't seem like it is a "Daddy Dearest" tome.  Which is refreshing.

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"Du Barry Was A Lady" (1943)--Starring Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, and Gene Kelly, directed by Roy Del Ruth. 

 

Full disclosure; I Don't like Red Skelton's comedy (his singing is listenable).  With that said:

 

MGM bought a seventeen song musical comedy, threw out thirteen songs ("It Ain't Etiquette", "Well, Did You Evah", and "But In The Morning, No" can still be heard as background music) and had five studio composers take care of the rest of the score ("Salome" is their best contribution).

 

The plot--Film takes place in a nightclub.  Louis (Skelton) is in love with May (Lucille Ball). After he accidentally drinks a Mickey, he dreams he's back in 1743 France, where he is Louis XV, and May is Madame DuBarry.

 

To me, Skelton is unbearable when he plays stupid; here, he takes forever to get the idea he's back in France, and tramples jokes into the ground.  I don't know if that's his fault or the fault of director Del Ruth.

 

Ball is good as May/Madame DuBarry.  She saves the second half of the film with her comedy skills where she makes a fool out of Louis XV.  She is dubbed for most of her songs, but her real voice can be heard in the song "Friendship".

 

Gene Kelly is good as Alec/The Black Arrow.  He has the best song ("Do I Love You") and an excellent dance number on the nightclub stage.

 

Virginia O'Brien makes "Salome" a memorable song.  Look for Marilyn Maxwell in a bit , and Lana Turner in an uncredited bit.

 

Film is enjoyable musical nonsense, but it could have been much better.  2.5/4

 

Edit--Saw a Beautiful print on archivedotorg.

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i fleetingly checked out parts of THE LAST TIME I SAW PARIS (1954) the other day.

Man...he seems like he was nice and all, but Van Johnson just wasn't a particularly good actor at all, was he?

 

 

Ya know Lorna, this is now the second time within a week or so where you've stated your less than positive appraisal of Van's acting skills. The other of course was where you stated you thought he was the weakest actor of all the leads during your viewing of THE CAINE MUTINY.

 

And so, and to answer your above question here...no, I don't agree with ya, and do in fact now days think he was a much better actor than he seems to have been credit for being.

 

Now, I used to think the same thing as you here, but over the years I've noticed the guy has grown on me, and now think when called upon to believably express a particular emotion and to effectively deliver his lines in those emotions, the guy was pretty darn good at it.

 

(...but what say we don't now turn this thread into a discussion of him...I doubt the others around here who are posting these nicely written reviews of other films would appreciate that)

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Ya know Lorna, this is now the second time within a week or so where you've stated your less than positive appraisal of Van's acting skills. The other of course was where you stated you thought he was the weakest actor of all the leads during your viewing of THE CAINE MUTINY.

 

And so, and to answer your above question here...no, I don't agree with ya, and do in fact now days think he was a much better actor than he seems to have been credit for being.

 

Now, I used to think the same thing as you here, but over the years I've noticed the guy has grown on me, and now think when called upon to believably express a particular emotion and to effectively deliver his lines in those emotions, the guy was pretty darn good at it.

 

(...but what say we don't now turn this thread into a discussion of him...I doubt the others around here who are posting these nicely written reviews of other films would appreciate that)

 

Oh, don't let that stop you.

:P

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We've been through it before, but "oily" is how I'd describe Jack Carson's performances long before Van Johnson's.

 

(I mean that in a good way regarding Carson.)

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Florence Foster Jenkins (now showing in theaters)

 

Since Dargo was curious …

I caught this last week, and was pleasantly surprised. I wasn’t expecting a bomb, but I wasn’t about to go out of my way to see it either.

 

Meryl Streep does a nice job as the real-life untalented Ms. Jenkins, who is surrounded by people who just want to make her happy. She hires a pianist (Simon Helberg, one of the geeks from “The Big Bang Theory”) but no one will tell her how bad she is, least of all her husband, played by Hugh Grant. Inspired by the boys fighting in WW II, she cuts a record, then manages to book a concert at Carnegie Hall for the troops. (One flaw during the concert - the actress who plays Tallulah Bankhead is way too good-looking to be believable as Bankhead.)

 

Streep pulls off the role very well. I found myself laughing at some of the voice rehearsals, but feeling a twinge of sorrow as this woman was trying to pursue a dream seemingly beyond her reach. Helberg is quirky as her pianist, who realizes she stinks, but comes around to supporting her. The big surprise for me was the performance of Hugh Grant. Just watch his eyes and you will see his every emotion, from his affection for Streep (despite his having an affair), his desire to make her happy, and his anguish as he watches her bomb. His performance is the most impressive.

 

Solid performances, good script, laugh-out-loud moments, and tender scenes. Good movies are still being made, folks.

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Hollywood Boulevard (1936)

 

A little remembered Paramount drama directed by Robert Florey about a washed up but vain silent film star (John Halliday) who agrees to have his life story (much embellished) told in a series of scandal magazine articles, much to the chagrin of his daughter whom he hasn't seen in years.

 

The film starts promisingly, with many on location shots (some at interesting off kilter camera angles) of Hollywood, its studio sets, streets and famous nightclubs, providing a genuine feeling for old time Hollywood sure to bring some pleasure to a film buff's heart. Even more interestingly, the film is chock-full of many silent stars many of them largely out of commission but brought back for this project. Among them: Esther Ralston (still very attractive), Francis X. Bushman, Betty Compson, Roy D'Arcy, Jack Mulhall and Mae Marsh. In addition, Gary Cooper can be seen sitting on a bar stool at the Trocadero.

 

But a film that initially appears to be about the cruelties of Hollywood in the manner in which the town turns its back on former stars soon loses focus as its story goes off in different directions. Far too much screen time is devoted to the romance between the washed up star's daughter (a pretty Marsha Hunt) and an overly eager screenwriter (Robert Cummings) who never stops spouting his obviously self adoring comments and trying to project "charm." The young Cummings is a genuinely irksome presence in this film.

 

In the final analysis, Hollywood Boulevard is a curiosity with flashes of potential, its writing its letdown, but lovers of old time Hollywood will still get a kick out of the frequent flashes of the town as it appeared in 1936, as well as an interesting cast, including those frequent silent film star cameos.

 

A prophetic irony: just minutes into this film Eleanore Whitney, a real actress dancer newly arrived in the film capital and playing herself here, is seen signing her name in cement, with cameras flashing and crowds cheering. A spokesperson says to the actress, "And now, my dear, you have left your immortal mark in Hollywood."

 

"I wonder," Whitney says to herself.

 

My question: who today has heard of Eleanore Whitney? That was the point of Hollywood Boulevard, before it lost its focus.

 

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2 out of 4 stars.

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(...but what say we don't now turn this thread into a discussion of him...I doubt the others around here who are posting these nicely written reviews of other films would appreciate that)

 

Oh, don't let that stop you.

 

Hey, lately this thread's "reviews" have improved immensely. Too often it read like a high schooler's book reports on movies we'd never bother with.

Lately there's personal observations & insights concerning movies we may actually see on TCM.

 

Thank you. I can't "like" enough of those excellent contributions.

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Hey, lately this thread's "reviews" have improved immensely. Too often it read like a high schooler's book reports on movies we'd never bother with.

 

 

Too bad we can't get you a red pencil so you could write, "trite," all over the margins.

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Hollywood Boulevard (1936)

 

A prophetic irony: just minutes into this film Eleanore Whitney, a real actress dancer newly arrived in the film capital and playing herself here, is seen signing her name in cement, with cameras flashing and crowds cheering. A spokesperson says to the actress, "And now, my dear, you have left your immortal mark in Hollywood."

 

"I wonder," Whitney says to herself.

 

My question: who today has heard of Eleanore Whitney?

 

By way of a personal connection to this comment, years ago I came across a small autograph album in an antique store. Among the many signatures of film names of the silents and early talkies, as well as vaudeville, that it had with which film buffs are familiar today were a handful of names that I didn't recognize. This was one of them.

 

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My question: who today has heard of Eleanore Whitney? That was the point of Hollywood Boulevard, before it lost its focus.

 

Actually, there is some info on her in newspapers and trade journals, as well as some fine photographs. I've often thought someone should start a thread dealing with these "forgotten" performers. We could learn quite a bit.

 

Tom, are you interested in starting it? I think Ms. Whitney would be a good choice to begin with.

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Actually, there is some info on her in newspapers and trade journals, as well as some fine photographs. I've often thought someone should start a thread dealing with these "forgotten" performers. We could learn quite a bit.

 

Tom, are you interested in starting it? I think Ms. Whitney would be a good choice to begin with.

 

Ive had thoughts that a thread of this nature would be a good one. I had Laurette Luez in mind, in particular. I've been too lazy to get around to it, though. If you are of a mind to start one and you've got a name or two in mind, it could be a fascinating thread and, as you stated, Rich, one that might even be a little educational regarding those forgotten or would be stars that never made it. It is certainly a worthy topic.

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Ya know Lorna, this is now the second time within a week or so where you've stated your less than positive appraisal of Van JOHNSON's acting skills. The other of course was where you stated you thought he was the weakest actor of all the leads during your viewing of THE CAINE MUTINY.

And so, and to answer your above question here...no, I don't agree with ya, and do in fact now days think he was a much better actor than he seems to have been credit for being. Now, I used to think the same thing as you here, but over the years I've noticed the guy has grown on me, and now think when called upon to believably express a particular emotion and to effectively deliver his lines in those emotions, the guy was pretty darn good at it.

 

You noticed! I'm touched! (it's been so quiet lately)

 

aNYHOO, in re: Van Johnson and my assessment of the acting prowess thereof:

 

...There are some actors whose skills I call into question that I not only dislike as actors, but also (perhaps unfairly) I dislike them as people as well. (this, of course, also has something to do with the fact that actors USED to have "personas" and "types"- roles whose traits they themselves seemED to embody.)

 

with VAN JOHNSON, I like him just fine as a person, and he has capable moments (IN THE GOOD OLD SUMMERTIME comes to mind, and he's fine in THE HUMAN COMEDY- one of my all-time faves)- but that's about the best i can say for his abilities as an actor...and it's not his fault that his career had the arc that it did- and that he worked at MGM where, as a property, he was shoehorned into any number of Grade A MGM Cornball movies that didn't test him as an actor, but when he does get the chance to "step out" of the homogenized MGMcentric tecnicolorganzas, I'm underwhelmed (as in CAINE MUTINY, THE END OF THE AFFAIR, BATTLEGROUND, and THE BIG HANGOVER.)

 

THE LAST TIME I SAW PARIS is in the public domain and you can check out what i mean- i was astounded in the little time i watched how much awkward mugging he does, and it's not helped by the fact that he is starring opposite ELIZABETH TAYLOR- who really was a very natural, very gifted actress.

 

**EDIT- I also find it interesting like, unlike his contemporaries Monty Clift and Sal Mineo- Van didn't tap into any of what had to've been a pretty conflicted, angst-ridden existence as a closeted gay celebrity heartthrob and use it in his work...he doesn't really "sell it" on those occasions when he's called on to do angst or rage or despair....

 

edit edit: even ROCK HUDSON seemed able to portray conflicted characters with more realism when called for (ie GIANT and THE TARNISHED ANGELS.)

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I watched BLACK SABBATH (1963) yesterday...

 

according to wikipedia, the three stories run in a different order than they did in the version TCM showed...the first (and goofiest) about a stolen ring came first, the second (and dumbest) was kind of an Italian SORRY, WRONG NUMBER that apparently was edited for the American version to where it makes very little sense, and the third was all right- it featured KARLOFF as a vampire in an atmospheric story set in Eastern Europe, overall pretty watchable.

 

Boris also narrated the intros to the segments, which Wikipedia claimed- as I recall- were deleted, although they were in the print that ran yesterday.

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"Fiesta" (1947)--Starring Esther Williams, Ricardo Montalban (in his debut), and Cyd Charisse.

 

Preposterous film has twins Mario (Montalban) and Maria (Williams) as a budding composer and bullfighter, respectively.  Best sequences are two dances with Charisse and Montalban; they total eight minutes.  Williams has a very short routine in the water, about 2 minutes.  There's a retitled version of Aaron Copland's "El Salon Mexico" that takes another five minutes.  That leaves one hour and twenty seven minutes of movie to sit through.

 

"Fiesta" did snag an Oscar nomination for Best Score.  It's a real effort to stay awake through the non-dancing/singing parts.

 

"Fiesta"s on-location filming in Mexico was troubled, almost jinxed.  Four of the stuntmen were gored by bulls; two crew members died of cholera after eating contaminated street food. 

 

If you've seen every Cyd Charisse musical except "Fiesta" (1947), and "The Kissing Bandit" (1948), give "Fiesta" a look.  1.8/4--For the musical numbers.

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...with VAN JOHNSON, I like him just fine as a person, and he has capable moments (IN THE GOOD OLD SUMMERTIME comes to mind, and he's fine in THE HUMAN COMEDY- one of my all-time faves)- but that's about the best i can say for his abilities as an actor.

 

REALLY?! So, THE HUMAN COMEDY is one of your "all-times faves", eh? Even WITH James Craig in it who as I recall has a bigger part in the thing than Van Johnson does?!

 

Now, when it comes to being a lousy actor, the wooden James Craig makes Van Johnson look like Olivier!

 

(...but then again of course and in Craig's defense, I don't think he was gay, and thus couldn't draw upon all that inner "angst" of which you spoke!)   ;)

 

LOL

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You are right, James Craig was NOT the greatest actor, but i still LOVE THE HUMAN COMEDY, this revelation has surprised more than one poster here, (it doesn't seem like it would be the type of film that I would love, but I do.)

 

Hope you saw the recent edit to my previous post here, Lorna. ;)

 

(...and yeah, gotta say you don't seem like the type to appreciate that WWII home front drama which contains more than a little "Go America propaganda" in it...not that there's anything wrong with that of course, and in fact I think it's kind sweet that you do)

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