Andy Hardy Goes To Hell, Or: Speaking of Full Circles…

A horse is a horse, of course, of course…

The fun 1937 musical comedy Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry popped up today on TCM and while I usually don’t go out of my way to watch many Mickey Rooney films, this one was quite interesting because it nicely bookends with a certain later TV show. Some of you know where this is going, so just smile and nod, please.

Anyway, I got to laughing at one point for a few key reasons. One being the scene below where after teaching a kid the ropes of riding a race horse, Mickey’s character Timmie Donovan later takes the kid back to his room and attempts to give him a vigorous rubdown, which is unintentionally and hilariously suggestive, as is the previous horse scene.

While this is happening, a young Judy Garland pops up to interrupt things by playing the guitar and singing a catchy song about her new shoes. Don’t believe me? See for yourself, ahem (and just what the heck is going on here?):

“I got my horse right here, his name is Paul Revere…”

Th other funny thing was I immediately thought of The Twilight Zone episode” Last Night of A Jockey”, which was a total solo showcase for Rooney written by Rod Serling. He plays an angry disgraced jockey named Michael Grady who’s accused of horse doping and banned from racing. While in his shabby room, he talks to himself until his alter ego appears and grants him one wish which amusingly enough, goes exactly as planned after he’s reinstated and can start racing again:

“You’re gonna need a bigger boat…”

Anyway, you can pick up the film though Warner Archive here and it’s worth a watch, as it’s the first of eight films Rooney made with Garland, so that’s also important in cinematic as well as historical terms. See, folks- movies like this can also be quite educational when they need to.

-GW

Review: Scandal (1950)

Yes, it’s a Christmas movie.

All Ichiro Aoye (Toshirō Mifune) wanted was to get his latest painting done while up in the mountains. But a chance encounter with famous singer Miyako Saijo (Shirley Yamaguchi) leads to an innocent motorbike ride past a bus with a pair of nosy magazine photographers looking for an exclusive interview with her. They don’t get it, but manage to snap the two seemingly sharing a room (they’re not). Once the photo arrives back at Amour Magazine, a salacious story gets written and both Ichiro and Miyako deal with the resulting fallout, even though they both temporarily benefit from career boosts due to the resulting gossip.

Thus begins Akira Kurosawa’s Scandal, which manages to poke a finger in the eye of celebrity worship and the often lousy and slanderous “journalism” that comes with it. The film is also has bits of comedy, does double jury duty as a decent courtroom drama and you’ll also find the old heart string tugboat towing the SS Kleenex for good measure. There’s a big slice of mundane, but honest sentimentality here that still resonates more with age and for me, it’s Kurosawa’s most “American” film, despite the Japanese setting.

in Japan, extreme painting is a spectator sport.

Ayoe goes to the magazine’s office, slugs the article’s writer and tells them he plans to sue. Later, he’s approached at his home by a somewhat disheveled lawyer, Hiruta (Takashi Shimura) who gives him his business card and asks to represent him at the upcoming trial. Ayoe says he’ll give it some thought, but his friend Sumie (Noiriko Sengoku) comments on Hirata’s smelly feet and warns Ichiro about his choice. The next day, Ichiro visits Hirata’s rundown home to accept but meets his bedridden young daughter, Masako (Yōko Katsuragi), who’s had tuberculosis for five years, but still greets him with a joyful smile and shows Ichiro what’s currently keeping her happy: an intricate wedding outfit her mother has made that’s to be delivered the next day to a future bride. That old tugboat is puffing out gently scented tissue smoke right about now.

I am the law?

Inoue also stops by Hinata’s cluttered “office”, a tiny shack on the roof of a building that looks as it it was built by the lawyer himself where he finds some bike racing forms and a photo of Hinata’s daughter tacked up near the door where she’s standing up and still bearing that warm smile. Ichiro leaves a chalkboard note saying he wants to retain the lawyer and leaves. The film gets busy touching on that period between Christmas and New Year’s Day where there are some laughs to be found and you realize that drunken revelers are the same almost everywhere. Hinata’s plans to one-up the magazine by secretly revealing his trial plans to its shady publisher backfires badly and he eventually takes money to gamble on the races, where he seems to keep losing.

See, I told you this was a Christmas movie!

Everything culminates in quite the ending that’s guaranteed to get that tugboat huffing out more tissue smoke of course, but with Kurosawa, it’s in for a penny, in for a few pounds. there are a few ways to watch this from poorly subtitled versions posted online to the far superior Criterion Collection box set you can get here that gets you five of the director’s post World War II films. Whichever way you choose, you’re in for quite a holiday.

-GW

Not So Random Film Of The Week: Panic In Year Zero!

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Oh, I just LOVE that song! Oh, wait…

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It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I don’t feel fine!

I recall the first time I saw Ray Milland’s Panic In Year Zero! some decades back as a kid, I laughed at a few things from some of the histrionic acting and direction, the incredibly poor science on display (back then I was a science whiz), Frankie Avalon’s perfect coif (that pomade he was using was pretty much disaster proof) and every woman being a second class citizen and second fiddle to the men in the world it presents. I still laugh now, but it’s more of a dry cackle of late. The film’s less that rosy display of humanity comes off as only a fraction of where we are today with reality rolling up with a nice ice cold dose of “hold my (insert obviously named) beer, pal.”

Despite its flaws, it’s a really good “B”-grade film that’s quite dated on a few fronts, but the message hits home because hell, who wouldn’t want to get the heck out of town after major cities fall under multiple nuclear attacks? Well, if you’re a tightly knit family unit like the Baldwins, who happen to be on a camping vacation when all hell breaks loose, you get in your trusty sedan with that handy trailer attached and try to survive the trip into the mountains as chaos breaks out everywhere. Saying this film is a total blast is an understatement as well a a nice and corny joke (ha and ha).

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(Not So) Random Film of the Week: Night Tide (1961)

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Sirens go off: A figure of speech, as it were.

night tide mpSpoiler Theater: In Curtis Hanson’s beautiful, haunting and unsettling romantic thriller, it’s a case of Boy meets Girl, Boy gets Girl and Boy, Oh Boy, does Boy lose Girl, But That’s Sort Of A Good Thing?  Night Tide is a dark and moody film set by the Pacific, with an old pier carnival and its seaside surroundings as the main setting and what could be seen by some today as a few problematic elements in some of its troubled characters. I still think it’s an excellent film, mind you. But after watching it with a few friends recently, I see it’s also a film where some viewers applying more modern thoughts to its story may find an issue with their overall enjoyment. You’ll see.

A young sailor on leave named Johnny Drake (Dennis Hopper) goes to a seaside amusement park at night. He pops into a jazz club where he sees a lovely woman (Linda Lawson) sitting alone enjoying the music. He crosses the room, asks her if he can sit at her table because he can’t see the musicians from where he is, then proceeds to sit facing the woman, not the musicians. He tries to strike up more conversation, but she asks him to let her listen to the tunes instead. He then tries to buy her a drink twice, but she refuses both times. Suddenly, a strange, middle-aged black-clad woman (Marjorie Cameron) comes into the club, approaches the other woman and starts speaking an untranslated foreign language (Greek?) to her. The young woman is upset by this and quickly hands Johnny some cash to pay for whatever she was drinking and rushes out of the club.

 

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(Not So) Random Film of the Week: Fast Company (1979)

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I’m still waiting for the Slow Company movie,  but I’m patient…

fastco mpI think it was around 1983 or so and I’d seen four or five films by David Cronenberg when I found out he’d made the 1979 drag racing centered “B” movie Fast Company. At the time I had to search around for a video store that carried it because in the US, it wasn’t readily available as far as I was seeing. A friend of a friend got a copy of the film from one of his sources not too long afterward because he was just as curious as I was and its funny how that sort of thing works out, isn’t it? I recall liking the car stuff, but not liking the plot much, but overall it was a decent popcorn flick provided you didn’t take the story at all seriously.

Watching it again more recently reveals it’s still a pretty pedestrian (ha-ha) movie with a some great car action, a touch of sex and nudity not uncommon to the era and if you didn’t know it was directed by Cronenberg, you’d think you’ve gotten a pretty good made for cable flick from a time capsule. It’s not a badly made film at all, though. In fact, some of the drag race scenes and a later car reconstruction scene benefit from Cronenberg’s attention to detail and his real-life obsession with the sport. Hey, everyone needs a hobby, right? You could say “All body horror and no play make Jack a dull boy”, but that’s not true if you stop and think about it. Still, variety is indeed, the spice of life, so this one’s special like that.

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Random Film of the Week: The Navy vs. The Night Monsters (1966)

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“You’re gonna stay in this picture and LIKE it, Mister!”

the navy vs the night monsters-MPFrom looking at this list in comparison with these much longer ones, it seems to me that in the 1960’s, science fiction flicks exclusively made in the US were in a bit of a rut. You can also see from those longer lists that horror films have fared far better and you can probably name quite a few memorable fright films from the era off the top of your head from Carnival of Souls, Night of the Living Dead, A few Herschel Gordon Lewis flicks, Rosemary’s Baby and many (many) more. Let’s just say that truncated list in the last sentence was about 20 or so films before common sense made me edit it down.

The reason I’m focusing on US-made films is simple. As other countries were just more prolific and innovative in their sci-fi films and during this time, the US seemed not to know what to do well despite kicking off and ending the decade with some pretty solid films (1960’s The Time Machine and 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey). Which brings us to one of the less stellar efforts of the decade, 1966’s The Navy vs The Night Monsters. The film looks and feels as if it was made a decade earlier and interestingly enough, the best thing about it is the actress playing the requisite eye candy, Mamie Van Doren. “Best” meaning she plays her role as straight as can be does it without chewing the scenery or mugging it up for zero laughs like some of the guys here do. Stripped of its silly jokes, it might have been a decent “B” flick, but hey – some things just won’t die a natural death.

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Review: Promise Her Anything (1966)

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“Strike a pose, there’s nothing to it…”

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My brain wants its time back. My eyes… well they were pleased for a hot minute or two.

The very last thing you see before the end credits to Arthur Hiller‘s bizarre 1966 sex comedy Promise Her Anything is a red neon sign that says one word: STOP, which if it had appeared at the start of the film, would have probably saved me the trouble of watching this earlier this morning. To paraphrase Fight Club, “I am Jack’s flabbergasting 98 minutes.”

Let me hip you to the ’60’s era plot so I can get away with torturing, murdering and burying this one as fast as possible, although I may take my time with the torture part, as the movie is very much like scheduling a 98-minute session with a nearsighted dominatrix who happens to be stone deaf, owns a too short set of whips, keeps missing her target, her safe word is “Mister Mxyzptlk” and if you don’t sign it properly with the quotes, she keeps on madly whipping the air. I’ll first apologize to anyone who’s exactly like that in real life or has that particular fetish, by the way.

Anyway, here we we go: A lovely widow with a baby moves into a Greenwich Village apartment on the same floor as a free-spirited guy who makes mail order adult movies but has intentions of making it big in art films one day. They sort of hit it off (although she has no idea of the work he does), but she gets a job as an assistant to a baby-hating child psychologist and plans to woo him because she sees a good provider in that wealth he’s got. Meanwhile, her neighbor becomes quite a helpful babysitter… who keeps trying to bed his emotionally susceptible newly widowed neighbor while secretly putting her child in the films he’s selling.

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You’re watching this film for the girls, right? Bless your soul.

Well now, that’s kind of unforgettable for a few reasons, isn’t it?

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Review: Love Laughs at Andy Hardy (1946)

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This French poster looks as it was started in 1909 and completed a few dozen years later.

“Well, I certainly wasn’t going to laugh…”  is what I immediately thought after viewing this tepid 1946 film on TCM a few evenings ago. To be fair, I’d seen a few Andy Hardy films in the past and found them to be drolly amusing light comedies and as fluffy as could ever be possible, especially the three with a young Judy Garland as Mickey Rooney‘s co-star. This effort, however just left me cold and in a few parts, rubbed me the wrong way save for one performance that steals the show.

The absolutely drop-dead gorgeous Dorothy Ford was actually 5′ 11″, but played her too brief part as Coffy Smith at well over six feet in heels and yes, steals the film from Mickey Rooney’s tired but competent shenanigans. She also turns out to be the “wisest” character in this film, offering up some sage relationship advice and dealing with having to dance with Rooney in a lively, but paradoxically strangely dull sequence where her height is the butt of a few jokes. Andy being about breast high being one none too subtle bit, but that’s actually funny for a few seconds.

 

 

Then again, the film very likely will be loved by the comfort flick crowd for a lot of the usual things the franchise was known for. You get that long Andy and Judge Hardy (Lewis Stone) talk with morality and choices as the center, and yes, the family Hardy is as wholesome as Instant Ralston with Jam, and cream mixed in (ewww). There are some amusing moments like the homecoming sequence when Andy comes back from his service in WWII, and a few of the college scenes are cute and chuckle-worthy. Still, for me, the film was a chore to sit through because of the “Poor Andy Hardy” scent emanating from the plot.

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Random Film of the Week Quickie: DEAD END

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“I hear the marinara sauce is good in this joint…”

Dead End 1937 MPI love Dead End for a few reasons. It’s a great film based off a stage play that yep, both looks and feels stagey, but that works highly in its favor. It’s a classic Old New York City film just for the location it presents and the feeling that, staging aside, that place actually existed. It also marked the debut of The Dead End Kids who’d later morph into The Little Tough Guys, then The East Side Kids and then into The Bowery Boys with a total of close to 50 audience-pleasing fluff comedies made between 1937 and 1958. To some non-fans of the Boys, this only proves the law of diminishing returns should have been more strictly obeyed and enforced (ha and ha). But, I digress.

It also has Humphrey Bogart in an early knockout role as a slickly dressed but menacing thug who returns to his old stomping grounds with a brand new facelift for mixed results. Finally, it’s a nicely directed “message” film by the great William Wyler that works on many levels, some of which soak in only after a second or third viewing. Go grab your popcorn, pal. I’ll wait. Oh, you’re making it on the stove the old-fashioned way? Good. I’ll go get a bowl and meet you back here in five.

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Bogie lets McCrea know he can’t wear a hat AND a bucket at the same time.

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An Animated Discussion (Part 3)

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So, here we are again. Let’s see how, this time, we’ll see what else was in the bag of cartoons I loaned a friend. I added some stuff that wasn’t animated or not quite cartoons, but they all fit a theme.  So here’s the final countdown with a few surprises for good measure:

roujin-zRoujin-Z:  Here’s the thing. Both kids don’t like anime, but I decided to pop this into the lot because it’s a family film of sorts and I know both parents would be into it because  they’d “get” it and enjoy it even if their two Teen Titans didn’t. Lo and behold, not only did the kids take to it, they were both deciding that the genre was much more that what friends at school were hammering them in the heads over endlessly.

I should have gone with Ghost In The Shell as well, but this Otomo flick was more of an acceptable choice and I didn’t want to overwhelm them, although, yes, I had to field a few questions regarding the crazy ending. That said, I wonder how Akira or something as nuts as a Fist of the North Star would have gone over. That said, I think a Miyazaki film might be a better thing (I’m looking at YOU, Lupin!)

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