In a Frame: Out of the Past (1947)

Annex - Mitchum, Robert (Out of the Past)_01

 

Jeff Markham knew Kathie would not arrive, but he sat there and drank anyway. He was resigned to his premonitions, seemingly able to tell the future but powerless to stop it. “I think I’m in a frame…I don’t know. All I can see is the frame. I’m going in there now to look at the picture.” But the picture remains obscure throughout Out of the Past, recently released in a luminous Blu-ray from the Warner Archive. Jeff, played by Robert Mitchum as slow-motion somnambulist, can see the outline of his fate, but not the details. Director Jacques Tourneur and cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca previously collaborated on Cat People, and continue to use low-key lighting to produce dream-like suggestions of violence. All of the deaths in Out of the Past are obscured off-screen, the specifics elided. They simply accrue in the fog of Jeff’s rueful investigation, a case that turns into a series of delaying tactics to stay alive. But he can only pause to smoke so many times before the darkness finally deigns to meet him.

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Pre-Code Primer: There’s More to Pre-Code Movies Than Sin

This month, TCM turns its Friday Night Spotlight on Classic Pre-Code Movies. What better way to end the week than to watch 24 hours of pre-Code musicals, dramas, gangster flicks, and comedies. Viewers are fascinated by the frank portrayals of sexuality, prostitution, illicit romances, and strong-willed women that are found in those movies released between the coming of sound and 1934, when the Motion Picture Production Code became mandatory. But, pre-Code movies are more than just sex, sin, and indiscretion. They dared to criticize America’s social institutions, expose the sexism and bias against women in the work place, depict the difficulties of child-bearing, and reveal the dark side of romantic relationships for women. Set your DVRs for these pre-Code gems that serve as a crash course in this brief but significant era of film history.

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The Unexpected Treasures of Cinema

Today is Alan Ladd’s day here at TCM and one of the movies being shown is The Iron Mistress, which I had the pleasure of writing up for TCM not long ago in anticipation of today.  The movie is about Jim Bowie, inventor of the knife that bears his name.  By “about” I mean that the movie’s lead character is named “Jim Bowie” and he invents a knife and that’s about as much as this movie and history choose to co-mingle.  And all of that is fine because, as I write in the opening to the very article I just mentioned, “Hollywood history is distinctly different from real history,” and if you go into a movie based on actual events expecting a history lesson, you’ve missed the point of art altogether.  It’s nice if the two happen anyway but don’t expect it.  The real reason I bring any of this up has nothing to do with history and everything to do with the unexpected.  That is, have you ever watched a movie and then, right there in the middle (or beginning or end) something gets thrown in so unexpected next to everything you’ve been watching (or will watch if it’s the beginning) that you think, “Well, where did that come from?”  The Iron Mistress has that and unexpected treasures are something I always love discovering in a movie. 

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3tuqt8
August 30, 2014
David Kalat
Posted by:

How to like everything

My wife once accused me of liking every movie I see.

As a criticism, that’s a character flaw I think I can live with.  In fact, it’s hard to even see it as an insult.  I’ve got a number of pop culture passions—Godzilla, Doctor Who, Batman, silent comedy… and I’ve always felt alienated from their fandoms.  For some reason, fan culture has evolved a horrifying negative streak—the Worst.Episode.Ever syndrome so aptly satirized by The Simpsons.  I don’t quite understand why people would express so much hate and anger towards something they ostensibly love—but at least showing hate and anger towards pop culture you love is preferable to venting that hate and anger at a person you love.

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Good stuff! Gimmie some of that good stuff!

Good Stuff Logo

I am taking five from talking about death in any form to talk about  one of our favorite things. Who doesn’t like good stuff?! (Answer: no one.) The contents of today’s Good Stuff! column will reflect some lovely things I have either gotten in the mail, free of charge (for being, I presume, awesome) or for which I have spent my own hard-won geekbacks. So stand back… I don’t know how good this thing is gonna get…  [...MORE]

EARTHQUAKE! – An Update From the Trenches

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Imagine if you will (spoken in my best Rod Serling voice), it’s 3:20am on a Sunday morning in the small city of Napa. You’d gone to bed a few hours earlier after enjoying a few glasses of home grown wine while catching up with the latest offering from Hammer Films (THE QUIET ONES; 2014) but just as the onset of deep REM sleep begins to take hold of your body and brain, you’re jolted awake by what sounds like a locomotive crashing into your house. This is followed by what feels like King Kong picking you up and tossing you in the air for 20 seconds. It’s pitch black because there is no electricity in town and you’re being pummeled by your belongings as they fly off the walls and shelves. In the chaos you can hear the shouts and screams of your neighbors and every dog in town seems to be barking and howling in confusion. Your natural instinct is to run outside before the walls come crashing down but you can barely move because your entire house is littered with debris, including lots of broken glass, ceramics and damaged electronics that could easily cause serious injuries. When you do finally make it outside the sound of wailing sirens begins to fill the air. You have no internet connection and phones are barely functioning so information is nearly impossible to come by. This information blackout will go on for another five hours as you attempt to check on your elderly neighbors, look for missing pets and try to find that emergency kit with a much needed flashlight that is buried somewhere underneath the wreckage that you once called home sweet home. Did the state of California just crack in half and break away from North America? Did Godzilla attack San Francisco? Did the zombie apocalypse start? Has a long dormant volcano erupted? These are just a few of the crazy thoughts that will race through your head seconds after the quake. Thankfully you’ll be wrong on all counts but you did just experience the most powerful earthquake to strike Northern California in 25 years.

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Ida Lupino’s The Bigamist (1953)

Today is Edmond O’Brien’s day here at TCM and later tonight (much later, as in 1:30 a.m., EST) will be showing the little seen 1953 drama, The Bigamist.  Starring O’Brien (of course) with Joan Fontaine, Edmund Gwenn, and Ida Lupino, who also directs, the film takes a personal and sensitive look at the life of a man who ends up married to two women, both of whom he loves.  Given the controversial topic and the time of its release, 1953, one would think the movie would have a far harsher, more disapproving take on the subject and yet it’s as nonjudgmental and understanding as a movie could be.  Ida Lupino flew under the radar as a director in the then (and still) male-dominated occupation and, as a result, could make movies like The Bigamist that, since they weren’t expected to have a wide release anyway, could deal with such topics head on.

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Unfollowing The Golden Rule: Good Sam (1948)

Annex - Cooper, Gary (Good Sam)_NRFPT_02

 

“I’ve tried to break him of it…but he just loves people!”  -Lucille (Ann Sheridan) complaining about her husband Sam (Gary Cooper) in Good Sam

In 1948 Leo McCarey was coming off the biggest hits of his career, as Bing Crosby’s singing priest in Going My Way (1944) and The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945) topped the box office. Both films were amiable attempts at humanizing Catholicism, moving from the inaccessible Latin mass to the lucid curative powers of pop crooning. They also feature McCarey’s talent for improvisation - Bells features a Nativity scene enacted by children who replace “O Holy Night” with “Happy Birthday”. For Good Sam, McCarey again returned to a religious theme, placing a man of saintly selflessness in the bourgeois suburbs. Sam’s insistence on giving away his time and money to those around him frustrates his wife Lucille, who has to deal with the human consequences of his do-goodism. That is, she has to care for all the strays he brings home as their nest egg slowly dissipates. Lucille is the cynical realist to Sam’s idealist Christian (they’re Episcopalian), but their love allows them to bridge the philosophical gap. It is, for the most part, a bitterly funny film. It posits the impossibility of saintliness in a materialist society, and McCarey mourns this loss through comedy rather than tragedy. Decades later, after the film had disappeared from view, McCarey stated, “the moment was ill chosen to make a film about apostleship.” This fascinating, frequently hilarious apostle-out-of-time feature  is now available on Blu-ray from Olive Films.

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Battle of the Powells: William vs. Dick

dickToday, TCM pays tribute to Dick Powell, airing 14 of his films as part of Summer Under the Stars. Earlier this month, a day had been devoted to William Powell. As a major fan of both stars, I can’t decide if I was more excited to listen to Dick Powell croon and crack wise, or watch William Powell woo his costars with wit and style.

Like several male stars from the Golden Age, neither Powell was classically handsome. Yet, both are attractive and appealing because of their cultivated charisma and star images. WP was the elegant gentleman who exuded romance and class, while his keen sense of humor prevented his characters from becoming too high brow or pompous. Though he played oily cads very early in his career, his star image as the suave gent was cemented by the 1930s and remained remarkably consistent until his last movie, Mr. Roberts, in 1955. I admire those Golden Age movie stars who were able to maneuver their images through the changes in the industry and the ravages of aging. But, then again, who doesn’t respect Dick Powell for completely changing his star image from the sweet-faced crooner of backstage musicals to the wise-cracking, hard-boiled anti-hero of film noir.

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Seven Days in May

SEVEN DAYS IN MAY poster

Coming up soon on TCM is an interesting political thriller by John Frankenheimer that usually gets lost in the shuffle. Seven Days in May (1964) is based on the novel by Fletcher Knebel and was co-authored by Charles W. Bailey II, with a script by Rod Serling. Knebel’s career in writing was sparked by a chapter he wrote on John F. Kennedy in the book Candidates (1960). Bailey was a journalist, newspaper editor, and novelist. The book was on the New York Times bestseller list for almost a year and was a personal favorite of J.F.K. – which was no surprise, given that the subject matter was inspired by an interview Knebel did of Kennedy’s Navy Secretary, John Connally, at the Pentagon. As director/writer/professor Alex Cox points out in the book he published last year, The President and the Provocateur, in Knebel’s interview: “Connally spoke of ‘the frustrations of his admirals, who bridled under the restraints of civilian leadership, and felt muzzled in their political expression.’ Connally, as Knebel understood him, seemed to be musing that possession of nuclear weapons might lead the United States to become a military dictatorship.” [...MORE]

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