Classic Film Fan “Origin Stories” – Tonight on Hollywood Time Machine

MarxBeing a classic film fan can be a lonely experience.

When I discovered old movies in the late 1970s, like any kid with a new toy, I wanted to share it, talk about it on the playground, show off my skillz (we didn’t randomly add z’s to words back then, but you get my point). Sadly, none of the kids at St. Joseph’s School in Hewlett, New York cared about the films I was staying up all night to watch; they barely even knew they existed. And when I would launch into a bleary eyed review the next morning, they looked at me like I was a weirdo – which I was, proudly, and still am today.

Sometime in 1981, I coerced five friends into joining me for a Marx Brothers marathon sleepover party at my house.

“It’ll be great!” I promised. “We’ll stay up all night and eat popcorn and watch movies and nobody can tell us what to do!”

After my parents went to bed I put in my VHS tape of A NIGHT AT THE OPERA (1935), the one I had recorded on Channel 2’s Late Show with the commercials meticulously edited out via my VCR’s wired remote control. Despite my cheerleading (“here comes a funny part!”) and a bowl of air-popped, buttered popcorn, my friends were asleep before the film even ended. So I continued with my marathon all night, alone, while the sleeping-bagged, unconscious bodies of my “friends” littered the living room floor.

What’s your classic film origin story? How did you learn to see the magic that most other people can’t? I’d love to hear your story.

Breakfast-at-tiffany-s-breakfast-at-tiffanys-9813384-1992-2525Alicia Mayer and I will be taking your calls tonight on the Hollywood Time Machine, a live, on-line talk radio show devoted to all things classic. The show starts at 9 p.m. (ET) and also features some great guests: animation historian Tommy Stathes will talk about TCM’s night of rare, early animation this Monday; Profiles in History C.E.O. Joe Maddalena will discuss how his childhood love for old movies led him to found the world’s largest auctioneer of Hollywood memorabilia; and Tony Shepherd will remember his father, Richard Shepherd (1924-2014), producer of BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S (1961).

We’ll also discuss this week’s TCM Classic Film Festival announcement, and give away some prizes. And we’ll take calls at the end of the show, so have your (short) stories ready. I promise I won’t fall asleep.

You can listen to Hollywood Time Machine live on L.A. Talk Radio channel 2 starting at 9 p.m. (ET)



Posted in Hollywood Time Machine | 8 Comments

Update: 2015 TCM Film Festival Dates Announced

TCM 2015 V2(UPDATES in italics. Last update 10/3/14)

Turner Classic Movies turns “legal” next spring. But, in the wake of recent headlines regarding buy-outs, layoffs, and management changes at Turner Broadcasting, some fans feared the channel might not reach its 21st birthday in the form in which it exists today, and that the future of the annual TCM Classic Film Festival might be in doubt.

SPOILER ALERT: It’s not. At least for now.

Today, the network announced the dates for the 2015 edition of the TCMFF, the most anticipated weekend of the year for Old Movie Weirdos from around the world. From Thursday, March 26 through Sunday, March 29, thousands of fans – 26,000 attended last year – will gather in Hollywood’s historic venues for more than 100 screenings and special events spread across 80 sleepless hours. Passes go on sale in November. 

The 2015 Festival’s theme is History According to Hollywood, promising to explore “how cinema has shaped how we view – and remember – history.” Selections are expected to focus on “works about the past that are a reflection of the period in which they were made,” and how Hollywood has reshaped facts to create tales that are “not always true to the historical record.” (Kind of an understatement, right?)

There’s no word yet on what films will be presented, but this year’s festival is unique in that it will take place two weeks earlier than last year – and more than a month earlier than the 2011 edition, which concluded on May 1.

tcmff_2For the sixth consecutive year, the historic Roosevelt Hotel on Hollywood Blvd. will again serve as home base, with a packed schedule of daily happenings at the “Club TCM” event space in the Blossom Room, site of the first-ever Academy Awards in 1929. The Roosevelt’s lobby will also be home to a broadcast television studio, where attendees can watch on-air hosts Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz interview celebrities, special guests, and fans. There’s also a pop-up boutique where you can score TCM gear, books, DVDs, and all manner of geeky classic film collectibles that will embarrass your significant other when guests come to visit. The Roosevelt also has two in-house restaurants (and multiple bars) that allow for fans to congregate and, if time allows, eat. (Man can not live for an entire weekend on popcorn alone, though I’ve been doing a pretty good job of it for five years now.)

robert-osborneOsborne and Mankiewicz will once again serve as emcees for the event, introducing screenings at the TCL (formerly Grauman’s) Chinese Theatre –rechristened in 2014 as one of the largest IMAX venues in the world – and the Egyptian Theater, as well as the nearby TCL Chinese 6 Theaters multiplex and other locations (Disney’s El Capitan also served as a venue the last two years). The guest list has not yet been revealed, but it will include performers from the selected films, family members of classic stars, authors, film historians, and contemporary personalities who share a love for Hollywood history.

So the good news is, there will be a TCMFF next year. Phew!

Now for the bad news: after no price increase in 2014, TCM has increased the price of passes at all levels by $50 for the 2015 event, and discontinued the Matinee Pass, which had offered a lower-cost option for daytime screenings only.

UPDATE 10/3/2014 – TCM responded to my request for comment regarding the changes:

“We have adjusted our 2015 pass prices and level offerings slightly in order to continue to offer the high level of festival experience our fans have come to expect,” a TCM spokesperson told me. “Taking into account feedback from passholders and wanting to provide the best possible experience for all attendees, we have made some modifications to our pass levels.”

The following is a summary of available passes and features:

The top tier Spotlight Pass promises “priority entry to all events,” as well as admission to the Vanity Fair-sponsored opening night party and daily meet-and-greet breakfasts with Osborne, Mankiewicz, and guests and a gift bag for $1,649.

The Essential Pass grants full access to all TCMFF events (excluding the opening night VF party), as well as a gift bag, for $749. The Classic Pass gives you everything except the as-yet-unannounced opening night red-carpet screening (and the gift bag) for $599. And TCM has also brought back the Deal of the Century, the $299 Palace Pass (introduced in 2013) for access to all movies at Grauman’s and the Egyptian from Friday through Sunday (sorry, no Club TCM events). Considering that most high-profile screenings happen at these two venues, it’s a great option for anyone on a budget (which is probably all of us).

Perhaps because of the excitement over last year’s 20th anniversary event, passes sold out unusually quickly in 2014. The Essential Pass sold out five hours after the announcement, and the Spotlight passes were all gone within a week – in both cases before the opening night red carpet screening of OKLAHOMA! (1955) was even announced. So, if walking the red carpet with classic film legends is important to you, you should probably get your passes as soon as they go on sale.

screen-shot-2013-09-27-at-7-08-36-pmIn previous years, TCM has also offered media credentials to active classic film bloggers. These press passes will get you into everything, with the exception of the opening night screening and after-party. There’s also typically a press conference on Thursday morning where bloggers get an opportunity to question Osborne, Mankiewicz, V.P. of Programming Charlie Tabesh, and Festival Managing Director Genevieve McGillicuddy. It’s an excellent opportunity to look behind the curtain, and a good indication of the network’s respect for its engaged and highly creative fan base. Social activities like tweet-ups began last year on Wednesday night, so account for that (if possible) when making longterm travel plans.

Applications for credentials are typically due a month before the event, with notification of acceptance a week later. If you’re planning on applying, but aren’t sure you’ll be approved, I recommend you buy a cheap pass in November (like the Palace Pass), apply for credentials, and then get a refund if you’re approved. (Technically, you will be past the deadline for refunds, but TCM has waived this deadline for bloggers in the past.)

If you’re planning to apply, you can review the 2014 accreditation application to make sure that your site content is consistent with the requirements. And, if you don’t have a blog but have been thinking of starting one, what are you waiting for? But remember: not everybody who applies gets approved. I know of a few very worthy candidates who were passed over last year, for reasons that are beyond me.

Screen Shot 2014-10-02 at 5.25.08 PMLastly, lodging: the Roosevelt Hotel offers discount rates for TCMFF attendees, but those rooms will likely be gone by the time you read this. Passholders also get a discount at the nearby W Hotel Hollywood. The Loews Hotel, across the street in the Hollywood and Highland Center, has been a lodging partner in recent years, but does not appear to be included on this year’s list (a quick check of their website shows only very pricey rooms available).

Other, lower-cost local options include the nearby Liberty Hotel ($124-$134) and the Hollywood Celebrity Hotel ($139-$179), right behind the Chinese Theater. Additional lodging options include the Hilton Garden Inn ($239 for cheapest room) and Best Western Hollywood Plaza Inn ($159) on N. Highland Ave., Saharan Motor Motel ($99+) and Days Inn ($119) on Sunset Blvd. I haven’t stayed at any of these places, so do your due diligence before your make your rezzie.

Note: The Roosevelt, Loews, W Hotel, Celebrity, and Liberty were are all sold out by early January for last year’s event. So even if you’re unsure of attendance, or which pass you will buy, make a reservation right now.

If you read me here, or follow me on Twitter, you know how I feel about the TCM Classic Film Festival. Even if you’re lucky enough to live in a city with an active repertory film scene, as I do, it’s still no match for the shared experience of the TCMFF. If all goes according to plan, 2015 will be my sixth year attending. I sure hope it won’t be my last.

For more information, visit the TCMFF website. And watch the first promo here


Posted in TCM, TCM Classic Film Festival, Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Netflix Classic Film Comings + Goings – October, 2014

netflixLast month, when I wrote about Netflix “pulling” classic films from its streaming service, a few readers pointed out that programming decisions are often predicated on licensing agreements with rights holders, and that the “pulling” can sometimes be attributed to studios choosing to grant exclusivity to another licensee (like a cable network) for a finite period of time.

That’s a great point, and it’s an important reminder that we can’t necessarily blame Netflix when high profile classics disappear temporarily from Instant Watch. (And, for the sake of this conversation, we’re considering pre-2000 releases to be “classic.” We can argue about that topic in another post.)

StarTrekIVTheVoyageHome2Often, the period of time that a popular classic is gone from Netflix Instant is mercifully short. The ROCKY, KARATE KID, and original STAR TREK films tend to ricochet back and forth in a whiplash-inducing manner; for example, STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME (1986) was pulled on September 1 and it’s already back on the service.

But what about the older, more obscure classics that vanish from Netflix and don’t return quickly (or ever), only to be “replaced” by better known, more recent titles? Did some cable network really pay extra for exclusive rights to air CONVOY (1976) when it left Netflix last month? Not likely.

Perhaps more likely: you didn’t watch CONVOY, and that may be why its gone.

“We can’t license everything, and also maintain our low prices, so we look for those titles that deliver the biggest viewership, relative to the licensing costs,” Jenny McCabe, Netflix’s Director of Global Media Relations, said in a video posted to YouTube last June. “This also means that we’ll forego, or choose not to renew, some titles that aren’t watched enough relative to their costs.”

So now it’s confession time. While I often lament the lack of a robust collection of classic films on Netflix Instant, I almost never watch the ones that are actually still there because it never even occurs to me. I have so many other specialty options to feed my old movie fix: TCM’s live broadcasts, the Watch TCM streaming app, Warner Archive Instant on Roku, Hulu’s Criterion channel, a wall filled with unwatched physical media, and live theatrical screenings in New York City.

I’ve never said to myself, “I want to watch a classic film tonight” and switched over to Netflix Instant. So maybe I’m asking Netflix to be something it never was supposed to be in the first place – and something I never expected it to be: a classic film clearing house that serves as a replacement for my DVD and Blu-ray shelf.

“We remain focussed on our goal of being an expert programmer, offering a mix that delights our members, rather than trying to be a broad distributor,” McCabe says in the video. “We also use our in-depth knowledge about what our members love to watch to decide what (will be) available on Netflix.”

Then she adds what should be a call to action for me, and all classic film fans – especially if you believe that exposure on popular, mainstream platforms is key to new viewers discovering classic film: “If you keep watching, we’ll keep adding more of what you love.”

So start watching, or keep watching. Netflix’s Classic Films category has 500 films to keep you busy.

In the meantime, here are the Classic Film Comings and Goings for October. The news isn’t good, which is probably my fault:

September 30 pre-2000 GOINGs – 47

AQ1940s – 1
A Night in Casablanca (1946) – Sept 20

1950s – 3
The African Queen (1951)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
Mädchen in Uniform (1958)

1960s – 2
The Sand Pebbles (1966)
Barefoot in the Park (1967)

1970s – 5 
The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant (1971)
Don’t Look Now (1973)
Death Wish (1974)
Sugar Hill (1974)
Breaking Away (1979)

1980s – 15
Hopscotch (1980) – Sept 20
Heavy Metal (1981)
The Keep (1983)
Uncommon Valor (1983)
Best Defense (1984)
Ghostbusters (1984)
Dreamscape (1984) – Sept 20
American Ninja (1985)
The Delta Force (1986)
China Girl (1987)
Fatal Attraction (1987)
Three Men and a Baby (1987) – Sept 22
Eight Men Out (1988)
Ghostbusters 2 (1989)
Major League (1989)

1990s – 21 
Ghost (1990)
King of New York (1990)
Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
A League of Their Own (1992)
Patriot Games (1992)
Body of Evidence (1993)
The Young Americans (1993)
The Dark Half (1993)
Blue Chips (1994)
Legends of the Fall (1994)
Crimson Tide (1995)
Dead Man Walking (1995)
The Babysitter (1995)
Night of the Running Man (1995)
Blood and Wine (1996)
Primal Fear
Meet Wally Sparks (1997)
Snow White: A Tale of Terror (1997)
The Thomas Crowne Affair (1999)
The War Zone (1999)

October 1 pre-2000 COMINGs – 16 

Shane1950s – 2
Shane (1953)
Paths of Glory (1957)

1970s – 3
Hit! (1973)
Shivers (1975)
Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)

1980s – 5
Annie (1982)
Rain Man (1988) – Oct. 28
Ernest Saves Christmas (1988)
The Phantom of the Opera (1989)
Three Fugitives (1989)

1990s – 6
Sleepless in Seattle (1993)
Tombstone (1993)
My Father the Hero (1994)
Annie: A Royal Adventure (1995)
Romeo + Juliet (1996)
Galaxy Quest (1999)

Primary source: What’s On Netflix Now


Posted in Netflix, Technology | Tagged | 8 Comments

Take a Trip in the Hollywood Time Machine

Time MachineCancel your Saturday night plans, because I’ll be guest co-hosting the inaugural episode of Hollywood Time Machine with Alicia Mayer live tonight at 9 p.m. (ET) on L.A. Talk Radio.

Guests include Victoria Wilson, author of A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel True 1907-1940, Steve Anderson from the Humphrey Bogart Estate, TCM Party founder Paula Guthat, Susan King from the Los Angeles Times Classic Hollywood Facebook Community, and Cassandra Majors from the Classic TV Lovers Haven group on Facebook.

Your host is Alicia Mayer, film historian, book editor, and grandniece of MGM co-founder Louis B. Mayer. She also sings, dances, and does a delightful mime act, which you probably won’t be able to fully appreciate on radio.

And the best part of Hollywood Time Machine is, you don’t need a time machine to listen to it, nor do you need to be in Hollywood (in any era). The show broadcasts live on the Internet, and you can also listen via L.A. Talk Radio’s app. And if you’re not available to listen while it happens, each episode will be archived for streaming (unless I say something stupid, which will result in the master tapes being retroactively burned in the 1967 MGM vault fire.)

You can also connect with the show on the website and Facebook, and follow Alicia on Twitter and at her website, Hollywood Essays.

I’m excited to help launch the Hollywood Time Machine, and I hope you’ll join us.


Posted in Classic Film, Classic TV | Tagged | 3 Comments

Remembering Richard Kiel (1939-2014) in EEGAH (1962)

Richard Kiel as JawsRichard Kiel was unforgettable as the steel-toothed villain Jaws in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977) and MOONRAKER (1979). But 15 years before he put the bite on James Bond, Kiel chomped on the scenery in a delightfully terrible drive-in classic.

In EEGAH (1962), the 7 foot, 3 inch-tall Detroit native plays a pre-historic giant who simultaneously threatens a California town and put the moves on a hot chick. The low-budget horror/sci-fi/musical epic stars pompadoured Elvis wannabe Arch Hall Jr. (WILD GUITAR, THE SADIST) as the crooning, dune-buggy-driving hero Tom Nelson, with Marilyn Manning as Roxy, the object of Tom’s – and the title character’s – affections. But the real creative genius behind EEGAH was Arch Hall Sr., who wrote, produced, directed (using the pseudonym Nicholas Merriwether), and acts in the film (using another pseudonym, William Watters), playing Roxy’s inappropriately pimp-ish father. Hall Sr. also wrote two catchy pop ballads for his 19-year-old son to warble in the film: “Vicky” and “Valerie” (not to be confused with “Vallerie,” the Monkees hit that made it to #3 on the Billboard charts six years later).

If Arch Hall Sr. didn’t get Father of the Year Award for 1962, I hope he at least demanded a re-count.

postEEGAH was Kiel’s first major film role after a few years of TV work, most notably the To Serve Man episode of The Twilight Zone, which aired just a few weeks before the movie’s release. Kiel makes the most of a part that might have otherwise been given to an anonymous stuntman, as Eegah grunts his name Groot-style, wields a giant wooden club, and engages in lengthy “conversations” with the calcified corpses of his relatives. Despite his character’s aggressive method of courting his new crush, Kiel deftly manages to keep the audience on his side, and the scene in which he knocks Hall Jr. cold with a right cross undoubtedly elicited cheers at drive-ins across America (assuming the kids were actually watching the movie, which they probably weren’t).

Hall Jr. has to speak actual, scripted dialogue and he, unfortunately, does not fare as well. Despite the good intentions of his dad, the 19-year-old has zero charisma, wandering through most of his scenes like he’s looking for the men’s room. Manning (who was apparently Hall Sr.’s secretary) isn’t much better, but at least she’s given interesting things to do. Hall Sr.’s story (with a script by Bob Wehling) takes Roxy in hilariously unexpected directions, including a scene in which she seductively shaves off the title character’s beard, propositions him in order to save her father, and looks wistfully back at him as she is driven off to safety(?).

And if you had any doubt that EEGAH was aping KING KONG, you need only wait for the scene in which the title character sniffs Roxy’s scarf while whimpering for his lost love. It’s a magic moment, just one of many in this unforgettable movie.

EEGAH first came to my attention in The Fifty Worst Films of All Time (And How They Got That Way), Harry and Michael Medved’s seminal 1978 book. Like many other films in that book (and its follow-up, The Golden Turkey Awards), EEGAH is enjoyably awful, and never stops surprising. I wish I could say that for the tragically predictable action blockbusters of today.

In honor of Kiel, who died on September 10 at the age of 74, the nostalgia-themed Retro TV will broadcast the 1993 Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of EEGAH on Saturday at 8 p.m. (ET) Retro is available in more than 61 million U.S. homes, in most cases as a free, over-the-air, digital broadcast sub-channel. You can see if you get the channel here. The non-MST3K version of the film is available to stream at Amazon Instant.

Rest in peace, Richard Kiel. And wherever you are, make sure you watch out for snakes.


Posted in Classic Film, Retro TV, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Friday on the Couch with Will

stanwyckOne of the great things about being freelance, unmarried, and childless is, I can pretty much do whatever I want, whenever I want.

For example, if I choose to stay home on a Friday and watch movies all day long in my jammies, I can do it – without apology or explanation. And that’s exactly what I did yesterday; I binge-watched Turner Classic Movies from the moment I awoke to the minute I collapsed in a bleary eyed heap, with only a quick break to shower with the volume cranked up to a level that, no doubt, incensed my neighbors. (Ask me if I care.)

Between 9:45 a.m. on Friday morning and 2:45 a.m. on Saturday I watched 12 films, ate two diner deliveries (both featuring French fries), consumed seven cans of Diet Dr. Pepper, ate a batch of Slice + Bake chocolate chip cookies, and otherwise pushed the limits of health, waistline, and eye strain to a level that might earn wrist-slaps from at least two of my healthcare providers (if you know them, don’t rat me out, particularly because I haven’t filled my new prescription for eyeglasses yet). It was a lifestyle befitting Hollywood’s decadent Pre-Code Era, the four-year period of unfettered creative freedom the major studios enjoyed during the early days of sound filmmaking, until Taliban-esque censorship guidelines ruined everyone’s fun (at least for the next three decades).

As regular viewers of the channel know, on Friday TCM kicked off a month-long Pre-Code festival, with 67 films spread out over weekly 24-hour marathons, beginning each Friday at 6 a.m and continuing through the primetime hours, with hosts Robert Osborne and Alec Baldwin (who, according to Osborne, participated in the programming of the series).

NormaWatching movies from Hollywood’s most notorious era may not be for everyone, particularly if you’re a reformed drinker, smoker, or hooker. (I’m only one of those; I’ll let you guess which.) But for me, it’s a no-brainer; I’ll pretty much watch anything released between 1930 and 1934, even if it’s not a great movie, because I find this era in American filmmaking unendingly fascinating. “Pre-Code” has become shorthand for sexy, and there was plenty of that on display on TCM yesterday, but what I love about the period goes way beyond the salacious. There’s a refreshing, almost disconcerting candor to these films that was largely lost after enforcement of the Motion Picture Production Code began in July of 1934. The best titles in this series demonstrate that, and still resonate with audiences today.

Lots of my “friends” on social media expressed jealousy yesterday regarding my ability to cast responsibility to the wind and plunk myself down on the couch for 17 hours, non-stop. And to you haters I say, we all make our own decisions in life. Someday, when you’re happily retired and living off your pension/401(k), you can enjoy old movies all day with your grandkids, while I’m living alone in a refrigerator box under the 59th Street Bridge – my own private Hooverville.

I kid. Or maybe I don’t. Regardless, here’s the best news of all: you don’t have to be home every Friday to watch these movies, nor do you have to run out and buy a gigantic, new 5,000-hour DVR to record them all.

Thanks to Watch TCM, the streaming app the network launched last November, cable subscribers can watch every one of the 16 movies that aired Friday on-demand, on your computer, tablet, or smartphone. And the films that aired in primetime include Osborne and Baldwin’s wrap-arounds. (I know some people can’t stand Baldwin, but he and Osborne have excellent co-host chemistry on-camera.)

If you love Pre-Code movies, this is a chance to love your favorites over and over and over again (sorry, I got carried away there). If you’ve never seen a film from this era, TCM is offering the equivalent of a Pre-Code 101 course on-line and, if you already pay for the channel, it’s entirely free. It’s a perfectly way to immerse yourself in the era, and track the subtle evolutions in production methods, studio “house style,” and acting technique over the first four years of the Sound Era. (Unfortunately, Time Warner Cable does not yet support the app, but all other cable and satellite providers do, and it’s extremely user-friendly.

And if the word “app” sounds to you like Ginger Roger’s Pig Latin in GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933, fear not! You can always simply watch the films on your computer on TCM’s website. (The Watch TCM app is not available on your TV or via a streaming player like Roku, due to rights issues.)

Films appear on the website/app approximately three hours after they air on TV, and they’re available for 7 days to watch whenever and wherever you want. So if you’re a responsible adult (unlike me) you can still indulge in all the louche Pre-Code shenanigans this month at your leisure (preferably, draped over a divan wearing something sparkly).

Here are notes on three of my favorites that aired yesterday – films you can watch anytime until September 12: 


BABY FACE (1933 – Alfred E. Green, Warner Bros.)

With their gritty style and socially conscious sensibility, Warner Bros. was the preeminent producer of what we now call Pre-Code. And this one has come to be known as the CITIZEN KANE of the art form. Barbara Stanwyck plays Lilly Powers, a self-described “tramp” who, as the trailer brags, “made IT pay.” For 76 sexy, sinful minutes, Lily uses her unassuming, girl-next-door good looks to seduce a parade of patsies on her way to the top, culminating in a climatic montage of all the men she bedded, just in case you lost count. Costume designer Orry-Kelly tracks her ascent in a menagerie of gowns that get fancier and fancier as she moves up the ladder.

Even though the Code wasn’t actively being enforced at the time of the film’s release in December of 1933, edits were required by the New York State Censorship Board. Thankfully, the original, unedited version remains, and that’s the version that circulates today.  Look for a young John Wayne as one of Lily’s early conquests, and the great Theresa Harris as Chico, Lily’s sidekick. The equality of their relationship was way ahead of its time.


FEMALE (1933 – Michael Curtiz & William A. Wellman, First National Pictures)

To me, a woman in love is a pathetic spectacle,” says Alison Drake (Ruth Chatterton), CEO of the Drake Motor Car Company. Allison prefers her romantic dalliances to be businesslike affairs, after hours, with underlings. Everything changes when she meets handsome Jim Thorne (George Brent) at a carnival and he rebuffs her advances. Things get even more complicated when Allison’s new engineer shows up the next morning – and it’s Jim. She continues her pursuit but her new hire wants no part of it. “I was engaged as an engineer, not a gigolo,” he scolds. “I’m a man. I prefer to do my own hunting.” Will Allison give up her wanton ways for true love?

Although I enjoyed FEMALE, it’s unfortunately the worst kind of false feminism. Allison is portrayed as an unapologetically powerful female executive who turns into a gushy girl when she meets the right guy. “I’ve been expecting this for some time,” her first lieutenant Pettigrew (Ferdinand Gottschalk) says when she goes gaga for Jim. “You’re just a woman.” Come on. I know this is 1933, but don’t attract an audience with a suggestive premise and then deliver a sermon about “traditional values.” “Marriage and love and children – the things that women were born for,” Jim preaches to Allison. This character would never go for such a regressive male chauvinist, even in 1933.


WILD BOYS OF THE ROAD (1933 – William A. Wellman, First National Pictures)

Eddie (Frankie Darro) and Tommy (Edwin Phillips) are two small-town high school kids who take to the rails when the Depression strikes their parents. On the train they meet Sally (Dorothy Coonan, the future Mrs. Wellman) who dresses like a boy and talks like a tough guy. The kids get off in Chicago to stay with Sally’s Aunt Carrie, who just happens to be a hooker, but the kids don’t care, because she just baked a cake. Yum!

When the brothel is raided by the cops, the kids head out once again, this time for Columbus, Ohio. There, tragedy strikes, Tommy is nearly killed by a train and another member of their growing community of wild boys (and girls) is raped. Finally, in New York, the kids end up unwitting accomplices in a crime. Will justice give them a second chance or turn them into criminals?

You can check out the schedule for the remaining films in the Pre-Code series at the following links: September 12 (17 films), September 19 (16 films + one documentary), and September 26 (17 films). I highly recommend you visit two essential websites for Pre-Code fans: Danny Reid’s and Cliff Aliperti’s Immortal Ephemera. Both feature reviews and essays on many of the films and performers featured in the series.You can also read my review of SAFE IN HELL (1931) here. And my thoughts on NIGHT NURSE (1931) are here. Notes on the films above appeared previously on this site, because I’m too busy watching movies to write a bunch of new shit. 

Posted in Pre-Code Film | Tagged , , , | 17 Comments

Netflix Classic Film Comings + Goings – September, 2014

Netflix“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end,” said Seneca the Younger, or my freshman year guidance counselor, or the guy that sang “Closing Time” in the late ’90s.

Whoever it was, it’s certainly true – and nowhere more so than on Netflix Instant. At the end of each month we mourn the lost titles and celebrate the new arrivals, like The Circle of Life. This digital sloughing off is also an important reminder for denizens of the brave new Streaming World: if you don’t own it, it can go away. People like me need to keep that in mind when we pontificate about the impending death of physical media, or mock people who still get DVDs in the mail (where rights windows never expire, and classic films are far more prevalent).

If you love to binge on contemporary episodic television, the Netflix news has been filled with high profile acquisitions recently, like nine years worth of CBS’s Criminal Minds, the entire run of Showtime’s Californication, the first seasons of NBC’s The Blacklist (coming September 7) and El Rey Network’s From Dusk Til Dawn: The Series, and recent seasons of AMC’s The Walking Dead (September 29), the CW’s Arrow (September 14), ABC’s Once Upon a Time, CBS’ How I Met Your Mother (September 26), Fox’s New Girl (September 16) and Bones (September 16), NBC’s Parenthood, About a Boy (September 14), and Parks and Recreation (September 26), ABC’s Revenge and a bunch of reality shows I’m leaving out. And this is in addition to buzz-generating Netflix originals like House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Hemlock Grove, and The Killing (resuscitated from AMC).

TV series licenses are expensive, as Netflix’s record $2 million-per-episode acquisition of The Blacklist demonstrates. But, as binge-watching becomes the Next Big Thing, TV series will continue to draw both programming dollars and new subscribers. An individual film won’t win a new Netflix customer, but a TV series might.

And Netflix remains a reliable resource for classic TV shows, as well, though Hulu made the bigger news earlier this year, furthering a multi-year deal with CBS to stream more than 5,300 episodes from the CBS/Paramount library, including iconic series like the original Star Trek, Twin Peaks, and The Brady Bunch. Hulu rarely has complete series runs, though, and the maddeningly repetitive commercials can still drive some classic TV fans back to their DVD shelves. (Netflix Instant does not have ads.)

AptBut for classic film fans, the news has been less encouraging. Today, Netflix Instant lost essentials like THE MUMMY (1932), THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH (1955), and THE APARTMENT (1960). In all, 29 pre-1990 titles left the service on September 1, with plans to add only 21 in the coming weeks - the vast majority from the 1980s, and none older than 1950. And while movies on Netflix tend to be more of a licensing hot potato than TV shows, with shorter rights windows that can reflect cable’s desire for short-term exclusivity (e.g. the ROCKY and STAR TREK films), the trend line is going in the wrong direction for classic films on Netflix.

It’s worth pointing out that the service already has far more old movies than you would ever get a chance to watch (unless you’re an unemployed insomniac), from FANTOMAS (1913) to BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS (1980). A quick review of the ten sub-genre categories in Classic Movies brings up more than 650 suggestions, with an overwhelming majority of Dramas (187 titles) and a paltry showing for War Movies (only 17, including a few I’ve never heard of). But are they films you actually want to see? And if Netflix keeps registering aggregate loses in classic film titles each month, at what point will Old Movie Weirdos cut bait and fish in more specialized streams, like Warner Archive Instant?

UPDATE 9/2/14 6 p.m. (ET) I posted a comment on Facebook that I thought would be worthwhile sharing here:

I’m glad specialty streaming sites like Warner Archive Instant, Fandor, Mubi, and others exist, but those services preach to the film buff choir. The continuing tendency in modern media has been to relegate “old movies” into some sort of specialty niche category, instead of fostering an appreciation for all eras of filmmaking among mass audiences. With more than 36 million customers in the US alone (and 50 million worldwide), Netflix has (had?) a unique opportunity to expand access to, and awareness of, pre-1990 American film. It looks like that is not really happening. 
And that’s another reason why TCM is so important. It gives 85 million US homes an opportunity to stumble upon an old movie. It lowers the barrier to entry. I don’t want classic movies to be some sort of exclusive club that only the informed know how to find. I want them to be readily available to the masses, so that the subtextual message to uninformed viewers is that these films are worthwhile.

Here are the Netflix Classic Film Comings and Goings for September:

177August 31 GOINGs:

1930s -1
The Mummy (1932)

1940s – 0

1950s – 2
The Seven Year Itch (1955)
The Delinquents (1957)

1960s – 4
The Apartment (1960)
El Dorado (1966)
Doctor Doolittle (1967)
That Cold Day in the Park (1969)

1970s -10
Black Mama, White Mama (1972)
The Long Goodbye (1973)
Charley Varrick (1973)
Thieves Like Us (1974)
Bucktown (1975)
The Eiger Sanction (1975)
At the Earth’s Core (1976)
Midnight Express (1978)
Convoy (1978) – Sept 5
Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

1980s – 12
Popeye (1980)
Stir Crazy (1980)
Cujo (1983)
Streamers (1983)
Fool for Love (1985)
O.C. and Stiggs (1985)
Just One of the Guys (1985)
Silverado (1985)
About Last Night… (1986)
Gothic (1986)
Star Trek: The Voyage Home (1986)
Dirty Dancing (1987)

roman-holiday-posterSeptember 1 COMINGs:


1950s – 2 
High Noon (1952) – Coming 9/12
Roman Holiday (1953) – 9/5

1960s – 3
Swiss Family Robinson (1960)
Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) – 9/12
True Grit (1969) – 9/5

1970s – 3 
Count Yorga, Vampire (1970)
Audrey Rose (1977)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

1980s – 13 
Ordinary People (1980)
The Blue Lagoon (1980)
The Elephant Man (1980)
An Officer and a Gentleman (1982)
Mr. Mom (1983)
Young Sherlock Holmes (1985)
Crocodile Dundee (1986)
The Believers (1987)
Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)
Spaceballs (1987)
Monkey Shines (1988)
The Presidio (1988)
Big Top Pee-Wee (1988) – 9/5

Sources: What’s On Netflix Now, The Huffington Post, Tech Times


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