Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Rio Grande (1950)

There's a lot of rivers to cross in Rio Grande.

The actual body of water is the biggest one.

Apache Indians are causing major problems for Lt. Col. Kirby Yorke (John Wayne) and his United States cavalry troops. But his orders stop him from pursuing the Apache when they cross the Rio Grande into Mexico, and safety.

Plenty of symbolic crossings have to be made too. Yorke's estrangement from his wife, Kathleen (Maureen O'Hara), is long-standing. He hasn't seen his son, Jeff (Claude Jarman, Jr.) in 15 years. The younger Yorke wants to serve in the military too, but he fails at West Point. Instead, he enlists in the cavalry and is posted as a trooper to serve under his father. He's with two other new recruits - Travis Tyree (Ben Johnson) and Sandy Boone (Claude Jarman).

Kathleen shows up because she wants to get her son out of the service. Neither he, or Kirby, agree with her mission.

"What kind of man is he?" Jeff asks his mother of Kirby.

"He's a very lonely man," she replies.

Tyree is wanted by a deputy federal marshal (Grant Withers) for manslaughter. He's on his own journey too. Will he be taken into custody or make a bid for freedom?

Rio Grande is a much more satisfying view than Fort Apache, the first of director John Ford's cavalry trio. She Wore a Yellow Ribbon is the second installment. The on-going humour that dragged down Fort Apache is much more muted here. The romance between Wayne and O'Hara is on solid ground compared to young lovers Shirley Temple and John Agar in Fort Apache.

The most impressive action scene in this film isn't a battle between the Apache and cavalry, but a training sequence when troopers stand, and ride, two horses. This long-time movie fan has never seen such a stunt before. It's jaw-dropping viewing.

Sons of the Pioneers make several welcome appearances with low-key music that enhances the film's mood, especially a romantic tune when Kirby and Kathleen first dine together.

Military folly was explored in Fort Apache. What stands out here is Kirby's early warning to his son not to expect a life of glory in the military, but one of sacrifice and hardship. How many times do you see those themes trumpeted in recruiting posters? An early scene as the movie opens finds wives of soldiers watching anxiously as Yorke and his men return from a mission. Who is dead? Who is wounded? Who is safe? That's war.

Rio Grande ends this trilogy in fine form.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: Hey, that's Karolyn Grimes, Zuzu Bailey from It's a Wonderful Life, as Margaret Mary.

J. Carrol Naish, who appears as Lt. Gen. Philip Sheridan, made his last screen appearance in Dracula vs. Frankenstein.

Sons of the Pioneers appeared in nearly 100 films and television shows between 1934 and 1984.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Fort Apache (1948)

What kind of movie is Fort Apache supposed to be?

Yes, I know it's a western.

But is director John Ford's 1948 effort a slapstick comedy? Romance? Drama?

It's hard to pin this movie down because its mood is all over the place. That makes for a frustrating viewing experience despite some very fine cinematography by Archie Stout and William Clothier. In fact, the cinematography might just be the best thing about this movie.

Lt. Col. Owen Thursday (Henry Fonda) is the new commander of Fort Apache. This career military man is definitely all business. He doesn't take kindly to being posted in the middle of nowhere and wants to move on - pronto.

Thursday is strictly by the book and doesn't take kindly to his daughter, Philadelphia (Shirley Temple), romancing 2nd Lieut. Michael Shannon O'Rourke (John Agar). Temple doesn't make much of an impression in this, one of her last film roles before retiring from the big screen in 1949. Agar was her husband when Fort Apache was shot, although they'd divorce in 1950. The romance takes up a good chunk of Fort Apache's nearly two-hour running time. Sigh.

Then there's the comedy, which also eats up a fair part of Ford's film. There's extended sequences with new recruits that go on too long. Even Temple gets mixed up with a comedic scene about living quarters that aren't very liveable.

Oh, there's the social life of the fort too, including a couple of dances. There's jokes about alcohol. Most of this screen time is tiresome. Fonda does get a good line when a stash of booze is found in the hidden inventory of Silas Meacham (Grant Withers). There's a suggestion the hooch is for a religious purpose. "Pour me some scripture," Thursday says.

Good grief, what's this movie about?

John Wayne doesn't do much for most of the film. One of his most promising scenes, when he meets with an important Apache leader, Cochise (Miguel Inclan), ends as soon as the two men meet.

Thursday is a great character. It's a wonder how he earned such a rank because he has zero people skills and shows little understanding of military strategy. Oh, he doesn't listen to his advisers either. It's too bad audiences don't get to learn more about what makes him tick. There's a suggestion of a past relationship with Capt. Sam Collingwood (George O'Brien). Each man made a decision in the past. It earned Thursday a promotion and Collingwood a ticket to Fort Apache. What happened? We never find out.

Fort Apache is a frustrating film to watch. Stick with My Darling Clementine or Stagecoach.

RATING: 4/10

FUN FACTS: Anna Lee, who appears as Mrs. Emily Collingwood, was Sister Margaretta in The Sound of Music . Her husband in Fort Apache is Ward Bond.

Movita has a small role as Thursday's servant.

George O'Brien's last film was in another Ford movie, Cheyenne Autumn.

UPDATE: Shirley Temple died on Feb. 10, 2014. She was 85.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Buddy Holly Story (1978)

Gary Busey rocks in this biography of American rocker Buddy Holly.

He earned an Oscar nomination for best male lead for this entertaining 1978 effort from first-time director Steve Rash.

Busey is intense as the young singer/songwriter who knows the music he wants to make, but has to contend with plenty of flack from detractors who don't want to hear rock and roll, or see him associate with black entertainers in the mid-1950s. The Texas native does a fine job with his vocal takes on most of Holly's major hits including Rave On, Oh Boy! and Maybe Baby.

It's a year after graduating from high school and Holly is starting to feel pressure from his parents (Neva Patterson and Arch Johnson) who want him to put his guitar down and go to college. Church preacher (Richard Kennedy, in very fine form) warns his congregation, including Holly and his parents, of "this jungle rhythm" that's "a threat to our very society." Holly's original rock material gets the kids excited, but the sponsors of his live spots on radio want him to stick with country - not rock and roll. That won't cut it with Holly. He quits the broadcasts.

Opportunity knocks when Holly and his band, drummer Jesse (Don Stroud) and Ray Bob (Charles Martin Smith) on stand-up bass, get an invite to Nashville. Hope of a record deal turns to frustration when the producer wants Holly to ditch rock for, yep, traditional country. His time ends in frustration in Music City, but another door soon opens when a New York-based label gets its hands on one of Holly's live performances. Sales are good.

Cue the chance to record material the way Holly wants, and plenty of success on the charts too.

Holly woos Maria Elena (Maria Richwine), a secretary to a studio boss, and deals with more race issues. She's Puerta Rican and Catholic. He's not. Holly turns on the charm to get the blessing of Maria's aunt, Mrs. Santiago (Gloria Irizarry).

At times, The Buddy Holly Story feels too obvious in its depiction of the American rock and roll legend. Hey, here's Buddy experimenting in the studio. Watch, Buddy deals with racial prejudice. Gailard Sartain, so wonderful in Mississipi Burning, doesn't fare well in his brief turn as The Big Bopper. But there's also some fine camera work, especially tracking Holly and his band backstage at New York's Apollo Theater and capturing the energy of Holly's performances. Stroud shines behind the drum kit too.

Rock and roll lost a great talent in Holly, killed in a plane crash in February 1959. He was 22.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: The Buddy Holly Story marked film debuts for Maria Richwine and Fred Travalena, who appears as deejay Madman Mancuso.

Neva Patterson, who died in 2010 at 90, appeared in An Affair to Remember and All the President's Menn.

Comedian Paul Mooney appears as Sam Cooke.

The Buddy Holly Story won an Oscar for best music.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Magnificent Seven (1960)

Give The Magnificent Seven marks for being different.

Director John Sturges (The Great Escape) opens his film in an unusual way. An undertaker refuses to bury an Indian because the townfolk don't want him resting alongside the dead who have white skin.

Chris (Yul Brynner) and Vin (Steve McQueen) agree to bring the hearse to the graveyard, calmly ducking bullets and verbal barbs hurled their way. They have to face five armed men once they get to the cemetery too.

The opening minutes establish the film's theme of standing up for the little guy who is wronged, but can't fight back.

A delegation from a Mexican village appeals to Chris for help. Their community is pillaged on a regular basis by a bandido and his gang. They want him to round up, quite literally, some hired guns and free their community from tyranny.

Chris, being a gun for hire, knows where to find talent such as Britt (James Coburn), Bernardo (Charles Bronson) and Lee (Robert Vaughn). Part of his posse includes Horst Buchholz, a German actor who doesn't make much of an impression among such a stellar assembly of stars. That's a small quibble about a western that definitely stands out for its genre.

Viewers would expect these gunslingers to be tough, macho men. Instead, they definitely show signs of humanity. Lee looks like he's struggling to hold it together mentally. He's wondering if he's lost his touch with his gun and will soon be struck down by a quicker adversary. Bronson's Bernardo chews out youngsters who suggest their fathers are weak because they don't stand up for their community. This comes from a guy who has made plenty of money fighting other people's wars.

Conductor Elmer Bernstein was rightly nominated for an Oscar for best score. His music is a powerful sidekick to the action on the screen.

The Magnificent Seven helped establish McQueen, Bronson and Coburn as major screen talents. They'd be reunited for another film by Sturges, The Great Escape, in 1963.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: See if you can spot Victor French (Little House on the Prairie) in a small role in his first feature film.

Horst Buchholz also appeared in Life is Beautiful.

James Coburn was the owner of El Sleezo Cafe in The Muppet Movie.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Christmas Vacation (1989)

Here's a Christmas turkey.

This 1989 effort, from first-time director Jeremiah Chechik (The Avengers, Benny and Joon) offers humour best suited to audiences under 10.

Rocket charged toboggan rides, threatening squirrels, human feces, explosions, lots of breaking windows, old people who complain a lot and look goofy, a reference to a sex-crazed dog, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (Special Edition) packs all of these comedic bon bons under the tree.

But with several bursts of profanity, and a hint of nudity from Nicolette Scorsese in a small supporting role, youngsters shouldn't be anywhere near this movie. Older viewers are advised to steer clear of this dreck with former Saturday Night Live member Chevy Chase in the starring role.

His character, Clark Griswold, dreams of the perfect Christmas - mostly focused on having a huge tree and thousands of lights on his home. He dreams of adding an in-ground pool to the backyard with his hotly anticipated Christmas bonus. Yep, life sure is a struggle in the Griswold home.

Apparently Clark doesn't spend much time appreciating he has more than most people on the Earth could ever dream about. He has a wonderful wife, Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo), and two great kids Audrey (Juliette Lewis) and Rusty (Johnny Galecki). Clark also lives in a huge home in the suburbs, which suggests his paycheque should also earn a secular version of Joy to the World once and a while.

All the in-laws are headed to the Griswold home in Illinois for Christmas. Clark, Sr. and Nora (John Randolph, Diane Ladd) and Art and Francis (E.G. Marshall, Doris Roberts) fight a lot. Why? The putrid script from the late John Hughes never gives us an explanation. The unexpected arrival of Clark's cousin, Eddie (Randy Quaid), and his family ratchets up the tension level.

There are some, and I stress some, very funny moments in Christmas Vacation. Most involve Chase enduring some sort of physical pain. He gets whacked by wood a lot in this film. Hughes manages the occasional zinger of dialogue, such as Ellen telling her daughter, "I don't know what to say except it's Christmas and we're all in misery."

Eddie's daughter, Ruby Sue, and her family live in a RV. She tells Clark his home comes with a distinct advantage. "Your house is always parked in the same place."

When family squabbling peaks, Clark tells his wife "We're at the threshold of hell."

These are all good lines. But too often Christmas Vacation opts for silly, exaggerated moments. That may be great for really young viewers, but not for older folks. It gets exasperating.

What's especially sad is the waste of talent among Clark and Ellen's parents. These folks are talented actors, but mostly they're left to making wisecracks about physical ailments and being grouchy. There's one quiet moment between Chase and Randolph that creates genuine human emotion. Then it's gone.

Avoid this film.

RATING: 3/10

FUN FACTS: Johnny Galecki is now a member of television comedy hit The Big Bang Theory.

Doris Roberts appeared in another hit sitcom, Everybody Loves Raymond. She was Marie Barone.

Mae Questel has a small role as another senior without many brains, Bethany. Her resume is really neat. Questel was the voice of Betty Boop in more than 150 shorts. She also voiced the character in a much better film from the 1980s, Who Framed Roger Rabbit: 25th Anniversary Edition (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo in DVD Packaging).

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

It's a Wonderful Life (1947)

It's A Wonderful Life is a wonderful movie.

Reel Popcorn Junkie has reviewed several Christmas films in recent weeks. This is the best of the bunch.

It's hard not to cry watching Frank Capra's 1947 film. Fellas, that's OK.

There's tears of empathy for George Bailey (James Stewart), the dreamer from a small town who wants to see the world and be associated with big projects like building bridges and erecting skyscrapers. He dreams of "shaking the dust of this crummy little town off my feet."

But life keeps George from ever leaving his hometown. Emergencies at home, at work and in the world economy all force him to keep staying put while his family and friends move on to new adventures. They find success in the workplace and their investments, rubbing shoulders with dignitaries and enjoying life's luxuries.

George ends up heading Bailey Building and Loan, a business that helps the town's residents get decent housing. But it's a far than lucrative line of work for its overseers. The enterprise is the only business in Bedford Falls that operates outside the clutches of cold-hearted businessman Henry Potter (Lionel Barrymore). There's little money for George to make and he has to work hard to keep Potter's paws off the enterprise.

It's a Wonderful Life has many wonderful scenes. One has Potter trying to woo Bailey to come work for him. There's a promise of a huge pay increase and business trips to large cities. It's like Satan trying to woo Christ in the desert. Bailey tries to get comfortable in a seat that's too small for him as he considers this amazing offer.

Bailey considers killing himself when his forgetful Uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell) loses a hefty bank deposit on Christmas Eve. Bank examiners are in town and those missing dollars mean scandal, and likely jail, for George.

Heaven sends Bailey's guardian angel, Clarence (Henry Travers), to stop Bailey from taking his own life. His attempts to reason with George go nowhere, until he suggests he wishes he'd never been born. Clarence makes George's wish a reality. He has never existed.

Here's where more tears come easily. Clarence finally gets a chance to show George how his absence affects Bedford Falls. Timely interactions with others through his life have never happened. That impacts others outside Bedford Falls that George never knew existed. No George means the lives of many, many others have been impacted - for the worse.

Appreciating life. Appreciating what you have. Understanding how someone can make a big difference even in a small town. It's these themes that make It's A Wonderful Life a Christmas classic.

Plus, there's a great romance between George and Mary Hatch (Donna Reed), the girl who has loved him since she was a youngster. There's laughs with George and Mary dancing the Charleston at a high school graduation bash and George's pondering what to do when Mary ends up with no clothes and hides in a bush.

George Bailey offers James Stewart one of the finest roles in his career. There's flashes of anger and despair as his character deals with what life has handed him. Lionel Barrymore is fantastic as one of Hollywood's great villains. This man has no soul. "I am an old man and most people hate me, but I don't like them either so that makes it all even," he tells George at one point. That's a wonderful life?

See this film, again and again, and appreciate all of your life's gifts.

Merry Christmas.

RATING: 10/10

FUN FACTS: Why didn't this happen to Titanic? It's A Wonderful Life was nominated for five Oscars, including best movie, actor and director, but didn't win a single Academy Award.

It's A Wonderful Life was James Stewart's first film after serving in the Second World War.

Ward Bond is in the supporting cast as Bert, a police officer. He was Major Seth Adams in television's Wagon Train.

Gloria Grahame is Violet Bick, the other woman who's interested in George Bailey. She won a best supporting Oscar for her work in The Bad and the Beautiful .

Look closely. That's Carl 'Alfalfa' Switzer from The Little Rascals who tries to get Mary Ward on the dance floor during the graduation scene.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Holiday (1938)

Great cast. Fine romance. Good laughs.

This is a Holiday worth taking.

Johnny Case (Cary Grant) is convinced he's finally in love. His romance with Julia Seaton (Doris Nolan) is definitely a whirlwhind. The happy couple has just met and is already planning to walk down the aisle - pronto. "It's love fellas," Case tells friends Nick and Susan Porter (Edward Everett Horton, Jean Dixon). "I met the girl."

Case is a little surprised when he visits his future better half's home for the first time. The address she told him to attend is a huge home. Case figures Julia is employed at the property. Nope. It's her family's home. They're rich. Very, very rich. Father Edward Seton (Henry Kolker) is quite serious about the business of making money. Nothing else seems to matter much.

Case has his share of business savvy too, but he also wants to step away from the rat race, at least for a short while, and just enjoy life. Such a carefree approach to the bottom-line doesn't impress Seton and Julia appears to have her concerns too. She's confident Johnny has the talent to earn millions of his own. Her siblings aren't quite in love with the almighty dollar.

Brother Ned (Lew Ayres) has the talent to be a professional musician, but a career in the arts is something Edward doesn't want for his son, So, Ned drinks. A lot. "It's my protection against your tiresome friends," he suggests of alcohol's allure.

Sister Linda Seaton (Katharine Hepburn) is a free spirit just like Hepburn. She's happy her sibling has found love, but can't deny there's something about Johnny that she finds attractive too. "You haven't been bitten by the reverence for riches," Linda tells Johnny in one of the best lines from director George Cukor's 1938 romance. "Money is our god here."

Pops and Julia put the screws to Johnny - work for the family firm for a while before taking his much hoped for break. Linda urges him to stand firm to his dream. Johnny, distressed by how cash is putting a strain on his romance with Julia, finds himself drawn to Linda.

Here's a love story with some real chemistry between the leads. Love sure looks better than money here, which may have thrown audiences as the Great Depression was ending. The Seatons have the cash. Johnny has the life. Holiday is a fine film.

RATING: 9/10

FUN FACTS: Holiday is a rare chance to see Doris Nolan and Jean Dixon. Their film and television credits are limited - 25 and 16 respectively. Holiday is Dixon's last big screen appearance before some roles on television.

Hurray for Binne Barnes and her wonderful snooty work as the Seaton cousin Laura.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Thanks, Santa, for this wonderful Christmas treat.

Reel Popcorn Junkie has endured some less-than-stellar Christmas films in recent weeks. But Miracle on 34th Street is a pleasant cinematic present for viewers. Here's a movie that definitely deserves a viewing during the Christmas holidays.

Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) lashes out at a Santa who's had too much to drink before the start of Macy's annual Thanksgiving Day parade in New York City. "You're a disgrace," he admonishes the higher-than-a-kite Claus. Event organizer Doris Walker (Maureen O'Hara) recruits Kringle to fill in for his drunken predecessor. Hey, this guy looks like Santa Claus without the accessories. He's portly and sports a fine, long grey beard. Kringle's personality is warm and jovial. Talk about a people person.

Kringle is a hit with the kids along the parade route. The department store hires him to chat one-on-one with youngsters to learn their hopes for Christmas.

Kringle turns a few heads in management when he starts recommending competing merchants who have better products mothers and fathers should buy.

Macy's brass turns this into a marketing opportunity with vows to send shoppers to other retailers if they have the better buy. The plan is to develop a warm rapport with customers and make even more money because they'll be impressed with how they're treated.

Kringle doesn't find many doubters among his young fans at Macy's. But Walker's daughter, Susan (Natalie Wood), isn't a believer. Mom has taught her daughter not to believe in fantasy figures like Santa. Poor Susan has to even be coaxed by Kringle into imagining she's a monkey. She demands a gift far bigger, and difficult to obtain, than all others to see if Kringle is the real deal.

If that's not challenge enough, Macy's shrink Granville Sawyer (Peter Hall) suggests Kringle is prone to violent outbursts. This snowballs into Kringle being considered mentally unwell and committed to an institution. Yikes. It's up to Walker's neighbour, lawyer Fred Gailey (John Payne) to prove conclusively that Kris Kringle is Santa Claus.

Some of the film's best fun comes from the politics associated with Kringle's appearance. Judge Henry Harper (Gene Lockhart) is warned by his rainmaker Charlie Halloran (William Frawley), that he'll lose votes come re-election if he rules Kringle is not Santa Claus. It's not often trade unions and Santa get mentioned in the same breath, but Frowley does it here with great effect. Merchants trying to market their businesses based on Kringle's generous attitude is also a hoot - especially when two retail titans bicker over buying an X-ray machine for a doctor Kringle knows.

Younger viewers will cheer on Kringle as he tries to clear his name. Adults can enjoy the behind-the-scenes scheming Kringle's presence helps create.

Finally, a Christmas film worth putting under the tree.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: Edmund Gwenn (The Trouble with Harry , Foreign Correspondent ) won an Oscar for best supporting actor for his work in Miracle on 34th Street.

William Frawley was Fred Mertz in I Love Lucy.

Alvin Greenman appears as Macy's custodian in Miracle on 34th Street. He's the only actor from the first film version to return, as a doorman, in the 1994 remake, IMDB reports.

Director George Seaton won Oscars for his screenplays for Miracle on 34th Street and The Country Girl. He was also a contributing writer to The Wizard of Oz.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

James Stewart a retail worker in Budapest?

Co-workers with European accents alongside staff seemingly plucked from the streets of Anywhere, USA?

Prepare to accept these strange situations in Shop Around the Corner and settle down with another fine romantic comedy from director Ernst Lubitsch (Trouble in Paradise and Heaven Can Wait are also reviewed on this site).

Alfred Kralik (James Stewart) is the longest-serving employee at Matuschek and Company, a gift shop. He's the only employee in the small store who'll speak candidly to the boss, Hugo Matuschek (Frank Morgan). Pirovitch (Felix Bressart) avoids any type of confrontation with his boss. With a wife and two children at home, he wants to keep collecting his paycheque. Florenz Vadas (Joseph Schildkraut) is an annoying kisser of posterior who's always keeping his ears tuned to any signs of dissent from the employee ranks.

Klara Novak (Margaret Sullivan) wants work, but Kralik acts as gatekeeper and tells her no jobs are to be had. She steps up and makes a pitch to a customer for a product Kralik doesn't want stocked. She's on the payroll.

Kralik and Novak continually clash. That's a little odd considering they're enthusiastically exchanging letters anonymously. Kralik saw her classified ad in the newspaper. It was posted by a "modern woman." Each confides with co-workers of the wonderful person they've found via the post and their anticipation to finally meet.

It's Pirovitch who helps Kralik learn the identity of his dear pen pal. But he opts not to reveal his identity to his co-worker. There's another rendezvous planned for Christmas Eve.

Shop offers more laughs from the clashes between Kralik and Novak than sparks created from their relationship. Novak delivers an especially punishing blow when she chides him for being "an insignificant little clerk." That verbal volley rocks Kralik. The expression on Stewart's face when he hears those words is powerful.

What message do we take from this 1940 MGM film? You never know where you'll find love? We hurt the people we love ("You're cold and snippy like and old maid," Kralik tells Novak)? Suspicion or lack of knowledge about others caries a heavy price? Matuschek sacks Kralik when he thinks his longest-serving employee is fooling around with his wife. "She just didn't want to grow old with me," the boss tells a detective (Charles Halton).

The Shop Around the Corner offers several different takes on love - love gone sour, contented family bliss and the search for love. Check it out.

RATING: 7.5/10

FUN FACTS: Frank Morgan look familiar? He's the title character in The Wizard of Oz.

Joseph Schidkraut was Otto Frank in The Diary of Anne Frank.

William Tracy appeared in Angels with Dirty Faces . His debut was in The Phantom of the Opera.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Easter Parade (1948)

Easter Parade doesn't lay an egg, but it's not all it's cracked up to be either.

My beef with this 1948 effort from director Charles Walters (High Society, Please Don't Eat the Daisies)?

True romance is hard to find.

Dancer Don Hewes (Fred Astaire) loves his partner Nadine Hall (Ann Miller). But she wants to go solo. End of relationship.

Hewes decides he'll transform chorus girl Hannah Brown (Judy Garland) into his new partner. She falls for him, but why? Hewes makes all the decisions for their act. Her input is nil. His focus is work, work, work. Hey, the guy can dance, but he's not the type to cuddle up on a couch after a show. Hannah's right when she tells him, "You're nothing but a pair of dancing shoes."

Hewes' buddy, Jonathan Harrow (Peter Lawford), is smitten with Brown, but he also has an interest in Nadine. Why? Brown isn't interested in the one guy who's showing her some affection. What's up with these people?

Dance numbers that truly impress are limited. Astaire's Drum Crazy dazzles in the film's early going. Miller is very fine with her solo, Shakin' the Blues Away.

Some of this film's best moments come from its supporting players. Kudos to Clinton Sundberg as Mike the Bartender, a barkeep who has heard plenty about relationships gone wrong. "This place is like a clinic," he tells Hewes about his workplace. That scene also gives Astaire his best line in the film. Reeling after getting the heave-ho from Miller's Nadine, he asks Mike, "Can you drown a brunette in this (drink)?"

Richard Beavers sounds great with one of Easter Parade's last numbers, The Girl on the Magazine Cover. He only made six films between 1946 and 1954. What happened there?

Finally, Jules Munshin has some fun as Headwaiter Francois, the swanky restaurant worker who keeps seating Hewes, Brown and company, but they never stick around long enough to eat. His description of his salad is a treat.

Easter Parade looks great. It's filmed in Technicolor. But where's the warmth? Not here I'm afraid.

RATING: 6/10

FUN FACTS: Easter Parade won an Oscar for best score. Thank you for the songs, Irving Berlin.

I keep finding actors who appeared in Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood. Add Ann Miller to the list. Her last credit was Mulholland Drive in 2001.

Jimmy Bates is the young lad who doesn't want to give up a stuffed rabbit to Fred Astaire in a toy shop. He also appeared in Singin' In the Rain.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Holiday Inn (1942)

Now this is more like it.

Christmas in Connecticut and It Happened on Fifth Avenue were OK Christmas films, but definitely don't deserve to be called classics.

Holiday Inn doesn't rank alongside It's a Wonderful World either, but it's definitely closer in quality to Frank Capra's fine 1946 effort than those other two films recently reviewed on this site.

Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire only made two films together - Holiday Inn and Blue Skies four years later. There's one good reason right off the bat to give this film a look. Bing sings plenty and Astaire is a treat to watch on the dance floor - especially on an Independence Day routine with firecrackers as props. Wow, this guy is smooth.

Here, Astaire playing dancer (what else?) Ted Hanover, is a cad. He wants to share the stage with top-notch female talent. If that hurts Jim Hardy (Bing Crosby), too bad.

Hardy and Hanover are a team when the film opens on Christmas Eve.

"This is our last night in show business," Hardy suggests. He wants out of the constant grind of performing. His plan - buy an inn in Connecticut and only perform on holidays. "I want to be lazy," he declares. Maybe no one has told him how much work the average entrepreneur faces. Hardy plans to settle down with Lila Dixon (Virginia Dale), who's also part of the act. It's too bad it's Hanover she wants to find under the misiletoe for the rest of her life.

Hardy's heart bounces back soon enough when he meets Linda Mason (Marjorie Reynolds), a young lady with a fine voice and dancing talent. She's keen to work at Holiday Inn to start her career. When Lila ditches Ted for a better half with lots of cash, the smooth as silk hoofer goes on a major bender and makes his way to Holiday Inn. He and Linda are a hit on the dance floor, but he's so smashed he remembers little of the great talent he cut a rug with. "I've got to have a partner," he vows. His agent, Danny Reed (Walter Abel), joins in the search for the mystery woman.

Hardy, who has already been burned by Hanover once in matters of the heart, does his darndest to keep Linda away from Ted. His ploy works - for a while.

Seeing Crosby sing and Astaire dance is reason enough to watch this film. Plus, Bing sings White Christmas. White Christmas! That would be the biggest selling single for decades until Elton John's retake on Candle in the Wind paying tribute to Princess Diana in the late 1990s.

It's unsettling to see Crosby and Dale put on blackface for a song and dance number saluting Abraham Lincoln. Blame that on the times of racial inequality in the United States. Blackface would be gone by the 1960s.

The film's finale is a treat - an acknowledgement of Hollywood's world of make believe. Is actual director Mark Sandrich seen among the crew preparing for a movie's climatic scene? Another nice touch - Bing and Fred reprise the film's first song, updated to reflect how their ways with the ladies have gone.

Holiday Inn. Great cast. Fine music and dance. Now this is how the holidays should be spent.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: Character actor Irving Bacon has some fun as Gus, a taxi driver who ferries Linda Mason to Holiday Inn. He appeared in more than 500 films and television shows including Gone With the Wind and Shadow of a Doubt .