Friday, February 16, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Loving Leah (2009)

My latest exploration of Hallmark films led me to a real find, the Hallmark Hall of Fame production LOVING LEAH (2009).

Leah Lever (Lauren Ambrose) lives in Brooklyn and is married to Benjamin (David Rossmer), an Orthodox rabbi who dies suddenly.

Benjamin's distant brother David (Adam Kaufman), a busy doctor and non-observant Jew who lives in Washington, D.C., is confronted with the tradition of needing to marry his brother's childless widow to carry on the family name. It's either that or go through a ceremony in which he denies his brother's existence, and David unexpectedly finds himself unable to follow through with that option.

David suggests to Leah that they marry in name only, which assuages his guilt about not having much of a relationship with his brother, while enabling Leah to get away from her controlling mother (Susie Essman) and attend college. David and Leah will figure out what happens later...later.

Needless to say, David's girlfriend Carol (Christy Pusz) has a little trouble wrapping her brain around her boyfriend's unusual marriage, and she wisely cuts out of the picture pretty quickly.

The joy of the film is watching how Leah and David become entwined in each other's lives, each making changes. David's apartment undergoes a transformation, with a mezuzah in each doorway, a kosher kitchen, and Sabbath prayers on Fridays. Eventually his pool table leaves in favor of a dining table, the better to enjoy Leah's cooking.

Leah meanwhile prepares for college by studying for her SATs, and she also begins to explore how she wants to live out her faith as an independent adult. Initially embarrassed when she visits a nearby Reform shul and realizes the rabbi (Ricki Lake) is a woman, she ultimately finds in the rabbi a new friend and sympathetic listener. Leah also wrestles with issues regarding whether she wants to maintain every Orthodox tradition she's lived by to that point, such as covering her hair with a wig in public. For his part, David begins to enjoy and reclaim the traditions which were part of his religious heritage.

The couple grow close, but then David finds himself wracked with guilt that he is able to be happy with Leah because his brother is dead...

I thought this was a wonderful film, very absorbing and even educational. Though it's obvious where the story is going from the outset -- after all, the title is LOVING LEAH -- the pleasure is in the couple's journey. I also found the depictions of Jewish life extremely interesting; it's rare for a film to go into so many details regarding religious practice and values.

Another particular pleasure for me is that Leah is a classic film fan, something she had felt she'd had to keep hidden from her family; she would sneak off to the movie theater. She wrestles with her own guilt, that when Benjamin had died suddenly, she'd been in a revival house watching a classic movie, when everyone thought she'd been shopping.

When Leah moves in with David, Bernard Dick's biography of Claudette Colbert is on her nightstand, and she later tells David about IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934) and the walls of Jericho.

LOVING LEAH was directed by Jeff Bleckner from a script by Pnenah Goldstein. It was filmed by Charles Goldstein.

LOVING LEAH is available on DVD. An Amazon review indicated that the DVD has scenes which didn't air on TV; the TV version minus commercials is roughly 85 minutes long, give or take a couple minutes, and I found a version on YouTube which is 93 minutes long. Sure enough, the YouTube version has scenes which weren't part of the TV broadcast!

I suspect the scenes may have been part of the original CBS network broadcast and then were trimmed for reruns on Hallmark Channel, but that's just an educated guess. They weren't critical but it was interesting to see them, and I plan to buy the DVD for future viewing. I'll be wanting to watch this one again.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Quick Preview of TCM in April

This week Turner Classic Movies posted a preview of the channel's April 2018 schedule.

A great month is on tap, beginning with a centennial celebration of the life and career of actor William Holden, the April Star of the Month.

Holden was previously the Star of the Month in September 2006. The centennial of his birth falls on April 17th.

Actress Stefanie Powers, who knew Holden well, will be on hand to discuss his life with Ben Mankiewicz. Photos from her TCM shoot may be seen here and here.

A nice cross-section of Holden films are scheduled, including the not-on-DVD DEAR RUTH (1947), costarring Joan Caulfield and Mona Freeman, and another relatively early Holden favorite of mine, APARTMENT FOR PEGGY (1948), with Jeanne Crain.

Additional excellent news is that the TCM Spotlight series will be focused on director Michael Curtiz, with 24-hour Curtiz marathons each Wednesday. Curtiz is also currently being honored with a retrospective at UCLA hosted by his biographer, Alan K. Rode. Hopefully TCM has invited Rode to speak about Curtiz, given the recent publication of his Curtiz book, but I don't have confirmation of that. (Update: Just a couple hours after posting this I received the latest Film Noir Foundation newsletter, which says "UPDATE: Look for Alan to appear as a guest programmer with Ben Mankiewicz during TCM's month-long 'Spotlight' tribute to director Michael Curtiz, coming this April!")

The TCM Classic Film Festival will take place in Hollywood from April 26th to 29th, and as has been the case in the last few years, the LIVE FROM THE TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL special filmed the previous year will air during the festival month. Last year's interview was with Michael Douglas.

Easter Sunday features not only the annual showing of EASTER PARADE (1948) but, for good measure, HOLIDAY INN (1942)! (A still from that film's Easter sequence is seen at left, with Marjorie Reynolds, Bing Crosby, and Fred Astaire.) Other April themes include gothic crime, newspapers, beach movies, India, biographical films, and Washington politics.

Filmmakers receiving multifilm salutes in April include Doris Day, Jane Fonda, Bette Davis, Jane Powell, Peggy Cummins, Harold Lloyd, and Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy.

Plus look for prewar Tim Holt Westerns every Saturday morning! And there's a terrific lineup of Noir Alley films; I've seen and recommend them all.

I'll have much more information on TCM in April posted here around the end of March. In the meantime, 31 Days of Oscar continues as the February theme, and Elizabeth Taylor will be the Star of the Month in March.

Happy viewing!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Strictly Dishonorable (1951) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Janet Leigh and Ezio Pinza star in STRICTLY DISHONORABLE (1951), an unexpected charmer available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

The Archive recently released a double-film set of the original 1931 version of STRICTLY DISHONORABLE, paired with this 1951 remake on the same disc. Though each film had different screenwriters -- directors Melvin Frank and Norman Panama cowrote the 1951 version -- both movies were based on a play by Preston Sturges. I don't know who was responsible for individual lines but there's some very good dialogue ("I never thought I'd be sleeping in the pajamas of a man who's in the encyclopedia!").

The plot concerns the convoluted romance of a famous opera star, Gus Caraffa (Pinza), with a young Southern girl, Isabelle (Leigh). They "meet cute" when she gets a gig in a crowd scene in one of his shows and accidentally burns him with a torch.

Before the day is done Isabelle has ditched her stuffy fiance (Arthur Franz) and she and Gus are marrying in the middle of the night -- in name only, to save his career (it's a long story!), but it's clearly apparent they have genuine feelings for one another.

Gus is pushed by his business manager (Millard Mitchell) to plan an annulment in order to avoid a breach of promise suit from a greedy ex-girlfriend (Maria Palmer), but Isabelle quickly has Gus's formidable Mama (Esther Minciotti) wrapped around her little finger. Mama Caraffa, charmed by Isabelle's sweet sincerity and dreaming of grandbabies, plots to unite Isabelle and Gus permanently.

The age gap between Pinza and Leigh is far more years than I want to think about, but they have really splendid chemistry. Without that, you've only got a script with some funny lines, but they totally sell their attraction and romance.

I hadn't seen Pinza on screen before, and it's a shame he didn't make more films, as he's really good; the moment he stands up in a movie theater and sings "Everything I Have is Yours" to Leigh put a big smile on my face. What a voice! Leigh is likewise quite charming here as a simple, honest Southern girl who tries to win her man over with a combination of homemade minestrone soup and off-the-shoulder evening gowns.

There's a very funny turn by Gale Robbins as a would-be opera singer whose career is being pushed by her husband (Hugh Sanders). Her off-key audition, and Pinza's reactions, is quite amusing.

There's also a nice bit by Kathleen Freeman as a teary silent movie organist.

The movie was shot in black and white by Ray June.

Oddly, IMDb says the movie is 86 minutes but it's actually 98 minutes, which is reflected on the DVD box.

The Warner Archive DVD print is unusually damaged in a few places, with speckles or large black streaks, mostly near the beginning of the film, but the majority of the print was fine, and the brief problems didn't detract from my enjoyment. The sound quality was excellent, which was a relief after the last movie I reviewed!

The disc includes the trailer for this version of the film. I'll be reviewing the 1931 edition at a future date.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD set. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Best wishes for a very happy Valentine's Day!


Here's an actress who's a great favorite of this blog, Marsha Hunt, to wish everyone a happy day.

Marsha turned 100 last October. It's anticipated she will be an honored guest at this year's TCM Classic Film Festival when her film NONE SHALL ESCAPE (1944) is screened.

Have a wonderful holiday!

Previous Valentine's Day Tributes: Anne Gwynne (2014), Dorothy Hart (2015), Lynn Merrick (2016), and Debbie Reynolds (2017).

Monday, February 12, 2018

Tonight's Movie: The Valley of Decision (1945) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Greer Garson stars in the family saga THE VALLEY OF DECISION (1945), available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

Garson received the fifth of her six Best Actress nominations for her role as Mary Rafferty, an Irish maid who goes to work for the Scotts, a wealthy Pittsburgh family in the steel business in the late 19th century.

Mary has much to learn in her new position, but before long she is a trusted employee and companion for both the kindly parents (Gladys Cooper and Donald Crisp) and two of their children, ambitious Paul (Gregory Peck) and flighty Constance (Marsha Hunt). Two more sons (Dan Duryea and Marshall Thompson) complete the Scott family.

Mary and Paul fall in love, but Mary believes it would be a mistake for Paul to marry her due to their class differences, and when Constance marries a member of the British nobility (John Warburton), Mary accompanies Constance to England in order to put distance between herself and Paul.

Paul has a disastrous marriage with Louise (Jessica Tandy), but eventually a legacy from Paul's mother to Mary may reunite the star-crossed pair.

This was a fairly pleasant though overly drawn-out 119-minute film chiefly notable for its excellent cast. Garson is always a pleasure to watch, though the fact she's 11 years older than her leading man is clearly apparent and made their romance slightly awkward at times.

Those who are used to seeing Cooper in her "dragon lady" appearances such as NOW, VOYAGER (1942) may find it enjoyable to see her in such a tender-hearted role; I definitely did. I also enjoyed Crisp as a man who wants the best for his company and his children, even if the choices are unconventional or unexpected.

This was the third and final film Marsha Hunt made with Greer Garson, following PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (1940) and BLOSSOMS IN THE DUST (1941). It's a very nice, good-sized part, with Constance starting out as a bit of a brat but growing and evolving over the course of the film, loving Mary even though Mary at times reins in her less appropriate behavior.

Preston Foster is somewhat wasted as Paul's right-hand man at the steel mill, though one might say his mere presence lends the film some gravitas. Lionel Barrymore is frankly tiresome in his patented type of role as Mary's cranky wheelchair-bound father.

The screenplay by Sonya Levien and John Meehan was based on a novel by Marcia Davenport. The film was directed by Tay Garnett and filmed in black and white by Joseph Ruttenberg.

The film is somewhat dark-looking; I'm not sure how much was the original shooting style or what might be attributable to the print. There are several fairly fake-looking matte paintings which do detract a bit from the film's overall authenticity.

Unfortunately the soundtrack of this early Warner Archive release is unusually muffled and variable; I found myself constantly adjusting the volume. The rough soundtrack combined with the many character accents makes for a challenging listening experience.

The disc includes the trailer.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Sergeant Rutledge (1960) at the Lone Pine Film Festival

One of the films I most enjoyed at last fall's Lone Pine Film Festival was SERGEANT RUTLEDGE (1960), directed by John Ford.

We saw this film on Friday evening of the festival. Seeing it for the first time with an appreciative audience on a good-sized screen was a wonderful experience. I planned to write about it soon after the festival, but time got away from me!

I wanted to be sure to share some thoughts on this somewhat lesser-known Ford film here, in hopes that others who've not yet seen it might check it out. I liked the film so much that I bought a Ford DVD set which includes this title shortly after the festival; given that it's been four months since I saw the movie, I put in the DVD and gave it a second look today. A film worth watching twice in just a third of a year is a very good movie, to my way of thinking -- which shouldn't be a surprise given that it was directed by Ford.

The story is presented in a series of flashbacks during the court-martial of 1st Sgt. Braxton Rutledge (Woody Strode), who's suspected of killing his commanding officer and the man's daughter Lucy (Toby Michaels).

(Note to self: You don't want to be a young woman named Lucy in a Ford film! I can think of at least three who had a bad time of it, and two of them ended up dead.)

We learn that Rutledge, fearing his innocence would be challenged due to his race, had fled the post after being seen at the site of the murders. He ends up at a train depot in the middle of nowhere, where he saves Mary Beecher (Constance Towers) from maurauding Indians.

The next day Rutledge's old friend Lt. Cantrell (Jeffrey Hunter), who had also very recently made Mary's acquaintance, shows up at the train depot and arrests Rutledge. He believes in Rutledge's innocence, however, and represents him at the court-martial, where the prosecuting captain (Carleton Young) is clearly motivated more by racism than by evidence, ignoring Rutledge's long and impressive record as a man of character and courage.

I only have two minor complaints about the film. The first is that Young's attorney, Captain Shattuck, is so over the top in his behavior that he veers into being a cartoon character. I think it would have been more powerful if Shattuck and his racism were presented more subtly, as he comes off as downright unbelievable at times. The viewer wants to smack him almost from the first moment he appears on screen.

My other issue is that an early part of the story seems faulty. Schedule or no schedule, I find it difficult to believe that a soldier and railroad employees would drop a young woman off at an empty train station in the middle of nowhere, at midnight, with no station master in sight. There was a contrived bit with Hank Worden insisting on hurrying along the train but I still had trouble believing the complete lack of gallantry! However, if they hadn't left her there, much of the initial story would have had to be reworked, so there you have it.

Otherwise, it's a film I enjoyed a great deal. There's always more to notice and take in in a Ford film, and I loved spending additional time with the film and its characters, getting to know the movie better. I also appreciate that the film features an interesting slice of Western history in the Buffalo Soldiers.

Hunter has always been appealing to me, and Towers has a unique screen persona, intelligent and perhaps not classically beautiful, but striking.

Best of all is Strode in a majestic performance as the towering "Top Soldier," Braxton Rutledge. Strode, who became a close friend of director Ford, is simply wonderful, particularly in the courtroom scene where he struggles to explain why he had to save his troop instead of taking the chance to run away.

Granted, Strode was not a star at the time, but today it's jarring seeing him billed below the title, especially when he played the title character -- and all the more so as supporting actress Burke is billed above the title.

Burke contributes her usual dizzy performance as the wife of Col. Fosgate (Willis Bouchey), who runs the court-martial. Ford regular Mae Marsh is also on hand as Burke's friend; the officers' wives in their pastel dresses look like so many Easter eggs as they flutter their fans in the hot courtroom.

The always-excellent Juano Hernandez costars as an aged Buffalo Soldier. Also in the cast are Jack Pennick, Judson Pratt, Rafer Johnson, Cliff Lyons, Fred Libby, Walter Reed, Shug Fisher, and Chuck Roberson, to name a few. IMDb lists William Wellman Jr. as a courtroom guard, but I didn't pick him out; I hope to ask him about it at a future festival.

A side note on Constance Towers: She had previously appeared in Ford's THE HORSE SOLDIERS (1959), another Ford film I need to watch for the first time. (I recently picked up a copy of that one, as well!) She has been on my mind this week due to the passing of her husband, actor John Gavin. Gavin served as President Reagan's Ambassador to Mexico from 1981 to 1986, with Towers representing our country alongside him.

Prior to those years, I was fortunate to see her sing on stage on two different occasions in the mid '70s, in the musical review RODGERS & HART, costarring Harve Presnell, and opposite Yul Brynner in THE KING AND I. Those are both cherished memories; I was about 12 when I saw the first show, at the Westwood Playhouse, and 13 or 14 when I saw THE KING AND I at the Pantages Theatre. I'm blessed that my parents took me to see so much good theater and music from an early age!

SERGEANT RUTLEDGE was filmed in Technicolor by Bert Glennon, on location in Arizona and Utah, including Monument Valley. It runs 111 well-paced minutes.

The Lone Pine Film Festival screening we attended was followed by a discussion on Buffalo soldiers, John Ford, and racism conducted by historians Bob Boze Bell and John Langellier. We sadly had to pass on that in order to get some sleep, as we had an early wakeup call Saturday morning. There are always hard decisions on how to split one's time at film festivals! I wanted to mention that, though, to help illustrate why the Lone Pine Film Festival is such a valuable experience, with many varied opportunities.

In addition to the Ford DVD set mentioned above, SERGEANT RUTLEDGE has recently been reissued as a single-title DVD by the Warner Archive.

Around the Blogosphere This Week

Miscellaneous bits of news and fun stuff from around the internet...

...A review copy is on the way to me of MOVIE NIGHTS WITH THE REAGANS by Mark Weinberg: "Former special advisor and press secretary to President Ronald Reagan shares an intimate, behind-the-scenes look inside the Reagan presidency—told through the movies they watched together every week at Camp David." Sounds like a fun read. It's out from Simon and Schuster on February 27th.

...Last evening I revisited SULLY (2016), which I originally reviewed on its opening night in 2016. Such a good movie! I was really struck on this viewing by the excellent performance of Aaron Eckhart as the copilot; you can see in his eyes he is not having a good day over the Hudson River (!) yet he manages to maintain focus and do everything needed to support the captain.

...Among newer movies, I especially love the Marvel series of films and have written 17 Marvel reviews in less than two and a half years; they're linked at the end of this review. The next review, BLACK PANTHER (2018), is coming in just a few days, with AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018) due out in May and ANT-MAN AND THE WASP (2018) opening in early July. I was thus delighted by this "class photo" celebrating the first ten years of Marvel Studios. Over 80 actors and filmmakers gathered for the shoot last October; everywhere one looks in the photo are the well-known faces who populate the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What fun! A few actors are missing, especially from the THOR films, but it's quite an impressive photo. Click on it to enlarge to full screen size, or a second click on the photo at this site will enable scrolling around to better see the faces. There's also a one-minute video of the photo shoot on YouTube.

...I'd been watching BAKED IN VERMONT on Food Network for a couple weeks before I did some Googling and learned that baker Gesine Bullock-Prado is the younger sister of actress Sandra Bullock. I just received a copy of Bullock-Prado's memoir MY LIFE FROM SCRATCH, previously published under the title CONFECTIONS OF A CLOSET MASTER BAKER. It's about her transition from working behind the scenes in Hollywood production to life in Vermont in an entirely new profession, as the owner of a bakery.

...Here's a great story about a Melbourne retiree who created a free neighborhood movie theater in his garage. Wish I could visit!

...My friend Aurora has interviewed Illeana Douglas for her site Once Upon a Screen. Illeana discusses her love of film at length, and I was glad to hear that she'll be returning once more to the TCM Classic Film Festival this spring!

...In my last roundup I shared info on the wonderful Republic Pictures series at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Farran Smith Nehme (aka the Self-Styled Siren) has written a marvelous article on the series for the Village Voice, and there was also a nice piece by Caroline Golum at Screen Slate. It sure sounds like Bill Elliott's HELLFIRE (1949) and Mona Freeman's THAT BRENNAN GIRL (1946) are must-sees.

...The latest stories on MoviePass: How it hopes to make money, and its new lower price (?!) for annual plan members. MoviePass just hit 2 million subscribers.

...Some of the first info is now out on Disney's streaming service, which will debut about 18 months from now. No R-rated movies.

...Recently added to my Kindle: CODE GIRLS: THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE AMERICAN WOMEN CODE BREAKERS OF WORLD WAR II by Liza Mundy.

...Amazon apparently plans to compete with UPS and FedEx in the shipping business. The company is also testing free two-hour grocery delivery for Amazon Prime members in four cities.

..."In Defense of Physical Media: Why You Should Keep Buying Blu-rays and DVDs" by Matt Goldberg for Collider.

...Speaking of physical media, Best Buy is removing CDs from its stores as of July 1st. And Target is discussing only selling them on basically a consignment basis in the future.

...Notable Passings: John Gavin has passed away at 86. My earliest memory of him is seeing THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE (1967) in a theater when I was very young. Other credits I enjoyed him in include QUANTEZ (1957) and IMITATION OF LIFE (1959). His impressive career also included serving as President Reagan's Ambassador to Mexico for half a decade, from 1981 to 1986. He's survived by his wife, actress Constance Towers, and children...FRASIER is one of my top five all-time favorite TV shows, so I was greatly saddened to learn of the death of John Mahoney at the age of 77. FRASIER star Kelsey Grammer eulogized Mahoney in a touching Tweet...Actress Connie Sawyer has died at 105. She was considered the "oldest working actress" in Hollywood; her last credits were in 2014...Former child actress Ann Gillis (seen at right) has passed on at 90. Gillis played Becky Thatcher in David O. Selznick's THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER (1938). She also played Susan Hayward as a child in BEAU GESTE (1939) and appeared in numerous other films throughout the late '30s and '40s...L.A. Dodgers great Wally Moon has passed away at 87.

...For more recent links on classic movies and more, please check out my January 21st link roundup.

Have a great week!

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Riders of the Northwest Mounted (1943)

NOTE: This post is my contribution to the fourth O Canada Blogathon hosted by Kristina of Speakeasy and Ruth of Silver Screenings from February 9-11, 2018. This blogathon is always fun and informative! Please click on the blogathon link and enjoy the many interesting posts on a wide variety of Canadian-related movie subjects, written by a significant number of classic film bloggers.

Each year my contribution to the O Canada Blogathon has been written about a Western, and three of the four films have been "Mountie" movies. There's just something about those men in red uniforms in the beautiful "wild north" of our continent...even if they're actually filmed in the U.S.!

RIDERS OF THE NORTHWEST MOUNTED (1943) is a modest 57-minute Columbia Pictures "B" film. Russell Hayden, who went by "Lucky" in many of his Westerns, here plays Mountie Lucky Lawson. You can read a nice profile of Hayden at The Old Corral.

Lucky goes up against a mean-spirited trader named Victor Renaud (Dick Curtis) who cheats trappers out of what they're rightfully due for their furs. Matters are complicated when Renaud's legal ward, his niece Gabrielle (Adele Mara), comes home from her convent school, ready to take over the trading business left to her by her father. Uncle Victor has to figure out a way to swindle Gabrielle along with the trappers!

Unfortunately Lucky's methods of dealing with problems aren't always apppreciated by his superiors, including Captain Blair (Vernon Steele), and Lucky finds himself kicked out of the Mounties for insubordination. This scene, with his uniform torn off, followed by a whipping, is rather disturbing. Of course, this doesn't really mean we've seen the last of Lucky...

One of the fun things about the movie is the approach to portraying the Mounties -- Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys all play Mounties, so they made Bob a Texas native who joined the Mounties! That angle cracked me up. The music is the best thing about the movie; it doesn't add much to the plot, but it does give the film great atmosphere. I love Western music, so it was fine with me that at times the movie felt more like a concert than a Western! The songs included "When You're a Mountie," "Song of the Rippling Stream," "Bluebonnet Lane," and "The Last Goodbye."

Character actor Dub Taylor is the comic relief. As is usually the case with these kinds of roles, a little of him goes a long way. It makes me wonder why the tradition of a grizzled comedian supporting the lead persisted so long but it was certainly the "done thing" in many "B" Westerns, including actors like Smiley Burnette, Gabby Hayes, and Fuzzy Knight. At least the postwar Tim Holt Westerns broke the mold with the handsome and charming "Chito" (Richard Martin) as Tim's sidekick!

RIDERS OF THE NORTHWEST MOUNTED was filmed in beautiful Big Bear Lake and Cedar Lake in Southern California. I recently saw Cedar Lake also standing in for Canada in the Technicolor film UNTAMED (1940), which made me rather wish this little "B" film had been in color too, the better to show off the sparking lakes and the red Mountie uniforms.

The movie was directed by William Berke and filmed by Benjamin Kline.

As far as I can tell, this movie isn't available on DVD or VHS. I recorded it some time ago from the Encore Westerns Channel.

Previous O Canada Blogathon Entries: PONY SOLDIER (1952), CANADIAN PACIFIC (1949), and TRAIL OF THE YUKON (1949).

Friday, February 09, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Sweet Home Alabama (2002)

According to Amazon, I purchased SWEET HOME ALABAMA (2002) on DVD in January 2003. I remember enjoying it but not much else, and somehow it ended up sitting on the shelf untouched for the ensuing 15 years!

SWEET HOME ALABAMA costars Reese Witherspoon and Candice Bergen were reunited in HOME AGAIN (2017), which I very much enjoyed last September. Around that time I also happened to read a column by Mary Katharine Ham musing on SWEET HOME ALABAMA and its messages.

Thanks to the combination of HOME AGAIN and the column, I pulled SWEET HOME ALABAMA off the shelf and put it in my "watch" pile, and it bubbled up to the top of the stack tonight. I found it very enjoyable and don't plan to go another 15 years before I watch it again!

Witherspoon plays Melanie Carmichael, a New York fashion designer newly engaged to handsome, wealthy, and kind Andrew Hennings (Patrick Dempsey, ENCHANTED), son of the mayor of New York (Bergen). Mama Hennings is a ferocious barracuda who's suspicious of Melanie, but Andrew is determined to marry his true love.

Mama is right to be suspicious, though...before she can marry Andrew, Melanie has to hurry home to Alabama in the first time in seven years. It seems her real name is Melanie Smooter, and she's still married to her high school sweetheart, Jake Perry (Josh Lucas), who's never gotten around to signing the divorce papers she regularly sends him.

Back home in Alabama Melanie revisits a past she'd tried to escape for a new life...and strangely enough, she discovers that she's happy being back home again. She also realizes that she still has a strong bond with Jake. What to do?

This is a funny and touching film about a young woman admitting her mistakes, maturing, and accepting who she is rather than trying to hide it. The entire cast is appealing, and really the film's only flaw is that both the leading men are so darn nice, you feel bad for the one who ends up in the "Ralph Bellamy role" without the bride.

Witherspoon makes a flawed character appealing as she owns up to her past choices, and her reactions as she's reminded of her youthful escapades are quite amusing. Bergen is absolutely hilarious, particularly when she's mourning her son's breakup with a past girlfriend from California ("all those electoral votes!").

In short, this is a relaxing "feel good" movie which provides a pleasant evening's entertainment.

SWEET HOME ALABAMA was directed by Andy Tennant and filmed by Andrew Dunn. It runs an hour and 48 minutes. The fine supporting cast includes Jean Smart, Mary Kay Place, and Fred Ward.

Parental Advisory: This film is a relatively mild PG-13, mostly for language.

SWEET HOME ALABAMA is available on DVD or a 10th Anniversary Blu-ray. It can be rented for streaming on Amazon.

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