Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Warner Archive Wednesday ~ The Honeymoon Machine (1961)

Some people function better when things get hot. – Steve McQueen at Lt. Ferguson

The Honeymoon Machine (1961) stars Steve McQueen  as Lt. Ferguson (Fergie). On board a Navy ship is Ferguson and Jason Eldridge (Jim Hutton), a scientist who has developed a computer sophisticated enough to predetermine where a missile is going to land. Their first test run, Operation Honeymoon Machine, proves to be a success. In our digital age, looking back at a big clunky computer called MACS is amusing at best.

When the ship docks in Venice, Italy, Ferguson (McQueen), a big gambler, comes up with a plan to use MACS to predict where the ball of a roulette wheel will land. If Ferguson, Jason and their two buddies can manage it, they’ll make a killing at the local casino's roulette table.

Everything seems to be going according to plan until Ferguson meets Admiral Fitch’s (Dean Jagger)  daughter Julie (Brigid Bazlen) and Jason (Jim Hutton) reunites with his old flame Pam (Paula Prentiss) . Both ladies have marriage on their mind and Ferguson and Jason are even more eager to win a boatload of money in order to secure a future with both dames. However, Julie’s father, the Admiral, witnesses morse code signals being sent from the docked ship to their hotel. What he doesn’t realize is that a sailor is sending MACS predictions for the roulette wheel. The Admiral misinterprets this as inside information about a potential Russian invasion. Can Ferguson and Jason pull off Operation Honeymoon Machine with a nosy and paranoid Admiral snooping around?

The movie's plot is really interesting but poorly executed. The Honeymoon Machine suffers from the common problem of 1960s comedies that try to be too zany and whacky at the expense of real humor. Steve McQueen had great range and I believe he could do humor well. He did the best he could with such a limited role. Also, the female characters are so weak. They both only seem to be concerned with marriage. While Pam is adorably goofy, Julie is just plain boring.

While this film is just plain ridiculous, I think there are a few reasons for the 1960s film fan to watch it.

Steve McQueen playing an atypical fun role is very refreshing to watch.

Yeah so I'm posting a picture of Steve McQueen half-naked. So what? Take that Google Search!

Fans of Where the Boys Are (1960) will recognize Jim Hutton (actor Timothy Hutton’s father) and Paula Prentiss. According to IMDB, Hutton and Prentiss were paired up romantically in four films because their height suited each other. Hutton was 6’ 5” and Prentiss is 5’ 10”.

If you’ve seen King of Kings (1961), you’ll recognize Brigid Bazlen (Julie) who played Salome in that film:

Those of you who are big Steve McQueen fans may recognize Jack Weston  who was also in The Cincinatti Kid (1965) and Thomas Crown Affair (1968) . Weston plays a drunk Signalman in the film and rivals Pam (Paula Prentiss) as the funniest character in the film.

1960s Hollywood seemed to have a love affair with Italy and The Honeymoon Machine, being set in Venice, is a perfect example of that. Fans of ‘60s films will love the wardrobe, the set design, the fancy casino and gorgeous Venice as a backdrop.

While The Honeymoon Machine (1961) is more palatable than really crazy and just plain boring films from the decade, such as  Sex and the Single Girl (1964) or Lord Love a Duck (1966) , it should be reserved for those 1960s fans who can appreciate the decade’s kooky films. And because I love kooky films, I think this one may deserve a future viewing so I can appreciate it more.

Useless and Morbid trivia bit: All of the stars of this film, except for Paula Prentiss, have passed away. In my online research I discovered that Brigid Balzen, Jim Hutton and Steve McQueen all succumbed to cancer at relatively young ages: 44, 45 and 50 respectively.

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Movies selected are rented from Classicflix or purchased from Warner Archive, Classicflix or TCM. This series is not sponsored by Warner Archive.

Isn't Paula Prentiss delightful?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Warner Archive Wednesday - The Mating Game (1959)

If you love '90s British television as much as I do, you may be familiar with the show The Darling Buds of May (1991). Based on a novel by the same name, the TV series follows the eccentric and fun loving Larkin family circa 1950s England. The Larkins live in idyllic Kent and are such loveable and hospitable free spirits you can't help but want to move in to their home.

Novelist H.E. Bates wrote 5 books about the Larkin family with the first one, The Darling Buds of May, being published in 1958. The book must have been an instant success as it was picked up and adapted into a movie just the following year. The Mating Game (1959) moves the Larkin family from Kent to Maryland in the good ole USA.

The Larkin family is a quirky bunch.  Pop Larkin (Paul Douglas) and Ma Larkin (Una Merkel) run a successful farm, that's been in the family for over 150 years, and have raised a wild but productive bunch of kids including their eldest daughter, the headstrong Mariette (Debbie Reynolds). Pop is well-loved by the community because he is always willing to help out others with supplies or services when they are in need. The Larkins keep no bank account, pay no taxes and don't believe in saving money. As long as they sleep good and eat good, they are happy. Not everyone in the community loves the Larkin family though. Their wealthy neighbor is tired of their quirky antics and wants revenge. He finds their one weak spot, their history of tax evasion, and decides to sic the IRS on them.

 Life is just Perfick


The real reason why the uppity neighbors don't like the Larkin family is more thoroughly and candidly explored in the British TV series. Pop and Ma Larkin have been together for many years but have never married. Their relationship is open and Pop is free to court other ladies. Their eldest Mariette sleeps around with some of the local boys, has a pregnancy scare and doesn't know who the father might be. On top of that, one of their other daughters Primrose lusts after the the town's new Vicar (in Maryland I guess he would just be a pastor). I know what you are thinking, this is a bit scandalous for the 1950s. Well the characters in the community thought so too. Although they don't send a tax man over to investigate, he comes on his own. While The Mating Game tries to add a bit of that scandal into the movie, they don't go all the way for obvious reasons.

With the American 1959 adaptation, we just have to assume the neighbor is a jerk and leave it at that. It's assumed (but never said) that Pop and Ma Larkin are married and Mariette only goes so far as to tease the neighborhood boys and ride horses with them. And Primrose just doesn't exist at all.

Back to the story. The IRS sees that Pop Larkin has never paid income tax and they send Lorenzo "Charley" Charlton (Tony Randall) out to investigate. Charley has the best intentions to carry out his duty however he begins to succumb to Mariette's charms, Pop's liquor and the Larkin's genuine brand of hospitality.

A drunk Charley (Tony Randall) in only his shirt, socks and underwear dancing around the Larkin home.

The Mating Game is a fun movie. I was happy when Warner Archive released it on DVD-R because I had been wanting to watch this film for a long time and TCM's showings always happened to elude me. However, I am such a huge fan of The Darling Buds of May that this little American adaptation just doesn't compare. I love Una Merkel and Paul Douglas. In fact I love them so much, they could be in any movie and I would like it simply because of their presence. However, the Pop and Ma Larkin of the British TV show are so much more loveable. Whenever I watch The Darling Buds of May, I want to move in with the Larkin family. With the American Larkin Family, I was just happy for a visit but didn't want to stay any longer.

The plus side to this movie is that Debbie Reynolds is a much better fit to play the spunky Mariette than Catherine Zeta-Jones and a young Tony Randall is a lot more fun to watch than Philip Franks of the British version.

Update September 2012: Having read H. E. Bates' novel, I have changed my mind. Catherine Zeta-Jones's role was much more representative of the character Mariette than Debbie Reynolds. I don't know what possessed me to write the above! In fact, after reading the novel (which was absolutely charming by the way), I know see how terrible the Hollywood version is compared to the original story.

Tony Randall is confused by Debbie Reynold's mullet.

Trivia bit: This was Paul Douglas' last film. Billy Wilder sought him out to play the part of Jeff Sheldrake in The Apartment (1960) but Douglas died of a heart attack before filming. The role eventually went to Fred MacMurray.

Note: I have not read the 5 H.E. Bates novels so I can only compare the TV series to the movie and not the books to either.

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Movies selected are rented from Classicflix or purchased from Warner Archive, Classicflix or TCM. This series is not sponsored by Warner Archive.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Warner Archive Wednesday ~ Susan Slept Here (1954)

Back when I was reveling in the luxury of having digital cable, I would sometimes catch a glimpse at a very strange scene on TCM. A dolled up Debbie Reynolds eating strawberries and mixed pickles. Together. Covered with cream. Why would anyone eat strawberries and pickles together? Was the character pregnant? Crazy? On a strange Hollywood diet? For years the image of Reynolds happily devouring strawberries and pickles together haunted me.

Strawberries and pickles?

 Yes, strawberries and pickles.

Strawberries and mixed pickles for breakfast or for an after-dinner snack.

It was only years later that I watched the movie with that infamous Strawberries and Pickles scene:
Susan Slept Here (1954)

Susan Slept Here (1954) is Dick Powell's last film. He plays Mark Christopher, a 35 year old ::snickers:: novelist and screenwriter who just won an Oscar at the Academy Awards. His Oscar statuette is the narrator of the film. No I'm not joking. He's the narrator of the film.

Mark is a pickle (perhaps with a strawberry on the side). He is currently experiencing a sort of writer's block. He's a bachelor and keeps a very rich fiancee, Isabella (Anne Francis) at a distance. His makeshift family includes his personal assistant Maude (Glenda Farrell), his gofer Virgil (Alvy Moore) and his maid Georgette (Maidie Norman). But he's missing one thing: a muse.

In comes Susan (Debbie Reynolds ). She's a 17 year old, underage delinquent who socked a soldier and is about to be jailed. The vice squad pities her as her mom is away and it's Christmas Eve. They pass her off to Mark (Dick Powell) to take care of just until Christmas and her sentencing is over. However, Mark finds his long-lost muse in Susan and he wants to keep her around a little longer. For inspiration of course. But it's problematic because she's 1) underage and 2) an unmarried female staying in a bachelor's home. Solution? Marry her! At least temporarily, so he can get his story and she can avoid jail time. They can always annul the marriage later.

::Spoiler alert::

So why strawberries and pickles? They are an odd pair. Just like Susan and Mark. They don't seem like they go together but for them it works. Susan is like the strawberry. A bit tart when you bite into it but it's all sweetness thereafter. Mark is like the pickle. Sour and wrinkled but enjoyable in a way very different from strawberries. And the combination of strawberries and pickles is one of the things that unite them. Because, as they discover in the end, they both really love strawberries and pickles, and each other.

::Spoiler alert end::

Did you know that the Catholic Legion of Decency banned the film because of it's title and subject matter? Watching it today one can't help notice how innocent it really is however at the time it did push some boundaries. And there is nothing I like better than a film that pushes some boundaries.

What does or does not happen in the bedroom is the crux of the story.

Fans of 1950s domestic style will fall in love with Mark's apartment.

 Just take a look at that Christmas tree!

No seriously. Take a look at that tree!

I really want this set. Breakfast server with lid, Grapefruit holders, toast trays, coffee carafe, ::sigh::

 This film is very trippy in the way that sometimes 1950s films are. Anne Francis' Isabella is given outlandish outfits and a lavish apartment that only someone very wealthy could afford.


Doesn't Isabella know that frowning will give her wrinkles?

Also, Susan has this very strange dream and we are delighted (or perhaps traumatized) by an odd dream sequence musical number.

Not quite Gold Diggers of 1933 but even an aging Dick Powell can pull it off.

Even my weirdest dreams aren't that weird.

I poke fun but this was a really enjoyable movie. One of the reasons is that it doesn't take itself to seriously. You'll also be hypnotized by all the color and the '50s design and wardrobe. 
If you are looking for a good rainy day movie to brighten your day and lift your spirits, I would recommend Susan Slept Here. If you need a snack to eat while you are watching it, I would stick with popcorn and NOT strawberries and pickles.

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Movies selected are rented from Classicflix or purchased from Warner Archive, Classicflix or TCM. This series is not sponsored by Warner Archive.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Warner Archive Wednesday ~ It All Came True (1940)

"Don't worry about me baby. I got myself covered both ways from the middle." Humphrey Bogart as Chips Maguire

It All Came True (1940) is a little film with a big cast. The movie takes place in the Gay '90s (or maybe not, I couldn't quite tell. It could be that they were being nostalgic). The story follows the story of convict Chips Maguire (Humphrey Bogart) as he hides in a boarding house in order to avoid being arrested by the cops who are hot on his trail. He gets help from his buddy Tommy Taylor (Jeffrey Lynn), a musician who found himself on the wrong side of the tracks and in a whole lot of trouble.

Tommy takes Chips back to the home of his mom Mrs. Nora Taylor (Jessie Busley). They haven't seen each other in many years so it's a very sweet reunion. At the boarding home you'll find Sarah Ryan (Ann Sheridan), a beautiful wise-cracking dame who is having a bit of trouble with money so she's staying with her mom (Una O'Connor). Also at the boarding house is a cast of eccentric characters including Miss Flint played by the ever delightful Zasu Pitts. No one at the boarding house knows that Chips Maguire is a felon on the lam except for Tommy. But soon they start figuring out what is going on and Chips finds himself on edge.

Chips don't want no stinkin' broth!

I always have a difficult time picking out which film from the 1940s I want to watch. It's a tricky decade with me and if I chose a film it has to be just right. It was a comfort for me to see many of my favorite characters actors including Zasu Pitts, Una O'Conner (Christmas in Connecticut) and John Litel (Nancy Drew films).

Humphrey Bogart had been typecast in the 1930s as a gangster/criminal that it is very natural to him again in this role.  It All Came True comes just before Bogart's films High Sierra and Casablanca in which he breaks out of the mold Hollywood made for him and into major stardom.

It All Came True is somewhat typical of a 1940s film. Old people must be kooky, dames must be wise-cracking, the villain must not get his way and the good guy always wins in the end. Oh and all dogs are incredibly smart and well-trained!

Then there is Ann Sheridan as Sarah Ryan. She's a wise-cracking dame with a good heart.

Ann Sheridan strikes me as the sort of woman who was comfortable in her own skin. She seemed to exude a natural sort of self-confidence. This is just my assumption based on no real knowledge of Ann Sheridan as a person. All I know is that her woman-of-the-world persona is something I find very appealing about her as an actress. Her character is really the go-between of all the characters. She has prior knowledge of Chips Maguire, a history with Tommy, a deep bond with her mother even though sometimes they clash and familial relationship with all the boarders at the home. She's really the central character in the story that keeps things moving along.

And of course, there HAS to be a love story!

It All Came True (1940) is a film for those who want a quirky film with a fun cast of characters. Pair it with Hide-Out (1934) for a great double feature.

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Movies selected are rented from Classicflix or purchased from Warner Archive, Classicflix or TCM. This series is not sponsored by Warner Archive.

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