Monday, February 27, 2006

if a nightingale could sing like you

Stowaways? How do you know there were four of them? They were singing Sweet Adeline

Warner Brother’s Home Video has got to be the best studio when it comes to the Home Theater Market. They along with Criterion have won several awards from Home Theater groups and organizations in the past year or so. 2005 was perhaps their best yet. Just consider the following releases:
The Thin Man Collection
Warner’s Gangster Collection
Controversial Classics Collection
Classic Comedies Collection
Greta Garbo Collection

Errol Flynn Signature Collection

The seal of approvalAnd that is just the beginning of the great release we saw in the past year. The next two years seems to be even better. Is there any doubt that Warner Brothers is unrivaled in the Home Theater Market. Not just because of sheer volume – but mainly because of the quality and care taken with each release and box set. They search the globe for the best possible quality prints, they have a love and care for their library. It is company policy not to license out to third parties, thereby preventing sub-par releases. The man in charge of Warner Brothers Home Video is not just a lover of classic film, but a film historian as well. Who could ask for more.
Look at the massive amount of classic films in their vaults. Warner Home Video owns all the Warner films, every MGM film produced before 1986, and every RKO film (not RKO shorts). Their library totals 6,600 titles, of which 1,200 of those are out on DVD. Wow.
Therefore, today’s media roundup will refrain from the usual format and we will feature some highlights from the recent presentation Warner Home Video made for the Home Theater industry. Thanks to Digital Bits for highlights and copy of the transcript. To read the entire transcript, visit Digital Bits and follow this link.

Highlights for 2006-2007

Box Set Treatment for: Jean Harlow, Humphrey Bogart, Gary Cooper (including Sgt. York). Joan Crawford & Bette Davis (Volume 2 for both), James Cagney, and Robert Mitchum
Clark Gable Signature Collection in June including Dancing Lady
A William Powell-Myrna Loy set in 2007
Jimmy Stewart box including The Spirit of St. Louis
How are you going to afford all the great box sets coming out?Possible Barbara Stanwyck set and Glenn Ford Box Set
Superman 14-disc set
A second Jimmy Stewart set, possibly including Carbine Williams
Warner Tough Guys Collection (The Warners Gangster Collection Vol.2) Box set rumored to include: “G” Men, Bullets Or Ballots, San Quentin, A Slight Case Of Murder, Every Dawn I Die, And City For Conquest.
A Errol Flynn volume 2 box in 2007 including Gentleman Jim and The Charge of the Light Brigade
Lon Chaney collection with Tell it to the Marines, He Who Gets Slapped and both versions of Unholy Three
Silents in 2006 or 2007: Greed, The Wind, The Crowd, The Big Parade, The Scarlet Letter and Show People. (Greed coming out on DVD restored –full version would be awesome)
A Maltese Falcon 2 disc Special Edition
Buy the set, PilgrimA John Wayne/John Ford box set which includes a 2 disc special edition of The Searchers & Stagecoach and also Fort Apache, The Long Way Home, Wings Of Eagles, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, They Were Expendable, and The Three Godfathers.
Another John Ford Box to include The Informer, The Lost Patrol, Cheyenne Autumn, Mary Of Scotland, and Sergeant Rutledge.
Also a fantastic Forbidden Hollywood Set including Baby Face, Red Headed Woman & Waterloo Bridge
Warner is also going to release the 1922, 1937 and 1952 versions of The Prisoner of Zenda with lots of other adventure films coming out this year and next.
Also two Film Noir Boxes set for release in 2006.

TV:Top Shelf Pick of the Week
The eyebrows that launched a bunch of teamsThe ninth season of The Amazing Race starts Tuesday Night (check local listings for times). After the lackluster Family Edition that was the eighth season, this next season promises the exotic locales, thrills, and down to the wire tension we love. As always the mighty Phil K. will deliever the goods. Phil is a Shelf fave, and perhaps the coolest raised eyebrow since Dr. Spock. Check it out and pop some corn.

Just in the past five days we've lost three fine actors- men who for various roles have left an indelible mark on popular culture in film and television:
Don Knotts (Barney Fife from The Andy Griffith Show)
Darren McGavin (Ralphie's Dad from A Christmas Story)
Dennis Weaver (Chester from Gunsmoke and star of McCloud)
Both Mr. Knotts and Mr. Weaver were 81. Mr. McGavin was 83. God bless, gentlemen and thanks for the memories.

Oh, I know it's a penny here and a penny there, but look at me. I worked myself up from nothing to a state of extreme poverty.

Well, it's like I always say: Love goes out the door when money comes innuendo.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

it's... roundup time again!
That's right Shelfers- it's time for a quick look at the choice offerings hitting the stores this week. We at the Shelf have filtered out the unworthy and have a list to recommend to you, thereby eliminating all the costly leg work and research. Your price? Why it's free to all Shelfers! If that's not getting your money's worth, I don't know what is.

Paramount Comedy series
(Top Shelf pick of the week)
These two DVD sets are brought to you by Kino video, who has done some outstanding sets from favorite silent comedy stars like Stan Laurel (in his early career sans Ollie) and Charly Chase. First up is Robert Benchley and the Knights of the Algonquin. This set of comedy shorts mostly feature Robert Benchley and a few star a couple of his cohorts from that famous intellectual and arts round table of the Algonquin. I have become a great fan of Benchley in the last few years as I have been delighted to see several of his comedy shorts packaged as bonus features on some of the special edition DVD produced by Warner Brothers in the last few years. Benchley is usual presented as a commentator lecturing about some of the banalities and trivalities of everyday life. As he narrates, Benchley also appears as the everyman who has to battle these various obstacles that seem to befuddle and frustrate him at every turn. Very funny stuff, as Benchely has a flair for written and visual. Also recommended with Benchley (if you can order it from Amazon or Disney) Walt Disney Treasures: Behind the Scenes at the Walt Disney Studio. This DVD has the 1941 Disney live action Feature: The Reluctant Dragon which stars Benchley as he tries to recommend a story to Disney for an animated feature. Along the way Benchley tours the studio as he discovers how animation works. Classic Disney and classic Benchley.
Next up from Kino: Calvacade of Comedy: 16 comedy shorts featuring legends such as Jack Benny, George Burns and Gracie Allen, and Milton Berle. Take a trip back to see these stars in transition from vaudville to radio and to the silver screen. Early television shows like the Jack Benny show and the Burns and Allen show and others were successes because of the intense and extensive experience of these great comedians. Some some of these shorts will seem outdated and the jokes a little shopworn, but it's a wonderful glimpse into the roots of american comedy.

Speaking of comedy roots; The Dick Cavett Show - Comic Legends is a DVD set that features several of Cavetts interviews with comedy stars such as Benny, Groucho (3 episodes with Groucho himself- a Cavett favorite), Jerry Lewis, Bob Hope and many more. A wonderful collection for the classic comedy enthusiast.

Daddy Long Legs
Fred Astaire is a wealthy benefactor to a young French orphan, played by Leslie Caron. He pays for her college studies, and signs each letter to her "Daddy Long Legs". Eventually (could you have guesses) a May-December romance blossoms when the girl grows up and they meet. Features include commentary by Fred's daughter Ava and film historian Ken Barnes and Fox movietone Newsreels.

Pin-up Girl
Who was that famous picture of in World War II. You know the gal in the bathing suit with the gams that didn't quit that was on the wall of every servicemans barracks from here to Europe and the Pacific? Why that was Betty Grable, of course. Pin-up girl is very light musical comedy fare, but is done well. Features Martha Raye, Joe E. Brown and Shelf Favorite character actor Eugene Palallete (My Man Godfrey, The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Lady Eve) in supporting roles.

If you like controversy and social commentary and politics in your films, go no further than these special editions of Midnight Cowboy from MGM and All the President's Men from Warners. All the President's Men will eventually be sold in the Controversial Classics: Volume 2 box set (Volume 1 is excellent - a must have). Midnight Cowboy and All the President's Men are packed with features and commentary. With all the revelations about Deep Throat, etc in the past year or so- it should be interesting to see how that is incorporated into the extras. You might get more entertainment than the daily fictions perpetuated in the news media. Hey, I'm walkin' here!

Beyond Band of Brothers: The War Memiors of Major Dick Winters. Althought this has been out since Feb. 7th, we did not want to neglect it here. If you have either read Stephen Ambrose's book Band of Brothers or seen the HBO mini-series of the same name, you are familiar with Major Winters. Here, for the first time, is the account in the words of Major Winters. The only man to be active from the formation of Easy Company through the end of World War II, Winters is a humble, plain spoken man. Most, if any, praise offered in this memoir is for his fellow soldiers rather than himself. Amazingly enough, some critics are lambasting Winters for not being exciting enough or expounding upon himself and his story instead of just sticking to the story. Umm- hello? Shall we repeat the whole culture of lies exposition of a few weeks ago? Frey could learn a thing or two here. Sad thing is, we won't see Winters on the talk show circuit anytime soon.

Marx out of Print (thanks Pita)
This website was brought to our attention by Shelfer Pita, and it is a site to behold. Many rare and "out of print" articles about the Marx Brothers. Check it out.

TCM (Check local listings for times)
Feb. 22- The Naked Spur: Another great Anthony Mann western with James Stewart.
Feb. 23- My Favorite Wife: Screwball comedy starring Cary Grant and Irene Dunne.
Manhattan Melodrama: William Powell and Myrna Loy's first film together. Oh yeah, it also has Clark Gable.
Feb. 24- Swing Time: Classic Astaire and Rogers
Feb. 25- How the West Was Won: 'Nuff said. Hondo: John Wayne and dog!
Feb. 26- Captain Blood: Errol Flynn's first swashbuckler. Adam's Rib: Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn star as married lawyers on opposite sides of a case.
Feb. 27- The Lion in Winter: Peter O'Toole and Kathern Hepburn as royals Henry II and Eleanor in a medievil battle of wills.
Eat, drink, watch and be merry!

Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read.

That dog don't take to pettin', son.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

every little thing she does is magic

Well, today is that day. You know the one - Valentine's Day. The annual day where the men are separated from the boys; where you separate the paper Spiderman valentine cards in the homemade shoeboxes from the $10 giant cards with all the flowers. Yessir. This is a day for pros and amateurs alike, but only the strong will survive. Today at the shelf, we won't keep you long - just a couple of tips and valentines essentials and you can be on your way... to the local flower shop, 'cause you know you forgot.

-Animated Specials-
Shelfers know of our award (not really) winning coverage of the history of animated prime-time specials. Most of them appear around holidays and Valentine's is no exception. However, there weren't many. Here are the most well known.
Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown (1975)
This is the original, which is now available on DVD with two bonus specials, You're In Love Charlie Brown and It's Your First Kiss Charlie Brown. This is a great special that hasn't really seen the airwaves since sometime in the 1980s.
A Charlie Brown Valentine (2002) -
This is a more recent special presented by ABC in the tradition of It's Christmas-time Again, Charlie Brown, in other words- no central story, just a collection of strip-based vignettes. This was the first animated special after the passing of Charles Schulz. The DVD includes two other specials (which are actually better) There's No Time for Love, Charlie Brown and Someday You'll Find Her.
Disney's Happy Valentine's Day Special (1980's) No longer presented or ever really debuted on VHS, this special was originally presented as a special episode of The Wonderful World of Disney. Essentially a show full of clips from Disney shorts and features about love. Included are scenes from Lady and the Tramp, 101 Dalmations, some Mickey and Minnie shorts and others. This was later packaged and broadcast as Mickey's Happy Valentine's. Disney made another Valentine's VHS called Mickey Loves Minnie.

-Abbreviated media round-up-
A shortened roundup today, and it's just as well, cause there ain't much in the way of classic releases. Nonetheless, you'll at least want to check the one gem in the bunch:
Young Mr. Lincoln: Henry Fonda stars as a young Abraham Lincoln in this fictionalized look at his days as an idealistic attorney. This Criterion collection release is rather expensive, but it's packed with extras.
On Turner Classic Movies: several great picks among the many films this month. Check for local times.
Feb 14th: The Band Wagon: A great musical with the erstwhile Fred Astaire and the lovely Cyd Charisse. The Sea Hawk: Wonderful swashbuckler starring Errol Flynn.
Feb 15th: White Heat: One of James Cagney's last gangster pictures is perhaps one of the best.
Feb 16th: The Road to Utopia: Bing and Bob and Dorothy. 'Nuff said.
Feb 17th: The Great Ziegfeld and My Man Godfrey: William Powell never disappoints and neither does Myrna Loy or Carole Lombard.
Feb 18th: Back to the Future: on TCM? Well, it is a classic.
Feb 19th: The Adventures of Robin Hood. The original popcorn movie.
Feb 20th: Libeled Lady: Spencer Tracy, William Powell, Myrna Loy, and Jean Harlow. Who can resist?

Hitchcock for Lovers-
Sure, you can look all over the internet and find top ten lists of most romantic TV couples, or Top romantic spots, or movies, but for our money nothing says Valentine's Day like Alfred Hitchcock. Oh- what's that? You don't believe me? Well look at some of these great Hitchcock movies that have not only thrills, but romance- and knock 'em dead lines. Just take a look at a mere five- these are some real lady killers!

Rebecca (1940):
"Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again..." is one of the most famous opening lines in classic films. Rebecca (starring Joan Fontaine and Lawrence Olivier), based on the famous Daphne Du Maurier novel, is the story of a young women who marries rich widower, Maxim de Winter. The second Mrs. de Winter is brought to his home, Manderley, where she comes under the watchful eyes of the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers. Mrs. Danvers has an obsessive fixation on de Winters first wife, Rebecca. Soon the first Mrs. de Winter discovers that Rebecca has a hold on everyone and everything at Manderley, and that her accidental drowning death, may not have been "accidental" at all.
Knock 'em dead line: Maxim de Winter: "I'm asking you to marry me, you little fool."

Suspicion (1941):
Ladies, think you've found out things about your hubby after the honeymoon, that he didn't exactly share with you before? Maybe he had a large Star Wars action figure collection that he dusted regularly, or a obsession with sports memorabilia? Consider yourself lucky. In Suspicion (again starring Joan Fontaine, and now Cary Grant), Lina Mc Laidlaw (Fontaine) meets Johnnie Asgarth (Grant) on a train and they wed shortly thereafter. Soon Lina discovers that not only does Johnnie have a gambling problem but also an unhealthly interest in untraceable poisons. A nice warm glass of milk before bed, my dear? A real departure for Grant, who up until now was mostly known for romantic comedy.
Knock 'em dead line: Johnnie: "Well, well. You're the first woman I've ever met who said yes when she meant yes."

Ok, maybe your spouse has asked you to do something different. You might feel a little weird at first, but you can always say no, right? What if your lover asked you to date a Nazi so he can watch? Uh- hold the phone. Notorious, with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, takes it that far. American Intelligence agent, T.R. Devlin (Grant) has discovered some Nazi's hiding out in Brazil right after World War II. Devlin finds the German-American daughter of a German traitor to the US and asks her to help him spy on her dad's old cronies. Devlin, rogue that he is, encourages Alicia (Bergman)to saddle up next to the leader Alexander Sebastian (Claude Raines) via his home and bedroom. One small problem tho'- Devil is falling in love with Alicia. Hmm...Complicated? Yeah.
Knock 'em dead line: Devlin: "Dry your eyes, baby; it's out of character."

Ever date that person who wouldn't stop talking about old girlfriends or boyfriends? Any of them want to make you over to look like their former flames? Well, here's a doozy for you. Vertigo (starring James Stewart and Kim Novak) is the story of former San Francisco cop Scottie Fergusen (Stewart), who left the force because of his overwhelming fear of heights. He meets with an old friend who hires him to follow his wife Madeleine (Novak) around and watch over her. The husband fears for his wife, who has been acting peculiar and slipping into trancelike states. Scottie follows her around and notices her obsession with a ancestor from the past who committed suicide. Scottie saves her from a suicide attempt, and the two fall in love. But it doesn't last long- Madeleine and Scottie go to an old Spanish mission and Madeleine races up a Bell tower and throws herself to her death. Scottie's vertigo cripples his ability to save her. Scottie becomes inconsolable, and thereafter begins to see Madeleine's image everywhere. Soon he finds a women, Judy, who looks just like her, except for her dress and hair color. He talks to her and soon she is enamoured of him. But Scottie doesn't stop there - he makes her change to look like Madeleine. Scottie just begins to discover that there are secrets involved that he never dreamed of. Deadly secrets. Veritgo is Hitchcock masterpiece.
Knock 'em dead line: Judy: "Couldn't you like me, just me the way I am? When we first started out, it was so good; w-we had fun. And... and then you started in on the clothes. Well, I'll wear the darn clothes if you want me to, if, if you'll just, just like me. "

North By Northwest(1959)
Surely when you come home late and smelling of alcohol, you could come up with a better excuse than someone is out to kill you because they thought you were someone else. Not Cary Grant. In North by Northwest, Grant plays ad exec Roger Thornhill, who is mistaken for a CIA agent, and is pursued by foreign agents hellbent on killing him. The bad guys frame Thornhill for a murder, and he becomes the most wanted man in America. While escaping via a train he meets the lovely Eve Kendall (played by Eva Marie Saint), who seems to want to help him, but then it appears she is the girlfriend of one of the foreign agents. With everyone after him, who can he trust? And can he trust this women, that he has already begun to fall for? This is one Hitch's best, and has some of the most infamously charged lines that got past the censors.
Knock 'em dead line: Eve: I'm a big girl.
Roger: Yes, and in all the right places, too.

See what I mean? So why don't you go out and buy your valentine something special and then pop in on these great flicks. After all, what's love without a little suspense?

Happy Valentine's Day to you Shelfers. Here's hoping you let the ones you love know you love 'em.

Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read.

Only one is a wanderer; two together are always going somewhere.

Friday, February 10, 2006

open letters

Sometimes the pen is smarter than the mouth
Dear Kayne-

This is just a little note to say: shut up. Shut up. Look- I know no one understands you or appreciates you and that George Bush hates you, but Aw. Now why you gotta get all moody and stuff?please shut up. You've got some talent and an awfully big mouth that you just don't know when to close. Oh sure, you should be able to share your opinions and you have the right to express yourself, and as a citizen of the good ol' US of A, I'm glad you do. As a member of Joe Q. Public, I wish you'd just shut your trap. More people watched American Idol than watched you and your cronies at the Grammys. Reason is, because we are tired of being preached to and told what to do by a bunch of whiny, rich, self-righteous idiots who have nothing better to do than to make movies, music, and give interviews to tell us how great you are and how awful everyone else is, and to tell us what we should think. Except for U2- most of the time- because Bono is the only one that talks and usually he's pretty respectful, and the Edge just stands there looking cool. Yeah. Oh, anyway- Most of the time you are wrong, sometimes you get lucky and are right, but you still have to act like a pompous ass about it. Isn't enough that a few people buy your stuff, but do we have to listen to you talk as well? Some of the things you guys say, beyond being stupid, is so mind numbingly full of crap that I just want to stick a roto-rooter through my ears just to clean them out. So please, shut up. Make your albums, make your movies, talk to Rolling Stone- whatever. Just shut up. Thanks.

A concerned member of the consumer public.

PS- the animated video was kind of cool.
PSS- Dude, like I don't know that much about the Killers, but U2 likes 'em. So you might want to just not speak to the guy at the parties. You know, just kind of snub him - but don't start nothing. Don't invite him to golf, or to the country club or something. If you start pouting in the press about it, well then you'll both look like idiots.

Dear Natalie Maines-

Please stop! The gravity of your gaping mouth of a black hole is sucking out all the intelligence around youHey Nat- I used to kind of like the Dixie Chicks. In fact, I don't really care for much in country music, but you guys looked great... I mean you sounded great. The you started talking. I don't really care that you don't like George Bush. Hey- I've never met the man myself, but like I was saying when I was talking to Kayne (PS- who still won't return my calls- GAWD. Can he be that sensitive?) your mouth starts flapping, and we start changing the channel. Please... for the love of Pete, please just shut up and sing. I don't care if you have an opinion- and I'm glad you can share it- just not with me. Thanks.


Dear Academy Awards-

Remember when the Oscars were two-fisted entertainment. Now they are just...fisted.I used to like you, but now you guys suck. Say, you remember when the awards were about great movies, and not fashion or fashionable politics? Most of the movies that get awarded now are not that great- and I am tired of you telling us what we should think and what is acceptable and good through what you "sanction." Just pat yourselves on that back, hurry up and award each other and get off my TV screen!

Signed - J.C. Loophole.
PS- The least you could do is mail me back my film on the video tape. I don't care if you like it or not - it's my only copy and my buddy won't let me borrow his machine to make more. Thanks.

Dear socially-conscience cultural elites-

Dude- couldn't you guys have taken Monopoly with you? Or Scrabble?Please stop telling me what to think and what I should go see and stop telling me that I'm a Philistine for wanting to go see King Kong instead of the gay cowboy movie (those two things should not be in the same sentence!). You keep screeching and yelling and telling me what to think so much that my ears are bleeding. Who says that the only totalitarianism is the government kind? As far as I'm concerned cultural elitists are worse, because you hold too much sway over a celebrity-obsessed public. I don't care what you call me- I don't want to see Brokeback Mountain. It's a chick flick. With gay dudes. Outside.
I don't care for chick flicks with girls, inside. I didn't see The Notebook, The Bridges of Madison County, or The Letter or Looseleaf Sheets of Paper, or The Spiralbound Notebook or whatever. The only kind of chick flicks I'll see are good movies, made when people knew how to make them. Ever hear of Casablanca or All About Eve or even When Harry Met Sally? Those are good movies? So instead of calling me names or a homophobe- how about making some movies for the purpose of making a good movie or telling a good story instead of making a political statement or socially conscious statement.

Thanks, but no thanks-

I've got something in my front pocket for you. Why don't you take a squeeze and say How Do You Do?Dear Michael Moore

CC: Alec Baldwin, Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, Sean Penn, etc.

Shut up. Move to France already.

Signed - A tired citizen

Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read.

If you can't say something nice... don't say nothing at all.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

the weekly 411

In this weekly edition of the media roundup - the pickings are bare - but in the words of Spencer Tracy "what's there is cherce." Let's take a quick look shall we-

The Cary Grant Box Set (Top Shelf Pick of the Week)
Alrighty - at least 4 of these 5 movies in the box set were previously available on DVD. The Awful Truth, Talk of the Town, Only Angels Have Wings, and His Girl Friday are all out there, but at least in the instance of His Girl Friday, too many of them are public domain, poor quality prints. And the others are not readily available at your local big box electronic store or even BN store. You could order them - but now you can find them all, in addition to Holiday (making its DVD debut) in one box set. All the films are musts for Cary Grant fans, but also for those enamoured of screwball comedies. In fact Grant was probably the best as far as the screwball comedy goes. And even though Bringing Up Baby is widely regarded as a classic example (and rightly so) I have to say His Girl Friday is perhaps my favorite. I've held off buying a copy of one my favorite films, in hopes that it would receive a fitting DVD treatment. Is this it? We'll see- if the print is quality and a few extras thrown in (Warners- you've spoiled me)- I'll be happy. Either way, the DVD appearance of Holiday is a welcome treat. Go out and snag your own set. Can another set for Jimmy Stewart be far behind?

Moonlighting Season 3
Speaking of His Girl Friday- Producer Glenn Gordon Caron brought back many elements of the screwball comedy- especially the rapid fire dialogue of Friday in the TV series Moonlighting. The box set of Seasons 1 & 2 was well done - it was interesting listening to Bruce Willis watching and commenting on an episode (apparently one hadn't seen since filming it) and just having the show on DVD was great- something for which fans have been clamoring. Season 3 was a shorter season, due to the increasing petulant and difficult off-set relationship between the show's stars, Bruce Willis and Cybil Shephard. But many consider season 3 to be the best. The Shakespeare episode? It's there. The It's a Wonderful Life Spoof? It's there. Also there- the multi-episode storyline featuring Mark Harmon which helped to fuel the end of the David - Maddie stand-off and bring them together.

Best of the Electric Company
Wow- talk about old school. If you were a kid in the 70s - you need no introduction. Just sound the call- "Hey you guys!" Rita Moreno and Morgan Freeman appear here alongside Bill Cosby, live action Spiderman, Letterman, and Jennifer of the Jungle. You know what I'm talkin' about. Yeah- I see you buying the set. Don't feel guilty- just enjoy the trip down memory lane. Nothing wrong with that. Nice extras too, including interviews with the cast and then and now pictures.

Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
Truly great animated features this past year could be found on the shelf called "Slim-Pickin's". Wallace and Gromit deserves a prominent place on that shelf... and now on yours. This visual delight is a wonderfully funny feature and the characters continue to endure and endear themselves to audiences. Cinerati is also reporting some great news for fans of the animators, Aardman Studios.

Breakfast at Tiffany's (45th Anniversary edition)
OK- this one has also been issued before, but if you don't own it, go ahead and pickup this edition. Great features. I have found that I have grown to like Audrey Hepburn films as I get a little older. I don't know why really- just do. Audrey tended to do some films with men who were sometimes twice her age as her suitors, not that there's anything wrong with that! I'm just saying! Don't believe me? Here's a few: Humphrey Bogart, Gregory Peck (not too much older), Fred Astaire, Cary Grant, Gary Cooper, and Rex Harrison. Ingénue before Tautou. I'm just saying. And hey, any excuse for a Hepburn pic is a good one.

Television/ Turner Classic Movies:
In the not yet on DVD department
Feb.7th: George Washington Slept Here (7:30am est/4:30am pst). This great comedy stars Jack Benny and Ann Sheridan. It was available on VHS, but a DVD would be most welcome. As is the case with several 30s and 40s comedies- this one has a growing fanbase. It's not His Girl Friday- but Jack Benny is one of our greatest comedians and he shines in this feature.
This is "31 Days of Oscar" Month at TCM. So there are many great flicks on this month. Many of which are readily available on DVD. However, here a few you shouldn't miss.
On DVD- but make sure you don't miss it anyway department:
Feb 7th: Way Out West/The Music Box (1:30am est/11:30pm pst) Laurel and Hardy at their best.
Feb.9th: The Big Country (8pm est/5pm pst) Great western with Gregory Peck and Jean Simmons and Charlton Heston) AND North by Northwest (1:15am est/ 10:15pm pst) is a can't miss Hitchcock classic starring Cary Grant and the lovely Eva Marie Saint. NbyN is a Top Shelf classic.
Feb. 11th: Charade (7:30am est/4:30am pst) This Cary Grant/Audrey Hepburn vehicle is a great thriller. One of Grant's last films. AND Shenandoah (6pm est/3pm pst) with James Stewart.
Feb 12th: The Sting (5:45 pm est/2:45pm pst) Con men Robert Redford and Paul Newman take on gangsters in 1920's Chicago. AND Quiz Show -This film, directed by Robert Redford and starring John Turturro, Rob Morrow, and Ralph Finnes, is one my favorite modern classics.
Feb 13th: Double Indemnity (3:30 pm est/ 12:30 pm pst) Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray in a film noir classic. Sure it's on DVD in this week's Top Shelf pick Box Set - but you can't deny The Awful Truth (8pm est/5pm pst) with Cary Grant and Irene Dunne. Lastly Barbara Stanwyck wishes she hadn't picked up the phone in Sorry, Wrong Number (10pm est/7pm pst).

Well Shelfers, that's it for the roundup- if there is anything we may have missed, or if you have a recommendation of your own, please let us know in the comments section.

Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read.

I wouldn't cover the burning of Rome for you if they were just lighting it up!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

great ball of fire

It's a wonderful thing when it happens- when you watch a classic film for the first time. Maybe it's one you've read about or heard about it; or it might star some of your favorite actors. Then you get a chance to see it and it actually exceeds your expectations. That is what happened last night with the Barbara Stanwyck-Gary Cooper comedy, Ball of Fire.

I am a fan of the screwball comedy and it's various offshoots. Some of my all time favorite movies, His Girl Friday, The Lady Eve, My Favorite Wife, even The Thin Man films are all outright screwball comedies or incorporate many elements (romance, rapid fire dialogue, eccentric characters, and running gag sub-plots) of the genre. Last night Turner Classic Movies showed Ball of Fire and the wife and I sat down to watch and it was great. The funny thing was is that even though a lot of the slang (a key plot point) in the film is outdated, it did not hamper the film for me at least. Most of the slang should be somewhat familiar to any classic film or cartoon fan. The plot translates well, even today. In fact, the wife commented that the film could be remade today with a very similar script and it would still be funny. Not that I necessarily would hope for a remake, but I concede the point. I think that underscores how well this film holds up for today. Many of the elements mentioned above show up from time to time in other films or even TV shows, like Moonlighting for example, to varying degrees of success. I think it is still a viable genre of film if done correctly and with and eye and heart to the original classics.

Ball of Fire is the story of a Professor Potts (Gary Cooper) and seven other Professors, who have been working to compile an Encyclopedia for the past nine years. After speaking with their garbage man, Potts realizes that his work on English slang was taken from outmoded books and he needs to go out to do field research. In the course of listening in on conversations on the street, riding the bus, and sitting in a nightclub, he discovers burlesque dancer and singer Katherine "Sugarpuss" O'Shea (Barbara Stanwyck). She intrigues him and he invites her to take part in a roundtable discussion in which he will compile a newer work on slang. She rebuffs him at first, but then finds out she needs a place to hide out for a while. Her boyfriend is gangster Joe Lilac (played by Dana Andrews), who is being questioned and watched by the D.A.'s office. Lilac wants to put Sugarpuss where the D.A. can't find her so she can't testify against him. Sugarpuss decides to take Potts on his offer and hides out with the professors. The other seven professors, all of whom have distinct personalities and specialties (this is where the Snow White twist come in) are immediately smitten with her- but it is Potts who, after some initial fumbling, falls in love with Sugarpuss. O'Shea enlivens the Professor's lives and they treat her with respect and affection. She begins to truly care for all of them - and eventually begins to fall for Potts as well. When Joe Lilac decides that marrying O'Shea is the best way to keep her from testifying against him, things begin to get complicated for Potts and O'Shea and dangerous for all.

Billy Wilder co-wrote this script, and according to IMDB, he wrote the story for the script while still in Germany and sold it when he came to America. It has many earmarks of the Wilder comedies and his satire comes through in the script. Howard Hawks directed the film not too long after two of his other screwball comedies appeared, Bringing Up Baby (1938) and His Girl Friday (1940)- and those two films are considered masterpieces of the genre. So you have a film directed by a legend and co-written by legend- you gotta have legendary stars correct?

Barbara Stanwyck had a banner year in 1941, with Meet John Doe (also with Gary Cooper) and the fantastic The Lady Eve leading the way. Stanwyck had a real talent to blend into any genre of film she appeared in, and by reputation she was great to work with. Although most remember her for her Film Noir (Double Indemnity, Sorry, Wrong Number) or Westerns (Union Pacific, or TV's "The Big Valley"), and rightly so, she truly excelled at comedies. It is sad she did not do more of them. Christmas in Connecticut, Remember the Night (written by Preston Sturgess who cast her in-) The Lady Eve, and Ball of Fire are all wonderful films, some of which are greatly underappreciated. Her character in Ball of Fire, Katherine "Sugarpuss" O'Shea is alternatively sweet, sexy, sassy, and tough. Gary Cooper is also legendary. His year in 1941 wasn't too shabby either. Again, he was in Meet John Doe with Stanwyck (MJD and BOF were their only films together) and in Sergeant York that year, and only one year away from his classic turn as Lou Gehrig in Pride of the Yankees. Coop is also well known for his Western, including one of my favorites, High Noon, but for me his comedic roles where somewhat hit or miss. His films were great (check out another great comedy Mr. Deeds Goes to Town), and he was a fantastic actor, but at times you got the feeling his comedy was stifled. One particular film, The Fountainhead, which is considered a great dramatic film by some, comes off as overly-preachy and too stuffy. And yet, to me, Cooper has some funny bits in that film- but they were all unintentional. Maybe Stanwyck brings it out in him- or maybe the role of Potts has the right degree of stuffiness to suit him- whatever. It works. He is just funny to watch, and his handling of his dialogue full of two dollar words is earnest and genuine. It's funny to see him tackle "new" slang words in his everyday speech towards the end of the film. His portrayal is honest and warm, and compliments Stanwyck perfectly.

What really tops off the film is the great supporting cast. Any classic film fan knows that a supporting cast can make or break a film. The Professors are great, humorous, and warm and there are many familiar faces among them. Especially Henry Travers who played Clarence in its A Wonderful Life (remember this Shelf Classic about the film?) and was in High Sierra and The Bells of St. Mary's just to name a few. You also will recognize the great Hungarian-born character actor S.Z. Sakall who played Carl in Casablanca, and was in Christmas in Connecticut (also with Stanwyck), Yankee Doodle Dandy and others. One, who's voice will sound very familiar, is Richard Haydn. You will recognize his voice has that of the caterpillar in Walt Disney's Alice in Wonderland. Lastly we can't forget Dana Andrews who played Stanwyck's gangster boyfriend. Andrews worked with Cooper before in 1940's The Westerner, and had many other roles in film and TV, among them The Ox-Bow Incident (great film) and perhaps his defining moment in the legendary Laura.

All in all, a wonderfully enjoyable film filled with legends, laughter and love. This is a classic that is garnering more and more fans as they "discover" it. Now yesterday I stated it was not yet on DVD. That is technically not true, but for all intents and purposes I was correct. It was available in Canada - but is now out of print. It has "cult classic" standing on TCM. With the amount of classic movies becoming available on DVD, it is possible that this one will make it also. It would be nice for some great extras- maybe a feature on Stanwyck or Cooper or a documentary about Screwball Comedies or on Howard Hawks. If you are interested- email TCM and let 'em know you want to see it again- or at least see it on DVD. Let's cross our fingers. Maybe Warners will surprise us with a Barbara Stanwyck Signature Collection Box Set. She certainly deserves it. Until then, keep your eyes peeled for this great film.

Lastly, a brief note about an update to The Shelf. You will notice below our "What's on the Shelf" sidebar a new section "Shelf Tech and Support". Hopefully all the necessary tech and blog stuff is better organized and we are making use of the search this blog feature as well.

Added to the "Shelf Links" section: Images. Images is an online journal dedicated to film. Although put out quarterly, articles and images are added fairly regularly. The article "30 Great Westerns" earned them a permanent link. Also, check out their great "The Cinema of Hitchcock" feature. Added to the "Shelf Community" section: In the Balcony. Just check it out- a lot of fun and information. Lots of reviews and news about upcoming DVD releases of cinema classics. Libertas is a blog for the Liberty Film Festival website. It's an interesting, thoughtful look at movies and current films from a more conservative view. Check out this most recent article on current filmmaking and politics.

Until next time, go out and shelf the 'net. Enjoy.

Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read.

I love him because he doesn't know how to kiss..., the jerk!


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