Kansas City Bomber (1972)

History is messy. The winds of cultural change seldom align neatly with our calendars; the things we think of as quintessentially 1950s, for example, like teenyboppers and nuclear testing and television, properly date to the 1940s. The same holds true for the 1970s, a decade which began in the midst of a sort of cultural bridge, a short period starting in the months after the Summer of Love and lasting to about 1973 and the early days of disco. Take the career of Neil Diamond, who I bring up not entirely because of my personal obsessions, but because his commercial image so accurately marks this rapid-fire change in popular culture. In 1966, he was a pompadoured kid singing country-rock pop tunes; by 1970, he was a moody, long-haired troubadour in flower power shirts; by 1974, he was sporting feathered disco hair and singing overwrought television duets while poured into spangly Lurex pantsuits. We can be as logical as we want to be, but when we see 1966 side by side with 1974, it’s difficult to comprehend the enormous transformations in American popular culture in those eight short years. That’s why it’s so exciting to come across a cultural touchstone that helps fill in what feels like gaps in our collective memory, and that is exactly what Kansas City Bomber (1972) does. The kind of B-movie actioner that played on local television stations in the mid 1970s during slow afternoons when the baseball game got rained out, Kansas City Bomber is … Continue reading

Riding High (1950) from Warner Archive

Dan Brooks (Bing Crosby) is a disenchanted junior executive, the kind of guy expected to marry the boss’ eldest daughter and lead a staid, white collar life. But his true passion is racing, so he runs off with his horse Broadway Bill and his good friend, horse trainer Whitey (Clarence Muse), with plans to enter Bill into a national derby. They get into musical hijinks along they way as they try to raise the entrance fee, while the boss’ youngest daughter Alice (Colleen Gray), who has a crush on Dan, joins in on the scheme. Frank Capra’s Riding High (1950) is a musical remake of his own Broadway Bill, the 1934 romantic comedy starring Warner Baxter and Myrna Loy. Beyond the old stories about Riding High being an inside joke about Bing’s oft-rumored love of the leafy stuff, the film is best known for using significant footage from the original film in the 1950 version. Eleven of the supporting players in Broadway Bill return for brief scenes in Riding High. Those who were still alive did a few re-shoots, those who had passed on appear in archive footage, and they even put William Demarest in a 15-year-old suit so he would match shots of the late Lynne Overman from the 1934 footage. It’s all somewhat jarring, especially in the beginning when the film opens with 1934 scenes in what should have been a modern-day bank. Just look at that phone, that typewriter, those fashions. Even the film grain is obviously … Continue reading

Revisit: Front Page Woman (1935) from Warner Archive

Several years ago, when The SBBN Bette Davis Project was still in its infancy, I reviewed the early Bette programmer Front Page Woman (1935). In short, I didn’t like it. Filmed immediately after Bette’s The Girl From 10th Avenue, Warner Bros. saw fit to use six of the same cast members and at least two of the same sets, as well as a plot that was a slightly madcap version of the films Kay Francis was assigned that same year, up to and including the same male co-star. Bette is Ellen Garfield, reporter assigned to the execution of a singer convicted of murdering her lover. Ellen’s boyfriend Curt (George Brent), also a reporter, tries to talk her out of attending the execution. In fact, he wants her to stop working altogether and get married like a good woman should. She refuses, but faints dead away after the execution, so he writes her story for her as she recovers. A mix-up causes both his paper and hers to run the same story, nearly getting them both fired. Instead, it spurs an intense rivalry where Ellen promises to uncover the murderer in a high-society crime case, and Curt bets her that she can’t, and if he wins, she must quit her career and marry him. It’s all supposed to be a romantic comedy, but Michael Curtiz can’t help but inject some hard-boiled journalistic action into the film while at the same time allowing the most outrageous, unbelievable courtroom antics, and ultimately it … Continue reading

Winter Meeting (1948)

The later films from Bette Davis’ studio years are always interesting, because her real life had intruded so heavily into her working life and Hollywood image that she was forced into a sort of typecasting, being suited — at least according to studios and audiences — only for characters with a hard edge to them, women who had lived expansive and interesting lives. Hollywood has always been about physical appearance, and around 1941, Bette began to age quickly, as has been noted more times than anyone cares to count. Her voice deepened, her eyelids grew heavier, and her every movement conveyed a bitter East Coast weariness. And it all happened within just a few short years; a hairstyle that in 1941’s The Great Lie looked terrific on her was completely age inappropriate less than five years later. This was never more evident than in Mr. Skeffington (1944). Bette was a hard drinker and heavy smoker, and it showed to the extent that her earlier scenes as Fannie Skeffington were more than a little strained. Beyond that, her husband Arthur Farnsworth had died suddenly just prior to filming, which understandably aged her. His strange death after falling on a sidewalk on Hollywood Blvd. at such a young age caused a sensation. Rumors were rife that Bette and Arthur had a terrific public row which ended with her pushing him down a flight of stairs at their home. Those rumors turned into an inquest, and though Bette was cleared, to this day, … Continue reading

Elsewhere: The Adorable Dogs and Hollywood Butts Edition

Things I’ve written elsewhere, and other stuff around the interwebs lately: My piece on The Human Factor (1979) as an underrated gem is up at Spectrum Culture. This is now available on MOD DVD at Warner Archives, in a print that I absolutely adored, because the grain was kept — all that delicious, nutritious 1970s grain — and it looks gorgeous. I don’t have Warner Archives Instant, but many of you do, so I thought I’d do a little browsing around and found a few things you might be interested in: Night Flight (1933) – Insane John Barrymore pre-Code that I’m not sure has even been on TCM before. An all-star cast and apparently a plot based on The Little Prince. Madam Satan (1930) – This one’s a no-brainer. If you haven’t seen it, and you have Warner Instant, go watch this now. Just… seriously, just stop everything you’re doing and go. Previous SBBN posts on Madam Satan can be found here and here. Simon (1980) – Available in high definition from Warner Instant. Just a few years ago you couldn’t even get a copy of this, now it’s on MOD DVD and Warner Instant. My Criminally Underrated post for Simon is here at Spectrum Culture. And, finally, my Oeuvre post for Vincente Minnelli’s The Pirate. Warning: I talk about Gene Kelly’s butt. *** Around the web: From February, a terrific post at Movie Morlocks by Susan Doll on one of my favorite actors, Sam Rockwell. Joan Crawford in a … Continue reading

The Curse of the Working Classes: Joe Don Baker is Mitchell! (1975)

The 1975 low-budget vigilante cop flick Mitchell concerns the titular police detective, played by Joe Don Baker, and his quest to prove that skeevy lawyer Walter Deaney (John Saxon) shot an unarmed robber and falsely claimed self defense. Mitchell’s superiors don’t want him to pursue the evidence, so they shuffle him off to another assignment following wealthy industrialist James Arthur Cummings (Martin Balsam), responsible for a kilo of heroin being smuggled into the States. See, kids, in 1975, one singular kilo of heroin was a really big deal. Mitchell knows Deaney has done something wrong, and he vows to get both him and Cummings. See, kids, in 1975, shooting an unarmed intruder because you’re a racist jackass was considered a bad thing. I know that’s apparently not the case in 2013, but back then, cops and the general public cared when a rich white guy took advantage of the sociopolitical status quo and used an unarmed Latino thief for target practice. But Mitchell is no defender of the disenfranchised. He’s a renegade cop, the kind of guy who ignores the law when it suits him. That’s why he shoots unarmed suspects who weren’t doing anything wrong at the time, and why he accepts a high-priced hooker as a bribe (Linda Evans). Because why not, right? It’s not a believable film, but the performances are often solid, especially from Balsam and Saxon as your expected mid-70s urbane bad guys, and Evans is surprisingly good in the stereotypical role she’s given. Character … Continue reading