The Secret of Convict Lake (1951)

2 Aug

Why is this movie so little-known? Yesterday I was checking the day’s schedule for the Fox Movie Channel and I came across the listing for the THE SECRET OF CONVICT LAKE (1951) at 10:25 AM (EST). The onscreen description sounded really intriguing. I didn’t write it down and it’s no longer available on the Fox Retro website, so I can only tell you it said something about five escaped convicts entering a western town populated entirely by women, with a cast topped by Glenn Ford, Gene Tierney, Ethel Barrymore, Ann Dvorak and Zachary Scott, surely enough to make me sit up and take notice. This premise and that cast are not to be taken lightly. I then looked it up in Maltin’s Movie Guide (the only place I’d ever previously seen a reference for this film) and it said, simply, “Set in 1870s California, escaped prisoners hide out at settlement comprised largely of women; fine cast makes the most of script.” It gave the film a **1/2 rating, which, in Maltin, can often be taken as a *** rating. The director was Michael Gordon, who had a few credits I liked very much, including PILLOW TALK and PORTRAIT IN BLACK. So I made plans to watch it. This is the kind of minor studio film that used to play constantly on local broadcast TV back in the day when local channels ran movies during the day, at night and on weekends, yet I don’t recall this one ever playing.

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“China Through the Looking Glass” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

26 Jul

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The Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan is currently showing an exhibit called “China Through the Looking Glass,” which runs until September 7, 2015. It takes up space on three floors (including the Anna Wintour Costume Center) and offers dozens of outfits and costumes by famous designers based on Chinese motifs and inspirations, along with other art objects (vases, sculptures, installations) and other commercial objects (e.g., perfumes).

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What grabbed my attention most were the various screens in the galleries on which were projected film clips from famous Chinese, Hong Kong and Hollywood films. I counted a total of 24 films represented, most of them well-known, with only one completely new to me. They were grouped by eight chosen themes. Six of the themes ran montages of three to five films each on continuous loops, while two themes stuck to one film each. The screens showing these film clips accompanied display cases featuring costumes or art objects related to the theme.

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1947 Blogathon: Postwar Hope and Despair: ONE WONDERFUL SUNDAY and VIOLENCE

14 Jul

This entry is part of the 1947 Blogathon sponsored by Shadows and Satin and Speakeasy. I chose two films from 1947 to write about and my original plan was to do separate entries on them, but after watching them back-to-back, I realized that the contrasts between them were so interesting that I thought it best to do a comparison piece. The first is ONE WONDERFUL SUNDAY, Akira Kurosawa’s incisive portrait of postwar lovers in Tokyo caught up in a cycle of poverty, and I chose it because it was a Kurosawa film that I’d never seen before and this would be a good opportunity to finally see it.

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The second is VIOLENCE, a low-budget melodrama from Monogram Pictures about an organization exploiting war veterans for power and profit, and I chose it because it was the closest thing I could find to a conspiracy thriller from 1947, a year filled with events in the U.S. that fueled so many conspiracy theories for years to come.

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One film was made in a country recovering slowly from defeat and the ravages of war, while the other was made in a country flush with the glory of victory and newly emergent on the global stage as the dominant world power, yet the stories they tell offer a reversal of sorts.

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More Kaiju Poetry: Mothra in 1961, 1992 and 1996

11 Jul

Back on June 1, 2014, I wrote about “The Poetry of Kaiju,” as found in the 1964 kaiju (Japanese monster) film, GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA (aka GODZILLA VS. THE THING), with its stunning images of Mothra eggs and the otherworldly twin fairies who guard them.

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This past month I opted to watch three additional films about Mothra, the giant caterpillar-turned-butterfly, and its fairy guardians, in search of similar poetic imagery.

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Yoshiko Kawashima – Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy: Four Films

23 Jun

Earlier this year, I attended five films in a series at Japan Society in New York entitled “The Most Beautiful: The War Films of Shirley Yamaguchi and Setsuko Hara,” curated by Aiko Masubuchi, and wound up seeing five films there, three of them starring Yamaguchi, more widely known as Yoshiko Yamaguchi, and two of them starring Hara, all made in the years 1937-1943, during the period of Japan’s occupation of China. As preparation for seeing these films, I began reading a novel about Yamaguchi called The China Lover, by historian Ian Buruma, who has written several books about Japanese history and culture, two of which I’ve read. In the novel, there’s a character named Yoshiko Kawashima, who is also known as Eastern Jewel, a historical figure who was a princess of the Manchu royal family and a cousin of Pu Yi, the famed “Last Emperor” of China. She got her Japanese name when she was sent to Japan at the age of six to be raised by Naniwa Kawashima, a Japanese translator of Chinese and friend of Yoshiko’s father, Prince Su. She self-identified as Japanese for much of her life. I realized as I was reading about her that I own a DVD of a Hong Kong film called KAWASHIMA YOSHIKO (1990), a full-scale biopic starring Anita Mui in the title role. I’d never seen it, so I resolved to do so at the earliest opportunity.

Anita Mui as Yoshiko Kawashima

Anita Mui as Yoshiko Kawashima

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JANKEN MUSUME (1955): First “Sannin Musume” Musical

14 Jun

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Sannin Musume is the name given to the informal starring trio of Hibari Misora, Chiemi Eri and Izumi Yukimura, the three ranking pop singers in Japan in the 1950s, when they made movies together. They made a total of four and I’ve written about the second and third ones here, ROMANCE MUSUME (1956), on November 9, 2014, and ON WINGS OF LOVE (1957) on March 8, 2015. I’ve seen the fourth, HIBARI, CHIEMI, IZUMI SANNIN YOREBA (1964), but haven’t written about it here yet. The first was JANKEN MUSUME (1955), which I wrote about previously on my J-pop blog, but used lesser-quality screen grabs, so I decided it was high time to watch it again and cover it here. My emphasis in the earlier pieces was on the musical numbers and the films’ frequent uses of American pop songs of the era, sung in both English and Japanese.

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VHS Discoveries: Classic Kung Fu

4 Jun

Back in 1998 to 2003, my revived interest in “Old School” kung fu films from Hong Kong and Taiwan happened to coincide with a phenomenal outpouring of these films in low-cost VHS editions, usually bootleg or “gray market,” with many available in mainstream video stores (e.g. Suncoast, Virgin, Tower and FYE), but more often found at discount dealers like Record Explosion and Entertainment Outlet. A company called Xenon (with various subsidiaries) released quite a number of these films as part of the “Wu Tang Collection,” often given new titles designed to appeal to hiphop fans and fans of the rap group, the Wu-Tang Clan, which took its name and a significant amount of its content from kung fu films its members had seen on 42nd Street back in the day. One of its members, Ghostface Killah, even took his name from the villain of a 42nd Street hit called THE MYSTERY OF CHESS BOXING (aka NINJA CHECKMATE). Ol’ Dirty Bastard was the name applied to another member of the Clan.

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