Lions, Towers & Shields

Lions, Towers & Shields is a celebration of films from the classic Hollywood era. Shelly Brisbin leads a merry band through reviews of great old movies.

All Episodes

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    June 30, 2022 Park Row
    54 For the Love of Linotype

    The history of newspapers and typography is this movie’s subject. Director Sam Fuller made this love letter to journalism, and in this episode, we echo that love right back, with the aid of an actual typography historian. Get the movie on YouTube and watch along with us. We’ll count you in!

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    June 16, 2022 Gilda
    53 The Ambiguously Gay Duo

    Put the blame on mame, boys. And also on George McCreedy and Glenn Ford. It’s a love triangle and an erotic noir. But many people just focus on Rita Hayworth’s song and the dress she sang it in. Gilda also features plenty of gay subtext, which we’ll discuss at length, as well as why some films of this era “got away” with gay themes, while others did not. I also believe we’re setting a record for references to past LTS episodes. I’m not mad at that.

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    June 2, 2022 Leave Her to Heaven
    52 If Douglas Sirk Made Friday the 13th

    To paraphrase IMDB, it’s a love story until it’s an obsession story. Then it really gets weird. Gene Tierney is gonna make you kinda mad in this Technicolor, noir thriller. We love it!

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    May 19, 2022 Silk Stockings
    51 The Ninotchka Cinematic Universe

    By the late 1950s, big-budget musicals were in color and wide screen, and MGM made several really great ones. Late-period Cole Porter wrote the songs, and Fred Astaire is paired with a much younger partner (surprise!), Cyd Charisse in this remake of 1939’s Ninotchka - Garbo’s last great film. For extra credit, watch both. Enjoy the comedy stylings of Peter Lorre and his commissars, and the delightful Janice Paige, too.

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    May 5, 2022 Bringing Up Baby
    50 What is She Talking About? Stop That!

    This is episode #50, so it’s special! And Baby is one of my favorite movies of all time. Howard Hawks directs Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant and a sweet little kitty! It’s a screwball comedy, and Hepburn as a comedienne is a revelation. If you hate it, you might not want to join, because unlike many other episodes, where I encourage dissent, I will fight you on this one. You should also know that I can quote way too many lines.

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    April 23, 2022 Love Affair/An Affair to Remember
    49 Shut Your Logic Brain Off And Just Go With It

    I love you, but I’ve got to go! Let’s meet in six months at the top of the Empire State Building. In 1939, Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne had a date. In 1957, it was Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. In each movie, something keeps the lovers from meeting up as planned. And though it was a dumb thing (according to me) the movies remain classics of the romance genre.

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    April 14, 2022 The Narrow Margin
    48 He Sounds Like an Angry Garbage Truck

    We enter the gritty world of… Charles McGraw’s voice, in this 1952 noir directed by Richard Fleischer. You may know him from 20,000 Leagues under the Sea and (spoiler alert) Soylent Green is people! In The Narrow Margin, a cop must protect a woman scheduled to testify against a killer. Much of the action takes place on a cross-country train, in which the visual margins are indeed narrow.

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    March 24, 2022 Gaslight
    47 Angela Lansbury, Comin’ In Hot

    Let’s cut to the chase: this film gave birth to the modern term, gaslighting. Charles Boyer needs to drive Ingrid Bergman crazy so he can steal her jewels - a crime he first tried to commit against Ingrid’s aunt, years before. George Cukor takes an unusual turn at dark, noirish storytelling, and Bergman wins an Oscar. Joseph Cotten costars, and Angela Lansbury makes her film debut at age 19.

    Host’s note: Gaslight may be triggering for someone who has experienced an abusive relationship. And that may be surprising information about a black-and-white film from 1944. We encourage you to approach the film itself carefully if depictions of manipulation in relationships might be uncomfortable for you.

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    March 14, 2022 A Letter to Three Wives
    46 A Rough 35

    This choice stems from the enthusiasm of some regular LTS panelists. Jeanne Crain, Linda Darnell and Ann Sothern are your stars, along with the unrelated Douglases, Kirk and Paul. A letter written to three women by their “bad friend” pretty much freaks everyone out, and it’s most definitely a female-centered story, well-directed by Joe Mankiewicz. Go figure.

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    February 27, 2022 Pickup on South Street
    45 Donna Reed Can Burn in Hell

    Please enjoy a heaping helping of film noir with a side of anti-Communism. Sam Fuller’s 1953 “Pickup on South Street” is well-directed, and especially well-acted by Thelma Ritter, Richard Widmark and character actor Murvyn Vye - but you can call him Tiger. There’s a crackerjack score, and a reasonably suspenseful plot, too, and the cinematography is inventive and compelling.

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    February 10, 2022 Phantom Lady
    44 It’s All about the Hat

    Who’s that lady? This is what Alan Curtis and Ella Raines need to know. Alan is accused of murdering his wife, but he says he has a perfect alibi - he was spending the evening with a stranger at the time of the murder. Ella is determined to prove his innocence, and goes to great lengths to do so. Franchot Tone is along to help solve the mystery as well. It’s directed by Robert Siodmak and produced by Hitchcock collaborator, Joan Harrison.

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    January 29, 2022 Blonde Venus
    43 Hot Chocolate and Vegetable Soup

    Marlene Dietrich and Cary Grant? No, Marlene Dietrich and Herbert Marshall? Marlene and a cute little kid? Marlene in the Deep South? This movie will surprise you. IT is part of the cycle of films she made with Josef von Sternberg during her early American career. And our heroine goes through A LOT. I’d argue it’s among Dietrich’s most sympathetic roles. In this episode, I find myself arguing with my panelists about the worthiness of this movie!

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    December 22, 2021 I’ll Be Seeing You
    42 A Hot Chocolate of a Movie

    This is Shelly’s current favorite classic holiday movie. It begins just before Christmas and runs New Years, and that totally counts! It’s sweet, it’s a romance and it’s well-acted. It stars Ginger Rogers, Joseph Cotten and a teenaged and bratty Shirley Temple.

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    December 2, 2021 All This and Heaven Too
    41 The Barbara O’Neil Memorial Highway

    Who among the female stars of the 30s and 40s retains more ID today than Bette Davis? She was the queen of the Warner lot when she wasn’t fighting with her bosses, and she played her share of scenery-chewing roles as both a young woman and an older one. But All This and Heaven Too is not one of these. The Davis we meet here is deep in melodrama, certainly, but her performance is controlled and quiet. She loves Charles Boyer, and he loves her, but nothing’s going right for them. Behold, LTS does romance!

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    November 18, 2021 D. O. A.
    40 Red Herring Alley

    We return to film noir, with a movie that could be called, Edmond O’Brien’s really, really bad day. A man learns he’s going to die, and sets out to find out who’s killing him and why. It’s directed by Rudolf Maté, and if you are a fan of noir lighting, camera angles and scenes of LA and San Francisco from the post-war period, you will find them here.

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    November 4, 2021 Lifeboaat
    39 Hitchcock’s Two-Hour Tour

    What happens when an unlikely group of strangers shares an ocean voyage? If it’s the middle of WWII and Alfred Hitchcock is directing, don’t expect a frothy comedy, dah-ling. Do expect raconteur and occasional film actress Tallulah Bankhead, with John Hodiak, Walter Slezak, William Bendix and Hume Cronyn. They’re all stuck on a lifeboat after their merchant ship is torpedoed.

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    October 21, 2021 “The Body Snatcher”
    38 At Least the Cat Survives

    It’s 1830s Edinburgh, home of some of Europe’s finest medical schools — but where are they getting the cadavers to hone their students’ knowledge of anatomy? Well, provided you’ve got ready cash on hand, and you don’t ask too many questions… Horror auteur Val Lewton and still-rookie director Robert Wise adapt Robert Louis Stevenson’s short story with typically eerie elegance — but you’ll come away remembering Boris Karloff, in maybe the greatest performance of his career, as a deceptively cheerful cabman with a grisly side hustle. A much-diminished Bela Lugosi’s also in it, barely — but the key scene he shares with Karloff will stick with you long after you’ve seen this relatively little-known and underrated classic.

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    October 11, 2021 “Night Nurse”
    37 House of Mean Gables

    Ride with Barbara Stanwyck in an ambulance that’s on a collision course with decadent mayhem. Stanwyck gets a job as a nurse, eventually assigned to care for the children of a neglectful mom. She’s neglectful because she’s drunk and under the influence of a sadistic Clark Gable. And oh look, Joan Blondell is in this one, too. Directed by “Wild” Bill Wellman. The film is among the first rank of early 30s precodes.

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    September 23, 2021 Take a Trip Down “Nightmare Alley”
    36 Frauds and Geeks

    Pretty actor Tyrone Power comes back from WWII and wants to play more serious part. So here he is as a carnival worker who rises through like as an increasingly successful con man. Until he doesn’t. Great noir visuals and wonderful performances by the underseen Helen Walker, and the can’t-be-overseen Joan Blondell.

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    September 9, 2021 Everybody Luvs “Laura”
    35 Aspirational Spaces

    All this fuss over one lady in a painting. Laura! Loads of men want her, she has a song that’s quite memorable, and everyone in this movie talks about her constantly. Otto Preminger directs Gene Tierney, Vincent Price, Dana Andrews, and Clifton Webb. It’s a great cast, and the film comes just as we’re entering the film noir era. But it’s far too pretty to be noir.

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    August 26, 2021 The Public Enemy
    34 I’m Sorry. I’ll Stop Talking about Joan Blondell.

    James Cagney became a star, Mae Clark took a grapefruit to the face and Jean Harlow made an impression. It’s an early “talkie” by William Wellman that’s both a blueprint for what would come later, and a uniquely brutal take on the gangster genre.

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    July 31, 2021 The Apartment
    33 Nice Guy, or Good Man?

    Here’s a Billy Wilder master class that some people call one of the greatest comedies ever - “The Apartment.” We’ll see about that! It was among the inspirations for “Mad Men,” so there’s that, too. Jack Lemon, Shirley MacLaine and Fred McMurray are your leads. Welcome to the swinging’ 60s, businessman style.

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    July 17, 2021 The Philadelphia Story
    32 Filmed on Satin

    It’s the best-loved of the four movies Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant made together, and the one that also stars Jimmy Steward. Another George Cukor production, this was Hepburn’s triumphant entry into MGM, and her middle finger to the “box office poison” label of the late 1930s. “Hullo, George!”

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    July 1, 2021 “The Women”
    31 The Patriarchy: You’re Swimming In It

    Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Paulette Goddard and a stellar cast of supporting actresses are just doing the best they can, moving through their upper-class New York world.

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    June 17, 2021 Huston’s “Treasure of the Sierra Madre”
    30 There are No Tigers in Mexico

    Bogart, Huston and Holt go hunting for gold in Mexico, and they find it. But it’s unlikely they’ll get to keep it. John Huston’s 1947 “Treasure of the Sierra Madre” includes some of the best performances of the three lead actors’ careers, and a lot of visual flourishes, social commentary and a giant blob of irony.

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    May 30, 2021 Spencer Tracy’s Bad Day
    29 Lee Marvin is Evil Ted Lasso

    John Sturges’ “Bad Day at Black Rock” takes place soon after World War II, but it feels like something out of the Old West. You could also call it “daylight noir.” Spencer Tracy faces off against Robert Ryan, Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine and a whole bunch of townspeople with something to hide. We talk about filmmaking techniques, performance and how a one-armed dude survives his 24 hours in Black Rock.

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    May 9, 2021 The Joy of Foreign Correspondent
    28 Hitchcock Tilts at Windmills

    Or. What if Santa Claus Pushed You off a Tower?

    One of Alfred Hitchcock’s earliest American films is among the most enjoyable to watch. Joel McCrea is the reporter of the title, off to find out what’s happening in Europe for the benefit of a prewar American audience. Spies, murder and amazing character actors abound, along with some extraordinary Hitchcock set pieces.

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    April 11, 2021 A Walk Down the “Primrose Path”
    27 That Time Joel McCrea was a Total Jerk

    The usually affable Joel McCrea is sort of the hero, but not exactly lovable. And Ginger Rogers may have done everything Fred Astaire did “backwards and in heels” but here, she is not living her best life. “Primrose Path” takes an unrelenting look at a dysfunctional family. It was unusual for its time, and gives the two leads a lot to do.

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    March 25, 2021 The Third Man Again
    26 You Were Made to be Murdered

    Hark! Is that the sound of a zither? Carol Reed’s The Third Man (1949) stars Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten, not necessarily in order of screentime, it’s a post-war noir classic, set in Vienna, with compelling photography, plot and performances. This episode is also The Incomparable’s second look at this film.

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    March 13, 2021 Perry Mason *Is “The Mind Reader”
    25 Warren William: Cookie Monster

    He’s largely unknown today, but Warren William had an important role in what we know today as pre-code film. Sadly, many of his films are neither streaming or rentable. but we did find one that shows off his seedy side. If you’d like more recommendations, listen in. William usually played a dapper, middle-aged villain with a taste for much younger women, and a line that would get him what he wanted. As we say in this episode, think William Powell, but sinister. After his pre-code days, William played Perry Mason in several films, as well as a detective called the Lone Wolf.

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    February 16, 2021 A Random Harvest of Memories
    24 Mistimed Sobs

    We go full-on romance classic with Random Harvest (1942), starring the luminous Greer Garson and the handsome and very English Ronald Colman (she’s Irish.) It’s a golden age, big studio production, and it’s great. There’s love, there’s war (or the aftermath of war), there’s loss of memory… I’ve said too much already. I unreservedly love this one, and not for any knowing precode touches or hard-boiled characters. I love it because Garson and Colman are great together and it made me cry and stuff.

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    January 30, 2021 The Fountainhead: a hate watch
    23 A Perfect Spherical Cow

    Let us consider 1949’s The Fountainhead, the first filmed version of an Ayn Rand novel, though it’s not the first time Rand’s words were spoken onscreen. She worked as a writer in Hollywood while nursing her brew of objectivist beliefs and turning them into some, um, interesting books. Our film stars Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal, and is based on Rand’s novel of the same name. So, how do we feel about all this? Listen and find out!

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    January 14, 2021 Detour: A road trip goes very, very badly
    22 Come for the Aubrey Plaza Energy, Stay for the Tom Neal Back Story

    Edgar G. Ulmer’s “Detour” is both a low-budget B movie, and one of the most influential and elemental examples of America’s film noir. Its stars were largely unknown, and it was released by a poverty row studio. It’s also a great film - one that was “rediscovered” by film nerds and preservationists in recent years, and has now been restored and given a Crierion release. What’s all the fuss? We’re gonna find out?

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    January 3, 2021 Barbara Stanwyck wears a dress, and then some other stuff happens.
    21 Yum Yum and the Nerd

    It’s “Ball of Fire.” Howard Hawks directs; Billy Wilder writes. And Barbara Stanwyck is Sugarpuss O’Shea, who hides out from the cops with a group of dotty professors working on a new encyclopedia. Gary Cooper is in it too, along with S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall, Richard Haydn and many more. It’s a comedy classic. Even so, we manage to drop many many hot takes.

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    December 3, 2020 “Christmas in Connecticut:” the Original
    20 Merry Christmas. Don’t Mention It!

    By popular demand among both members and panelists actual and potential, we explore this 1945 classic. Peter Godfrey (who?) directs Barbara Stanwyck, Dennis Morgan and a cast of delightful character actors in a holiday story about covering up lies with more lies on a farm in Connecticut on Christmas Eve. Holiday food and sleigh rides aplenty.

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    November 9, 2020 Fred and Ginger dance cheek to cheek in “Top Hat”
    19 Horton-ing and Blore-ing It Up

    Believed by many to be the best of the Astaire-Rogers musicals, “Top Hat” was also the most successful. It arrived in the middle of their run as an on-screen couple. It’s both a musical and a screwball comedy with songs by Irving Berlin. It also features a stellar supporting cast: Edward Everett Horton, Helen Broderick, Eric Blore and, wait, is that Lucile Ball?

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    October 26, 2020 Karloff IS the dead spouse collector!
    18 Rocky Horror Picture Show without the Sex

    LTS acknowledges the pumpkin-spiced holiday.

    From IMDB: “American honeymooners in Hungary become trapped in the home of a Satan-worshiping priest when the bride is taken there for medical help following a road accident.”

    From Shelly: “Oh, I forgot this was an Edgar G. Ulmer joint.”

    Universal horror’s big guns are firing in this old dark house story where the ODC is actually a modernist masterpiece, built atop a former fortress. Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and a cast of less interesting people populate this amazing film.

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    October 11, 2020 Kirk and Billy at their most!
    17 Kirk Douglas, MOVIE STAR!

    It’s cynical, it’s Billy Wilder, and it’s still relevant. On-the-skids newspaper man Kirk Douglas is gonna do ANYTHING to get that story. This movie came up during the very first Lions, Towers & Shields episode as one that several panelists would watch again. And here they are!

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    September 25, 2020 Young Cary riles up the even younger residents of a small town.
    16 Does Cary Grant Ever Break s Sweat?

    In an early starring role, Cary Grant upends the sensibilities of a small town that’s rife with gossip and hypocrisy. And we have expert help this week, because the panel includes a man who’s created an audio documentary about Grant.

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    September 10, 2020 We watch “Too Late for Tears.”
    15 I Know You’re a Sexist Creep, But Run!

    Here’s a delicious little film noir, where greed is breathtaking, and you’ll wonder who’s the evilest - until you know for sure.

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    August 26, 2020 Considering Judy Garland’s “A Star is Born”
    14 No One Told Me It’s Three Hours Long

    This is the film that should have won Judy Garland the Oscar. It was both her greatest triumph, and a comeback film. It’s directed by George Cukor, the “woman’s director” of so many female-centered studio films. There’s a whole book about the making of “A Star is Born,” in fact. Also, this is the three-hour one.

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    August 13, 2020 Virtual Vacation: Two for the Road
    13 They’re Pretty in All the Timelines

    Welcome to another crossover where I join the Agents of S.M.O.O.C.H. for a timey-whimey road trip for our Virtual Vacation series. Our agents tease apart the five(?) timelines in Two for the Road (1967), starring Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney using the cars the characters drive. Join us as we criss-cross through ten years of time and space while road-tripping through France towards the Mediterranean coast. Sometimes it’s smooth sailing, sometimes it’s rocky, sometimes there are too many people in the car. Make sure you pack the sunscreen.

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    August 2, 2020 Sullivan’s Travels: Class Tourism, with a Little Sex
    12 Chekhov’s ID Card

    Preston Sturgess was in top form in 1941 for this comedy starring Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake - in one of her first films. McCrea is a movie director, looking for a way to make a “socially relevant” film, instead of the comedies he’s been making. McCrea travels as a hobo, trying to “know trouble” in a way he can’t while living his life as a Hollywood director. Like Orson Welles, Sturges used a stock company of character actors, and many of them are along for the ride.

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    July 3, 2020 We could all use a Roman Holiday
    11 Princess Anna’s Day Off

    We offer you a summer movie set in Rome. Directed by William Wyler, and starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, Roman Holiday tells the story of an American newspaper reporter who meets a princess and liberates her from the confinement of her royal station for a romantic adventure in 1950s Rome for a classic royal and the commoner tale. The people and the scenery are beautiful, and the actors have lovely chemistry. The is among the earliest, and best of the 1950s-60s films that took Americans to a Europe that had finally begun recovering from the horrors of World War II.

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    June 22, 2020 Cagney, Bogart, booze!
    10 The Nicest Gangster Ever

    James Cagney is a bootlegger. This is the story of his rise and fall. Warner Brothers had been producing gangster yarns since the early 30s, many featuring Cagney. But late ’30s filmmaking had become better and more watchable, with studio stalwarts like Cagney, Bogart and Frank McHugh now pros at the genre. Add in the wonderful and underrated Gladys George, and you’ve got yourself a movie! Raoul Walsh, whose career went back to silents, and who would later direct Cagney in “White Heat,” directed. “The Roaring Twenties” is part social commentary, crime movie and melodrama. And it’s one of the most entertaining movies of this genre.

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    June 7, 2020 When you’re dying on the floor, who you gonna call? Mildred!
    9 A Numerical Scale of Trash Men

    Here’s the film, based on James M. Cain’s story, that won Joan Crawford an Oscar, and began the Warner Brothers phase of her career, after MGM sent her packing. It tells the story of Mildred, who begins a new life when her marriage ends by building a restaurant empire. But her selfish daughter (Ann Blyth) and her lover (Zachary Scott) don’t make things easy for the proprietor of Mildred’s Fatburger. Bonus? Film noir with a female protagonist.

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    May 24, 2020 We recap My Man Godfrey (1935)
    8 Cornelia is Trash. Or She’s Not!

    Screwball comedy and Depression-era inequity meet in “My Man Godfrey” (1935). William Powell is experiencing the Depression first-hand, from under a bridge, when a society swell arrives and offers him a few dollars to help her win a scavenger hunt. Before you know it, Powell is buttling in the house of a dysfunctional wealthy family. Hilarity, and the politics of class follow. Carole Lombard, William Powell, Alice Brady and Gail Patrick are all marvelous, as is the rest of the supporting cast. “My Man Godfrey” was nominated for six Oscars, including the first two supporting actor statues ever awarded, but won none.

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    May 9, 2020
    7 Enjoy Your Cucumber, America!

    Old Movie News

    New Blu-rays


    Into the Nitrate Vault

    Border Incident (1949) trailer

    • Available to stream, rent or buy digitally

    • On disc: DVD

    • Released by MGM, directed by Anthony Mann, cinematography by John Alton; starring Ricardo Montalban, George Murphy, James Mitchell, Howard De Silva, Charles McGraw

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    April 26, 2020
    6 We’ll Begin with a Reign of Terror

    We’re watching James Whale’s “The Invisible Man.”

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    April 11, 2020 We recap and review the 1947 mystery, Lured.
    5 I Love Dead Lucy

    What do you get when you combine a director of 50s melodrama, a screwball TV comedian, a deliciously flamboyant cad, and a bunch of great character actors from Britain and America? Why, a British Jack the Ripper mystery, of course. On this episode, we’re talking about 1947’s “Lured,” directed by Douglas Sirk, and starring Lucile Ball and George Sanders. We will spoil the ending in this episode, like we do, so watch the movie, probably for free, before you listen.

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    March 29, 2020 We draft the classics in a time of isolation.
    4 What to Watch Now

    Classic films, by definition, are comfort food, or at least, they’re escapist entertainment. Our panel picks films they love, and want to watch right now, as we confront a lot of time indoors during the coronavirus pandemic.

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    March 15, 2020 Considering 1933’s “Baby Face”
    3 More Permy Over Time

    Lily has had a rough life. Her father has basically been pimping her out, and she's had it! She and her friend Chico, who happens to be a black woman, take off for New York so Lily soon begins climbing the corporate ladder, using each corporate executive s weakness to obtain what she wants. Because that's how Nietzsche would want her to do it. "Baby Face" is a quintessential pre-code movie. And it had a lot to do with the code being enforced a few months aster its release.

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    February 27, 2020 We review George Cukor’s 1938 film, Holiday.
    2 Ride Her Down Like a Rabbit

    Come with us to late 1930s New York. It's the Depression, but you wouldn't know it here on Fifth Avenue, where the Setons live, and where things would be even better - if we had the right kind of government. We're discussing the 1938 film, Holiday, directed by George Cukor, and staring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. There's a bit of old movie news, too. Just a bit.

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    February 16, 2020 We review Robert Wise’s 1949 masterpiece, “The Set-Up.”
    1 Paradise City

    We begin a journey into the past, for the love of classic Hollywood-era movies. We've got memories of Kirk Douglas, Blu-Ray news, and a recap and review of Robert Wise's 1949 masterpiece, "The Set-Up."