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Alan Ladd & Ella Raines on TCM

Ella Raines, Franchot Tone, Phantom Lady
Jeanette MacDonald, Maurice Chevalier, Love Me Tonight
Gary Cooper, Audrey Hepburn, Love in the Afternoon
Ella Raines, Franchot Tone in Robert Siodmak's Phantom Lady (top); Jeanette MacDonald, Maurice Chevalier in Rouben Mamoulian's Love Me Tonight (middle); Gary Cooper, Audrey Hepburn in Billy Wilder's Love in the Afternoon (bottom)

Pre-1948 Paramount talkies are owned by Universal (or whichever conglomerate owns Universal; I've lost track of them by now – Comcast? NBC? General Electric?). For the most part, Universal couldn't care less about the movies in their archives. Relatively few have been released on DVD and most of them are hardly ever shown on cable.

Well, Turner Classic Movies has leased the Universal library – whether all of it or only some titles, I don't know. That's why the early Mae West movie This Is the Night (1932) was shown a couple of weeks ago, and that's why we now have Lucky Jordan (1942), the film that helped turn Alan Ladd into a star.

I've never seen this Frank Tuttle-directed crime drama, but Ladd was excellent in This Gun for Hire and was quite effective in The Glass Key as well, both 1942 releases co-starring Veronica Lake. Ladd's Lucky Jordan leading lady, however, is Helen Walker, a minor player whose career was seriously damaged following a deadly car crash in 1946. (Walker suffered serious injuries, and one of the hitchhiking soldiers she had picked up near Palm Springs died. She was accused of driving under influence and was brought to trial; she was eventually acquitted. Walker would die of cancer in 1968.)

Starring Gregory Peck, Susan Hayward, and Ava Gardner, The Snows of Kilimanjaro was a major box office hit when it came out in 1951. But is it Ernest Hemingway? Hemingway or not, it surely did no harm to the careers of its three stars or director Henry King.

Robert Siodmak's Phantom Lady (1943) is one of the major film noir classics. Well, it's not on a par with Laura (1944) or The Big Sleep (1946) in terms of lasting popularity, but for those who know their 1940s noirs, Phantom Lady is considered one of the very best.

And it is a curious piece. There are plot holes here and there, but the performances are interesting – Franchot Tone cast against type; Ella Raines looking about as good as Gene Tierney in Laura; Siodmak keeps the action tight; and Elisha Cook Jr has a musical interlude of sorts that will leave you either mesmerized or scratching your head. Aurora Miranda, Carmen Miranda's sister, has a supporting role in Phantom Lady as well.

Love Me Tonight (1932) is considered the best Ernst Lubitsch movie that Lubitsch never made. Directed by Rouben Mamoulian, this saucy musical stars Jeanette MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier in top form. In a supporting role as what some would call a nymphomaniac, Myrna Loy nearly steals the show: She'll eagerly take them all, from grown men to schoolboys. And to think that Myrna Loy's character is probably more offensive to the politically correct prudes of 2011 than to most audience members in 1932. Whether or not you're a prude, Love Me Tonight is not to be missed.

Love in the Afternoon is the Lubitschesque romantic comedy that – thankfully – Lubitsch never made. Despite a cast that includes Gary Cooper and Audrey Hepburn, Billy Wilder's romantic comedy falls flat at every turn. Its saving grace is a surprisingly subtle Maurice Chevalier.

Schedule and synopses from the TCM website:

5:00pm Lucky Jordan (1942)
A racketeer struggles to adjust to military life after he's drafted.
Cast: Alan Ladd, Helen Walker, Sheldon Leonard, Mabel Paige Dir: Frank Tuttle BW-84 mins

6:30pm Snows Of Kilimanjaro, The (1952)
As he fights a deadly jungle fever, a hunter remembers his lost loves..
Cast: Gregory Peck, Susan Hayward, Ava Gardner, Hildegarde Neff Dir: Henry King C-114 mins

8:30pm [Suspense/Mystery] Phantom Lady (1944)
A mystery woman is a murder suspect's only alibi for the night of his wife's death.
Cast: Franchot Tone, Ella Raines, Alan Curtis, Aurora Dir: Robert Siodmak BW-87 mins

10:00pm [Musical] Love Me Tonight (1932)
A Parisian tailor falls in love with a princess.
Cast: Maurice Chevalier, Jeanette MacDonald, Charlie Ruggles, Charles Butterworth Dir: Rouben Mamoulian BW-89 mins

12:00am [Romance] Love in the Afternoon (1957)
An aging American tycoon overcomes his inhibitions to court a young Parisian.
Cast: Gary Cooper, Audrey Hepburn, Maurice Chevalier, John McGiver Dir: Billy Wilder BW-130 mins


         
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