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Thursday, August 22, 2019

When Fandom Was Forever


Souvenirs Of Show-Going Long Ago

Above sits Myron Healey at the 1974 Western Film Festival in Memphis. Monte Hale is beside him. Mr. Healey was male support to Phyllis Coates as (the) Panther Girl Of The Kongo. I wonder if any of 520 fans attending Memphis ragged him for being in such a dud serial. Probably not, because for this nostalgia-driven lot, no serial was bad. I had just finished watching all twelve chapters of Panther Girl (not at once) and then came across coverage of the ’74 con in an issue of Film Collector’s Registry, a tabloid for those in the peculiar habit of hunting 16mm prints of films they loved as children. These folks knew who fest guest Kirk Alyn was because they were old enough to have seen his Superman chapter-plays theatrically, which means they were the only people to see them period, since both serials went out of circulation after 1948 and 1950, respectively. All we sprites could see was trailers duped off dupes that floated along dealer’s row at Memphis, Charlotte, Houston, elsewhere (the two serials are since on DVD). 1974 may have been a peak of interest in all-things nostalgic. FCR reported that over 3,000 attended Houston that year (“the best ever!”). I never experienced a show that big. By the time I got in the swing of it (from 1976 forward), there were diminishing returns, if slower coming. Reports here made me realize what a boon these cowboy and cliffhanger meets were in their prime.




Imagine being in 50’s theatres to witness the corrosion of serials. It was assumed, at least by children, that they would never end, but insiders knew better. Program westerns were already going, soon to be gone. Panther Girl Of The Kongo had to disappoint on profound levels. It was, as they say, strictly from hunger, so threadbare as to be insulting. Three or four guys took pen to earlier and better Republic serials … now one writer (Ronald Davidson) did it all, as did directing Franklin Adreon, who also was “associate producer.” Once upon lusher times there were two helmsmen behind each chapter-play. The fallow decade saw increasing reason to stay home and look at The Lone Ranger or Cisco Kid on television, or Gene Autry’s vid program, which fans said, still say, was improvement on his features (didn’t matter; by 1955, Gene was off theatre screens). But it was important to get out of the house, join friends downtown for movies, never mind that so many fell down as entertainment. Social advantages made up for that, and there was always popcorn plus candy. I wasn’t there, so am projecting --- imagining, more like it --- though I’ve talked to enough elders who were present to feel what it was like to see a happy era die. I’d know a similar, if lesser, gloom in the early 70’s when the Liberty finally did away with Saturday double features (and we kept them longer than most any small town around)




This was what Houston and Memphis and the rest wanted to hang on to. Aging men (never women, unless in tolerant company of husbands that never grew up, bless both) came for these three or four days to relive Saturdays they thought would stay a same forever. Celebrity lineups dazzled because so many were still alive from 30/40’s heyday. The 1974 Dallas show had Buster Crabbe, Duncan Renaldo (Trader Horn!), George Pal … on and on. At Memphis, stuntman for forty years David Sharpe mock-fought Billy Benedict and did a backwards flip. Lash LaRue was there because Lash was everywhere through peak period of star/fan shows (he’d give whip exhibitions --- did anyone trust him to flick cigarettes from their mouth or apples off their head?). The Lone Ranger Rides Again was shown twice because it was so rare and practically no one had seen it since 1939. Guests moved among fans, none anchored behind signing tables where all of movement was by assistants collecting twenty-dollar bills, as would become case at later autograph shows. So long as health held out, most old-timers were pleased to do these shows. Younger ones seemed vigorous as when they were screen-active, Jock Mohoney in Houston only eleven years past Tarzan’s Three Challenges. I got to meet Jock at a mid-80’s Raleigh show, this in lieu of customary Charlotte setting for reasons forgotten. The dealer’s space was like an airplane hanger and as arid. Jock was well into spirit of the con and yelled out “Bob, you old queer bait” to one collector older than he was, and it seemed like good a time as any to ask about doubling Errol Flynn in a hazardous leap from top-of-a-staircase to crash upon Robert Douglas’ double in Adventures Of Don Juan. Jock was ten minutes explaining it thoroughly to me and now I can’t remember a thing he said. Was I too star-struck to retain any of our conversation?




Stars who survived became bigger stars at collector shows. Panther Girl Phyllis Coates had wit and attitude to go with total recall of a past career. I lately looked at Filmfax plus a Tom Weaver interview for her take on that benighted serial. She lost part of hearing thanks to a rifle that went off in her ear, and had to have penicillin every time she came out of nasty water in Republic’s backlot lake. Would it have been worth all this even to be in a good serial? A tougher breed, I’d guess, but you could say that about all the names who flew east for fan jamborees. Side query: Were there ever western/serial shows in California? --- and if not, why not? Sometimes a more mainstream face would show up and regret doing so mere steps into hotel lobbies. Virginia Mayo didn’t look happy with Raleigh. One old duff in cowboy garb asked if she’d pose under the “Jimmy Wakely Clock,” to which I heard her reply, “What the hell is a Jimmy Wakely clock, and who the hell is Jimmy Wakely?” How soon greatness is forgot. Actually, the JW clock had a kind of obscure majesty. I wondered at the time how it came to be, and I’d ask now what (the hell …, as Virginia would have said) became of it? Engaged fans of forty-five years ago have disappeared surely as that Jimmy Wakely clock. I refer for instance to the Max Terhune Appreciation Society, founded in 1973 by a film collector named Minard Coons. Minard revered Max from when latter and his funny dummy supported cowboys in the late 30’s. They got to be friends after Max retired. There was also a 70’s chapter of the Buck Jones Rangers, endorsed by Buck’s daughter, with a larger latter-day membership that you’d expect for a star deceased since 1942. These then, were but two instances of fan loyalty and how long it could thrive.




Those parades have passed now. No more shows, at least ones dedicated to matinee days. Film Collector’s Registry is gone too, long since as with The Big Reel and Film Collector’s World. Classic Images comes a closest to keeping lamps lit. I look at old ads in these papers and think how we had to climb Everest to own movies common as dirt today, and as cheap. A dealer named Joe Rogal had stuff that collector dreams were made of. I remember a time, 35 or so years ago, when he walked into a Columbus lobby with Mogambo on IB Tech. $400 and it’s yours. Imagine paying that for any one movie now. Had I wanted to own Panther Girl Of The Kongo, it would have cost as much. A Blu-Ray, on the other hand, runs $19.95, for which image quality compensates for lack of pride in ownership. Collectors wanted to possess movies in large part because no one else could have them, that hobby’s coin of the realm. Notice everybody gushing over the 50th anniversary of Woodstock this month? Well, these serial/western fans had their Woodstocks every summer, in fact numerous times each summer, wherever promoters could book a hotel and inveigle past stars to fly in and feel the love.




Monday, August 19, 2019

Were They Fish or Fowl?

Polly Moran Prays for Continuing Opportunities to Dilute Otherwise Creepy Shows Like London After Midnight

Melodrama, Meet Comedy --- Comedy, Meet Melodrama

Begone, Comic Relief!, Says Erik The Phantom to Horror Neutralizer Snitz Edwards

It was a steadfast rule since the 19th century: Never serve any genre straight. We wonder at, in fact deplore, horror films with comic relief, comedies that take romance detour, westerns where they sing and have dagnabit sidekicks. Why couldn’t our clowns and monsters be presented pure? I assumed it was Hollywood’s failing, a symptom of studio wrongheadedness, all dancing to discordant tune. It can be said that we bring unreasonable expectation to these films we claim to treasure. Must they abide by our modern measure for genre entertainment? I watched Mark Of The Vampire with Bonnie Scotland to ponder the issue, both hailing from 1935. These belong to a school that taught moderation in all things, be it scares or humor. An audience might exhaust on overdose of either. Such steps were taken because a public did have, and would express, its limit. Remember what became of Phantom Of The Opera after test screenings over-spooked 1925 watchers? Comedy, lethal injection of it by current reckoning, thinned Phantom’s bitter porridge. Mark Of The Vampire was guided by lessons taught in an earlier version of the same yarn, London After Midnight, which got a gelding in script stage and never contemplated its vampires as anything other than fake. London After Midnight’s lost status amounts to divine providence, for how could the movie approach allure of its surviving stills?


Laughs To The Left Of Her, Chills To The Right ... What's Laura La Plante To Do?


All melodrama from inception gave comic relief. The things would weigh too heavy otherwise. Stage plays for a hundred years were awash with virtue imperiled, farms seized, trains and buzz saws closing in. This was heightened emotion to relieve tedium of drudge work that ate ten at least of daily viewership hours. There was more leisure by the late-1800’s, but not much more. Suspense stirred by mellers was eased by frolic performed between acts, sometimes within the play itself. Movies hewed to habit kept by generations of stage-folk. Even Griffith saw sense of prevailing rules, his Way Down East very serious (Lillian Gish on the ice flow), except when it’s not (all of Creighton Hale). The Cat and The Canary (1927) was scary until it was expedient to be otherwise (Creighton Hale again). No one questioned a mode of operation so ingrained. If anything, the 30’s only strengthened resolve to water our drinks. Mark Of The Vampire is accurate marker of what London After Midnight had been, being a same story done the same, at least insofar as horror/hokum mix.




Where Fun Weighs Heavy On Modern Mark Of The Vampire Fans
Filmmakers were sensitive not to rock a lot of boats. Dracula and Frankenstein stepped very near an edge that copy-cats stepped over, thus Freaks, Island Of Lost Souls, and some others took licks from outraged sectors and were banned by some territories. Mark Of The Vampire had enough foolery to be farce or fright, take your pick where promoting. There is Donald Meek entering soon after credits as a fluttery medico, and later Leila Bennett as a shrieking bird-brain of a servant. These were understood to prevent scares from being too intense. Again it is stills to a rescue, Bela Lugosi, and more-so, Bela Lugosi with Carroll Borland, plus Tod Browning as director, to suggest Mark Of The Vampire means business. These were burned into consciousness of monster fandom years after the film came and went (and stayed largely gone). We figured Mark Of The Vampire had to be good just for these morsels that didn’t move, but gripped us all the same.




Learning the score of stage-to-screen tradition taught many to forgive what seemed a monstrous cheat. No, these were not vampires. Vampires did not exist, even as visuals throughout Mark Of The Vampire implied they did. What it needed, then, was reading between the frames, a same stealth applied to all films after the Code became stricter-enforced. Horror would stay hand-in-hand with comedy, especially at Universal. At least James Whale wove it better into narrative as if humor was his idea rather than foolishness imposed on him. Melodrama would more-less concede by the second wave at Universal, support staff there to fill nonsense need as though horror differed not from westerns, mystery, or straight-up comedy. You’d thing that all we wanted was to laugh, but even dedicated funsters had to be tempered, especially so where feature-length contained them. Again it was to spare us exhaustion. Were the Marx Brothers too funny in Duck Soup? Fine, A Night at the Opera can fix that. Were Laurel and Hardy too much of a good thing beyond two-reels? Then give them “plot” to sustain Bonnie Scotland, first of a features-only policy to guide a rest of their career.




Weak-As-A-Kitten William Janney Supplies Romance Relief to Laurel and Hardy Antics


How Do Tears and Gloom Get Into a Laurel-Hardy Feature? Because Producers Believed We Wanted Them ...
and Maybe in 1935, We Did.


L&H had gone long routes before, perhaps to better outcome than Bonnie Scotland, but this was wayward in the extreme, a romance between non-entities (William Janney and June Lang) that pushed L&H off center-stage, at least in preview versions agreed by all to need fixing. Here again was serving a balanced meal of genres just as it was assumed a public wanted them. I can’t say Hal Roach was wrong because I wasn’t there in 1935 to judge, but success of Bonnie Scotland, and for that matter Mark Of The Vampire, satisfy me that these were what customers wanted. We who would judge impose our druthers on viewership of 84 years past. I can’t pretend to know what went down best with those people. Cue that past is a foreign country that novelist L.P. Hartley talked about: They really did "do things differently there." Maybe romance was the vegetable we needed with meat that was Laurel and Hardy. Does this also explain why cowboys sang? Go to the animal shelter and you get mostly mongrels. Watch these old films and it’s largely the same. Therein may lie the struggle we have at swelling the rank of fans. Who will show Mark Of The Vampire or Bonnie Scotland except to the already converted? 50’s TV distributors had the right idea of shaving the L&H feature down to three (or was it four?) shorts to fit in half-hour slots plus omit sub-plotting that served its purpose in 1935, but was not needed now. Purists wanted Bonnie Scotland intact, so thanks to TCM-HD, DVD, streaming and the rest, we again must eat our peas as part of the Laurel-Hardy meal. It is a price fans will go on paying so long as there is interest in this team.




Thursday, August 15, 2019

Brand New and a Must-See


Once Upon a Time Is a Socko Hollywood Fairy Tale

A film by a kindred spirit, made seemingly just for me. I never saw 161 minutes go by so fast. First show, opening day, had sixteen of us at a theatre less than seven years open. Odd thing, I hadn’t gone in most of those, the last occasion for a movie about a heroic dog … forgot the title, and there are too many heroic dogs lately to look it up. $13.50 bought admission, a medium popcorn, and a lemon-flavor drink, to which I appended a Baby Ruth from the Run-In. Never figured on such joy from a new film. Only down spout was a projected image too dim and minus proper contrast. An exhibitor friend tells me this is widespread among theatres gone to digital. Actually cheaper, he says, to replace the entire system than elements needed to restore light. Audiences are compliant because most don’t realize how much better the show should look. Much of production effort therefore goes to naught. This appears to be a nationwide quandary, not just local blight. Consequence is a faded, washed out look to everything. Folks, it seems, are adjusted to a slow fade. The imaging screen (chipset) within most projection units is only warranted for five or so years. Digital changeover having been achieved six-seven years ago in most theatres means they’ve passed the factory-backed life span, and it simply costs too much to replace them. Theatres continue with compromised imagery until it gets bad enough to force an upgrade. In the meantime, movies lose color saturation and vibrancy, the chipset bleaching out and blacks turning to gray. Fast rule since nickelodeons: management will not do a lick more than what’s essential to get by. No squawks, no sweat. Where money’s a factor, we suck up what venues can afford. Happier view will come when Once Upon a Time … In Hollywood takes Blu-Ray aim at home screens, or Netflix gets it.


Tarantino invents a saga of fifty years ago. Ones of us old enough know historic names, but who else will? What is nostalgia for the writer-director may be dry dust for his audience. Again, Once Upon a Time plays like a personal gift to like minds, but what if someone had made a big-budget film in 1973, when I was nineteen, about convulsive era that was 1922 when William Desmond Taylor was offed and Arbuckle stood trial for manslaughter? A neat concept maybe, but would my parents have even found it relevant? I’m amazed at how much past we cling to. Rex Reed, fossil critic who at least knew the period first-hand, panned Once Upon a Time, for reasons I forget. Maybe he’s less sentimental for 1969 and knowing what a dingy year it essentially was. Tarantino does not shrink from grime, which to him came on wings of a counterculture that swept out what was left of the “good” Hollywood. No contradicting that, for at age fifteen and before, I mourned a seeming finish of movies to really care about. Break-up for me was 1968, during Fall of which I began reviewing films for a local sheet, and so saw virtually everything for remain of that year and through 1969. If H’wood had a worse annus horribilis, I’d challenge anyone to name it.


So like Rex, I know no wistful recall of late 60's movie-go. A best had by then evaporated: Connery as James Bond gone and an interloper in his place (reactionary me boycotted OHMSS), American-International sunk to bikers and drug culture (The Killers Three, Mary Jane, others). Lee Marvin stopped making good films after being my big-screen hero through 1967, and Hammer had increasingly tired blood. To review movies in 1968-69 was punishment even a $1.60 per column could not salve (sixty cents to get in the Liberty, a dollar to play critic). Check this list and decide how enviable my position was: The Stranger’s Return (“an assembly line of mangled corpses,” I said at the time), Skidoo (“Jackie Gleason wasted in a role no comedian could enliven”), Yellow Submarine (“I was unable to hear (The Beatles’) voices above those of a gang of sixth graders who insisted on joining in the chorus” --- a remark that got me in Dutch with Liberty management). Of The Wrecking Crew, a focal point of Once Upon a Time, I cited sets “where the viewer can actually see the overhead microphones,” but failed to mention Sharon Tate (still a starlet, not yet a most notable of filmland murder victims). My only rave for the whole of 1969 was The Wild Bunch.


Nick Adams Arrives in Japan to Star in Frankenstein Conquers The World


Once Upon a Time has Leonardo Di Caprio as a TV western star facing bleak 60’s prospect. Names have been suggested as to who inspired “Rick Dalton,” but the one I’d propose is Nick Adams, who had The Rebel (1959-61), then guesting on other series, a 1963 spike with Twilight Of Honor, which gave him an Academy Award nomination, and from there more guesting, and a brace of horror/sci-fi (his last a Mexican-made western) before premature passing at age 36 (on 2-7-68). I read somewhere that Nick used his acting fees to put a brother through medical school. He gave an interview to Modern Monsters magazine for their June 1966, Issue #2. I felt at the time he was a good guy for helping out a fledging publication aimed at kids. Nick was adamant that Die, Monster, Die (“I wanted to do it. I liked the script when it was offered to me, and the part was a good one”), and Frankenstein Conquers the World were not steps down (“People like horror films. I like ‘em. I’m not ashamed to admit it”). A heartfelt wrap to the interview saw MM thanking Adams for his willingness to work in such a frowned-upon genre. That moved me at twelve, still does. Once Upon a Time’s Nick Dalton has apprehension over Italo-westerns he's asked to headline, as I am sure many fading names did. We could, of course, name two dozen with a hit vid show in their past who were faced by a same stall by 1969.






The era had a doomed quality. Not just because of Manson, but so many of other casualties. I noted names evoked, some portrayed (Bruce Lee, Steve McQueen), and thought …they are all gone. Ones who turn up in Once Upon a Time that survive: Michelle Phillips, Connie Stevens --- are there more? Seeing Kurt Russell makes me marvel at his being here and still up for vigorous work. I gather he came of a stable background and kept clear of bad influence, but look at all those who did not. Yet somehow, Once Upon a Time stays upbeat, friendly, cheerful in fact to watch (constant radio-or-TV in the background evokes American Graffiti ). And yet there is undercurrent of dread, especially for a third act which we know will pay off on earlier Manson glimpses and a Psycho-scary bit where Brad Pitt visits the viper’s nest (an otherwise deserted western ranch where Charlie’s “family” dwells). Tarantino, bless him, spares us the final terror. The finish echos not only a previous Tarantino film, but a favor Howard Hawks did us with Red River. Everything pointed to John Wayne dying at the end, but Hawks simply said no, because who wants to see that? Tarantino has a same instinct for what audiences prefer. He is, by all accounts, an ongoing student of Hawks, and clearly learned from the master.


Hippies in Once Upon a Time are for most part a vile lot. One of them has rotten teeth and slits Brad Pitt’s tire with a switchblade, for which Pitt bashes his face in. Now there is a level of crowd-pleasing we seldom get at movies today. I’ve not seen the counterculture take licks like this since Eastwood tortured Andy Robinson on the football field in Dirty Harry. I should have seen Tarantino’s spun-round third act coming. Let’s just say that Pitt and Leo take out the trash to popcorn sailing delight of viewers who wish real-life could be as satisfying. Again I fear for passage of that half-century. Does anyone born after earliest 60’s know of the Manson case, or Sharon Tate, let alone details of the slaughter? I avoided reading about it after a first '69 newspaper’s shock, and did not care to see Helter Skelter or those dreadful books (I frankly shrink from people who like to read about serial killers). Had Tarantino staged the actual event, I would have walked out, as others might have to spread ruinous word-of-mouth. Again, this writer-director knows his business. I hear Once Upon a Time in Hollywood cracked $100 million this past weekend. I’d like it to do ten times that in a long run. All involved deserve the moon for such a crackerjack show.





Monday, August 12, 2019

Another Gone With The Would-Be Wind


A Sock One Then, But Less So Now

So how would Paulette Goddard have played Gone With The Wind had she gotten the part of Scarlett O'Hara? Reap The Wild Wind supplies the answer, at least in part, for here is Goddard as a Southern belle, accent fitfully used, "Fiddle Dee Dee" as spoke by Louise Beavers as a Mammy after Hattie McDaniel example, but lacking depth the GWTW part had, these but portion of epic design by Cecil B. DeMille, who reaped for Paramount a highest-ever gross, according to Scott Eyman's C.B. bio (surpassed a couple seasons later by Going My Way). I've mentioned before Dr. Ellis Boatman, who college-taught and was a lifelong movie hound. He grew up in the late 30's, then 40's, so knew from film-going in that most glorious of eras. Dr. Boatman gave interim courses on film, bringing Reap The Wild Wind, among numerous others, to campus over a series of happy Januarys. He ran Wild Wind to his class and then again that evening for ones among a greater student body who'd care. How many did in 1974? A few anyway, as inveigled by me. Dorm-mates went along to humor my fascination with a relic they never heard of, John Wayne a sole familiar element beyond vague awareness of DeMille. How bitter is fruit of restless civilians sitting through an old movie you've dragged them to? I'd find out that night.




The good and the dull of Reap The Wild Wind was known to me before we sat down, bumps of the show stored with memory from a mid-60's TV broadcast (primetime and in color on High Point's Channel 8). Universal/16 had supplied Dr. Boatman with a lovely print. That alone should have sustained my group, but where was novelty of color for a generation taught to expect that from all moviegoing? Lots think impatience with oldies came lately, but I say it was as common in the 70's and way before. Reap The Wild Wind has spurts of action and a lively for most part spirit. My group perked at fighting on board ships and same being sunk for cargo, this done with DeMillish gusto. The squid was unexpected and the better for it. Reap The Wild Wind had suddenly become a monster movie, it seemed, but there was toll of a long and labored trial leading to that third act, toward which my crew got testy, some hot to depart despite my promise of squid-to-come. Reaction was mixed by the end, consensus that Reap The Wild Wind got by, even if the evening could better have been spent where there was beer. We are often told by wiser heads to keep politics and religion to ourselves, but I'd add love of old movies to the forbid list. You can lead horses to water, but just try, in 1974 or now, to make them drink.


Reissue Billing Could Be Cruel, In This Case for Ray Milland and Paulette Goddard


Not bragging, because it is long gone now, but I used to have a 35mm print of Reap The Wild Wind. Safety stock was assured for this being a 1954 print, product of a reissue that year that juggled billing to favor John Wayne and support-player Susan Hayward over Ray Milland and Paulette Goddard, latter pair on a wane from 40's peak. Technicolor of the time fairly oozed off the screen, especially as a 35mm collecting friend turned loose a carbon arc as used, then discarded, by projectionists of old. These Technicolor treasures, no matter how digitally preserved, vary from how first-run crowds received them. Even prints of a same title differed from one another according to vagaries of lab work and effort toward getting each right. Safety in 1955 was far afield from 1942 nitrate. Vet collectors maintain that no two prints of any film look exactly alike. We used to compare multiple 16mm of a same show and get crazily varied result, a game gone what with digital having final word (sport yet, however, in compare of improved Blu-Ray over standard DVD). DeMille benefits a best from enhanced clarity, several of his streaming in HD or on Blu (The Ten Commandments). There is also a Region Two of Unconquered that looks amazing, Reap The Wind and the B/W Sign Of The Cross also available on R-2. Reap The Wild Wind is also forthcoming from US distrib Kino Lorber on Blu-Ray.




Thursday, August 08, 2019

1968's Fastest Chase


Bullitt Sets a Lone Cop Standard

Got Milk? McQueen Sets a Good Example for Youthful Following
I'm listening to the CD soundtrack as I write this. Lalo Schiffrin's music could accompany a film released tomorrow and be as fresh. Bullitt played likeably then and as much so now, a 60's ideal man no less so fifty years later. You can gauge changing ways by movie hats, or lack of them. Bullitt saw this and other male habits out. Like wearing pajamas. Even Steve McQueen couldn't re-popularize those, but iconoclast that he is, he'll wear them to bed with Jacqueline Bisset, her willing to take him however way she can. And these are goofy pajamas, woolly and odd-patterned like something he kept from home and mother. It may be a screen’s best endorsement for a man just being himself, which to that add McQueen having a full glass of milk with his sandwich. He also buys asparagus when he markets, a healthy choice before it became fashionable to make healthy choices. McQueen doing the un-cool rendered it cool (then why was he so insecure --- lack of formal education?). We all might profitably put on pajamas and have milk and asparagus for supper. And too, who’d not trade Masters, Doctorates, what not, to be Steve McQueen?




There was a college-era bar where televisions played silent for atmosphere. One crowded night, November 1, 1973 (CBS premiere), saw imbibers transfixed as the Bullitt chase began on multiple 22" screens before us. Everyone stopped, held glasses, looking no longer at each other but at the tube. Imagination provided its own engine sounds, or maybe we remembered Bullitt screech and roar from theatres and would not need them now. It was a memorable moment for knowing what the right movie could do to a crowd otherwise distracted, Bullitt's chase hypnotic even on a night out-and-away from TV glare. To further transition, note seat belts as needed accessory where pursuit gets hot. Even the heavies use them, if nothing else than to announce a rugged drive ahead, so buckle up, and with leather gloves. We'd soon use belts for Sunday driving as well as car chasing, or ought to. It's become law in most states. Did folks disdain the precaution because it made them feel less like free spirits? Perhaps Bullitt contributed to safety straps as cool accessory, if not a necessary one. Who knows, maybe it saved some lives.




It Got Shown Lots in '68, and Now It's a Blu-Ray Extra
Bullitt was not about the counterculture. Neither was Steve McQueen, until he bit the apple that was drugs and unsightly fashion that let down fans in the 70’s. SMc was the great leading man who tossed it all away. He did Bullitt and we thought, bring on more Bullitts, at least further cop thrillers. Today there'd be four or five of them in as many years. I reviewed Bullitt for a local newspaper in 1968. My column was mostly about the chase, which as I look back on it, was what everyone at the time talked about. It would be the same a few years later with The French Connection. The Mustang McQueen drove (weren’t there two of them?) was rescued decades later from a Mexican junkyard, or so I hear. There are probably hours devoted to all this at You Tube. Would it be the most valued movie-used car in history? Runner-ups might include the Batmobile, or James Bond’s Aston-Martin, maybe the hot rod Herman Munster drove. Even relics from Fireball 500 are prized, so skies must be the limit.


Steve Wanted it Real, So Insisted Bullitt Be Made in Frisco


Solar's Boss Calls Bullitt Shots
There was a short subject Warner-commissioned to show McQueen's driving talent, it being for us to know that he was behind wheels for fastest action, a point of pride not unlike Harold Lloyd doing his own building climb in silent days. What I note of SMcQ motorist skill is smooth way he parallel parks, a skill too few have. Then there is McQueen locking his car door with a key. Now there is retro. Movies from the 50's forward are charmingly quaint when they address miracles of an emerging computer age. Bullitt has a telecopier that spits out carbon paper and makes noise like Forbidden Planet while everyone stands by impressed, a scene evoking 1947's Call Northside 777, where such device is also utilized to solve crime.


A Herald That Was Inserted Into Participating Newspapers


McQueen produced Bullitt and ran all aspects of the show, casting friends (Don Gordon, Robert Vaughn), and cutting his own dialogue to quick. He picked Peter Yates to direct after being impressed with the British Robbery (1967). McQueen to his credit also insisted on San Francisco location filming. The city still had flakes of glamour left from Vertigo's visit in 1958, but look behind Bullitt players and there is preview of squalor to come, for instance McQueen and cast driving past adult book stores that surely weren't there when Jim Stewart shadowed Kim Novak in Hitchcock's thriller. Arresting too are initial minutes of McQueen following quarry over Frisco hills, prior to break-out of the chase, lots like Stewart doing the same in Vertigo. Singular thrill is this calm morphing into This Is Cinerama on Frisco roller coaster, our driver POV a close ally to sensation had when three-panels got going.


Offbeat and Engaging Ad Copy a Hallmark of Warner 60's Selling


Steve About To Say a Cuss Word That Will Shock (?) His Family Audience


Harsh Crime Scene Reality as Part-Basis for Bullitt's "M" Rating 
Bullitt was an early arrival to diminished coherence school of screen storytelling. In this case it was called a good thing, set-pieces in place of narrative. The blueprint would be rolled out again and more so as plot became less important and 70's sensibility was applied. We'd seen enough TV cops by then to realize that sense mattered less than visceral appeal to the senses. Steve McQueen was the lone cop alternative to team players on television, his more the Glenn Ford model from 1953's The Big Heat. To keep simple his message, McQueen dropped too-tough words from dialogue, like "nomenclature," as spoken by Robert Vaughn, which was changed to "parlance" (SMcQ probably wasn't entirely happy with that), the idea being that people who go see Steve McQueen wouldn't know the definition of  nomenclature any more than he did. But would that many more of them be aware of what parlance means? McQueen uses the word “bulls—t” in Bullitt, a surprising vulgarism in 1968. He in fact hesitated, feeling it might betray what he still regarded as his family audience. Bullitt had an “M” rating at dawn of that system that saw the old Production Code out, and I’d guess it was the profanity (actually an only instance of rough language in the film), plus some crime scene gore, that raised the “mature” flag.
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