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Monday, August 30, 2010






War-Torn Flynn Teams With Walsh










I'm developing this crazy notion that Errol Flynn was the Classic Era's James Bond. Who else had such an action franchise going through the thirties and forties? You could argue Flynn himself was a continuing character in formula narratives custom built to fan expectations. I'd posit EF as having gone Bond several better by supplying texture from a personal life to deepen wells his screen characters plumbed. How else could directing Raoul Walsh mine diamonds so deeply flawed out of post-(statutory rape) trial Northern Pursuit and Uncertain Glory, roles unthinkable for pristine 30's Flynn? Errol supplied complexities later 007 entries had to manufacture. What is rogue agent Bond of current fashion (seems the character's run that direction incessantly since Tim Dalton days) but variation on Flynn's disgraced Canadian Mountie in Northern Pursuit? There was fan reliance on Errol Flynn to goose each year's threshold for action-packing, same as with Bond in the 60's. EF crashed existing walls to pull off last word on sea battles, saloon brawls, and heroic last stands. I've never seen it done that big was surely exit remarked (and often) among Flynn consumers same as we'd assess latest Bond-busters growing up. You'd have spotted EF another twenty years' stardom but for loss of health and looks (does Flynn's kind of stuff really date? --- not if DVD sales are any indication!). Warners is recently out with five he did for the war (including one by Lewis Milestone, Edge Of Darkness), and what a sweet reboot for this hero they dispatched against Axis devils. The fact Flynn suited up with pack master Raoul (rode with Villa) Walsh made (makes!) for joy unconfined. Here's where autuerists and plain comfort seekers smoke consensus pipes over a quartet of derring-do plus nuance the Bond series has tried, but so far failed, to duplicate.













Flynn's rogue aspect showed from initial donning of Allied uniform, the star's once uncomplicated persona coarsened thanks to rape trial trauma. Walsh was just aboard in time for probing what scandal would do to Errol's hero mantle. Theirs was a creative match heaven-sent. "Uncle" Raoul was more a one-of-the-boys sort despite age and accomplishment that commanded respect. Not a martinet like Curtiz, he drank with Flynn while tactfully reigning him in. Walsh viewed the younger man like a son, was heartbroken by Flynn's dissolute ways neither could harness, but spun gold out of seven pairings between 1941-48. Whatever (considerable) merits of Curtiz work gone before, Walsh's are the richest Flynns, and first to consider irresponsibility beneath bravado that characterized EF arrow-splittings and Sea-Hawking of yore. For all of Desperate Journey's joie de vivre, it's still reckless Errol that gets his plane shot down with half a crew lost. Now with war really on, we're put to wondering if Sherwood Forest strategies are best for seeing it's won. Flynn led off sound stages by investigating officers was blight on produce previously graded A. Warners would henceforth blacken him up or laugh off the mess, depending on justice's outcome. A jury's acquittal enabled the latter, which led to ham-fisted frolic of San Antonio and parts of Don Juan. For a meantime of uncertainty, however, there was Walsh and shadings he'd apply to Flynn's ever-coarsening alter-egos.





























Northern Pursuit found EF in apparent service to German interests, so believable in that capacity as to almost disappoint us when it's revealed he's under-covering. Then there's Uncertain Glory and Flynn guillotine-bound for murder plus assorted what-all. Could admirers imagine such screen conduct even three years before? Here was what headlines and statutory charges would do for you while cleaner boys were off defending their flag. Of all actors engaging this war at home, Flynn was by far more ambiguous and doubtfully committed, which makes him, of course, most fascinating to observe from a modern perspective. Uncertain Glory was his first go at an unapologetic rotter. Viewers now wondered if this was the real Errol Flynn peeking out at them. Problem again was he essayed it so convincingly as to render a tacked-on sacrifice (for war hostages) unconvincing. Flynn was hitherto accused of playing himself. Maybe now, and under newly trying circumstances, he'd gotten a little too good at it. The best role I've ever had, Errol called it, but Uncertain Glory was heavy going even for those seeking darker corners in this actor's gallery. Walsh referred to this and Northern Pursuit as quickies, but only thirty years after he and Flynn sweated both out. There was a piece of Uncertain Glory's action for EF thanks to a producing scheme he'd contrive with Warner bookkeepers. The idea was to shade taxes otherwise due. Walsh got skittish with the deal and preferred salary directing. Customarily goldbricking Flynn surprised everyone by showing up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for shooting, for now it was in part his money efficiency would be saving.



















































There was better behavior too on the jewel of this wartime lot, Objective, Burma, through which Errol spent breaks penning his second novel, Showdown, published in 1946. With a few year's buffer since the verdict, he was back to straight heroism, but that's not to say Flynn's dulled down. This may have been the last time he'd look presentable in matinee idol terms that sealed an adoring public's deal. In fact, Walsh so understated Burma as to make it seem near documentary in approach. Was this outcome of Signal Corps footage and actualities running in war-numbed theatres? (Burma arrived late in the conflict). The two and a (nearly) half-hour jungle trek stands tall with They Were Expendable as soberest and maybe best of war studies done during the fact, and was one of the few post-trial jobs Flynn took pride in. For such a brand labeled Action Only, he now bent with every joint too long abused. There'd been a heart attack during Gentleman Jim, plus cigarettes and alcohol stopping his breath when goings proved too strenuous. Walsh got the midnight call to Chez Flynn where the imperfect specimen confided a doctor's estimate of six months left, maybe a year. Well, that was a decade ahead of eventual drop date (1959). By now, the two amigos were well past tippling sessions that fortified completion of increasingly troubled collabs. There was a last, Silver River, after which an out-of-patience Walsh finally threw in the directing towel, leaving Flynn to mercies of product not half so good (Don Juan an exception), and mores the pity, for here's where a star in decline really needed aid and comfort of sympathetic/capable directors. Unfortunately by this time, Errol had used all of them up.




Thursday, August 26, 2010




Errol & Olivia Have Arrived







I sure admire a writer offering fresh spin on filmland lore. Robert Matzen did it last year with Errol Flynn Slept Here (co-authored by Michael Mazzone), and now he's back with what I'd call that book's natural successor, Errol & Olivia: Ego and Obsession In Golden Era Hollywood. The title implies drama, and yes, there's plenty. Matzen pilots the thing in bold present tense for a you-are-there journey along career paths that intersected for eight co-starring features and continued at personal levels sometimes intense, always compelling. So what's the truth of love teams so convincing as to raise speculation if passions are authentic? Look at Captain Blood, Robin Hood, and the rest, then know it eventually had to get personal. Here is part of the mystery Matzen probes, but only part. Would we care as much after (whoa!) seventy years if the pictures didn't hold up so beautifully? The author considers much more than merely did they or didn't they. He's pondering the enigma that is Olivia De Havilland herself, now ninety-four and still her own most dependable palace guard. Matzen spends a lively prologue telling how he moved heaven and earth seeking her cooperation ... getting two steps here, falling three back there. Well sure, OdH read Errol Flynn Slept Here, he got confirmation of that, which made frustration keener when she responded not to entreaties for input on Errol & Olivia. But consider if she had --- there might have ended up a book watered down to suit "authorized" provisions, and watered down this isn't.




Matzen went to primary sources, consulting Warner production files on each of the films where Flynn and De Havilland collaborated. Such happenings! I'd read others who covered these subjects, but found they'd only skimmed a surface. What Matzen's dug up is higher drama off-camera than was ever captured on, and he's not guessing as to wrangles E & O engaged among themselves and with a rapacious front office. Memos quoted and rare stills reveal states of turmoil that drove big-money shows and poison-alities dictating careers. De Havilland might have as easily crossed burning lakes to do Gone With The Wind, such was resistance she faced when that project beckoned. Matzen captures beautifully the GWTW epic from fresh perspective of De Havilland and Flynn, not forgetting that it was EF who was seriously proposed for (and nearly signed) as Rhett Butler. Errol & Olivia is loaded with sidebars akin to those that so enlivened Errol Flynn Slept Here. There's a double-page spread with Olivia doing cheescake in abbreviated pirate garb (for Captain Blood) that's priceless. Also we get Robin Hood locations then and now, as well as revelations as to Errol not so gallantly stealing scenes from Olivia. Read this part and you'll never look at RH and Dodge City the same again. Matzen follows Flynn-De Havilland's romance (well, was it?) all the way to a bittersweet end. Better get an early start reading this one, because you won't sleep until it's finished.
Good Knight Publishing has offered a special, advance order deal exclusive to Greenbriar readers for Errol & Olivia. Go to this link and you can get the book both at a discounted rate and well in advance of its availability on Amazon (orders will not be processed there until after October 1 --- Good Knight will ship all copies within two business days).




Monday, August 23, 2010




My Interactive Summer Holiday







All that work and it's wrecked in the end. That's not a quote, but it's what comes to mind when I see Foolish Wives, The Red Badge Of Courage, or lately viewed remnant, Summer Holiday. Those beaten down by its failure ... director Rouben Mamoulian, composer Harry Warren ... bore scars to the end. As with all doomed projects, this one has defenders. Charles Higham and Joel Greenberg hailed Summer Holiday in their 1968 book, Hollywood In The Forties. I'd seen Meet Me In St. Louis shortly before reading, and imagined Summer Holiday might be that favorite's equal. Years spent looking for MGM's 1948 musical would not be rewarded by discovery of a new favorite. The disappointment others so keenly felt would be mine as well. What goes wrong when Hollywood's premiere song and dance factory commits two million dollars along with seasoned talent to a venture so unsatisfactory in its outcome? Metro released Summer Holiday after a year and a half spent fussing and cutting. By then, they thought it stale bread. Mickey Rooney and Gloria De Haven as co-starring leads were eighteen months less appealing than when they'd done shooting. An "integrated score" that wouldn't stand tampering was diced by nearly half. Was a potential classic ruined by misguided executives supplanting creator's judgment with their own? That's an oft-told tale in movies. Hindsight permits heaping of scorn on those who savage artists' effort, though in the case of Summer Holiday, surviving tracks (on Rhino's CD) and a newly released DVD from Warner Archive offer insight into both sides of the argument. Listening (CD), then watching (DVD), then listening again was like sitting alongside jittery decision makers in MGM's panic room.









They wanted another Meet Me In St. Louis, as did New York's sales division, exhibitors through the land, and some millions of consumers. The hope of duplicating previous hits was what drove this company in postwar decline. When Summer Holiday began filming in a boom summer of 1946, there were dollars pouring out of St. Louis and The Harvey Girls, seeming proof that whatever money you invested toward musicals could be easily got back. Summer Holiday was entrusted to (presumed) magic wand waver Rouben Mamoulian, late of Broadway's Oklahoma and not to be questioned as to one-man-bandsmanship. He assumed responsibility and lived with it --- Summer Holiday would be Mamoulian's last sole director credit for nine years. And yet what he did with this musicalized remake of Eugene O' Neill's Ah Wilderness was departure even from innovation Vincente Minnelli brought to Meet Me In St. Louis. Unlike Minnelli though, Mamoulian's effects seemed more eager to be noticed, and set pieces he staged for Summer Holiday merged less easily with narrative than highlights Minnelli finessed in St. Louis. Press and critics expressed reservation from August 1946 when Mamoulian reported Summer Holiday's near-completion, their knowing of Eugene O' Neill as source and doubtful that forever-Andy Hardy Rooney would do it justice. Mamoulian found himself defending insertion of song and dance to sacred text. The function of the music is to enhance the drama and not to interfere with it, said the director. He told columnists of having brought O'Neill around to possibility this adaptation would be worthy of the author's original. There would be all of 1947 to push promise higher for a bigger fall. An observing trade had to know something was amiss for all those months passing with no announcement of release. Studio previews in the meanwhile were followed by cutting which was followed by more previews/cutting, and all got the same response ... tepid.





















Summer Holiday's problem seems (again hindsight) basic from the start, but who was going to speak up and admit the songs weren't terribly good? As had been done and would be again, a doomed ship was permitted to make sail. I played the CD ahead of watching, so heard the four songs they dropped ... and frankly would have done the same given authority. None contributed beyond slowing a pace already leisurely. These had been costly to stage, including ambitious Omar and The Princess wherein Rooney and De Haven dream and dance of scenes inspired by poetry of Omar Khayyam. I could picture Mayer and committee scotching this at inception had they been apprised, but many were the misguided ideas allowed to go forward on extravagant MGM stages, correction of same generally delayed until too late. Little wonder that visiting artists like Mamoulian were traumatized by seeming hack jobs in post-production. Shears were applied even to numbers remaining in Summer Holiday. The Stanley Steamer was closest they had to a show stopper, but that didn't save it being trimmed. To be fair, I gave discarded songs several listens, as did, I'm sure, Metro's deciding committee. Do the same, and you'd feel their pain. By dawn of 1948 and Summer Holiday's final editing pass, Leo was a lion in distress. An overrall $6.5 million was lost in 1947-48. Unprecedented pressure was on to shape up completed merchandise for profitable release. Any man's job might be sacrificed to guessing wrong. The Freed unit was protected preserve, but had no right to final cut. A team that shed life's blood to create what they'd hoped would be the year's outstanding musical now stood by as front office pragmatists studied preview cards and recut Summer Holiday in accordance with them.










































What went out in April 1948 ran 93 minutes, well short of closer to two hour length of most Metro tune-fests. Reviewers pounced Rooney's broad playing and a cast given too much to types in support (too old Frank Morgan, too unappealing Butch Jenkins --- the only face missing was customary pater familias Leon Ames). Long delaying found Summer Holiday at the mercy of a changed marketplace. Old ways that once worked were at the least suspect and more often reviled. Urban jungles shot on location had replaced Andy Hardy's sunny neighborhood (Summer Holiday reused the Hardy house for its family residence). Even Mickey was eventually persuaded he'd blown the lead performance (I tried too hard, his latter-day verdict). Domestic rentals skidded at $1.2 million, but foreign was the deal-breaker with a miserable $401,000, demonstrating (once again) folks across the pond care not about our rose-hued Americana. A loss of $1.4 million was less noteworthy only because so many other MGM offerings spilled ink as red. People just weren't going to the show like they used to. Comparison of the CD and now the DVD really brings all this home, providing valued insight as to how and why Summer Holiday jumped the track. Great as certified musical classics are, sometimes it's failed and frustrated ones that teach us the most.




Thursday, August 19, 2010




WB's Yellowstone Kelly Push

Warner fanfare still raises my gooseflesh. Was there any sound that resonated so forcefully out of 50's televisions? We could barely pull ABC programming off signals Channel 13 dispatched, Asheville a couple hour's distant and ringed with mountains to break up already weak signals. Seldom was this network visible except through snow, yet it was home to Cheyenne, 77 Sunset Strip, and offshoots front and center at newsstands and record stores where WB stars loomed large. We got that message despite Clint Walker's being a fuzzy transmission, his face and others of WB origin plenty clear, however, on fan mags sold by pallet-loads. Kookie, Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb was a 1959 novelty song on Warner label I spun repeatedly at age five despite barest acquaintance with the series inspiring it. That year was highest point of Warners' home screen dominance, partnership with ABC yielding a hit series for any night you'd tune in. Routing these vid stars to movies was plain application of common sense, for what then-teen wouldn't spring quarters to see home favorites on large projection? Being this was Warners, few surveys were taken among talent to find how they'd prefer being feature-used. Clint Walker had toplined a 1958 western, Fort Dobbs, sort of a Cheyenne on 35mm, and in the series' accustomed black-and-white. There was $398,000 in profits to confirm that idea was a sound one. Walker looked to do more features and was particularly drawn to one that had been in development, Yellowstone Kelly, but WB said no and he struck ... for eight months ... which in TV terms was eternity.





I wanted more lowdown on Big Clint's walkout --- he was absent a whole 1958-59 season --- that ended with reconciliation and Yellowstone Kelly, itself a last stand for old-style Hollywood westerns before revisionism grabbed hold. Some good folks at Warners made possible my telephone chat with the man himself, who's blessed with recall sharp as YK's frontier knife. Walker's been a boon to fans for years with numerous stops at autograph shows and an official website brim-full of info, photos, and neat merchandise. Walker's also been a prime mover for DVD release of his 1961 Gold Of The Seven Saints and newly available Yellowstone Kelly. If all celebrities were as gracious as Clint Walker, I'd aspire to being a Hollywood columnist (never mind there's so little Hollywood left). As a full career chat would fill books, we focused on the selling tour he did for Yellowstone Kelly in August 1959. Having seen many trade references to that, I wondered just what it was like hopping a plane to canvass theatres across the land, a fan swarm waiting at each stop. Walker said the whole experience really opened his eyes to number of people watching Cheyenne and knew him from said weekly fix: I remember flying over cities and seeing all those television antennas on houses. This was where I really came to realize just how popular the show was and the power of that little TV box. Warner bosses were already on to that truth and mindful of extended profit potential in selfsame box. They'd cast Edd Byrnes, Sunset Strip's Kookie, as sidekick to Walker's Yellowstone Kelly, cinching the deal with Lawman's John Russell as Indian antagonist. All-media saturation had reached apex by 1959, so the three seemed everywhere on Yellowstone Kelly's behalf.


















When I came back in early 1959, it was with the understanding that I play Yellowstone Kelly. That was as important to Clint Walker as getting wages up to levels his Cheyenne success justified. The project had floated around Warners since early 1956 and word was John Wayne might play it under John Ford's direction. Walker liked Jack Warner personally and took meals with him from time to time, but entreaties to do Yellowstone Kelly fell upon deaf ears. The star's walkout was necessary to get this venture off the dime. Once he was back, it moved fast. That was in January, with Yellowstone Kelly announced for him the following month, and by April, they were on location in Arizona with plans laid for August 15 release. The director was fast and efficient Gordon Douglas (as good as any I ever worked with, said Walker), and dialogue came via sure hand of Burt Kennedy, late of Randolph Scott's stellar westerns. A Denver premiere would launch Clint Walker's twelve-city tour of Midwest territories, his plane loaned by the president of American Airlines. They painted "Yellowstone Kelly" across it, recalls the actor, and Warners lined up staff and representatives to receive us at every stop, in addition to those who travelled with the party. Leaving no promotional stone unturned, they also put Edd Byrnes on a plane headed Northeast where teen girls rushed Kookie for giveaway combs paying tribute to his recent hit song with Connie Stevens.

































I asked Clint Walker if he actually dressed in Yellowstone buckskins during the trip as the above trade ad implies. Not quite, he said, though western wear was garb of choice for stops he made in Texas. Appearances were spread among theatres, luncheons, radio and TV stations. There was a "Howdy Doody Show" I appeared on, and one program where they featured live animals. On that occasion, I was introduced to a sixteen foot python that wrapped himself around me, then looked me straight in the eye, which was pretty unnerving. There was also a black leopard the hosts wanted me to sit with, but he'd been scratching up his handlers that morning, so I passed. What would Clint Walker do once he stepped upon stages before a packed audience? Louis Quinn (accompanying CW as Master Of Ceremonies for the live spots) was a great asset to my theatre appearances, said Walker (Quinn was much-liked "Roscoe" on 77 Sunset Strip, a comic relieving figure he'd based on Ted Healy). Louie kept things moving on stage and told jokes to the audience before I'd come out. On one Lone Star occasion, Clint took the spotlight and was unexpectedly greeted by the viewing crowd's rendition of The Eyes Of Texas Are Upon You, perhaps his happiest memory of the tour. Being this was a new experience for Walker, stage work was limited to fielding questions from patrons, though later rodeo tours would expand his repertoire to skits and song.






























Yellowstone Kelly's sweep widened over Labor Day weekend. Small exhibitors embraced the Kookie comb gag on realization they could buy cases of the things cheap as un-popped corn. YK interest extended broader thanks to Walker's femme lure and interest he'd generate among grown-up customers. This star's base was more mature than pony-tails chasing Kookie, thus placement of Walker in the lead with Byrnes in support. Still, one hand washed the other. These two plus John Russell's following netted $1.8 million in domestic rentals and another $1.3 foreign. Showmen didn't mind cross-plugging the tube when favorites off it brought crowds like this. I was too young to watch closely that summer, but can imagine non-stop ad saturation Yellowstone Kelly received on free-vee. Sure it's no Rio Bravo, but Kelly got raves from happily expectant trades. Said Boxoffice ... the trio (Walker, Byrnes, Russell) spells the answer to an exhibitor's dream, that capping accolades to make a Warner publicist blush. We're not so generous today thanks to fifty year's distance robbing most of awareness as to happy (and profitable to WB) days when television and movies walked hand-in-hand with magazines, comic books, and 45 RPM platters getting the YK message out to all who could buy tickets. Watching Yellowstone Kelly with those dynamics in mind doubles the pleasure of an already enjoyable show, however, and this is one I'd strongly recommend grabbing from Warner's Archive.

A Footnote To My Conversation with Clint Walker: The above still with Errol Flynn was one I just had to ask about. Upon my mention of a big star Clint had met at a costume party in 1957, Mr. Walker exclaimed, Errol Flynn! Being a fan, he regarded Flynn as a first-rate actor (still does), and remembered the encounter very well. It was the annual Ballyhoo Ball held on October 19, 1957. Seems Errol (sans festive duds) approached Clint in his costume (Sinbad? Gaucho?), remarked So You're Clint Walker, casually walked a circle around the younger man inspecting his outfit, then said, You'll do as he reached for another drink (Flynn's date is holding a program with what looks like a caricature of Red Skelton on the cover --- was he host at this shindig?).
Many thanks to George Feltenstein at Warner Home Video and Clint Walker for Info and Assist with Yellowstone Kelly.




Monday, August 16, 2010




Five Star Final Is On The Streets







Five Star Final is recently out from Warner Archives and well worth getting. This 1931 precode was an attack on dingy tabloids of the day and pulls not its punches. Viewers forget how hard-hitting these WB compacts could be ... sheer number of them make us take for granted the whole lot. Ace In The Hole gets credit for things Five Star Final did earlier and with barer knuckles. I wondered how much advertising Warner theatres bought in the sort of papers they attack here. Were important business relationships jeopardized for calling out publishing muckrakers? Five Star Final is really more a case of muckraking the muckrakers, narrow being the gulf between Warners and institutions they targeted (contract players doubtless saw themselves as barely better off than Paul Muni's Fugitive On A Chain Gang). Topical themes were ideally suited to the early 30's when movies flew in and out of town like newsreels. Relevant today ... gone for good tomorrow. If Five Star Final creators could come back and see us mulling their handiwork in 2010, I doubt they'd believe it. Were tabloid abuses so rife as indicated here? The topic seems ripe for further exploration, based on wild and wooly exploits of Edward G. Robinson's Five Star staff. I'd guess such a tough and unschooled breed of reporters are long gone too, their having learned to spell and write, as Clark Gable puts it in Teacher's Pet, one lousy letter at a time. Were drunks and hopheads without even high school diplomas really able to bang out copy with alacrity suggested here?









Directors at WB remind me of speed typists at a precode city desk ... seventy minutes an hour and don't spare the tempo. I guess their modern equivalent is television, only 1931 oarsmen got twenty hours out of workdays before unions made softies of crew folk. Think how much more we'd accomplish relieved of food and sleep as Warner employees were. Five Star Final production stills shown here reveal a lot. With luxury of time he didn't have, director Mervyn Le Roy still manages tricks of a sort that needed planning and no small creativity. He was a starter-out then and needed rest less than advancement up ranks, so how else to let them know you're here than barreling through a programmer with ultra-sped pace, split-screen gymnastics, and hard-hitter speeches to make curtains billow? Given continued momentum like this through the thirties, LeRoy would be secure aboard critical pantheons, but sure as most careerists ease off with age and prosperity, so too would he with less demanding pageantry of MGM specials once success enabled moving over there.

























I know these set and crew stills were as staged as drama they were filming, but note how dark the joint seems. I particularly like ones where everybody's "relaxing" between takes, as accounts confirm there were few moments of that. Being photographed during breaks was nothing more than continuation of the work. These "candid" captures had to be set up carefully as scene stills and both consumed players' time well beyond shooting of features. I've read how studios obliged stars to haul columnists and interviewers along to lunch as well. Time was seldom wasted on privacy. Folks often tripped on cables because employers wouldn't burn lights not needed ... when they did switch on, it was to roast soundstages with actors basting like turkey. For that nova shining down on Edward G. Robinson (above), I wonder what sort of vision problems he experienced then or later in sacrifice to his art. Many times a precode dweller removes his/her jacket, you know he/she's going to be (visibly) drenched underneath. Few shirts remain dry through an entire scene. Toward causes of realism they're to be admired, even when it undercuts glamour a bit. Five Star Final and others off Warner assemblies convey more a feel of real working people as opposed to performers, so drama plays more believably, at least to the extent of daily struggles chasing a buck. There's no period in movies more effective than the early 30's for plugging us into hard times depicted.


















Edward G. Robinson's screen character was the ideal do-what-he's-gotta-do hustler of precode cesspools. Actor enough to find depth even in six shallow reels (though Five Star Final differs for being longer, at 89 minutes, than most WB fillers), Robinson tired (maybe too soon) of playing what he was best at. The type-casting was his fault really for being so effective as survivor of undertows his public faced daily. Some describe him as frog-faced and such even less flattering, but still there was something about that visage people liked regarding. As with the senior Chaney, Robinson leads seldom had lives save work he was invariably good at (editor, gang leader, shark hunter, meat packer), but given our interest was greater in an action sphere, he was welcome always on marquees, and no actor was so dynamic once time came to square account with opponents. Neither had Eddie equal for putting across moral outrage even as he wrecks innocent lives in Five Star Final. Robinson conveys quiet intelligence no matter shouting that expresses it. He's one of those for whom you'll watch an indifferent picture just for his toplining it (I recently did ... Illegal). A bonus and one that alone endorses Five Star Final is combination of Robinson with immediate pre-Frankenstein Boris Karloff, the latter scaling heights that should have pegged him for top character work from there on. Glad as I am he'd do a career largely of famous monsters, still there's wondering how Karloff might have prospered at rich supporting (and maybe leading) parts had horror ones not devoured him. At the least, I'd have predicted eventual Academy recognition, something BK had no chance attaining so long as he was identified with chiller pics.
grbrpix@aol.com
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