The Watch List For 9/19/12
LAFAYETTE ESCADRILLE (1957; released 1958) --- You want so much for this to be good and it just isn't. Virtually no air combat here, presumably the whole reason you'd watch a movie called Lafayette Escadrille. This was William Wellman's dream project, its story he wrote years before. There's even the director's son playing Wellman as a young flyer. Mainly though, it's a vehicle for Tab Hunter at his swooniest, and love scenes weigh heavy on the pace. Also too much You're In The Army Now clodhopping among raw recruits that include fresh faces Will Hutchins, David Janssen, Clint Eastwood, Tom Laughlin, more. A curiosity that might have been the talking equivalent of Wings if Warners hadn't sealed the checkbook.
Half of money blown on The Spirit Of St. Louis should have been re-routed to make a great picture of this. Wellman renounced Lafayette Escadrille --- did others take over from the beginning to reshape his vision? 1957 was a long way past the director's Wings peak, and injuries WW received during the Great War, plus encroachment of age, played havoc with his ability to sustain long and involved shooting schedules. Maybe some of what grounded Escadrille was limit these circumstances placed on Wellman, no longer the energetic and vigorous helmsman who'd gone aloft to grab moments of authenticity for previous air epics. Training scenes smack of the real thing as Wellman would describe it. Here's where we get a sense of the conflict he experienced, but that war was long ago by 1957, and kids, even Tab Hunter fans, just weren't interested (an $823K loss).
The plot device that makes Tab a fugitive wasn't welcomed by me, as it took him out of the war and possibility of air action. Again, it's dogfights we want and don't get (until nearly the end --- and comprised of stock footage from 1938's Men With Wings). Hard to defend Lafayette Escadrille even if you're a Wellman loyalist. Leonard Rosenman did a good score, though. Wellman himself narrates to the effect that nearly all members of his real-life squadron died in combat. The future director survived, of course. According to Frank Thompson's bio, WW was in on fierce fighting, shooting down Jerrys with the rest. Wellman's own memoir was known to be salted for dramatic effect, but even if you took a mere half for truth, that still left a dramatic and exciting story to be told in Lafayette Escadrille, if only Warners had been more supportive of it.
DICK TRACY'S DILEMMA (1947) --- How to reconcile RKO's tough noir approach with a comic strip kids followed faithfully. The Dick Tracy series kept fanciful character names, but otherwise was straight-up police thrilling for general patronage. Morgan Conway had been
HELLFIRE (1949) --- Crook gambler Bill Elliott gets religion and goes about reforming the rest of the West. You'll not believe this concept until you see it (Hellfire's end title reads "Amen"). Sincerely felt though, and that I liked. There's also Trucolor and Marie Windsor, only question being which is lovelier. Republic was upgrading their westerns and using seasoned casts, best of them retaining energy of B's with trappings of near-A's. Bill reads from the Bible when not yanking his sixes. Must have sold, as other gunfire preachers followed Hellfire's wake. Did I mention Marie Windsor? She's an outlaw gal Bill straightens out, to which you sit wondering why this one-of-a-kind never achieved stardom she so deserved. Forrest Tucker and Jim Davis are on hand yet again for Republic. They must have slept in their cowboy suits. Trucolor was a limited process, but give me more of it. Hellfire's on Netflix. You won't get burned for watching.
SECRETS OF A SECRETARY (1931) --- Love the title, as Claudette Colbert runs precode and early-career gamut to stolid Herb Marshall romance accompaniment. Threatened to be creaky, but really wasn't (maybe a little, but I'm tolerant). Another where the rich girl goes broke and gets humbled, wish fulfillment perhaps for Depression onlookers (see MGM's Dance, Fools, Dance for more of same). She marries a "gig" (as in -olo) and thereby plummets to titular secretarial status. Colbert could react to stock situations like real people. Even when Cleopattering, she was as you and I --- what actress did dialogue so deftly? Secretary was filmed on Paramount Long Island stages ... when these crowd up with extras, you expect seams to burst. To hit all bases, there's love rivalry, blackmail, gangland nightspots, with murder attendant, all paced decently and varied as to background. Precode Paras are a garden waiting to be harvested. Only a few have seen DVD release. This was a dub someone handed me in a hotel lobby. What a way to collect.
THREE WISE GIRLS (1932) --- Jean Harlow's unreal enough in early roles to seem like a platinum Betty Boop. Starring at
Harlow did work hard at improving, so I'm sympathetic to whatever's awkward about her here. So-called "bad" performances often serve pulpy precodes best. Who wants subtlety and understatement in these? The director was William Beaudine, pulling plows since the teens. Would Bowery Boys later ask him what it was like guiding Jean Harlow? Mae Clarke is effective in a pro-actress way. I don't wonder that she disdained