The Watch List For 9/5/12
TILLIE'S PUNCTURED ROMANCE (1914) --- What was for generations a spliced-up mess is happily reborn on DVD along with other Chaplin Keystone output. One look at restored Tillie and you marvel that it was made so way back. Far as I know, it's the first feature-length comedy. My Blackhawk 8mm print all but jumped fences (pre-print damage). You couldn't follow action for so many missing frames. Too bad because the movie's fun. For years, it was the one Chaplin feature that could be exhibited without fear of legal reprisal (the above theatre ad is from 1962!), and seems to have been reissued every other year. That was in part cause for increasingly ragged prints. The DVD gathers surviving stock from all over. I can't believe they found prologue and curtain tags with the cast emerging to take a bow, but here it is. When stars Marie Dressler, Charlie Chaplin, and Mabel Normand all emote at once, I don't know which to focus on, the three so manically engaged in competing pantomime. The co-op of UCLA and European archives deserve big applause for rescuing this pioneer laff-fest.
TWINS OF EVIL (1971) --- I'd given up on Hammer horrors by 1970 and so skipped Twins Of Evil when new. Now it's on Blu-Ray with "R" footage not seen in American prints. That amounts to nudity with Playboy's first twin centerfolds, the Collinson sisters, whose vampiric variation on The Parent Trap this was, plus there are heads split and cleaved. Peter Cushing is a distressingly gaunt witch hunter, his performance the usual great, though we feel his Hammer giving way to someone else's debased successor. They wished for another Chris Lee, so there is would-be replacement Damien Thomas, who tries but won't catch lightning (who could with the brand itself on fade?). Among final gothic-style horror films, Twins Of Evil had The Exorcist and like explicits gaining on heels, so it and Hammer would be displaced. I mourned then what Twins had done to good-old-days horror of kid-hood. Now I feel for it and similar ones sidelined by modern-set chillers that dominated the seventies.
PASS THE GRAVY (1927) --- Max Davidson's idiot son chops the head off a neighbor's prize rooster and the family spends two reels trying to conceal its crime. A Hal Roach comedy that took roofs off revival housing once audiences got a seventy years delayed look at it. Funny if you're with a crowd. Builds on surprise (lots didn't realize Max Davidson had such laughs in him) and shared delight. Let's get out the other Davidsons, right? Whoops ... most are lost, others exist in fragments, or on cloudy 16mm. What a frustration silent film loving can be. Guess Max looked his best and played to a biggest modern audience in 1965's
THE MAD MAGICIAN (1954) --- Like watching House Of Wax in black-and-white! So imitative that I'm amazed Warners didn't sue (maybe they did and no one's told me). Same writer, producer, star --- guess Columbia figured if they could get a fourth of Wax's money, that'd be boff aplenty for the catchpenny this was (Magician took $470K in domestic rentals, less than an eighth of WB's haul). Not that it's bad, Vincent Price aboard wouldn't countenance that. He's done wrong by, and so beheads, a business partner, heroine Mary Murphy ending up with the noggin in her valise (wouldn't she have noticed how heavy it was?), and yes, we're permitted to laugh. Vince was likely beginning to divine a future in horror, if not wholly, then at least often. He had wit enough, was ripe enough a performer, to recognize crowds ready to yok with/at his stuff, and so went/got along to considerable profit. Would he have kept doing these had art collecting not been such an expensive passion? Took $, as all us hoarders know. The Mad Magician was in 3-D,
THE GREAT JEWEL ROBBER (1950) --- Supporting Warner player David Brian gets to star in this B-unit heist thriller touted as just off headlines and fact-based. Brian was forceful enough for listless leads to beware of, scenes never safe for those billed above him. Best at playing cads, DB was WB's fair-haired Steve Cochran, so similarly disposed was their screen perfidy (in fact, the two made up crime's dream team in The Damned Don't Cry, released the same year as The Great Jewel Robber). Robber supported and probably surpassed more expensive 1950 partners --- it'd be my pick over many of them. Producer Bryan Foy kept Warners' low-budget line-up perking with good ones like this. On TCM currently, but sure to be in Warners' DVD Archive before long.
YUKON MANHUNT (1951) --- A Mounties and wonder dog adventure where the pooch really doesn't do much, but I'll take the whole Monogram series if WB Archive keeps serving them. These have been nowhere for decades, and yes, who cared?, but there's comfort in hour-long budgeters where familiar faces ply formula trade. Kirby Grant tended to be the poor man's whatever he played, but it was a living, and imagine surprise on learning there were a dozen of these Yukon things between 1948 and 1952. Monogram could estimate to pennies what they'd earn, so maintaining a series format, like for
THE FOY FAMILY: CHIPS OFF THE OLD BLOCK (1928) --- The Foys begin slow and build kooky momentum to make you wish for more than eight minutes of this Vitaphone dawn-of-sound reel. Vaudeville talent, at least the best of it, could do seemingly anything then. There were, I think, four brothers and two sisters performing here. Not sure who was missing. Wasn't the act initially seven little Foys per the Bob Hope biopic? Singing and patter, peppered with slapstick. One brother wore repulsive false teeth. For a moment, I thought they were his own (you know how awful ivories can be among Gold-Agers). Looks spontaneous, even though I'm sure they rehearsed everything (then performed) to fare-thee-well. Should look up what happened to all the Foys. One of them, Bryan, produced B's for Warners and Fox (including House Of Wax, which has vaudevillian bounce of its own). Exhumed Vitaphone shorts are ongoing delight, this one seen on TCM.