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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Watch List For 10/10/12

HIGH TIME (1960) --- Bing Crosby is a restaurant tycoon who decides at late date to get a college education (his character age is tendered as early 50's --- Bing was 57). What he wants is the whole campus experience, to wit dorm life, dance hops, and football games (no, BC doesn't play). High Time is demonstration, if nothing else, of how utterly things would change in another ten short years, it being inconceivable to think of a show like this coming along by 1970 (although Crosby was able to maintain his wonderland on well-received holiday TV). High Time's fictional school is happily located in North Carolina, and there are references to Duke, UNC, other seats of Tar Heel learning. The NC college I attended was ten years behind times, so my own 1972-76 experience was not unlike what's presented here, only we didn't number Fabian and Tuesday Weld among a student body, nor perky Yvonne Craig of later Batgirl incarnation.

It's fun to watch pipe-smoking Bing (or his double) ice-skate with collegiates. Tuesday Weld hurls herself at him and somehow he resists. Crosby still had juice to get a starring vehicle off the ground in 1960, but this would be his last (other than one more with Hope). A please-everyone policy was in effect, thus Bing for the oldsters who'd stopped going to movies in any event, and teen lures for youth who might. Movie attendance by 1960 was less than half what it had been when Crosby rode high in the forties, so High Time came to loss of two million. Production is slick as an eel, if not innovative (tricky optical wipes/transitions), thanks to director Blake Edwards, hot off whopper success of Operation Petticoat. Henry Mancini tenders mellow scoring. Twilight Time is out with High Time on Blu-Ray and results are pleasing.

CAPTAIN CAUTION (1940) --- What you got on board 1940 ships where Errol Flynn wasn't captain. This is piracy on a budget with pallid casting and energy lacking. Titular terror of seas is Victor Mature, growing into he-man persona, but here not yet equipped to compete with adventurers elsewhere. Louise Platt is a glum spitfire, and Alan Ladd goes alarmingly (for him) extrovert in prisoner chains. He'd subdue the histrionics for stardom to come. Did kids watch this that couldn't walk extra blocks for The Sea Hawk? Another of Hal Roach's flops for United Artists release. He seemed snake-bit by this time outside of Laurel and Hardy features. A TCM showing.

THE LOVES OF PHARAOH (1922) --- You could believe they found this till-now lost silent in Egypt tombs. Its rescue convinces me that anything is now possible in fields of preservation. Strips of film were salvaged that had no sprocket holes left! Ernst Lubitsch directed Pharaoh on a grand scale in 1922. It was German-made, but got a US release. Moves slow, but that was Teutonic way. Just look at this pageant and chances are you'll forgive snail pacing. DVD result of rescue effort was culled from archives worldwide. Chunks are still out, but titles explain them. The story's got sweep and extras aplenty. Pharaoh Emil Jannings forfeits all for love and still doesn't get the girl. EJ would make cottage industry of such parts. A stunning Blu-Ray from Euro source, and region free, plus there's a documentary about the film's recovery that is detailed and fascinating.

PLAY GIRL (1940) --- Aging Kay Francis teaches tricks of golddigging trade to ingénue Mildred Coles (who?). Of interest because it's a late in the day (major studio) starring vehicle for KF. Writers must have perused her backlog in prepping this, as Play Girl's concept amounts to the old Kay Francis trying to develop a next Kay Francis. Refreshing is fact that her age is a topic and no one shrinks from discussing it. Precode was long over, so characters are all about doing the "right" thing, this less digestible after meal of Mandalay or The House On 56th Street. Francis kept her looks and convincingly lures men, plus there's humor support of Margaret Hamilton, one year after wicked witching, her character less a mere hatchet face than sardonic observer of mercenary goings-on. Francis proves to be a deft mimic of no fool like old fool Nigel Bruce, some of the best light work she did. Play Girl is a valedictory for the Kay Francis that had prospered since talkies began. RKO took a loss, however, so they wouldn't invite her back. Seen on TCM, but also available from Warner Archive.

A YANK AT OXFORD (1938) --- All-American Robert Taylor, good at everything and he knows it, heads for Oxford and gets the customary lesson in humility. As close as Metro came to reviving the old William Haines game plan for talkers. This stuff can be irritating unless there's background and cast to lessen weight of formula. Both come by thankful way of focal point Oxford with its actual sites featured plenty, plus Brit players showcased, notably Vivien Leigh (did Metro consider importing her upon seeing Yank?). Bicycling, cap/gowns, and ye olde bookshops made this Yank wish he'd schooled there (but would they have let me put on movie shows?). Taylor was young and peaking as a star. He rows, romances, and scraps in expected quota per lead man showing up to fulfill expectations. Metro UK-shot this using facilities they'd built there, being smart at rendering Brit-pix palatable for US consumption.

JOSETTE (1938) --- Brothers Don Ameche and Robert Young protect dad William Collier from gold-digging French chanteuse Simone Simon, only she's not really their objective, having assumed disguise of ... what matter? ... it's ninety harmless Fox "B" minutes that, despite limited budget, affords lush lensing of Paris pastry and future cat girl Simone. She's more kittenish here, per Code clamp on sensual vibe SS brought to continental parts. Josette's a comedy, but not much funny, and maybe that's the point, being vehicle to further develop an import personality that even elite critics went briefly ga-ga for. Simone sings twice in probably someone else's voice (does anybody know?). Anyway, the two sibs compete for her hand, Ameche/Young back at tuxedoed antics where early career of both was largely spent. Light comedy was a skill you needed in those days to stay on contract, and pics like Josette demonstrate value of it. Broadness beyond is supplied by slap-shoes Bert Lahr and Joan Davis, what yoks Josette affords deriving from them. This must have been a good second feature money's worth. Fox's On-Demand DVD looks fine.

THE MARRIAGE PLAYGROUND (1929) --- From Paramount's inaugural season of talkies, but not at all bad once you surrender to leaden pace and conversations going nowhere and forever. There's compensation in a Blue-Ribbon cast: Billed-first Mary Brian, Fredric March, Lilyan Tashman, Kay Francis, and the irresistibly insufferable Mitzi Green (who's for starting a fan club? --- or a Tumblr page!). Beach scenes are pleasingly faked on Astoria stages, though one or two exteriors peek in. Divorce is here a chic-est pastime, an attitude that would gird loins of coming censorship. Fluff like The Marriage Playground got by so long as talkers were a novelty, but bottoms would collapse as a Depression gripped tight. I could almost make out faces and action on my disc dubbed from god knows what, but where's chance of this fractured flicker seeing official DVD release?


Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

Nice roundup as always, John. Col. Forehand would admire your watching anything thrown at you!

The CAPTAIN CAUTION ad is from the 1943 reissue. Note that they pumped up Alan Ladd's presence to cash in on THIS GUN FOR HIRE. The Laurel & Hardy companion is the four-reel A CHUMP AT OXFORD, which Hal Roach had kept on the shelf since 1939 in favor of the six-reel version. In '43 Roach needed something to fill out his last slate of black-and-white streamliners, so out came OXFORD.

11:36 AM  
Anonymous Bob said...

Though Fabian was never, ever an 'actor,' he was certainly a pleasing presence. I wonder why Frankie Avalon had the better film career...?

His picture with Crosby is fairly good, though Bing is clearly coasting. I wonder why he didn't do more character parts as he aged ... he was certainly a gifted actor in the right part.

I'm always rather gob-smacked by early Frederick March. He is so often such a stiff that I wonder if people oiled his joints between takes. His work only really came to life (for me) in the mid-1940s.

12:46 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Scott, I did realize that "Captain Caution" was a reissue ad meant to trade on Alan Ladd's meteoric rise, but had not recognized that "A Chump At Oxford" would be the streamline version. Thanks for pointing out that interesting fact.

2:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In The Marriage Playground, March does seem the nearing-forty respectable stiff he plays, granted he's sorta kinda not chasing after a teenager (shades of Dick Powell in Susan Slept Here). It's surprisingly a little less squickish than the novel it's from, and the funniest thing March does is near the end of the film, when he just picks up Mary Brian from one spot and plunks her down in another so he can answer the phone. March is much more amusing to me starting in Royal Family Of Broadway.

I find Mitzi Green likably obnoxious, so I guess I'm a fan!

2:42 PM  
Anonymous DBenson said...

Did anybody ever team Yank with Chump? Back in the day, I mean.

3:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous from above. I should add that the script of The Marriage Playground is mostly awful, and the directing isn't much. There are a lot of missed opportunities in that film. It's not something anyone should chase down unless they have to see every Wharton adaptation. My copy seems better than what John saw, it may have been one or two generations prior. As it was a 1929 film, I didn't expect it to address the market crash.

5:02 PM  

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