The Watch List For 10/24/12
AIR FORCE (1943) --- May-be the best of combat pulse-pounders done when the war's outcome was still uncertain. Howard Hawks directed Air Force for Warner Bros., so top rungs are a starting point. I hear Hawks gave supervisors apoplexy by shooting slow and having dialogue rewritten. As many fresh words came via Bill Faulkner, you'd have to figure Hawks once again knew his business. The flying crew is a usual wartime assemblage, but clearer-drawn, and all memorable here. Placing Harry Carey among them confers instant authority. John Ridgely commands and had to have looked back on this as his shining hour in films (mostly minor parts otherwise). John Garfield is malcontent to start, but gets with the program. That sounds familiar, but he doesn't play it so. Neither do Hawks or his writers.
What We're Fighting For was never put across so effectively. First act tension derives from night flying toward
BACHELOR APARTMENT (1931) --- Lowell Sherman repeats his Way Down East seducer for laughs, going about what was then expected of a well-established screen persona. Irene Dunne tames him in that way "good" women had of draining fun out of otherwise spicy comedies. Again, there are misunderstandings to eat up slow moving time.
THE PERFECT SNOB (1941) --- A more silly than funny B from Fox, but I made it to 65 minutes' finish line. Star aborning Cornel Wilde is supported by comic gifts from God Charlotte Greenwood and Charlie Ruggles as henpecker and henpeckee. These two plus indulging director Raymond McCarey make The Perfect Snob fun. Ray was Leo's brother, lacked the latter's singular genius, but knew ways 'round comedy, having directed Our Gang, Roscoe Arbuckle, Laurel/Hardy, and the Stooges. He replaced Mal St. Clair --- from expertise standpoint, a mere switch from apples to oranges. Plenty creative was Fox's reuse of Swamp Water sets for Wilde and Tony Quinn's sugar plantation. Nothing went wasted at Fox. Build for one and use for three. That water-logged stage surely stank to blazes by the time this crew came by it. The Perfect Snob's story splits between there and
MANDALAY (1934) --- Here was precode released 2/34 in last flowering before strict enforcement applied chokeholds. Tears are shed yet for latter-half 1934 shows shorn by censors wide awakened.
MABEL AT THE WHEEL (1914) --- Charlie Chaplin and Mabel Normand fun-making for Keystone. There's renewed life in this antique for archival gathering of multiple nitrate prints used to cobble a best-ever presentation of this and other CC's for Sennett. What's wondrous is street and background life we observe as comics cavort amongst real folks going about daily life. Do general (not film) historians realize what valuable social documents these are? There are people standing in distant backyards to witness Charlie and Mabel merriment as if that were routine incident. Heck, maybe it was. Best of the Keystones for me are when they plop down clowns at actual events such as parades, auto races, whatever engaged a pre-WWI populace.
On this occasion, it's a motor derby and Mabel is indeed at the wheel. Other drivers are kitted in turtleneck and goggles, looking sporty and not a little teens-era glamorous. Speed roadsters spin on mud as Sennetteers (including Sennett himself) dodge them. We're less taken with foreground frolic than onlooker eyes darting between Chaplin/Mabel and the camera photographing them. A lot by then would have known CC for the up-and-comer he was. Others look frankly bored. One smiling man leans backward into the arms of a male companion (out and proud circa 1914?). Mabel At The Wheel is 23 minutes truly spent in another era, print quality at last permitting us to reach forward and feel the air.
CHINA DOLL (1958) --- Blame director Frank Borgaze for the ocean of tears to be shed at a wallop emotional finish to this WWII romance. The impact comes slow and unexpected, opener reels suggesting little past odd pair-up of hardened flyer Victor Mature with a Chinese waif he unknowingly "buys" from her father. Give it time and China Doll will hand you something memorable. Borzage's name assures plenty out of the ordinary. Mature shows again how good he routinely was by this point of a prolific career. Robert Morrison produced for the Batjac company --- he was John Wayne's brother. Duke could have played this, and well, but not so well as Vic. Dish Network comps subscribers with On-Demand HD of China Doll and others of United Artists origin. It looked terrif in 1.85.