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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Watch (and Read) List For 12/12/12

GET HEP TO LOVE (1942) --- Concert singer Gloria Jean runs away from exploiter aunt to small-town normalcy with adopting surrogates Robert Paige and Jane Frazee, presence of the two a sure tip that it's Universal getting hep to yet another musical "B." Gloria segues to teen casting here and cuts a rug with cool cat Donald O'Connor, plus Jivin' Jacks and Jills. There's more junior-varsity Uni songfests than ticks on a dog, few of which I've seen beyond this and a couple also starring Gloria Jean. O'Connor drives his graffiti'ed jalopy ("Beware Of Dog Inside") to an in-your-dreams high school where kids behave and teachers are benign. Mean girl Cora Sue Collins wants to deal Gloria out of a date to the prom with Don, plot mechanics a sometime barrier to dance and tuning we're there to see. Wonder how much Deanna Durbin felt GJ and talented teens breathing down her neck on a same studio lot. Pity they'd not elevate Gloria and Don to "A" opportunity of a Janie or Junior Miss caliber, but Universal's youth frolic-ing stayed on a budget leash. With soprano Susanna Foster also on the payroll, stages must have sounded like ongoing duel for high notes.

CINEMA RETRO PRESENTS DR. NO --- The great Cinema Retro has out another of their Special Edition Classics Magazines, this one devoted to exhaustive Dr. No coverage, and I'd advise grabbing one (or multiples), as this promises to be a sell-out and eventual collector's item. CR has long focused on James Bond and does so here beyond even detail we expect from their regular publication (twenty-five issues so far --- all terrific). Every aspect of Dr. No is explored, from production to locations to music to release --- well, to infinity. There are 148 pages, all color, so it's more book than magazine, and at $22, a decided bargain. Editor/designers Lee Pfeiffer and Dave Worrall have front-loaded images that are rare and largely unseen, even by seasoned Bond-watchers, as then-and-now photos show what's happened with filming sites over a half-century since Dr. No was made. Cast/crew are also interviewed where accessible. No element of this first 007 adventure goes unexplored. I particularly liked data on posters used worldwide to sell Dr. No and how these varied. Toward leaving no stone unturned, there are even pages devoted to Connery's tarantula bedmate, a behind-scenes tale spun like the spider's own web. As handsome a publication as I've seen in 2012 or expect to in '13, Dr. No is a must-get that belongs on every Bond-fan shelf, and available from Cinema Retro's site.

PEOPLE ON PAPER (1945) --- A look at men who draw the funny papers by MGM's Passing Parade unit, and probably an only time several of these guys were captured on film, let alone doing the craft for which they were noted. Daily comics were more loved than respected then, a fan army to lionize them not yet born. Profiled are mostly old duffers who casually draw while waiting for fish to bite. What a great life that must have been. Talent behind Buck Rogers, Gasoline Alley, and Li'l Abner is shown at work. There's even a brief history of strips back to a past century's "Yellow Kid." The Passing Parades are a variable lot, this certainly one of the best. Seen on TCM.

UPPERWORLD (1934) --- Warren William just past PCA enforcement's start line, less ruthless, less lascivious, thus less fun. Kinda sad to observe WW operating with one arm tied, but despite handicap, there's plenty justification to watch, and thanks be, he doesn't have to face jail or gallows for what we clearly see as a pardonable offense. A tightening Code of even a brief year later would likely have seen things different, as many a pic from '35 on was ruined by censorship increasingly zealous, with its myriad of moral compensations. Upperworld's William attains railroad magnate status by honest means, not what we'd prefer of our hero, but times had changed, and WW had to adapt. Doing so wouldn't pay, however, so it was B's, support work, and placement down the bill from here. Seen on TCM, but also available from Warner Archive.

THE NAVIGATOR (1924) --- The first Buster Keaton feature that let me down. This had promised to be one of his best. Keaton himself thought so. I've watched over and again since summer '72 in hope that passing time would improve either The Navigator or my disposition, but even on Kino's recent released Blu-Ray, it just won't float. Is it a prop that is this time too big? A boat for Buster can work, usually does, but this is an ocean liner, and I was bothered by his being so dwarfed by it. Here too is where I learned how difficult comedy is to stage underwater. Keaton's leading lady takes near the punishment he does. The two are dunked in and out of seawater to exhausting excess. The Navigator begins well, its first reel some of my favorite Keaton. I'd have kept them off the ship, frankly, or rescued them from it sooner. The cannibal attack looks like it should be in someone else's movie. Keaton would fuse action/adventure and comedy better with The General. The conundrum: If The Navigator is such a disappointment, why do I re-watch every few years? Maybe my sub-conscious is whispering that it's a great picture after all.

KILLER SHARK (1950) --- Transitioning to grown-up Roddy McDowall co-produced a half-dozen action B's for Monogram release between 1948 and 1950, all set against rough-and-tumble background you'd not expect mild-mannered RMc venturing to. Killer Shark has Oscar (to be Budd) Boetticher helming, and maybe it was his decision to film a lion's (or shark's) portion on open seas. I don't recall McDowall being interviewed about details of these Monograms, but they'd have made interesting history. He was actually moonlighting at the time as a $200 per week disc jockey for Los Angeles radio, serving too as Master Of Ceremonies at west coast events. Killer Shark offers no more or less than expected of a support feature, but a most is made of locations, and on-water scenes register well. So what if it's boilerplate scripted otherwise? Waterfront "cutthroats" are led by Doug Fowley, among whom is Dick Moore, also of child-act lineage. Roddy and pals clean out a saloon filled with these for an admittedly tepid finish, but it's worth 76 minute just to see McDowall landing punches on guys twice his weight. Seen on TCM in a nice print --- likely to be served soon by Warner Archive.

INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS: THE MAKING OF A CLASSIC --- I'm a longtime fan of Mark Thomas McGee's writing, so chances are I'll go for whatever he pens, that policy clenched by definitive history of American-International, Fast and Furious, published some time back and one of the author's first. He's book-addressed movie ballyhoo and Roger Corman's career as well, being an incisive observer of both, and now comes his Invasion Of The Body Snatchers salute, it having been McGee's all-time #1 since 1956 first-run. The intro essay detailing lifelong devotion to the seminal sci-fi pic is alone worth a cover's price, the author not sparing himself in discussing obsess-aspect of movie life we pursue. I really go for McGee's humor take on fan (including his own) excess as it's a mirror to we who've chased this stuff right from the cradle. Being LA-raised lent opportunity for face-to-face with Body Snatcher personnel, McGee reviewing player/crew encounters he's had over decades since the show came out. There's also location sifting and the author's try at climbing endless steps Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter used to escape Pod-folk in pursuit --- again, what works here is McGee wit as applied to pods this movie left under beds of a fan generation changed by seeing, and continuing to watch, the one-of-a-kind classic that is Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. The book is available from Bear Manor Media.

A DATE TO SKATE (1938) --- I think I now know where Bill Fields got his idea for the big chase that wraps Never Give A Sucker An Even Break. He and stunt drivers just copied much of what the Fleischers do here with Popeye pursuing runaway roller-skater Olive Oyl. She's more tolerable for being less hostile to Popeye this time (sometimes I wondered why the sailor kept going back for her punishment --- was there OO talent in areas we never saw?). Also it's nice not to see Bluto in expected rink bully mode. Why was his participation cut back in '38 season offerings? I like how fluid and graceful Popeye becomes aboard skates, with help from animators seasoned by a fifth year of doing these. What a standard this series maintained! Back when 16mm collecting, I could buy Fleischer Popeyes blind and never get burned (but wait, there's Flies Ain't Human). Another novelty of A Date To Skate is when Popeye forgets his spinach and asks an audience member to toss up a can, which he does. How that must have delighted thousand-seat houses ...


Blogger Michael J. Hayde said...

Re, Olive Oyl: You're not the only one who's wondered about that, but there's an answer, courtesy of TV BOOK (Workman Publishing Co., 1977), a collection of essays on TV history. One of them is by John Buskin, who wrote: "I used to tend bar at an establishment that had a beautiful twenty-six-inch color TV... Cartoons were always a big favorite. As a matter of fact it was a wine drinking stonemason who explained Popeye's girl friend to me. I had remarked to him early one evening that I didn't understand what Popeye and his rival Bluto saw in the skinny Olive Oyl. The stonemason winked at me and said, 'The closer the bone, the sweeter the meat.'"

11:18 AM  
Anonymous sjack said...

Would love to know how to get a copy of Hep to Love. I've had a great curiosity about teen flicks from the '40. I've yet to see them for sale or otherwise available.

2:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

...I would guess that Olive Oyl was quite the contortionist, too, with those rubbery limbs of hers, like making love to a bowl of spaghetti...No wonder Popeye and Bluto were so crazed with lust for Olive's willowy attractions.

6:14 PM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

Thanks for spotlighting GET HEP TO LOVE, John. I saw it in 35mm in New York, and it went over very well.

For sjack, try the Gloria Jean website:

8:24 PM  
Anonymous Dave said...

The man who provided Bluto's voice died around 1938, and the character figured less prominently in the Fleischer Popeyes of the late '30s as a result. The cartoons benefitted, I think, in that it forced them to do storylines outside the usual Popeye vs. Bluto battles.

Years ago, when I had the opportunity to interview Roddy McDowall, I brought up those Monograms of his, and can best describe his attitude toward them as "charmingly dismissive." He was flattered I was familiar with them, but made no pretense of finding them in any way meaningful or important.

On the whole, Universal's 1940s B musicals and teen comedies are tough to find on 16mm. They seem to have received scant distribution to television or through the usual 16mm rental and nontheatrical channels.

6:27 PM  
Blogger R-Mack said...

Comedy works best in the setting for which it is designed. In the case of this film, THE NAVIGATOR, it is one of my personal favorites. I have seen it bring packed houses to convulsions. Each audience member sees a different film. One person catches something others have missed. We really benefit from the shared experience when watching films like this.

Another factor that can turn an audience off is the music. For my presentations I use special scores that treat the films differently from just about everyone else.

Last night I looked at the Melies' TRIP TO THE MOON in restored color. The soundtrack, by AIR, was gawdawful. I had people here who thanked me when I did. It seems that very few people who create scores for silent films have actually looked at how music is used in film.

Keaton filmed his pictures with syncopated jazz bands on the set. His internal rhythms stem from that music. None of the Kino Keatons have scores that do them justice.

As for the Fleischer Popeye films they are always a joy.

5:46 PM  

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