The Watch List For 12/19/12
THE THING (1951) --- The best ones evoke different thought each time we watch. It lately occurred to me that Dr. Carrington really should answer for at least two deaths and the near-loss of his Arctic crew to the titular carrot-monster. Could the Army court-martial a scientist? As to names credited or not, how could anyone other than Hawks have directed The Thing? The science explanation for thinking vegetables seems plausible --- are there such things? Humor throughout is what makes The Thing eternally watchable, that and lines stepping on and over each other that makes this seem a fastest-paced of all sci-fi's. The best movie dialogue often seems ad-libbed. Did any of that go on here? I wonder if Hawks gave Christian Nyby director credit in part to minimize association with a Man From Mars pic. Would he have returned to the genre had same not been so cheapened by exploiters to come? I guess it's enough that Hawks' was the pattern from which they'd all copy.
COW COUNTRY (1953) --- Part of Allied Artists' effort to upgrade program westerns from series level of Johnny Mack Brown, Whip Wilson, others. Cow Country lacks Cinecolor lavished on AA-produced Rod Camerons, but more than tightens slack with involving narrative and reunited frontier faces known over decades of actioning. Tried-true overseer Scott R. Dunlap was veteran of a seeming thousand westerns and knew how to realize max values for a minimum spent, while directing Lesley Selander brought expertise a result of herding horseflesh since silents. These represented a breed of men who'd made B westerns an industry's ongoing (and great) institution. With series cowboys now fazed out, Cow Country and similars would embody outdoor pics to support mainstream bills, or fill Saturday schedules, this enabled by use of names, like Edmond O'Brien here, who'd been associated with a variety of genres and could bring star luster to marquees (talk about range --- Eddie did this the same year he played Casca in MGM's Julius Caesar). A good thing too about such policy was fact it kept former B west participants active in support parts. Even ancient-est of mariners Raymond Hatton got a few day's pay for Cow Country, and there is Barton McLaine, Bob Wilke, others to provide visual shorthand as to their character's evil intent. Allied Artists westerns of the 50's have the happy facility of nearly always turning out better than expected, so I don't miss ones that surface on TCM, or from Warner Archive.
LEST WE FORGET (1937) --- A one-reel MGM tribute to recently departed Will Rogers that borrows talent Gary Cooper and Harry Carey to give testimony of Will's beloved-ness. Effort was applied here --- three directors, one of them Henry Hathaway, plus outdoor greet between Cooper and Carey, whom we're led to believe live on adjoining ranches. What a blow to
CRIMINAL COURT (1946) --- Tom Conway mouthpiecing to flamboyant courtroom effect in a "B" assigned to neophyte Robert Wise, this a modest last before he embarked upon Born To Kill, Blood On The Moon, and other RKO's that would establish this fine director. Wonder how many in 1946 saw chief heavy Robert Armstrong and exclaimed, Oh Yeah, the King Kong guy. Was there ever a part to cast such a long shadow over later work? Criminal Court was economy-made even for RKO. There's a night club set I'd guess was built for someone else's "A."
THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK (1939) --- James Whale had his last big success with this Edward Small-produced costumer, done for comparative pittance, but finessed to look a million by JW's master hand. Long, yes, but I stayed engaged. Nice to finally have this on an excellent DVD. You can smite Small, but if not for guys like him, there might have been no work for late-career Whale. Corners got cut by necessity, which makes admirable lush result achieved. Rescuing musketeers are led by wonderfully (off) cast Warren William as d'Artagnan, a seeming unlikelihood that ends up Iron Mask's brightest bauble. Louis Hayward is twinned on a split-screen, process work otherwise a little crude at times, but therein lies much of fun. This Iron Mask man made a big hit and should have restored James Whale to greatness ($1.6 million in worldwide rentals against neg costs of $652K). Was he wrecked by studio politics and inability (or unwillingness) to gee-haw with industry movers?
BLACK CYCLONE (1925) --- Mighty hoof-prints were left by wild horse king REX, all caps-name spell earned by deeds performed in silent outdoor actioners under Hal Roach banner. Rex needed no one in the saddle to pursue adventure. We don't see a human face until fifteen minutes into Black Cyclone, the second of a lucrative group that totaled four between 1924 and '27. One per annum was the serving, Rex pics thought special by showmen who knew from crowd-pleasing. Black Cyclone was filmed on near 100% location, these co-photographed by starting-out George Stevens. The miracle mount, devil steed, whatever they'd call him, quells mountain lion attack, human villainy, and rival equine for his mate's devotion. Don't know how they staged horse fights here (hope no cruelty), but it's a charge watching them go at one another tooth and hoof. Titles are floridly written and delightful. Got Black Cyclone from Jack Hardy's Grapevine Video in what looks to derive from original Kodascope, with a fine organ score by David Knudston.
SEA DEVILS (1937) --- They'd not take Vic McLaglen out of big-lug actioners even after Academy Awarding for two years' previous The Informer, Sea Devils' very title a blind alley for programmers before and after similarly named, thus easily confused. Vic's older but not wiser, has a daughter that raw recruit Preston Foster goes after, both guys a tad mature to re-cycle Flagg/Quirt tropes. Edward Small independently produced for RKO release, result surpassing B level in-house effort would have yielded. Disaster set-pieces at the beginning and end might derive at least partly from stock footage, though I didn't recognize a big-scale shipwreck from elsewhere. There's cute-as-a-bug Ida Lupino at ingénue work prior to neuroses of later