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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Watch List For 1/15/13

DON'T PANIC CHAPS (1959) --- Here is news for seekers of lost Hammer pix: the DVD release of an unseen (by us) comedy from England's shocker swamp. Don't Panic Chaps had no US theatre release, at least where I could detect (from checking trades, release charts, etc.), and apparent zero TV exposure over a past fifty-four years. Columbia's resplendent (and 1.85) On-Demand disc thus amounts to colony debut for a service farce Hammer-hounds have only read about on all-encompass lists of Bray output. Columbia was partnered with Hammer to extent of 49% ownership and domestic release of many features from the UK firm. Mostly it was genre thrills they handled: horror like Revenge Of Frankenstein, or suspense as in The Snorkel. Hammer war subjects traveled best when brutal (The Camp On Blood Island) or edgy (Yesterday's Enemy). Don't Panic Chaps neither shocked nor particularly amused, so had little chance for foothold here. Variety's verdict was thumbs-down for "a tiny little jest," no vote of confidence that Panic could be raised via stateside merchandising.

Visiting Hammer chief James Carreras had 10/59 delivered Chaps, along with The Stranglers Of Bombay, to Columbia for hopeful America-play, but Stranglers, being more exploitable, was all the distributor could use. Cursory look at Don't Panic Chaps reveals why Columbia passed: it is a tiny jest, though likeably so for Brit players relaxed and letting accent/expressions hang out ("Bob's Your Uncle") in likely knowledge their japery wouldn't spread worldwide. Humor's basis is English and German soldiers declaring truce on an island where both have been forgotten by leadership, their commit to peace tested when a castaway cutie washes ashore. There is surprising, and extended, bare-arsing among the men, attributable, I suppose, to cheeky Brit embrace of such (I don't recall seeing US equivalent till Von Ryan's Express in 1965). All this amounts to spare change unless you're a Hammer completist or general ticker off of titles yet unseen from our UK cousins. For myself, it's a meaningful get, and I hope Columbia will further close gaps on Hammers so far gone missing.

ALLOTMENT WIVES (1945) --- Some real effort/energy went into this Monogram B, starring and co-produced by post-peak Kay Francis, whom I like to visualize sitting at home with the script, cigarette holder and tumbler of whisky in hand perhaps, making improvements here and there. There's no arrival at full appreciation for Kay until Allotment Wives is seen. It just might be her best performance. Was she at Monogram for money or to creatively express at last? (the $ would not have been considerable) Recent bios say she did in fact develop the story and burn night oil on dialogue. The set-up's a honey --- racketeers fixing it for girls to multiple-marry servicemen in order to collect support pay or insurance in event of combat death. Allotment Wives is hard-tack noir where Kay comes a-killing to ones who'd expose her canteen cum pair-off joint for bigamists. Monogram spent beyond normal limit and result was no one's source of shame. Francis has Otto Kruger and Paul Kelly for support, both a customary great. See this on Netflix and you'll not be sorry.

EASY TO LOVE (1934) --- Were there bigger names involved, this would top precode lists. Genuinely funny as in laugh out loud, even when watched solo. Easy To Love gave Lubitsch a run for laurels, but at sped tempo per Warner pattern. Straying husband Adolphe Menjou is enraged that wife Genevieve Tobin may-be up to a same game, and with unlikeliest of swains Edward Everett Horton. Mary Astor is at fourth corner of couple swapping. You'll be dizzy enough at the end to wonder who actually got who. Hugh Herbert and Guy Kibbee are used sparingly enough not to get on nerves. Menjou/Horton pursue a hat switch to high comic plateau, and Mary Astor, forced by (complicated) circumstance to smoke a cigar, reaches too a laugh summit. Among ribald-ist of precodes, this got out (in January 1934) ahead of PCA strict-policing.

JOHNNY O'CLOCK (1947) --- It occurs to me that Dick Powell was ring-a-ding-ding long before Frank. No one slung dialogue as handily or was so good with props. Dick's image transform was locked by Johnny O' Clock, so relaxed here as to float across sets. What helps too is writing of high grade. Powell was feeling oats by '47 and launching own pics, this for Columbia release, but not otherwise controlled by them. Casino setting is ideal for Dick. He can flip cards, walk chips across his palm, all such tricks with knick-knacks he constantly picks up. Powell had a firmist grip on star persona and how to make same pay. Quotes from him in trades bespeak personality as pragmatist, a movie star as secure as he was successful. I don't know many who are such a pleasure to watch.


Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer has some thoughts about "Johnny O'Clock" and Dick Powell's image change ...

The "Tougher and More Terrific than Ever" Dick Powell of "Johnny O'Clock" probably marks a career change unprecedented for a major star before or after. The only thing the tough guy of this film and others had in common with the crooner of "42nd Street" and "Gold Diggers of 1933" was his professionalism. However, there was a trail blazed for him a couple of years before. "Double Indemnity" is considerd such a classic film noir today that it's hard to imagine how speculative it was as a project for Paramount Pictures when it was made. The James M. Cain novel from which it was adapted was so filled with sex and violence that there seemed no way to get it past the Breen office. The Production Code had many requirements, but one essential priority, that evil should never be presented in movies in an alluring way, even if it was condemned or punished. Consequently, there was no market for most hard-boiled stories at that time. Billy Wilder was a brilliant screenwriter but had only one Hollywood picture as a directing credit, the hit comedy "The Major and the Minor." He saw the potential in the story and wanted to take a shot at it. As a collaborator, he wanted Cain himself and if not Cain, then Charles Brackett, another top-notch writer on the Paramount lot. Cain was unavailable, having signed on to a Twentieth Century-Fox project, and Brackett begged off. He didn't want to be tied up for months on a screenplay, only to come up with nothing because of censorship problems. That was what ruined F. Scott Fitzgerald's stint at M-G-M. Joseph Sistrom, the producer, gave Wilder a new novel by Raymond Chandler, "The High Window," and suggested that they might want to take a chance on him. Chandler became a titan of American literature, but at time he was a writer for pulp magazines who hadn't yet lived up to the ballyhoo of his publisher, Alfred E. Knopf, as the next James M. Cain. Chandler hadn't ever worked on a film, and the two novels of his which had ended up on the screen had been heavily bowdlerized to get them by that same Breen office. RKO had bought the rights to "Farewell My Lovely" for $2,000 and used it as the basis for one of their Falcon programmers, "The Falcon Takes Over," while Twentieth Century-Fox bought "The High Window" for $2,500 and used it for a Lloyd Nolan "B," "Time to Kill."

12:17 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Two of Dan Mercer on Dick Powell ...

Wilder liked the novel, Sistrom gave Chandler a call, and he took the job. He was interested in Hollywood and thought the movies were the one unique American art form. He also needed the money. A pulp writer then had to churn out a million words a year to make a decent living. Chandler labored two or three months over each story and came nowhere near that level. He and his wife Cissy didn't own a car and lived in a succession of cheap apartments in the San Diego and Santa Monica areas. The old school Chandler--English public school, that is--and the flamboyent Wilder didn't exactly get along, but the work they did together was magical. The gamy excesses of Cain's novel was given wit and substance, and the censorable action was transcribed into less censorable atmosphere. The film was approved by the Breen office and became a sensational hit both critically and with the public. It also showed other film makers how to get similarly tough subjects past the censors. Just around that time, Knopf finally gave up on Chandler as a prestige author and allowed cheap paperback editions of his first novels to be published. Over two million were sold in 1943 and 1944. It was the beginning of his great popularity and even the critics started taking notice of him. RKO decided to give "Farewell My Lovely" major production treatment and, as off-beat casting, chose Dick Powell to play Chandler's hero, Phillip Marlowe. He was the first actor to do so by name. Powell had been trying for 10 years to break out of the musical comedy box and had actually tried for the lead in "Double Indemnity." He lost out to Fred MacMurray, of course, but found in him another trail blazer. MacMurray had made a minor career as a light comedian, though never achieving Powell's star power. His success as Walter Neff in the Wilder film, however, made the casting of Powell as Marlowe less of a gamble, at least for the studio. Had Powell flopped, he probably would have wound up his acting career and gone into production. He was talented and ambitious and would have found a way. But it was so much easier for him when "Murder My Sweet," the release title given "Farewell My Lovely," was such a smash hit. And the rest, as they say, is history.


12:17 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

I've got that "Allotment Wives" poster in my collection. There's always a danger of the movie not living up to the ballyhoo, so it's good to know this one does.

Oh, and back then the poster set me back no more more than 20 bucks.

9:45 AM  
Blogger Vienna said...

Would love to see Allotment Wives.
I can actually see Dick Powell in Double Indemnity.
I was never a fan of Fred MacMurray but of course he surprised everybody with his great performance.

11:46 AM  

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