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Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Watch List For 1/17/13

DESIRE (1936) --- Fairly drips with elegance, the kind we know Paramount for, but too seldom access, what with paucity of theirs on DVD. Gary Cooper is an American naïf abroad who succumbs to clinch/clutches of pearl-thieving Marlene Dietrich and crime partner John Halliday. I don't gravitate so much to Cooper when he's clueless. The Deeds model broke down for being imitated too much (by him). Desire finds Coop not getting wise till he's told, and that's in a final reel Dietrich confession. Still, there's fun getting there, and if it's a Gold Age bubble bath you want, Desire has salts for it. Made in that era when foreign-based Para units captured Euro scenery for seamless insertion to pics set there, with result such footage convincing much of US patronage that Desire and like-others were 100% locationed, so smooth was the deception.

Paramount kept small crews busy getting useful backgrounds for exotic-set star vehicles like this one, even if the stars stepped not a foot off domestic shores. Dietrich's act was waning by 1936, at least one she'd been honing since US arrival, so Desire is among last for just gazing upon her lustriousness. Cooper/Dietrich love scenes are shot close enough for us to chew gum for them. PCA-observance de-spices to a degree, but producer Ernst Lubitsch and directing Frank Borgaze get neatly around barriers so as to avoid Code-cheat. There's lore that Dietrich arranged for John Gilbert to test for the John Halliday part, which, good as Halliday is, would have made for a memorable triad, though Jack might have stole the thing outright from putative stars Dietrich and Cooper.

BACKLASH (1956) --- Same producer, writers, varied personnel that led credits to a bushel of UI 50's westerns, but still it plays. Directing John Sturges keeps action outdoors, here plentiful enough to relieve complication of revenge pursuit by Richard Widmark for his father's (apparent) killing. With Universal and other 50's westerns, you could never mind principals and focus gladly on faces in support. Disappointment comes only when Dick shoots one of them down too soon, as with heavy favorite Robert Wilke. Was there such a thing as westerns without Glenn Strange? Widmark told Films In Review interviewer Michael Buckley that he did Backlash for a percentage, and as of 1986, was still collecting on it. Maybe some of those back-end deals paid after all, or RW had good accountants bird-dogging the books. Got on Region 2 from the UK in a nice wide transfer.

A WILD HARE (1940) --- Agreed as being the first true Bugs Bunny cartoon. A book could be written about wrangles over who invented, then named, the rabbit. WB animators were still debating it in their old age, when such credit suddenly mattered, boomer interest having crystallized by the 70's and a couple decades of TV backlog exposure. Looks as though Tex Avery was the one who really took the character and hopped with him, though it's interesting that this credited director of A Wild Hare saw the cartoon years later (during 70's period of rediscovery) and wondered how anyone could laugh at it, then or before. Well, the pace does tend toward stately, especially by comparison with the wilder hare Bugs would become under Clampett and Tashlin batons, but greatness had to begin somewhere, and baby steps here serve fine for a starting point, whatever Avery's own later reservations. Warners' Blu-Ray rendering is stellar --- they've juiced color (did it look so brilliant in 35mm?) and put back original titles. Are there young Looney enthusiasts to succeed oldsters who grew up with these things?

THE FLYING FOOL (1929) --- Produced by Pathe during 1929 and crowing rooster period when, based on stuff like this, you had to wonder if talkies were really here to stay. Bill Boyd's the WWI dog-fighter who comes home with the peace to find kid brother Russell Gleason in thrall of man (now boy) handling Marie Prevost. Air combat footage looks borrowed from something older, though stunt flying later impresses. Director was Tay Garnett, who could enhance even barest of narrative like The Flying Fool's. There's welcome as always Jazz Age slanguage, and Fool doesn't run so long as to fatigue. Action-men had traded their horses for aircraft by 1929, the trend to reverse when sound was entrenched and outdoor shooting became again practicable, Bill Boyd's gain a biggest of all for getting back to basics and legend status as Hopalong Cassidy.


Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer comments on "Desire" and Gary Cooper:

I'd love to see "Desire," but something about the plot puts me off. A shy American touring Europe, played by Cooper, is taken in by a glamorous jewel thief, played by Marlene, who tries to use him but in the process falls in love with him, with this mask behind a mask continuing until they meet her partner in crime, the always sinister John Halliday. It's not so much the plot itself--Hollywood loved this sort of triangle and used it in so many films--"Trouble in Paradise," "The Last of Mrs. Cheyney," "Employees Entrance," even "China Seas," to name a few--the elements of it like colorful beads and bits of glass in a kaliedoscope. A little twist of the cylinder and a new alignment is given them, even something rather stunning to see. Perhaps that's the case here. What bothers me is that Cooper may be too Deeds-like. Now, I like "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" and I think Cooper is great in it, too, but what a sacrifice was made for his portrayal of an American everyman. Before, he was the very epitome of the romantic hero, whose eyes in a film like "Peter Ibbotsen" could mirror the very depths of his yearning and despair. Nothing was done overtly, but nothing had to be. The audience heard the beat of his heart in the silence and resolved the enigmas in favor of undying love. After the Capra film, though, there was nothing so deep or tragic in his performances. He was just like us, after all, except maybe a little more so: a little more decent, a little better, a little more trusting. The passion, however, was muted. I'm afraid I prefer him as he was to what he became, and the question for me is whether "Desire" is an example of the former or the latter.

10:36 AM  
Anonymous DBenson said...

"Wild Hare" has a special place in my cinematic education. Had a B&W 8mm version from AAP, with burnt-in subtitles (color was way expensive and sound nonexistent for a few years yet).

Never struck me as lesser Bugs. Especially enjoy the little puppet show of Bugs' hand versus the shotgun barrel. The skunk shyly elbowing Elmer says "Confidentially, I, you know . . .", riffing on an old catchphrase. On the 8mm there's no subtitle there, so it looks like the skunk is making a highly improper suggestion.

In junior high a classmate did light shows for our school dances (it was the last gasp of the 60s). I'd bring my Kodak projector and a bunch of reels; Bugs Bunny and others joined projections of burnt slides, polaroid patterns and food coloring swirling in a glass dish on an overhead projector. I like to think somebody, in a non-hormone-driven moment, noticed and later recognized or even sought out films on the strength of a distorted image on the auditorium wall.

3:03 AM  

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