The Watch List For 1/2/13
CHINA VENTURE (1953) --- Don Siegel shows what adroit directing can do with low-budget combat formula. China Venture's jungle setting was built entirely on
ZENOBIA (1939) --- Done amidst uncertainty of Hal Roach's future in features, this was, according to Roach corporate historian Richard Lewis Ward, a tough one even to get into theatres, exhib and public hostility due to Oliver Hardy showing up sans Stan. Harry Langdon was instead the Fiddle's partner, longtime Bow Laurel having quit Roach ensembles in protest over too-low pay and not enough creative say. Zenobia's namesake elephant is a plot device cumbersome for limit of gags you can reasonably build around such an inexpressive and slow-moving prop. Roach spent probably too much on Old South ambience. This was obviously aimed at first-run and class bookings. Costumes/setting for Zenobia are beyond reproach. Looking at stills is more rewarding than the pic itself.
|June Lang, Oliver Hardy, and Director Gordon Douglas On The Zenobia Set|
Subplots must have been dropped, for I glimpsed William Bakewell and can't imagine his being utilized as mere crowd filler. Hardy eschews slapstick, opts instead for genteel humor and sartorial elegance. He could certainly have parlayed this into renewed career at character-playing, a more benign Eugene Pallette perhaps. Suppose Babe considered going a separate way and leaving
MY TRUE STORY (1951) --- A movie based on content from a confession magazine ... was this a first? ... also an initial directing gig for Mickey Rooney, who points the camera ably and wraps under onset of fatigue. Helen Walker is a jewel crook ex-con who goes soft over the old lady she's supposed to loot. Offbeat objective here is rare recipe for a perfume, squirreled away in the matron's mansion. Will Helen's rough-play cohorts come in and take it by force? Mick makes True's small-town setting look like Carvel, only it's Columbia where this was shot, and they were making him do so on nickels. The kind of show that played beneath full weight of bigger attractions and would be wiped out by television giving such away. Reminded me of episodes from Loretta Young's anthology series. Some brutal doings by the gang push My True Story toward noir, but execution is otherwise too drab to qualify, thus cultists won't be bothered.
OUT WHERE THE STARS BEGIN (1938) --- Star-struck girl manages to sneak onto Technicolor'ed movie lot with help of make-up assistant Jeffrey Lynn. This Warner short made it look pretty easy to crash gates, though I'm sure the real thing was far more Gulag-ish. We do see Wayne Morris, Ann Sheridan, and Dick Foran in relaxed arrival to work, each sat in new convertibles they presumably own. There's every impression that WB paid personnel lavishly (so there's your make-believe). There is making of movies as movies were never made, but writer Crane Wilbur gets a swipe at martinet directors of Euro lineage, specifically Mike Curtiz, upon whom Fritz Feld's Herr Nitvitch is clearly based, the latter instructing minions at one point to "bring on the empty horses." Curtiz malapropisms were sufficiently bandied at commissary tables to eventually make their way to on-set spoofing. Did Curtiz good-sport along? Sprightly songs were co-written by a certain Greenbriar reader's grandfather. Our gate-crasher is discovered straightaway and achieves stardom within a day's shooting. No wonder hopeful kids flooded
WILDFIRE (1945) --- History was made when demon West Coast exhibitor Robert Lippert took to custom-making his own seat-fillers, these habitually poised between low and lower budgets, but reliable for at least minimal profits, which was more than Lippert could realize dealing with major distributor sharks determined to scoop his theatres' gravy. Wildfire (The Story Of A Horse) was the first, a modest (and how) western painted with fuzzy hues of Cinecolor and as little action as then-kids would tolerate. It's a curious bag of animal husbandry and sagebrush skullduggery, with vets off earliest silent range. So how much would Lippert pay Francis Ford, director Jack's brother and one-time king of serials, to come in for a morning and do dialogue with Bob Steele, experience between them adding up to almost a whole history of movies? Bob is still in shape (age 38), does horse leaps as in yore, and acquits well with words. His opponent is been around forever at villainy John Miljan, who I thought would have chucked same by 1945, but as it turns out, was getting second wind at screen perfidy. Singing sheriff Eddie Dean has a look-in and a pair of tunes, from which he'd earn a series despite, or maybe because of, a likeably goofball expression and little aptitude for action. The titular horse comes often to Bob's rescue and in fact merited a 1948 sequel, natch titled Return Of Wildfire, in case there's interest (but no DVD available at present). The first Wildfire can be had from VCI/Kit Parker in its fine Darn Good Westerns Volume One set.
THE NAKED AND THE DEAD (1958) --- Big aspirations end with an outsized, but fairly routine, war movie. Charles Laughton was set to direct Paul Gregory's production, others from Night Of The Hunter poised to participate, but all came a cropper when Hunter flopped, and outside interests got involved. Shame Laughton's script from the Norman Mailer novel got sacked once others took charge. Economies being stricter observed, straight-ahead Raoul Walsh took directorial charge, normally a good thing, maybe not as much here. Still, it's two gutsy hours in the field, with Walsh evoking his own previous war forays if not Mailer's. Naked is edge-cutting at times, What Price Glory-retro at others. Walsh went a lifetime figuring old gags could work as well forty years apart. Much of Naked's charm comes of ying-yanging between clichés aged in the wood, and revisionist, if slightly so, script content. Nice use of the widescreen during location'ed combat.
THE EXTRA GIRL (1923) --- Mabel Normand in another of her features for Mack Sennett. This hit an early 20's bulls-eye wickets-wise, perhaps the last of Mabel's to do so. She's already wan here, a burden of bad press and offscreen addiction taking visible toll. Again bound to antiseptic home and small-town hearth, Ralph Graves and Vernon Dent spar for her hand and go at surprisingly brutal fisticuffs, making me wonder at times if this was comedy or what. Mabel's a (too) long time getting to