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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Watch List For 2/19/13

THE CRADLE OF COURAGE (1920) --- Bill Hart always went for great character names: he's "Square" Kelly here, a thief and crook operative who comes back from Great War trenches ready to turn over an honest leaf. Gangdom in silents was strictly bush-league, scruffy barflys casual burgling upscale houses on nearby blocks. The Cradle Of Courage presages mischief engaged by starting-out Veto Corleone in The Godfather: Part Two, only Cradle's got Bill to don copper blues and put rout to miscreant pals he once led. Frisco locations enhance Courage as Hart takes bracing walks up/down steep hills not many years after the '06 Quake leveled them. Bill in civvies is not startling remove from his frontier dress, as 1920 life is sufficiently old west to ease transition. Action's at minimum, though by then it mattered less for Hart's glare being threat enough to bad men. He does all he did best here --- Bill in a moral dilemma was surest thing to please fans of this greatest man of the plains. The Cradle Of Courage was but mildest tweak at the formula, and works. What's better still is an excellent transfer Grapevine Video supplies in their DVD release.

LIBERTY (1929) --- It's by nature funnier to watch convicts escape in striped uniforms that orange jumpsuits they'd wear today. Liberty has Laurel and Hardy skipping goal for virtual tour of simpler times Culver City and breathtaking view of greater Los Angeles from highness of a skyscraper in progress, this faked to heart-stop conviction. If ever a short stayed in its makers memory, Liberty was one; twenty-five years later on This Is You Life, the team would reminisce with guest Leo McCarey about risks they took. Liberty was released January 1929, had a music/effects score (essential for fullest enjoyment) made up of pop tunes hummed widely then (and since by me). It's a polished subject befitting Roach's release arrangement with MGM and that company's resource to put L&H before widest-ever patronage.

Some of the Culver filming sites are still there, fans having made pilgrimage and matched brick-for-brick where Stan and Babe tried changing pants in avoidance of shocked onlookers. That's the trick of a first half ... the boys in their breaking out rush are in one another's trousers and there's no retreat to which they can right themselves. Observers happening by think there's something quite different (and unwholesome) afoot. Could Laurel and Hardy have gotten away with this five years later under Code watchfulness? Not likely. I wonder frankly how subsequent owner Library Films, Inc. managed a Liberty reissue, which apparently they did, without difficulty getting a Seal. Did PCA monitors sign their pass without looking?

Interesting too is Stan pants nearly fitting Babe --- well, at least they'll button in front. Hardy was less fat than robust in '29. A fitter word might be stout. Further Liberty bonus is Jean Harlow briefly glimpsed, not close-up unfortunately, but recognizable and at stardom's cusp. You could argue that Liberty is two one-reelers pasted in the middle, with pants-switch an initial concern and getting L/H off their high hurdle the next. Home movie moochers were later able to split it thus, piratical distribs circulating Liberty bits as dizzy-titled Skywalking, High Jinx, Crab Bait, among others (read fascinating detail of this in Scott MacGillivray's Laurel and Hardy: From The Forties Forward). Mile-up comedy wasn't typical of L&H, but Liberty hazard was real enough according to later account --- a fall, despite platforms installed below them, might well have been injurious. It's in part that, plus otherwise excellence, that puts Liberty among best Stan/Babe silents.

NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH (1940) --- You forget how fine a thing is for letting years pass since viewing. This is a British Hitchcock with all but Hitchcock to assure crackling good times and wit to rank high as when the Master made his lady vanish two years before. Well, why shouldn't staff remaining re-use what worked so beautifully for AH? Carol Reed directs after light-touch fashion of Hitchcock, his Nazis kidded as they'd not be again till Ernst Lubitsch did To Be Or Not To Be. You'd think Night Train was an outright sequel to The Lady Vanishes for drollsters Charters and Caldicott (Basil Radford & Naunton Wayne) back aboard and befuddled as ever by sinister goings-on. The danger is real, however, and suspense easily maintains over a ninety-minute ride. I sat wondering how many more are as good as this, concluding that yes, most Hitchcocks, but also others written by inspired team of Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat, who also penned The Lady Vanishes. These two would write and/or direct a brace of thrillers near or altogether the equal of Hitchcock at full steam (Green For Danger a classic I'll soon revisit). Night Train To Munich gets a full marks transfer from Criterion.


Blogger Dave K said...

Just revisited NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH a couple of weeks ago. Terrific show and you gotta love the cable car finale!

LIBERTY falls into that surprisingly smallish group of late-period silents that require absolutely no inter-titles. The visuals tell you everything...EVERYTHING... you need to know to enjoy the story!

7:13 PM  
Blogger Steve Haynes said...

For another good train ride (with murder) BEFORE Lady Vanishes, try ROME EXPRESS with Conrad Veidt as a laughing psycho.

Very nice DVD from VCI.

12:27 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Steve, I have "Rome Express" coming up in a future "Watch List," the notes having been written over a month ago, but WL's are so stacked up in advance of publishing that it will be months before "Rome Express" actually pulls in. Notes I'm writing today won't actually show up on the site until sometime next Fall.

I do, by the way, REALLY like "Rome Express." It's one of the great viewing discoveries so far in 2013.

7:46 PM  

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