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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Watch List For 2/26/13

THE LIQUIDATOR (1965) --- A James Bond copy if you were standing outside the theatre (and looking at the one-sheet shown here), but something very different once you paid admission and got in. 007 imitators tried too often to undercut their model by making secret agents buffoonish or ineffective. Others were plain cheap looking. I remember walking out on a Matt Helm at one saturation point (of many). The Liquidator has wit, a pretty good concept, but we're there to see Rod Taylor do actionful things, not be a counterfeit agent buffeted by heavies till almost an end. You can watch and wonder how Taylor might have been as Bond himself ... very good, I'd propose. The Liquidator was the kind we'd go see during waits for a next 007 fix. I well remember ad art that equated Taylor here with JB in all particulars, so imagine letdown when he turned out to be more comic than cunning. Maybe adults had fun seeing espionage formulas up-ended, but were they attending The Liquidator or staying home with teevee?, leaving us kids to contribute the paltry $1.5 million in domestic rentals to MGM coffers.

AFFECTIONATELY YOURS (1941) --- Warner comedy rendered by heaviest hands. This company's efforts at laugh-making could be that way, and often were, thanks to factory application of bumps that had played funnier via more expert and elsewhere hands. There is borrowing from betters throughout. Whatever doesn't amuse can at least be louder. People fall down lots, and slapstick at times reaches violence of Three Stooge level. I kept expecting Jack Carson to walk in any minute, but others of Warner stabling are reliably there. Domestics Hattie McDaniel and Butterfly McQueen are larded with the stalest of shtick as Ralph Bellamy does a photo-finish on parts he had in The Awful Truth and His Girl Friday. The trio at romantic odds are Merle Oberon, Dennis Morgan, and Rita Hayworth, none with a gift at farce, so they tend toward excess effort. Affectionately Yours was Mark Hellinger-produced, with Hal Wallis supervising. I understand they hated each other. Could that be part of problem here? I'll confess to hitting the 2x button for quicker exit from set-pieces that seemed to have no end otherwise. Say what we will, but I still bet Affectionately Yours raised roofs in crowded enough houses, but to a lone sitter, can be plain murder.

THREE BAD MEN (1926) ---  John Ford directs a super-western going several which (narrative) ways, but resolves to one of three bad men righting a wrong done his sister by a villain who mostly emerges as such during the second half. Ford said he was interfered with, thus a story and characters cast over too wide a landscape, especially as this had not epic potential to begin with. Still enough action and good performing though, to assure ninety minutes pleasingly spent, and there's a whopping land rush saved for a final third. George O'Brien is the star, but disappears for long stretches, and a pair of leading ladies seem at odds as to which will dominate. Watching this made me wish again that John Ford had done westerns exclusive from The Iron Horse on, instead of this being the only one between that 1924 hit and Stagecoach in 1939. Three Bad Men looks OK on Fox's DVD, but aren't there better elements for it somewhere?

Monty Banks, Second From Right, Among UK Director Colleagues, Including First at Left Alfred Hitchcock 

PAY OR MOVE (1924) --- Monty Banks was the comic mid-point between Keystone grotesque and dapper fit of Charley Chase, Raymond Griffith, and other progressives. In other words, you'll almost believe he could get the girl. Gags are elaborate and must have been a labor to put over. Banks was another of those who struggled to remain on second tier, chances pretty remote he'd vault to a first, despite outstanding work here and there (see Play Safe, aka Chasing Choo Choos). A garden party and mistaken identity is Pay Or Move's familiar device. There's another of those "secret societies" that menaced silent comics and seem to have disappeared after talkers came. Banks was creative enough to stay gainful in the biz, his credits extending well into the 40's and association with funnymen who could rely on his plentiful expertise (directing Laurel and Hardy in Great Guns, among others). He'd also helm UK shorts/features, an obviously capable guy. Pay Or Move was a bonus on Grapevine's DVD with The Night Cry.

BULLETS FOR O' HARA (1941) --- If a humble B tells its story in 50 minutes, why extend length further? Bullets was filmed but five years before as Public Enemy's Wife, which causes me to figure audiences then for shorter memories, or perhaps just inundated with so many pics that they couldn't keep account of yarns already seen. Bullets is fast here, foolish there, as with so many from its basement level, being the improbable story of a nice girl married a year before discovering her husband's a gangster (that all the more incredulous when he's patent-leather malefactor Anthony Quinn). Warners did such as this by the yards. Once during a WB tour in the 70's, I pointed out that stages once used for classics like Jezebel and The Maltese Falcon were now host to lowly TV shoots, to which the girl guide properly put me in place by pointing out that likes of Jezebel and the Falcon were way outnumbered during the Gold Age by humble B's Warner made. So right she was!


Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer has some appreciative words for Merle Oberon:

Merle Oberon was a beautiful woman, with pert features set in a heart-shaped face, ivory skin contrasted with chestnut hair, and a petite, delicately emphatic figure. The slant of her hazel-colored eyes gave her a decidedly exotic appearance, but the mystery behind that would not be revealed in her life time. She would have won the hearts of many a young man, even my own when I was young and had first discovered the ideal of romance.

By the time she starred in "Affectionately Yours," she had already appeared in a variety of roles, from exotics ("Folies Bergere"), dewy-eyed innocents ("The Dark Angel," "Beloved Enemy"), and a tragic heroine, Cathy in "Wuthering Heights." Dying came more easily to her than comedy. Her luminous death scene in "Wuthering Heights" redeemed a performance that was in many ways not adequate to the demands of the role. As a dramatic actress, she would always be better in cameos or supporting parts, such as her Anne Boleyn in "The Private Life of Henry VIII," the Empress Josephine in "Desiree," or the Duchess in "Hotel," where there was not the need to sustain that brief brilliance. Of her turn as a music hall dancer essaying the can can in "The Lodger," Time magazine snidely asked, "Might it not be better called the 'can't can't?'"

In comedy, she tended to simper, content in the knowlege that she was so adorable that no one would mind terribly if she stumbled over laugh lines. And she is rather adorable in "Affectionately Yours." As for the faults of the film itself--the tendency towards frenzy and loudness, the slapstick and repeated stupidities--they're really very similar to what prevailed in later war time comedies. It would be interesting to see the ad art from later reissues during that period, to see if it played up the "laffs" and the rising stardom of Rita Hayworth.

I would just as soon sit down with the 19 year old I was and watch Merle again.


12:05 PM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

Re: PUBLIC ENEMY'S WIFE remade five years later as BULLETS FOR O'HARA.

I suppose the studios did assume the consumer had a short memory.

RKO remade a George O'Brien western two years later with Tim Holt.

1:18 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

It's surprising there aren't more good, tough James Bond imitations-- maybe the 60s were too hip for the room, but everyone immediately took the campy excess route, a game you couldn't beat the original series at and that makes them all tough to take now. Other than the first two Harry Palmer movies, the only rival that holds up, to my mind, is The Quiller Memorandum. It's a real thriller, not a spoof, although it has some dry absurdist humor (courtesy screenplay by Harold Pinter). But it's tough and, in the end, morally serious. Weird to think of that being George Segal's career if the series had taken off, as opposed to being a sort of well-groomed counterculture comic figure.

4:30 PM  
Blogger Mark Mayerson said...

After The Iron Horse and Three Bad Men, I wonder why Fox gave The Big Trail to Raoul Walsh instead of Ford? Could it be due to the success of In Old Arizona and Walsh's expertise with location sound?

The Big Trail was the cause of Ford freezing out John Wayne for years, supposedly because Ford was upset that Walsh starred Wayne before he did, but I wonder if Ford resented Walsh getting the film instead of him and Wayne was collateral damage.

9:53 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Craig Reardon shares some more of his unique insights about today's Watch List (Part One):

Hi John,

Your review of the old WB "comedy" made me laugh, and I had to ruminate on some of the WB comedies I've seen from the '30s and '40s, and I think you're right! I don't think those were particularly the 'speciality de la maison'! I force myself to watch "The Bride Came C.O.D.", and that was written by the two Epstein brothers, who were pretty good with an epigram and a wisecrack. But maybe that's the point. Maybe that's where WB films do shine, in the weisenheimer area. I like aspects of "The Bride...", but not too many---I watch it to see the novelty of Bette Davis portrayed as a playgirl (!), and Cagney, on general principles. "Arsenic and Old Lace" has a foolproof play underneath it, but it too is quite broad, and I survive in part on Cary Grant's imaginative overplaying (which he said Capra forced him to do, but he does it so well!), the cool makeup job on Raymond Massey (as Karloff, in effect), and Max Steiner's marvelous score. Plus, you just gotta love that WB 'look'---those incredible indoor sets, and the great cinematography. The other big stage hit they did, "The Man Who Came to Dinner", also wears out its welcome pretty quick. Later on, I thought "The Adventures of Don Juan" was a very good mix of melodrama (very tongue in cheek), romance (almost ditto), and mainly, affectionate send-up. It's almost on the self-same frequency as the same year's "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein"---something that once played much more straight, played straight but only for friendly laughs. When they're looked at as all-out farces, they seem to loose their compass. "The Male Animal" is another one that just doesn't quite work. "George Washington Slept Here", same thing all over again. Maybe you can think of some good ones, though, that'd pull WB's fat out of the fire in this time-honored genre, the all-out comedy. Frankly, something like Universal's "My Man Godfrey" puts most of the WB comedies I'm able to think of to shame. It is interesting to see that good cast, though, because I got to meet one of them: Ralph Bellamy, who was a total gent. Just to think he was sitting ass cheek to ass cheek on that couch with Rita Hayworth! Ahhhh...!

8:25 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

More from Craig Reardon (Part Two):

Before I forget, the poster from "The Liquidator" couldn't be much more in imitation of the all-out silly stuff they did for "You Only Live Twice", could it? OR, have I got the egg before the chicken? Poor Rod Taylor, who's anything but, looks pretty 'homogenized', shall I say, in that robe and with the body they've painted under him in that coy pose! Once in roaming the 'net, I saw something about Richard Beymer, who was in a performing school with some other future names as a little boy. I can't remember the other little girl, darn it, but the one I do remember was Jill St. John, by whatever her real name is or was (which is probably accessible on the IMDB.) She was clearly the future beneficiary of a nose job! However, I think the rest of her is quite real, and quite delicious too. Glenn Erickson did a review of a movie she was in, and by golly I think it was this one! He voiced his own opinion that he never understood the sex appeal of St. John, mostly due to her speaking voice. Yeah, I can kind of get aboard on that assessment. A great looking girl, but her voice wasn't part of her allure, and her delivery wasn't very attractive, either. However, I think I read in at least three interviews with her back in the day when I was a pre-teen movie fan about her high I.Q. It's funny that often people who are smart don't seem smart, and it's a hell of a lot funnier how more often people who aren't, do!---at least where actors are concerned.

I finally wanted to say that your including that reminiscence of touring WB Studio in the '70s is one I halfway share! A pal of mine had a ticket to take that tour in 1973, I recall, and I went with him, and it was a blast, really, for a movie fan like me. It was the first time I'd been on a REAL-feeling movie lot. (I'd taken the Universal Tour in 1966 with my parents, and of course that too was a fully-functioning lot then, certainly vs. now; but it didn't feel as authentic as WB did.) I must add that at that blighted time, it was called TBS, or, "The Burbank Studios", and was cohabited by corporate Columbia Pictures as well as Warner Bros. Not very romantic to a purist, 'classic' movies fan. I was very happy when it later reverted to being just Warner Bros again, and they restored the famous 'shield' logo on the water tower and all over the lot. But, that was a good tour. I remember they still had the Western Street there, then, presumably at least a remnant of the same one that'd had Errol Flynn's bootprints all over it! (Long gone, today.) And the young tour guide's response to you was indeed accurate, as you nicely give her credit. We all, I should think, have no idea how many movies were really lackluster time-killers for the moviegoing public, with the best ones the ones we think, today, were "typical"---but were actually no doubt exceptional, even then.

8:26 AM  
Blogger MDG14450 said...

Michael, above, captured my thoughts on Bond imitations. It seems like British productions took the serious aspects of the spy game (to the point of totally eschewing action in things like The Deadly Affair) while Americans just went for the fun,and European productions even crazier than that.

10:42 AM  
Blogger rnigma said...

I hadn't seen "The Liquidator," but I notice that it's based on a book by John Gardner - who would later write several James Bond books with the blessing of Ian Fleming's estate. And with Jack Cardiff directing, it would certainly look stylish, at least.

12:38 PM  
Blogger tbonemankini said...

Soooo...looking at her IMDB,was any other actress as well known as Jill At John was in the 60s /70s for so little memorable work....saw this at a drivein probably 2 or 3 years after its eventual release and knew her from BATMAN and FAME IS THE NAME OF THE GAME and maybe BANNING with Wagner, which NBC tried to sell as an I SPY due to the tennis connection. I recall her being all over TV and movies which IMDB doesn't bear out.

11:21 AM  

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