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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Watch List For 3/19/13

HELL AND HIGH WATER (1954) --- Merc-motivated Dick Widmark is willing to sail a refitted Jap sub into Arctic waters to search for Red missile bases, but only for cash. Will he answer patriotic plea to quell communist A-bomb plot? Wide across my room C'Scope and directing Samuel Fuller, at a time he enjoyed good Fox graces, answers this and more in a typically enjoyable Cold War exercise that borrows bumps, and footage, from 20th's Crash Dive of a decade previous. Scientists aboard warn us of what's at stake should China oblige nuking inclination, eggheads and militarists going at common cause to stop Red adventuring before it starts, thus a commando raid and blowing-to-hell of multiple atolls enemy-occupied. Watching this, you'd think we were at full scale war in '54, instead of being fresh out of limited Korean engagement. Hell and High Water was for putting mollycoddles aside in favor of boots-on-ground disposal of Totalitarian threat. $5.8 million in rentals (against $1.8 spent) suggests worldwide patronage saw it Fuller/Fox's way.

PLAY SAFE (1936) --- "3-D sets" that were a Max Fleischer specialty are used liberally in this so-called "Color Classic" from a series that tried beating Disney at lavish animation's contest. Cute cartooning was never Max's strength, in fact it was nobody's, and besides, what did his urban crew know about bucolic setting from which little boys catch passing choo-choos? All they could do was imagine how Walt would proceed, then draw accordingly. In Play Safe's instance, it's a rescue dog what scoops Junior from tracks after dream sequence touring of models Fleicher built at great expense to up ante of cartoon competition. Color Classics would be better regarded if more were accessible. As it is, some are Public Domain, and others have a lock placed by rights holding that can't be bothered (honestly, where's the profit in cleaning these up?). PD survivors have been compiled using best-as-can-be-scrounged prints, but they amount to faint representation. The cleanest extant CC is this one contained in Flicker Alley's Saved From The Flames DVD set, Play Safe derived from 35mm Technicolor nitrate. It's a stunner and makes a case for reevaluation of the entire series, if only we could see them as properly.

FOUR CLOWNS (1970) --- Last of the Robert Youngson grab-bags. Brick Davis and I went to see this on a Liberty double with Hell's Angels On Wheels, having to go through Hell once in order to see Clowns twice. Such was price paid then to look at favored pics. The four amusers were Laurel and Hardy, Charley Chase, and Buster Keaton. I had much of L&H on 8mm by '70, but seeing them on 35mm dazzled, and included was solo Stan/Babe all new to us. So was virtually all the Chase stuff, these remaining 2013 rarest of all Four Clowns footage (CC shorts released on US-DVD include few of ones originally distributed by MGM --- who owns them now?). Chase has always been a surprise to the many who've never heard of him, a status prevailing even to now. I've been told for forty-five years how ripe he is for rediscovery, but has that ever really happened, expect by buffs pre-disposed toward this stuff?

Keaton's portion was the biggest kick then --- over half his 1925 feature Seven Chances, licensed by Youngson from preserving renegade Raymond Rohauer. Expiration of the latter's twenty year lease to Youngson/Fox would put Four Clowns neatly on ice from 1990 on. You can't see FC any way but bootleg now. For that matter, the Laurel and Hardy silent shorts are current frozen and out-of-print on DVD, just a handful showing up on TCM from time to time. Youngson all-told had used up a seeming every inch of L&H that didn't talk, except maybe Bacon Grabbers, which I suspect was in too rough a shape to summon (has anyone ever seen a really good print of this?). One L&H that was used in Four Clowns was Their Purple Moment, a longest excerpt of theirs in the feature, and the best. We'd always come away from Youngson wanting much more, but how to acquire such when so little, especially of Keaton, was on television, and none at all of Charley Chase in most markets. Blackhawk had smatterings on 8 and 16mm, but scarcely for free. Silent comedy was then precious ore that you really had to dig for.

APPOINTMENT IN BERLIN (1943) --- Wing commander George Sanders is cashiered for drunken denouncing of England's appeasement policy, capped by treason rap for which he serves eighteen months, these gestures for King and Country that enable his going undercover to rout Germany's invasion of British Isles. Got that? Some say Sanders was himself more ambivalent as to outcome of WWII, a tale I choose not to believe (he's my beloved George, after all). Appointment flew coach from Columbia, not a cheapie, but nowhere near Warner or Metro's level for its type (WB's Across The Pacific is similar and much better). Emphasis on radio broadcasts out of Berlin to lower Brit morale, with Sanders narrating same, makes for a pleasurable hour. Climactic blowing-to-H of would-be Nazi invasion force surely sent popcorn airborne in crowded '43 houses, such orgies of enemy destruction being standard issue during time of need for such reassurance.


Blogger Unknown said...

FOUR CLOWNS! As far as I remember, my first exposure to silent comedy, on the WTAE-TV (Pittsburgh) Sunday matinee movie. Haven't thought about it in years, but I can still remember the tone--if not the text--of the voiceover doing the transitions between films...and of finding the boulder-centric climax of SEVEN CHANCES more scary than funny to a (I'm guessing) five-year-old. Obviously it's great that we have easier access to the original CHANCES but it sounds like you, as I do, miss the weird and lumpy compilation films, too. One I truly miss--and this one will never emerge from copyright hell--is 1976's LIFE GOES TO THE MOVIES, my introduction to, well, much of Hollywood history.

11:24 PM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Clips of BACON GRABBERS did pop up in that non-Youngson paste-up CRAZY WORLD OF LAUREL AND HARDY. I actually saw that one in a theater, along with the Jay Ward re-edit of THE GENERAL. Caught FOUR CLOWNS at a 35mm college screening six months after its official release. The audience was packed and delighted, but the programer confided it was only plugged into the campus schedule of recent features to shore up the budget... rental for that one was a bargain.

I love PLAY SAFE! Slo-mo the part where the dog magically slips out of the collar!

9:25 AM  

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