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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Watch List For 4/16/13

RED DUST (1932) --- The jungle-set torrid one said to have run at smokers back in the day, and a longest awaited of precode signatures to be writ on DVD, Warner Archive the deliverer with best-ever quality a result of what I understand was extensive patch-up. How spoiled we are today ... a blurry TV transmission of Red Dust would once have been a thrill, but no more. Now it's pristine off camera elements or nothing. My question: Was Red Dust ever code-cut? The only reissue I'm specifically aware of was in 1963 as part of a larger Metro bring-back of oldies, but there's a still I found with a 1954 date. Could Red Dust have lost footage after 1932 circulation? What's here looks complete, as much so as a 16mm print among my collecting first in 1973 ... that's how long RD has been a favorite.

Surely it's a best of Gable-Harlow teamings, China Seas a worthy second even as essentially a Dust remake. Red Dust seems also the best Howard Hawks film he never directed, but always wished he had. Word is, HH was not a little green over Victor Fleming's success here and tried to grab some credit for RD's development. There's also John Gilbert done out of starring in Gable's favor --- Red Dust might have revitalized Jack, but it wasn't to be (GPS readers know how sympathetic I always was to his plight). From this, Gilbert's plummet got steeper. Harlow husband Paul Bern took leave with a bullet during production, Harlow back to finish Red Dust after brief mourning (she chose work over stress of inactivity) --- a guessing game might be to spot before-and-aft, but that gets nowhere thanks to pro work she tenders.

Mary Astor lived long and talked some about Red Dust. Gene Raymond was venerable too --- did he share anecdotes? Dialogue is tart and spat out by Red's cast. I always note how Gable pronounces "room" as "rum." Then there's age-old debate between Roquefort and Gorgonzola (as in cheese) --- I've tried neither, so which is better? Admirable stretch of jungle was on Metro's backlot, and it rained much of the time. Hallowed ground this would become for future Tarzans. Red Dust must have been a sloppy shoot. Astor said she and Gable literally gave off steam when they kissed. Harlow gets the comedy, but it's really Astor what supplies RD heat. They sure don't make them so spare as this anymore. In fact, such had quit during Gable's own lifetime, as witness bloat of remake Mogambo in 1953 (but still it's great too).

THE SHOW (1922) --- The whirlwind that was Larry Semon made some of the fanciest comedies of his day, surpassing even Chaplin at times for money spent and spectacular effect. Here was where he went CC one better for staging a night at The Show, Semon adding a wild chase for a finish aboard his era's time-honored runaway train. Were Semon comedies overloaded? Larry would be first to say, well, duh. His whole idea was to give value for tickets and then some. Few came out of a Semon show wishing he'd done more. Gagman and directing assist Norman Taurog knew comedy like pianists know scales, and hit few wrong notes over years majordomo'ing Semon, followed by work at developing Lloyd Hamilton. From these to lush featuring at Metro and eventual helm of Elvis and Dr. Goldfoot is proof we've neglected this artist as grievously as front-of-camera Larry, both deserving of lengthy profile if not whole books (best Semon coverage derives from a Classic Images article by Richard M. Roberts).

The Show tenders two Larrys, plus his dream's heroic alter-ego that figures into aforementioned train rescue. Complicated enough? Gags Semon staged involved the customary risk of necks, some so violent you wonder if blood was drawn. Larry wore clown white and pants hitched up his chest, love interest for him, at least here, being quite out of the question. Was this the corner Semon boxed himself into? Comedians with feature hope needed at least chance of getting the girl, something funny face Larry was hard put aspiring to. Any approach to normalcy is thwarted by Semon's anything for a laugh. Would Chaplin, Keaton, or Lloyd assist their leading lady with makeup, then eat her lipstick and powder puff? Even expectation of the unexpected doesn't prepare us for a rooster that consumes nitro-glycerin, then explodes. Semon's comedies were so well made, so energetic, as to be hard not to like, so it's nice finding one, as here in Kino's DVD Oliver Hardy Collection (he's the heavy), of such fine quality.


Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer again expresses himself beautifully, this time on silent comedy and Larry Semon:

The readers will note that you ask whether Chaplin, Keaton, or Lloyd would have done as Larry Semon did, but do not add Harry Langdon to that group, so as to make a quartette.

And wisely so, given that the Langdon universe is decidedly an alternate even to the one in which Semon performed his antics.

For Larry, romance was always a gag away. For Harry, it was yet another banana peel no one ever stepped on.

It says something for their audiences, then and now, that Chaplin's first great popularity was won with wild anarchic violence, but kept when he began courting Edna Purviance, while Keaton's chilly existentialism was warmed by M-G-M's sentimentality until he melted away, more popular than ever. Lloyd always sought the girl, his glasses misted over with longing, but his success was a passing moment between street car arrivals.

If Semon was one of those trapped in a box of clown white, then Langdon is for the few who understand that any box is the work of the mime whose face we see in the bathroom mirror each morning.

9:55 AM  
Blogger Eddie Selover said...

Hey John:

There is at least once scene I know was cut from Red Dust. It's after Astor has first succumbed to Gable -- she returns to her room and lies down in a fairly explicit erotic daze. As she runs one hand up and down the bed beside her, she is clearly remembering the details of their lovemaking, and it's actually one of the hottest and most sexually explicit scenes in all of 30s cinema. But when I saw the movie at Film Forum a few years ago (billed as uncut) the scene was missing. Curious to know if it made it to Warner's new DVD version. It's a subtle cut and easy to miss, but I for one missed it a lot!

12:13 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

That's the first I've heard of such a scene, Eddie. Never once saw it myself on any print of "Red Dust." I wonder if it still exists anywhere. Thanks for sharing this.

12:18 PM  
Blogger Eddie Selover said...

I know I saw it more than once, during showings of the film in Los Angeles in the 80s. Probably it was cut from the negative but survives in some prints.

p.s. the perniciousness of Hays Office censorship, especially in the 30s, seems more and more outrageous and contemptible to me the older I get.

12:22 PM  

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