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Tuesday, April 30, 2013


The Watch List For 4/30/13

BUGS BUNNY --- SUPERSTAR (1975) --- I remember this in the theatre, a compilation of pre-48 Warner funnies with bridging stuff of Bob Clampett explaining cartoon craft with input from past colleagues. Now it's available from Warner Archive in a spiffed DVD where they replaced shorts with pristine restored work done since '75. Best thing about the new release is audio commentary by Larry Jackson, who was the brains and workhorse behind BB --- Superstar and tells its production backstory from initial idea to opening night. Jackson should go on lecture tour with this fascinating data, as he had me gripped for the entire ninety minutes, and audio chats seldom achieve that hereabouts (do cartoon enthusiasts gather anywhere, like film collectors used to?). Jackson really gets beneath skin of personalities he dealt with, including the cartoonists Clampett, Tex Avery, et al, but also Orson Welles and several fathead studio execs who couldn't see what a visionary idea the young producer proposed. Jackson was well ahead of time in knowing there was intense boomer interest for old cartoons and adult willingness to buy tickets. Bugs Bunny --- Superstar was a hit then and even more fascinating now, a highly recommended Archive buy.


ISLE OF FURY (1936) --- Clearly-labeled B off Warner assembly that assumes added interest for Humphrey Bogart's early lead with what looks for all the world like a clip-on mustache and a performance you'd never think to presage greatness. Even icons needed periods of adjustment, Bogart anchored that much more by flaccid dialogue and a story thrice told in any given year by both majors and cheapies off Poverty Row, from which origin Isle Of Fury seems to have sprung (actually, it was a Somerset Maugham story adapted earlier by WB as The Narrow Corner, but changed much here). None of this takes from fun, however, of Bogie hitching his pants, pointing to make points, and straddling thin line between a stage juvenile he'd been and the tougher persona he'd become. Warners frankly doubted at times this guy could deliver (see internal memos), and Isle Of Fury goes ways toward making their argument. It's much to Bogart's credit that he rose above pics like this, but when else would he get opportunity to don diving gear and fight an octopus that made Bela's aquatic opponent in Bride Of The Monster look documentary-real? Wonder if Bogart in housebound final days caught Isle Of Fury when it began showing up on Los Angeles tee-vee in latter half of 1956.


DANGEROUS YEARS (1947) --- Growing one-time child stars take wrong paths and rob a warehouse under influence of rottenest apple "William" Halop, former Dead End Kid whose abandonment of "Billy" is tip-off to pathological bent in this Sol Wurtzel independent venture for 20th Fox release. A community rallies 'round misguided youth as softer ones (Darryl Hickman, Dickie Moore) are encouraged to rat out those less salvageable. A third-act twist tightens morality screws and table is laid for noble sacrifice to install halos above all heads. Initial scenes at a "bad" roadhouse are fun, and look out, Marilyn Monroe is a sassy waitress in her first on-camera appearance. Things degenerate to courtroom wrap relieved but fitful by flashbacks putting blame for delinquency on Bad Dads. Pretty soon, a nun shows up from the orphanage to help us understand how gun-crazed Halop went outlaw through little fault of his own. Lots of goodies sprinkled here and there --- Fox's On-Demand DVD is a pip.


GEORGIE PRICE IN "DON'T GET NERVOUS" (1929) --- Were there Georgie Price fans, or more accurately, a Georgie Price fan? His mother, perhaps? Georgie came among hordes of vaudevillians who'd not be recalled at all but for Warner Archive's release of another Vitaphone Varieties DVD set, which after eighty-four years, enables Georgie to shine, if briefly, again. He was another who traded in song and snappy patter, and must have taken ten thousand jokes with him when he died (1964). Price came up in hardest conceivable ways (see IMDB) and was what stage managers in those days called a "pro." These Vita shorts are richer by spades once you've read a little background on artists involved. Such vaude vets seem to have sprung from American variation on Dickens novels. Don't Get Nervous is unique for taking us behind scenes at WB's Brooklyn factory where earliest talking shorts were made. There's even 24/7 shift directing Bryan Foy, of later producing everywhere fame (inc. House Of Wax), here in person to bandy with Georgie (as above left), and doing so expertly (after all, Brynie was himself a trodder of boards). Performers like Georgie Price must have been a pleasure to watch then, and for my money, still are. Keep them coming, Warners!


NICK CARTER --- MASTER DETECTIVE (1939) --- Beginner director Jacques Tourneur shows what eager talent can bring to B mystery-making, this a first of two Nick Carters that were as much calling cards for the neophyte helmsman as for star Walter Pidgeon and a pulp gumshoe they brought to life (a third Carter was made, sans Tournear). Spies afoot at aerodromes was likely a worse problem in actuality than presented here, so I wonder how we got anything off the ground without foreign agentry stealing it first. War being imminent lent urgency to Nick's mission, and though words aren't spoken to that effect, tensions are palpable, and that's a boost toward excitement. Suspects range across central casting. Could we have had it better than days when line-up included Stanley Ridges, Martin Kosleck, Frank Faylen, Milburn Stone --- believe me, I could go on. There's two junctures at which nitrate film is set afire, which surprised me as the pic industry was better served keeping quiet celluloid's potential hazard. Pidgeon teetered upon major stardom as Carter, so three was his limit ... too bad. Tourneur set fog machines on high, combines process screening and location so that intrepid Carter can tommy-gun shipboard smugglers from cockpit vantage point, a highlight that must have sent kids into paradoxyms of joy. A good one.

7 Comments:

Blogger James Abbott said...

The Nick Carters are GREAT fun; particularly for Donald Meek's terrific performance. What fun!

9:51 AM  
Blogger Vienna said...

I haven't seen any but Tourneur and Pidgeon and great supporting cast make them ones to look out for.

Vienna's Classic Hollywood.

4:51 PM  
Blogger Tom Ruegger said...

I hear Avery and Jones were not happy that Bob Clampett, in "Superstar," grabbed a lot of credit for the creation of Bugs Bunny. (And can you believe Clampett's hairpiece? It's like something Fudd might wear.)

1:02 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer speaks to the topics of Humphrey Bogart and "Isle Of Fury":


"Isle of Fury" is probably not such a good picture, though Bogart would make others during that period which were worse. What he had going for him, however, was the same thing John Gilbert had for awhile: a strong performance in a good picture that kept him going.

As the 1920s wore on, Gilbert was put in a succession of mediocre vehicles that gradually eroded his popularity, but "The Big Parade" was one of the great ones and it stayed on Broadway for over a year. While it was there and even afterwards, people would come to see a "Twelve Miles Out" or "Desert Nights," hoping to have another glimpse of the actor who played Jim Apperson.

For all those Warner suits with their questions about Bogart, there would have been others who would have responded, "Yeah, but the guy was Duke Mantee." Now, truth to tell, Bogart's portrayal of that hard boiled gangster in "The Petrified Forest" was more than a little mannered, really the work of an actor without much experience before the camera. He brought over some things that had gone over for him when he played the role on the stage--the crabbed way he held his hands, the visual snarl of his facial expression--but they were a little too big for the film medium. It was an undeniably compelling performance, however, and he dominated every scene he was in.

However much some executives wondered whether he had the goods, there was always Duke Mantee to confound them. Either that was a fluke or he really had something. He hung around, playing leads in programmers and heavies in better pictures, learning his craft and, more importantly, learning how to be "Bogart." When he got his break with "High Sierra" and "The Maltese Falcon," he was ready.

Daniel

4:23 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Richard M. Roberts points out the joys of MGM's Nick Carter series starring Walter Pidgeon:


Hey There John,

Linda and I discovered those MGM Nick Carters last time TCM ran all three of them in one night and loved them. I had seen them on Walter Pidgeon's Filmography for years and generally avoided them because A. they were MGM programmers and I have a general allergy to their series pictures, and B. I had an allergy to Walter Pidgeon as I had seen too many of his pictures with Greer Garson. But Pidgeon has begun to grow on me as I began to see more of his early films (who knew he sang?) and his later films(including an odd Italian comedy he did with Toto in 1961 called TWO COLONELS that is surprisingly charming and remember him as the coke-head pickpocket in HARRY IN YOUR POCKET?) and saw him less stick up his butt than he is with Garson.

For an MGM series, the Carters were as close as that studio came to rivalling Columbia, 20th Century Fox and RKO for a fun B Detective (Thin Mans don't count, and they got wimpy the minute the kid showed up) and it's a pity they didn't go on with them after Pidgeon moved on to better things, they could have had Edmund Lowe or heck, even Tom Conway at that juncture (wasn't he doing support in MGM stuff then?) carry on with it.


RICHARD

4:26 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

Watched the three Nick Carter's last week. Lotsa fun. And, of course, Metro's "B" pix look like "A" features.

I agree with Mr. Abbott. Mr. Meek is delightful.

7:10 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Not a hair piece. That was Bob's hair. As for Clampett grabbing credit he was not due we have only to look at his films to know he was due that and more. He put the LOONEY into LOONEY TUNES and the MERRIE into Merrie Melodies.

Bob also went out of his way to be of help to other people. He was a great help and a great friend to myself and many more.

1:11 PM  

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