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?).
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
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
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.