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Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Watch List For 5/16/13

THUNDERBALL (1965) --- The Bond that arrived at a highest pitch of excitement for the spy series. I was Liberty-there on 2-26-66, the first through doors at 9:40 AM on a Saturday. How many movie mornings can be recalled so vividly? 007 was worth waiting a year for. Substitutes, other than reissued Bond pairs, wouldn't do. NBC broadcast clip-laden 007 specials to precede each new one, and large format mags put the agent on covers. Advance publicity didn't suffocate as it now would thanks to fewer outlets spreading word, 1965-66 still an ad world limited to print, radio, and TV. I should add toys that inundated Christmas '65, Bond being much aimed at kids from early on. What they offered wasn't mere gimcracks --- Santa could bring little else down chimneys when youth asked for a 007 road race set or attaché case, these representing expense beyond ordinary gifts.

Thunderball broke beyond success of so-far Bonds. They spent more, and it showed to a point of making Goldfinger and before look like programmers by comparison, but what choice was there? The series was now a recurring event, and nothing less than spectacular would do. Critics took harsh note, saying Connery's Bond was swamped by size and decor. Partly that was true, as sets do dwarf he and co-stars much of the time, but my recent view found 007's wit and personality much intact, even as ceiling levels above him increased by a seeming thirty feet. What series chroniclers forget is that we wanted Thunderball to be a most extravagant of Bonds. Summer '65's run-up encore of Dr. No and From Russia With Love found both wanting so far as fans (many) whose first exposure had been slicker-than-either Goldfinger. How could movies but a couple years old suddenly have seemed old-fashioned? Maybe Thunderball falls appropriately into you-had-to-be-there category, and for having indeed been there, I treasure it all the more.

THE VIRGINIAN (1946) --- Some have knocked this remake of admittedly more memorable 1929 adapt of Owen Wister's story, but it's such a natural for picture-telling that it's hard blaming Paramount for another go. Characters so vivid would even tube-endure from 60's into early 70's weekly riding at NBC, Universal being heir to the property thanks to MCA purchase of pre-48 Paras in a meantime. Retroplex ran this '46 rendition in startling HD, a kickstart toward enjoyment that made me happy to have waited lo these years to watch. Joel McCrea takes Coop's part, Sonny Tufts is ill-fated Steve (what's all this bad actor stuff? --- he's fine here), and Brian Donlevy, kitted out all-black, does Trampas for he and Joel's reprise of deathless When you call me that, smile. Top-lined by Paramount in that biggest of all movie attending years, gad-zillions saw this Virginian and likely recalled it better than an early talkie original that had been out of wide-view since a '34 reissue. Big westerns needn't be great westerns to be a joy, as proved by this and super-A's Paramount did to showcase 40's stars (I'll wait now for Retroplex to H-Do Whispering Smith with Alan Ladd, and maybe Streets Of Laredo).

THE MUMMY'S SHROUD (1967) --- This mummy has been pilloried for loping about in a union suit (some have even detected zippers). Hammer's Egypt forays kept better faith with fans than did Universal with earlier, and diminishing, Kharis chapters. Bray restaging of ancient environs came across like English drawing rooms, a tomb just entered well lit and near-spotless despite three thousand years' passage of time. Hammer hadn't run out of style by 1967 --- far from it --- they could still do lush from a lemon budget, and actors never played down to content, however ludicrous such often was (stalwart Michael Ripper gives probably his best-ever performance here). You'd nearly buy into this Mummy but for grievous shortcut they took with his costuming, a fatal decision to dress rather than wrap him. Would a Rugby uniform have been any less inapt? I skipped The Mummy's Shroud in 1967 ... something about the trailer put me off. Others may have done the same, as it earned but $256K in domestic rentals. Now I've watched a gorgeous Region 2 Blu-Ray, and thanks in part to that, The Mummy's Shroud fills modest expectation nicely after a forty-six year wait.

SALT WATER DAFFY (1933) --- It's a "Big V" comedy from Warners, now packaged by courtesy of their DVD Archive. What a treasure find these are. Salt Water Daffy turns out to have been largely remade as Buck Privates eight years later. Same set-up, a near identical first half. Comic writers had long memories ... of other writer's stuff. Some of salt water seems to have lodged in these clown's throats, as Daffy evolves into a contest of harsh voicing by Jack Haley vis a vis tough drill master Lionel Stander. Haley sure tamped down by the time he became the Tin Man. Here he sounds more like Bud Abbott to come, another link with Buck Privates, to which parallel add an awkward squad routine with Stander anticipating Nat Pendleton's frustration. Funny after a curious fashion as oddball two-reelers invariably are. We're disc-supplied with this because Shemp Howard's a clown in support of Haley, which goes to further flavor an already must-see short. Is it a wonder comedians worried of Shemp stealing their spotlight? He does so handily here, being among most naturally funny faces to ever go before a camera.


Blogger BPiper said...

THE MUMMY'S SHROUD isn't much of a movie but the Mummy's wardrobe is a faithful replica of one found in the British Museum. Gotta give Hammer points for trying something new at any rate.

9:16 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

THUNDERBALL was my first Bond film and I was lucky enough to see it on the giant "Panoramic" widescreen of the Loews here in Richmond in early 1966. I guess for that reason it remains my favorite Bond film

11:15 PM  
Blogger Jim Lane said...

My first experience of Thunderball is one I'll never forget. My buddy Clyde Patrick and I went to see it on opening weekend at Sacramento's Tower Theater, and we were bowled over. It was fast, it was exciting, it was suspenseful, it was cool, it was sexy -- everything a James Bond movie should be. We decided to stay and see it again -- this was in the days of continuous showings -- so we called our folks, told 'em we'd be late, and settled down to relive the experience.

What a shock! This movie was stupid. The plot was silly, the action was cheesy, Connery's double entendres were arch and corny. We trudged out of the Tower and shared our bitter disillusion all the way home. (I emphasize that this wasn't just me; we both had the same catastrophic letdown that second time through.)

Dissolve to 47 years later, last December. While cat-sitting for vacationing friends, I popped their Blu-ray of Thunderball into the player, what the heck, just for a chortle; once ever 50 years or so won't kill me.

Well, what can I say? I decided that night that I was closer to the truth the first time I saw it back in '65; this is one of the very best Connery Bonds -- i.e., one of the best ever, period. Still, I'll never be able to shake off the memory of that night in 1965. I guess the moral is: Never watch a James Bond movie twice in succession.

2:17 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Just saw THUNDERBALL again, first time in many years. I'd still rank it as one of the best... ya' gotta love the under-cranking in the speedboat finale.

BPiper's right about the costume in THE MUMMY'S SHROUD. A lot of publicity at the time of release on that subject, but for forty plus years I bought into the idea that this was rock-bottom-end-of-the-pier Hammer and avoided it. Finally caught it (twice!) in the last couple years and it's kinda okay. As you noted, worth the price of admission for Michael Ripper alone!

Weird enthusiasm counter balance on the subject of Shemp Howard. Slight heart sink when you see his name in the credits of a Stooge short ("Shit, Shemp's in it!")versus that little lift when you see his name in anything else! ("Hot damn! Shemp's in it!")

10:09 AM  

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