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Thursday, May 09, 2013


The Watch List For 5/9/13

THE STREET WITH NO NAME (1948) --- Marvelous prototypical Fox noir and another where you could turn down volume to bask in dark corridors and shiny wet pavement per 20th fulfilling latter-day cult desire. Mark Stevens is the G-Man gone undercover to rout Dick Widmark's jewel and fur thieving gang. Widmark leaves off the Udo giggle, goes instead with a nose spray prop and fear of drafts seeping into hide-outs, a nice eccentricity to enrich his malevolence. This one has much to excite noir seekers, crime always most fun when it's routed from the inside out. Don't know what location Fox used for mean streets, but they look real-life. Makes me feel 2013 unkempt when lowest gang-trolls show up in suit/ties that would nowaday amount to formal dress. William Keighley directed The Street With No Name, but with story and cast this good, I frankly don't know how anyone could have muffed it. Very good Fox DVD from their Film Noir series.


THE RETURN OF THE CISCO KID (1939) --- Cisco was back in '39 to patronage that remembered his bigger budget forays in opening days of sound when the laughing bandito exercised prerogatives of precode leads who took law into their own hands and wouldn't answer for it later. That would change once PCA rules got hold, consigning Cisco to do-gooding and more or less pretend banditry where victims are villains who've got it coming. Warner Baxter was aboard for this encore, but wouldn't return as the series continued at B level for Fox releasing. Neither was Return lavish, but locations are attractive, and a good cast helps. Much of Cisco's charm had been unpredictability, that no longer a case with him walking moral chalk-lines, so where to go but matinees where kids were used to resolute straight-shooting? Fox's On-Demand DVD is tops in all visual ways --- so pleased they're releasing these small, but so satisfying, 20th titles.


THE BAND CONCERT (1935) --- Mickey Mouse for a first time in color, Disney clearly out to make a whopper impression with this dizzy demo of how far animation had come to that time. There's also classical music brought to considerable bear on cartooning --- was this where Fantasia seeds got planted? Donald is along too to further horn in on Mickey's pride of place. Before long, the Duck would be WD's safest bet for crowd-pleasing. Did kids note recital selections and ask Mom/Dad for recordings or maybe instruction on instruments themselves? Band-playing is certainly a heady experience here, lifting players literally to skies in a breath-taking kaleidoscope of synched drawings. Was there any argument in '35 that Disney cartoons were an industry's most accomplished, with The Band Concert a Mickey summit? Certainly among collectors, an IB Tech 16mm print was as much weight in gold.


HONKY TONK (1941) --- Clark Gable took a lot of Rhett Butler with him from Gone With The Wind, that part informing much of characters he'd play from 1940 on. Similar costumes and a same rakish tilt of the hat positions Honky Tonk's Gable as very much an RB of the Old West, his confidence man not once astride a horse and given more to lovemaking than action taking. Gable was twice co-star Lana Turner's age, and his wife Carole Lombard had her beat by twelve years. Based on Gable's inclination and Turner's willingness, there was bound to be trouble at home over dalliance behind Honky Tonk scenes. For a straight-laced outfit, MGM went yards further than most to position stars as sex (couple) objects, especially when Lana Turner represented the distaff side. Honky Tonk and smoldering ad art with Gable would reprise within months by Johnny Eager, where Turner and Robert Taylor were billed as the "T n' T Team."


Honky Tonk needs modern adjustment to Code (and especially Metro) policy of likable scoundrels running loose for a first two acts, then paying (dearly) in a third for rascally ways. Trouble was/is, we pay too in terms of sudden mood shifts and what seems unduly harsh punishment for characters we've liked for those very qualities they're obliged now to atone for. Honky Tonk can still be fun for experienced viewers who see all this coming. There's good dialogue here and there, capable character folk by bushels, and of course, Gable at a peak from which he'd descend almost immediately after due to tragic circumstance (Lombard's death), army enlistment, and continuation of a career afterward that wouldn't be quite the same for the King or his public.

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