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Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Watch List For 6/13/13

L.A. Gets Dial M, But Not in 3-D
DIAL M FOR MURDER (1954) --- Lamps and chairs co-star with Ray Milland and Grace Kelly in this one-time Hitchcock foray into depths of 3-D. For a first time, I experienced it thus after years of hearing how AH exploited not the process as in objects thrown or hands out-thrust (except Grace Kelly's during a key scene), and yes, the Master's touch is subtle here, though I was at least as pleased to see Dial M finally laid across a 1.85 frame as was all along intended and certainly the format 1954 folk saw. How better to get the most out of a single set than to render it in multi-dimensions? (and here's where those lamps and chairs come to life) Hitchcock probably realized his faithful translation from stage to screen would need added juice of a room we could enter beside principals on hand, the investigation lots more engaging for being at times able to reach out and touch evidence Ray plants in his effort to implicate wife Kelly.

Dial M has as bonus a sock story and resolution I never tire of, here being a case where a great play was the thing, and all Hitchcock needed do was film as is and count satisfied faces going out. He was wise this time not to tinker. A second half is goosed by Yard man John Williams entering the scene, a witty relief to suffering so far of the stars. His stuff is some of the funniest in all of Hitchcock. The attempt murder of Kelly is a wow. No wonder it's been excerpted ad nauseum in AH tributes. Milland is nicely suave and selfish, but imagine if original intended Cary Grant had done it, non-participation of the latter we chalk up to ... what ... not enough money? ... his possible reluctance to play a cuckolded husband? Dial M being an all-time deepest repository of cat-and-mouse dialogue accounts perhaps for my never tiring of it, and here at last is 3-D to assure many visits to come.

MOBY DICK (1930) --- John Barrymore Ahab'ing again, and only four years after The Sea Beast. Moby Dick was one great American novel that was also a movie natural. Anyone from an industry's top down could frame a yarn off its concept, and many did, from Warners and prestige of Barrymore input to Monogram and similarly motivated seekers of outlaw sharks, killer cats, whatever wildlife gave offense. We don't see Barrymore even when we see him, a pretending double at the masthead for much of the great man's initial scene. Jack was forty-eight and feeling each day of it, his age better measured in dog years for wear and tear self-inflicted. Still, he's dynamic with dialogue and sure puts over anguish of a man who's had a leg torn asunder. Weak partners aren't a help, Joan Bennett still the simpering blonde she'd need to discard before real stardom beckoned, and silent escort to dinosaurs and stronger lead ladies Lloyd Hughes is no worthy opponent for Barrymore when they finally showdown aboard storm-tossed rigging. WB corrects Melville error of a bummer ending so as not to punish Barrymore beyond inconvenience of a leg lost. Hadn't he suffered enough after all? This plays TCM often in dark of night --- for whale carnage and Noble Johnson alone, you'd almost call Moby a cousin to horror pics of the day.

PORKY IN WACKYLAND (1938) --- I confess ignorance to details of Bob Clampett's 70's touring of colleges and elsewhere to talk over classic cartoons he directed decades before, but would like to know what shorts accompanied him, plus how he (or hosts) came by prints that were shown. Most (all?) were presumably booked out of UA/16 in New York and returned to Cincinnati, but those available only amounted to a small percentage of what Clampett generated over his career at WB. Was there legit rental access to black-and-white Porkys from the 30's that were not owned by United Artists? I ask because Porky In Wonderland was such a perfect specimen with which Clampett could establish youth cred during a psychedelic era when besotteds could inquire as to what Bob was "on" when he directed such a trippy subject. Did BC own a 16mm print of Wackyland for carry-along to lecture appearances? Maybe hosting collectors supplied him. It just seems that any Clampett event before flower-powered viewership would go wanting without Porky In Wackyland to rev up stoners in attendance. I can attest to 16mm prints being rare at the time, it being years and past Clampett's passing before one came my way. Now it's on Warner Blu-Ray, of course, and vivid-er than ever.

ONE DESIRE (1955) --- Something-for-everybody Universal shows how to turn a fallen woman/gambling man melodrama into a kid-centered family pic with a hopeful, if not altogether happy, finish. Anne Baxter and Rock Hudson cohabit from Desire's start, pretty blunt in light of a Code still in effect, but ease off once they adopt youngsters Barry Curtis and Natalie Wood (a last kid part before Rebel's teen torch was lighted), then connect again after Rock marries atypically mean Julie Adams, the actress glad to for once play against her goody-good image. The house fire that caps the story almost gave Julie a hot foot, as she relates in her recent memoir. It's convincingly done and players look to have been in harm's way. One Desire stays firm on U-I ground, not an inch shot anyplace other than comfort of home lot. Budget consciousness is a given, but this too is basis for joy of watching their output. You near-expect to see commissary-bound Jeff Chandler or Mara Corday pass Rock and Julie emoting on the backlot, or maybe John Agar in adjacent pursuit of oversize Tarantula. The most colorful Universal tours were conducted in 50's stuff like One Desire, especially ones done wide and in color. Their Vault Series DVD lately out is 2.1 as opposed to usual 1.85, and quality is excellent.


Blogger Reg Hartt said...


Bob traveled with his color cartoons though he had the black and whites.

I saw him when he came to Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario with his wife, Sody.

I was so impressed by him that I decided if I ever brought any one up from Hollywood he would be the first.

He came to Toronto for a week in August of 1979. We dealt with his career and work at a depth no one before or since has done with a film maker. Those sessions were audio-recorded. I wanted them video recorded but few knew Bob's role and fewer valued it.

At one time we could buy legitimate 16mm prints of films the same way we now find them on dvd. Through publications like CLASSIC IMAGES and THE BIG REEL i found many source for not so legitimate prints. There were also a few people locally. Television stations were supposed to junk their libraries. Most often someone rescued the titles from the dump. My own interest in Hollywood animation was sparked by the deluxe FILM COMMENT issue on THE HOLYWOOD CARTOON. I went to the local libraries for Warner's, MGM, Paramount, etc.. It was the same story everywhere. The cartoons and shorts cost more in paper work than they made off rentals. They did not stock them. After I began my programs people got in touch wanting to know if I wanted to buy their father, brother's uncle's collection. It was always guys who had these. I'd say, "How much?" Then I gave them what they asked for without haggling. Did the same with the underground dealers who began to appear. They often told me I was their favorite client as I always paid what they wanted. I wanted their enthusiasm. As a result I wound up with a huge archive of 16mm prints of classic cartoons which I have since passed on.

During my ANIMAFEASTIVAL event with Bob Clampett I showed the black and white films. Bob, in his presentations, showed the color ones. Toronto people had sniffed their noses at meeting him (a not uncommon thing here in Hogtown). Through David Mruz's publication ANIMANIA (formerly MINDrot) I was able to pull people from as far away as Japan and Russia. Reviews for the event are posted on my site. Bob was surprised by how well the black and whites went over. I loaned him some of my titles so that he could have copies made.I would imagine that, from then on, he included them in his presentations. I was fortunate in that I had people like Mike Barrier, Greg Ford, Mark Kausler and John Canemaker, Kim Korkis, Jerry Beck and others who inspired me through what they wrote about the films in various publications.

Through Bob I brought motion picture sound pioneer Bernard B. Brown (who I took over to the local Warner Brothers' office to their delight--Brownie had recorded the sound on THE JAZZ SINGER), Grim Natwick and Friz Freleng to Toronto. Through Grim I met Shamus and Juana Culhane. Again the local film buffs sniffed their noses in the air (especially the academics and film teachers) but I was not doing it for them.

PORKY IN WACKYLAND is a stunner. So are many of Bob's black and whites. It is a thrill to see them now being made available in copies which do them justice. We have come a long way since 1975 when I first began seeing more value in animated cartoons than I had realized was there. Heck, one dvd or Blu-ray costs less than a 16mm print of a cartoon did and offers more titles and better quality.

Anyone interested in hearing Bob Clampett speak at greater depth about his work than any animation artist ever did should get in touch. I have cds and dvds of all the presentations. It took me five years to transcribe the Bob Clampett tapes for publication. Doing that I listened to them again and again so that I know them like the back of my hand. There are fascinating stories there such as how Tweety was inspired by Bob's own nude baby picture. Those days are never going to come again.

6:37 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Received another very interesting e-mail report about Bob Clampett's lecture appearances from Andy Bendel:

John, I attended two of Bob Clampett’s college tours at the University of Illinois. My memories are not as clear as I’d like them to be, but there are some things that stand out. Bob’s prints were 16mm prints and (to me) they resembled the TV syndication prints that I had seen on Chicago TV. Most were color, but the color was somewhat faded and some of the color prints had gone red. Among the things he talked about was the genesis of Tweety, and he showed the Babbit & Catsello cartoon in which his Tweety was introduced. I seem to remember he showed PORKY’S DUCK HUNT, and he commented that (at the time of the lectures), Mel Blanc could no longer do a good version of Daffy’s “hoo-hoo, hoo-hoo!” And Bob revealed that it was Bob’s own voice used for one of the sound effects: the “Bee-ooo-whoop!” that’s used in some of the WB cartoons. The cartoons presented and order of cartoons was the same for both lectures, even though the lectures were at least a year apart. So I am thinking that the 16mm material was in Bob’s long-term possession.

Oh, and he also showed the Horton cartoon, which he was very proud of. He commented on how difficult it was to make a cartoon that was longer than standard WB length. And the Beaky the Vulture/Bugs Bunny cartonon was among the ones presented. (You know, where Beaky’s mother sends her sons out for food.)

The question I asked was, “Who was the voice of Sniffles?” (Has this one been answered definitively, even today?) Without hesitation, Bob answered “I recall it was Sara Berner.” I was surprised, because I half expected him to say “Gay Seabrook.” (OK, John, who do YOU say was the voice of Sniffles?)

Bob spent quite some time talking about other projects, notably TIME FOR BEANY, the Beany-and-Cecil puppet show. And he did spend some time talking about modifying the concept for the animated TV show.

Bob took questions from the audience (which was packed both times) after the presentation, and stayed quite a while to linger with the crowd afterward to answer further questions and sign autographs. He was extremely friendly, energetic, and put on a very good show. (And, at least at the University of Illinois, it was absolutely FREE!)

I wish I had a time machine; I’d take you back there with me as there are PLENTY more questions I can think of asking now! -Andy

12:12 PM  
Blogger Robert Fiore said...

The extras on the Beany and Cecil DVD include a great deal of the material he used to show at personal appearances, possibly all of it (though not Porky in Wackyland).

1:17 PM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Great grouping of films as usual!

PORKY IN WACKYLAND is still a knock-out. Love Reg's and Andy's thoughts about the Clampett appearances. Old cartoon geeks seem pretty evenly divided into two camps: group A acknowledge Clampett's genius but pigeon hole him as a credit hog and tiresome self promoter while group B credit him with being a genius AND an enthusiast who drew much needed attention to a neglected art form while some of the artists were still alive. A lot of group B were the lucky ones who saw the charming guy in person. I didn't, wish I had!

Would love to see DIAL M in 3-D, proper aspect ratio! Always thought it and ROPE were bookends. ROPE was Hitchcock's first independent production, first color film, first time out with Jimmy Stewart and obviously a pet project. He loved the subject matter and the technical challenge of making a one set-real time 'stagey' property cinematic. Great cast, 'big' characters and yet, some how it just didn't pan out. Everything about ROPE, it's prep, production and marketing is more interesting than the film itself, which I've always thought fairly flat (and largely suspense-free!)

DIAL M was another stage-bound project, one for which, if we believe interviews and biographies, Hitch had little enthusiasm. He didn't fuss over the original property, open up the setting, or even flesh out the rather shallow characters. Yet this time everything just clicked... lots of folks rank this one as their favorites! In Sir Alfred's hands the play became a gripping drama of inanimate objects; the supporting cast of a letter, a wristwatch, a pair of scissors, a couple of telephones and that damned key steal scene after scene! In the Truffaut book, Hitch dismisses both, but it's obvious the failure of the first wounded him, while the success of the second left him grumpy!

1:23 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

When I was programming 16mm films at Kansas U. c. 1980 you mostly could only get Warners cartoons, three to a reel, on themed subjects-- so all three tortoise and hare cartoons, three wartime cartoons, that sort of thing. Which could get a bit monotonous, but I think for the bigger 16mm companies, single cartoons were too much of a pain for too little money, as Reg Hartt says. There were some stray cartoons— you could rent What's Opera, Doc by itself-- probably because demand was so high. (Meanwhile, there were also some stray titles that escaped copyright somehow from the likes of Em Gee Film Library. But not many Warners.)

Anyway, one thing was that there were very few black and white cartoons available. You might never know the b&W Daffys, say, ever existed at all. Most of the 16mm market was TV prints, of course, and by that point TV wasn't using b&w. But... by 1980ish, at least, Porky in Wackyland was one of the very few b&w's included in those three-to-a-reel packages, and especially after reading Reg's account, I have to think that was because Clampett himself created demand for it on the college film society level.

10:09 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

I believe those 3 to a reel cartoon packages came from KIT PARKER FILMS.

Kit's a pretty astute fellow. I agree with you about themed collections. I avoid them myself. They sound good on paper but are dead on the screen.

The winter 1975 issue of FILM COMMENT devoted to The Hollywood Cartoon did a lot to raise awareness (it certainly raised mine). Thunderbird Films and Ron Hall's Festival Films were the leading sources for 16mm prints. Ron is still providing an A1 service. The late Charlie Vesce was God's gift to everyone. He produced absolutely stunning product. But, again, these were expensive. A dvd or Blu-ray collections costs less than a single 16mm print of even a black and white cartoon.

When Bob came to Toronto he brought new 16mm prints he had purchased from United Artists. I would have thought they would have given them to him but they were not that hip.He had to pay a fee each time he used them. Sody told me the colors were way off. She said, "Bob's films never looked like that."

Again, the restorations for home video are a real boon to all of us. Can't praise them high enough.

When we use good projectors (as I do here) the results on screen can take our breath away. The WACKYLAND trip sequence was recycled in color in TIN PAN ALLEY CATS and DOUGH FOR THE DODO (which is a color remake).

4:36 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

The always erudite Dan Mercer shares some thoughts about "Dial M For Murder" in over-under 3-D:

I did see "Dial M for Murder" in 3D many years ago, at a showing by the Temple University Cinemateque in Philadelphia. They used an over and under process, with each frame from the left and right Naturalvision prints printed together on a single frame of film, one above the other. A prism would split the images in projection, so that they would complement each other on the screen. It was a darker and grainier image than you would have enjoyed, but good enough to allow me to understand that 3D had not simply been imposed on Hitchcock, but that he had used it in an artistically creative fashion. The shot of Grace Kelly reaching back for the scissors and, thus, into the audience is, of course, well known, but as you mentioned, the process allowed Hitchcock to visually open up the static settings. There is one scene in particular, in which a purse with a key in it figures prominently. In the flat prints, the purse is lost amidst the clutter of other things in the room. In the 3D version, it is the very focus of the scene. Speaking with Francois Traffaut years later, Hitchcock decried the process as simply another example of studio meddling, but as a technical innovator, I can't help but think that he was intrigued by it. Certainly the results were remarkable, perhaps the most effective use of 3D in a film to date. However, in his public persona of the "Master of Suspense," he often stepped away from films that were quite personal to him, yet had not won favor with the critics or public. In this case, it was the opinion of the critics he favored, as apparently "Dial M for Murder" was quite popular with the public.


9:14 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

"I believe those 3 to a reel cartoon packages came from KIT PARKER FILMS."

They were also distributed that way from whoever had the Warners pre-48 library-- UA 16 at that point?-- while Warners 16 had the post-48 singles like What's Opera Doc (and charged about the same for them). I forget what traveled where when the Warner library started moving around, but I'm sure they just took over the same prints and rented them the same way. The three to a reel things were okay where the films went together, but when it simply drove home how repetitive the cartoons could be... not a good idea. (Which reminds me of the biggest blunder I ever saw a film society do-- showing Pigskin Follies, the silent Castle Film cutdown of the ending of Horsefeathers, before Horsefeathers!)

As for Dial M, it seems pretty clear to me that the reason why Hitchcock used it on a stage play was because it seemed the natural place to start with it, blocking the actors within a stage-like space so that being closer or further away has a known effect. Not to say he was being dullish about copying the stage, rather that it gave him an initial frame of reference for how to use three-dimensional space to play with. Of course, the memorable moments are the ones that burst that and give us something bigger and in your face than the stage could. But anyway, I think it's pretty clear it wasn't something he was reluctant to work with but rather a puzzle he approached thoughtfully and analytically.

11:35 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Hi Michael --- I remember those "themed" groups of cartoons being a tar pit insofar as wearing out welcome after a first couple. One of the fraternities at my college ran "King Kong" one night with a Road Runner group, and the audience really got sick of the same action over and again.

11:42 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

I have seen the same thing happen with live performers guesting at a show. No one paid attention to the first song. The second song wowed them. The third left the audience bored. Worked like clockwork.

I showed 200 cartoons over the main three days of Bob's Toronto visit. I published only the roughest outline of a schedule. I could watch the audience from above. As soon as they got restless I switched direction radically.

DIAL M really benefits when we can see it on a big screen looking up as opposed to looking down or straight ahead at a conventional screen (every movie from before 1970 does). Those sloped auditoriums are the worst. For 3D we want to be as far back as possible. Here are Lenny Lipton and the late Ray Zone on that:

12:02 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer returns to take up the topic of John Barrymore, "Moby Dick," and losing sleep to catch the 1930 version on syndicated TV:

I've seen John Barrymore's sound version of "Moby Dick" just once, when Channel 10, the CBS affiliate in Philadelphia then, telecast it at 3:00 o'clock in the morning. It was during the heroic period of my career as a film buff, so I was up for it even with a day at the bank still before me. As a curiousity, it was more than worthwhile. The settings were faithful to the story, as were some of the plot elements. Barrymore was clearly alive to the bravura opportunities of the role, as when he contrives to be chewing on a bit of hard tack when his leg is taken off, the fragments of cracker falling from his mouth as he screams in anguish. The scene on ship, when he commends the crew to his quest to hunt down the white whale, is riveting and suggests the film that might have been, had they played it straight. Alas, this is merely a glimpse of such a film, for the bookends are indeed insipid, particularly at the end, when Barrymore is reunited with his beloved, hardly removed from the sailor he was before the adventure, save for the peg leg, and certainly nothing like the spectral Ahab who called down the wrath of Heaven. "Why Ahab Ceely," simpered Joan Bennett, "you're crying!" Indeed he was, and no more do you need to know about the quality of the film, though apparently Barrymore had a gift for tears. Years letter, during his agonizingly prolonged farewell from acting and life, he utilized it in "The Great Profile," most inappropriately, weeping while reciting Hamlet's famous soliloquy. It was the thespic equivalent of playing a harmonica and clanging cymbals while riding a unicycle.


2:44 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

"It was the thespic equivalent of playing a harmonica and clanging cymbals while riding a unicycle."

Barrymore was not responsible for the screenplays of the films he worked in. He had nothing but contempt for most of what he was given to star in.

Nonetheless, his JECKYLL AND HYDE set the standard for everyone else. His SVENGALI is first rate both as a film and as a performance.

He also knew how to play the ham when the moment called for it (GRAND HOTEL).

3:40 PM  

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