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Monday, June 25, 2018

Taking Law/Order To LA Streets


Code Two (1953) Shows a Different Out West World


69 hummer minutes from Metro's B unit, still out-putting in 1953, but soon to fold in deference to widened image and longer runs. It would  henceforth be less about volume and more about laser turned on handful of big pictures aimed at far fences. Studio chief Dore Schary put economies in motion from 1948 arrival, result humble pleasures like Code Two, which served well those still tolerant of black and white square screens. Code Two's first half is near-docu recount of training for LA police recruits, noir flavor saved for latter portions where modern-day cattle rustlers (!) add cop killing to their resumes. A young cast was maybe hopeful of MGM stardom as bestowed in earlier day: Ralph Meeker (a hot dog patrolman who learns modesty), Elaine Stewart (that Bad and Beautiful girl, still beautiful but this time not bad), Robert Horton (greater success to come w/TV), Jeff Richards, an unbilled Chuck Connors. MGM was good at gritty when done on budgets (Code Two negative cost but $472K). Deuce of it was patronage staying home to watch Dragnet, Racket Squad, and others of similar ilk on free-vees. Result: Code Two lost money, not enough to cost meals, but sufficient to scotch many more such B-joys from Leo.




To the Dragnet link, I'm guessing that hot series was much of Code Two's reason for being. The feature turned ignition (start date 9/15/52 on location at L.A.'s Police Academy) right when Dragnet was kicking off a second season. Variety was high on Dragnet ("one of the smoothest, classiest telepix packages on the air"), cool to chilly on eventual Code Two, which wasn't wrapped and released till 3/53. The trade thought it "an obvious B," and "strictly a filler for the less-demanding situations," this stating the obvious as Metro had no designs for it beyond this. We can see the appraisal as harsh for reason that press/public took brisk and expert melodramas very much for granted then, there were so many after all, and they'd not see this for sunshine trip-back to L.A. before smog-dappled fall. Crooks were about, some deadly, but so were shiny motorcycles with black-clad officers, barbecue pits on days off, and overall reassure that L.A.'s force has the spread-out town reasonably under control. Code Two would make a fun and eye-opener double bill with L.A. Confidential.






Cops cooperated, as this was positive depict after Dragnet model. No corruption or badges on the take as was endemic to police thrillers of a same season. Code Two would fit comfortably behind other Metros with higher hope: Small Town Girl, Battle Circus, The Girl Who Had Everything. It was designed as a second feature like hundreds of others back to the thirties when combo policy was embedded. Code Two served as backdrop to loaded vaudeville programs (there still were those in the 50's), as in Miami where it supported "recording click" Sunny Gale, the "thrush" and "attractive lass" who had scored a Hit Parade berth with Wheel Of Fortune, though Kay Starr made a bigger success covering the tune. There were also roller skaters, a Cuban band, magic that was tough to register on a cavernous stage, plus a comic plying "waggery," even if Variety thought "much of his routine ... stale." If vaudeville was dead, these folks didn't know it. Eternal feud between distribution and exhibition got April '53 airing with Code Two as pawn, MGM dropping ad support to the United Artists theatre circuit in L.A. because latter wasn't kicking in their share of expenses. How much you'd invest on promotion could absolutely determine end-game profit. Spend too much tooting horns and drown in the red pool, no matter your crowds surging in. For this instance, Leo simply cut off the spigot and left UA to ad-buy for Small Town Girl and Code Two with its own dime, and as the circuit had only $2,500 for a weekly ad budget, this was lowering boom on their operating week. When Metro and other majors spanked, they spanked hard.

2 Comments:

Blogger Mike Cline said...

Watched this one a while back from Warner Archive. Pretty good little picture.

7:38 AM  
Blogger CanadianKen said...

Robert Horton and Elaine Stewart - two of the most beautiful looking people who ever moved across the silver screen. Too bad MGM never managed to capitalize on the obvious star quality in each. My favorite Horton is Metro's "Apache War Smoke" ('52), a remake of their excellent William Lundigan western from a decade earlier, "Apache Trail". The Horton version's at least as good - maybe even better. The man also had a great singing voice. Too bad MGM never let him vocalize in any of the terrific musicals they were making at the time. Of course, "Wagon Train" made him a TV star. But he eventually sang on Broadway and was roundly acclaimed as Curly in several summer stock productions of "Oklahoma!". I'm not a big fan of Minnelli's "The Bad and the Beautiful" But I do love Elaine Stewart's brief electric jolt of an appearance in it - for me, the film's highlight. Apparently it sparked an avalanche of fan mail. But MGM never figured out how to develop her career. My favorite Stewart role is in Don Weis' magical "Adventures of Hajji Baba", released by Fox in '54. Of all the sword and sand dune films of the 50's, this is the one I find most pleasing. I remember her co-hosting a TV game show in the 70's - very gracious, very beautiful. But somewhat overqualified for the gig. Too bad the movies never quite did right by her.

1:13 AM  

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