Classic movie site with rare images (no web grabs!), original ads, and behind-the-scenes photos, with informative and insightful commentary. We like to have fun with movies!
Archive and Links
grbrpix@aol.com
Search Index Here




Monday, December 31, 2018

When Sci-Fi Diet Was Strictly Starvation


The Time Travelers (1965) Is More Talk Than Travel

This was the sort of thing we'd go see when whatever suggested sci-fi or horror would do. Distributing AIP promised mutants and maidens. The Time Travelers sort of had these, but mostly it was chat, nee lecturing, by frost-haired John Hoyt, who's trying to save vestige of human life on the inevitably dying planet these time-trippers visit (our own, natch). Effects are OK, a few money-shots (if you could call any that in such a cheapie) reminiscent of Forbidden Planet. I hadn't seen The Time Travelers in over fifty years, so was eager for a rematch, that enabled by MGM's DVD where the pic is jammed on a single disc with three other genre obscurities. At least the transfer is new, and wide-screened faithfully to what we saw at the Liberty in 1965. I got through the 82 minutes mostly on sentiment. Otherwise, there's too much scientific double-talk, especially from Hoyt, who comes off like Dr. Frank Baxter who intro-lulled us to sleep before The Mole People got underway in 1956. Why is it glimpses of the future always come down to post-apocalypse? I want one where time travelers go there and find a world of sugarplums and happy folk.




Saturday, December 29, 2018

Derring-Do Of A Vanished Era


Rod La Rocque Shows How To Swash as The Fighting Eagle (1927)

Talking pics that mocked, or paid "affectionate" tribute, to the silent era, would often re-stage sword duels where under-cranked heroics roused both laughs and memory of long-past movie-going. Singin' In The Rain, Dreamboat, and more recent The Artist convinced us that here was voiceless action in a nutshell, but how close were simulations to the real thing long out of circulation? The Fighting Eagle and survivors like it might provide an answer. Rod La Rocque as cavalier lead seems ripe for later parody, as few romancers from the 20's date so floridly, the very name La Rocque seemingly contrived to dress a marquee, and yet that was the name he was born with. How often might providence gift someone with so splendid a label as "Rod La Rocque"? He'd thrive long as titles did talking for him. With sound, however, came ruination, for Rod's was a voice utterly lacking in expression, less like a film star than your neighbor selling brooms for the Rotary Club. Whatever glamour clung to La Rocque was stripped too by shifting taste in screen idols. He'd hang on, work from time to time, and stay lifelong wed to Vilma Banky, their ceremony an ultimate of Hollywood artifice that disguised true commitment beneath. La Rocque had keen insight into fame and fleeting nature of same, his interview in The Real Tinsel outstanding among many in that collection of celebrity chats.


The Fighting Eagle came toward a finish for silents, being produced by Cecil B. DeMille for the independent company he had established after leaving Paramount. DeMille had to watch pennies in his own shop, so farmed out direction for The Fighting Eagle (Donald Crisp gets the credit) and kept spending to minimum. We might speculate as to C.B.'s creative contribution, even as period-set action and costume flavor suggest guiding hand of the epic-maker. DeMille was distracted by business matters, his indie output vying for dates at better theatres (more detail in Scott Eyman's fine DeMille bio). As with Fairbanks vehicles and the last couple Valentino did, The Fighting Eagle was not to be taken too seriously. Critics noted with approval a light touch brought to bear on this yarn built around Napoleon-era intrigue, Rod La Rocque a young braggart who gets in hot water for claiming close alliance with the Emperor. The Fighting Eagle is fun sampling of programmers that satisfied fan-base in 1927, its berth shared at most venues by live vaudeville, plethora of short subjects, or music recital. In whatever mix, here was amusement typical of its day, aided by extras to fill an evening's time and money's worth. DVD's are available here and there, thanks to the film's PD status.




Thursday, December 27, 2018

A Prize For Your "Conquering Power" Essay

The Cincinnati Walnut Tree Is Dropping Dollars

Showmen had a confidence back then that's pretty much gone now. For instance: Cincinnati's Walnut Theatre, in this ad dated November 1921, inviting patrons to explain why The Conquering Power is a "great picture." There seems no room for dissenting opinion here, as in what if The Conquering Power is not a great picture? --- but for $10 as first prize, who'd argue? Online "Dollar Sense" says that would be equivalent to $124.45 today. With the contest gone viral in daily newspapers, we can imagine how many essays hit the manager's desk during "One Week Only" that The Conquering Power ran. Did his brother-in-law or first cousin cop the prize, or was competition on the level? A then-City Directory estimated 410,000 as population of Cincinnati. Tiny participation within that would have deluged the Walnut with essays, and it must have looked like easy pickings for folk who could read and write. I certainly would have taken a plunge given pulse of life and Cincinnati residence in 1921, gladly lauding any picture's greatness where a ten spot was reward. Among ancillary pleasures that week, as ad-shown, Rudolph Valentino as star not only of The Conquering Power, but next attraction The Sheik as well. Pleasing note 97 years later: Both are available on home disc.




Monday, December 24, 2018

Look In If You Like Mirrors


We Solve Lady In The Lake (1947) Murders


Lauded in 1947 for its novelty and “advanced cinematics,” Lady In The Lake plays now as valuable lesson hard-learned, as in what gimmicks are profitably used, or best left alone. Notion of “You and Robert Montgomery” solving the title mystery was spike to more-of-same detecting, Raymond Chandler a basis for story, presentation the point of departure for Montgomery, who would direct and also star, albeit in diminished capacity. We hear but seldom see him, other than in mirrors and return now and then to Philip Marlowe’s office desk where narrative is so-far summarized. Us as Montgomery slows action, for he approaches doorways and enters them far slower than we would. Was there concern that action would go jerky if enacted at real-life pace? Whatever the reasoning, tempo is dealt a sleeper blow --- you keep wondering why Marlowe doesn’t get a move on and trim twenty minutes off cracking the case. Shots go long, director Montgomery letting characters talk at, and move about him, to Rope-like exhaustion, this prior to Hitchcock experiments. Addressing the camera gives no advantage to actors; Montgomery acknowledging later that talent told never to look at the lens were now hobbled by demand to do just that. Did recall of such fundamental lesson and now-violation of it make Lady's cast so uniformly awkward?






Several of stunts work, Montgomery/Marlowe taking slaps and socks from corrupt cop Lloyd Nolan, busting up a sedan as aftermath of a chase, Audrey Totter closing in to give him, and us, a kiss. Totter issues seductive dialogue we are invited to receive by proxy. These would be selling tools useful in a same way 3-D was later. Mournful choral accompany drains Lady In The Lake of needed energy, though to occasional rescue comes holiday backdrop to remind us of a story set before and just after Christmas. No major film had been done entirely subjective before, at least not one that would be promoted heavily as Lady In The Lake. I could almost hear Metro anxiety and second-guessing on the soundtrack. There was a long interview with Montgomery, done in the 70’s, that someone put online (wish I could locate it again) where he talked a lot about Lady In The Lake, a project clearly near to Montgomery’s heart. The experiment may yield mixed result for moderns, but reception in 1947 was good, critic and wicket-wise. As directorial audition, Lady In The Lake served Montgomery well, him going right from here to Ride The Pink Horse, then to behind-camera control and development of live television in New York.




Thursday, December 20, 2018

How Close To The Edge Could A Showman Go?

Compulsion To Sell Vs. Local Proprieties

Have written about Compulsion before, and delved some into ad art which supported the theatrical release in 1959. Compulsion has  since been more visible thanks to Blu-Ray availability from Kino Lorber. Promotion at left is typical of how selling for the film was customized to meet local needs and standards. A between-the-eyes tag line proposed by Fox marketers was "You know why we did it? Because we damn well felt like doing it." This was calculated challenge to staid advertising used up to then. Local showmen had to decide for themselves whether to gamble with it, based on  individual circumstance and newspaper policy re profanity in ads. In this instance, "darn well" has been substituted for "damn well," which of course, saps shock value altogether and makes for tepid copy. Also note the title change from Compulsion to Compulsion To Kill, as if maybe readers wouldn't fully understand the meaning of the word compulsion by itself. Left intact is art of a young woman beneath a darkened figure clearly intent on rape, this the dominant image in most advertising for Compulsion. Murder was OK enough for a sales pitch, but Charlie Chan could solve those; rape, however, was an outrage that could be more explicitly addressed now that the Production Code was weakening. Peyton Place had used the situation to considerable benefit for Fox the year before, so they'd sell Compulsion to tried-and-proven blueprint. Theatres were left to juggle balls of exploitation while avoiding local censure, this ad an effective sampling of chances they'd take, or wouldn't.




Monday, December 17, 2018

MGM Gets Out A Sleeper B


Lab Crew Cracks Murders in Kid Glove Killer (1942)


Chicago Puts Killer Over Larceny For First-Run Crime Pairing
A sleeper sprung from B ranks and opportunity for Leo to show off talent incubated in-house. Kid Glove Killer was all the more pride-and-joy for coming unexpected. There was little extraordinary beyond the fact it was so expertly done. Support purpose of a B (and top-of-the-bill in smaller situations) was served, element of surprise a bonus to ticket purchase. Producing (Jack Chertok), writing (Allen Rivkin, John C. Higgins), and directing (Fred Zinnemann) team had brought experience from past budget work or short subjects and would go on to noir topics after the war. Kid Glove Killer was Zinnemann’s first feature as director. He began in Germany, did assistant jobs through the 30’s, manned various one and two reelers for MGM that included entries in the Crime Does Not Pay series.




Good Sport Fred Zinneman Submits To On-Set Gag With Crime Lab Equipment


I looked at two of his from the Crime group to detect an emerging style. Zinnemann wrote in his autobiography (oversized, richly illustrated, and recommended) of thrift plus rush in doing these. “Rigid schedules” were maintained, four days allowed for each reel shot. The Crime Does Not Pays, being two reels and somewhat deluxe among shorts, had name casts, at least to extent of known character players, and curried favor with both law enforcement and civic minds in towns where they played. Zinnemann signed While America Sleeps and Forbidden Passage, 1939 and 1941 respectively. Like others of the Crime group, they focus on victims of lawlessness and teach that no good can come of outlawry. There is downer aftertaste from these not unlike latter-day scaring straight by law dogs.






What Kid Glove Killer anticipates is Dragnet style of confined detection, B films having much relation with TV to come. It’s been said that Jack Webb got his cue from He Walked By Night, but surely he saw and was influenced by Kid Glove Killer too. There was a series here just waiting to happen. Metro in fact suggested in early press that there would be further exploits for “Gordon McKay,” forensic expert and test tube wiz who could solve misdeeds without getting off his lab stool. Van Heflin essayed the part just before Johnny Eager broke out and won him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Maybe he saw a McKay series as hobble to progress and balked. McKay had makings of a modern Sherlock Holmes with up-to-minute technology at his service. Here was best evidence so far that crime would not prevail over such sophisticated means of combating it in play. MGM’s trailer for Kid Glove Killer cites 310 “detective novels” read by three million during 1941, plus 56 magazines devoted to detecting art. I wonder what portion from such vast number seek out crime fiction in our present day, or do they get fill of felonies from television? Something “original and startling” was a constant goal at peak of crime interest that I assume was the 30/40’s, what with the rise in pocket novels contributing to mayhem in print.






Zinnemann wrote that Kid Glove Killer was shot in three weeks. He knew he had arrived when he asked for a camera crane and they gave it to him. There was a preview in Inglewood that Louis Mayer attended, an indicator that all MGM pictures, even small ones, had value. Zinnemann memoir put across fear an audience could inspire when they got a picture cold and unannounced, but how else to know if you had a click or a cluck? People talk of movies being ground out like salami during the Studio Era. That’s how Loew’s in the East viewed what MGM in the West was doing, wrote Zinnemann, but creative personnel was still judged on the quality of films they made, and previews could make/break a beginner at directing. Kid Glove Killer got uniformly good trade reviews, as close to raves as B product could generate, but these do not appear to have led to special handling in release. I looked for “sleeper” ads in trades, found none. Initial dates for April 1942 found Kid Glove Killer at Arthur Mayer’s Rialto for Gotham premiere, a site suited to thrillers, mystery, often horror. The film had a first weekend of “capacity audiences,” said Film Daily, earning a five-day holdover. Kid Glove Killer is available on DVD from Warner Archive.




Friday, December 14, 2018

Jet Aces On Short Rations


Hell's Horizon (1955) Takes To Low Columbia Ceiling

Slow build to a Korean air mission where bomber crew will sustain or crack-up according to character they've revealed in Acts One-Two. John Ireland is chief pilot, tip-off to modest cast otherwise aboard: Bill Williams, Hugh Beaumont, Jerry Paris, Bill Schallert. Love Is Splendor-ish girl interest is Marla English, borrowed from Paramount, striking Eurasian pose a la Jennifer Jones in the 20th Fox hit. Marla would be a cult chiller throb as The She-Creature, which she probably didn't find half so rewarding as this part, a better calling card for elevation out of B's (ME would instead quit biz altogether). Horizon saves its fuel for determining mission, which came excitingly at point where I'd almost lost hope for this Columbia release of a "Gravis Production," the independent set-up by producer Wray Davis and writer-director Tom Gries. Money man for Gravis was actually Jack Broder of Realart fame, who sold Hell's Horizon outright to Columbia once filming was completed, the film having been shot on rented space at Republic (latter's on-site badman Keene Duncan shows up as a commanding officer). Variety showed little mercy, calling Hell's Horizon outright "poor." It runs occasionally on Sony's HD channel, and at least looks good on high-def format.




Wednesday, December 12, 2018

One Hell Of A Great War 1932 Revisited

Wilmington, Delaware's V.F.W. Supplies Uniform and Drum Corps For Downtown Bally Parade

The Big Drive (1932) Is Precode's Censor-Proof Bloodbath

Hell broke loose in December 1932 when indie shockumentary The Big Drive went Over The Top to show a public what ferocity we and allies dealt during the Great War over a decade past. If this wasn't precode in a rawest way, I don't know what was, but like Bring 'Em Back Alive and others of jungle derivation, little is mentioned of these buried offshoots. Compiler of The Big Drive was A.L. Rule, a WWI vet who was said to have scoured worldwide vaults to gather "withheld till now" proof of man's inhumanity to man. The menu was blissfully simple to sell: Glory and Hell ... Blood and Mud ... Clubbing ... Stabbing. Who wouldn't want bountiful meal of that? In fact, enough did to immediately call forth imitators. Within weeks of The Big Drive came Forgotten Men, while ahead of it was Four Aces, which didn't catch gore wave mostly for a title indistinct as to content. The Film Daily (1/23/33) noted The Big Drive's "surprise business,"  showmen in the know saw unbound violence as the catnip, and where you couldn't get away with such let-loose savagery in features, there was no stopping fact-based recount of horrors in battle ... how else to warn society against future conflagration? ("Strong propaganda against war" said The Film Daily's approving review)


NYC's Mayfair Theatre Barb-Wires Marquee To Slam Over Blood-Guts Content 
Drunk on profits Albert Rule announced his sequel, The Death Parade, which was even more to the point, but could he move fast enough to preserve the fad and outrun copycats? Major pitch of The Big Drive was trench cameramen having lost lives by score to capture carnage for later and stunned amusement. Ninety-six died, said The New York Sun, to which Big Drive distributor First Division offered corrective: it was "only forty-five." Why niggle over detail so long as we got men bayoneting one another in full view? ("Seen are the flashing bayonets as they stab into the gullets of enemy soldiers," said The Motion Picture Herald's breathless review) Wouldn't one or other of combatants turn a weapon on those photographing them at lethal work? But no, this stuff was the McCoy, said Rule, coming as it did from sealed storage of both US and allied gvts. If The Big Drive was good enough for members of Congress to screen (The Hollywood Reporter, 2/28/33), who was anyone to question veracity? Local censors did an expected handspring, wanted gorier footage excised, but how to answer American Legion posts stood firm behind the pic, each arguing that we must see war as it so horribly is. Distributor First Division offered Big Drive bally ideas far afield of good taste: " ... have a shell-shocked veteran simulate a seizure." Whatever their social responsibility, showmen left press watchdogs to sort it all out. Uppermost was ticket-selling --- "Got them in and they liked it. What More?" asked Walt Bradley of the Moon Theatre in Neligh, Nebraska. Indeed, what more?




Sunday, December 09, 2018

The Spirit Of Vaudeville Still Stirs


Two Girls On Broadway (1940) Sets Star-Making To Music


The two girls on Broadway are Lana Turner and Joan Blondell. Turner was nineteen, Blondell thirty-three. Metro was developing LT as a sex symbol minus pre-code claws of a departed Jean Harlow, Turner's allure kept within Code fences (some of press compared her with Clara Bow). Turner was of a generation that need not be rehabilitated for past onscreen sin, which put her at interesting contrast with Blondell, the big sister and unmolested fiancée of George Murphy, him as sexless as Metro wanted Blondell to now be. Murphy affection will transfer to Turner before half of reels play out, Blondell's part less reprise of work done at Warner than losing at love which was bane of Bessie Love in previous MGM musicals, a sacrifice for good-of-all to pave way for a younger ingénue to have the leading man. Here was formula chiseled onto rock that was every sister act back to The Broadway Melody, a model in repeated use for by-then ten years. Two Girls On Broadway was too rich for a B, with $427K in negative cost, not a lot less than was spent on The Shop Around The Corner, comedies with Myrna Loy, or increasingly pricey Andy Hardys. Intent was to make currency of Lana Turner, a proposed star of a not-distant future. Within a year, she would lead in decided A's.




Blondell hauls Turner like pack gear going into combat. Whatever credit goes to the younger star (LT billed first) is thanks in large part to Blondell making sure Turner registers well. Did JB get instruct to mentor LT onscreen and off? Blondell by 1939 comes off suddenly like a character actress, as if pre-code golddigging had been done by someone else. A lot of veterans were hired by MGM, and elsewhere, to prop up fresher talent. It was work, if not work in a center ring. Aging often meant having to punt for benefit of newcomers. Others of greater experience surround putative star that was Lana Turner: Wallace Ford as a Walter Winchell-inspired columnist who, like WW, used to be in vaudeville, Jimmy Conlin a street vendor with unexpected edge, various others. If vaudeville was dead by 1940, then loads of its baggage got buried in movies, where vet talent was seen constantly in parts big and small. Then too there was radio, plus presentation houses still tendering vaude as though times had not changed at all. Work was never so plentiful for lots of performing folk, and they didn't have to catch trains or live in dingy boarding houses to get it. Most were fed up on the gypsy life anyway. Finish of the per se vaudeville era might have been the best thing that could happen for them. Two Girls On Broadway is available on a nice DVD from Warner Archive.




Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Von and Lorre Loose On The Riviera


Villainy Prevails in I Was An Adventuress (1940)


Erich von Stroheim and Peter Lorre grazing on pre-war Euro playgrounds, thief assist supplied by Vera Zorina, that odd footnote who sniffed stardom and later did weeks on For Whom The Bell Tolls location before being snatched back and replaced by Ingrid Bergman. Zorina, she went mostly by surname alone, had ballet for a specialty. Critics felt she did that better than acting, less of them noting Zorina as voluptuous beyond norm of toe dancers. From Swan Lake in I Was An Adventuress to That Old Black Magic for Star-Spangled Rhythm was proof of Zorina range, latter a hotsy highlight of which servicemen got an unexpurgated version that lit camp and frontline shows. 16mm prints survive and it's a wow, making me wonder what else studios heated up for exclusive military play. I Was An Adventuress has Zorina and Richard Greene top-billed, a laugh on reality of Stroheim and Lorre being who we're there to see, but 1940 didn't necessarily see things our way. Greene was after all listed over Basil Rathbone in Hound Of The Baskervilles, and to Fox seemed a next Tyrone Power. Fail at that seems predetermined in hindsight, but less appealing players than Greene did make stardom grade. Modern preference goes to odd ducks Stroheim/Lorre, and whatever the cast placement, these two dominate whole of I Was An Adventuress, Zorina and Greene reduced to same sort of romantic distraction that took our minds but momentarily off Laurel and Hardy in any half-dozen of the team's comedy features.






Von is especially resplendent here. I recognized some of the wardrobe as his own. And the bamboo cane. How much of  wardrobe do you suppose he had to pawn? The 30's had been cruelly lean. Pals at MGM even took up a collection so Von and family could have a decent Christmas. Most of them remembered what it was like to be on your uppers. Stroheim could look elegant perched in a junkyard. Most of his vehicles of late had been just that, with remarkable exception of Grande Illusion. Maybe that one got him the job on I Was An Adventuress. He hadn't been in surroundings rich as this for a long time. It warms the heart to see Von so featured and free with tricks we love him for. There's the head slung-back to down a drink, done twice in case we blinked or were out to smoke. Apropos of nothing is EvS snipping threads from frayed cuffs with a microscopic pair of scissors while seated on a cafe terrace. Bless director Gregory Ratoff for shooting that, and Darryl Zanuck for leaving it in. I'll never call Ratoff a suck-up hack again. Stroheim had the gift of charm plus menace. That last being always an aspect of his screen persona may be what kept Von from getting more, or at least regular, work. He was dangerous in a best of circumstance, not congenial to comedy or anywhere he could not be at least part-sinister. Stroheim was object lesson for a frightened town, his balloon pumped too much, flown too high, then popped for all to see and take object lesson from. To extend him charity was to buy insurance that maybe his fate wouldn't be yours. No wonder the MGM holiday card, with cash, had so many names affixed. I Was An Adventuress is available on Fox On-Demand DVD and looks fine.
grbrpix@aol.com
  • December 2005
  • January 2006
  • February 2006
  • March 2006
  • April 2006
  • May 2006
  • June 2006
  • July 2006
  • August 2006
  • September 2006
  • October 2006
  • November 2006
  • December 2006
  • January 2007
  • February 2007
  • March 2007
  • April 2007
  • May 2007
  • June 2007
  • July 2007
  • August 2007
  • September 2007
  • October 2007
  • November 2007
  • December 2007
  • January 2008
  • February 2008
  • March 2008
  • April 2008
  • May 2008
  • June 2008
  • July 2008
  • August 2008
  • September 2008
  • October 2008
  • November 2008
  • December 2008
  • January 2009
  • February 2009
  • March 2009
  • April 2009
  • May 2009
  • June 2009
  • July 2009
  • August 2009
  • September 2009
  • October 2009
  • November 2009
  • December 2009
  • January 2010
  • February 2010
  • March 2010
  • April 2010
  • May 2010
  • June 2010
  • July 2010
  • August 2010
  • September 2010
  • October 2010
  • November 2010
  • December 2010
  • January 2011
  • February 2011
  • March 2011
  • April 2011
  • May 2011
  • June 2011
  • July 2011
  • August 2011
  • September 2011
  • October 2011
  • November 2011
  • December 2011
  • January 2012
  • February 2012
  • March 2012
  • April 2012
  • May 2012
  • June 2012
  • July 2012
  • August 2012
  • September 2012
  • October 2012
  • November 2012
  • December 2012
  • January 2013
  • February 2013
  • March 2013
  • April 2013
  • May 2013
  • June 2013
  • July 2013
  • August 2013
  • September 2013
  • October 2013
  • November 2013
  • December 2013
  • January 2014
  • February 2014
  • March 2014
  • April 2014
  • May 2014
  • June 2014
  • July 2014
  • August 2014
  • September 2014
  • October 2014
  • November 2014
  • December 2014
  • January 2015
  • February 2015
  • March 2015
  • April 2015
  • May 2015
  • June 2015
  • July 2015
  • August 2015
  • September 2015
  • October 2015
  • November 2015
  • December 2015
  • January 2016
  • February 2016
  • March 2016
  • April 2016
  • May 2016
  • June 2016
  • July 2016
  • August 2016
  • September 2016
  • October 2016
  • November 2016
  • December 2016
  • January 2017
  • February 2017
  • March 2017
  • April 2017
  • May 2017
  • June 2017
  • July 2017
  • August 2017
  • September 2017
  • October 2017
  • November 2017
  • December 2017
  • January 2018
  • February 2018
  • March 2018
  • April 2018
  • May 2018
  • June 2018
  • July 2018
  • August 2018
  • September 2018
  • October 2018
  • November 2018
  • December 2018
  • January 2019
  • February 2019
  • March 2019
  • April 2019