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Monday, August 05, 2019

Some Book and Disc Must-Haves


Three Just Out and Just Great

A second volume of Charley Chase is here … fifteen comedies produced at Hal Roach during 1932-33. Most of these haven’t been available for years, other than sporadic where TCM uses them for filler. Chase grows on me, even his late Columbia shorts a font of curiosity and not a little joy. The message has been a same all my film-conscious life: Chase is underrated and awaits rediscovery. I frankly don’t think he has widened beyond those who were there at a 60/70’s moment when it briefly looked like Charley might rise anew. Blackhawk had him on 8 and 16mm. I wonder how many prints they moved. Most of us picked Chaplin, Laurel/Hardy, or Keaton, money being scarce and purchases few where each reel cost $10 or mostly more. Chase may have have peaked in public awareness when Robert Youngson turned a spotlight on him in Laurel and Hardy’s Laughing Twenties (1965), then again, and more prominently, in Four Clowns. This would seem to have been Chase’s opportunity to break out, or not. Keaton certainly did, as did Chaplin, who of course had reach and resource to get his old films noticed by a wider audience. Laurel/Hardy were probably biggest winners of the slapstick lot. Chase had a same issue as Harry Langdon, both obscure beyond the evangelicals, and fated to stay that way. Keaton at present seems a biggest noise among the voiceless.




None of this makes Chase (or Langdon) lessen in interest. In fact, they're enhanced for freshness where picked up by neophytes or those who have gone years not seeing them. I wonder if fans get hatched on You Tube, where all of funny faces frolic for free and it seems most of backlog can be accessed. Charley Chase is not so readily had, certainly not these Roach subjects. Each is a curiosity all its own. All have interest, some uneven it’s true, but that too is a fascination with Chase. He need not strain to captivate us. Chase had to get out goods whether he rang bells or not. That process lends interest to sets like this where whole of a season’s offering is put before us to judge. We’ve not had such opportunity with Chase before and it is a welcome one now. Students of sight comedy are well advised to grab this Volume (Two) now, plus Volume One if you don’t already have it. Quality is uniformly good, and there are audio commentaries for each short by Richard M. Roberts, plus foreign-language versions of comedies that have not seen light of day since playing offshore cinemas when sound was young.




Toby Roan has written a book about One-Eyed Jacks. A whole book about one movie. Does One-Eyed Jacks rate the volume? I say yes, especially where written by Roan, who did a video extra for the O-EJs Blu-Ray that I consider some of the best work of its kind so far done. This was Marlon Brando’s ultra-western, him directing, starring, producing, for Paramount. What went right, then spectacularly wrong, is stuff of movieland gothica, a star above every title undone by the result, followed by a disastrous Mutiny On The Bounty in 1962. Few carved Brando’s name with pride after these. His 60’s decline saw hubris spanked and spanked again, the last stop a brace for Universal, where many names went to be humbled. One-Eyed Jacks might stand, then, as last hurrah for the Brando who stood a town on its ear with starting-out work, and would again, but not until early 70’s arrival of The Godfather.




I say One-Eyed Jacks is a great western, too long absent, but back now and lovely on high-def disc. Toby Roan has done archeological dig through all grade of Jacks arcana. There is much data here that has not been revealed elsewhere. However profligate Brando was, he did it with style and one-of-a-kind-conviction. One-Eyed Jacks meant a great deal to him and the actor spent life’s blood on it, along with millions of Paramount dollars. Their ultimate clash makes for great filmmaking lore, which Roan covers in rich detail. A Million Feet Of Film: The Making of One-Eyed Jacks, is an ideal reading companion to go with the Blu-Ray of a legendary, and still vital, outdoor show.




Rondo Hatton was born in the North Carolina town where I went to college! Had I but known. Imagine a month-long festival in 1974 … Hickory’s own Rondo in all his Creeper hits. The Scripts From The Crypt team has recovered Rondo and given him pride of place among Most Unique Personalities to have appeared before a camera. I knew and regarded him as someone special from first and long-ago times I saw House Of Horrors and The Spider Woman Strikes Back, then of course the Sherlock Holmes chapter where Rondo as a first-time Creeper broke backs and went unseen until final moments where Basil Rathbone, as Holmes, confronts him. The Pearl of Death became all-out horror rather than mere mystery thanks to Rondo Hatton. His was a tragic as well as frightening presence. That may be what we appreciated best about him, it understood that Rondo had a war-inflicted condition that made a monster of him. Universal exploiting this was pretty cold, but paid work it was for a player in need, so minds were met. Rondo had trouble with speech and memory as his malady worsened, so let's not call him a “bad actor” (plenty more seasoned are duller by comparison). Just being Rondo, and persevering, was achievement enough, considering odds overcome.




Crypt writers focus on Hatton’s biography, detailed and remarkable, then zeroes on The Brute Man, his last bow, and released posthumously. You can see The Brute Man on You Tube, a nice transfer, and ideal hand-in-glove with the book. I regard Rondo Hatton as one of nature’s noblemen. Both parents were educators, highly accomplished, Rondo himself a splendid scholar and athlete at college. Hatton served during World War One, after which he developed acromegaly, a condition that was progressive and incurable. Saddest part is talent Hatton had, for writing (newspapers), other creative endeavors ... a shining light for agonizing years it took to flicker out. I'll not depict this as a downer book, for there's too much wit and refreshing insight to leave ash in mouths, plus no evidence that Rondo felt sorry for himself. Folks liked him all the way to a finish. His was a face majestic, before and after the affliction. You’ll cheer this Creeper and chroniclers who have given him back to prominence: Scott Gallinghouse, Tom Weaver, Dr. Robert J. Kiss, George Chastain, David Colton, Andrew J. Fenaday, and Gary D. Rhodes.

9 Comments:

Blogger Reg Hartt said...

I agree wholeheartedly about ONE EYED JACKS. Maybe folks were out to humble Brando. If so, they failed because this film is superb.

Don't share your enthusiasm for Charley Chase. Just can't get into his films.

Rondo Hatton, though, is another story. There walks a man. Saddled with a disease that made him perfect for horror films he made the most of what Providence gave him. Always liked his work.

11:54 AM  
Blogger DBenson said...

I'm definitely pro-Chase, and the Roach talkies are miles ahead of what he did at Columbia.

A favorite moment in the last short of the new set has Gale Henry trying to silence her guests so a violinist can play. It's a lovely take that plays like Carol Burnett; a few seconds of expert mugging and pantomime.

I trust you got hold of the Thelma Todd sets as well (one with Zazu Pitts, one with Patsy Kelly). They're not quite in the same league, but Todd elevates everything.

Are there other Hal Roach two-reel talkies locked away we should know about? For ages I assumed the Rascals and Laurel & Hardy represented nearly all his output in that area, and it turns out even Harry Langdon did some shorts there.

5:45 PM  
Blogger stinky fitzwizzle said...

Stinky needs to see more Chase. He was one where Charley did a song-and-dance, and was utterly charmed.

11:16 PM  
Blogger Rodney said...

There are minor Roach series that are still to officially see the light of day (aside from occasional TCM airings) like The Taxi Boys and The Boyfriends. The Boyfriends shorts aren't bad, Taxi Boys closer to bad than good, but all worthy of release.

Plus you have the one-offs and the miscellaneous (all-star) shorts and the silents like Lloyd Hamilton. There's a LOT of material worth seeing still buried.

7:48 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Never much cared for Chase but oddly I prefer the few Columbia shorts I've seen. I wish I knew what people see in him that I'm apparently missing.

1:27 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

I don't know how much of a breakout anyone has, when kids don't recognize W.C. Fields, who was pop culture ubiquitous when I was a kid in the 70s. I just saw someone on Facebook asking who the guy with a mustache was in a poster for Gone With the Wind. But I will say that Chase's appearances at Cinevent, where there was long a full hour session devoted to three of his films, were greeted with the warmth that can only come from true fandom and appreciation. So I think he does about as well as anybody short of the giants (by which I mean Lugosi, Bugs Bunny and the Three Stooges-- Garbo who?)

3:10 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

W. C. Fields great popularity in the 1970s came about because his films were regularly shown on black and white television (as were so many others). With the change to color TV those great films became shown less, less and less. It's a shame really.

7:17 AM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

It's true -- color TV banished the black-and-whites from view. There was a UHF station (this was about 1972) that refused to show anything in black-and-white during the daytime hours. So the station aired pink prints of old NTA color cartoons again and again; and only half the run of both Adventures of Superman and Gilligan's Island; the station kept the earlier b/w episodes on the shelf and aired the color shows repeatedly.

12:30 PM  
Blogger Lionel Braithwaite said...

Of course, many of the black & white classics (movies) would become staples of VHS/Beta cassette and laserdisc (all of which debuted in the 1970's), so they wouldn't become completely lost. But yeah, with a few exceptions, it was a bummer how black & white movies were treated by many TV stations.

5:02 PM  

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