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Thursday, September 19, 2019

What Happened To 42nd Street?


Tony Hunter's New York

This post is about the first eighteen minutes of The Bandwagon. Fred Astaire, as washed-up musical star “Tony Hunter,” entrains for New York, and finds it a changed place. So, no doubt, did others of MGM staff who mourned a Broadway which gold was now brass, if that. These first reels sum up a point of view shared by most behind, and in front of, 1952 cameras (The Bandwagon released seven months after completion). This opener plays like old folks’ lament for show biz way of life that won’t be coming back, thanks to kids of base appetite (hot dogs w/o even mustard), and more inclination for peep shows than what used to be a Gayest White Way. Director Vincente Minnelli and writers of The Bad and The Beautiful earlier parodied a low-end of Hollywood with its Cat Men and Son of the Cat Man, but that was gentle beside this. To taste so rarefied as Minneli’s, New York of The Bandwagon was sullied past rescue, so what comeback could a Tony Hunter hope for? Singin’ In The Rain dealt with changed times, but in reverse, outmoded silent movies given way to greater glory of talkies, a rough transition but worth it. Playing from the bottom up made Singin’ In The Rain a cheerful ride, as in good riddance to the old, and aren’t we happier with movies that talk and sing. Rain also had youth, at least appearance to that effect (Debbie Reynolds a closest thing to a newcomer among veterans --- even Donald O’Connor had been around longer than most people realized). The Bandwagon was maturity and their effort to cope, Tony Hunter eased aside and struggling to hang on. His romance with Cyd Charisse (b.1922) occasion for us to feel his age (b.1899) by comparison, and that issue would worsen. Deserving as it was to be a hit, The Bandwagon instead lost a million to Singin’ gain of $1.6 million. We can treasure The Bandwagon in hindsight more than a 1953 audience to whom it spoke less agreeably. Who liked being told their popular culture was so debased?




The Bandwagon opens with an auction of “Tony Hunter’s Personal Effects.” Like Bette Davis in The Star of a previous year, we assume that Tony is broke and reduced to selling his possessions, but it turns out later that he has an art collection to underwrite revision of a Broadway play in trouble. The auction, like Tony’s career at present, is a flop. They can’t even get an offer for the top hat and stick he used in "Swinging Down To Panama," a title to humorously evoke Astaire’s own Flying Down To Rio, largely unseen since playing new in 1933. Star artifacts were sold to the public, often bid for as part of estate disposal, and I’ve heard much of what now would be valuable going for low dollars. That can happen when so much is dumped onto a market at once. We’re led to think no one wants Tony Hunter’s “popori” at any price. How many celebrity auctions came to such impasse? I’ve seen star mementos float from dealer to store and back again without generating interest. John Barrymore’s last wife used to sell his ties, handkerchiefs, cuff links, to whoever might care, and for surprisingly little, this a sort of 80’s annuity based on bric-a-brac she was astute enough to keep.






An aspect of gracious living still had in 1953 was club cars on trains. It was like crossing land on a cruise ship. Drinks served, conversation with strangers, these congenial because if they can afford the ticket and beverage, they must be congenial. Again we’re reminded of Tony Hunter’s downfall by a magazine ad he has done for cigarettes, but stars at a peak did such ads, had for decades, and would do so until the Surgeon General cracked down. Passengers discussing Tony don’t realize he is with them, a book in front of his face. “He used to be good twelve, fifteen years ago,” one of them says, at which point Tony reveals himself to their shocked embarrassment. Did (or do) celebrities have moments like this, as in civilians unknowingly (or worse, knowingly) insulting them in a public setting where there aren’t protective buffers? I’d commend good sport Astaire for playing a character many might mistake for the actor’s own circumstance. Like Barrymore in Dinner At Eight, or Bing Crosby in The Country Girl, the part of Tony Hunter goes close to Fred Astaire not as he was, but what he might become if his kind of musical should fall out of a public’s favor. Astaire would speak to such concern in his later memoir (Steps In Time), a point at which he was moving from dance to dramatic roles.






Tony steps off the train and imagines a gaggle of reporters are there to meet him (“Thanks for the red-carpet bit, I didn’t expect it”). Ava Gardner, in a cameo, is who they want, her greeting to Tony a glimpse of how stars might interact when they unexpectedly meet. Do celebrities pretend to know each other even where they don’t know each other? The public assumes stars are all intimately acquainted. Ava’s conversation with Tony is interrupted by reporters wanting just one more shot. “Honestly, isn’t all this stuff an awful bore?” she asks him, a tactless question on one hand because Tony hoped these photographers were there for him. She “confides” to Tony because he too is (or was) a star and will understand. I’m guessing celebrities walk a tight conversational wire, even when talk is casual. It calls up memory of chat shows where a guest would go off promoting message and engage his/her neighbor on the couch instead of focusing on the host … next thing you know, there’d be a testy exchange and Carson or whoever had to cut fast to a sponsor.








Tony walks the platform “By Myself,” Astaire performing his first song in The Bandwagon. He’s holding a cigarette. Tony smokes a lot, more so than I’d think would be healthy for a dancer who needs every ounce of wind. How much did Astaire smoke off-screen, or did he smoke at all? For all of reduced circumstance, Tony is not morose. The Bandwagon would be a downer if he were. The bittersweet coda was twenty more years coming, when MGM did That’s Entertainment and had Fred Astaire duplicate his stride past a now dilapidated mock train, presumably one used in The Bandwagon. A first and only glimpse of real-life New York is an establishing one, a marquee featuring Disney’s The Story of Robin Hood, billed with The Half-Breed, both mid-1952 RKO releases. From this actuality, we cut to Minnelli’s soundstage depiction of what “used to be the great theatre street of the town,” says Tony, “What’s happened to 42nd Street?” He refers to “Noel Coward and Gertie” at the Selwyn, and his own success at the New Amsterdam, both venues having swapped legit for movies by 1953 when The Bandwagon came out.




Setting for The Bandwagon is contemporary, but beyond the establishing Robin Hood marquee, all other “movies” on Minnelli’s 42nd Street are fictitious. There is "Tears For Tomorrow" plus "Jungle Tigress," along with others posted on backdrop standees ("Money Talks" looks at least twenty-five years old). The biggest screen noise in New York when The Bandwagon filmed was undoubtedly This Is Cinerama, which did historical business, but was not representative of most attractions that were not attracting, thanks to continued inroads made by television. 42nd Street was in any case a haven for moviegoers in 1952, more “shooting galleries” than ten determined fans could cover in a day. Here was height for old and new, a brand new release as likely to be paired with what today would be called a 30’s classic (many of those still in circulation at the time). Who needed "Jungle Tigress" when King Kong was back in theatres for summer ’52 and stomping records?








Tony visits a Penny Arcade where there are kinetoscopes. I don’t know how many of these survive, but there were a fair number at arcades in Myrtle Beach when I was there in the late 60’s, and several had kinetoscopes. One I remember showed the electrocution of an elephant. Wouldn’t these things have been collector items even then? I skipped school to go and see an old theatre man in a neighboring town during 1971. He had posters, trade mags piled high, but what I didn’t expect was the out building where he kept arcade games … not cheesy pinball, but gorgeous units that looked to date way before me, and I suspect him too. A lot of these had to be unique, or at the least rare and hotly sought-after by whoever gathers this sort of Americana. I’ve wondered since what became of that storehouse. No matter how, or when, you depict Broadway-42nd Street, it will be paradise to someone. There are even those who wish it were seedy and dangerous again as in a 70’s Taxi Driver epoch. Each to his own taste. You Tube driving up Broadway in 1929, with sound, is a time I’d most like to have experienced. The New York street life Tony Hunter explores may have been Minnelli and 1953’s idea of civilization in decline, but to me it is Shangri-La, a Gotham we could all wish still thrived.




Monday, September 16, 2019

When Westerns Were a New Thing


Whoever Came After, Broncho Billy Was First

To be venerable meant more in the late 50’s, early 60’s, than now. Old was old then. Now an estimated 80,000 are over 100. G.M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson was celebrated for being around a seeming forever, plus being aboard from the birth of movies. Shaking hands with a man who appeared in The Great Train Robbery was not to be believed. When Anderson in 1965 did his Bounty Killer cameo for producer Alex Gordon, there was a line of Paramount talent to pay homage, including a star-struck Elvis Presley. Broncho Billy was eighty-five, increasingly deaf, but had all of marbles. He was earlier interviewed by William K. Everson (1958), responding less to questions than telling what anecdotes pleased him best. Here was a man who knew, chances are worked with, every founding figure in film. There weren’t a lot left who had been on first-name basis with Edison, but he was. Contrast this with elder statesmen of today’s industry. Frankie Avalon turns eighty this week. Will we celebrate the veteran who was present at dawn of the Beach Party era? Like with any field of interest, there is history and there is history. Did Broncho look around in 1971, at age 90 (d. 1-20-71), and realize his was virtually a last voice for movies at infancy?


Future Broncho Billy Runs, and Regrets It, From Great Train Robbers


Had Anderson left only account of The Great Train Robbery, he’d rank among immortals. So what if he exaggerated involvement in that historic single reel? To hear Anderson tell it, The Great Train Robbery was largely his idea, and who’s to argue it wasn’t? One thing is certain, he played three parts in a film that ran, depending on projection speed, ten to thirteen minutes, so I’ll take his telling for fact. Anderson couldn’t ride a horse, swore to hirers that he could, was late to the location because the mount threw him and ran away. He went and saw The Great Train Robbery at a New York scratch house where a customarily numbed audience went wild for the reel (they were “stupefied,” he said), their demand it be run over and over. Anderson said this was when he knew motion pictures were here to stay, that he would cast his lot with them: “That’s it. It’s gonna be the picture business for me. The future has no end.”


Anderson and Crew Getting It Done on Another Broncho Billy


Bushman, Chaplin, Anderson: Men At Work for Essanay
Broncho Billy was the first film cowboy. He made an industry realize how popular such a figure could become. That last surprised even him. Billy the entrepreneur saw acting as less essential part of wider pursuits. His was a business head as opposed to a creative one. Billy as physical presence was mostly beef. That made him oddly believable, like hard-rode cowpokes we imagine in real life. Nickel audiences saw that and rewarded Billy with more nickels. An avalanche began with this man and led to westerns being one-third of all movie output by 1911. These were one or two reels, enough to tell stories simple in the extreme, which was how I misunderstood the Bronchos before watching a brace that dealt the unexpected in terms of action and outcome. One was called Broncho Billy’s Love Affair (1912), a lesson in film grammar as taught to way-back patrons not spoon-fed narratives as would become case when drama got longer. This one tells it visual, our job to divine character without the aid of titles. There are maybe two of those in a whole of fifteen minutes. I wondered if the print was incomplete, perhaps text taken out. They sometimes in those days put narrators close by the screen who would explain action as films unspooled, or management handed out printed synopses to tell stories we’d see. Likely as not, however, they meant us to catch on from movement and expression alone. Nickelodeon reels required focus. That’s why watchers paid rapt attention to them. Observers of the time commented on the hypnotic effect of flickers. People had not behaved so at vaudeville or other amusements. Here was emotional investment that no one had experienced before. Exploding popularity of movies was for many a startling, almost supernatural, occurrence.


Disappointed Father, Worthless Son, and Figure It Out For Yourself


A Happy Engagement That Won't Last
Edward Wagenknect wrote a book in 1962 called The Movies In The Age Of Innocence. It was, and remains, a most valuable eye-ball witness of what attending films during the early silent era was about. Wagenknect was a boyhood fan who would become a teacher and scholar. He saw Broncho Billy and all the others first-run. Wagenknect rejected later notion of viewers passively absorbed in movies. “Silent films seem to me to have required far more active and uninterrupted concentration than sound films do,” he said, “We had to put a great many two-and-two’s together which the author and the actor and the director put together for the audience of today; we collected materials from a rapid-fire hail of images, made in our own minds combinations which left considerable room open for individuality of interpretation, and drew our own conclusions in correspondence with our own personalities and scales of value.”


Years They've Been Parted, Him Unknowingly Here To Arrest Her Husband


Deathbed Confession Leads To a Hopeful Ending
Broncho Billy’s Love Affair introduces two characters in a first scene that we must identify from visual evidence as father and son. Their interaction tells it, the father in stern disapproval of this scapegrace wanting money, impression made clear that the boy-man is no good and Dad is fed up. No titles for a crutch, the presentation flatters us for knowing we’ll catch on. Broncho Billy is ranch foreman for the old man, but blood being thickest, the son talks latter into discharging Billy. There is love rivalry in the son wanting a girl who is affianced to Billy. A forged note renouncing the engagement, supposedly penned by the girl, succeeds in splitting the couple, Billy not staying to inquire further. Cut to years later: Bad son has married Billy’s estranged fiancée and is gambling away what pittance they have. There is offscreen dispute over cards and Bad son commits murder, then pursued by a posse led by unknowing Broncho Billy, whose deputy shoots Bad son in the head, latter fleeing to the wife who hides him from pursuers. Billy goes there and finds his lost love in attendance to the fugitive. He and the wife have an intense reunion. It is clear each are still devoted to the other. Bad son dies after confessing his perfidy and clearing way for Billy and the wife to eventually hook up --- cue no-fuss cut to the end title. All this saga in a quarter hour. And yes, it merits our full attention, but you could say as much for hundreds of nickelodeon shorts made for patronage willing to do their interpreting share.


G.M. Anderson was head ramrod of a cowboy caravan that started off faking the West on Chicago locations, then migrated to the real thing for kinder weather as much as enhanced authenticity. Several spots in assorted states proved temporary … they'd return home to do interiors … till  sun-kissed skies won permanent berth in California, a town called Niles, this chose by Anderson who, as co-founder of Essanay Pictures and star of the series, made him indisputable boss. Anderson haunted magazines or public libraries for yarns, dreamed up many in a pinch, (under)paid novice writers who’d bring ideas to him. Word was out that there was money in screen stories, so he was inundated. Anderson had a crew including support players, a lead lady, all-purpose villain, the fundamentals. When these weren’t enough, he hired out of local vaudeville or stock companies. Broncho took a “gatling gun” approach to directing, that is, explain it once and woe betide those not paying heed. Typical shooting day: Gather the group at dawn to read out a tale they’d spin. After a while, the crew, accustomed to each other and Billy, took instructions on the fly and guessed for themselves how action would turn out. Anderson gave thesping tips on quicksilver basis, as here to a starter actress: “You’ve got to act in a picture. This is practically pantomime. Turn loose!.” Useful advise, I’d say, as much so as Method instructors would later give.


Billy-picked love interests got no hazard pay, but should have. Cracked bones and all-over sprains saw many limp back to town and not return. Anderson wouldn’t have played Broncho but for an early-cast lead man who didn’t take orders and so got canned. BB was understated, so much so he seemed often like a real West townsman that cameras just stumbled across. Anderson’s star being born was not sudden, but sure as an oncoming storm, his relations with Essanay partner George Spoor tense for power scale tipped and Anderson playing lone hand where he saw fit (like hiring Charlie Chaplin to join Essanay for what Spoor called an unsustainable price). Anderson told Everson in ’58 that he advised pal William S. Hart to try movies, which latter did, and right away supplanted Broncho Billy. Anderson was sanguine, figured BB largely done by 1915, plus the Harts were better per his frank admission. He'd produce to keep occupied (inc. comedies w/ Stan Laurel), promote deals at board tables or bank desks (loan officers liked Anderson, him sharp and no wastrel). This charter cowboy never lost faith with westerns, assuring Everson they “will never die,” comparing his kind of western with caviar that was then-live TV drama, latter heavy viewing best suited to people “who eat chicken under glass.”


The BB reels were meanwhile run raw, melted for silver, or crumpled to dust from whence they came. Broncho Billy was remembered as a pioneer like Daniel Boone or Davy Crockett, whose names and exploits we knew despite their faces we did not. Seeing a Broncho Billy meant trucking to a museum or some collector’s basement, and how many got that curious? One who did was writer/historian George Pratt, whose article in the film journal Image, The Posse Is Ridin’ Like Mad (1958) told much of how Anderson developed Broncho Billy. That essay was reprinted in an Image anthology edited by Marshall Deutelbaum and published in 1979. Pratt oversaw the classic anthology that was Spellbound In Darkness in 1966 (call it the LANTERN of a pre-digital age). This still-essential book has a section culled from trade magazines of the teens explaining nut-bolts of Broncho Billy. More recently, there is Broncho Billy and The Essanay Film Company by David Kiehn, a lavishly illustrated account of Anderson’s career and especially his BB epoch. As for the films, we can thank providence for any still around, a Niles/Essanay club latter-day custodians of Broncho legacy, and cheerleaders for BB reviving. They meet often and draw respectful crowds. Broncho Billy Anderson: Film Pioneer, their project, is a best-by-far DVD collection of shorts spread over two discs, and includes as an extra the 1958 Everson interview with Anderson, a 50 minute show in itself.




Thursday, September 12, 2019

The Race To Tackle Talkies


Once In A Lifetime (1932) Sticks It To The Movies


Down-and-out vaudevillians figure to scam Hollywood with a voice elocution school now that talkies have swept the industry. At times clever when not smug, this came off a play that skewered an art form that Easterners did not consider art. Carl Laemmle gave himself the back-pat for adapting the comedy and standing for ridicule of his bread-butter, though Once In A Lifetime is less acid than broadest of lampoon. Where it's Jack Oakie trying to breach studio walls manned by Gregory Ratoff, where is chance of filmland being seriously maligned? Funnier if you know the context, so it helps to be a dyed-in-wool old movie buff. Details are flavorful --- a train ride sees everyone, plus seats and baggage, caked with dust from open windows, but close them and you'll suffocate, so where was glamour in those cross-country treks? Once In A Lifetime posits that no one in studio power is competent, success always a product of dumb luck. To that goal, Oakie comes well-equipped.






Vaudeville is presented from an opening scene as deadest of formats, California an only option for performers who wanted to eat. Those who make the move are fakers to a man/woman, each reinventing themselves as something they're not. Interesting is this closed society knowing one another from way back, so pretense is dropped when reunions are had, as when Aline MacMahon of the bogus talk school meets self-styled columnist Louise Fazenda who used to work stock in the stix. All this rings of authenticity, as we assume anyone who was in variety long enough knew everyone else who trod the same boards. Star interviews would bear this out, many if not most biz friendships grown from years on the road before movies beckoned. Everyone who hits big, or not, is presumed to have come from humblest beginnings, eaten dust in the same rail cars. I doubt Hollywood was much bothered by class conflict, since most if not all populace knew the same scramble up from nothing.




Monday, September 09, 2019

Pasteur Prestige Packs Patrons


Warners Finds Dignified Way To Sell Seats


What would happen if a present-day history instructor played The Story of Louis Pasteur for his/her class to introduce the nineteenth century chemist and his achievements? Suppose one student liked not only this old movie, but decided to explore more via TCM or streaming. Through such a back door may come a next film writer or historian. Ask most devotees and they’ll say the interest came indirectly, not by someone ritual-introducing them to “classic” cinema. Could a well-made, intelligently written 1936 film still beat a lecture or Wiki entry? It did when The Story of Louis Pasteur was new, encyclopedias a then-Wiki, if more reliable. Pasteur was a gamble for seeming like school, tall odds this, but it won a mass audience and worldwide rentals of $1.1 million. I wondered how Warners did it, hoping their Archive DVD might show me. Thirty years past seeing The Story of Louis Pasteur made it seem new, and as always there is fun in anything so far out of fashion (Pasteur leading off the next TCM Festival? … when pigs fly). A man of the 1860’s cures anthrax and rabies, and a movie about his life clicks. Better than that, it inaugurates a series of Great Man biopics to star Paul Muni, and then Edward G. Robinson (Ehrlich, Reuters). They even celebrate a Great Woman with Kay Francis to play her (The White Angel and Florence Nightingale). Most of these broke even or better. Toward understanding how, The Story of Louis Pasteur gives a good start.






It takes but 86 Pasteur minutes to find deadly spores, identify same, and then rid us of them. Dickie Moore is bitten by a mad dog for a mid-point livener. Muni as Pasteur sasses Napoleon III. Captain Englehorn, who found Skull Island, and Van Helsing that opposed Dracula, are doctors pitted against Pasteur, latter’s wife the later wife of Wolf Frankenstein. I mention these to lull viewership that might otherwise duck The Story of Louis Pasteur. There is the self-betterment for watching, plus fact it glides winningly from trauma to triumph, the lot of all visionaries. Wolf and related Frankensteins had things as rough, but got no laurel wreath for pains. I wonder if seeing so many mad (at least doomed) science stories made me shy of the subject at both school, and as possibility for life’s work. All through The Story of Louis Pasteur, I kept waiting for the title man to flop and be condemned, as Muni puts it, “to the guillotine.” Hadn’t that been Karloff’s apx. fate on too many occasions? Being fact-based permitted me to keep my head and be enriched by The Story of Louis Pasteur, it worth knowing why so much cattle and sheep died in past-century France, and how one frothy dog could empty a street fair. Made me realize how lucky we are to thrive in a safer world the Pasteurs bequeathed us. And no, I’m not being flippant.




Warners touted “Good Citizenship Combined With Good Picture Making,” an apt motto for a talking era that began with Disraeli, continued with George Arliss in varied historicals, the baton going to Paul Muni after GA left. Maybe Pasteur was less a risk than we imagine. He and others of great accomplishment were still taught at grade schools. Would even college level instructors today know Louis Pasteur? (he’d be a stranger to me but for the film) WB tied in with schools, libraries, the usual outlets, to make its public Pasteur-conscious. “The man who braved a thousand deaths so that countless millions may live” was hyperbole needed to give long-ago events a fresh urgency. Ads cleverly posited the notion that many if not most of us “Might Not Be Alive Today” to see The Story of Louis Pasteur had his experiments not been a success. Trade reviewing sang praises, the Motion Picture Herald citing “departure from prosaic formula” and “hushed silence among the audience," while Variety noted that “men were openly in tears throughout.” The Story of Louis Pasteur answered too-oft allegation that young people’s time was wasted at movie theatres. Toward making Pasteur’s story topical, Warners described “soldiers of science” who were yet sacrificing lives to protect ours, to wit then-recent instance of a woman trying to develop a meningitis serum who accidentally got a few test drops in her eye and died soon after (Anna Pabst, on Christmas day in 1935). And where would pet-loving children be had Pasteur not found his rabies cure? WB bluntly said, via star Muni, that dog ownership was enabled thanks to this.






For a chemist’s work to compel, the stakes had to be high, and that needed a strong opener for The Story of Louis Pasteur, a doctor shot dead in his home by a man who blames him for a wife’s death. Squirmy scenes have medicos dropping probe instruments on the floor, then putting them back in bags without washing. We could wonder if that sort of neglect still went on in 1936 when Pasteur came out. His first crusade is to reduce “child bed” deaths caused by doctors who carry infection from one patient to the next, which again, may still have been a problem in less developed areas of the US. “No grease-paint heroics,” promised Warners, but an unflinching recount of one man’s halt to deaths by the score. The fact Pasteur brought a medical establishment to its senses, plus the distance of years, made the topic fit for entertainment. Did the Studio Era ever dramatize an epidemic and search for a vaccine before one was found? Noteworthy is WB, in fact no company, filming the story of Anna Pabst, the first woman killed in the line of duty for the National Board of Health. But Ms. Pabst, gone mere weeks before The Story of Louis Pasteur opened, would not have made an agreeable biopic subject, for we lost her, and bacterial meningitis remains a deadly threat to this day. Pasteur, for all his struggle, got to win in the end, this a must, in fact the must, for Hollywood accounts of Great Men or Women.






WB Selling Muni as Zola Sans the Beard
Of potential great men was Paul Muni, whose prestige breakout this was. Muni had done two that were word-of-mouth tidal waves, Scarface and I Was A Fugitive From a Chain Gang, both to be remembered a long time and recognizable today by those in the classics know. Muni had a caveman countenance but wanted more. A building star persona was not a thing he encouraged, and that in the end cost him dear. Muni sought a line in versatility, multiple roles in one film, aging from youth to old age in another. He’d go brute, if an educated one, for Bordertown, and I suspect that’s how fans best liked him, but Pasteur was the goods as Muni saw them, his notion plus that of a wife behind the throne. Warners gave in to script approval, his contributing to same, and no penalty should he turn down a project. It was said this went to his head, but maybe others envied such a dedicated and serious actor, which Muni certainly was. Trouble was reluctance to come out from behind beards (Pasteur, then Zola), or heavy ethnic disguise (The Good Earth, Juarez). Hal Wallis saw the peril, told make-up crew to ease up facial hair so Muni as Zola would be recognizably Muni (Zola’s one-sheet was a head-shot of Muni, sans muff). By finish of the 30’s, there was no Muni to reclaim, his kind of bio gone out of fashion (Juarez lost money), him still unwilling to do formula vehicles and reassert Muni-as-star. Robinson was for character leads, but in moderation and tempered by tough guys his public continued to like. When Muni did Angel On My Shoulder in 1946, again a dual part, audiences got at least half w/ his brute man back and opposed to gentle soul Muni, Angel a mirror of contradiction in the actor’s screen self. Integrity was what no one could tempt from him, and chances are Muni didn’t mind the price his high standards exacted.




Mr. and Mrs. Muni Do the High-Culture Thing at Home
Interesting footnote re Robinson. He and Muni were rivals, and not friendly ones. Maybe Paul got petulant when Eddie put on his own beard. Robinson had refinement and intellect Muni couldn’t lord over. All My Yesterdays, the autobio of Edward G. Robinson, spelled it out: “He (Muni) played Pasteur and Zola. I (Eddie’s italic) could have. I played Ehrlich and Reuter; he could have. The Brothers Warner regarded us as two sides of a coin and did not hesitate to exploit the situation.” Then, in a paragraph to itself, “I disliked Muni and Muni detested me.” Muni was instance of single-minded talent you’d put up with so long as profit flowed. Hal Wallis recalled him doing Pasteur scenes with the wife behind director William Dieterle’s camera. Muni would freeze up when she shook her head no, then demand a retake, a preamble to that Svengali woman who did a same number on Marilyn Monroe in the 50’s. Muni was worth the guff for a Pasteur Oscar he’d win, capping it with a Best Picture award he helped Zola get a year later. We ignore or disparage Muni too readily, have for too many years. To wit, colleges could rent Pasteur or Zola at a bargain $75 each during the 70’s, the best of Bogart commanding twice that. When Muni went out of fashion, he really went. In all fairness, shouldn’t we give this distinguished actor another try?
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