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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Fox Drops A Bomb Below The Border

A Technicolor-ful Carnival In Costa Rica (1947)

This was yapping dog that cost an exorbitant $3.2 million to breed. Zanuck was unhappy with drafts from a beginning and said it was too much like routine musicals they'd done ten years before, which indeed it is. You could put "1937" beside this and few would be the wiser (outside of color's tip-off). A large second unit, headed by director Otto Brower, went to San Jose, Puerto Rico for two months of background shooting in late '46, after which he died sudden. Brower didn't get a posthumous credit on Carnival In Costa Rica, but should have, as his scenics do dominate, expertise in this area going back to Africa footage he secured for 1939's Stanley and Livingstone. Fox put post-war emphasis on musicals, four out of twenty-two productions for 1947 being cleffed and in Technicolor. This was policy that normally clicked, but Carnival In Costa Rica took a dreadful bath of $1.9 million lost: too much spent on the negative. That scuttled follow-up Christmas In Havana with Vera-Ellen. Now the fabled flop is available from Fox Archive, among nicer color renditions so far delivered. It's an OK enough musical with Latin flavor, the four-corner romance and customary misunderstandings fielded by Vera-Ellen, Dick Haymes, Caesar Romero, and Celeste Holm. I'd endorse Carnival to Fox musical completists and seekers after Technicolor as it glowed most brightly during the mid-to-late 40's.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Always Something New To Enjoy In This One

The Maltese Falcon (1941) As HD-Sharper Seen

What's left to say? Just two things gleaned from recent view (the Blu-Ray, plus true HD broadcasts on TCM): Sydney Greenstreet was 61 when he made this, playing a character presumably as old, here in obsessive pursuit of a collectable. Dialogue reflects that it's not as much the jewel-encrustedness and incalculable worth of the Falcon as the fact Casper Gutman simply must have it. In other words, he's one of us, and that Black Bird might as well be a rare one-sheet or 16mm print. Would a fanatic-enough film or poster collector commit murder to get what they want? I've met a few who might get round to it. Gutman, then, is an identification figure for not a few, less so for me since dogged accumulation was relaxed some years back, but I knew SG/CG's pain when the third-act Falcon proved to be fake and he has to start all over again (like a promised original of The Maltese Falcon that turned out to be a dupe --- yes, that happened once). Gutman spent eighteen years in search of his, and cheerfully says he'll start again in a final scene. At age 61? What purpose does collecting really serve when you've reached that age? A sage said that a first half of life was about accumulating, the second spent in disposal. How much can any object mean when you've got ever-lessening time to enjoy it?

The other this-time notice is Wilmer Cook's possible getaway (just realized --- he and enactor Elisha Cook, Jr. share the same last name). Here's the progression as I understood it: Wilmer is unconscious on the couch, the falcon arrives and confederates unwrap same amidst much dialogue. When they finish, Wilmer is gone. More dialogue, Gutman and Joel Cairo depart, but Wilmer has a head start, possibly a significant one. Would he have waited outside the building to join the others? Doubtful --- for fact they'd sold him out. Bogart finally alerts cops by phone to pick up the lot (warning them specifically about Wilmer), but I'm guessing Wilmer's halfway to the state line, and am not reassured by Ward Bond's "Got 'em" line when he and partner Barton MacLane enter. My guess is they nabbed Gutman and Cairo, but Wilmer got away clear. In fact, that may have been him a few years later in The Big Sleep, free as a breeze, and going about as "Harry Jones." He happens by as Bogie takes a beat-down, says he'll mind his own business rather than "kibitz." In such a confused narrative as The Big Sleep's, names and identities hardly matter, and I'd like to think this character is Wilmer Cook, a little older, certainly wiser, but still getting the grim pay-off he'd managed to duck in The Maltese Falcon.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

One More For Christy Cabanne Completists

Brian Donlevy Gets an RKO Tryout in Another Face (1935)

The gear-up of B units at major factories speeded writer assembly like Charlie tightening bolts in Modern Times; it was a pace that killed creativity, other than rote repeat of formulae others were at a same moment plying across town. RKO stole willy-nilly to construct Another Face, primarily from Warner's lately done Lady Killer, where gangster James Cagney heads west to give movies a try when rackets go bust. Here it's Brian Donlevy, starring for a first time after villainy for Goldwyn (Barbary Coast). To this porridge add getaway (for murder) aided by plastic surgery, a wheeze that crooks (and scribes) often utilized to juice a second act. Trouble is mood swaying between comedy (labored) and threat Donlevy poses; he's a killer after all, so laughs are tentative. B output had not luxury of getting things right; you'd ship on Friday ready or not. Christy Cabanne directs. Like colleague Bill Beaudine, he'd left promise of major silents to do talking B's where work was at least consistent, if not inspired. I'm waiting for someone to lionize Cabanne as neglected auteur like with peers (remember all-day TCM tribute to Nick Grinde?). So why watch Another Face today? Well, there's behind-scenes moviemaking, stuff shot on RKO's backlot (at night), and character folk nicely deployed. 69 minutes could be worse spent, and this turns up from time to time on TCM.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Another Doctor Visit

Columbia Back In Scrubs with The New Interns (1964)

Director John Rich said in his memoir that the script for this really barked and that he'd do plenty streamlining to make it play. Prognosis? Negative to start, but hang in because this Interns sequel gets better. New staffers include chip-on-shoulder George Segal, who gets an introductory credit and seems to have looked into his mirror and seen John Cassevetes. Some characters are back, Michael Callan's breakdown from the first pic apparently healed, and Dean Jones takes the place of James MacArthur to wed returning Stephanie Powers. More babies get born as previous (Variety called these sequences "gory"). Another wild party outdoes the one we'd seen in '62, a bigger and better blowout this time expected. While chatting w/ Dawn Wells at the Winston-Salem western con, I asked how long they spent shooting the party sequence. She said five days, and it was right when shots were fired in Dallas, so who'd ever forget that week? These New Interns talk of $40 a month salary and live in ratty digs; was this the true lot of medical trainees then, and does something like it persist to this day? Variety estimated domestic rentals of $2.670 million for The New Interns, distinctly down from the first one, but not bad for what shouldn't have been a costly follow-up.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

A Swiftian Take On Medicos

The Interns (1962) An Effective 60's Dosage

Are there doctors in the house? Columbia filled a dormitory with them, twice, in feature auditions for talented youth on career upswing. Several would be cast in TV that made them household names. That is to say I'll bet The Interns scored high when CBS network premiered it, and sure enough, inquiry reveals a 20.7 rating on 3/10/66, unusually stout for black-and-white broadcast in that color-besot season. The Interns was package wrapped by directing and co-writer David Swift, lately off one-two excellence for Disney (Pollyanna and The Parent Trap). His was a large talent underestimated due to comedies and family pics being career emphasis. The Interns is Grand Hotel among doctor/patients/staff, appealing starters (James MacArthur, Stephanie Powers, Michael Callan, more) at odds with crusty pros Telly Savalas and Buddy Ebsen.

Maybe it reveals my plebian taste, but I was sorry to see The Interns end, or was it the pin-sharp HD via Sony's Movie Channel? Of an engaging cast, Nick Adams seems the neediest of youth's lot. When rock-bottom beckoned with Frankenstein Conquers The World, I remember Nick telling a Modern Monsters interviewer that he preferred doing horror flix. Just as well, as he'd wrap the career in a brace of them. The Interns could enter wards off limit to TV med dramas, thus sex and ribald, if not coarse, humor, and you-are-there childbirth wheeling us close as Mom and Dad dared go back in the 40's. The "wild party" sequence was what trailers hawked hardest; it goes on for a reel and not a few nurses strip to undies before a wind-up. Kildare and Ben Casey never had it like this! The Interns dates by happy means of staff lighting up as they exit the OR, doors still swinging so the patient will get his/her secondary whiff. Variety said these Interns should be called "Hippocratic Oafs," but Columbia took a five million domestic rentals payday, and that wrote prescription for a two years-later sequel plus a TV series David Swift developed for 1970-71.

Check back Monday for The New Interns.

Monday, March 30, 2015

La Swanson Locations In Europe

Perfect Understanding (1932) Sees Gloria Less Glorious With Talk

So What's All This About a "Hot-Cha Husband"?
Gloria Swanson made this drawing room comedy in England during 1932. Her star had been setting and any success would amount to a comeback, which Perfect Understanding wasn't, though it did emerge a most polished so-far talker out of the UK. Swanson would write later that this was the first picture she made with her own funds, a not-intended outcome, but one forced by the usual chaos attendant on filming in foreign climes with unfamiliar crews. Part of Perfect Understanding takes place in Cannes, so Swanson went there and got nice footage that I presume was the first taken of that exotic playground using sound. United Artists had to bail out Perfect Understanding, and according to Variety, bring Swanson back to America after she "had been caught abroad without liquid finances." The actress was obliged to relinquish her UA stock in exchange for the rescue.

Release of Perfect Understanding timed with bank holidays and boxoffice malaise, result a woeful $168K in domestic rentals, plus $121K foreign, this toward unsuccessful recovery of $285K spent on the negative. Variety acknowledged greater costs had they shot in Hollywood, but that would merely have made Perfect Understanding a worse flop. Swanson waited over a year to try another vehicle, momentum of her once great career spent. Perfect Understanding is now available from the Cohen Group on Blu-Ray. It's enjoyable, a Brit precode novelty, not unlike US counterpart The Divorcee, from which story situations borrow heavily. Laurence Olivier, in mid-twenties and properly dashing, makes marital love to eight years his senior Gloria. She sings well, not excessively, though Victor released a disc that didn't impress Variety: Miss Swanson brings nothing to the wax but a celluloid rep. Such snark did little to advance GS re-launch as a musical star with her next, Music In The Air, a goal for which she had no small aptitude, but timing and luck were past going Gloria's way.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Sinatra Out Of The Gate

Step Lively (1944) Is RKO Encore for "The Voice"

RKO in the 30's spent heavily ($255K) to acquire Broadway's hit play, Room Service, then lost money customizing it for the Marx Brothers. There was still the property, at least, to remake as background to song sensation Frank Sinatra, Step Lively an early credit. The play was keyed to run/shout tempo, so success rides upon one's own threshold for that, but songs are good, several to become Sinatra standards. Audiences came to see FS, other cast members just noise between his tuning, their fate not unlike that of performers on Ed Sullivan before and after The Beatles came on. There was trade report of fans tearing down balcony rails in swoon over Sinatra, so management might have wished for less of him and more of co-stars George Murphy and borrowed-from-Metro Gloria DeHaven. RKO used Step Lively to feature a comic duo, Alan Carney and Wally Brown, stars of low-budgeters the company hoped would unseat Abbott and Costello (they didn't). Sinatra's was a gentle presence, the speaking voice a little high, timid around girls, an ideal non-threat for femme fans. Frank's would prove the ideal template for moving teen idol merchandise past parental concern over sex shorthand his songs conveyed, the joke being that 4-F FS was too scrawny to prey upon innocence (wartime cartoons kidded his image mercilessly along these lines). Step Lively has played Warner Instant Archive in vivid HD.
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