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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Metro Stops The Presses

Copy (1929) Has Newshounds In Natural Habitat

Of days when news gatherers worked city rooms in shirtsleeve and had lunch out of pails, this was another of talkers to show the print game as hard-bitten and not for softies. It was known within a season of sound that reporters were a cynical lot that breathed black humor and round-clock lifestyle. In all of precode, I don't recall seeing one of them sleep. Copy is a two-reeler to encapsulate what was already a sub-genre, and what's the wonder, as transplanted news scribes were already taking charge of scenario departments all over lotus land. These imports to Hollywood brought urban awareness to make silent scribes look anemic. A famous wire sent by Herman Mankiewicz promised east coast peers of easy filmworld pickings and competition limited to "idiots," that summing up his and other newcomer's stance re colleagues at the studios. Copy reflects casual attitude toward matters most took serious, news staff waiting for a senator to "croak" so they can get his obit in the morning edition, etc. Lead scribbler (Roscoe Karns) is brought up short by family crisis, sentiment winning out in Hollywood, if not at press rooms in New York. Goose to Copy narrative turns on General Slocum-like sinking of a ferry boat filled with mothers and offspring. Is editor Karns' wife and child among them? He and Copy cast do about face on wisecracking when it looks that way, so maybe ink slingers are human after all. Copy is among Warner Archives' Classic Shorts From The Dream Factory --- Volume Two.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Clawing To Top Of A Fight Game

Champion (1949) Is Bare Knuckle Noir

N.Y. Open, and K. Douglas Attends
The muscular hit that clinched stardom for Kirk Douglas and spilled blood (and green) into the boxing genre. Champion took two million in domestic rentals and that meant payday for far less spent to make it. Douglas is his patented "heel," a persona he'd soften as mainstream stardom beckoned (KD and R. Widmark both saw images tenderized toward similar ends). Champion is a flashy showcase and mimics would work off the Kirk grimace over nights, and nightclubs, to come (do any still?). Gritty is the byword, as in boxcars, beatings, women wronged, and wronging. Late 40's cynicism can be fun in moderation. Watch too many, however, and there's threat you'll go around trusting nobody. How did they fake ring action? Punches here look like they really connect. Ruth Roman, formerly of serials, is a nice girl besullied. No wonder Warners called after this, though she'd light somewhat less fire for them. Kirk Douglas says he chose Champion over The Great Sinner for Metro, proud of a smart move he'd made, as who remembers The Great Sinner? Champion isn't recognized as noir, but there are crook gamblers and damp asphalt, so I'll call it that for ease of reference. Indifferent prints have long been bane of this title (some colorized); also a particularly bad DVD in longtime circulation, but now comes Olive with splendidly wrought Blu-Ray that puts color (as in nice-rendered B/W) back in Champion's cheeks.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Scott In Saddle For Warner Bros.

Tall Man Riding (1955) More Of A Successful Same

Randy Scott rides for revenge, and per Code cowboy custom, finds that a bad idea (revenge themes frowned upon, then and later). There are multiple leagues of villainy enabling plenty of last reel notching to Scott's gun, action for most of time profuse. Which gal will mount the Tall Man's saddle? One is married (Dorothy Malone), the other a soiled dove in league with heavies (Peggie Castle). Randy was capable at getting jobs done sans deep-delve performance, low-key policy that plays well to present-day. A whopper fist brawl mid-way through surely had drive-inners rushing out of concession booths to catch. I imagine a Tall Man Riding among three/four similars passing summer nights to capacity parking. Was this better way to consume comfort westerns than our DVD's? The Scotts were called "S--t kickers" by J.L. Warner ... well, at least he kept them going ... there's a seeming hundred like Tall Man Riding from WB. Reliable profit was reason for outpour, these being what remnant of regular moviegoers wanted to watch. Scott was in fact a surest thing on the lot (did he drive hard enough bargains at WB and alternate address Columbia? --- I assume so). Couldn't find any of his from Burbank that lost money (Tall Man's a tall gain --- $686K in profit). Retroplex plays RS lots in HD, as have channels of western reliance, Scott among most visible of old stars thanks to sureness of his backlog to please. TCM having converted of late to true High-Def will see Technicolor (or in this case, Warnercolor) shine brighter on their westerns.

More Randolph Scott at Greenbriar Archive: Ranown Westerns, Part One and Two, Captain Kidd, Buchanan Rides Alone, The Tall T, The Nevadan, Gung Ho!, Fort Worth, The Spoilers, The Walking Hills, and Coast Guard. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Postwar Independents Play It Safe With Westerns

Randolph Scott Rail-Splitting For Canadian Pacific (1949)

A real background novelty here was shooting in Canadian wilds, that seldom done by US filmmakers till independent Nat Holt sent cameras northward. Canada was allied with Euro nations for objecting to dollars flowing out (apx. twelve million a year to US distribs), and little or nothing coming in. Hollywood answered to effect that it was lack of adequate facilities and manpower that kept Great North location off limits (there were only three lots in the whole of Canada where films could be made), but did extend olive branch in terms of features, and especially shorts, extolling beauty of Canada outdoors, this enhancing tourism to the area. What US companies feared was Canada freezing funds after overseas example. Gestures toward greater cooperation were made during 1948-49, but came largely to naught, Canadian Pacific the highest profile pic shooting on Canada soil, with Eagle-Lion's Northwest Stampede a recent wrap by time Nat Holt arrived with star Randolph Scott to build their railroad. Holt had a deal with 20th to supply three so-called "B pix" the company would distribute, another to come via producer Edward Alperson. Fox was not in a habit of handling outside product, so this was out of ordinary policy for the major.

Canadian Pacific was Nat Holt's first indie venture after four years staff producing for RKO. He told Variety that financing came easy with the right story and star, in this case western stalwart Randolph Scott. The Canadian Pacific railroad got aboard with tech advise, period equipment, and all-ways extend of cooperation. There was indication that they kicked in some financing as well. All CP wanted in return was approve of the script. Producer Holt put together an attractive package for loaning banks to consider: a first railroad saga since the hit that was Union Pacific in 1939, Cinecolor on board to enhance visuals, and a 33-day schedule under direction of vet Edwin L. Marin, all of which got Canadian Pacific nearest to a sure profit thing. I think the action picture is the only answer for the small independent, said Holt to Variety, Gallopers have always been the backbone of the industry, and the public still wants them as much as ever. The (action) pictures are the easiest kind an independent can make. The producer who turns them out has a better chance of survival in this industry than he ever had.

Cinecolor had its biggest earnings year in 1947, according to an excellent article in the Film History journal by John Belton, though by 1949 release date of Canadian Pacific, the company's stock value was in freefall. The two-color process was, despite obvious limitation, helpful to a project shot almost wholly outdoors. Canadian Pacific did well in first-run, with domestic rentals of $1.7 million and foreign $489K, the best performer of three Nat Holt/Randolph Scott actioners distributed by 20th Fox (the other two were Fighting Man Of The Plains and The Cariboo Trail). The team worked to pull their westerns out of formula rut, and to large extent succeeded. Randolph Scott in particular did interesting things with his independent set-up and partnerships with capable vets like Holt and Harry Joe Brown. The star viewed movies as business pure and simple, but kept eye always on quality of output. Ownership of the TCF distributed negs reverted to Holt, and what's extant of Canadian Pacific does not do justice to locations and Cinecolor that decorated them. Still, it's a handsome Northeastern, scarcely a "B" whatever Fox's designation, and a show one could wish to see properly restored. TCM plays Canadian Pacific occasionally, a worthwhile look even if diminished print-wise.

Today and tomorrow's post are Greenbriar contribution to Toby Roan's Randolph Scott Blogathon at 50 Westerns From The 50's, that fine site that celebrates just what its title suggests. Go there for links to other writers participating in this Scott-worthy celebration (the Blogathon officially begins Friday, 1/22/15).

Monday, January 19, 2015

Corporate Sharks Swim Offshore

The Power and The Prize (1956) Means Business

Another big loser ($838K) in losing year that was 1956, referred to since as annus horribilis by which television had penetrated whole of the country. The Power and The Prize had a negative cost of $1.4 million, a minimum you'd then-spend for presentable Metro product, but too much for this black-and-white Cinemascope drama with so little earning potential (only $575K in domestic rentals, $540K foreign). For latter market, MGM tread lightly, The Power and The Prize cautious not to give offense in Euro/UK depiction. Robert Taylor is the company man gone overseas to put over a refinery deal (in Africa, a spot regarded OK for a worldwide corporate community to graze on) with partnering Sir Cedric Hardwicke, a rock of rectitude to flatter Brit business dealings. Offshore grosses were protected further by letting Taylor love interest Elisabeth Mueller be impossibly noble as refugee from continental hardship, with wartime stopover in German concentration camps. What was done to her there is mentioned, but not stressed. Only one bad apple among offshore associates will be allowed (a lecherous VP). Otherwise, it's the Americans that are ugly (boardroom shark Burl Ives) or at the least misguided (Taylor, who'll be straightaway enlightened). The Power and The Prize is a real suck-up to integrity Euros have that we lack. So did facts at the time back this portrayal?

Taylor's a little old for what is essentially a Bill Holden part (in fact, Holden had more or less played it for Metro in 1954's Executive Suite). Bob closes the gap, however, with another of his customarily fine postwar performances. MGM valued this star, kept under pact after letting most names go. Even Gable had been scotched from contract pay as Taylor soldiered on, a succession of hits in Quo Vadis, Ivanhoe, Knights Of The Round Table, making him a better bargain than Hollywood's one-time King. We think of 50's Taylor mostly in breastplates, but it was noir and modern-set conscience stories where he'd thrive best, The Power and The Prize, Rogue Cop, Party Girl, numerous others backing placement of RT as seminal dark dweller. Taylor was another who'd underplay because he never considered himself much of an actor. That, of course, works now to benefit of all his output.

The Power and The Prize posits corporate life as all-consuming, but in the end productive and necessary. Burl Ives, otherwise a despot and spirit breaker, gives reasoned account of why America needs men like him to keep the country great. It's like listening again to Bogart's same message in Sabrina from 1954. Hollywood might point up excess in tycoons, but wouldn't condemn a system they represented. After all, that was a movie industry's system as well. A man must give heart and soul to the company, and should he marry, well, the wife must be vetted as well. That was lesson Clifton Webb taught in Woman's World (again 1954), and few outside presumed Pinkos would argue against it. Latter is among issues aired in The Power and The Prize, Taylor wanting to bring alien bride Mueller to our shore, but first having to clear her of suspected moral lapse, plus likely Communist sympathies. The Power and The Prize puts across fear everyone then felt over merest suggestion they might be disloyal, tycoon spouse Mary Astor saying at one point that suspicion alone, minus further evidence, could break anyone targeted. Had MGM topper Dore Schary forgot the Waldorf agreement he'd entered into? The Power and The Prize streams at Warner Instant in HD and is available from their Archive on DVD. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Another Godzilla Versus After King Kong

Monsters Meet For Godzilla vs. The Thing (1964)

I'd need Godzilla lessons from a Toho expert to properly manage these notes, but here's the little I know: AIP distributed Godzilla vs. The Thing in the US ... they didn't use Mothra's name for some reason (legal?), so Zilla's opponent was called "The Thing." We briefly wondered in 1964 if Howard Hawks' arctic monster had been thawed again for Round Two. Maybe a most brilliant aspect of G vs. T was posters by Reynold Brown, imagery of the Thing being "censored." Peek-a-boo art made it look like octopi sprung off It Came From Beneath The Sea, but word-of-mouth, and monster mags, weren't long in tipping us that this was indeed Mothra come to rescue Japan from further Godzilla drubbing. There's almost resignation when news reports announce G has risen again, for what was this, his fourth visit to Nippon shores? Question arose too as to how Mothra would combat, let alone overcome, Godzilla. Lethal wing-flaps and dragging the lizard by his tail were but distractions --- this was no even match like one engaged a previous year between King Kong and Godzilla.

The tiny twins who sing are back from Mothra --- did AIP consider a soundtrack album? Hearing their plaintive tune called up memories of seeing G Vs. T at the Liberty, and months later when we talked a neighbor into carrying us out to the Starlight Drive-In for another go. Was it really necessary to see this twice? Godzilla was a charmingly clumsy monster, tripping through power lines and over buildings. If Tokyo had but cleared a wider boulevard, he might have passed peacefully through, brisk urban walks invariably going bad for him. Godzilla moved slowly, and that may explain his weight issues. I don't recall a film where he actually ate anything, my assumption being that trains off trestle buffet were quite indigestible. Interesting factoid per Variety's 5/12/65 survey of Japanese features in US distribution during 1964: Almost half of $1,124,000 earned by Nippon films in the US market came from ethnic houses on the coast and in Hawaii, with "most of remaining coin brought in ... by Godzilla vs. The Thing."  The latter did OK for AIP --- $534K on 9932 bookings, but wait --- Universal's King Kong vs. Godzilla had crossed a million in 1963. Was KK a more meaningful selling point than a censored-out-of-ads "Thing"?

Monday, January 12, 2015

A 50's Courtroom Explosion!

Trial (1956) Combats Lynch Rule and Commie Mischief

It struck me about a third of the way into this that William Holden would have made a far better Trial lead than Glenn Ford. The two had been friends, began as two sides of a callow coin, then achieved popularity as spokesmen for outraged decency, the 50's a peak decade for both. Holden was world-wearier, cynicism having been instilled by work with Wilder, while Ford kept busy as men who'd be pushed but so far. What he missed was association with a great director who could define him for subsequent work with others (Fritz Lang came a closest, had they teamed on more as good as The Big Heat). Still, there'd be a string of hits through the decade, Blackboard Jungle a standout, and from that came momentum for more at MGM, hit after hit until Cimarron broke the string. Trial's Ford is a law professor who'll be let go for lack of courtroom experience, a policy that would pretty well clear the deck at most schools. He's given the summer to participate in a start-to-finish murder trial, a nutty premise as those are customarily way longer getting to real-life resolve.

Object of courtroom exercise is a Mexican teen charged with rape/strangle; his name being "Angel" with requisite baby face and sweet temper removes any/all doubt as to innocence, just like stacked deck that would be Twelve Angry Men a couple of years later. The premise was besides a familiar one thanks to The Lawless, which had kept houses empty for Paramount in 1950. We at least dispose of time-honored lynch mobbing in a first act, being pages ahead of Don Mankiewicz's script (based on his novel), and for that slow haul, it looks like Trial will be another of earnest pleas re justice/tolerance, but then off comes mask of lead attorney Arthur Kennedy at a rally he organizes to whip up minority support. They're all Communists! And Trial doesn't chicken out by having them misunderstood or witch-hunted. Here, then, is where the show cranks up, Ford trying to save his client from a conviction Kennedy orchestrates in order to raise cash for himself and the Party. And GF's love interest is a fellow traveler (Dorothy McGuire) fresh from Kennedy's bed, an idea I'll bet Ernest Lehman and Hitchcock borrowed to develop "Eve Kendall" for North By Northwest.

That rally is centerpiece and big wow of Trial, being (accurate?) depiction of crowds whipped up for causes near or far away, fiery speakers like Kennedy manipulating his mob and raking off thousands garnered off donation. You figure from watching that homefront Reds operated on large scale and could/did affect outcome of high profile cases. But then Trial, perhaps in interest of balancing scales (and to please MGM chief Dore Schary?), aims barb at offscreen demagoguery of HUAC-like investigators putting squeeze on Ford after he's spotted at the Red rally. Overall chips consequently fall in accord with whatever stance appeals to an individual viewer, Leo being the clever lion by giving no one the decision. A happy end is further dry clean, accuracy of courtroom procedure a most egregious crime on view. Trial is dated, sure, but reflective of concerns and attitude folks had then, and there is good performing amidst welcome support (John Hoyt, Elisha Cook, Katy Jurado, many more). Best of these is majestic Juano Hernandez as judge, or better put, ringmaster, of this circussy Trial. He should have got Oscar-nominated for work done here. Mark Robson directs --- we await proper appreciation of him (his great The Harder They Fall out a same year). Warner Archive has Trial on DVD.
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