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Monday, May 29, 2023

Film Noir #24


Noir: The Big Caper, A Bullet for Joey, and The Chase (1946)

THE BIG CAPER (1957) --- Momentarily back to B’s for pearl found in oyster that is crime output of the fifties, prolific a word to but barely describe ocean of output from when drive-ins dominated party that was filmgoing still a habit among those not passively sat hearth-side. The Big Caper was independently produced by Pine-Thomas, as in not William Pine, who had passed in 1955, but his son Howard Pine, who joined with dad’s old partner Bill Thomas to continue in company tradition of cheapies done always for half or less than what they'd expect from wickets, source being pedigree that was crime specialist Lionel White, who also wrote The Killing and The Money Trap before/after, plus tough paperbacks to propel drug store spinner racks, White's name in Big Caper credits assurance of my staying for whole of 84 minutes. Did it matter who directed?, and yet Robert Stevens did, him otherwise TV focused. Knowing more of the medium would enable greater praise, so I'd cede to those conversant on Alfred Hitchcock Presents which Stevens directed lots of. I applaud conviction Rory Calhoun brings to robber/badman here, Rory having served serious time in youth for car-stealing, knocking over at least one jewelry store, etc. He was real stuff of darkest noir, Calhoun’s past part of trade made with Confidential magazine (George Nader too) to let Rock Hudson alone. No harm however, as Rory like Errol Flynn earlier on got enhance for “scandal” attached now to his name. Fun fact: Fed-up wife and mother of three of his daughters Lita Baron finally sued Rory for divorce, listing seventy-nine women he had done adultery with. “Heck, she didn’t even include half of them,” responded Rory. The Big Caper kept me hot-wired throughout, twisty and not a little twisted all the way. James Gregory, Robert H. Harris, Paul Picerni, and seriously creepy Corey Allen are along for the crime. I fairly tripped over The Big Caper at Amazon Prime … for which much glad, as I can't recommend it enough. Viewing tip: Blow up the full-frame image and settle in for nice and intended 1.85.

A BULLET FOR JOEY (1955) --- The trailer spoke it all. Scarface and Little Caesar were back, rest of us to back off in face of their fury. Near-twenty-five years previous these credits were, yet Little Caesar was in theatres just a year before as partner to Public Enemy, as was Scarface, which played near continuous via state’s rights distributors from whom the 1932 gangbanger was always in demand. Raft flipped his coin as in old for footage specially shot for Joey’s trailer, and violent quotient was up, or seemed so, happy mayhem back as when Robinson/Raft ruled a thirties roost. Up-to-dating makes Red spies source for villainy, and as before with badmen put to choice between crime and country, it’s either fight for good of himself or safety of us all. Easy choice as formula dictates, Raft and Robinson in third-act debate over mankind at mercy of foreign plotters. Those crumbs are worse than either of us ever were, argues Eddie, but wasn’t this reprise of stand taken ten years before in face of Axis threat? Raft is a mobster deported to Lisbon, snuck back to Canada, arranging now to re-enter the US in exchange for kidnapping an atomic expert. Otherwise, he is our George of past pleasures, as is Eddie dynamic as before on side with the law (see Vice Squad). Circumstance of both actors made modesty of the vehicle an expected if not OK thing, Raft at setting sun of stardom, Robinson sustaining in self-described “B’s” amidst fellow traveling he was assumed guilty of. I frankly enjoy the pair more in A Bullet for Joey than in fancy work for bloated studios (like GR lost in crowd that was Fox’s Black Widow), or even E.G. jammed into The Ten Commandments. Funny that this one came but a season before Robinson/Raft backlog dropped as large lot onto televisions, otherwise I’d say A Bullet for Joey was chance for us all to capture fun of late shows again on paying basis, like with Some Like It Hot (Raft again) or any number of past stars “themselves” again for sake of nostalgia. Remember Eddie being Eddie even unto late sixties, and for Disney yet? Or George doing commercials where in prison garb he protests for Alka-Seltzer? Great personas never died.

THE CHASE (1946) --- A Cornell Woolrich pretzel and rare occasion for having no idea how it'll unravel. When Robert Cummings wakes up from his crazy dream, I thought we both were cracked, but I'll say no more so as not to spoil fun if you've not seen this wonky independent released in a year noir took off in sometimes bizarre direction. Woolrich may have been a (the?) richest source for screen stories. His name stands always for something singular. To think he made magic in shared hotel digs with elderly mum, drink and torment largely to propel him. Brilliance has its price they say, Woolrich paying his thrice-size. The Chase was for years down sinkhole of hard access. I barely heard of it, let alone saw a frame till the restoration Kino got out on Blu-Ray. Producing was Seymour Nebenzal, his own shingle which was usual case. He got stars via free-lance or borrowing, none top-of-marquee but reliable. Spending looks lush but probably wasn’t, Nebenzal like independent kin knowing how to make a little go long ways. Novelty and maybe word-of-mouth was enough to garner $958K in domestic rentals and $403K foreign, so something like profit seems likely. “You’ll Be Gasping for Air at the End of The Chase,” cried Chicago’s first-run ad at the Oriental, their “Big Gay Musical Revue” to restore breathing perhaps. Robert Cummings as compromised hero (psychic war wounds) reduce certainty things will turn out well, tandem villainy of Steve Cochran and Peter Lorre eroding prospect for an upbeat finish. Cochran as cruel was how audiences initially liked him, but how to graduate from meanness to leads? Cummings had too to deal with expectation he’d be funny or at least light stepping, The Chase nice departure and not a little like Saboteur for him. Arthur Ripley as director lends visual flair, him in midst of journey from editing Foolish Wives to right-hand for Harry Langdon, later to helm Thunder Road, finally to teaching at USC. Wish I could have been one of his pupils.

Monday, May 22, 2023

Following a Ten-Year Hiatus ...


Greenbriar's Watch List Returns

THE HUNTERS (1958) --- Another from the 50's where jet flight was celebrated, but unlike previous Strategic Air Command and Jet Pilot, there are dog fights done at sonic speed and never mind flaccid love triangle among Robert Mitchum, May Britt, and Lee Phillips (latter late of Peyton Place). The Hunters was produced/directed by Dick Powell, who'd have a run at mid-50's features done with quiet competence. Seen in Cinemascope, ideally HD enhanced, The Hunters breaks through curtain of color fading, cropped image, all such gremlins that undercut early wide-screeners for a past half-century. Jet flight is especially enhanced by screen width: we need it to properly see warriors whizz across. The Hunters was 20th Fox's answer to flight plans filed by rivals: Yes, we can do these better, and indeed they did. Old tropes are reliably repeated, the Red Chinese have their own Red Baron called "Casey Jones," whom Mitch expectedly shoots down. Korea is the war, Bob admitting he doesn't know what scrap is about, but will fight anyhow because that's his trade.

Movies were still a decade ahead of questioning military wisdom, and besides, who'd supply shiny aircraft in event they did? Among a mostly male cast is Robert Wagner as hipster flyboy with patter even cool-cat Mitchum can't translate, this fount for fun that TV star Edd Byrnes used for 77 Sunset Strip, premiering within weeks of The Hunters open. Atrocities are reliably committed by Red opponents: at one point, they shoot an adorable and age five Korean girl in the back. Mig planes are easier brought down cause their piloting is as rotten as Communist ideology they swear by. Korean fight was well over by time The Hunters came out, so the hard-sell is surprising, but as cold war was still warm, no one was for portraying Reds as human. NBC premiered The Hunters 4/29/63 on their Monday night movie, and from there it spent decades looking lousy on the tube. A 20th Fox DVD has since come to relieve, and Vudu offers the show on HD streaming.

THREE GODFATHERS (1948) --- Purely personal reaction to this John Ford Technicolor western with John Wayne: I get nervous where a baby is subject to peril, even when it's comedy like when Laurel and Hardy adopted an infant and we're scared something bad will happen to it because they bungle so. Three Godfathers is much the same, Wayne, Pedro Armendariz, and Harry Carey, Jr. trekking across desert with a newborn in arms, the chance continual that they'll collapse and crush the kid, or latter will roast in the sun. No, I'll take repeat of the cavalry trio over this, at least from point Three Godfathers becomes Three Bad Men and a Baby. Up to then, it simmers well on harsh location, the outlaws fleeing from bank holdup and headed off at water holes by pursuing posse. Three Godfathers was Ford's first since the 30's using Technicolor, and result surely stunned in 1948. This is one of the most beautiful to look at of films he made.

There is John Wayne permitted to "act" via drawn-out recital of events taking place off-screen, Ford reprise of Henry Fonda Drums Along The Mohawk speech as Wayne reward for Red River perhaps, the latter finished, but not yet released, as Three Godfathers went into production. I'm guessing Hawks gave Ford a peek and satisfied him that Wayne could handle a demanding slew of pages. The one who got severest thesping lesson was Harry Carey, Jr., used also in Red River, but Ford liked to imagine he was discoverer of the son of past teammate Carey, Sr. Abuse heaped on the boy by his director has been recounted elsewhere and in grueling detail. Suffice to say, you have to wonder if Carey's ordeal was worth it, considering how he kowtowed to Ford from there on. JF stock players are on and off to varying degrees of satisfaction, Ward Bond outstanding, Mae Marsh his wife, but then comes Jane Darwell too broad as a man-hungry desert rat to whom you want to say, Yes, thanks, that will be enough. What Ford puts over brilliantly is what it is to thirst. I always wonder why desert crossers throw away canteens once they're empty, as does Wayne and companions here. What if they come across another water hole? There'd be nothing to refill ...

SAYONARA (1957) --- Lavish recount of illicit love during the Japanese occupation and slam upon US military policy of parting personnel from Nippon wives/lovers. These concerns are whole of a 147 minute show where uniforms and jet planes are but background to issue of whether our boys should date their girls. That alone made plenty heat for patronage impacted by the less-than-decade-past war, sayonara said to $13.9 million by ticket-buyers worldwide. US makers had gone over to photograph post-conflict Japan before (recently as with RKO’s Escapade In Japan), others using second-units along line of 1949's Tokyo Joe, but here was vista way past postcard capacity to show what beauty the defeated empire could boast. Wide process Technirama was sort of VistaVision and then some, an astounder to pull folk away from TV at home. Sayonara was part of increasing trend toward stars slicing from whole of pies, in this case Marlon Brando's 10% off the top (his Pennebaker Productions involved), then producer William Goetz, director Joshua Logan getting theirs after Warner distrib share and recoup of production $ the company fronted. Logan, who would own a fourth of Sayonara's negative, spoke up for Brando's lush take: "I believe creative talent should get the biggest cut of profits."

Using a Japanese actress as co-lead with Brando was also a first, Logan having offered the role to Audrey Hepburn, who came near accepting, but in the end blanched at notion she could convincingly play an Oriental. Brando was scarcely less convincing as a deep-fried Southerner with accent thick to challenge Orson Welles' impenetrable Dixie talk in The Long, Hot Summer. New WB contractee James Garner told in his book of grabbing a key support part from under auditioning nose of players that included John Smith, all but cast until Garner proposed himself to Logan as the better candidate, which he was. Sayonara launched for Christmas 1957 with two million Warner dollars behind promotion, which was record for the firm, even as they otherwise entrenched on ad/pub spending elsewhere. Sayonara would by-pass a network TV run, go direct to syndication in 1964, and afterward revert to United Artists and successors for distribution since. Nice HD transfers are had at varied streaming spots.

Monday, May 15, 2023

Category Called Comedy #1


5/15/2023: Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton, Boy's Ranch, and Cross My Heart

Another new feature to recur at Greenbriar, ads, images, discoveries made along comedy lines: Bells are ringing among Laurel and Hardians as Flicker Alley announces 1927 output of the team for Blu-Ray, this result of the lot passing into Public Domain. Likelihood is balance of silents to follow as 28-29 tick by, goal being entirety of voiceless L&H fresh-disced after years unavailable but for long OOP DVD with quality below what is promised for these. Satisfactory seemed silents when content was half as old as now, fifty years’ time enough for expectation to rise and nothing short of worldwide excavation to suffice. Fans will parse these like Chaplin Mutuals when Blu-released, Keaton shorts the same. I can hear, What about that shot where Stan walks through the door? --- It was in my 1968 Blackhawk print --- why not here? For myself, whatever comes from Flicker Alley will do. No way will this team of L&H archivists muck a job they’ve waited most of lives to engage. Michelangelo did not climb off his scaffold till perfection was reached … I suspect same mentality prevails here. Will best quality in ninety-six years make the comedies play better? Perhaps for late-coming lookers-on. For me, there could be no substitute for The Second Hundred Years arriving by post from Davenport, Iowa and flashing first on a window shade-turned-screen, marvel no more to be recaptured than any event that made being fourteen-years-old unique. What pleases is this as evidence that Laurel and Hardy are here to stay at least a little longer, hopefully as long as I last anyway, and past that, who cares? Several of this first selection exists only on 16mm, or so I’m told. Has Flicker Alley made discoveries we don’t know about? Reason enough to buy will be mere seeing what miracles they’ve come up with.

--- Growing (perceived) old found Buster Keaton wisdom on a  range of topics, here as page filler re comedy other than his own from around time The Buster Keaton Story skunked up cinemas in 1957. Press attention was good toward Buster getting TV work plus invites to live-perform, though he was never out of demand, could in fact have worked past one hundred had we been so fortunate to keep him longer. Some of comic preferences have been cited in bios, but here they are in whole, and I was happy to come across this piece on reverse side of a theatre ad for The Pride and the Passion. BK’s all-time favorites are Fields, Chaplin, and Harry Langdon. How known was Langdon by 1957? Not very (at all?) by youth at least (this article likely pre-dated The Golden Age of Comedy, which did notice Langdon and make him visible to '57-58 viewers). Bill Fields had been gone nearly long as Langdon, his best work in talkies and many of those still around. I wonder when Buster would last have watched Harry, probably not in years. Comparative youngsters cited are Jerry Lewis, Red Skelton, and Lou Costello, two for which Keaton wrote gags at MGM. Someone told me Skelton ducked questions re Buster’s influence upon him. True? Marie Dressler and Lucille Ball are the top comediennes on Keaton’s list, Dressler by 1957 turning up on late shows, Lucy undisputed queen bee of TV. “Light comics” Hope, Benny, Rooney … check, but who’s this Walter C. Kelly other than Grace’s uncle? Vaudeville recall might help, let’s just say Walter’s stuff wouldn’t survive thirty seconds on a stage today for reasons research will explain. Is there film anywhere on this utterly forgotten artist? Ditto dialect talents, names few but elder Buster would have known (Joe Welsh done since 1919, while Smith and Dale performed into the 1960's).

BOY’S RANCH (1946) --- Did you know audiences cried when five-year-old Jackie “Butch” Jenkins waved at passing trains in The Human Comedy? He was what we fought for, apart from Betty Grable. Jackie stayed a star for handful of years, never eager to act and the less so as he got older. Boy’s Ranch was among few per se vehicles for Jack. Till then he was support for grown-ups and bigger moppets. Bloodhounds won’t locate Boy’s Ranch online, and Warner Archive has no disc. TCM uses it, but spottily. Why should I or anyone bother? Maybe obscurity itself supplies an answer, MGM smacking another ball at fence that was Boy’s Town, historic hit from 1938 that saw greater profit than anything so modest done since. Boy’s Ranch was customized to amuse and warm hearts. Success at that warm coffers as well, failure at that less recalled, if not objects for scorn. More such misfires are strewn in studio libraries. Jack was likeable without Margaret O’Brian’s genius, his back-up in Boy’s Ranch a reliable Darryl Hickman the same year he did not witness Martha Ivers killing her aunt with a walking stick. Then there is Skippy Homeier for vinegar, rotten-to-core sort he’d stay for much of adult career to follow. James Craig was putative adult lead, did four pictures with Jack, obscure detail mattering oddly to me. So does seeing Boy’s Ranch, especially after impression of Chicago’s La Salle ad selling it as “Human, Hilarious Drama of Real People.” Talk about management putting in a workday … open at 7:45 AM, last show at 12:45 AM. Were there bunks upstairs upon which to crash with Boy’s Ranch fatigue? Imagine Chicagoans seated at barstools past midnight, one of them says, Hey. Let’s go see Boy’s Ranch. There’s a 12:45 show! … and off they all go.

CROSS MY HEART (1946) --- The combination of Betty Hutton with Sonny Tufts may not seem an entirely cheerful prospect for some, yet here they were, and remaking a property from but nine years before, True Confession, which itself did not call for an encore, let alone being done over by lesser talent than Carole Lombard and Fred MacMurray. Tufts drank and had become surly over being a star. Word is he and the wife drove down Hollywood Blvd. to observe his name on marquees, point at which Sonny exited the vehicle to warn customers not to go in and watch his rotten movie. Apparently he did this on occasion of several Sonny Tufts movies. Paramount had odd ideas for screen teams, comedy left in hands of Veronica Lake and Eddie Bracken for instance, and enhancement to neither. Those plus Cross My Heart are seen so seldom as to make you think they never even existed, ads prepared for a sort of bizarro universe of film dreamed up but never made. Betty Hutton after the war was needed less, her energy too energetic now that peace was won and everyone was ready to calm down and go out less. Paramount felt the pinch worse for owning so many theatres sitting fallow, unkindest cut inflicted by a seeming ingrate government wanting to divorce studios from their exhibition venues. Look at all that help and propaganda movies supplied to the fight, and this was thanks they got? Well, what have you done for us lately, replied Uncle Sam. 1946 when Cross My Heart came out was still a banner year at least, Hollywood’s best so far, as in ever, but sage observers knew that wasn’t going to last, especially where product was no better than Cross My Heart. Would it amuse even slightly if somehow we were able to see it?

Monday, May 08, 2023

Book v. Film Being Contest To Never End

Did Best-Sellers Make Best Movies in 1939?

Heard of 1939’s Disputed Passage? Based on a best-selling novel from that year, it went largely unseen till recent when Kino issued a Blu-Ray. Disputed Passage author Lloyd C. Douglas was recognized as teller of truths in print, a fisher of men whose The Robe and Magnificent Obsession were must-reads among thinkers plus seekers after entertainment. Readers emerged from Douglas spiritually whole, his repeated theme science as augment to the soul, but no substitute for it. Douglas was an evangelist for faith from his Sunday pulpit in addition to writings sold quick wherever tendered. Books start hot, cool fast, it seems, more than music or film of past times. To review texts as consumed in 1939 is to know what today is barely known, top ten as follows: Rebecca (Daphne de Maurier), Wickford Point (John P. Marquand), Escape (Ethel Vance), Disputed Passage (Lloyd C, Douglas), The Yearling (Margorie Kinnan Rawlings), The Tree of Liberty (Elizabeth Page), The Nazarene (Sholem Asch), and Kitty Foyle (Christopher Morley). Which ring familiar? I submit those adapted to movies, the balance obscure. Who has read any of the lot, this not argumentative, but honest inquiry. Peruse of Rebecca might follow a view of Selznick/Hitchcock’s adaptation for purpose to compare, but consuming 135,285 words after 130 minutes spent already with the screen? That’s a lot of Rebecca, so much as to classify as research rather than recreation, done toward earning some degree or other. And what of the rest? There is The Yearling and Kitty Foyle, known if by comparative few as writing or pictures, The Yearling regarded once as gift to youth and parents besides, but who of latter will bestow it upon children in 2023? Of The Tree of Liberty, Wickford Point, and The Nazarene, I will defer comment for total ignorance across respective boards.

Question is which survives better, novels or movies? I chose 1939 for its being banner year for film, so say many. Think of all that still entertains from then. Better yet, list them, if not on paper, at least in your head. Make it paper actually, because chances are it will be a long list. Now do the same with books from same vaunted year. What of these have you read? Answer as to me: none … at least so far. Many call out movies for being “dated.” To that argument, I submit Escape, by Ethel Vance, an anti-Nazi novel that became an anti-Nazi film, sugared to extent by Norma Shearer and Robert Taylor, shown still by TCM and sold by Warner’s DVD Archive. For every modern having watched Escape, I’ll wager not one ever read the book. Latter beyond best-selling in 1939 became a Photoplay edition in 1940, reprinted in 1942, softbound for revive during the sixties, otherwise gone. Was Escape ever assigned to students of literature? Not that I’m aware of, having checked surveys of twentieth-century writing, bare, if that, mention of Ethel Vance (a nom-de-plume) or her actual name, Grace Zaring Stone. Let’s never mind movies a moment and consider music. What of a Hit Parade from 1939 remains viable? I checked an online list from which many if not all were recognized. Where the title failed to register, a quick excerpt did, as in Oh, yes, that one. As proposed before, music sticks longer in large part because it goes down smoothest, certainly in shortest time.

Two-three minutes I gave following tunes to refresh memory, and each clicked: Cherokee (Charlie Barnet), Sunrise Serenade (Glen Gray), And the Angels Sing (Benny Goodman), In the Mood (Glenn Miller), more. These play Spotify as I write, thirty songs heard in time it would take to watch one feature, let alone what was needed to get through mere portion of a novel. Does listening trump watching, which itself trumps reading? Music in relaxed state is passive engagement, while movies require focus to best enjoy, a book more so (most books anyway). How often do we “read’ a page, reel in attention drifted elsewhere, then start paragraphs over for having wandered? That happens with music too of course. Think of a song that just ended and you don’t recall what it was, especially one heard incessant over widening expanse of years. What movie have any of us have seen a thousand times, let alone a book as oft read? Songs surely lead among arts for sheer repetition alone. Singles bought young on 45 RPM, then had on cassette, disc, now online. How many times have I listened to this or that song over such haul? --- surely a number beyond calculation. To finish any book is considered by most an accomplishment. I’m always proud to close one. Meaningful post-credits to Disputed Passage: Lloyd C. Douglas at his desk inscribing a copy of the source novel to Paramount, thanking the company for integrity they preserved of his novel. Fidelity to literature was Hollywood aim, at least the suggestion of it. They knew true art was understood to be a singular endeavor. Film as collectively created was for that reason alone a disqualification. Art is art for one person having generated it. From conviction as to that came the auteur theory. What of any group offering is respected a same? Think absurdity of Disney writing by cooperative committee (regular meetings of a dozen or more to compose a script), or seeming sci-fi of AI scripting, except here is robotic reality already arrived. Filmmaking sufficiently corporate wants singular and single-minded creatives about like they want snake bite.

Painted to Illustrate a Magazine Story, But Who'd Not Call It Art?

Can any artist who needs help still be called an artist? Architects perhaps, famous enough ones. Think Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, or Egyptians that dreamed up pyramids. They got credit for being in charge, but where does that leave quarry help or them what dragged stone across deserts? Art created for commercial purpose remains suspect, which is why Illustration Art got short shrift till collectors showed a hidebound establishment how much they were willing to spend for privilege of owning it. Now Illustration Art hangs in galleries (note my caps ... product of being a fan). Pity so much got tossed once publishers had their use of it. Artists too popular will be underestimated. Humorists too were told to get serious if they wanted respect. The heavier a novel, the better. Rachel Field’s All This and Heaven Too best-sold in its day, Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath close behind, the latter still lauded, if not read. Ms. Field’s offering at 608 pages was elephantine enough for Bette Davis to step out of a book tall as she and co-star Charles Boyer for Warner Bros. ads. Picture makers sought prestige because this, plus stars and enough gloss, spelled money to make bend-over-backwards worthwhile. Selznick prospered for adherence to mammoth selling Gone With the Wind and then Rebecca. He knew better than to let Alfred Hitchcock make an Alfred Hitchcock movie out of what was understood to be a Daphne de Maurier movie. I intend to ask the next academic encountered if any 1939 novel is taught anywhere. I bet none, and that includes toniest of the lot, The Grapes of Wrath. Prestige of latter led then and still would over one like Kitty Foyle, but her story sold a million copies during 1939, cash recipients caring less over which novel got more plaudits.

But what is Kitty Foyle, a person, or cat or who? Everyone by 1940 knew, including Ginger Rogers who won an Academy Award for playing her. I’ll not be millionth and one to read the book but am intent on watching Kitty Foyle this very night, event to be reported upon come morning. 2:55 AM: Good enough film, if a cleansing of Christopher Morley’s novel where Kitty lies down with her beloved and gets up with child she’ll then abort, impossible content for RKO and undoubtedly a letdown for readers who attended Kitty Foyle in good faith. Patronage however knew the rules after six years of stricter Code application, so took appealing Ginger Rogers in trade for source honesty. Such was bargaining Hollywood and fanbase understood and accepted. Integrity of literature was less sacrosanct where adapted book was merely popular. The Grapes of Wrath differed for measures required to preserve what readers and certainly reviewers called important if not seminal content. Essentials of Kitty Foyle in print and on film had been done before, in fact was a precode fixture, while The Grapes of Wrath took bows as boldest statement of then-time. Novels were catnip for titles and content customers knew from word-of-mouth. You didn’t have to read a hot book to smell its sizzle, as plenty who knew text would tip you off. These were crowds Hollywood relied upon to swell attendance. Kitty Foyle in print dealt sex and profanity --- would RKO buck the system and serve those? Short answer was no. Authors deplored the sellout but kept on selling out. Literary properties industry-bought beat publishing commissions every time. What nettled was heading west at weekly fee to script your work for lots more cash only to find they owned not just the novel but the novelist. Writers could let that break them or get cynical as first checks cleared. The more sensitive fell victim and perished, Scott Fitzgerald notably, him put to smithy task not on his own creations but those of others who had not his literary genius, but knew better how to write movies that would play.

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Herewith a New Series ...

Ads and Oddities #1

Ads and Oddities
proposes to be a gather place for what comes of closet cleans, peruse through stacks of kept images, dig among ancient advertising, whatever might fascinate and delight. Expect much unexpected in this and future entries.

KING SOLOMON’S MINES (1950) --- Pleasing announcement from Warner Archive is King Solomon’s Mines coming on Blu-Ray, sourced we are told from three-strip camera elements of Technicolor as rendered on African location in 1950. Like Ivanhoe of last year’s disc release, Solomon has gone long as less than what it could ideally be, news of Blu among most exciting to come so far in 2023. Above pen-ink rendering of the Liberty’s front is handiwork of noted artist Bradley F. Davis, who here surpassed himself for depicting North Wilkesboro “Showplace of Hits” on Christmas Day, 1950, King Solomon’s Mines fruit of owner Ivan Anderson’s close and ongoing relationship with Metro and oft-early recipient of their best output. In fact, we got King Solomon’s Mines as part of holiday rollout after New York November play which was exclusive as on “pre-release" terms. Davis art went out in 1985 as my Christmas card, first response from a friend who reported being at the Liberty on 12/25/50 opening day, at age ten. Screen spectacle sometimes spread outward to streets where all knew specialness of an attraction and viewed same as holiday happening equal to Santa touching down. Re Liberty and what made it ideal small town showcase, observe what artist Davis did with that same front in 1956 when Blackboard Jungle showed up, an attraction to prove even bigger than King Solomon’s Mines, if produced at a fraction of Solomon’s cost. Davis spent childhood at the Liberty, jumps ahead of me for seeing House on Haunted Hill there on first-run, him telling it in guise of “Brickadoodle” at Greenbriar circa 2019. He and I spent many a Saturday at the Liberty seeing likes of Rasputin, the Mad Monk, For a Few Dollars More, The Devil's Bride, too many to count. Bravo to Brick as great visual recorder of the Liberty in its showgoing prime.

HOLLYWOOD CAVALCADE (1939) --- Hollywood tells its own history, a first as others kept filmland fables within time perimeters to serve A,B, then C, narrative. Hollywood Cavalcade goes from teens to invention of talk via fictional Don Ameche, pioneer after Sennett with dash of Griffith, and Alice Faye, Keystonish girl who'll season via suffer for love and dramatic art. Books told how movies came to be and eventually prosper, Terry Ramsaye’s most readable of them. Hollywood Cavalcade hews to model that was Alexander’s Ragtime Band, major Fox success of a previous year. Having seen latter could save effort watching this, for bumps are same, along with cast, Alexander’s Faye marrying Ameche because she can’t have Tyrone Power, then for Cavalcade wed to Alan Curtis because Ameche won’t be bothered. Thus slags a second half, fun of Hollywood Cavalcade spent by perky leads living epoch when slapstick was king, latter simulated so 1939 could see what joy they had been missing. Selling of Hollywood Cavalcade was built round knockabout, as who wasn’t game for chases and pie fighting done again, even if by comics with no past relation to custard like Buster Keaton, him around eternity enough to make pies a likelihood from his past. Hollywood Cavalcade runs gamut neither fish nor fowl, promise of comedy nulled by rise then fall for Ameche, Faye not invited to sing as most then would expect. One of “1001 Yesterdays” is evoked by Al Jolson, playing himself in The Jazz Singer, not Fox’s property so Al is obliged to fake it. What sustains is the slapstick, lovingly applied by highlights director Malcolm St. Clair, still around from silent days and enjoying we hope, along with Keystone veterans, this late stroll down Memory Lane. Ad shown was back cover of LIFE magazine for October 9, 1939. You could frame it and fool lookers to think it a fine art print, so good was reproduction in lavish LIFE at a circulation peak.

THE BLACKHAWK LIBRARY IN OUR LIBRARY --- Were there such thing as a Blackhawk collectible, this bookmark would surely be it. By some miracle, our public library purchased a collection of the company's 8mm reels for circulation among North Wilkesboro populace. Year was 1970, point by which but a handful of Blackhawk subjects had come into my hands, nothing like dazzling variety suddenly within walk distance of home. Most Chaplins were here, also Laurel/Hardy, Langdon, Keaton, what little of Lloyd BH offered. Given no notice such windfall might come, these were like miracles raining from sky. Imagine turning corner from Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed at the Liberty to then borrow 1914’s Caught in a Cabaret … heady stuff of dreams. Brick Davis of above art immortality could tell you plenty of seismic effect our library acquisition had, being opportunity as well to see Griffith Biographs, Doug Fairbanks in an abbreviated Mr. Robinson Crusoe, so much more I had not yet worked up to as a private collector. The library’s inventory did not sit on shelves. You had to ask to see the selection. How did such Nirvana come to be? I envisioned a Blackhawk rep walking in one day with his sample case to close the earth-shaking sale. Had I but been there to greet him! Found out later that other North Carolina libraries had a similar Blackhawk arrangement. In fact, the deal was done in Raleigh and partner branches were told to expect shipment of the narrow celluloid. Imagine initial befuddlement at Ben Turpin comedies coming through otherwise staid doors. For myself it was like an instant collection with easy access and far better than what I could ever hope to accumulate. So what finally became of our local archive? A young collector I knew in the early nineties fell heir to a by-now tattered lot, the library having long since gone over to video cassettes and happy to dispose of a now bewhiskered format.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Canon Fire #4

Among the One-Hundred: Now, Voyager (1942)

Knew a spinster secretary during the seventies who treasured her copy of Now, Voyager by Olive Higgins Prouty, a writer who understood women beat-down and unfulfilled. Did Bette Davis too? She got closest to her public with Now, Voyager, living their lives it seemed, slaying a dragon mother not few of fans had to cope with at home. Mary read Now, Voyager numerous times between 1941 (its publication date) and years I knew her, lived alone, met a tragic end. She and I got along because we both liked the movie, her since it was new, me from watching Channel 36 out of Charlotte. The seventies was glorious share of earthly time with not only classic films but those who knew first-hand an era I sought closeness to, Now, Voyager still a live entity and not yet quaint artifact it later became. Frank Deal was Channel 8/High Point’s host for prime time “Superstars Movie,” his weatherman duty shared with Sunday night unspool of pre-49 Warners that WGHP had lately bought. Frank was forty-eight, old enough in 1974 to remember how fine these features were. He showed Now, Voyager and though there were necessary cuts, spoke voluble to values yet intact. There was a 1973 record album from RCA to celebrate Now, Voyager and others of Max Steiner lineage. Safe to say I was the only sophomore on my dorm hall playing it. There was bond had with women instructors over Now, Voyager, as several saw and cherished it from long before (long? It had only been thirty years, a period that to me seemed several lifetimes). Nice to grow up surrounded by living links with movies I came to love.

What of now? Following for Now, Voyager is less, but fervent, proof at You Tube where latter-day love persists, if of fan rather than analytic sort. Which to prefer? Give me fans where enthused to degree of “Fave Film Fashion,” moderator Amanda Hallay high on Voyager wardrobe and dedicating her segment “to my friend Norman and his Mum.” Most exuberant of Web appreciators is Steve Hayes, calling himself “The Tired Old Queen at the Movies,” though there’s nothing tired about Steve’s enthusiasm for Now, Voyager and others of classic bent he chooses to review. He’s funny, outlandish, and insightful, plus does neat voice impressions. Folk like Steve are a gift to You Tube. So do modern watchers tend toward mocking Now, Voyager? Not from what I see. Many wish modern films could follow its example. First to performance style … does Bette sustain? She said to Dick Cavett that stars should be bigger than life, that a “little” acting is what we pay to see, Davis herself registering first, then Voyager’s Charlotte Vale, but would audiences have wanted her consumed by the characterization? It need not come to choice between an actress and her part, for Davis like most of greats tendered both, a style largely gone now, but does loss of strong personas spell progress? I admire players who go full immersive, late examples Daniel Day-Lewis or Christian Bale, latter of this-week-seen Ford vs. Ferrari. Bale shed weight to wraith-point for another role, some thinking he doomed himself, but maybe this was figured of Bette Davis when she death marched for Of Human Bondage in 1934. Day-Lewis and Bale, plus others, see acting in terms of complete transform, a generation of Lon Chaney Seniors. Who knows but that BD lost herself 100% in Bunny O’Hare?

Look to You Tube for interviews w/ Bette Davis and/or Paul Henried as they reminisce about Now, Voyager. There’s bittersweetness looking back at wretched quality clips little sharper than 8mm. Davis/Henried were still game, latter doing his cigarette gag for youth amused by its application to love scenes in Now, Voyager, hosts and voiceovers referring to “the old tearjerker” as if yes, we’ve come far from there. Now, Voyager was from mid-fifties the stuff of late, late shows, a somnambulist’s retreat. It is but faint exaggeration to call it and others of similar age lost from date of initial release (Voyager never had a major reissue), 117-minutes ripe for abuse from TV edits till digital and uninterrupted broadcast came to belated rescue and brought us closer to values Now, Voyager always had. Essence was never romance Charlotte has with “Jerry Durrance” (Henried), but intense conflict engaged with Mother Vale as essayed by Gladys Cooper. Here was where Now, Voyager hit closest to homes of distaff patronage who felt unloved by parents that, as Charlotte accuses, “didn’t want me to be born.” Such corrosive truths had barely if ever been explored by mainstream film. Fan-mail to Davis revealed family scabs Now, Voyager picked, women by hundreds beset by varied Mrs. Vales. Now, Voyager was and remains property of women who identified intensely with Charlotte, and by extension, Bette Davis. It would be called a biggest grosser for her. A Stolen Life was actually that, though Now, Voyager did take biggest profits of any Davis at WB.

Charlotte’s case is one we are assured can be “fixed.” She has a nervous breakdown as opposed to a chemical problem that would require medication. A month to find herself, gain confidence, and Charlotte is good to go. Davis plays it uncertain however, so even after glamour treatment, Charlotte still must confront myriad of insecurities, including a mother formidable as ever and not readily overcome. Cooper as Mrs. Vale never softens, won’t compromise with the daughter she seems outwardly to despise, in fact saves worst vitriol for a final showdown, this to acknowledge that lifelong family conflict never resolves in a hurry, if ever. Mother-daughter scenes have tension and vitality that romantic asides cannot approach. The main of what we take from Now, Voyager are aching-real combat between fault-finding parent and damaged child. What happens by compare between Charlotte and Jerry Durrance, him married, walks wire between censor poles unyielding; we’re given to conclude the two sleep together based on a clinch that fades upon a hotel balcony where separate rooms beckon, both tactfully accessible, shorthand for love that will be consummated but not to awareness of children, even adolescents among the audience. Did precocious patrons figure meaning of a kiss gone to black followed by morning after conduct to indicate much-increased closeness? Charlotte/Jerry’s airport farewell, yearning as to suggest, no confirm, prior intimacy, is played specific to that effect by Davis and Henried. He ardently kisses Charlotte through a spider web veil she wears, less obviously in a 16mm print I had, dismayingly clear on Blu-Ray from Criterion.

Charlotte afterward cuts Jerry off. He’ll have to make do with stars rather than a moon she once (hope it was at least twice) yielded. Might another Pan-American trip loosen her up? Not to be however, for Charlotte will raise Jerry’s unloved child with whom there is intense bond and no evident input from Social Services. Jerry accepts the plan and says, “Shall we just have a cigarette on it?,” this as I expect (or frankly hope) he plans a next assignation, maybe on another solo cruise. Understanding such reality was/is why men might not buy Now, Voyager’s concept, let alone resolution. They’d sit and wonder if Jerry gets on with healing via pick-up of a Dolores Moran or something as accessible once off Vale premises. What hope has Jerry with Charlotte, however noble their gestures for the moment? His wife must die to clear a way, us not supposed to wish for that, but of course anyone sufficiently invested does, characters having set up offscreen “Isobel Durrance” as clingy, an anchor, loveless mom, the works. Even during wait for her demise, Dr. Jaquith (Claude Rains) will beat Jerry’s time (BD said in later interviews that Charlotte most likely married Jaquith). Movies ask a lot of our credulity. Jerry can accept the arrangement for daughter “Tina’s” sake, as Charlotte seems an only one that can effectively help the troubled child. Maybe he and D. Moran can send sacrificing Charlotte a holiday fruitcake in appreciation. Lord love the Classic Era, but solutions here have as much to do with reality as W. Woodpecker, so why do I get weepy watching them? Maybe it’s sheer craftsmanship, earnest performances, that Steiner score. All knew how unreal Now, Voyager was. Davis complained loud about censorial limits each time she got a new picture out, not just privately, but to mainstream press. What sustained her and the vehicles was an audience sophisticated enough to read between Code lines, as I said, even youngsters hep enough. Remember Conrad Lane decrypting King’s Row at age eleven in 1941?

Mentioned scrapbooks before that I found on Bette Davis, a fan’s reverie that lasted from the late thirties into wartime. These are labors of intense love, nothing Bette did eluding enthusiasm and scissors of this hunter/gatherer. It was “good for Bette,” said fawning press, to spend days “relaxing” at Lake Arrowhead where scenes for Now, Voyager were location-shot. Fans took proprietary interest in objects of devotion. They knew less of struggle Davis and colleagues engaged daily with Warner brass, data revealed but decades later when memoirs, unauthorized bios, and studio memos dealt truth, or at least perceptions by some, w/regard career and lives of the screen-adored. Davis oversaw direction vehicles took and how she’d be presented in them. Insistent, “bitchy” said some, but right enough most of the time to make suggestions useful toward quality end. Truth be known, Davis was co-director at least on Now, Voyager, hands off her growing authority so long as grosses also grew. She was obstreperous at times, not uselessly so as some who went before and saw slide as result. Stardom plus ideas were OK where ideas proved constructive, as Davis’ generally were. Her equivalent on elsewhere lots: Katharine Hepburn at MGM … what others in actress category? Many (most?) did the jobs and hoped for best, like Joan Crawford taking guidance, wanting it from strong directors, these best judge of her gifts and getting most out of them. There was too Claudette Colbert mostly freelance with a mind much of her own. Barbara Stanwyck frankly figured she was lucky to get one/two good pictures from any random six, doing her best but always mindful of odds. Did any of these have lioness impulse to approach Davis?
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