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Monday, February 17, 2020

Here We Go Again ...


It's My Birthday Week and I'll Write About James Bond If I Want To

1964 Touchdown in Gotham for Goldfinger
What is it that is so especially sad about the passing of James Bond personnel, time passing for us all the short answer as two more joined the necrology since last year, Tania Mallet from Goldfinger (Tilly Masterson), then Claudine Auger, Domino of Thunderball in December ’19. I thought of these upon revisiting Goldfinger this week, of Shirley Eaton covered with gold paint, then recovered to join us forty-four years later (2008) at Winston-Salem’s Western Film Fair, sat behind a signing table in a drab conference room that was cosmos away from '64 London premieres (royalty present at one), and her LIFE magazine covered-in-gold cover. Next to Ms. Eaton was Caroline Munro, vet of a Roger Moore Bond, both not an hour from the house I live in. What varied planets these two have known, fame from long ago an annuity to buy them plane fare to farest-flung places where 007 fans dwell (which, of course, is everywhere).




Goldfinger today salts streaming mines with all of other Bonds, no more special than the rest, and far from the overpowering spectacle it once was. Maybe “spectacle” is inapt, because Goldfinger got made for a price (three million, it is said), then forged on to profit-bearing history. It’s been told and re-told that the Bond craze began here, a first two successful (Dr. No, Russia), but not remarkably so. I’ve written, perhaps too much, of impact(s) each made, yet Goldfinger startles still for so many pop cultural touchstones it introduced. For starts, the tying-in of toys, knick-knacks, stocking stuffing, that came of Goldfinger and run-up to Thunderball, presaged all of doo-dads to sell alongside Star Wars a decade later. Look, however, at what Goldfinger had to offer: a bathtub electrocution (this was where I learned not to plug anything in when/where immersed), the Gold Girl, sprawled and presumed naked on a bed she has lately warmed with Bond, a heart-stop in March ’65 when Goldfinger finally dragged ways to the Liberty following a December ’64 open elsewhere, Oddjob and his hat, amusing on the one hand, deadly on another, and yes, we threw hats as result of seeing him, though brims were too soft and fewer men wore lids at all thanks to Kennedy, it was said, shunning them. Then was the table to which 007 was strapped, and a laser beam aimed for his nether regions, a hazard even youngest viewers felt acutely. Sears offered the devise as toy for shoppers in 1965, for hadn’t Aurora given us a working Guillotine around the same time, with its detachable victim’s head that could be affixed, then cleaved, then back again?




I could go dizzy recalling all of stimuli … from which the Aston-Martin, with its ejector seat, stood well out. It was no time before Jethro Bodine tried a same gag on passengers as a “double-naught spy,” which reminds me too of many and tiresome spoofs that tried, but could not, dissipate powerful narcotic that was Bond, nor would ersatz agents we knew from posters, if not content of films, to be unworthy. Goldfinger was pygmied by ABC for September 1972 broadcast, a first Bond so shrunk and the network’s season premiere for Sunday Night Movies. I refused to watch as expression of grief that such a thing was allowed to happen, another theatrical totem toppled down to level of the living room box. Blu-Ray redeems all this, Goldfinger very much with theatre punch (albeit minus an audience) where home screens are large enough. There is much to enjoy anew from a favorite you’ve had for over half-a-century. Sentiment, memory, fresh aspects not noted before … whatever ails of modern life suspended for those 110 minutes, potential to swell even that courtesy extras offering hours more. Here’s what one of those taught me: Albert R. Broccoli from the beginning proposed James Bond as family entertainment, which for me at age ten it seemed anything but. In fact, we went to Goldfinger upon assurance that it was the dirtiest picture ever to play the Liberty, and certainly the rawest to come our childish way. You had to assume all stops were out when they called the female lead “Pussy Galore.”




The teaser had Bond putting squelch to “heroin-flavored bananas,” this for obvious benefit of those arriving to 3:00 shows a little late from school-out but not missing essential narrative that follows. “Miami Beach” is a fascinating mosaic of that exotic place, plus indoor environ at Pinewood where most of “exteriors” were done, a happy economy I’d not trade for bloat that would accrue in a next, and future, Bonds. Shortcuts become old friends, “flaws” if you like, though I don’t see them so. It humanizes Bond to be humbled both at M’s office and even at table he shares with the boss and a high-up gov’t man (“Smithers is giving the lecture, 007”). Such quiet moments would become a lost thing as Bonds got Bigger, then Biggest. Time passes faster for me here than any of the series, Goldfinger a model of forward-movement, all muscle, no fat. The golf game reflects confidence in a situation played nearly mute (little dialogue, sans scoring), suspense taut upon whether Goldfinger, let alone Oddjob, would notice 007 having switched a golf ball. Where it is necessary to defend the concept of James Bond, this sequence will do.


Outdoors Miami Beach Staged Indoors at Pinewood


What films would you call wholly satisfactory? Narrowed down further, what Bonds are so? Many are fine in parts if not whole, but I’d call Goldfinger the one closest to a total win throughout. Noted, not for a first time, was fightin’ words Bond utters (certainly so in 1964), offhand, as in something to effect that no one should listen to the Beatles without earmuffs. So whose poison pill was that? Writer Richard Maibaum (b. 1909), co-scribe Paul Dehn (b. 1912)? I wonder if the line elicited boos anywhere. Bet it did. The Liverpool pack were at a peak of popularity, A Hard Day’s Night lately out, and clicking, though not on a level Goldfinger would. Here’s the thing I noticed from seeing Goldfinger first-run … virtually no one else at school had, and what’s more, they didn't much care. Classmates seemed not so taken with movies, at least not near extent I was, an admitted extreme not to be wished on anybody, but what did occupy them? I’ve looked back for answers, asked contemporaries ... there was the YMCA, kid sports, though less of that before at least seventh grade. What of the popular culture engaged them? Television surely … everyone had their favorite shows, but … I'd say it was music, records, AM radio, the more so as we moved up grades toward high school, enthusiasm a-plenty directed toward the Beatles. Were there polls in the 60’s asking teens which they preferred --- rock and roll, or movies? 




Brief as it was, had there been such a high-sped chase as Goldfinger’s with the Aston-Martin? There is one shot where the thing races round a corner and toward the camera that feels like a missile ready to jump off the screen. Pursuits before this were staid by compare, boxy sedans that looked still even as drivers looked to be in seat-flight. Revenooers would never have run Lucas Doolin off a mountain road had he been driving an Aston-Martin (just checked --- they introduced the sleek DB4 in 1958, the year Thunder Road came out). Grace Kelly quick-drove a sporty vehicle to Cary Grant’s nervous reaction in To Catch A Thief, but we didn’t feel it for Hitchcock falling back on process screens. Even Bond did a sort of same in Dr. No, before car chases became ends in themselves. British wheel men Stanley Baker and crew rode trucks hard in Hell Drivers (1957), but that, at least for me, was more scary than thrilling, not meant to be “fun” chasing. So … I’m asking, what did we have for road action, in a modern sense, before Goldfinger and the Aston-Martin? I know I’m forgetting several, maybe some I’ve never seen or am not familiar with. And note: They kept making, and selling, 007’s Aston-Martin model for years after Goldfinger. Chances are, they still do.






Couple of random thoughts re Goldfinger: Dubbed voices, as in Gert Frobe, plus others throughout the Bond series whose faces we see, but with voices we don’t hear. You could almost call 007 a lot of dubbed foreign movies. And think of worldwide fame that came to so many journeyman Brit players when Bond went nuclear. Jobbers from way back, like to the 40’s … Honor Blackman, Bernard Lee, then Connery and Shirley Eaton almost anonymous in whatever work could be had during the 50’s. These folks must have stood often together to shake heads in astonishment. From Jacks to Kings, across the boards, so long as Bond would last, and of course, he’s still lasting. Here’s the other thing, and maybe I mentioned it somewhere before, but Brick Davis and I tallied the other day about percentage of UK films we saw at the Liberty during the mid-60’s, agreeing that it was it was close to half. Consider the Bonds, Hammers, Beatle features, Tom Jones, Darling, Georgy Girl, offshoot chillers from Amicus and elsewhere, like Lipperts from over there, even Carry On entries that washed up on our shore. I was fully adjusted to British idiom and pace by age eleven. One last thing to close: Felix Leiter and assist are scoping Goldfinger’s stud farm where 007 is an apparent prisoner. At one point, they are parked in front of a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant. A keenest memory I have of that March ’65 day was sitting and wondering why our town did not yet have a KFC. It bothered me near as much as not having an extra dime for two Baby Ruths rather than one. For the record: Colonel Sanders finally built for us in 1967, the site now a Thai place.




Thursday, February 13, 2020

Fox Does Comfort Westerns Wide


Edgy Ryan Lends Weight to The Proud Ones (1956)

Bloom had by now come off a rose that was Cinemascope, the process no longer a guarantor of grosses. The Proud Ones took profit in a year when many 20th Fox releases bled red, and did so perhaps for spending less ($1.4 million) and hewing to comfort western formula that was still a safest way to break even, whatever inroads television had made. It was typical at Fox to put contract youth, in this case Jeffrey Hunter, in support of outside names, Robert Ryan here, hope being that junior partners could move up eventually to leads. That had worked for 20th with Robert Wagner, but Hunter somehow lacked the luck, or was it skill?, to move up. He'd headline later, but elsewhere --- Universal with No Man Is An Island, Warners and Brainstorm. A really good performer like Robert Ryan could light up commonplace situations as in The Proud Ones, while at a same time prop up youngsters in audition for stardom. This had been routine since at least mid-30's merge of Fox with 20th Century, discards a Michael Whalen, here, Robert Lowery or Richard Greene there, though women tended to fare better, thanks perhaps to plethora of musicals at 20th. Jeffrey Hunter plays not an easy part on pretty much a single note, leaving it with Ryan to season the younger man's narrow interpretation of a hothead kid with a gun. Was it mid-fifties over-emphasis on bad juves that made cliche of delinquent types? Maybe this was Pat Boone's secret for equaling popularity of even Elvis at Fox, Pat a good lad and model for teens aspiring to be the same.




Ryan was the coiled spring of leading men. Romance did not become him for troubles that disqualified characters he'd play. Ryan in a fadeout clinch was seldom believable. Men he played were damaged starting out and generally got worse as they went. William Holden was often the establishment man with burdens a right woman, or flex of integrity, could overcome, but Ryan was too edgy to finish whole. Even if he survived a finish, you'd figure a next round would get him. The Set-Up was an early career indicator of fates that awaited Robert Ryan. His was the loner with no welcome mat at doors. Something about his voice closed access by others. If Ryan's characters weren't angry, they were getting ready to be. He's the reason, maybe a sole one, to watch The Proud Ones.




For such tension he conveyed on screen, it's surprising how family-normal Ryan was in private life. I didn't know till recent that he co-founded a private school, Oakwood, still operating all these years later, in North Hollywood. First classes were conducted in Ryan's back yard while funds were raised to construct buildings, the actor guaranteeing necessary loans. Proud Ones co-star Virginia Mayo, a Warners borrow, spoke to television from 1956 vantage and said she'd not appear on the tube, a vow soon to topple as movie work tailed off and WB let her go. Within a year, there'd be a Conflict episode, then Wagon Train, The Loretta Young Show, Lux Playhouse, the rest. I'm hard pressed naming a star that didn't fall eventually to harvester that was TV, date and degree of capitulation being the only question.




Monday, February 10, 2020

Jett Rink Is In The Chips Now

The Guy Standing Behind Jim Is Probably Guessing How the Inveterate Cut-Up Will Subvert a Next Scene

Dean Cheers Up A Long Giant Sit

James Dean with Director George Stevens
James Dean as Jett Rink is for me the great termite performance within an elephant-size movie. He is impudent all through and makes for three plus hours wondering when his character will amble in and levitate heft that is Giant. Complainants say George Stevens was an over-studied director, but I say there’s place for over-studied films too. Breathtaking craft can be, well, breathtaking, and PTSD Stevens of the 50’s was that in spades, no one’s work so flawlessly prepared, then presented. Giant for me is the El Dorado of ultra-class, meaning-laden epics, because there is always a fun or fascinating scene coming within ten or less minutes. Everybody is good here, and if Dean/Jett isn’t best, he is at least the lightest. You’ll not convince me Dean was anything other than deliberate in sending up all, or at least his part, and I’ll guess that choice was made when Jim realized he’d not steer Giant like with Nicholas Ray on Rebel Without A Cause. Stevens later admitted that he should have let JD improvise more. Fact is, he does … all over the place … with Giant much the better for it. I could cite comic aspect of any scene Dean/Jett plays, but will limit to one for today that sums him up as gloom lifter and reliable source of Giant joy.






Luz has died and there is pall upon the Benedict house. Bick and retinue have discovered that she left reprobate Jett a “little piece of ground,” worth no more than five or six hundred dollars, which they would now offer him $1200 to forfeit, in the interest of “keeping Reata intact, within the family.” The scheme is hatched as Jett lingers on the outside porch, seen through the window by “Judge Oliver Whiteside” (Charles Watts), background Dean playing his rope into bows, knots, whatever to steal moments as others exposite. Deaf to dialogue inside, he looks like an Ed Sullivan performer seen from a next room. Bick calls him inside and there is tension between the two that is a most compelling conflict in whole of Giant, not just because Bick disdains Jett, but for what we now know of low estimate Hudson and Dean had for one another. I don’t recall Bick/Jett together on an even Giant plane unless one or both are seated, except the third act fight, which is less an exchange than Jett taking a drunken fall after he tries sucker-punching Bick. Was it disparity of height, the two kept apart to protect Dean’s five foot seven from Hudson’s six foot five? Hudson took orders, was happy taking them, especially from a director he admired so much as Stevens. “I followed him around like a puppy dog,” he unabashedly said in later interviews. We may assume that Hudson’s performance (a fine one) was result of Stevens’ guidance, while Dean operated upon ideas mostly his own. Jett enjoyed advantage of being the iconoclast other, a rebel, loner, eternal frustrate, to whom a nation’s immaturity would gravitate, while Hudson as Bick had to pull narrative plow and be unwilling to change with Texas times. It was no more a fair contest then than it is now, but know that Dean's humor would not work nearly so well were it not for Hudson as straight, if unknowingly so, partner. Bick/Jett could have stood in for a breaking-up-that-year Dean/Jerry.




Posed Still of Reata Tricksters at Work on Jett
Jett is welcomed into the office sanctum, doubtless for a first time. He and Bick’s coterie goof off with each other, Monte Hale telling Jett that “you sure look good today.” Dean plays the wise fool, laughs along, winks to off-camera observers. He does his tics to amuse them and us. Gestures and expression annoying to some in East Of Eden are put to the service of sly comedy, Dean settling into a Jett who will be a jester but also a threat. He had learned a lot from Eden/Rebel, including how to leave his whine behind. The good old boys close in. Remarks are punctuated with “Amen” and “Hallelujah,” especially where the late Luz is referenced. They figure to rook Jett out of his inheritance, and he seems amenable to it. Once inside the office, we are down to three shots for the negotiation, Jett seated, then getting up to exit, pausing at the door ... a total of just under five minutes. This would not be occasion for Stevens to do endless takes so he could get coverage enough to cut twelve ways. Everything here rides on performance rather than GS-signature dissolves or quick cuts to hammer a point. Had the director not trusted Dean, he surely would have broken it up to give himself fuller flexibility in post-production (a process he’d spend a year on for Giant).


And Away He Twirls ... Suppose Stevens Ever Wanted To Snatch That Thing Away From Him?


Jim and His Magic Rope Spend a Motel Night Together
Jett stays slouched in his chair, tinkers with his coiled rope, not in a scene-hogging way, but to avoid too much interaction with people he distrusts. His face betrays doubt at snake oil they’re pouring, even as he joshes along when someone asks “what are you aimin’ to do with all that money?” Bick unlocks a cash box and takes out $1200 as Judge Whiteside tenders the offer, certain that Jett will leap for it. The way Hudson as Bick drops the bills on the desk in front of Jett is pointed insult, his contempt seeing no way such a low-born could turn down a windfall. It is a patronizing gesture, and Hudson keys it just right. Everyone agrees, “You’re in the chips now, boy,” to which Jett, having been silent so far, mimes “I sure am.” He then pulls the switch, which is to reject Bick’s offer and the money. “I’m sentimental too, Bick.” The group goes silent as Jett rises from the chair he has sat low and slouched in. Now Stevens shoots from lower as Jett futzes with the rope, then his hat, which he puts on even though he remains inside the house. The rope gag is repeated as shot three has Jett turning around at the door he’ll open to other guests at the Reata receiving for Luz.


No Young Male Star So Calculated His Posing as James Dean






WB-Issued Color Still for the Above Sequence
A Texas cowboy was got to teach Dean rope tricks, a process to which Jim took like duck to ponds. He knew that to master this was to heist any scene he pleased, and to that goal, he leapt. Dean was all in for icon-makeover for himself. No more pasty face in a crowd of live television. He was as deliberate at still posing as Stevens was at directing. They should have bonded on such kinship, two strong egos of a kind. Dean did dissidence to a brown turn. Wonder how that would have fared had he lived and Warners began putting him in bad or miscast pictures the inevitable lot of rebel/Method brethren. The last shot as Jett prepares to exit is a reach to fan love as only Jim could make: Pausing at the door, he smiles to the would-be bamboozlers, offers a low and downward wave we could all do to imitate where asserting our one-of-a-kindness. I have a friend who saw Giant at the crowded Fox Theatre in 80's Atlanta. He said that when Dean did that underhand salute, the audience lit up, cheers and laughter rolling over hundreds like force from a wind that had blown thirty years before, and for all I know, still would if we shared Giant with crowds today.




Thursday, February 06, 2020

Dressler Again Gives All


Money As Route To Misery in Emma (1931)

Another money-breeds-rotten-offspring story, these endemic to a widening Depression. Emma was a vehicle for newly-huge star Marie Dressler, whose line in laughs plus sentiment was beyond any rival's reach, save possibly Will Rogers, who shared with her a top boxoffice spot nationwide. What grief prevailed at Metro when Dressler died, sincere among staffers and not limited just to bookkeepers. Emma was small of cost and large of revenue, as in $350K to make and $1.9 million in worldwide rentals to count. This was all fruit of Dressler having starred. Frances Marion had been her writer muse, each of the star's defining roles created or developed by this scribe who was responsible as anyone for Metro success with early talk. Dressler as Emma is a selfless housekeeper who gives all for ingrate children she raised, a concept easy to buy as everyone knew privilege was gateway to no-goodness. Ma Joad's curtain speech in The Grapes Of Wrath ("Rich fellas come up an' they die, an' their kids ain't no good, an' they die out") was stating the obvious for moviegoers who'd seen the cliché play on a loop for at least ten pre-Grapes years.




Dressler could finesse burlesque with subtler shades, often within a single shot. As Min and Bill was the one to truly establish her, bumps from it would be applied to quick-serve follow-ups. Not since Mabel Normand had there been an actress to so meld slapstick with heart. Emma was first occasion for Dressler to carry bags more/less alone, no Beery, Garbo, whoever, to claim equal, or more, viewer focus. Internal concern was health trouble Dressler kept to herself as boxoffice rank rose; what work she'd perform had to be limited, with rest periods frequent. Like with Lon Chaney, MGM tried squeezing whatever juice they could from all too perishable fruit. More Stars Than There Are In Heaven threatened to become More Stars Were In Heaven Than Working At Metro, what with Chaney (1930), Dressler (1934), later Harlow (1937), headed in that direction, plus William Haines, Ramon Novarro, Buster Keaton, John Gilbert, dropping off top ranks as suddenly as some got on. Emma had mixed reviews, mechanics more obvious each time the formula was repeated. We could speculate as to how much longer Marie Dressler would have lasted had she lived, though there isn't doubt of her being at a summit when the end came.

Marie Dressler rules at Greenbriar: How To Lose Your Job As A Motion Picture Exhibitor, Early Talkers On The Ropes, Unexpected Pleasures: Dressler and Moran, The Patsy (1928), Min and Bill.

Be sure and listen to Farran Nehme's fine podcast survey of Marie Dressler's life and career HERE at Karina Longworth's You Must Remember This site.






Monday, February 03, 2020

Going Against Godfrey Grain


He Should Have Chosen Cordelia

I’ll be heretical and say flat out that William Powell as Godfrey would have been better off with Cornelia Bullock, as played by Gail Patrick. I would not have wished Carole Lombard’s Irene even on gorilla man Carlo (Mischa Auer), though they are a better match for my money. Having so blasphemed a settled classic of screwball comedy, it remains to ask myself why the resistance to a story and its resolution that generations have embraced and continue to. Comedy for me, apart from Snub Pollard, Keystone Kops, or the ilk, is drama with humor elements. We are dealing with people and their problems which I will take on face value and regard seriously. It may not be fair to screwball ethos, but I expect characters, at least ones I am expected to identify with on any level, to act sensibly, and to me, it is not sensible for Powell as Godfrey to enter willingly into marriage with such a birdbrain as Lombard’s Irene. Willingly is an operative word, for it always seemed he was forced by circumstance, and her insistence, to speak vows against his better interest. Godfrey is an intelligent and educated man, he and Cordelia islands of acuity amidst chaos those surrounding them represent. Easy to forecast is Irene ending up like her mother, nattering and foolish, Godfrey’s marital outcome a mirror to Alexander Bullock’s (Eugene Pallette). In the Godfrey world I predict, he would drift toward infidelity with sister Cordelia, with whom it’s clear by a third act he has sympathy with and much more in common. As for Irene, opposites may attract, utter opposites less so. Godfrey and Irene as a sustaining couple after fade-out is not to be believed, and I reserve the right to believe or not in movie outcomes, even “screwball” ones.


The Cast Getting Direction from Gregory La Cava


Godfrey and the Woman I Would Rather He End Up With
I tend to invest fully in comedy situations, even, some say, to a point of over-analysis. We watched a Friends episode a few weeks ago where Joey fails an acting audition and I said it wasn’t right for him to be so humiliated, that it wasn’t funny, and that humor was undone where a character likeable as Joey is made such a fool of. Comedy is a most fragile of arts. If you don’t want me to take Godfrey’s situation seriously, then put him on a unicycle with a handlebar mustache and let trains chase him. Otherwise, I will judge his choices, or mistakes in choosing. The end of My Man Godfrey sees a good and sympathetic man (and never mind it’s one of my favorite actors) trapped in a ceremony he will regret, regrets even as it proceeds. Here’s the thing with Cordelia: She is scheming and guileful, “high-spirited” as Godfrey tactfully puts it. He realizes they were raised in similar circumstance (“There have been other spoiled children in the world. I happen to be one of them myself”). If Cordelia grew up entitled, so did Godfrey. For his greater age and experience, Godfrey knows that maturity is within Cordelia’s grasp. He acknowledges that she taught him humility and "the fallacy of false pride." Besides that, Cordelia is attracted to Godfrey, and he to her (my reading admittedly, but scenes tend to bear it out). I’d like to think that Cordelia, defused by Godfrey having saved the Bullock fortune, would acquire a “more constructive” attitude, with the two headed for a happy ever-after. 




Lombard as performer was not at fault, as I’m told she was directed (by Gregory La Cava) to go full out madcap. Her Irene rides a horse into the Bullock mansion and parks it in the library, thankfully off-camera. Madcap that stops being funny becomes exhausting. Powell saves Godfrey. We could wonder how things would turn out if Melvyn Douglas or Robert Montgomery played his part. For how many films was casting the charm, or tip-over? More urgent: What OK films might have been classics had they been cast better? Back to Lombard on the horse: If a gag were more alarming than amusing where actually shown, is it less so when someone refers to it as a past event? Anecdotal account of Irene indoors and astride amuses me no more than its visual reality would. How will Bullard staff adequately clean rugs and tile once the animal is removed (after being there all night … Gads!). Pardon if I seem arbitrary. If My Man Godfrey weren’t such a fine picture, I’d not go so deep in the well with it. What confers greatness is most often the contradictions within movies we love. Sometimes it’s hard to express even why we gravitate to them. I admit being that way about My Man Godfrey and at least a hundred others.




Does My Man Godfrey expose the “evil of capitalism”? At least one modern commentator says yes. The rich, we are told, are rightly ridiculed in screwball. It is said this calmed the proletariat. Was it also to quell threat of social revolution in the 30’s? I doubt the rich cared, since being rich will cushion a lot of hurt from being teased. Alexander Bullock knows his wealth is tenuous, that a family he wishes he’d never started is frittering assets away. It would have been hard, even in 1936, to resent or dislike Alexander Bullock. They say audiences were reassured by movie millionaires being invariably worse off than themselves, a given that money did not confer happiness, taught time and again by Hollywood. Godfrey is sympathetic because he fled the yoke of riches. Fact is, had he not come of aristocracy equal to the Bullocks, any inter-marriage would have seemed ill-advised. What 30’s heiress saw anything but grief for running off with her chauffeur? Godfrey reminds me of noble savage Tarzan turning out to be Viscount Greystoke so that proper English Jane could couple with him without stepping out of her class. Godfrey brings added benefit of being a Wall Street wizard capable of turning Bullard ruin into riches, his having gone to Harvard a story element planted early so we’d know he was worthy of elevated status. Godfrey having lived in a dump is little more than opportunity to see how a lower half lives, since a quick telegram to home in Boston or withdrawal from a trust account could put him back in chips at any point of the narrative. Godfrey calling scavenger hunters, including the Bullocks, a “bunch of empty-headed nitwits” may have been a sop to class-resenters in 1936, and now, but really, these are his people and it’s more than a little disingenuous for him to mock them so. Maybe Godfrey deserves to end up with Irene after all.




Thursday, January 30, 2020

When Theatres Everywhere Were "Cursed"


How Long Would The Curse Of Frankenstein Scare Yell Out Of Us?

1957's New and Streamlined Frankenstein was meant in part to supplant a tired older model. Karloff's visage from the Universal group had defined the character for over quarter of a century. Those that saw him first were parents now. The face had become so familiar as to not seem monstrous anymore. Any fresh Frankenstein must nauseate anew, and to degree not dared by genteel purveyors of suggested terror. Hammer's creature would dominate theatres just as oldies arrived to fill time for TV programmers who couldn't serve so explicit a plate, even in late hours. The Curse Of Frankenstein was digital to television's analog, a truer test of courage for new generations than Universal's stuff ever was. The Family Drive-In had their one hour stage show seal the transition, but who'll bet their visiting "7 1/2 Feet Tall" Frankenstein was just another Karloff dummy repeating an act done at least since the 40's. Glenn Strange had lurched well into the 50's with his Frankenstein act for spook shows. Would these impersonators and more retire neck bolts and go out henceforth in Christopher Lee guise? The Karloff image, I'd propose, was too entrenched for that. It remained the brand for what time was left of stage shows. Lee's monster would be gone after The Curse Of Frankenstein, and imagine a personal appearance of a Michael Gwynn-inspired creation from The Revenge Of Frankenstein. Would the character revived on stage today be anything other than Karloff? The Curse Of Frankenstein at least had theatrical screening field to itself, plopped down ad nauseum at kiddie shows and drive-ins as second or third support for newer features, as here in 1959 with Edge Of Eternity and The Hanging Tree. Hammer's show was run into ground from 1957 until running aground with Horror Of Dracula for a 1965 reissue that did disappointing business, both pics by then overexposed to paying customers.

More Curse Of Frankenstein at Greenbriar Archive, HERE and HERE.




Monday, January 27, 2020

Andy Hardy's "Third Anniversary"


A Family Plan For Everlasting Profit

Shouldn't it be Andy Hardy Meets A Debutante or Andy Hardy Meets The Debutante? We didn’t have debutantes where I came up, so there’s been mystery for me as to precisely what they are. Here’s trivia: Oona O’Neill (later Chaplin) was the “Number One Debutante” as chosen by New York Society in 1942-43, crowned at the Stork Club. I wonder if she was able to explain to raised-in-grinding-poverty Charlie what a debutante was. Andy Hardy’s crush is on Gotham “top Deb” Diana Lewis. He even devotes a scrapbook to her, and brags that she is crazy about him, inviting frankly mean girlfriend Polly and so-called “best pal” Beezy to pull a dirty trick. I was struck again that maybe Andy needed a new steady. He ponders that too in an opening reel, but fails to act on a sensible impulse. Query re rumor: Did Ann Rutherford have a long-term involvement with Clark Gable? I’ve heard she did.




The Hardys may have become too successful for their/our own good, this one overstaying welcome by a couple reels, as if to dare exhibitors pairing it with anything other than MGM shorts or cartoons. A public waited breathlessly for them, each taking profit any “A” could envy. What other series that began as comparative B’s had such a Jetstream? Paramount’s Henry Aldrich group started small and stayed that way. The Hardys were first, however, for folks-like-family served regular as season change or arrival of holidays. Their success created almost a panic to imitate. They answered a need for relaxed familiarity, as television later would. Patrons went to a Hardy knowing precisely what they’d get, which was why they went, and kept going. Were they abashed enough in hindsight to shun Andy Hardy Comes Home in 1958? I’ve read that Rooney got so good as Andy that he virtually directed others at interplay with him, and brought gags for all to implement. I like observing Hardy family protocol, as when meat and vegetables are put before the judge, he serves everyone’s plate, then passes each around, his own last of the lot. That’s five jobs before anyone takes a bite. Meals were work in those courteous days. Did any GPS readers observe such family ritual? We had a “Lazy Susan” where food spun around to whoever wanted it.




Interest sustains in the Andy Hardys for ingénues getting a first or early screen try. There's less of that in Debutante, save Diana Lewis as the title figure who's saved till near the end. She and Mick together on a crowded dance floor look like Munchkins beside other couples (Lewis was five foot one). Up to there is Andy and family touring process-screened New York, father/son stood against rear projections or doubled in longer shots made by a second unit in Gotham. Life lessons are ladled by heavy hand of inflexible Judge Hardy, his lectures more a chore where comedy and music flags, as sometimes here. We want more of Judy Garland than is got, but appreciate two numbers, one of which she “acts” in accord with lyrics, showing how a great artist could put whole narratives across within space of a tune, leaving others to flounder in dialogue. Judy was getting grown enough for fans to wonder why Andy doesn’t shine to her rather than sour Rutherford. They come near a clinch, but formula demanded polite distance, so there’s reconcile with less-pretty Polly for a wind-up. Rooney sold the no-touch myth for interviews to an end --- we were like brother and sister, etc., which I don’t altogether buy; fact the question still engages is tribute to his/her staying power, even unto modern watching on TCM and discs.


Andy and Judge Hardy Cameo in Tex Avery's WB Cartoon, Hollywood Steps Out


It was thought wise to add alleged-cute moppets, thus one Clyde Willson patrons would recognize for adorably gumming up chorus lines in a previous Mickey-Judy barn musical. The business of Andy ordering a swank meal he can't pay for is repeated, or was it? I visualize similar moment from any/all Hardys, or maybe it’s the Warner cartoon, Hollywood Steps Out, where Tex Avery had Andy and the judge put to dishwashing for failure to cover their check. Andy was often penalized for aspiring beyond his roots, as if we from small towns were estopped from crossing the county line. You wonder what MGM staffers who came from the sticks (plenty) thought about that. Was Andy kept pure for being kept away from city life? The Hardys imply yes, the message beat further by horror of the Smith family moved to New York for a Meet Me In St. Louis third act crisis. This on 1944 occasion (set in 1904), and regarded a fate worse than death. Query to those raised or relocated to Gotham: Is it such a place that would bleed out the Andy (or Esther, or Tootie) in all of us? Watching a Hardy makes me want to give my hick town a hug.


Birthday Celebration On The Set


A mild shock in Debutante is Andy calling his father a back wood failure to the old man's face, a slur to Judge Hardy and contrary to what we knew of “Lewis Stone,” that in parentheses as here was persona built from silent ground up, us watching every step of a versatile way. To a widest spread of the audience, that is representing all ages, “Lewis Stone” was no rube, nor failure, or even old. His was a rock of integrity as Judge Hardy, but that had not always been so. “Lewis Stone” had kept mistresses (Inspiration), broke homes (Their Own Desire), compromised onscreen Garbo, plus plenty I forget, but 1940 viewership had not. Stone saw virtually every change visited upon films and rode them all out. His had been half a dozen distinct images since beginning in 1915. Never will forget the image of stricken Stone flat on his front lawn after running off J.D.’s tossing rocks in his pool, the finish as recorded in a dreadful Babylon book by ghoul-at-large Kenneth Anger (many photos from which haunt me to this day).




William Powell with New Wife Diana Lewis

Rooney said in his book that Metro used him like a field hand through peak of wicket standing; he worked one night to 3AM on Andy Hardy Meets Debutante despite forswear he’d not. Brass strung Mick along by telling him what a "grand trouper" he was. Could stress, lack of rest, bad diet, have raised those cold sores MR habitually had on his lower lip? HD-TCM broadcasts make them clinically clear. It’s not just War of Worlds wires High-Def has gifted us, or maybe I look too close for flaws in Hollywood porcelain. Torrid tiltings with Norma Shearer were said by Rooney to have begun around this time, graphic account of which is in his book, but later Mick said he had just been funning us, or the publisher forced the lies on him, or whatever fiction he/we choose to embrace. Rooney spent much resentment over millions he earned for Metro (extent of which he exaggerated to almost comic degree) for which he got back not near enough ( … to support bookies, slow-gaited ponies). Again to Diana Lewis, a rose Metro-grown till fellow contractee William Powell plucked her for his bride, a marriage to last a rest of his life. Did Leo resent having merchandise carried off after time, effort, and dollars developing it? Guess this was inventory written off, factored into yearly overhead, keeping Powell happy valued above making a lower or mid-level star of Diana Lewis.
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