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Thursday, May 21, 2009


CAUGHT OFF TCM: Submarine Command was a chance to see a post-48 Paramount on television, something all too rare these days when so few appear to be licensed for airplay (where, oh where, are favorites I Walk Alone, Rope Of Sand, Appointment With Danger, etc.?). TCM has been using a (too) few of them lately. Watching Submarine Command was like sitting in front of NBC’s Saturday Night At The Movies again circa mid-sixties when that network was a virtual repertory for Para oldies (and mostly very goodies). Those who imagine Sunset Boulevard lacked influence over subsequent Bill Holden vehicles might profitably look at Submarine Command. He enters as narrator, not floating on the water, but conflicted all the same over past events (told in Sunset-inspired flashback) taking place below its surface. There’s romantic sparring with Nancy Olsen as in yore. It’s oft forgotten that these two were somewhat of a recurring team after Wilder’s opener. Submarine Command transitions from World War Two to Korea. William Bendix’s character gets mad with Holden in the former and stays so pretty much through the latter (much as he did with real-life best friend Alan Ladd over an incident that took twenty years for them to reconcile --- that very interesting story in Beverly Linet’s Ladd biography). The Korea mission here is somewhat cloudy as Korea engagements invariably are. Where’s the enemy? Here he’s barely visible and it’s nighttime besides, so we never get much hint of just who we’re fighting or why. This submarine lumbers into not so perilous waters in ways evoking Crash Dive from the previous war, this time minus Technicolor and battle lines clearly drawn. No wonder there’s so few Korean War films, or interest in ones we have. Holden was my best reason to catch Submarine Command. No one surpassed this actor once he caught post-Sunset fire. Bill’s the clearest voice still of postwar establishment disillusion. I find him much more effective in my own middle age than the Brandos and Deans that whined louder.

GRAY MARKET DVD: The River Of Romance is the sort of early talkie thumbnail reviewers say creaks badly. It was released June 1929, barely two months after Charles "Buddy" Rogers’ first talker, Close Harmony, was rushed to theatres. Being America’s Boyfriend was no guarantee they’d spend extra time getting your sound debut right. Rogers was not a Garbo to be accorded special handling. His multi-talents suggested he’d come through any sort of pinch. In events he couldn’t speak, Buddy might merely pick up an instrument (he could play them all) and go to work. I’ll watch his early Paramounts for that privileged glimpse of what sold in the name of youthful male stardom during a silent/sound transition. Rogers didn’t last long aurally. His bolt was spent in heady days when he and femme counterpart Clara Bow represented carefree life on a spree where groceries and lodgings were invariably just there with no concern as to the getting of them. Buddy was best in modern dress with flappers and bandstands nearby. The River Of Romance corsets him in stove hats and dueling pistols, said action accoutrements never his forte and challenges to his manhood all the more inappropo as Rogers never claimed status beyond that of affable boy. The story attracted me because it was remade (within six years!) as major Greenbriar favorite Mississippi, with Bing Crosby filling for Buddy and W.C. Fields assuming a role blustered less effectively in 1929 by Wallace Beery. The River Of Romance parades links with silents by putting Henry B. Walthall, Birth Of A Nation’s Little Colonel, back in Dixie trappings and again depository of endless Mint Juleps (I’ve lived down here all my life and have yet to taste one of those). Walthall made cottage industry of such for what was left of his career in character parts. Seeing him here made me half expect to hear D.W. Griffith’s instructing voice from behind the camera.

BOOK CHOICE: The Unruly Life Of Woody Allen by Marion Meade is among (few) bios that Allen didn’t authorize and thereby control. I’ll always opt for these, stars being determined as anyone (more so) to keep unflattering content out of a life’s story. Allen’s conducted his offscreen affairs in a matter so unflattering as to make his films strictly poison for many viewers. Maybe I should say most, judging by meager rentals they collect nowadays. Women generally revile him it seems, author Meade among them. Opinions of Allen’s character are better left in theatre checkrooms, but human nature seldom allows for such neat separations, thus his plummet from grace and disbelief on youth’s part that Woody’s comedies could once have been such cultural touchstones. I’d like to have sat in on Manhattan’s 1979 opening in one of that borough’s haughty venues surrounded by Allen worshippers. It must have been like camp meetings down here. As it was, I found Woody’s masterpiece limping into a near empty Winston-Salem twinner bereft of sophisticates (or anyone else) to appreciate what Andrew Sarris called the only truly great film of the seventies. My town used Woody Allen bookings to air out seats and de-bug auditoriums. Staff could usually count on getting home early for not having to turn on projectors for the last show. One night I really annoyed management at our long shuttered mall cinema by turning up for Radio Days with my own Baby Ruth and concealed pop bottle so as to deny them even a concession sale. Woody Allen got the blame for overhead and lamp wear my sole three-dollar admission incurred (and I’ve since watched Radio Days a likely dozen more times --- now that one I’d call the eighties’ best picture). Woody Allen clicks for me despite his wicked ways. I admire the man’s work ethic and would wish for half so much discipline (fortified with that, I’d show up around here a lot more often). Many people say his films are unwatchable and have been for years, but even if he just gets one out of three right, that’s still impressive for so prolific a writer/director. Allen trying less hard to be funny makes these serio-comedies more relaxed and enjoyable for his aging followers as most have given up the chase for another Annie Hall. His films represent comfort and familiarity for things done a certain way. Allen’s long been a fixed point amidst a changing industry with still enough variation to prevent his output going stale. I found Victoria Christina Barcelona compelling and unpredictable. Cassandra’s Dream falters a little at the end for a writer’s trap I’m sure Allen recognized even as he slid into it. Withering reviews for Scoop made me realize what a minority I am in for liking that oddball suspense comedy. Meade’s book is rough on Allen and he probably has it coming, but it’s hard to knock an artist who has made his pile yet keeps returning to entertain us. The fact of his showing up yearly with at the least an interesting feature, and doing so well into his seventies, gets an automatic pass from me whatever his depredations otherwise.


Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

Woody Allen had a cult following on at least one college campus in the late 1970s. There were three competing film series on my campus, all using rental prints on Friday and Saturday nights. My house at the student union (me in the booth) ran mostly repertory double-bills. The second house was in a dormitory and always ran first-run 16mm, fresh from theaters. The third, under the auspices of the college's rarefied Law School, ran art-house stuff -- and played Woody Allen pictures seven out of every 10 weeks. It didn't matter that the same group had run the same titles two months before. The faithful still came out for them, and probably could recite them.

10:49 AM  
Anonymous East Side said...

My favorite party trick is asking someone, "Name any Woody Allen movie and I'll impersonate him." No matter the title, I'll do Woody saying, "What are you, crazy, I don't BELIEVE this!" Try it -- works everytime!

By the way, my wife makes mint juleps when we watch the Kentucky Derby every year. You don't know what you're missing. Heaven in a glass.

2:24 PM  
Anonymous Jim Lane said...

Yeah, where are those post-'48 Paramounts, anyway? Where are Miss Tatlock's Millions, with a once-in-a-lifetime cast and John Lund hilarious in a rare comedy turn; Night Has a Thousand Eyes, a peculiar melodrama, sure, but hard to dismiss once you've seen it; and John Farrow's masterpiece Alias Nick Beal, the second-best deal-with-the-devil movie ever made? Anyhow, those are some of my favorites.

And y'know, I think the Alan Ladd Great Gatsby isn't as bad as its rep, either (unlike the Redford version, which is worse).

10:21 PM  
Anonymous Greg said...

I couldn't agree more with your assesment of Woody. He's made more great movies in his career than any other director that I know of. People who don't know his work always say "All his films are the same" as if Zelig and Annie Hall and September and Broadway Danny rose are the same film.

6:54 AM  
Anonymous Chris said...

In the middle of a drinking binge, John Ford was known to urinate out of his window, in front of guests.

1:20 AM  
Blogger r.j. said...

Jim --

All those Paramounts you listed used to be staples of late-nite television out-here in L.A. years ago. I haven't seen them anywhere since. I did pick-up a video - copy of Ladd's "Saigon" recently, which I retained very fond memories of. The film itself with splices every five-minutes, looked liked it must have come from an ancient TV print that had really been put through "the mill", but the film itself was every bit as enjoyable as I'd remembered it. Where else you find these things now, is anyone's guess. Universal apparently has no interest in re-issuing them.

John --

The masthead you've been running for "McClintock" revives another happy memory of a Saturday afternoon many-years ago, when Paramount threw open it's backlot to promote the film at Oscar-time, serving lunch out of a chuckwagon, followed by a special screening. Director Andrew McLaglen was on-hand, I recall, to greet the assembled that day, and make sure everyone was made comfortable (I remember he and mother sharing a few words) and we all enjoyed this western retread of "The Quiet Man" very much, as I recall.

Woody Allen I met once, at the old Beverly Wilshire Hotel. Not being a native Angelino as you know he was staying at the Hotel at that time, and spending the rest of the time at Groucho Marx's. We talked mostly about Groucho and how he was doing. Being a fellow-Saggitarian, I found Mr. Allen to be very easygoing, and somewhat low-profile in bearing, the ways most of we (ahem!) Sag's are!



2:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I did interview Allen some months ago. It was a great experience and the guy turned out to be warm, sharp and funny, but his screen persona is a complete creation. He is not what everybody think he is - doesn´t like to read, loves baseball and hates his own movies. Lovely character indeed.

2:00 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Glad to hear these reports of Woody Allen being so polite to fans. That's not his prevailing image, so maybe it's more a matter of his having blown off media and pro writers.

To the subject of post-48 Paramounts, I just read of a large package that TCM has bought of these ... and by the way, when is TCM going to begin broadcasting in HD?

11:21 AM  
Blogger Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

Rope of Sand (1949). The last time I saw that one on the tube it was on American Movie know, the channel that faithfully showed old movies until it started tarting itself up and going out with strange men.

6:34 PM  

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