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Friday, June 03, 2011

Back From Memorial Day

I've been on GPS hiatus since the man came and replaced my Direct TV with Dish Network. Thanks to that, there's been helpings one after another on so-called TCM-HD, not really high-definition at present, but an up-convert with improved enough quality to warrant Turner re-visit for titles so far unavailable through Warner Archive, plus what the network leases from Universal, Sony (Columbia), etc. Easter-egg hunting for a best broadcast is fun and a viewing challenge. Couple of weeks ago, I watched She Wore a Yellow Ribbon on standard DVD, as good a home view as could be had to that time, then comes news that Retro-Plex HD, off an obscure corner of Dish Network, will play John Ford's cavalry classic in High-Def beginning 6/10, a first as- such broadcast for SWAYR that I've been aware of. Warners and the rest have been busy transferring to optimum quality --- classics surface either on HD satellite, Amazon On-Demand, or streaming via Netflix, Hulu, VuDu, plus any number of providers I may be ignorant of. Hence my distraction from Greenbriar'ing of late, along with Cinevent's run-up to Memorial Day and driving Columbus-way. Can one's brain implode trying to juggle so much choice?

Chaney at his expressive best sans the heavy make-up.
 Upon arrival back came Tell It To The Marines, a Sunday Silent courtesy TCM and increasingly one I'd vote Lon Chaney the Senior's best. What a star's grip-hold he developed by 1926. Honest-to-real leathernecks said Chaney was most authentic representation of their ranks --- and how he puts over his tough drill sergeant without spoken words. Plotting that would become rote was near-introduced here. Corps service straightens out wise-acre Bill Haines who's mentored by ruggeder-than-rugged Chaney --- I'd have welcomed the latter in more such parts and let freaks and monsters be hanged. Had he lived deeper into talkies, I suspect MGM would have done the same. Think Lon in eventual Wallace Beery roles --- The Big House, Treasure Island (he'd done that already as a silent), and The Secret Six, just to name three that would so have benefited by his starring. Was there a greater loss to movies than LC's departure in 1930?

War being a TCM weekend theme, there came Paratrooper off star Alan Ladd's lower shelf. This was one of his Warwick Productions, British-lensed and not a little raggedy compared with slick Paramounts the star had lately given up. Ladd like others on top salary was fed up giving its bulk to US tax collectors and so grabbed opportunity to shelter income via movies done off-shore. Trouble was budgets stripped after above-line Ladd took his. Paratrooper was called The Red Beret to start, then The Big Jump. James Bond personnel to come was involved ... Albert Broccoli produced, Terence Young directed, and Richard Maibaum wrote. This would be one of several Ladd did on momentum from Shane. Paratrooper, Hell Below Zero, and The Black Knight all lacked Hollywood polish, a not bad thing now but disappointing to the actor's then-following. Paratrooper brought just $1.7 million in domestic rentals to a distributing Columbia, way down from just preceding Shane's seven million.

Red Light played during TCM's Roy Del Ruth night. This was an independent set-up the director initiated after years spent on studio payrolls. Del Ruth got production loans for having a name and expertise at genre fare. Like so many lone producing wolves, he started out grandiose for Red Light casting, then settled for names easier got. James Cagney was first approached to star, a past Del Ruth colleague at Warners also going it solo. He passed. There were feelers to Alice Faye and Lizabeth Scott, with neither interested. Trouble in main was Del Ruth association with starting-out Allied Artists, a company just spun off lowly Monogram Pictures, and not among firms contract players could do outside pictures with. Del Ruth and Allied ended up agreeing for United Artists to release Red Light, this so they could lure class talent before cameras (another AA project also diverted to UA for distribution was Gun Crazy).

George Raft after Warners is for me a blur of downward crime and action pics culminating at Lippert with likes of Loan Shark or dullish foreign legion stuff. I'd have let Red Light pass if not for the new Dish, but glad now for trying this '49 thriller on. There was effort here and no little success at noir-ing in the RKO/Eagle-Lion mold. Red Light reminded me of the round-same-time D.O.A., owing in part to Dimitri Tiomkin's score. Ray Burr and Harry Morgan are heavies to compensate for Raft not being Cagney. Variety reported Del Ruth seeking just-off Streetcar Marlon Brando for a Red Light support spot --- might he have supplied villainy here? There's a billboard climbing finish that anticipates indie to-soon-come Love Happy. Did freebooting producers pinch ideas off each other during lunch? I like George Raft more as these obscurities turn up. He gets a bad rap for having turned down so many leads that immortalized others (The Maltese Falcon, Double Indemnity, more) ... and bearing ridicule of  John Huston, Billy Wilder, plus any number of writer/historians for years to follow.



Callaway Went Thataway was MGM heaping fun on B cowpokes who'd been revived thanks to television, their far-back exploits proving a stronger early 50's draw than many a Metro theatrical program, including Callaway, which despite its clever premise and sometimes bright comedy, took a loss of $284K (against a negative cost of just $1.1 million). 1951 showmen needed a Quo Vadis to pry patrons away from the home box, not B/W gentle spoofing of filmgoing's enemy. Callaway walked gingerly, thanks to intervention by William "Hopalong" Boyd's management team, alerted to a possible dig at money-spinning Cassidy. They demanded a pre-release screening that led to a post-end-title disclaimer assuring viewers all was in harmless fun ...

Clark Gable is among MGM stars doing cameos in Callaway Went Thataway.
The tack-on read thus (and is still on prints, including TCM's): This picture was made in the spirit of fun and was meant in no way to detract from the wholesome influence, civic-mindedness, and the many charitable contributions of western idols of our American youth, or to be a portrayal of any of them. Well then, who (if anyone) did Callaway represent? He's a former singing cowboy turned surly drunk whose pics are revived to vid fame some ten years after he's washed out of the business. There's as much Ken Maynard as Hoppy to that equation, only Ken could scarcely have marshaled legal force to compel such a disclaimer by 1951. The fact Boyd could is testimony to real power he exerted and attendant muscle protecting his image. No MGM star then was so big as this TV-anointed colossus among cowboys.

From Cinevent came a got-to-be-rare set pose from My Man Godfrey (at least I've never seen it before). This actually appeared in Cleveland's Sunday newspaper dated 5/24/36, back when movie news really was news. Notable here is director Gregory La Cava (at right) joining his cast on break (not many pics of La Cava around). Others include Carole Lombard, Mischa Auer, and Bill Powell. And speaking of Lombard, at right is a theatre ad from the same year and town ('36) for The Princess Comes Across. Talk about size --- this one took just about a whole page. Note welcoming of Republican conventioneers ... and the plethora of short subjects on tap.

Finally, a trip to Wal-Mart. I try making as few of these as necessity demands, despite the joint being nearly visible from my porch, but how could one resist with a just-released Blu-Ray of The Big Country available only from member locations? Despite ours being a "Superstore," I doubted they'd stock so vintage a title, even if it was theirs alone to sell (wonder what Wal-Mart paid MGM for the exclusivity). Turns out there was but one copy in stock --- that means some one (or more) around my berg purchased William Wyler's 1958 western-to-beat. Greenbriar has visited this one before --- suffice to say there are few bigger, if not better. I watched even though last occasion seemed recent (turned out to be January 2008). What a stunner disc! It puts even MGM-HD's broadcast to rout. Well worth a wade into Wal-Mart quicksand to get.


Anonymous Dan in Missouri said...

You always write such great posts with such wonderful information.
So why am I disturbed that you find DISH TV better than Direct?
Dan in Missouri

1:36 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Hi Dan --- I just think Dish has surpassed Direct as to HD viewing choices. They have several HBO and Cinemax stations missing from Direct, plus TCM-HD (the main attraction, of course), plus Retro-Plex, a surprise I wasn't aware of until installation was made. So far, this has been a happy switch for me.

Thanks for your kind words about GPS.

11:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, John, for reminding me of one of my fondest childhood memories. I was 6 years old when my parents couldn't find a babysitter and, therefor, took me with them to see "callaway Went Thataway". Even at that young age I recognized the satire directed toward Hoppy (who I religiously watched on an early Dumont TV we had in the den). Perhaps it was because I had already become an avid fan of the likes of Tex Ritter and Gene Autry (thanks to their seemingly endless supply of feature avasilable on TV at that time), that I was transfixed by this, the very earliest movie experience still extant in my memeory. After the movie, I kept repeating incessantly the line, "Callaway went thataway.", much to my parents delight. To be sure I will look for a re-broadcast of this film on TCM. Again, thanks for rekindling a fond memory of my early childhood. Frank PS I love Greenbriar!!!

11:45 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Thanks, Frank. We actually had a sort of Hoppy revival on TV during the 70's when Charlotte's Channel 3began running them on Saturday afternoons. This was my introduction to the series and I thought they were terrific (still do).

11:50 AM  
Anonymous Scoundrel said...

Nice to see you again.

Welcome back.

1:30 PM  
Anonymous Kevin K. said...

That photo of William Powell almost resembles Johnny Depp on an average day between jobs. Maybe he'll do a remake of "My Man Godfrey" after he wraps "The Thin Man."

4:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Your recommendations are gold in this arena of great films! I took your advice and got the Rathbone Sherlock Holmes BLU-RAY set and it was a good upgrade from my standard set, and then after reading this entry, went down the street to Wal-Mart (UGH) and picked up BLU-RAY; BIG COUNTRY ($10 !!!) and from the sampling I took, looks great (never saw it before!) I project on a large screen and BLU-RAYs look magnificent!

Didn't make Columbus this year, but the classic movie world is alive and well here in Toledo!


7:20 AM  
Blogger James Corry said...

Hey John! Glad YOU found the BD of "The Big Country" at YOUR Wal-Mart.....OUR Wal-Mart out here in good 'ol So. Cal. not only didn't have it, NOBODY I talked to (store employees) knew what the hell I was talking about! Had to order it online for me and pal Craig Reardon and they (Wal-Mart) will "notify me when it comes in" and then I get to run down to the store again and pick it up. What a hassle!! But, I'm SO HAPPY to read that it's a stunner. After numerous horrific reviews of UA BD's (especially "The Greatest Story Ever Told") this is really great news. I saw the restored "Big Country" a couple of years ago at at the Academy and it was drop-dead gorgeous. This new BD has got to be taken from that source.......



11:11 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Glad you were able to score "Big Country" at your local Wal-Mart, Evan, and surprised, James, to hear of a So. Cal. store, presumably more urban-based than mine, NOT having it in stock. The $10 price tag is a nice plus, as Evan mentioned.

12:59 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

I've pulled many a classic out of the $5.00 bin at Wal*Mart..Key Largo,The Maltese Falcon,The Adventures Of Robin Hood,Father Of the Bride,2-disc dvd of Giant etc..Got both volumes of the Ma and Pa Kettle dvd sets there once for $4.00 each when they had the "sometimes"$4 dollar racks..never know what you'll find..but current and current crap!
BIG LOTS is a good place to look for stuff..DVDs are $3.00 and I've got alot of Warner DVDs there for that price...gansters,astaire-rogers..etc.

8:06 PM  

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