Classic movie site with rare images, original ads, and behind-the-scenes photos, with informative and insightful commentary. We like to have fun with movies!
Archive and Links
Search Index Here

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Back With Brooklyn Gorillas

A guy named Steve Calvert played the titular gorilla in Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla. He'd bought the skin from Ray "Crash" Corrigan, a previous ape-enactor. Steve tended bar for a day job, according to the Tom Weaver/Herman Cohen sit-down. How many tavern keeps kept gorilla pelts for such moonlighting occasion? Alex Gordon assumed majordomo duty for Lugosi, holding his cigar off-camera and such. Alex was acutely sensitive to indignities visited upon his idol, Duke/Sammy being a continual affront. To my eyes, "Poor Bela" was here well in front of Poorest Bela of Black Sleep and state in-patient ordeal. He's in command and dwarfs the comics (tall guy, that BL). Maybe there was adlibbing on their part, but Lugosi grooves with it. He also streams pages of gobbledygook dialogue without a hitch. Unlike Alex, I never found myself pitying an old duffer ritually degraded. To the contrary, Bela seemed equal to whatever Gals, Goofs, and Gags (see the trailer) got thrown at him.

Scott MacGillivray and Ted Okuda did a nifty interview with Sammy Petrillo for Filmfax # 53. SP remembered Duke being "like a father" and about eight years his senior. Unlike Dean and Jerry, these two stayed friends. Herman Cohen said Jerry came over to Realart and got in a cuss fight with Jack Broder. Big-shot Hal Wallis wanted a piece of Jack too for imperiling jack the former was hauling out of Martin/Lewis tills. But for Broder's integrity (and the fact Wallis didn't offer enough for the negative) BLMBG might have been sold to the senior-league producer and destroyed. That certainly was Hal's objective. Reflect then, upon Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla sharing with Citizen Kane more than mere greatness. Both came perilously close to being lost forever to us!

A Pressbook So Hurriedly Done As To
Mix Up The Photo Captions
1952 trades treated Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla like something smelly in the punch bowl. Wagons circled to deny legitimacy to Broder's effort. Variety saw "irony" in Jerry having given Sammy Petrillo a spot on his Colgate Hour, and now comes the upstart  poaching Lewis (and Paramount) preserves. Hal Wallis' calling for a print of BLMBG was reported, much as President Truman might have ordered his next White House screening. Well after all, 'twas players like Wallis and Paramount who were buying ad space in Variety, not low spades of Broder ilk (I looked, but found no trade ads for BLMBG). Carbon copies never pay off, said I Love Lucy scribe Carroll Carroll to Variety columnist Jack Hellman. He was put out with Lucy/Desi and other acts being aped: Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis will still be great when Duke Mitchell and Sammy Petrillo are just two names in the phone book, said the truculent team-player.

Jack Broder managed a tail-end of August '52 opening for Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla at Broadway's House Of Horror, the Rialto. Duke and Sammy were thrilled enough to head down on their own dime from Jersey club-dates for fan signings and patron greets. Hadn't Dean and Jerry lately stopped traffic on Broadway? Hal Wallis office this week was reported doing a burn over the promotion build-up given (the) indie pic, said Variety, and insult to injury here was the Rialto blowing up news articles about the tiff and lobby displaying them. Broder boasted of legal threats he'd gotten, and Duke/Sammy had temerity to deny "any resemblance" between their act and Dean/Jerry's. Broder called the mirror images "coincidental," and said he'd like to do follow-ups with Realart's new fun-makers. Duke Mitchell showed his magnanimity thus: We're not trying to take anything from them (Martin and Lewis). We plan to continue in this business and we think the public accepts us on our own talent.

Variety's review put the stiletto in deep, calling BLMBG a  clumsily titled film that reaches hard for laughs which seldom eventuate (sez them!). M&P's copy of M&L was totally without success. They said Sammy lacked Jerry's "polish" (Wha?). Jack Broder meanwhile sought a co-feature to support wider release of Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla. What he got was Brit-made House Of Darkness, "a psychological murder film" with Laurence Harvey and Leslie Brooks. Broder wanted into first-run Los Angeles sooner, but faced a seeming embargo on "B" product in that crowded territory. Other low cost pics were finished but unable to get bookings, RKO's Tim Holt western Overland Telegraph and Bob Lippert's Tales Of Robin Hood among small-fry that would wait a year for LA playdates. Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla squeezed into four houses for mid-October play with Untamed Women, an independent with perhaps more marquee sizzle than plainer House Of Darkness. Grosses for the pair were strictly from hunger ... a first week the last week at three of the venues, with a "thin" $9,500 counted (compare that with $60,000 MGM's Ivanhoe took in two theatres during the same frame).

Soft was most subsequent biz, Buffalo in November with $8,000 or close, Denver doubling BLMBG with Yankee Buccaneer for $6,500. Showmen that used Realart oldies might take Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla  --- others wouldn't be bothered. It all had faint aroma of a boxoffice freeze-out. Was Paramount applying pressure upon theatres not to book Mitchell and Petrillo? The frolicsome team meanwhile sought gigs where they could be found. Duke and Sammy appeared with BLMBG in Philly, then were Vegas Flamingo bound to appear with other impressionist acts. Two lads suffer from weak material, and after Petrillo's first Lewis image palls, nothing happens of yock-worthy humor, said Variety. An unkindest cut was Duke and Sammy's from a Los Angeles supper club that had booked them for two weeks during January 1953. Proprietor Larry Potter of same-named night-spot became somewhat ired over the boys' sandwich bit when a piece of bread fell on a salad, spattering a young customer. According to trade reportage, Potter did a burn and the verbal battle ended in an early exit for (the) team.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Duke and Sammy Go Ape! --- Part One

Somewhere during the nineties, Mike Cline and I ventured up to another Meadowlands, New Jersey confab where celebs who'd finished in Gotham exchanged what was left of name recognition plus an autograph for fame's momentary renewal and maybe a ten-spot from middle-agers (like us) who still cared. Into this garden of wilting flora came Sammy Petrillo, late (very late) of a comic team that fifty years earlier photo-finished Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Sammy's partner Duke Mitchell having filled club dates in the beyond since 1981. Petrillo got a table because he and Duke once did a movie (in 1952), their only starring movie, with horror icon and off-screen epic tragedian Bela Lugosi. That alone made Sammy's ink and handshake valued currency.

I'm not of those who'd call Mitchell/Petrillo pathetic and no-talented for carving careers from Dean/Jerry stone. Sammy in Meadowlands twilight was among nicest guys I met who'd once known of-a-sort stardom (certainly nicer than I'd expect Jerry Lewis to be). He was proud of what career there'd been and generous with anecdotage. Still working in a coarsened 90's (and in his 70's), Sam handed me flyers for an act he and partner Suzie Perkovic (what a great handle for Jersey marquees --- Petrillo and Perkovic!). There were samples from their joke trunk reminiscent of back pages in Scholastic Readers we'd been issued during fifth grade (Sammy liked his humor clean --- well, good for him). Still a willing mimic of both Jerry and Bela, Sammy was like a time-traveler touching down on hotel ballrooms to give glimpse of what stand-up had long-ago been. I wouldn't trade encountering him with any celebrity alive or gone.

The last survivor of Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla might have died a few months ago if you choose to believe Cheetah obits that declared him the genuine article and veteran of endless soundstage safaris. Others of the crew and sideline participating have departed but did leave impressions of a nine-day shoot in May 1952 that cost somewhere north, but not by much, of $50,000 (or was it $100K, as some claimed?). Each were tied to low-budget and exploitation filmmaking. Herman Cohen and Alex Gordon reminiscence was included in last year's published A Sci-Fi Swarm and Horror Horde, a standout interview collection by genre expert Tom Weaver (get this book if you haven't --- it's a fab read).

Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla was brainstormed by Jack Broder, whose Realart Pictures began life reissuing Universal vaulties, including many with Bela Lugosi. Jack and his brother got rich mining horrors back to 1931's Dracula, theirs a one-shop for budget bills and drive-ins that didn't care from age of product. Lugosi stayed a name in the Broder household, for groceries he indirectly supplied, if not current value of a faded rep. How badly washed out was Bela by '52? Laughs at his expense via TV comics enabled a title change once Lugosi was set --- April's announced Women Of The Lost Jungle became May's Bela Lugosi Meets The Gorilla Man. Odds are eight to five that Bela wins the decision, jested Variety. At least, it will be easier than meeting Abbott and Costello. Not so, as things turned out ...

Ann ventured to my viewing cave as Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla unspooled and asked, Is that Jerry Lewis? --- a question tens of thousands might have put forward over a past sixty years, in her case followed by, How could Bela Lugosi have done a picture like this? That second I barely answered short of turning to see she'd left (and there I was happy to continue the lecture for what was left of BLMBG's run time). Concern had already risen for my earlier sitting through Attack Of The Crab Monsters and Valley Of The Dragons. So how do we justify time spent with these? My boast of having met Sammy Petrillo wouldn't excuse my watching him now. Must ours be a secret order of Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla fans?

I confess liking it more than even before, having firmly switched loyalties from Dean and Jerry to Duke and Sammy. Given acquaintance of real-life guys named Duke, I'd gladly go Hey, Dookie! when approaching one, but alas ... don't know any. Sammy said he was seventeen when the pic was made. I was still waiting for a first shave at that age. He's got Lewis down to a split-hair. No wonder the McCoy blew fuses and tried suing. Dino was more sanguine re Duke. Wish there were CD's of the latter growling Deed I Do and Too Soon from Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla. Indeed, platters couldn't be had even in 1952. Ones who'd call BLMBG "So Bad It's Good" doubtless fall short of others who'd just stop at "So Bad" --- but all must admit it's a slick (just over a) week's work. Real pros behind scenes knew how to max out dollars spent. Director William Beaudine had done silents back to 1915 and guided Mary Pickford besides. Image's first-quality DVD gets the most out of nicely photographed sound stage jungles (why do I prefer these over locationing real thing?).

Part Two of Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla is HERE.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Marion Davies Rehab Goes On

TCM all-nighted Marion Davies this month to remind us how slammed this actress/comedienne was by the second Mrs. Kane and lasting impressions from said 1941 caricature. Was W.R. Hearst defending Davies' honor as much as his own by applying hammer and tong to Orson Welles? There must be record of how Marion Davies felt over RKO's grim impersonation, but I guess for then-obvious reasons, she kept quiet. Writers have since defended this one-time movie star among Welles' collateral damage. They'll cite Show People and The Patsy as silent proof of Davies' talent. I'd at least add talking Blondie Of The Follies, equal delight The Floradora Girl, and precode time capsule Five and Ten to ones doing her credit, each an obscurity and all better than you'd expect.

Wealthy Partygoers Make Their Own Movie In a Sequence Deleted From Five and Ten's Final Print.
Five and Ten was based on a Fannie Hurst novel. That name resonates for 30's hits derived from her output. Around a same time and also based on Hurst was Back Street, Imitation Of Life --- later came Four Daughters. Was it quality of this author's yarns or pizzazz contract dialoguers added? She lived to 1968 and age 78, past relevance her novels once had, but for at least a decade's time and place, they spoke well to readers, and later, picture-goers. Five and Ten lacks pavement grit of Warner precodes, conflict here arising from snobbery directed at nouveau riche by older money, neither likely to evoke sympathy in a then or present economy. Davies was more effective on light setting, this apparent in Gay-90's The Floradora Girl, maybe the first (1930) talkie to celebrate simpler times of a century (more recently) past. There's better evocation here of a vanished era than all Fox's decade-later Betty Grable/Alice Fayes could muster. Not a musical per se, The Floradora Girl was for me among happier vintage discoveries lately made.

Among Blondie's Many Virtues ... Vivid Depiction of Backstage Life
Blondie Of The Follies is also less about music, being hung over from a 1932 public's exhaustion with All-Sing, Dance, Etc. Just-off Grand Hotel director Edmund Goulding goes near-Euro-vérité with backstage reveals to show he'd thoroughly known settings depicted. So had Davies for that matter. She'd been a Follies girl Hearst picked up, then set down in luxury for what was left of his life. Goulding's camera is adventurous as anyone's covering 30's theatrical life --- Metro really turned him loose here, maybe as reward for how well Grand Hotel came out. I wondered why he didn't vault higher and sooner before reading Mark Vieira's tattle of orgy stagings at chez Goulding that surpassed even sock the director put before cameras. Blacklist placement must have calmed him, for when EG resurfaced a couple years later (for Riptide), he'd calmed down to a career's balance of tasteful megging.

Less a Game of Backgammon Than Mistress Trade Between Precode Rogues Bob and Doug

Robert Montgomery engages Precode's art of gentle predation after Metro pattern set by Adolphe Menjou, Gable, Franchot Tone, innumerable others, all seducers so expert as to make present-day impressionables wonder if such technique might still work. Blondie's Montgomery and membership of the roué brotherhood swap mistresses and compromise innocents without our once getting a cue to disapprove, such behavior in Post-Codes would have set off seat buzzers and put moral compensation into resolute third-act play. Marion Davies' pairing off with oily oil baron Douglas Dumbrille in exchange for deco-ed digs isn't emphasized, but lying down is clearly what sets her up in luxury, Blondie honest enough not to side-step price-tags on said lifestyle.

Another Precode Delicacy --- Girl Fights That Were Really Fights

A Precode Dropout That Might Have Become One Of The Era's
Brightest Lights --- Billie Dove
 Good as everyone is, Billie Dove takes honors doing the Anita Page (misguided) part better than Page, or Joan Crawford, for that matter,  themselves achieved. Dove was a looker too, scorching in fact, and I don't wonder at Hearst demanding her part be denuded upon seeing rushes that left Marion in the shade. Did Dove complain? Certainly not where anyone could hear, she didn't. To buck Hearst and Metro would amount to a livelihood forfeit. She'd step off the carousel instead and marry ... 1932's loss, and ours since. Gal-pal themes were rife in precode, Davies and Dove a scrappy pair raising dukes as coda to every argument. It's fun watching love rivals go to the mat as opposed to civilized exchange Code-compliant Bette Davis, Mary Astor, Miriam Hopkins, et al confined themselves to in 40's bouts. Those latter were verbal at best, whereas Davies/Dove slug each other silly, few quarrels between them ending short of physical combat.

1932 Patrons Looked Longingly at Davies,
 But What I Covet Is That Deco Stair Bannister!

Is Billie Putting Marion On Notice That Blondie Is Her Movie To Steal?

Marion Davies' Blondie gets off a stinging impersonation of Garbo during a specialty with Jimmy Durante. He's Jack Barrymore and they're spoofing Grand Hotel, only she clamps deep into GG's Achilles with make-up, expression, and voice to reveal baseline absurdity of the Swedish sphinx's act. Was Marion first to nail lampoon potential of I Vant To Be Alone? Don't know, but I'm guessing Garbo was not amused at send-up so close to the bone. Davies had done these caricatures before --- in 1928's The Patsy, she laid several dramatic divas to rest, most devastatingly Lillian Gish. I'd love to have observed commissary meets between Davies and less-than-good-sport targets of her spot-on satiring. Did her own impressions prepare MD for the cruel jape Citizen Kane later played on her?

Saturday, February 04, 2012

UA Makes Crime Pay

Like a lot of obscurities from MGM's On-Demand label, Vice Squad has crept on cat's feet to Screen Archives and lately, Warner Archive listings. Viewers know it, if at all, from late PM slots, then infrequent TCM play, VS having otherwise pulled 1953 duty filling cop/robber dates between adrenalin shot of 3-D and grenade burst of Cinemascope, square in that summer of hope's renewal for a beat-down industry. United Artists distributed and was part investor in this venture thought promising thanks to tyro trio Arthur Gardner, Jules Levy, and Arnold Laven, whose first (so far only) feature, Without Warning, had been bought by vet producer Sol Lesser, then sold to UA, everyone coming out rosy. G,L&L, plus Vice Squad's exploitable title and micro-budgeting, looked to be safe bets for hot weather exploitation.

Trade sources pegged Gardner as administrator, Levy a point-man for deals, with Laven pulling much of creative duty. Whatever sold was catnip to this team. All were young and a two of three vote guided policy. They'd tried getting Invaders From Mars off the ground, but lack of funds saw rival Ed Alperson grabbing those marbles. Profit G,L&L made off Without Warning enabled Vice Squad. Edward G. Robinson was had for comparative pittance ($50K according to co-star Paulette Goddard's biographer Julie Gilbert), his stock HUAC-diminished to what Robinson later called "a B picture phase of my career." Fallen name Goddard, says Gilbert, received $15,000 for three day's work on Vice Squad. Hard times weren't theirs alone --- many off contract payrolls took work where it could be had for whatever they could get.

Gardner, Levy, and Laven understood the value they'd gotten in Edward G. Robinson. Life has shaped Eddie, the three told Variety. People who really know him, love him for what he is. He doesn't have to ham it up any longer. That's for kids practicing to be mimics. So we asked him to play himself. Much to their credit and Vice Squad's good was said recognition of Robinson's icon status and how to make a most of it. Walk through this, Eddie, G,L,&L were quoted as saying, and you'll be great. Vice Squad does show a relaxed star, Robinson doing what we most enjoy, whatever his own appreciation of reduced circumstances. This was an actor incapable of a poor or indifferent performance. Mature players, said the producing team, are not types. Their years of experience have made them into believable people, which was, added Variety, what these documentary mellers need more than anything else.

Shooting of Vice Squad was like camera conducted tour of Los Angeles circa '53, always a best feature of budget thrillers set on streets. Gardner, Levy, and Laven even scored access to the new Hollywood Freeway just days before it opened to traffic, a fifty-five million dollar set, according to trades. Vice Squad was less noir than police procedural, an insider peek at law enforcement wheels on the grind. Civil liberties take a hike under detective Robinson's command. He's for rousting suspect/civilians alike, ordering frame-ups and illegal arrests like black coffee. Those fed up with soft on crime must have rocked balconies cheering. Being it's vice we're examining, there's B-girl round-upping and inventory of underthings gathered during raids. That last, plus Paulette Goddard's winking maintenance of an "escort service," amounted to spice denied home viewers of tamer Racket Squad and closer-quartered precincts at home. Even cheap fare like Vice Squad paced way ahead of TV competition by getting outdoors more and clearer spelling out of blotter content, this being fresh meat to a 50's audience, and not a little titillating.

Trade reviews were good, with emphasis on "exploitation facets." One of these was television spotting, United Artists committed now to spend largely (Variety) after ad-fueled success of Moulin Rouge, High Noon, and The Moon Is Blue ($600K was sunk in Moulin promotion alone). Trailers for TV had become a must-do since rapturous response to 1952's Sudden Fear and a King Kong reissue the same season, but it does not fit all products, said the trade. Best results seem to come where actual scenes from the negative have a high "teaser' appeal. Melodrama and horror subjects make up into potent come-on, but lush musicals in Technicolor are not advantageously sold on a tiny black-and-white parlor receiver. Vice Squad was singled out by Variety for its title which was a lulu for home shock value (as were "gruesome scenes" in another TV-spot-made hit, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms).

Vice Squad sold beyond even optimist outlook. Bookings finessed in "A" houses more than returned bacon, and holdovers were rife. Patronage voted at ticket windows for Eddie back in holsters. To hammer the point, ad design even borrowed key art of Robinson from 1937's Bullets Or Ballots to let everyone know he'd conduct business-as-usual. Trade trumpets by late August pegged Vice Squad as a sleeper, and major studio heads keep asking to see the picture, according to columnist Frank Scully. The William Morris agency put together a Vice Squad pilot with Edward G. Robinson for hopeful vid placement, but showing that around got no bites. The feature returned $918K in domestic rentals and $722K more foreign, one of United Artists' best performers among small budget titles that year (only I, The Jury in 3-D topped it). For their profit-making effort, Gardner, Levy, and Laven got another UA ticket punched with Code File: FBI, released in September 1954 as Down Three Dark Streets, also a crackerjack police job available from MGM On Demand DVD.
  • December 2005
  • January 2006
  • February 2006
  • March 2006
  • April 2006
  • May 2006
  • June 2006
  • July 2006
  • August 2006
  • September 2006
  • October 2006
  • November 2006
  • December 2006
  • January 2007
  • February 2007
  • March 2007
  • April 2007
  • May 2007
  • June 2007
  • July 2007
  • August 2007
  • September 2007
  • October 2007
  • November 2007
  • December 2007
  • January 2008
  • February 2008
  • March 2008
  • April 2008
  • May 2008
  • June 2008
  • July 2008
  • August 2008
  • September 2008
  • October 2008
  • November 2008
  • December 2008
  • January 2009
  • February 2009
  • March 2009
  • April 2009
  • May 2009
  • June 2009
  • July 2009
  • August 2009
  • September 2009
  • October 2009
  • November 2009
  • December 2009
  • January 2010
  • February 2010
  • March 2010
  • April 2010
  • May 2010
  • June 2010
  • July 2010
  • August 2010
  • September 2010
  • October 2010
  • November 2010
  • December 2010
  • January 2011
  • February 2011
  • March 2011
  • April 2011
  • May 2011
  • June 2011
  • July 2011
  • August 2011
  • September 2011
  • October 2011
  • November 2011
  • December 2011
  • January 2012
  • February 2012
  • March 2012
  • April 2012
  • May 2012
  • June 2012
  • July 2012
  • August 2012
  • September 2012
  • October 2012
  • November 2012
  • December 2012
  • January 2013
  • February 2013
  • March 2013
  • April 2013
  • May 2013
  • June 2013
  • July 2013
  • August 2013
  • September 2013
  • October 2013
  • November 2013
  • December 2013
  • January 2014
  • February 2014
  • March 2014
  • April 2014
  • May 2014
  • June 2014
  • July 2014
  • August 2014
  • September 2014
  • October 2014
  • November 2014
  • December 2014
  • January 2015
  • February 2015
  • March 2015
  • April 2015
  • May 2015
  • June 2015
  • July 2015
  • August 2015
  • September 2015
  • October 2015
  • November 2015
  • December 2015
  • January 2016
  • February 2016
  • March 2016
  • April 2016
  • May 2016
  • June 2016
  • July 2016
  • August 2016
  • September 2016
  • October 2016
  • November 2016
  • December 2016
  • January 2017
  • February 2017
  • March 2017
  • April 2017
  • May 2017
  • June 2017
  • July 2017
  • August 2017
  • September 2017
  • October 2017
  • November 2017
  • December 2017
  • January 2018
  • February 2018
  • March 2018
  • April 2018
  • May 2018
  • June 2018
  • July 2018
  • August 2018
  • September 2018
  • October 2018
  • November 2018
  • December 2018
  • January 2019
  • February 2019
  • March 2019
  • April 2019
  • May 2019
  • June 2019
  • July 2019
  • August 2019
  • September 2019
  • October 2019
  • November 2019
  • December 2019
  • January 2020
  • February 2020
  • March 2020
  • April 2020
  • May 2020
  • June 2020
  • July 2020
  • August 2020
  • September 2020
  • October 2020
  • November 2020
  • December 2020
  • January 2021
  • February 2021
  • March 2021
  • April 2021
  • May 2021
  • June 2021
  • July 2021
  • August 2021
  • September 2021
  • October 2021
  • November 2021
  • December 2021
  • January 2022
  • February 2022
  • March 2022
  • April 2022
  • May 2022
  • June 2022
  • July 2022
  • August 2022
  • September 2022
  • October 2022
  • November 2022
  • December 2022
  • January 2023
  • February 2023
  • March 2023
  • April 2023
  • May 2023
  • June 2023
  • July 2023
  • August 2023
  • September 2023
  • October 2023
  • November 2023
  • December 2023
  • January 2024
  • February 2024
  • March 2024
  • April 2024
  • May 2024