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Wednesday, September 05, 2012

The Watch List For 9/5/12

TILLIE'S PUNCTURED ROMANCE (1914) --- What was for generations a spliced-up mess is happily reborn on DVD along with other Chaplin Keystone output. One look at restored Tillie and you marvel that it was made so way back. Far as I know, it's the first feature-length comedy. My Blackhawk 8mm print all but jumped fences (pre-print damage). You couldn't follow action for so many missing frames. Too bad because the movie's fun. For years, it was the one Chaplin feature that could be exhibited without fear of legal reprisal (the above theatre ad is from 1962!), and seems to have been reissued every other year. That was in part cause for increasingly ragged prints. The DVD gathers surviving stock from all over. I can't believe they found prologue and curtain tags with the cast emerging to take a bow, but here it is. When stars Marie Dressler, Charlie Chaplin, and Mabel Normand all emote at once, I don't know which to focus on, the three so manically engaged in competing pantomime. The co-op of UCLA and European archives deserve big applause for rescuing this pioneer laff-fest.

TWINS OF EVIL (1971) --- I'd given up on Hammer horrors by 1970 and so skipped Twins Of Evil when new. Now it's on Blu-Ray with "R" footage not seen in American prints. That amounts to nudity with Playboy's first twin centerfolds, the Collinson sisters, whose vampiric variation on The Parent Trap this was, plus there are heads split and cleaved. Peter Cushing is a distressingly gaunt witch hunter, his performance the usual great, though we feel his Hammer giving way to someone else's debased successor. They wished for another Chris Lee, so there is would-be replacement Damien Thomas, who tries but won't catch lightning (who could with the brand itself on fade?). Among final gothic-style horror films, Twins Of Evil had The Exorcist and like explicits gaining on heels, so it and Hammer would be displaced. I mourned then what Twins had done to good-old-days horror of kid-hood. Now I feel for it and similar ones sidelined by modern-set chillers that dominated the seventies.

BEYOND MOMBASA (1956) --- One that a cast and direction takes less seriously as it pokes along, shot somewhere hot and muggy. They must have cursed agents for submersion in such quicklime. Still, I had fun, as likely did Cornel Wilde as a down-at-heels freebooter who celebrates his lack of principles. George Marshall directs as though he were two-reel farcing for silent-era Fox again. Noteworthy is Chris Lee as a French bwana ("Ever play a French bwana, Mr. Lee?," says the casting director, to which reply, "Oh yes, many times"), a support part in name only as Chris nattily steals the thing (that a modern read, us being more interested in him than nominal leads). Was CL on a verge of mainstream lift-off when Hammer monsters sidetracked him? He had to wonder what destiny might have tendered via straight parts going on a little longer (but hadn't he given it ten years by '56 and Beyond Mombasa?). Much as I like Lee in horrors, it would have been nice having him dress up more like this. Columbia's On-Demand DVD has a pleasing 1.85 transfer with nice color.

PASS THE GRAVY (1927) --- Max Davidson's idiot son chops the head off a neighbor's prize rooster and the family spends two reels trying to conceal its crime. A Hal Roach comedy that took roofs off revival housing once audiences got a seventy years delayed look at it. Funny if you're with a crowd. Builds on surprise (lots didn't realize Max Davidson had such laughs in him) and shared delight. Let's get out the other Davidsons, right? Whoops ... most are lost, others exist in fragments, or on cloudy 16mm. What a frustration silent film loving can be. Guess Max looked his best and played to a biggest modern audience in 1965's Laurel and Hardy's Laughing Twenties, where a generous chunk of pristine Call Of The Cuckoo  got featured. There's a DVD of surviving Davidsons from Europe, nicely gathered by knowing archivists.

THE MAD MAGICIAN (1954) --- Like watching House Of Wax in black-and-white! So imitative that I'm amazed Warners didn't sue (maybe they did and no one's told me). Same writer, producer, star --- guess Columbia figured if they could get a fourth of Wax's money, that'd be boff aplenty for the catchpenny this was (Magician took $470K in domestic rentals, less than an eighth of WB's haul). Not that it's bad, Vincent Price aboard wouldn't countenance that. He's done wrong by, and so beheads, a business partner, heroine Mary Murphy ending up with the noggin in her valise (wouldn't she have noticed how heavy it was?), and yes, we're permitted to laugh. Vince was likely beginning to divine a future in horror, if not wholly, then at least often. He had wit enough, was ripe enough a performer, to recognize crowds ready to yok with/at his stuff, and so went/got along to considerable profit. Would he have kept doing these had art collecting not been such an expensive passion? Took $, as all us hoarders know. The Mad Magician was in 3-D, Columbia's On-Demand disc isn't, which matters not to me. The play's the thing, and this one nicely represents what one studio cribbed boldly from another during a gimmick's gold rush with sell-by dates stamped all too clear.

THE GREAT JEWEL ROBBER (1950) --- Supporting Warner player David Brian gets to star in this B-unit heist thriller touted as just off headlines and fact-based. Brian was forceful enough for listless leads to beware of, scenes never safe for those billed above him. Best at playing cads, DB was WB's fair-haired Steve Cochran, so similarly disposed was their screen perfidy (in fact, the two made up crime's dream team in The Damned Don't Cry, released the same year as The Great Jewel Robber). Robber supported and probably surpassed more expensive 1950 partners --- it'd be my pick over many of them. Producer Bryan Foy kept Warners' low-budget line-up perking with good ones like this. On TCM currently, but sure to be in Warners' DVD Archive before long.

YUKON MANHUNT (1951) --- A Mounties and wonder dog adventure where the pooch really doesn't do much, but I'll take the whole Monogram series if WB Archive keeps serving them. These have been nowhere for decades, and yes, who cared?, but there's comfort in hour-long budgeters where familiar faces ply formula trade. Kirby Grant tended to be the poor man's whatever he played, but it was a living, and imagine surprise on learning there were a dozen of these Yukon things between 1948 and 1952. Monogram could estimate to pennies what they'd earn, so maintaining a series format, like for Yukons, Bomba, The Bowery Boys, plus others, was safe haven for money invested.

THE FOY FAMILY: CHIPS OFF THE OLD BLOCK (1928) --- The Foys begin slow and build kooky momentum to make you wish for more than eight minutes of this Vitaphone dawn-of-sound reel. Vaudeville talent, at least the best of it, could do seemingly anything then. There were, I think, four brothers and two sisters performing here. Not sure who was missing. Wasn't the act initially seven little Foys per the Bob Hope biopic? Singing and patter, peppered with slapstick. One brother wore repulsive false teeth. For a moment, I thought they were his own (you know how awful ivories can be among Gold-Agers). Looks spontaneous, even though I'm sure they rehearsed everything (then performed) to fare-thee-well. Should look up what happened to all the Foys. One of them, Bryan, produced B's for Warners and Fox (including House Of Wax, which has vaudevillian bounce of its own). Exhumed Vitaphone shorts are ongoing delight, this one seen on TCM.


Anonymous Kevin K. said...

That Foy Family short is one of the many Vitaphone shorts on Warners' "Jazz Singer" box set. Another good one features Shaw & Lee, who appear to simultaneously represent and mock a typical vaudeville act. At times they seem eerily contemporary. It got a great response at New York's Film Forum Vitaphone retrospective a few years back. You can see it at

"Max Davidson's idiot son chops the head off a neighbor's prize rooster and the family spends two reels trying to conceal its crime": It's descriptions like that which make me want to go back in time to be a gag man at the Roach studio. Really, what could have been more fun?

9:31 AM  
Blogger Michael J. Hayde said...

My quarrel with TILLIE'S PUNCTURED ROMANCE currently on DVD - along with everything else on Flicker Alley's CHAPLIN AT KEYSTONE set - is that the films are transferred a mite too slow. When dust kicked up by departing autos hangs in the air, you know somebody's set the fps wrong. I eagerly await a newly restored version of TILLIE that will debut tomorrow night (or Friday morning; 12:45 am) on TCM.

11:08 AM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

The four-reel version of TILLIE'S PUNCTURED ROMANCE seen in your ad was the first "sound" version of the film, prepared in 1941 for release by Monogram. Very popular release, and hailed by trades as the answer to an exhibitor's prayer. It was reissued in 1950 by the independent Burwood Pictures and, as you noted, it stayed in circulation into the 1960s.

LAUREL & HARDY'S LAUGHING '20s also includes footage from PASS THE GRAVY.

You're right about the Foy Family short: six of the now-grown Seven Little Foys are featured. I suspect the seventh, Bryan Foy, was directing! (Thankfully Eddie Foy, Jr. didn't resort to those awful teeth in his other films!)

11:11 AM  
Anonymous mido505 said...

Twins of Evil, along with Vampire Circus and Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, are really the last great gasps of Hammer Horror, and of the three Twins of Evil is arguably the best, due to excellent production value, stylish direction by the underrated John Hough, and Peter Cushing. Vampire Circus is half genius and half pap (Robert Tayman makes Damien Thomas look like Chris Lee), and Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell is poverty stricken. Much of Hammer's derided post 70's output looks increasingly good in retrospect, but by then company was without question sputtering, rudderless, lacking in resources, and frequently crass. Just about every production post 1969/Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed is plagued by objectionable elements, no matter how interesting the premise. Still, watching them again rekindles the old magic, and it is nice to see these movies getting attentive, loving releases. I caught a showing of a pristine, uncut print of Twins 30 years ago, and thought it masterful. Nice to see it still holds up.

1:27 PM  
Blogger Rich D said...

I actually got to see MAD MAGICIAN in 3D a few years back at NYC's Film Forum back when they were showing a lot of classic 50s 3D fare. (I also saw around the same time the two Stooges 3D shorts, Dial M For Murder and a few others.) The 3D stuff was fun but not as good or inventive as HOUSE OF WAX. IIRC, Columibia had struck a new print for the screening.

1:55 PM  
Anonymous DBenson said...

"Tillie's Punctured Romance" somehow makes you laugh even while you're thinking this isn't great comedy. The plot would be thin at two reels, the direction is almost nonexistent, and 90% of it is just people kicking each other. But everybody is insanely energetic and committed, and here and there you can catch somebody (usually Chaplin or Normand) trying to smuggle in a subtle look or gesture. And in reasonable doses, people kicking each other IS funny.

Soon enough they figured out the value of having SOME sanity onscreen for the central comics to play against. But there's something special about early Keystones where everybody in front of the camera is recklessly trying to upstage everybody else.

2:21 PM  
Anonymous Paul Duca said...

It's interesting that Chaplin was a promotable draw in Chicago (Middle America) in 1962...a mere decade after his leaving the U.S. under a cloud of accusations of being a Communist sympathizer.

3:47 PM  
Blogger Dave G said...

Re. Cushing's gaunt appearance in "Twins of Evil" - his wife Helen, to whom he was quite devoted, fell ill and died right around the time this film was shot (this may have been his first film after her death). I think it shows in his appearance.

5:14 PM  
Anonymous DBenson said...

To Paul Duca:

Interesting and not confined to Chaplin.

Folksy old-school liberal Harry Golden wrote a piece during the blacklist days, wondering why democracy had to be protected from Gale Sondergaard earning an honest living, while it was perfectly safe for TV to make money showing her old films on the late show.

Even today, unpopular words or criminal behavior might make someone unemployable, but it rarely erases their old stuff from cable reruns or DVD shelves. Especially if the tainted party doesn't appear to be making money off it.

Question for our host: New Fatty Arbuckle films were effectively banned from the screen, but did his old Keystone stuff vanish from circulation as well? I imagine exchanges and second-run houses stashing those long-amortized reels, guessing there'd still be a few bucks there once the heat was off.

8:37 PM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Great stuff! And I kinda love the way those false teeth don't exactly stay in the same place in Eddie Foy's mouth!

Back in the old film society days of the 60's and 70's, 16mm prints of THE MAD MAGICIAN could be rented for small change and pocket lint and were always popping up and filling out big star horror film festivals. (College shows might feature a Universal classic or two, a Corman Poe epic, maybe a splashy Hammer item and, look! THE MAD MAGICIAN. Again!)

Back in the 80's, I had a beat up 16mm print of BEYOND MOMBASA that I screened over and over BEYOND LOGIC. Just a sucker for plastic palm jungle potboilers I guess.

LOVE the late Hammer stuff! They toggled wildly in this last gasp era from what-the-hell-were-they-thinking botch jobs (HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN, TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER) to off-beat-in-a-good-way fare (DR. JECKYL AND SISTER HYDE, BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY'S TOMB). Both types seem pretty amusing to me today.

Max Davidson. Funny, funny guy.

12:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder if Vincent Price was at Columbia in B/W instead of Warner in color because he'd been semi-blacklisted/greylisted (What I mean is that he didn't really know if he was, but he suspected). Many blacklistees could still do low-budget films-ROBOT MONSTER almost has an all-blacklistee cast.

1:23 PM  
Blogger J. Theakston said...

WB's hands-off on THE MAD MAGICIAN is probably because both films had the same producer—Bryan Foy (how's that for six degrees of separation?)!

1:29 PM  
Anonymous Jim Lane said...

Interesting question, what did happen to the Seven Little Foys after they weren't so little anymore? We know where Brynie wound up, natch, and Eddie Jr. made a comfortable living impersonating Dad, whom he resembled to an amazing degree, in stuff like Yankee Doodle Dandy, Frontier Marshal and Lillian Russell before going on to The Pajama Game and Bells Are Ringing. Charley played Dad too, in Woman of the Town and narrated the Bob Hope biopic. And we know the last survivor, Irving, died in 2003. But the rest? Hmm...might be a book in that, eh?

2:19 AM  
Blogger MDG14450 said...

Did you notice that the "burning the effigy on a bonfire" scene in The Mad Magician was just about lifted whole from Brahm's Hangover Square?

9:26 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Now that you mention it, MDG, I DID notice that. "The Mad Magician" seems to be full of good ideas repeated from past pix.

4:58 AM  
Blogger coolcatdaddy said...

"Mad Magician" would be a good candidate for an inexpensive BluRay 3d release - Sony has the 3d master and already offers it in hi-def 3d on their online Playstation service for download rental or sale. I watched it and the 3d is pretty good. Much more fun than screening the rather bad current movies they've released on BluRay 3d.

4:02 PM  
Blogger Tbone Mankini said...

And now Donna Reed...3 posts in a row with 60s TV connections.

5:01 PM  

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