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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Watch List For 11/21/12

HOT PEPPER (1933) --- Irrepressible Flagg and Quirt, enacted a fourth (and final) time by Edmund Lowe and Victor McLaglen, don civvies for a go at rum-running and double-crosses. The two were like rowdiest guests at a stag dinner, their bawdy asides tempting fate of even lax '33 censorship. The Flagg/Quirt tandem was synonymous with loaded dice and fast shuffles. Femme support could anticipate an onscreen pat in the rear from Eddie, while blustering Vic was seldom remiss at licking ten times his weight in bar bullies. Perhaps less liberties were taken with Hot Pepper for censor awareness of the series' raunchy past.

What Price Glory? had led the Flagg/Quirt assault in 1926 and was wide-seen as the most profane of all silent features (confirmed by lip-readers). Sequel The Cock-Eyed World spoke in Sez You-Sez I vernacular, plus Lili Damita as 1929's marine objective. These characters and formula were foolproof and renewable. Hot Pepper of that title is Lupe Valez, stripping for Vic in what might be tagged Exhibit A for precode license. She dances too as a night club show-stopper that made me (and doubtless then-crowds) wish for an encore. Eddie gets off a crack, Aw nuts, with a shell on, that for all I know, entered catch-phraseology among Depressioners.

Dumbbell shtick comes courtesy El Brendel, someone at Fox's pet who got into much of their highest-profile stuff (a counterpart to Harry Green at Paramount?). Directing John Blystone likely sent others home by saying, OK, El gets the rest of this scene ... orders from the front office. Hot Pepper came and went in 1933, was missing for years after, then turned up as part of a "Golden Century" TV package Fox devised in 1970. From there, it vanished again and remains so. Mine was grey market off a long-ago dealer. Quality's actually pretty good. If 20th's On-Demand program wants to open our eyes, they should get this and others of Fox precode inventory into circulation.

PURSUED (1947) --- Can lifelong tortured dreams reveal what so unsettles brooding Robert Mitchum? Pursued has been called the first of saddle-bred noir. I'd tab both it and just-previous Duel In The Sun for honors (Duel maybe more so), the two not coincidentally based on novels by Niven Busch. He saw Pursued as vehicle to further enhance stardom of wife Teresa Wright (first-billed), and didn't worry much over Mitchum, or whoever, for the male lead. Producing was Milton Sperling, a Harry Warner son-in-law the family wanted in-house, so they made him a deal to do semi-independent ongoing A's with top WB names. Sperling got/gets a bum rap as the "son-in-law also rises," but I've yet to see a United States Picture that disappoints (USP his indie company name). Writer and perhaps envious Ivan Goff said Milt was "a joke" and that nothing he did amounted to importance. Posterity gives the lie to that amidst reappraisal not only of Pursued, but Cloak and Dagger, South Of St. Louis, Three Secrets, The Enforcer ... I could go on.

Sperling was known by fair evaluation as a crack story man (he wrote as well) and seasoned judge of what worked. To a post-war market gaga for genre twists, Pursued was novel merchandise and not to be confused with wilting sagebrush patrons had tired of even before a slump gripped '47 boxoffices. Freudian psychology was fresh paint applied to an otherwise whodunit resolved like others in a final reel. Intelligently written and played, Pursued woke up a jaded public who'd seen everything on horsebacks, this enabling $1.2 million in profit for WB. The pic's interest stays lively for guessing what oft-flashbacked dreams signify, its big reveal at the end a satisfying one. There's also fistfights and gunplay so psych stuff won't weigh too heavy. Directing Raoul Walsh was less thinker than action purveyor, so his taking charge saves Pursued going too contemplative. Olive's Blu-Ray lends further distinction, a great job and credit to James Wong Howe's rich photography.

CITY GIRL (1930) --- Farm boy Charles Farrell is city-bound to sell the wheat crop, meets and marries hash-slinger Mary Duncan, then courts disaster when he brings her home to face tyrant patriarch David Torrence. A story that can be, usually is, very unpleasant, but oft-told in the late twenties when urban v. rural themes resonated more. MGM had done similar The Wind with Lillian Gish, which I can't bear watching for her shrinking violet response to cruelty inflicted by country hosts. Mary Duncan's City Girl stands up to farm oppression and generates more rooting interest. Director F.W. Murnau of Sunrise triumph composes each shot like something you could hang on a wall, City Girl further proof of silent film having reached artistry's summit just prior to that era being banished. In fact, a part-talking re-gig that did mischief with Murnau's cut was released, but is (perhaps thankfully) lost, leaving us with the silent (as preferred by its director) version.

RUNNING WILD (1927) --- A Bill Fields silent feature for Paramount. He's beyond hen-pecked here, abused would better describe it, not only by a shrew wife, but her nauseating kid for whom Bill must provide. In-laws and bloodsucking stepchildren were foundation not only for Fields' domestic comedy, but others who saw extended family life as ongoing hell on earth. Bill sold me here never to adopt ready-made households. His only consolation in Running Wild is blood daughter Mary Brian, who's devoted to him (minus her, RW would be an unrelieved downer). Sounds like content Fields devised, but James Curtis' bio informs that the story was someone else's, and much invention came courtesy Gregory La Cava, who directed. Bill straight performs near-heart-rending stuff, like when beloved Brian denounces his lack of backbone. Fields could do a hurt reaction to nines. He'd been there, so knew terrains of loss.

Running Wild is another where we wait impatiently for the worm to turn. When his does, Bill all but deconstructs whatever sets are standing, and deals out physical punishment, intensity of which he'd not repeat once sound arrived. Fields getting even in Running Wild is not unlike Harold Lloyd settling Kid Brother accounts the same year --- both violent beyond what we expect of such mild-mannered personas. Running Wild is more about character than laughs, but so long as it's Fields, we're fascinated. This is from his clip-on mustache era, that a barrier to fullest enjoyment, plus, of course, the lacking of sound and Fieldsian repartee. I watched this on a DVD made off a video cassette Paramount released for their 75th Anniversary. Looked tolerable, and there's a fabulous organ score by Gaylord Carter.


Blogger Kevin K. said...

The "City Girl" plot itself is pretty ordinary, even cliched by 1930, yet is astonishingly well-made and moving. I saw it on a double bill with "Sunrise" eons ago. A truly extraordinary evening's entertainment.

10:14 AM  
Anonymous DBenson said...

A running theme in Fields films was the beautiful supportive daughter, whose own romance was eccentrically but at last successfully championed by Fields. Was this from Fields himself or a convenient go-to for getting romance into a story about an oppressed husband or an unrepentant con man?

I think in exactly one film — "Man on the Flying Trapeze" — his wife comes around to his side BEFORE the last-reel reversal of fortune (usually some improbable financial windfall that redeems him in the eyes of family and society).

Aside from that, I think the closest Fields himself came to romance was an implied reconciliation with an ex-wife -- Alison Skipworth, an irascible swindler like himself -- in "Tillie and Gus."

2:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The irony is that this and SUNRISE survive, but the inbetween Murnau number, FOUR DEVILS, doesn't.

2:43 PM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Just saw CITY GIRL for the first time, at our local art house cinema, part of a 'Minnesota Stories' series. Great live accompaniment was supplied by two gentlemen on guitar, banjo, fiddles and squeezebox! Packed house, by the way, apparently for two shows. Bowled us over... a few, perhaps unintentional, laughs but the audience seemed right there for Duncan through the end.

El Brendel was such a necessary ingredient in early Fox talkies and at one time I objected mightily. But these days I find him surprisingly watchable, even almost funny and sometimes just about the saving grace in the creakier vehicles.

Just last week I was putting a semi-slam here on United States Pictures. I guess I would have to admit they were nothing if not interesting, although on the whole not necessarily the best movie star vehicles.

4:31 PM  

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