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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Watch List For 12/19/12

THE THING (1951) --- The best ones evoke different thought each time we watch. It lately occurred to me that Dr. Carrington really should answer for at least two deaths and the near-loss of his Arctic crew to the titular carrot-monster. Could the Army court-martial a scientist? As to names credited or not, how could anyone other than Hawks have directed The Thing? The science explanation for thinking vegetables seems plausible --- are there such things? Humor throughout is what makes The Thing eternally watchable, that and lines stepping on and over each other that makes this seem a fastest-paced of all sci-fi's. The best movie dialogue often seems ad-libbed. Did any of that go on here? I wonder if Hawks gave Christian Nyby director credit in part to minimize association with a Man From Mars pic. Would he have returned to the genre had same not been so cheapened by exploiters to come? I guess it's enough that Hawks' was the pattern from which they'd all copy.

COW COUNTRY (1953) --- Part of Allied Artists' effort to upgrade program westerns from series level of Johnny Mack Brown, Whip Wilson, others. Cow Country lacks Cinecolor lavished on AA-produced Rod Camerons, but more than tightens slack with involving narrative and reunited frontier faces known over decades of actioning. Tried-true overseer Scott R. Dunlap was veteran of a seeming thousand westerns and knew how to realize max values for a minimum spent, while directing Lesley Selander brought expertise a result of herding horseflesh since silents. These represented a breed of men who'd made B westerns an industry's ongoing (and great) institution. With series cowboys now fazed out, Cow Country and similars would embody outdoor pics to support mainstream bills, or fill Saturday schedules, this enabled by use of names, like Edmond O'Brien here, who'd been associated with a variety of genres and could bring star luster to marquees (talk about range --- Eddie did this the same year he played Casca in MGM's Julius Caesar). A good thing too about such policy was fact it kept former B west participants active in support parts. Even ancient-est of mariners Raymond Hatton got a few day's pay for Cow Country, and there is Barton McLaine, Bob Wilke, others to provide visual shorthand as to their character's evil intent. Allied Artists westerns of the 50's have the happy facility of nearly always turning out better than expected, so I don't miss ones that surface on TCM, or from Warner Archive.

LEST WE FORGET (1937) --- A one-reel MGM tribute to recently departed Will Rogers that borrows talent Gary Cooper and Harry Carey to give testimony of Will's beloved-ness. Effort was applied here --- three directors, one of them Henry Hathaway, plus outdoor greet between Cooper and Carey, whom we're led to believe live on adjoining ranches. What a blow to Hollywood was Will's death (Coop refers to him as "Bill"), especially for Fox where WR vehicles were huge domestic (but not foreign) earners. Clips from these were made available to Metro for the short, Fox mindful no doubt of ongoing reissue value Rogers pics would have. Oklahoma's governor accepts donation of Will Rogers nitrate to store in state archives, making me wonder if the stuff is still there, and what, if any, of the prints might be last survivors. A Robert Taylor speech to the audience tells of the memorial hospital being built for biz folk treatment at Saranac Lake, and a several minute blackout with Auld Lang Syne on the track gives ushers time to go among patronage and collect what must have been first donations to an institution that would endure right to present day.

CRIMINAL COURT (1946) --- Tom Conway mouthpiecing to flamboyant courtroom effect in a "B" assigned to neophyte Robert Wise, this a modest last before he embarked upon Born To Kill, Blood On The Moon, and other RKO's that would establish this fine director. Wonder how many in 1946 saw chief heavy Robert Armstrong and exclaimed, Oh Yeah, the King Kong guy. Was there ever a part to cast such a long shadow over later work? Criminal Court was economy-made even for RKO. There's a night club set I'd guess was built for someone else's "A." Conway always seemed worthy to do bigger things, but then, where would B's have been without him? Talent really did amount to embarrassment of riches in those days, and overrun of it cropped up even in humble circumstance of a Criminal Court, just another that filled lower berths when double-featuring was near across-board policy.

THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK (1939) --- James Whale had his last big success with this Edward Small-produced costumer, done for comparative pittance, but finessed to look a million by JW's master hand. Long, yes, but I stayed engaged. Nice to finally have this on an excellent DVD. You can smite Small, but if not for guys like him, there might have been no work for late-career Whale. Corners got cut by necessity, which makes admirable lush result achieved. Rescuing musketeers are led by wonderfully (off) cast Warren William as d'Artagnan, a seeming unlikelihood that ends up Iron Mask's brightest bauble. Louis Hayward is twinned on a split-screen, process work otherwise a little crude at times, but therein lies much of fun. This Iron Mask man made a big hit and should have restored James Whale to greatness ($1.6 million in worldwide rentals against neg costs of $652K). Was he wrecked by studio politics and inability (or unwillingness) to gee-haw with industry movers?

BLACK CYCLONE (1925) --- Mighty hoof-prints were left by wild horse king REX, all caps-name spell earned by deeds performed in silent outdoor actioners under Hal Roach banner. Rex needed no one in the saddle to pursue adventure. We don't see a human face until fifteen minutes into Black Cyclone, the second of a lucrative group that totaled four between 1924 and '27. One per annum was the serving, Rex pics thought special by showmen who knew from crowd-pleasing. Black Cyclone was filmed on near 100% location, these co-photographed by starting-out George Stevens. The miracle mount, devil steed, whatever they'd call him, quells mountain lion attack, human villainy, and rival equine for his mate's devotion. Don't know how they staged horse fights here (hope no cruelty), but it's a charge watching them go at one another tooth and hoof. Titles are floridly written and delightful. Got Black Cyclone from Jack Hardy's Grapevine Video in what looks to derive from original Kodascope, with a fine organ score by David Knudston.

DANGEROUS PARADISE (1930) --- Bill Wellman seems to have been innovating right from talkies' get-go. Assistant director Arthur Jacobson said the director broke rules laid down by erstwhile sound "experts" Paramount panic-hired to ramrod first pics that spoke. Bill wasn't long debunking their edicts to get things done his own instinctive way. Dangerous Paradise puts a fluid camera at Wellman's service that smooth-tracks a cast and scotches notion that early talker equipment must all be nailed down. The story travels as well, from sleazy to sleazier port, Catalina a pleaser stand-in for South Sea climes. Nancy Carroll was the sudden sweetheart off 1929's Sweetie and so received top-billing, despite lead man Dick Arlen having come off super-hit Wings. Was Arlen already losing a grip on stardom? Wellman liked the actor, used him often, but Arlen in talkies was less expressive than he'd been voiceless, so it is to Carroll that best impression goes. She'd get parts you wish could be shared with Clara Bow, the latter making do on scraps left after NC and fellow Para upcomer Sylvia Sidney got theirs. Liveliest of inhabitants on this Dangerous Paradise are villains Warner Oland, Gustav Von Seyffertitz, and sniveling Clarence Wilson. Wellman keeps most violence offscreen, but impact is felt. A gun-played disposal of antagonists makes for sock concluding, the whole mess cleaned up in less than an hour's running time.

SEA DEVILS (1937) --- They'd not take Vic McLaglen out of big-lug actioners even after Academy Awarding for two years' previous The Informer, Sea Devils' very title a blind alley for programmers before and after similarly named, thus easily confused. Vic's older but not wiser, has a daughter that raw recruit Preston Foster goes after, both guys a tad mature to re-cycle Flagg/Quirt tropes. Edward Small independently produced for RKO release, result surpassing B level in-house effort would have yielded. Disaster set-pieces at the beginning and end might derive at least partly from stock footage, though I didn't recognize a big-scale shipwreck from elsewhere. There's cute-as-a-bug Ida Lupino at ingénue work prior to neuroses of later Paramount and Warner roles. McLaglen and Foster beat each other senseless to no purpose other than spiking an otherwise languid pace. Catch by all means happy bonus of Dwight Frye as a ship's radio operator given to hysteric outburst. Writer Frank "Spig" Wead, of many and exemplary peacetime service pics, contributes here.


Anonymous Ralph Schiller said...

Tom Conway and Edmond O'Brien were terrific screen actors. O'Brien won a "Best Supporting Actor" Oscar for the only good thing about the otherwise boring "The Barefoot Contessa" (1954) with Humphrey Bogart and Ava Gardner.

Edward Small was a fascinating producer for so many decades in Hollywood. You could do an entire page on the highlight's of Small's varied and oddball career with films like "Black Magic" (1949) starring Orson Welles in an elaborate 'costume period noir' and the ridicules "The Wicked Dream Of Paula Schultz" (1968) starring Bob Crane and Elke Sommer!

Ralph Schiller

9:19 AM  
Anonymous Dbenson said...

Small was also behind the Robert Donat "Count of Monte Cristo", which is still my favorite version. First saw it in college in the 70's, where the melodrama and sly wit played like gangbusters -- especially the climactic trial scene.

Small went on to produce "Son of Monte Cristo" -- not quite in a class with "Count" or "Iron Mask", but a lot of fun in its casting and its cheerful liftings from almost every swashbucker EXCEPT "Count of Monte Cristo." Villainous George Sanders is a self-made commoner with aspirations beyond his birth -- just a little odd, since most American films very emphatically side with the low-born underdog (Even "Iron Mask" made the king evil and his humble twin the hero).

3:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sure it's a coincidence, but it's interesting to note that the Allen Theater marquee for RKO Radio's "The Thing from Another World" uses the same uninspired slogan the studio used for "Citizen Kane:" "It's Terrific," in the upper right.--Mark H

7:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love today's masthead...There's our old friend Joe Johnson again, pictured between two of his associates on the sidewalk outside the ill-fated Allen Theater, which burned to the ground, I believe, in '62; RED RIVER was being reprised at the time, or was about to, the next day. Joe was the ticket-taker, once the patrons stepped inside the lobby. His presence there was part of the magic of going to the movies for a young boy such as myself, where I saw BRIDES OF DRACULA and The Three Stooges in HAVE ROCKET, WILL TRAVEL for the first time. After the fire, Joe ran a little grocery store near my house, and worked there for the rest of his life.

1:38 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

What I love about our Allen Theatre's marquee for "The Thing" is Howard Hawks' name featured prominently. Who says it took the French to discover HH? His name obviously meant something even in a small town like mine.

And Brick, I guess it took a nitrate-load of "Red River" to burn the Allen down, but could you pick a better title to light the fuse?

10:47 AM  
Anonymous Bob said...

By far my favorite version of Iron Mask -- and William makes the picture. (Though Louis' Noel Coward imitation is quite good!)

1:04 PM  
Anonymous Ralph Schiller said...

Dbenson is right in that the Edward Small productions on the "Monte Cristo" were by far the best. The two sequels with
Louis Hayward are great fun but the Robert Donat classic was the finest.

I remember the sad passing of
Tom Conway in 1967. It was a tiny little newspaper blurb on page 10 about an inch square which said in essence that the brother of George Sanders died forgotten in poverty.

For his last film "What A Way To Go" (1964) he only had a bit role.

Ralph Schiller

1:51 PM  
Anonymous mido505 said...

If I remember correctly, MAN IN THE IRON MASK was Peter Cushing's film debut. I believe Cushing had a tiny onscreen part, but most of his work consisted of doubling Louis Hayward in the dual scenes. Whale hated Hayward, whom he directed by telling him to "move over there, will you?" Whale also loathed producer Small. Supposedly Whale spent most of the production sitting under the camera, reading the paper and smoking a very large cigar. When the DP complained that Whale's cigar smoke was coming over the lens, Whale told him not to worry, no one would notice.

2:19 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I was glad to see the positive words for COW COUNTRY, I saw it a few weeks ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. A nice solid piece of movie entertainment. Little discoveries such as COW COUNTRY are one reason I enjoy exploring "lesser-known" titles.

Also enjoyed CRIMINAL COURT and am a real fan of Tom Conway and his "B" movies. My favorite is TWO O'CLOCK COURAGE costarring Ann Rutherford, directed by Anthony Mann.

Best wishes,

5:36 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Glad you also liked these B's, Laura, and have noticed your support of them at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings. A great thing about this category is the fact there are so many of them out there left to see, and TCM has been very good about running them, in addition to what's released by the Warner Archive, plus Columbia and Fox's On-Demand DVD lines.

6:06 PM  
Anonymous Jim Reid said...

I don't know about Fox sending nitrate prints of the Rogers vehicles to Oklahoma. In the early 80s, I was production manager at the PBS station in Tulsa. My boss informed me that the Will Rogers Memorial in nearby Claremore wanted to get their 16mm prints transferred to 3/4 inch videocassettes. We had a film chain at the time, and every couple of weeks, a van from the memorial would show up with a bunch of film cases and boxes of new tape stock. There were all but three of the Fox features. I was told by the guy from the memorial that the studio had donated the prints to the state in 1938. They were pretty torn up, and I had to repair most of them before the transfer. A couple of years ago, when I was visiting Oklahoma, I drove up to the Memorial. I talked to the media guy who had been there nearly 20 years. He said he remembered the tapes I made, but there was no film when he arrived. Not sure what happened to all those prints.

2:40 AM  

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