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Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Watch List For 2/14/13

THE DOUGHGIRLS (1944) --- To know an upcoming watch is "zany" is oft-occasion to avoid it, since how often does zany truly work? I grooved with The Doughgirls for knowing none could surpass this wartime comedy for sheer dated-ness and ham-fisting for laughs. Like so many locked in time, The Doughgirls had Broadway "roaring" for two years, its author (Joseph A. Fields) responsible also for better-remembered My Sister Eileen. Warners' screen treatment affords glimpse to an era when even misfired mirth could bring down a crowded house with sheer, insistent noise, which The Doughgirls has plenty of, what with doors slamming, phones ringing, buzzers buzzing. The play kept everyone locked in a hotel suite, to which WB's cast is similarly trapped, inexperienced director James V. Kern without resource to open things up. Given right spirit, The Doughgirls can satisfy as sampling of what delighted viewership just off swing shifts. Titular girls are Ann Sheridan, Alexis Smith, and Jane Wyman, clad in shrouds that stood for 40's fashion, shoulder-padded to frightful affect. De-glammed Eve Arden in Russian uniform actually comes off a most attractive of the lot. Among male consorts, Jack Carson is loudest, with Charlie Ruggles most accomplished. The Doughgirls did well ($2.2 million in worldwide rentals), returned a profit, but disappeared after, except on television. Like Warner's same-year Janie, it spoke clearest to a then-audience, and tells us much of what ideal escapist entertainment amounted to in 1944.

DANCING SWEETIES (1930) --- This 1930 Warners not-quite musical (but much dance) struck me as a forty-seven year jump on Saturday Night Fever and a disco craze with couples similarly competing for "tin cups." Dance was evidently taken as seriously by youth in the late 20's/early 30's as it would be again in mid-to-late 70's, the only difference being music they swung to. For these Dancing Sweeties, club contests are a way of life and retreat from dullish work week. Grant Withers is a whiz on polished floors, not as much so elsewhere, while Sue Carol's an ebbing flapper who knows it's time to face reality off the jazz stand. Their marriage on impulse puts the two in bulls-eye of domestic drag to make both regret loss of nightlife's freedom. Bigger worries laid in wait for couples as Great Depression firmed grip, a topic movies, especially Warner's, confronted head-on within months of Dancing Sweeties (released 7-30). What's most engaging here, in fun sense, is spins, taps, so on, by pairs doing long-gone dance like the "Hullabaloo," plus under-titles footwork we'd need three years of Arthur Murray to duplicate. There's the value of Dancing Sweeties, and basis to see Warner Archive's very nice DVD.

BLITZ WOLF (1942) --- An almost oppressively wartime cartoon by Tex Avery, his first at MGM. You'd have to assume the newcomer had total creative license for wilder-than-Metro-attempted-before gags, these an advance by Avery on shorts he'd done for Warner Bros. Blitz Wolf hectors our having waited so long to get in the war, its Hitler-based lupine tempting peaceful pigs with treaties and promise to abstain. Someone (everyone!) really turned up volume in cartoons once WWII was declared. More shells blast here than in all of combat features combined. It's exhausting now, but imagine how spoiling-for-fight patronage responded then. Servicemen were said to be particularly responsive; a lot of them probably knew Avery by name for cartoons tailored to their taste. What with war on, you could turn up bawdy meters, if slightly. One spot has pigs singing You're In The Army Now, Tex freezing the action for a meaningful second after the line, "You're digging a ditch ...," giving us time to insert a following, "You son of a b---h," so censor-wary Avery won't have to. It's a cheeky jab that must have sent attendance into peals of cheer, further instance where Hollywood put one over on the Code.

SWEET AND LOWDOWN (1944) --- Another that was made for the moment, which in this case was 1944 and a peak of interest in swing and big bands. How's this to complement a significant other: You look like a book of red points (a sweet nothing whispered by Jack Oakie). Sweet and Lowdown also put me to Google search for the meaning of Tell It To Sweeny ("an expression of disbelief or skepticism"). Should I begin using it and risk looking even more like someone misplaced in time? Sweet and Lowdown got through that narrow window of war years when a swing troupe could alone sustain a feature's length and make us care re attempted mutiny within Benny Goodman ranks. His was an affable presence, abetted by Fox folk Linda Darnell (approaching an end to her ingénue period), Lynn Bari, and reliable, if over-aging Oakie, as a hanger-on who longs to play trombone with the boys. For music mavens there's bounty, almost wall-to-wall, which helps. Disposable as Kleenex then, but valuable to us as record of fashion as to music, dress, and deportment circa '44 when Goodman and likes were all but gods off Olympus.

THE LOTTERY BRIDE (1930) --- Wacky in that treasured way of musicals at starting gate of sound, a period to which I tend giving benefit of every doubt. What they do right, I'll seize upon, as what goes wrong (much) is easier excused. Here's how Bride wins my lottery: It has a dirigible, and better still, it crashes. Any primitive talker with a dirigible that crashes secures my vote. This one looks like a George Mêliés creation, so cue further applause. There's also Arctic-set gingerbread houses designed by William Cameron Menzies, another big plus. Should I mention Joe E. Brown and ZaSu Pitts staging a dance marathon in what is otherwise an operetta? Characters burst into song from left field and then some. Never have I seen more noble sacrifice toted up in a single feature. Denial of true love is rampant, misunderstandings rife. Isn't that the way of operetta? (and maybe part reason why contempo crowds won't sit for it) Jeanette MacDonald is at a singing start here and fits easiest into The Lottery Bride's milieu. I'm aggrieved that my Kino DVD lacks footage and a Technicolor finale that adorn Eastman House's rescue, but maybe my 67 minutes is gracious plenty, and best not to tempt tedium with an added reel.


Blogger Ralph Schiller said...

"The Doughgirls" is an amusing wartime comedy with the always wonderful Eve Arden stealing the film. Look for 'Curly-Joe' DeRita
playing an exhausted little man desperately searching for a room in overcrowded wartime Washington, D.C.!

"The Lottery Bride" (1930) is a fun musical comedy. Joe E. Brown is very funny in it on his way to becoming a top star at Warner Brothers. One thing I noticed is that Jeanette MacDonald looks different than in her MGM days (before her nose bob)!

Even in an off-camera moment with Alan Hale and Jeffrey Lynn having fun, Zachary Scott looks as serious and intent as ever. He was a magnificent screen actor.

9:03 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Another great grouping... really enjoyed your thoughts on films both 'zany' and 'wacky'. I, for one, am just happy to live in a world that could, at one time, beget a movie with the title DANCING SWEETIES!

Back in the 80's and 90's, had many backyard Friday night 16mm shows for the kids and their friends and never had a complaint from the neighbors. Except once. Was screening a beat-up black and white print of the raucous BLITZ WOLF when the lady next door came running up, holding her ears. "What the hell is that?"

9:32 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

That photo of Sue Carroll is gorgeous! I never realized what a honey she was.

And that "digging a ditch" gag in "Blitz Wolf" makes it funnier than if they had actually sung it.

2:36 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer on today's banner:

Alan Hale at least appears to be in earnest, sitting on that bicycle in the photograph on your banner. He's wearing a turtle neck sweater, dungarees, and high-top athletic shoes, so you know that he's not using it just to get from one set to another. Zachary Scott, however, seems a bit askance about this whole thing. There's a cigarette in his hand and an expression on his face suggesting that he's about to deliver himself of one of those scathing remarks that made his demise so welcome in so many of his films. But did this sort of exercise do Alan Hale any good? He looks old and worn, and in fact he would die two years later at the age of 58, of a liver ailment complicated by a virus. Maybe it was the wear and tear of making 11 films with Errol Flynn. It's never too late, they say, except when it is. Zachary Scott, on the other hand, did not do quite as well. He was 34 when this photograph was taken. He died at the age of 51, of a brain tumor.

7:41 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

I was privileged to have had many telephone conversations with Tex Avery before he died. At first he did not want to talk but when he understood that my interests run deeper than those of most he welcomed me to call him. He set only one proviso. I was not to interrupt his football games. The man I spoke with and learned from was a far cry from the sad, defeated man others claim he was at the time. I did not know he had terminal cancer until I read his obituary. I even spoke with him when he was on his death bed in the hospital. His passing came as a genuine shock.
From Tex I learned that when he arrived at MGM he was told by producer Fred Quimby, "Son, we don't want your Warner Brothers rowdieness in our MGM cartoons." Tex figured it would not be cool to quit so he set out to get fired.
He followed BLITZ WOLF with DUMBHOUNDED which introduced Droopy and which was the most violent cartoon made anywhere up until then. When that did not work Tex made RED HOT RIDING HOOD which featured Red Riding Hood as an exotic dancer in a Hollywood niteclub and granny as, obviously, a nymphomaniac with the hots for the wolf.
When the chief purchasing officer for the armed forces order five hundred copies of RED HOT RIDING HOOD for the troops overseas Avery got a fifteen year contract. After that, when asked how to succeed in life, Tex would reply, “Just do your best to get fired. It works every time.” And it does.
The man was and is an inspiration.

9:24 AM  

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