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Saturday, March 30, 2013

John Gilbert Soldiers On

John Gilbert was so much the broken idol throughout his talkie career as to make difficult viewing even for admirers. Several JG fans of long acquaintance admit never having seen/heard him talk. Alone was Gilbert, I think, for swapping chips of super-silent stardom for venture down ever-darkening character tunnels. Case to point: His 1931 West Of Broadway. Jack has drunkenly wed a stranger (Lois Moran) to spite another who's given him air. The morn-after finds Gilbert wanting off the hook. He shuffles in from a separate bedroom, heebie-jeebies in evidence, offering a check to forget the whole thing. After a fashion of romantic leading men (not!), JG fights a losing battle with alcoholic shakes and palsied hands, as authentic a glimpse of addict suffering as you'd see in mainstream H'wood of the day. Too real, I'd venture, for dream purchasers discomfited by a once romantic paragon Big Parading troubled offscreen life, patrons wise to that thanks to merciless press coverage of Gilbert's decline.

Jack had dropped to studio label of Grossly Overpaid. Contract renewal with Loew's during Broadway's forever-run of The Big Parade by-passed negotiation with Mayer and minions in favor of direct pledge to bigger chief Nicholas Schenck. No one then pictured Gilbert as a star at risk, thus was commitment of $250K per pic with no options (that is, escape clause for Leo). Four years rich grazing was Jack's, plus what seemed an emerald bridge over his segueing to sound, failure of which came among an industry's bigger shocks. By 1931 and West Of Broadway, fan press made no secret of MGM paying money for nothing, all of JG's since His Glorious Night in a revenue dive. I never bought that Mayer rigged equipment to queer the Gilbert voice, too much cash involved to indulge even LB's animus toward a star plunging fast enough on his own. Gilbert hated weak pictures assigned to him, but told West Of Broadway support Ralph Bellamy he'd clean spittoons for stipends now regretted at Loew's leisure.

So maybe he could relax and focus on the acting. Trouble (among much) was Jack not able to sleep, for days at a time. He'd drag in dispirited from this and a hundred causes from which hindsight can pick: bleeding ulcers, alcohol abuse, probable manic depression ... that latter suggested by sometimes wildly up/down temperament. There's a moment in West Of Broadway where someone recommends Jack get rest, to which he gives new meaning to despaired one-word line reading: Sleep! --- that avenue foreclosed to both Gilbert and the character he was playing. I'm satisfied that the best "personality" players got their immortality letting private life bleed into roles. A lot of West Of Broadway is Jack doing demolition duty on his silent lover image, a process disturbed/diminishing fans wouldn't sit for.

Critics were oblivious as well to Gilbert's progression (and it was progress --- he really soars in these '31-32 talkers). One said "a galloping, romantic picture" would restore him, but Jack's self-awareness, and talent matured thanks to that, would not accommodate going back. Besides, talkies wouldn't accommodate a silent Gilbert sort of vehicle. I'd say he was more than equipped to make the precode jump --- in fact, he did --- just not in product audiences embraced or MGM put best effort toward selling. Promised-to-him Grand Hotel or Red Dust were the stuff of comebacks, if not romantic galloping. Jack might have played Grand's Barrymore part better than Barrymore (I'd rather have him in it), and chances are he'd have brought more irony and life experience to the eventual Gable role in Red Dust. It's finally pointless to ponder what-ifs --- I limit mine to Gilbert and like cases that should have had a different outcome, and almost surely would have, if not for a wrong choice here or broken pledge there.

West Of Broadway almost answers the Whatever Happened To ... of Gilbert's character in The Big Parade. Back from the Great War, wounded Jack has comic sidekick El Brendel, "picked up in the Argonne," and immediate from docking, gets love's letdown with descent to drink for a chaser. So much of this was commonplace to precode, with its taken for granted smart dialogue and nuanced performing. Gilbert plays the alcoholic like a home movie. I've read repeatedly of his pics having been flipped off by Metro in all-but-deliberate effort to wash Jack up, but was he worse served than other lead men the studio couldn't retrofit to sound? Seems looking back that it was mostly newcomers who got a leg up. If anything, Gilbert colleagues Ramon Novarro, William Haines, and Buster Keaton, also popularized in silents, were tied to heavier anchors than Jack (I watched Haines' Way Out West the other day --- ye gods!). Could even a surviving Lon Chaney have risen above such corporate mismanagement?

1931 reviews for West Of Broadway seem unreasonably savage. Precode's public had it so good then as to cull much that was fine from litters, and overexposure could be an issue for players collecting high weekly checks. Gilbert had three features out that year, negating chance any one of them could excel. Product had to stand completely on what he brought to it. By later work (including West Of Broadway) and a greater public's perception of burnout, JG had no chance left. WOB captures all the moods he must have felt, throws off welcome vibe of Jack being Jack, and never mind a script more effort could have improved. If the early 30's had reality shows, West Of Broadway was one. My suggest would be to read Leatrice Gilbert Fountain's splendid book about her father, then watch. West Of Broadway is recently out from Warner Archive, a more than welcome DVD and highly recommended.

More John Gilbert at Greenbriar Archives: Desert Nights, His Glorious Night, and The Grand Hotel That Might Have Been.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Vault Watch For 3/28/13

THE DEVIL BEATING TIME --- Here's a 1964 art house revival of Beat The Devil in L.A. The film had lost money ten years before on initial release and star Humphrey Bogart was said to have regarded it a washout (he took a beating on personal funds invested). An early cult developed around Beat The Devil and sophisticates called it arch parody of thrillers the cast had done before. Patronage in the end might have preferred another thriller and to H with Devil's arch parody. Bogart could have used a straighter dose of gin by 1954 and gone-long separation from vehicles that had won his following. The Enforcer from 1951 seemed a last in that vein, and appropriately released by Warners. HB had been announced for The System in 1953, but chose to end the pact with WB, by mutual consent. Frank Lovejoy toplined The System instead. The picture was good with Lovejoy; with Bogart and one of his approved directors (Raoul Walsh?), it might have been exceptional. Beat The Devil was a John Huston indulgence, the only one of their collaborations I find hard to watch. It needed studio polish, and who wants Bogart in an ascot sending up crime we'd rather see him knee deep in, or opposed to? The 1964 ad at top was clear aimed for art consumption, what with possessory credits for John Huston and Truman Capote (and note misleading ad art above from 1954's initial release). Bogart had sold his interest in Beat The Devil to Columbia in February 1955. They possess original elements that look by far the best.

GO AHEAD: PASTE IT --- The above is suitable for framing, assuming Photoshop skills allow impose of your own foto among these Fab Four. My recall of the Beatles suggest that girls circa 1964 would have been comfortable lifted aloft by them. This quartet amounted to a safe date. Cheeky yes, threatening never. The fantasy pose was on page two of a teen fan mag the likes of which my '64 eyes scanned by on quest for monster covers, the two formats often side-by-side on newsstand shelves. In fact, I wonder if Sixteen or year-later Lloyd Thaxton's Tiger Beat didn't crowd out Horror Monsters or, heaven forbid, Castle Of Frankenstein on many racks. The cover of this Beatle dollop also promised an "intimate talk" with Peter and Gordon, along with insight as to what Jane Asher (Paul's GF at the time) was "really like" (I'd have said go see Masque Of The Red Death and find out). And which two of the Dave Clark Five were wed? Didn't matter so much as a same query put to the Beatles. I remember the first night the Mop Tops appeared on Ed Sullivan. Seems there was "Sorry Girls, He's Married" superimposed over a close-up of John Lennon at one point. Does anyone else recall this?

CLEVELAND'S CINERAMA HOLIDAY --- In a perfect world, Cinerama would still be running, like planetariums or the zoo. Will IMAX someday face similar extinction? Maybe I should pay more attention to IMAX while we still have access. The Born Too Late mantra certainly applies to this 1957 Cinerama date. I'll bet other three-year-olds taken at the time to this Cleveland premiere count Cinerama Holiday as their earliest vivid memory. Wouldn't you? The extravaganza appears to have begun outside, with television and two radio outlets live from the scene. Holiday was the Palace's second Cinerama show, the first having played years. You didn't have to be in New York or LA to sustain a run of Cinerama: that's how special it was. Assume there were Cleveland-ers who'd been to see This Is Cinerama a dozen times. I'd have made it a regular activity, but wait, look at these admissions. Seeing Cinerama wasn't cheap; sort of like 3D today but with greater novelty and entertainment value. And imagine the Caravan Of 1957 Holiday Oldsmobiles snaking down city blocks toward the Palace, with Pittsburgh Swiss Yodelers to accompany. Oh, for a glimpse of Cleveland that night!

OLD-TIMERS REUNION OFF THE WIRE --- I met producer A.C. Lyles once and mentioned the westerns he'd done during the 60's for Paramount release. He acted ashamed of them, but need not have. They were plenty OK for program pix, supporting bigger Para product on combos still a habit for then-theatres, and stock has risen for the group thanks to increased interest in vet players making in some cases final stand before a camera. Lyles' were echoes of B westerns gone from the scene a decade by the time he began doing his in color/scope. Near as I can make it, there were thirteen of these. All are choked with folks who'd been in the business at least twenty years, some with marquee value yet in small towns where fans hadn't forgotten. I'd catch them at Liberty doubles, Waco with Rasputin, The Mad Monk for instance. Would be great to have the lot on DVD, but I think Paramount only released one that way. The "mock massacre" in this gag photo emphasizes the years these guys toted up as a group, and 1490 past-pix between them! Wonder what Paramount flak did that math, or maybe it was lifelong buff Lyles himself.

OZONER ONSLAUGHT --- What a hook drive-ins threw out to suckers. This one's baited with promise of hot stuff with three sirens of the day: Marilyn Monroe, Jane Russell, and Rita Hayworth, none of which were seen to advantage in pix unspooled here. I like the slam at 3-D: You Don't Need Glasses To See These Lasses. Whoever dreamed that up should have ridden front in that year's Oldsmobile Parade. Also note A Blonde, Brunette, and Titian. Does anyone use the word "Titian" anymore in referring to redheads? Wouldn't there be risk of being, shall we say, misunderstood? Love Nest Bared! must surely have been misunderstood to regret of ticket-buyers, as the 1951 Fox feature was anything but delivery on the title's promise, though there was Marilyn Monroe briefly in swim attire. The Naughty Widow had been going by that misleading title for a while, being actually Young Widow and dating back to 1946. Haven't seen it, but doubt Jane Russell being "naughty" at any point, considering censor vigilance where her image was concerned. The Fiery Senorita must remain a mystery. Surely this wasn't a western Rita Hayworth did with Tex Ritter in the late 30's. In that event, She Couldn't Stop Lovin' would have translated to They Couldn't Stop Leavin', cars exiting the Fox Capitol Drive-In's parking lot, that is.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Watch List For 3/25/13

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963) --- James Bond veers left of Dr. No's comic book thrilling to beat Russians and SPECTRE out of a decoder with no specific military or strategic value, just a box we'd call "McGuffin" after Hitchcock example. Interesting was borrow of that device, as The Master disdained on-the-nose intrigues of 007 and further steals from his canon (Russia's helicopter assault on Bond a grab off North By Northwest). Would youth today that like Daniel Craig quick-cuts sit for this? 007's briefcase  introduced here was what Santa brought me for 1965 Christmas. The case itself fell apart readily enough, but I still have the billfold, rubber dagger, pistol, and scope. Russia was always the "thinking" Bond fan's favorite, "the most like Fleming's novels." Is there snobbery afoot here? FRWL suited me fine with Dr. No for a summer '65 combo, being starved as I was for anything to freshen gulp of Goldfinger that so revolutionized this boy's theatre-going.

Modesty was maintained in the second of Bonds --- elephantitis still a couple of entries off. Latter-half travel over rails emits warm glow of Sherlock Holmes and Hitchcock (him again) having train-crossed to final dénouement with villainy. In fact, much of what happens after Connery subdues Robert Shaw while aboard seems anti-climactic. I'd almost forgotten stuff with the helicopter and boats until here they were again, but not the stinger of Lotte Lenya's (and how) orthopedic shoes. Bondian lifestyle is further explored and celebrated. I like just watching his check-ins and scan of hotel digs for bugging gear. Little things Connery did made such difference, like hesitation before tossing his hat on the bed, then going ahead as if to tempt bad luck. Did SC ad-lib this, or was it in the writing? 007 menu choices are always healthy ones. Should I order green figs and yogurt for my next Hadley's breakfast, or will they send me packing for deviation from biscuits/gravy and near-raw bacon per usual? The Blu-Ray of From Russia With Love is fantastic --- I don't know how it could look any better.

CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) --- At last on home 3-D, other than 16mm abridgements sold decades ago by Universal with red/green spectacles that lent small enhancement to depth effect. Does the added dimension click on digital? For me, most definitely. Glasses I used were more like goggles, light loss made up by Uni's exemplary transfer. Part of why 3-D tanked in the 50's was slapdash projection. Not a problem here, margins for error being reduced considerably thanks to digital rather than further attempt at Polaroid or stone-age go at Simplex sync-up. I now recognize 3-D as essential adjunct to Creature viewing, and am resolved not to watch again the flat way (and by all means, Universal, include Revenge Of The Creature with 2013's hoped-for further packaging of Blu-Ray monsters).

The Gill Man's triumph lay largely in the suit, plus sympathetic qualities (like Frankenstein's monster, he's more sinned against than sinning) that align him with gothic-bred forebears. Did science-fiction's first 50's cycle incubate other outcasts whose pain we so felt? Dinosaurs were maybe too large and impersonal for group hugs, and being animated or man-in-a-suit, could not achieve expressive range of the Creature (was King Kong the only really big monster that managed it?). Gilly's was admittedly a limited wardrobe, but he was a most exquisitely turned-out of beasts Universal generated during the 50's, this Creature truly off costuming's Savile Row. I wonder if he wasn't the leading boy-crush of Aurora model builders who'd take exquisite pains at painting webbed hands just so.

My closest brush with a real-life Creature was a hotel register encounter with Ben Chapman at which he asked to borrow my pen. Yes, he did. But I didn't seek an autograph in return. Why not? Guess it's tough associating a human face with the Gill-Man's. Of course, these were numerous through the three-pic series. I like how Richard Carlson stands down at the first one's end rather than finishing the Creature off. Left unsaid, but distinctly understood, was Let's Save Him For the Sequel, which everyone on board surely knew would come. I'm only amazed that Universal hasn't got round to rebooting the Gill-Man (but am aware of aborted attempts toward that over years since '54).

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Metro's Monster Model For 1961

MGM Offers Its Initial Trade Ad on 1-23-61 for Gorgo 

The producing King Brothers had made thirty-eight pictures since 1940. Gorgo would be their thirty-ninth. Herman, Frank, and Maurice mastered whatever genres made money, and lately, that was science-fiction. Gorgo went before cameras in September 1959 and was nearly a year finishing. The Kings were a corporation with, according to sales whiz Herman, 1800 stockholders. A deal was locked for Metro release in May 1960, Gorgo being shot on MGM-British stages  in addition to locations (Variety called it "a British quota pic"). Metro had large UK facilities. Sluggish use over a past couple years had tempted outright sale of the lot, but then things perked up in 1958-59 and the place became, in Variety's parlance, "a busy and profitable beehive." The Kings were happy to stage Gorgo on Brit isles, Maurice telling Motion Picture Exhibitor's Mel Konecoff that a potential three million dollar job was completed for $1.5 million (actual cost more like $650K) thanks to lower UK tab and qualification under that country's Eady Plan, which, according to Konecoff, meant "one-third of the taxes levied (on Gorgo) were returned to the producers."

The Company Gorgo Kept: Metro's Line-Up For 1961

Herman told trades that he and brothers financed Gorgo entirely on their own and that Metro was merely a distributor in worldwide territories outside England (where the Kings handled the pic via British Lion). Columnist Army Archerd reported Metro's sales department "mucho excited" at prospect of pushing Gorgo, this in July 1960 when the beast looked to land for Thanksgiving over here. That wouldn't happen, as Gorgo work was still ongoing, but MGM planned well ahead, knowing that a best way to handle exploitation shows was to spread them out. Besides, they already had Village Of The Damned set for a sixty theatre opening on December 7, 1960, this one also out of their British facility and looking like a potential sleeper. What any thriller needed was selling initiative with saturation play, and MGM had just the man to direct that for Gorgo.

The Gorgo Delegation, Each With a Pressbook, Getting Ready To Hear From
Merchandising Mastermind Terry Turner

I've spoken of Terry Turner before. He was, in brief, a showmanship genius. There ought to be books about him instead of yet more on names pounded to death in print. Turner was largely what made King Kong's 1952 revival click. He'd do the same for The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms a year later. TT tuned Godzilla's stateside engine and helped Paramount put over War Of The Worlds. By 1960, he was recognized as go-to for whatever sci-fi needed thrust. MGM kept him aboard planes and dining on hotel food for that year's merchandising of The Time Machine and Village Of The Damned. Those two got domestic rentals of  $1.9 and $1.4 million respectively on far less dollars spent. The Time Machine's negative cost was $829K, with Village, Brit-made and Eady Plan assisted like Gorgo, coming in for a mere $320K.

It Wasn't Really a World Premiere, But Japan
Was a Long Way Off, So Who'd Know?
Metro announced in December 1960 that Gorgo would open wide in Japan first, with a January date that was moved up to December 24, twenty-five theatres in principal cities participating. Seventy-five percent of Japan's television stations would take part in advance promotion. Herman King exulted over Nippon numbers posted, his estimate a cool $300,000 for revenues just out of that country, this for a sub-titled version of Gorgo. The King's plan was to dub Japanese-language for another Gor-go, which according to Herman, would spur "an extra 5000 playdates" for the film. Metro meanwhile prepared domestic TV promotion for Gorgo, a record twenty-four different spots. Variety said they wanted to exploit the pic on a "for the whole family" pitch. The spots were said to meet audience needs of all age groups in any situation or timeslot. Terry Turner spent much of December in New York squaring away the TV campaigns as ground was laid for a February 10, 1961 Gorgo premiere in Philadelphia.

Snow's On The Ground, But That Won't Deter Crowds From Seeing Gorgo in Philadelphia

The Fox Theatre's Window Display
The Fox Theatre in Philadelphia was part of the Milgram circuit. It seated 2,200. Maurice Goldberg was with Milgram's advertising department. He was handed Gorgo's all-important first US engagement (billed as a "World Premiere" despite Japan's earlier access). What happened in Philly in terms of exploitation would guide campaigns throughout the country. The important thing to sell is the magnitude of this gigantic monster, comparing it to the cinema mammoth creatures of the past, said Goldberg. Toward that end, he suggested ads using art of Godzilla and King Kong on a much smaller scale than Gorgo in order to emphasize his greater threat. FIRST THERE WAS 'KING KONG'! THEN THERE WAS 'GODZILLA'! AND NOW THIS IS THE BIG ONE, read copy. 60,000 four-page Gorgo heralds were distributed in "the thickly populated areas of the lower income bracket." Now there's insight as to where push for monster movies was most effectively directed in those days. Were shows like Gorgo a province of the poor, in Philadelphia if not elsewhere?

Milgram had three other theatres nearby, and each plugged Gorgo. Two twenty-foot cutouts of the beast with flashing red eyes sat atop the Fox's marquee. Kable News, which printed Famous Monsters Of Filmland magazine, tied up with Philly's United News Company to put a special issue featuring Gorgo at all newsstands serviced by United, thirty trucks emblazoned with Gorgo advertising and reference to Famous Monsters out on streets. It was neither the first nor last time FM would team with merchandisers of a scare film. Gorgo's pressbook tendered James Warren's address to those showmen who'd care to stock copies. So why such extraordinary effort in Philadelphia? MGM spent heavy here because result in terms of high gross would help Gorgo bookings down the line. Monster movies certainly weren't automatic sellers. It took real showmanship to break one away from the pack.

Gorgo's stand in Philadelphia lasted three weeks, good in any man's language for this sort of product. Obviously, a lot of those poor folks got up the scratch to attend. Youngsters too ... by the thousands. A first week did what Variety called a wow $26,000, with all-day lines over (the) weekend, said the trade. A plunge that came with the second frame was probably expected: $13,000. Still, it was OK for perceived kid stuff. A third week's $8,000 ended the party, Gorgo ceding to another from Metro, Go Naked In The World. At least there were initial high numbers to crow about, and reports by early March from Cincinnati had Gorgo tumbling turnstiles to a "grand" $15,000 opener week, indication that Philly was no flash in the pan. Still, Metro took a breath before spreading to other territories. First of these was 100 theatre saturation in the New York area beginning March 29, then fifty Chicago spots on March 31. April 19 was date set for fifty New England opens. Terry Turner continued supervising Gorgo's campaign, with emphasis everywhere on TV spots.

Said spots were essential to sell monsters. Without them, you'd be sunk, a lesson going back to King Kong's 1952 play-off. Boxoffice takes were offset by large amounts pumped into broadcast promotion, and that was never cheap. To such well-oiled machinery, someone had to throw a wrench, and in this case, it was copy-cats Jim Nicholson and Sam Arkoff (or was it Metro and the Kings copying them?). American-International's answer to Gorgo was Konga, also England-made and by Herman Cohen, a live wire independent who knew his monster market cold, having peddled cheapies through AIP over recent seasons. Whatever good will Gorgo engendered, Konga would demolish, him the ape-skin Goofus to Gorgo's Gallant. Producer Cohen got benefit of the Eady Plan as did the Kings, and half of dough was put up by Anglo-Amalgamated, set to distribute in England, with balance covered by American-International. Cohen said Konga cost close to a million dollars, and that AIP was planning to spend $800K on the advertising campaign. Was Herman to be believed? Probably not, but what did trades care? He was surely fun talking to, then as in later interviews, and probably didn't expect to be taken seriously. Cohen's Konga would be a rock in Metro's shoe for saturation dates (and 500 prints) just ahead of Gorgo through March. Did lingering stench from Konga keep prospective customers away from Gorgo? "Aw, we just saw the other monster picture last week" may well have been words uttered by youth let down by Konga and pledged not to let it happen again, at least not right away. I was taken to see Konga in spring 1961, but not subsequent Gorgo, at the Liberty, for which psychic scars remain to this day.

The Bitter and The Sweet,
with a Free Ruler as
Reward for Attending
Jim and Sam must have gotten a laugh, if not grosses accorded Gorgo thanks to Metro's greater distributing muscle. AIP advertised Konga as being in "SpectaMation," which was an altogether crock, both the so-called process and what it didn't deliver in terms of special-FX. Konga took $650,000 in domestic rentals on 10,795 bookings. Gorgo got $1.3 million in domestic rentals, plus $929K foreign, a pretty good outcome, but not the six million dollar gross Herman King had anticipated. Both The Time Machine and Village Of The Damned had done better for MGM than Gorgo, but the Kings would stay aboard to follow-up with Captain Sindbad for Metro release. The Brothers did get stung when Gorgo received an "X" certificate from British censors prior to fall 1961 UK release: It means that no children under sixteen can see it, and that's a big slice of the market, complained Frank King. He went on to say that Gorgo gives a touching picture of mother love and it's wrong that children should be denied the chance of seeing it. Meanwhile, British-Lion went out with a tongue-in-cheek campaign tendering Gorgo as "the monster-with-a-heart." Fifty-two years later, we have a Blu-Ray Gorgo just out from VCI, mine delivered as this post is being written, settling where I'll be over the next couple of hours. Maybe Gorgo will rise yet again as a Greenbriar Watch List entry.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Watch List For 3/21/13

SONG WITHOUT END (1960) --- Dirk Bogarde's Franz Liszt (the guy who wrote some music for The Black Cat, remember?) seducing 'cross Europe and the Russian frontier (so much so he has to cool off at one point in a monastery) amidst lush recreation of piano concerts given by the classical composer/performer. Halls and palaces that host latter look continental-real and not like yet another recital off Universal's over-taxed Phantom stage. Shooting over there where Liszt and colleagues made legend is a biggest asset to Song Without End. Its first half is Liszt interpreting others, Chopin, Wagner, etc., whose music shares a soundtrack with concertos FL eventually wrote, so listening isn't limited to Liszt, and 141 minutes gains for sample of these others from the period. Don't know if Liszt as libertine is accurate to his real-life, but it livens offstage action and gave Bogarde's following a fillup.

It's the Baroness Meinster (Martita Hunt) Welcoming
Another 1960 Visitor To Her Castle!
Dirk's dandyish, in a fun sense, and forceful besides --- no spitting up blood on the keys like Cornel Wilde's wilting Chopin. Dexterity at keyboards made me think for all the world it was really Bogarde playing. Initial directing Charles Vidor, hired I assume for having done successfully the Chopin story as A Song To Remember in 1945, dropped dead part way in (on the set, I'm told), and was replaced straightaway by George Cukor, who apparently redid everything, but didn't take credit (other than acknowledgment of non-specific contribution). I didn't note Cukor imprint through what was said to be, and looks at times like, chaotic international co-producing, concert crowds thick as Romans taking the field in peplum epics being shot down the boulevard. The personal story takes back seat to plentiful music, but the latter's ladled out generously, and classicists should be sated. Very nice On-Demand DVD in scope from Columbia.

SHADOW OF A WOMAN (1946) --- Gaslight variation wherein murdering doc Helmut Dantine uses new bride Andrea King to square account with former wife and mother of a child he's now starving to death. Pretty unwholesome, as is synopsis-clear, and characters act foolishly against own interests in that contrived movie way that always irks. Will heroines ever cease delivering themselves into villain clutches for sake alone of juicing up third-acts? Warners did several like this on B terms --- if it wasn't Dantine deviltry (with women), then Zachary Scott stood ready, sometimes even Bogart in reduced enough wife-killing circumstance. Adolph Deutsch scores to fine effect, at times reusing Maltese Falcon themes. Sinister Dantine reminded me lots of Montgomery Clift after his car crash, a sort of bent handsomeness that kept this Austrian-born actor largely out of sympathetic leads.

SUCCESS (1931) --- Myopic Jack Haley can't see to read song sheets as a department store music plugger, so how's he going to play baseball to please his girl's sport obsessed father? Haley did surprising volume of comedy shorts before he was the Tin Man, and it's just lately they've begun to be unearthed. Does Jack appeal? I think more so when he's meek, as here, less on brash occasion, like Salt Water Daffy. Opening scenes with Haley among store display of Warner-owned tunes is window to a past when ways of selling music included guys/gals performing all day behind counters. Oh, to have but a little of that back! The would-be father-in-law is TV's future Perry White John Hamilton, who lets thinning hair down to fun-make with Haley, a refreshing glimpse of a player we associate with stolid. Jack's ball team hails from "Astoria." Could this have been reference to Paramount staff based there who regularly made with the ball and bat against Vitaphone rivals? It wasn't unusual for opposing studio teams to meet regular for gaming. Success is far from slick, but always satisfying, to curiosity if not appetite for comedy. Another honey off Warner Archive's Vitaphone Varieties, Volume Two DVD.

MONTE CARLO (1930) --- An Ernst Lubitsch-Maurice Chevalier musical comedy that unfortunately does not have Maurice Chevalier. There is Jeanette MacDonald and good writing from before, but Maurice was occupied at quicker-done vehicles to cash in on success of The Love Parade, thus substituting of Jack Buchanan, over twenty years shy of screen magnetism he'd bring to 1953's The Bandwagon. Monte Carlo has a splendid beginning where it's just Jeanette and supporting laugh-makers. In fairness, Buchanan is alright for holding up his end, but expectation for more Maurice and frustration over his absence had to have been a '30 letdown. Could any personality, necessarily of lower wattage, follow Chevalier's act? The device of Buchanan's wealthy count pretending to be a hair-dresser allows Lubitsch his precode advantage, and Monte Carlo being several reels shorter than The Love Parade is a help. Jeanette MacDonald is out of clothes as much as in, another plus her Paramounts as a group enabled. A song highlight is Beyond The Blue Horizon, performed by JMc in a cross-frontier train. Monte Carlo is one that a lot of Lubitsch retrospectives might skip, but having it now on Criterion's Eclipse DVD makes for pleasing near-completion of the director's Paramount group.
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