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Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Warner Archive Instant Watch List

I'm a hound for streaming services because that's where so much HD is. Movies known via TV syndication, then VHS, and eventually DVD, are viewable now in glory of High-Def, the trick in locating them that way. Between Netflix, Amazon, Hulu Plus, Vudu, and a handful of others, there's access to hordes of vaulties till now province of TCM or standard DVD, at best. Warner Archive has lately introduced its new streaming arm, Warner Archive Instant, offering movies (mostly vintage) for $9.99 a month. Of these, a number are HD, which was impetus for my signing on. It takes a Roku box to watch on home screens. Hooking up, signing on, etc. involved time, but was worth it. Features I've watched run smooth. None had come my way before in high-def, so it was like seeing all for a first time. You could argue that, until advent of HD, we really weren't experiencing these shows at all. I'm no good at tech matters, can't operate an electric can opener properly in fact, but as Pike Bishop said in The Wild Bunch, What I Don't Know, I Can Sure as Hell Learn. For quality to be had at Warner Instant, time and modest expense is repaid (how many under $10 tickets can be bought for a single movie nowadays?). The first four screened so far, all HD and gorgeous, make up today's Watch List:

DESPERATE JOURNEY (1942) --- I tried this on Ann two nights after she enjoyed Objective, Burma, so why the huffy walkout after only ten minutes? (I just can't watch this). Sober reflection put blame on ceaseless banter among bomber crew Errol Flynn, Ronald Reagan, Alan Hale, et al, that renders many a modern sit intolerable. We don't need the laughs so much as did taut-nerve '42 crowds who had kin in the service. These made weekly or more desperate journeys to theatres where relief could hopeful be got, a chuckle or more tonic for bad news always a mere Western Union telegram away. To watchers today: Get with the wisecrack program if you expect to enjoy this Desperate Journey, rewards being great for the adjustment, as this is one of the joys of a war fought on boy's own terms with no quarter given to reality. Action is taut and profuse, director Raoul Walsh and help anticipating smirky actioners decades down the line. You could break Desperate Journey into six parts and have a corking cliffhanger, a chapter per week doled out to Saturday satisfaction. Kid stuff this was in many ways, but what dynamism and pell-mell pacing! Warners led for combat using model aircraft made excitingly real thanks to overlay of quick edits and Max Steiner music-embellishment.

WAGON MASTER (1950) --- The John Ford western said to have been a "break" for him between cavalry pics, but seems to me JF was bidding here to make stars of young folk under contract to the director's Argosy Pictures, a venture Ford engaged with producing pal Merian C. Cooper. It had to rankle the old man to know profits were assured only when John Wayne was aboard as lead. Did I say "old man"? Well, that's how everyone referred to Ford from after the war, but he was only 56 when Wagon Master was made. That's younger than me, and I don't regard myself an old man just yet. Being on-set curmudgeon had lots to do with the tag, Ben Johnson and Harry Carey Jr. regarding Ford as Methuselah, as did undoubted others. Could JF launch vital young players in such an old-fashioned western as Wagon Master? Johnson/Carey clicking might have given Argosy assets to stay afloat years longer (as it is, the company folded not long after Wagon Master's release), and Ford/Cooper could at least have loaned their new-mint stars after profitable Selznick example.

Cooper at left, Ford at Right, But Who's The Guy in the Middle?
An interesting aspect of Wagon Master for me is Patrick Ford's credit as co-writer. Pat apparently came up with the idea for the film and would work with experienced Frank Nugent to complete the script. He's been dubbed a loser, the ordinary son of an extraordinary father, but was his in fact a talent, admittedly modest in comparison with Dad's, that just couldn't hope to measure up? Pat drank, they say, as did senior Ford (heck, the whole family, apparently), and there's indication JF treated him badly. It's not unlike sadness of the Creighton Chaney story ... sons doomed to live in a father's long shadow. Seems from watching Wagon Master that Pat (with Nugent) borrowed Joanne Dru's Red River character to reprise here. Howard Hawks' epic had to be influence on writers/directors doing westerns from there on, just as Anthony Mann's 50's work had much impact, I think, on John Ford's approach to The Searchers. Wagon Master is easygoing for the most part, although there's a whipping scene, with its victim tied to a wagon wheel, that I'm surprised got by the Code. Everyone thinks of Monument Valley as Ford headquarters, but this was shot at Moab, another picturesque Utah site.

BACK TO BATAAN (1945) --- Here was screen payback for the fall of Bataan and resultant death march, the latter dramatized in flashback that must have got blood boiling on eve of Allied victory (Back To Bataan released 5/45). Atrocity stuff was increasingly discouraged by the OWI as war wound down, a mission to win the peace within sight. In that sense, BtB harked back to Slap The Jap mindset of 1942-43 output. Did we need reminding of what provoked revenge taken here? Never was enemy force mowed down with such gusto; like ninepins they fall. Violence limit was relaxed during WWII --- otherwise, we'd be shocked when a thrown knife penetrates the back of a Japanese officer's neck and comes out the front (cue then-patronage cheers). One stunt that shocks has John Wayne (himself, not a double) blown out of a shell hole. I had to replay that a couple of times to confirm what eyes beheld. Director Edward Dmytryk was said to have appetite for such violence, more than satiated in BtB. The picture was rushed through to keep up with headlines, flashback structure permitting focus on then and (right) now. Dmytryk spoke later to nerve-wracking effect of constant story revision, this a must as dispatches poured in from in-progress liberation of the Philippines.


Blogger Dave K said...

Just signed up for Instant Warner Archive last night. Quite thrilled to have the opportunity to meet up with old favorites, and to catch a few classics that have somehow always eluded me (like WAGONMASTER).

2:17 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

AVS4YOU and AUDIALS 10 are excellent programs which allow us to capture video streams from our monitor screens.

I had long wanted to see THE LADY AND THE MONSTER with Erich Von Stroheim. More so after reading of it here. Unfortunately NETFLIX in Canada is not NETFLIX in the USA.

I located a dvd copy of the film on the web which is okay but nowhere near visually what it should be.

I have found the video capture abilities of these two programs a welcome addition to my gallery of computer tools.

5:53 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

John, if you're interested in another semi-obscure Flynn movie, you might want to try "Silver River." Not sure if Warners is streaming it, but it's well worth viewing -- my favorite of his westerns, and the only one where he plays something of a heel. You can almost feel how much how he's enjoying a break from his usual derring-do.

1:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wagon Master was to be a "proving ground" for younger stars such as Ben and Dobe. However many, including Dobe agreed that Ward Bond, as usual, was not only the "glue" for the whole picture, but he pretty much walked off with it. He was paid a good bit more than anyone else in the movie. Ford learned his lesson. He also sent telegrams to Duke about the two accidents when a dog ripped Ward's pants and showed the scar that would remain forever from his near amputation, and Ward's small horse going down with him in the deep mud.....even Steel, Ben's horse had a hard time getting out of it. Ford mentioned many times that Wagon Master, the Sun Shines Bright, and The Fugitive were his three favorite films in that he was able to accomplish what he wanted to with them. Luckily, The Sun Shines Bright has been found, (Ford once said he had never seen a copy of it....wonder if he ever did?). Wagon Master I have seen a great many times. The Fugitive is the only one left....and I shall get that this week. I have a great publicity photo of Ward and Hank. Seems as if Ward is supposed to be a friend of the preacher's. Hope he is in it a lot. Not many actors as good at playing ANYTHING as Ward Bond.

1:20 AM  

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