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Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Art Shop Watch For 5/18/13

SOCKING OVER SLEAZE --- You'd think these were 50's paperback covers at first glance, but it's actually a Warner combo circa '54 for brass knucklers representing last gasp of a B unit the studio was fazing out. Output from WB slowed drastic from 28 features in 1953 to only 20 in 1954 (not including reissues), part of an overall cutback as the industry assumed a long-run, if not blockbuster, mentality. Cinemascope was part responsible for changed attitudes; in any case, small pics like Crime Wave and Duffy Of San Quentin got the hook. You could sell these as "shockers" for violent content, if not sex lure indicated in this ad that wouldn't (couldn't under a still-enforced Code) show up on screen. I just looked at Crime Wave and don't recall Scream Baby, I Don't Mind anywhere in dialogue. There are "Gutter-Guns" on view, I suppose, but no "Gang-Girls." Still, Crime Wave is a honey (haven't yet seen Duffy). Shot in latter months of 1952 (November/December), but held for January '54 release, Crime Wave was among few (any?) full-frame Warner pics playing off in an otherwise 1.85 season. Titled Don't Cry, Baby, then The City Is Dark before and during production, the project was initially set for Humphrey Bogart, as would be months-later The System, but HB was turning away everything Warners tendered, so sour was he after years of servitude.

Eventually labeled Crime Wave thus went on B schedule to be produced by Bryan Foy, who was seasoned at these. Directing Andre De Toth had two weeks and a low budget (neg cost a piddling $377K, by far a WB lowest for its release year). Worldwide rentals of $880K meant profit; audiences could still trust Warner for bristling gang subjects. Gene Nelson was given the ex-con lead, a depart from dance work previously engaged. Like Gene Kelly at MGM, there was desire on both actor and studio parts to widen range, thus the two detoured on occasion to rugged subjects. Pace is quick: there wasn't time to dawdle, given  abbreviated schedule. Crime Wave has much location and night shooting, a big help. Not much regarded then, but Warner values CW now, as witness HD streaming on their Archive Instant arm.

THE HEART OF SHOW BUSINESS KEPT BEATING --- It's May 9, 1957 in Cincinnati. The RKO Albee has a bonus with Untamed Youth that I'd very much like to see today, but where is The Heart Of Show Business, presented by Variety Clubs? A forty-minute subject with such star power would make fascinating history today, and I'm guessing names perform in addition to pitching for the charity. IMDB says Ralph Staub was the writer/director. Cecil B. DeMille shows up in it too. Wonder what John Wayne does, or Jerry Lewis, or Roy Rogers. Oh, and there's Technicolor as well. Variety Club was a long-time institution by 1957 (Greenbriar visited the topic here and here). Everyone in show biz answered yes when they called. My question: are there prints of The Heart Of Show Business still around? Does Variety Club have a vault containing this and other featurettes? It certainly wasn't the only one they made. Assuming the Club is still in the business of raising donations, would a DVD release of The Heart Of Show Business and similar subjects help toward that? I'd like to hear from anyone who's just seen one of these.

A FORTY YEAR DELAYED BIRTH --- This is an 8/1/56 Cleveland, Ohio ad for Birth Of A Nation's revival. At least I thought it was a revival before discovering that D.W. Griffith's film had been shut out of Ohio since its initial release back in 1915. Seems there was movement to ban Birth that wound ways to Ohio's Supreme Court, their uphold of the state censorship edict coming in October of '15, and remaining in effect all the way till '56. So lo and behold, the Heights Art Theatre was an apparent first-run for Cleveland. The 40-year exile had just been declared unconstitutional in another court decision that paved ways for the Independent Theatre Owners Of Ohio to book Birth throughout member venues in a special arrangement with the pic's distributor (they'd get "booking priority"). A first "arter" playdate in Columbus, at the recently opened Indianola Theatre, had a best boxoffice since the house opened doors, according to Variety. The distributor added a forward to prints that would hopefully cool controversy. So, query: How long did Birth Of A Nation continue to receive mainstream bookings? My first ever exposure was at a Winston-Salem hardtop in 1969, a theatre that normally took first choice of biggest new product, so this was some kind of anomaly, a real see it to believe it moviegoing experience. Don't recall the crowd, if any, but the Winston Theatre (where I had lately caught 2001: A Space Odyssey) ran Birth's 1930 sound reissue version, the print of which was in like-new shape.

THE JAZZ SINGER'S STANDOUT --- Again, it's Cleveland. The Stillman, built in 1916, had become a Loew's house by 1927, seated 1,800, and was considered the city's "first true movie palace." Any ad for The Jazz Singer is noteworthy, each theatre wherever located selling it, for good reason, as a show-world revolution. What strikes me here is management singling out "the one scene in which Jolson "kids" his "mammy." This was quoted from a review in the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, the critic and Stillman staff noting audience response to the brief dialogue exchange that history says gave viewers an even bigger thrill than songs Al sang. Such natural exchange of talk was what patrons all went home raving about. Note too the Stillman's boast of "improved" Vitaphone. Loew had wired the house early in 1927, Don Juan having played there during February-March. Ads throughout early intro of sound, for many theatres besides the Stillman, refer to upgrades in voice reproduction. Quality had to have been an issue nearly everywhere, this being such new and untried technology. Were these promises of a better aural experience in response to complaints from customers who'd taken a chance on talkies and been burned?

WHAT'S NEW AT THE SILENT COMEDY MAFIA --- This I want to mention ahead of Cinevent in Columbus. Noted writer/historian Richard M. Roberts informs me that his new book, SMILEAGE GUARANTEED, PAST HUMOR, PRESENT LAUGHTER, THE COMEDY FILM INDUSTRY 1910-1945, VOLUME ONE: HAL ROACH, will be available at the show, where the author will also be on hand to sign copies. Roberts also informs that The Silent Comedy Mafia, an online mainstay for vintage pic discussion and scholarship, has widened its format to include non-comedy topics such as sci-fi, horror, noir, and more. What's emphasized is that The Silent Comedy Mafia will no longer limit content to just silents, or comedy. There is, for instance, a vintage television category where I've this week seen some fascinating, and till now elusive, stuff, including a 1961 TV pilot called Just For Laffs, a comic assemblage that included Moe Howard and Mel Blanc trading jokes. There's also a video segment from a 1963 series starring Fess Parker, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, in which Buster Keaton guests. Who knew Buster and Fess ever worked together?, yet here it is. The SC Mafia has always been a regular stop for me; now there's all the more reason to get there regularly.


Blogger Mike Cline said...

I recently watched CRIME WAVE and enjoyed it. Great cast (I enjoy Sterling Hayden in just about anything) all the way down to Dub Taylor's getting pistol whipped. When Charles Bronson and Lee Van Cleef pull into that service station, there's no doubt there's trouble afoot.

Re: BIRTH OF A NATION - it played theatres in my town into the mid-1960s, including part of a six feature all-night drive-in show.

I suggest a viewing of MAN BAIT, a 1952 HAMMER / LIPPERT "Bad Girl" flick which intoduced Diana Dors (the future Mrs. Richard Dawson). A very, VERY pleasant surprise with George Brent the victim of sexual harassment by Miss Dors and her partner.

7:05 AM  
Blogger Lou Lumenick said...

DUFFY was an independent production that was showing on TV (at least in NYC, per listings in NY Times digital archives) by the fall of 1956 via Associated Artists Pictures (which originally handled WB's pre-48 library before handing it off to WB).

AAP's assets were absorbed by founder Elliot Hyman's Seven Arts, so WB got DUFFY back as a result of the WB-7A merger.

Moreover, an online perusal of Billboard reveals there was a talk of a Duffy TV series starring Paul Kelly back in 1952. So it's possible that's DUFFY -- a recent Warner Archive release I haven't gotten around to watching -- is an unsold TV pilot. Anyone have further info?

11:13 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

That's very interesting info, Lou. I haven't picked up the "Duffy" DVD from Warner Archive yet, but intend to. Thanks for the data on the proposed TV show, something I'd not heard about before.

11:25 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

I mentioned earlier THE BIRTH OF A NATION playing my town as part of a drive-in all-nighter. This was the lineup:

plus 5 cartoons

July, 1964 - Admission: 50 cents

1:51 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

I remember a reissue of Birth of a Nation-- maybe Rohauer?-- playing Wichita (the Boulevard Theater, to be precise, a single screen where oddball things sometimes turned up alongside mainstream releases). If I noticed its ad in the paper, it's not earlier than 1973 or so, so I'd say somewhere in that nostalgia boom of 73-75 or so.

6:19 PM  
Blogger Jim Lane said...

Re Michael's comment: Sacramento's Arden Fair shopping mall had a four-screen cinema crammed into one of its storefronts, each screen a crackerbox seating 200 or so. Like Wichita's Boulevard, the "Arden Four" often played oddball stuff alongside the new: Jay Ward's slightly rejiggered The General, for example, and in early '73 Birth of a Nation. This was a beautiful 35mm print, though not the sound-added reissue version. It was, however, the trimmed-down version that had been made expressly as a recruiting tool for the Klan. That was the one and only time I ever saw The Birth of a Nation at a mainstream theater.

On a side note, I didn't see Birth uncut until '76, as part of a restoration fundraiser at the all-but-ruined 1896 Opera House in the nearby farm town of Woodland. It was (if memory serves) the personal print of the late Bob Vaughn, who accompanied on the piano. I don't know -- and didn't think to ask -- if it was a 16 or 35mm, but it absolutely sparkled. When it was over I turned to my date and said, "And that's why they call it the silver screen."

7:11 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

What I find fascinating is that no one thought it odd to see "Birth of a Nation," "Animal Farm" and "That Certain Feeling" in the same ad.

2:48 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Daniel Van Orden e-mails on the subject of Variety Clubs:

Variety Club is still around and quite vibrant. They do many fund raising activities including exchanging a movie related "pin" each year in exchange for a $3.00 donation.

You probably pass a Variety Club van carrying clients around to hospital visits and events.

I too am now wondering if they know where there films are.


8:41 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Just caught CRIME WAVE on Warner Archive Streaming. Man! Why we love B-noirs! Timothy Carey could go through whole pages of dialogue without ungritting his teeth!

6:44 PM  

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