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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Youth Has Its Fling at Postwar Westerns

Blake Edwards Arrives With 1948's Panhandle

Blake Edwards and producing partner John C. Champion were mere "lads" (Variety review) in mid-twenties when they got up scratch and an Allied Artists release deal for a western the two wrote and Edwards acted in (as henchman heavy). This was tyro Edwards' first story and producer credit, quality result giving notice that he'd be around a long time. Panhandle had "A" aspirations and was booked accordingly, smaller houses impressed enough to play the western solo. You could sell an oater then on basis of a "fiercest fight" or "Glorious Sepia-Tone," and trade reviews gave Panhandle a boost to encourage more such indie effort as challenge to big-studio dominance. Good and sometimes cheeky dialogue reflects youthful spin on cowpoke clich├ęs, and pace is maintained by long in the saddle Lesley Selander as director. There's no energy like that of beginners, and Champion/Edwards lent abundance of theirs to Panhandle's career calling card; I can picture insiders' peek at this leading to welcome mats for the two on major lots. It's still a "Darn Good Western" as pledged by VCI on their Volume One DVD box cover, along with five other actioners of similar interest.

Marilyn Monroe Makes Ad Presence Felt

A Soon-To-Be Star In The Second Feature

Among suspect tales told in recently published My Dinners With Orson is Welles claiming he "dated" a pre-stardom Marilyn Monroe. Actors looking to enhance their C.V. and juice up memoirs fell back inevitably on real or imagined romance with Norma Jean before she was Marilyn. In addition to OW, there was Tony Curtis and more discreet Mickey Rooney, plus others numerous beyond recollection. Sport for those born later might be detection of MM in ads that exploited her first even when she was billed last. The above is one I came across for Home Town Story, released by MGM in mid-1951 (run time: 61 minutes). The film had been financed by General Motors and made the previous year at Hal Roach Studio "to sell the benefits of big business" without advertising GM product outright, said Variety. The auto giant sold Home Town Story to Metro, however, and it played support through spring/summer '51 as part of the latter's release program. Leo must have got a bargain, as Home Town Story, despite lowest domestic rentals of any MGM feature release that year ($243K), still earned a profit of $195K. Marilyn Monroe's minor role is for fans a most notable aspect of Home Town Story, along with her being exploited the more in ad art and stills (a portrait at above left was part of publicity for Home Town Story and varies but slightly from her pose in the RKO Grand's ad). Keen observers would have recognized this star in the making. As to Home Town Story, curiosity abounds for propaganda content remaining after Metro whittled down GM's "institutional" handiwork.

More early Marilyn Monroe at Greenbriar's Archive HERE.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Gregory Peck Seafaring For Universal-International

Process Screens Aloft! The World In His Arms (1952)

Somewhere this was called a B picture, which it certainly isn't, though you could argue that sameness of Universal-International star vehicles made them seem like B's. This time Gregory Peck is U-I's guest, and percentage recipient, seafaring with less conviction than on-site Jeff Chandler or even Rock Hudson might have, this sort of boy's pulp more their meat than Peck's. Raoul Walsh indulges too much dunderhead comedy and brawling for its own sake --- even a pet seal gets into the crowded act. There was much process work at a time when alert viewers were making that deception harder to get away with, and Uni backlots are weak substitute for locations increasingly deployed after the war, that shortcut further banished within a couple years when Cinemascope came to fore. Peck's double gets in more action time than the star, Greg seldom at advantage when fists fly. Based on "fabulous" tales by Rex Beach (says the trailer), World is OK reveal of Uni market strategy in upgrading product with outside names lured by profit participation. Agents, particularly out of MCA, were well along getting control of the lot by '52.

What Says America Like Superman, Baseball, and Sharkey The Seal?

Superman's Then-and-Now Flight Plan

Someone please define for me a modern day hit: The recent Man Of Steel has done $643 million as of 7/28 and this out of touch observer has no idea if that's good or a letdown. Now if Superman and The Mole Men had clocked $643M in 1951, then, yes, Lippert would have had a hit we'd still be reeling over. When does money pass the point of being meaningful? I just go numb at current numbers, movie grosses to me like government spending ... zeroes beyond capacity to grasp. Not caring factors in as well. I didn't see Man Of Steel and probably won't, that not a slam on the product, just indicator of curiosity gone dim for Superman. I'll admit having issues with the suit, and won't go more specific as to why (better informed sites can address that). What brought me roundabout to Man Of Steel was uncover of ads for opening of the 1948 serial with Kirk Alyn as woolly-clad hero that morphs into a cartoon of himself when taking flight. Just occurs to me: Is that sort of what they're still doing, only with keyboard instead of painted cels? Fake is fake: You can't make a man fly without wires, animation, or CGI. "You Will Believe ..." was beginning of a tag line for 1977's Superman --- do we believe any more now than then?

And now to the Congress Theatre, circa 1948. Serials were a staple, but none had generated excitement of Superman the serial. He'd been in cartoons, really fine ones by Max Fleischer, but those had played out several years before. This was the comic hero's first sustained appearance in live action. Men had flown on screen, most notably Captain Marvel, but here was a brand name, cultivated almost a decade by funny books, anticipation higher for his flesh/blood debut than for any comic character so far put to film. I submit these Congress ads because they represent a biggest noise for a serial that I've seen outside of the silent era (chapter-plays were huge during teens/twenties, and promoted accordingly). Johnny Mack Brown and an ancient Frank Buck (Bring 'Em Back Alive a 1932 release) were junior mints beside an event like Superman. Further comment re the serial isn't needed, most considering it a dog --- beyond trailers and clips, I've never watched. Should I? A brief nod to Sunday vaudeville at the Congress: Yes, there was apparently a trained seal named Sharkey (see above), so who said vaudeville was dead? Baseball star Ralph Branca is still with us (age 87). Would he recall tunes he pitched at the Congress in addition to signatures left on "baseballs, books," etc. It certainly wasn't unusual for sport luminaries to travel vaude circuits during earlier century heyday; interesting to find one like Branca still doing so as late as 1948, and performing on stage in addition to personal appearing.

Monday, July 29, 2013

San Francisco The Setting For Mystery

20th Fox's The House On Telegraph Hill (1951)

Polish prisoner in a concentration camp switches identities with a dying woman and refugees to America for presumed wealth/position. A spun web of devices from Rebecca, Dragonwyck, other woman gothics done less after WWII, and confused by directing Robert Wise as to emphasis (are we about the ID deception or a sinister new husband and household?). Not a starry cast --- Valentina Cortese had done few American films, none notable, and Richard Basehart was mostly a character man. That could be why NBC passed on Telegraph's inclusion among Fox features showcased on the network's Saturday Night At The Movies beginning September 1961 (it went direct to syndication via Seven Arts in 6/63). Suspense is perked by San Francisco locations, virtually all of outdoors shot on site; these streets would later host Vertigo and Bullitt to even stronger effect. Never mind that the story stumbles --- there's enough visually to please, especially if caught on recent Netflix HD stream. That richer view can and does push average pics into higher category just by approaching 35mm richness first-runners enjoyed. How many more critical reps will be enhanced as HD access widens?

From A Tip-Top Of The Favorites Pyramid

Errol Flynn as Gentleman Jim (1942)

My nominee for Most Cheerful Movie Made (ever), the ultimate Feel-Good and Pick-Me-Up. A same year's The Strawberry Blonde has similar quality, and both were from director Raoul Walsh (my  parents dated to see Blonde in '42). Assuming he relived youth in these, Walsh's must have been happy early times. Maybe a word for Gentleman Jim is buoyant, coming at a time when seemingly all Warner star vehicles were similarly so. You'd not have thought this was a beginning-of-end for Errol Flynn, but it was during Jim that he was arrested on statutory charges and put upon slow path to career perdition. Gentleman Jim is a boxer story where no punch lands too hard, a good thing as reality has no place here. That might have been unbearable in light of what actually happened to characters comically represented, to wit Ma and Pa Corbett, gregariously in persons of Alan Hale and Dorothy Vaughan. In historical truth, Pa killed Ma, then himself, in a jealous rage. The Corbetts are at it again! Variety pointed out this and other lapse toward fantasy in a then-review reflecting a trade's better memory of who the champ really was and what he'd done. Now we're far enough removed from Corbett the real for none of that to matter, so by all means let Gentleman Jim have its pack of richly entertaining lies.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

1962's Idea Of Hot

A Tentative Walk On The Wild Side

Still in-place edicts of a crumbling Code are upheld in this cautious walk on what 1962 could call a Wild Side. Recalled better for its music score by Elmer Bernstein and some grabber ad art, Walk is otherwise a slow amble, the naughty stuff of poster promise almost entirely withheld. The PCA file for this one must have been thick, however, as battling over content is reflected by clumsy edits and quicker than seemly fades pulling us away from raunch. Super-agent Charles K. Feldman produced to benefit of his client list which made up much of pic personnel, Wild Side personifying conflict of interest among H'wood folk wearing multiple hats to score more of cash. The movie was a hit because folks figured it would be dirty, but mostly they'd be bored upon paying ways in. ABC had to fight censor battles over again when they Sunday night preemed Wild Side on 2/4/68, ratings a saunter for the pic being black-and-white in a season fueled by new set-owners wanting to see programs in color, for instance Bonanza playing opposition NBC during the feature's first broadcast hour.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

When Dinosaur Movie Palaces Ruled The Earth

A Lost Cleveland Theatre Presents The Lost World in 1925

Jack Pickford and Norman Shearer were fine, I suppose, and Anita Stewart would do, but whoa, how did Clevelanders react to sight of a brontosaurus on Now Playing pages? Movies were news in 1925, many papers devoting pages ... sections ... to programming tendered by temples of the shadowplay (to borrow verbiage of that era). Didn't Joni Mitchell lament paving paradise to put up a parking lot? Well, that was fate of the Stillman, a Loew's venue seating 1,800 that was torn to rubble so that apartment dwellers could be closer to their cars. How long are periods of mourning for a great theatre sacrificed to the heavy ball? I've not yet had to endure the Liberty's wreckage, and could visit its bisected-since-70's remnant any time, though said change to the auditorium keeps me at bay. Still, I wouldn't want to see it wrecked. The Stillman lasted till 1965, and like many a monolith, had flirtation with 70mm and even Cinerama before value of real estate tempted fate. Old theatres everywhere have fallen like so many dinosaurs of a past century, but ad art survives to tell what a long-lost Stillman did with The Lost World and others we call classic. Imagination alone  tells us what the stop-motion masterpiece was like in 1925 when brand new and truly a fresh thrill. Dinosaurs on screen? Impossible!

So this raises my question: Had moviegoers seen prehistoric animals before? There was The Ghost Of Slumber Mountain in 1919, with effects by Willis O' Brien, but that was a short subject. Certainly The Lost World was a first big production with dinosaurs. How did 1,800 patrons at the Stillman react? Was it like French folk in 1895 whooping it up over trains that rushed toward them from a hung sheet? Did youngsters think the creatures were real? (one of these days I'd like to get around to answering some of endless questions asked here) We're running out of people who'd know. In fact, I'd say it's already too late. What lore surrounds The Lost World in earlier incarnation is limited to memory of Kodascope prints in 16mm, home movie reels like what I had in 1964, and Eastman House dig that turned up footage gone missing since 1925. It's a lot like recover of dinosaur bones constructed to semblance of how the monster appeared a million years ago. Cleveland's crowd might as well have lived in primordial time for access they had to a Lost World so nitrate-clear as to look like stone-age documentary. For myself and others who care, 8mm was grand, and digital reconstruction is better, but they'll not approach "The One Kind Of Photoplay YOU Never Saw Before" at Leow's Stillman.

More of The Lost World HERE at Greenbriar Archive, and another vanished Cleveland venue, the New Lyceum, HERE.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Laurel and Hardy Starting Out

Do Detective Think? (1927) with Roach's New Team

Laurel and Hardy at last functioning as a team after just missing each other in "All-Star" Roach comedies tone deaf to their potential. As defective detectives, silly-named "Ferdinand Finkleberry" and "Sherlock Pinkham" (inspired title writer H.M. Walker coasting a little here), L&H go in pursuit of slash-killing Noah Young, who's sworn revenge on Judge James Finlayson, unaccountably wed here to stunner Clara Bow lookalike Viola Richard. Stan and Babe's hat switch routine is used for a first time, and you'd think for such expertise they'd been at it for years. What helped these boys most in fact was both having come to teaming from long experience before cameras and mastery of character/gags gleaned from felicitous work with others. A hook-up ten, or even five, years earlier might not have worked so well. Had any comedians up to then (or since) come to pairing so seasoned? I'd like to know who (if anyone) counseled L&H at this beginner point. Was Leo McCarey already a participant, or did Stan and Babe work out details on their own?

The Star Company Jack Benny Kept

Gary Cooper Visits Jack's 1958 Program

The first "Lost Episode" of Jack Benny I went for in the new DVD set was one from 1958 with guest Gary Cooper. I'd seen the barest clip before of Coop singing Bird Dog, but craved the whole recital, plus whatever else he'd do by way of byplay with Jack. It's emphasized that the two are friends among the Beverly Hills set, dinner at each other's home and that sort of thing. Judging by what a nice guy Benny was said to be in real life, I don't doubt he had friends who made an exception to policy against TV appearing to do just that on JB's program. These had included Humphrey Bogart and Marilyn Monroe for starters (did Jack have them over for meals?). The Benny format had ways of making guests look good, his writers a best in the trade for playing biggest names against Jack's wide-known and loved persona. Was it Benny's social standing that made them say yes? Cooper is here partly to plug Man Of The West, a grimmer western than spoofing would indicate; he tells Jack, "we think it's a good one," and so indeed do modern auteurists who follow director Anthony Mann's every 50's move, but Man Of The West wouldn't perform so well for United Artists that year, and Cooper had to wonder in hindsight if maybe his cow-poking days were spent.

In banter with Jack, ol' Coop looks well on in years thanks to unforgiving Kinescope, his a run-through of expected howdys and nopes relied upon any time Gary Cooper appeared as Gary Cooper. The highlight, of course, is GC rocking out with Benny's quartet, The Sportsmen, in rendition of the Everly Brothers hit of late, Bird Dog, amusing '58 watchers all the more because it was so unexpected. Who'd figure Cooper to do television at all, let alone performing a number like this? Unlike guests who limit participation to five-six minutes and the curtain, GC trails along for a whole show, the lengthiest skit a proposed "sequel" to Man Of The West with Jack auditioning as Coop's twin brother. This might have worked still better had they shot on film rather than live-captured by kinescope. We get the act unpolished, some funny stuff  happening places other than where cameras aim, a hazard of live television. Another nicety is Mrs. Cooper and daughter Maria taking bows from the audience per Jack request. It's here we're satisfied the group really were pals off-camera and that Gary Cooper didn't have to be asked twice to come on Benny's show.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

21st Century Holmes/Watson In 19th Century London

SHERLOCK HOLMES : A GAME OF SHADOWS (2011) --- Robert Downey Jr. goes through a feature's length with three days' growth of beard except for a segment where he's femme-disguised, thus clean-shaven, though for scenes taking place a mere hours' later, he's got the stubble back. Such is magic of contempo pix, where lead men are seemingly under order to shun razors. That's my only knock, however, upon a lively lark and further desecration of Doyle by modern re-thinkers evidently onto a good thing, based on biz done so far by redressed Holmes (a third one is on tap). I'll be frank (and maybe surprising) to say that Downey is my favorite of Sherlocks so far, excluding of course, Rathbone The Greatest. With an actor so effective as RDJr., you don't need so much frenzy action, however. I wanted to be past set-pieces and back to dialogue of cat-mouse quality between Downey's Holmes and a splendid Moriarty they cast in Jared Harris, late of Mad Men, and I hope, set to reprise villainy on future SH occasion. Jude Law is terrific too as Watson, his and Downey's by-play  an ongoing highlight. Yes, there is such thing as fun modern movies. Holmes/Watson as embodied by this pair can go on forever so far as my sitting time's concerned.

From The UK Favorites List ...

Lean/Dickens Triumph in Great Expectations (1946)

I'd guess this to remain the towering treatment of Dickens by movies --- can't think offhand of one better. Kevin Brownlow tells well the story of production in his bio of director David Lean. What I'd add is theory that Great Expec paved inspiration's way for Hammer's horror cycle to come, a gothic flavor Lean lends being much similar to what Terence Fisher and others at Bray would achieve on smaller budgets, but effectively all the same. Certainly there are players here who would swing Hammers down the line, and speaking of which, I don't know two scarier scenes than what Lean stages --- Pip met in the graveyard by an escaped convict, and later trying to put out the screaming fire that is Miss Havisham, Martita Hunt's fate worse than in later Brides Of Dracula. We had this wonderful show once in high school, run in two parts over a couple days of lunch period in an auditorium leaking enough light to spoil what values a 16mm print could convey, but a best option in days long before Region 2 Blu-Ray delivered splendid imagery now to be had.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

High On The Lippert List

A Post-Civil War Sleeper: Hellgate (1952)

Charles Marquis Warren was a talented writer of (mostly) westerns who made a deal with Bob Lippert to pen/direct a trio in 1951-52. Only two got made thanks to Lippert being in hot water with trade guilds who said he failed to spread money from TV sales among them per blanket deal unions had with the industry. Warren's completed pair (Hellgate and Little Big Horn) were standouts among Lippert output, a tier (not far) below an outstanding group Samuel Fuller had done for the low-budget producer. Hellgate was Warren's re-think of the Samuel Mudd story, names and backgrounds changed, but a same essential drama. Plan was to shoot on Utah location, but this being Lippert, it came to Bronson Canyon for bleak prison to which wrongly accused Sterling Hayden is sent. Bob Lippert would look back on Hellgate as one of few good ones bearing his imprinteur, there being infrequent occasion when talent like Warren's landed at the producer-for-pennies' door. Lippert was like later AIP in giving starter-outs a chance. For doing so, he'd be rewarded with good westerns like Hellgate. VCI-Kit Parker has a quality DVD available on its Darn Good Westerns: Volume 1 set, which includes three other Lipperts of similar interest.

Follow-Up To Yesterday ...

A Saturday In The Life Of The Mickey Mouse Club

I want someone (other than myself) to write a book about the Mickey Mouse Clubs. Not the 50's TV program, and besides, that's been done. I speak of the theatre clubs, which to hear trades tell it, was a biggest-ever 30's matinee phenomenon and together with product tie-ins bought by Mickey fans, kept Disney in business through struggle that was the Great Depression. His cartoons alone were not a profit center, what with money spent to make them a best on the market. What floated WD's boat was MM watches, coloring books, novelties of all sorts. These were most responsible for holding Big Bad Wolves at bay. As Walt often said, It Started With a Mouse. The Clubs were what organized his army, being millions strong by reliable estimate. Was this unprecedented? Had there been Felix The Cat clubs? He was cartooning's biggest name before Mickey entered, but by talkies' arrival, was twilighting. Showmen who tied on with Mouse clubs rode to capacity weekends, and the only thing to rival them would be arrival of Popeye Clubs later in the decade.

You Could As Easily Make a Horror Movie Using These Creepy Faces

There was a theme song, Minnie's Yoo-Hoo, led onscreen by a rat-like Mickey in a voice that doesn't sound like Walt's. The "sing-along" reel would be provided to member theatres, object being for youngsters to learn lyrics and reprise them each week. Minnie's Yoo-Hoo must not have been copyrighted, or perhaps not renewed, because I remember it popping up in 8 and 16mm catalogues during the seventies (did Thunderbird sell prints?). There was also a pop tune called What! No Mickey Mouse? What Kind Of Party Is This?, by Irving Caesar that became catch phrase for wise-alecks entering 30's Bijous, as happens in a scene from live action Lady Killer, a 1933 Warners release. Success of the Mickey Clubs was widespread and well-known. Camaraderie among Mouseketeers must have been intense, but wait, I'm not sure they called themselves Mouseketeers in those early days. Imagine bonds being formed that lasted lifetimes, reunions afterward beginning with, Yeah, we were in Mouse Club together back in Peoria, this not unlike boy or girl scout members who'd later meet and reminisce of that shared experience.

Notable Saturdays in the Mickey Club life include ones during April, 1931 among close-quartered Arizona towns of Douglas, Tucson, Nogales, Globe, and Bisbee. Each had a Mouse chapter, and Albert D. Stetson  of Fox Theatres (what an ideal name for an Arizona native) had the inspired notion to let members visit neighboring Club meets (some of the "neighbors" were over a hundred miles distant). Management at respective venues would arrange transport "and take every precaution to insure the safety and welfare of the children." These excursions were just that, as road accommodations in 1931 can be imagined, four-lane and interstates being decades in the offing. There was police escort on motorcycles to greet visitors at town limits and lead them to the host theatre (imagine excitement of that when you're ten), city fathers mindful of "the constructive and educational policies of the Mickey Mouse Clubs," and thus cooperating.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

50's Metro Back In Costume

Pageantry's Last Stand --- The King's Thief (1955)

Plumed hat pix were a pox by '55 and period pageantry past peak of Scaramouche and Ivanhoe (should I go on like this?). The King's Thief nose-dived to $467K loss in spite of negative cost ($1.5 million) unusually low for costumers, but how to overcome a measly $501K in domestic rentals? Thief's fate was similar to others set upon horse and carriage, also released that year: The Scarlet Coat earning $467K domestic, and Moonfleet at $586K. Maybe it was time to buh-bye Ye Olden Days. Exhibitors had in fact wired MGM to please do so, one entreating Send No More Where They Write With Feathers. All this was prelude to my enjoying The King's Thief on first view of Warner Archive's recent DVD, it being scope-wide and stereo specific to voices left/right and offscreen dogs barking (was it actually Perspecta sound?). Helpful too are matters settled in 79 minutes, surely a brevity record for ruffled sleeve "A's" out of Metro.

Heroics are supplied by Edmund Purdom, villainy the province of David Niven, who's said to have hated this part, being mostly a riff on Mel Ferrer's cruel Scaramouche nobleman. Metro sash stories had come by now to a sword-point of copying each other, being fewer years apart in doing so. The Purdom role had been inked for Stewart Granger. Maybe The King's Thief would be appreciated better had the latter done it. Direction was by called-from-retirement Robert Z. Leonard, who'd served Loew's since same was formed, but he gets scant credit today for work auteurists call listless, or when it's good, credit to others. Hangers-on like The King's Thief did so mostly for costumes and furnishing long on hand to recreate gone eras, no studio more resourceful than Metro at capturing a past. Nice then, to have this on DVD as both example of that and taste of Cinemascope when it was still a relative novelty.

A Rat Patrol Was Upon Us!

Dateline 1931: Mutiple Mickeys Loose On Hollywood Boulevard

I'd guess there are a hundred oversized Mickey Mice running loose at Disneyland and Disney World, but where did it all begin? I'll be bold and propose 1931, the year Frisco's Loews Warfield offered Mickey "In Person" and took in $25,000 for an April week that also featured El Brendel in Mr. Lemon Of Orange. Prologues were essential to grim competition between big-town venues, and best among these were conjured by the brother-sister team of Fanchon and Marco, New York based, but with units fanned out cross-country (a nice website about the family here). They'd dream up minimum of fifty-two "ideas" in a given year, pressure forever on to top one week's novelty with another more sensational the next. If you want approximation of 24/7 push behind F&M's operation, watch Footlight Parade (1933), where James Cagney is a live wire inspired by the sibling wunderkinds.

Fanchon and Marco were recognized a quickest in the prologue race, enough so as to insure quick yes upon approach to Disney with a Mickey idea. His cartoons were beyond viral in 1931 theatres (as witness the February ad at above left). What more natural than to give Mickey life and offer face time to the fan base? Threshold questions, however: Did we need to be confronted with rats as big as us? ---let alone ones pacing in packs, as here? The Mickeys I've seen lurking Disney parks, with their modern big heads, are similarly adult-size and not a little intimidating. Do they frighten kids? --- I guess no more so than noggins adorning 1931 models. Might it have been preferable to scale these rodents to child stature, as better befitting mice vis a vis people?

Chaplin Associate and Restaurateur Henry Bergman Presents Cheese to Visitor Mice

Mickey Rings In 1931 For Showman Friends
The Hollywood Pantages Theatre was first on the West Coast to utilize mice, and how they did. The Fox chain was tied tight to Fanchon and Marco, the former's house organ (newsletter) tracking ways in which Mickey "gags," stunts, and tie-ups could enhance biz throughout the circuit. A parade of Mickey Mice going up Hollywood Boulevard? Can do (as shown at top). The first mouse to enter one of the new General Electric Refrigerators seemed a good idea, assuming we'd want vermin in our ice-boxes, and what better than for Mickey himself to give away dolls with his likeness in toy departments throughout LA? A real mind-blower for me  was discovery of H'wood restaurateur "Henry" presenting multiple Mickeys with cheese outside his famed eatery. Turns out Henry was none other than rotund comic Henry Bergman, loyal support and majordomo to Charlie Chaplin from legendary Mutual shorts made years before, and briefer appearance in City Lights and later Modern Times.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Cagney and Stanwyck On Low-Watt Setting

Metro Youth Exploitation Minus The Youth: These Wilder Years (1956)

Tycoon James Cagney wants to locate the son he sired, then abandoned, twenty years before, Barbara Stanwyck's adoption agent determined to prevent his making the connect. There's a wayward teen girl, also with child, to rouse responsibility in button-down Jim, this role a distinct depart from shouts to hoarseness his lot in just-previous two, Mister Roberts and Love Me Or Leave Me. Emotional content plays well thanks to Cagney/Stanwyck parlay --- they skip romance to salvage kids in trouble, infant and otherwise. MGM sold this as exploitation, pushing hard the underage preggers theme, that maybe a reason why adults stayed home with TV to Loews loss of $629K. MGM tanked on so many in '56 as to make just showing up an effort.

Sets and backgrounds here are drabber than anthology on free-vee, the home town Cagney returns to like some faceless berg on a later Twilight Zone (in fact, the same backlot was utilized for both). For all we see of Jim's character reaction, it's as though he's never seen the place before. What saves These Wilder Years is performance: great acting against bare walls. Halfway-in Walter Pidgeon shows up to high-power represent Cagney in court, and the two share three lengthy bar-booth conversations, each a primer aspirants might consult for masterful playing. Sentiment builds steady to mature pay-off as lessons are hard-learned and reconciliations effected, Cagney et al doing much with content that might have sunk like stone in less capable hands. Warner Archive has released These Wilder Years on gratifying 1.85 with quality their usual fine.
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