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Saturday, August 31, 2013

A Hammer Great Back In Circulation

A Holiday Heist and Morrell vs. Cushing in Cash On Demand (1961)

"How To Rob A Bank --- And Get Away With It?" read Columbia's promotion of yet another Hammer import, fruit of their 49% ownership in the UK firm and stateside-distributing most of what Hammer produced. That question mark on the tagline might have been assurance to Code monitoring that indeed, no one would get away with bank-robbing in Cash On Demand, any more than in nearly three decades of PCA enforcement. And did Columbia realize they had a perfect Yuletide attraction in Cash On Demand? Apparently not, as it was released in January of 1962, just missing the season. Los Angeles' open was a success thanks to double-feature placement with fad-hot Twist Around The Clock. Cash On Demand turns beautifully on A Christmas Carol's basic theme, Scrooge-like bank manager Peter Cushing humanized by a day's coping with smooth thief Andre Morrell; between these two I'd have split that year's Best Actor Academy Award. My challenge to any viewer would be to come away from Cash On Demand less than a committed fan of Morrell. I only wish he'd gotten parts half so good before and later ... just another jobbing British player capable of greatness. Columbia has Cash On Demand on DVD as part of a fine Hammer "Suspense Collection" --- quality is outstanding.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Dredging Up Some Very Old News

Here's "Banana Oil" From The Silent Days That Don Lockwood Talked About ...

Never Mind MM, As In Monroe --- Give Me MMM, As In Mary Miles Minter

I'd Like Mary Pickford Better If She'd Looked More Like This
You can descend far ways down Hollywood layering of lies, it being a matter of how deep interest goes. The above grabs me for longtime absorption in hardship life of Mary Miles Minter. She's more than tangential to (at least) three books and endless study on the foul-played death of shape-shifting director William Desmond Taylor, whose own story, were it truly known, would challenge belief. So what inspires endless peruse of Hollywood's underbelly, emphasis always on tragedy and decay? Lives have been dedicated to Marilyn Monroe's death, James Dean's final road trip, George Reeves going upstairs, followed by a gunshot. My explore of these has been casual by comparison, that also the case re William Desmond Taylor and who offed him. As fascinating as that mystery's solution (which we still await) is folk born since who've applied more toward unravel than authorities in 1922 (see the remarkable Taylorology, with one hundred online issues so far dissecting the forever mystery). What got forgot is collateral damaged Mary Miles Minter, she of tantalizing closeness to Mary Pickford's hot light before Taylor-related scandal puffed it out. But wait, didn't Mary Miles do a brace of features after the director's murder and quit movies of her own volition? Evidence suggests MMM withdrew to escape a monster Mom's clutch and finally seize life for herself. She'd even nix The Covered Wagon's lead before departure (see Jesse L. Lasky's amusing account of that in memoir I Blow My Own Horn).

So Who Actually Signed This Photo? The Evil Mother, Of Course!

Can't Get Enough Of Epic Weirdness Of A Vanished Era
The real killing was of Mary's spirit by the possible, if not likely, Taylor murderess who gave Juliet Reilly (later Mary Miles Minter) birth. Charlotte Shelby was by all account a fiend cloaked in sacrificial raiment who'd have a fawning press know that she gave up all to guide her daughter through Hollywood thicket and toward glow of belovedness. What Charlotte actually did was change Juliet's name to that of a girl several years dead in order to press pecuniary advantage, steal the millions Juliet/Mary made as result, and threaten with death men who'd despoil her gold-egg-bearing offspring. So did Charlotte kill William Desmond Taylor for licking too near the flame that was Mary Miles Minter? I'd like to think so, as it's less fun assuming a drug dealing nobody committed the crime as averred by some. Shelby/Minter/Taylor's is among great Hollywood horror stories, but happened so long ago (1922) as to make latter-day dramatization less and less likely (observe flop of The Cat's Meow, 2001's recount of the 1924 Thomas Ince affair). Part of reason no one tackled Taylor during what was left of a Studio Era was linen still hung out and dirty. Like Paul Bern's later death and impact on survivor wife Jean Harlow, there was plenty suppressed, with lids nailed down tight.

Actor/Director James Kirkwood: He Seduced Mary,
and Her Mother Threatened To Kill Him For It 
What renewed GPS interest in Mary Miles Minter was chance find of the at top "news" article where she teens-told of how screen greatness was achieved, the whole thing a press-writ tissue of non-truth to celebrate Mary's eternal girlishness and sanctify Charlotte's selfless motherhood. It's all bunk from a first whopper paragraph: I became associated with the films after my mother had insisted for years that I should not do any such thing. In fact, the opposite was true, Charlotte pushing from the start with Mary in resist mode much of that time. Where's fun of being a film star if you're starved, as in denial of food, for all of fame's run? Mary's hate of movies was based largely on their taking meals off her table, and onto Charlotte and bitter sister Margaret's (... older than I am and sort of mothers me, was quote attributed to Mary, though truth was Margaret liked Mary about like Blanche Hudson liked Jane). Here's an article where content should be entirely reversed to get at something of truth, which, of course, is what I enjoy most about it. At least trade ads approached things as they were, as above in Metro's admit that Minter's contract was founded on motherly approval, that a necessity in any case where minors were hired. Hollywood was still a small town then. Was it understood that Charlotte was a lethal party to trifle with?

Never mind my meanderings and go forthwith to the wonderful Looking For Mabel Normand website, where Marilyn Slater has written by far the best summary of Mary Miles Minter's life and career. Check out too the wealth of info and rare imagery elsewhere at this matchless address.

Also there is Greenbriar's 2006 Glamour Starter post on Mary Miles Minter.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Set Strife On a Small, Now Cult, Western

1961 Saturation First-Run for The Deadly Companions in L.A.

The Deadly Companions Comes and Goes in 1961 and 1963

The ring contestants as picked in various interview/bios: Sam Peckinpah directing his first feature, and cameraman William Clothier has his back. In opposite corner are "a bunch of idiots" (Clothier's words) that include star Maureen O'Hara's producing brother and an "ex-prizefighter" for set managing. Some pics make better behind-scenes reading than watching: The Deadly Companions is one. O'Hara said in her book that Peckinpah was incompetent in all ways and his legend status undeserved. There was fighting over, of all things, rattlesnake extras, and surprise! --- support player Steve Cochran couldn't ride a horse (it's known, or should be, that Steve belongs in pinstripes with the holster on his shoulder, not hitched around his pants). Companions is stately, sometimes mournful (that given emphasis by odd-choice music), and yes, Peckinpah's direction left holes along the desert trek. Brian Keith, Chill Wills, and ones of Peckinpah stock company to come are along for the scope/Pathecolor ride. Companions was made for around a half-million --- dirt cheap for an early 60's western with meaningful names.

The Deadly Companions got a second wind two years after 1961 first-run when a consortium of Midwest exhibitors picked it to support indie-made racecar actioner The Checkered Flag, the duo designed to relieve critical product shortage hard-tops and drive-ins were experiencing. It wasn't uncommon for theatre men to roll up sleeves and produce movies as means to fill dates for friends and themselves. Exploitation cheapies were a usual result, these thought easiest to sell among not-choosy patronage. "Motion Picture Investors" was the venture's name, and they'd sink $150K into The Checkered Flag, which was by no one's reckoning good merchandise, but would display well enough on marquees and moonlit screens. The Deadly Companions got a title change (Trigger Happy) and new advertising, plus shortening of length (The Checkered Flag ran 110 minutes). Variety said Trigger Happy was "nothing compelling," but even at that, "several jumps ahead" of The Checkered Flag. Forty prints of the pair were fanned across Midwest dates, eight of them to Kansas City for July 4, 1963 weekend, its yield a "bang-up" $25,000 from participating theatre/drive-ins. 100 bookings through Missouri and Wyoming filled a next thirty days, MP Investors' hope that satisfactory business would yield a national distribution deal with one of the majors (didn't happen). Turned-red, if not vinegar, 35mm prints of The Checkered Flag were likely junked or chain-sawed decades ago, their usefulness having ended shortly after those mid-'63 dates. The film does survive, having been released on DVD by Sinister Cinema. Synopses make it sound somewhat like Red Line 7000 of a couple seasons' later. As to fate of The Deadly Companions, it disappeared for a most part and shows up infrequent now (a TCM run was where I caught it), although there is a Region 2 disc, and VCI has more recently made it available in the US.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

MGM Back Into Uniform

A First Big War Hit After The War: Battleground (1949)

Don't Forget, said 1949 ads: There Was Fun As Well as Hardship
In This Recently Won War
The Battle Of The Bulge from standpoint of grunts endlessly marching through fog, then snow, from nowhere to nowhere. Battleground was the subject Dore Schary transferred from RKO to his new desk at Metro, revisiting a war lately over, and by other execs reckoning, over at boxoffices as well (MGM's Command Decision of the previous year had lost money). Schary did it despite them, his contract extending that authority, and scored a hit that put him solid: $2.5 million profit, a largest by far for 1949. Much credit belonged to directing William Wellman. He'd been on these uniformed treks before and come back with laurels, plus black ink. Battleground was acting lab too for Metro men with promise: Ricardo Montalban, Marshall Thompson, Jerome Courtland, Don Taylor, Herbert Anderson, James Whitmore ... pretty much the run of hopefuls for postwar stardom, buttressed by vets Van Johnson, George Murphy, others.

Wellman excess milks Doug Fowley's false teeth gag after fashion of jokes he'd similarly flogged in earlier pics; Bill, like other been-around-forever helmsmen, figured what was funny then (as in way back ...) would be funny now. Denise Darcel supplied ooh-la-la and art for Metro marketers, a voluptuary prop with which Wellman tickles Code limit (her dialogue-free exchange with Johnson and a bread-cutting knife raised '49 roofs). Other humor clicks: Van schlepping fresh eggs, seemingly across Europe, but can never pause long enough to scramble and eat them. Battleground made its pile by avoiding grit of Wellman's previous The Story Of GI Joe, being not a sugar-coat (good men do die), but opportunity instead for those who'd served to look back at trudgery of thankfully finished combat and recall lighter moments along with loss. Wellman and crew (not forgetting Schary) knew precisely a '49 public's mood, and with Battleground, enjoyed the biggest success any war movie had between victory and Columbia's From Here To Eternity.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

More Of An Early and Primitive Betty Boop

She'd Be Cuter Without The Dog Ears: Barnacle Bill (1930)

In her second cartoon appearance, Betty Boop is ID'ed as "Nancy Lee," an entry in sailor Bimbo's little black book. He's predatory and she's compliant, Barnacle Bill possibly fruit of hangovers Fleischer artists experienced following off-hours spent  burlesque housing or in brothels. There are song lyrics about whisky being "the life of man," and still in development Betty is well along for breathtaking cleavage displayed. Mobile chairs in her apartment make way for a sofa that enters on cue to accommodate the lovers. I'll kiss your cheeks and black your eye, Bill declares to Boop's delight; you couldn't say Fleischer copied Disney with content like this. Betty still has the dog ears, so is a little grotesque, and sex appeal that would secure her stardom is crudely exploited here. Was it Paramount's later edict that she become the put-upon innocent in starring cartoons?

Monday, August 26, 2013

Hellinger and Universal Take It To The Streets

New York From Asphalt Eye-View: The Naked City (1948)

What a blow to film noir was Mark Hellinger's death (in 1947), a potential leading light extinguished before fullest potential was realized. His three as an independent, The Killers, Brute Force, and The Naked City (that last released posthumously) were excellent to a fault: what may have followed can be imagined, especially as Hellinger had pledged talent to Humphrey Bogart's newly formed Santana company --- a creative combination of these two might have been more fruitful than HB's partnership with John Huston; certainly it would have given Bogart a second flush of classics to maybe trump work he'd done for Warners.

The Naked City makes of its grimy NY a land of Oz we moderns would long to visit, if not relocate to, what with theatres, night clubs, penthouse apartments, etc. The story is pure procedural, a novelty then, but it's on-the-spot you'll feel at all times watching. Is there a location shot 40's pic closer to the pavement? Hellinger's own narration captures what his column must have read like before energies were devoted to pic-making. Too bad there aren't scribes like him still making daily contribution to news sheets (but wait ... who reads print news anymore?). Universal-International would finance and release for Hellinger, though rights for both The Naked City and Brute Force reverted back to the producer's estate, enabling a double-bill reissue in 1956 and lease of the pair to Screen Gems for 1957 syndicated TV. Purely great is The Naked City, issued by Criterion in a splendid DVD, but also lately on Netflix and Hulu Plus in HD, a sublime way to view it.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

A Star On The Wane is Britain Bound

Ginger Rogers in UK-Produced Twist Of Fate (1954)

The Brit-dodge of using a faded US star to lock in distribution here sent many a thesp oversea, as Ginger Rogers here, playing in Twist Of Fate a "showgirl" victimized by crooks Stanley Baker and Herbert Lom. Wonder how these UK up-and-comers regarded has-beens who in many cases weren't nearly as capable performers, but got billing and prominence thanks to a name still recognizable, if not potent. Robert Lippert used a same device in his prolific deal with Exclusive/Hammer for supply of crime thrillers using talent below even Ginger Rogers' by-then station: Caesar Romero, Paulette Goddard, Dane Clark --- all of these and others knew England as buffer between features back home and surrender to TV there. Twist Of Fate might generously be called "British Noir," but falls well short of ones more deserving of placement in that category. Ginger Rogers is a bit grizzled for her lead, at 43 a full seventeen years older than romance partner Stanley Baker, his hair unconvincingly grayed to narrow the gulf. Twist Of Fate ran on TCM in full-frame, though 1.85, or approaching wideness, was intended ratio, this further hobbling a minor pic that needs all the presentational help it can get.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Laurel and Hardy Ride The Rails

Deeper Into Talkies With Berth Marks (1929)

Laurel-Hardy's second talker, and one I increasingly like despite Bill Everson once placing it among their weakest shorts. Most of action is confined to an upper train berth in which the boys try to get out of clothes and to sleep, an exercise in frustration shared by  some viewers not so crazy about L&H, but manna for those who figure this team can do no wrong. The added and orchestral (for a reissue) Cuckoo theme in opener scenes takes me aback still as prints our local TV ran in the 60/70's were mute after titles, which I frankly prefer for train station ambience and more natural sounds. The platform attendant's fast recite of stops must have been a big laff-getter in '29 when  gags based on novelty of sound were fresher than fresh. I've read of location onlookers disrupting work with giggle noise, a bane for comedians who'd had luxury of silent-era shoots where crowd chatter didn't matter. Is this part of why Stan later said he preferred doing those earlier shorts? Trains are such leviathans in this and same-period shot Railroadin' with Our Gang, Roach crews clocking days among choo-choos that fascinate us for sheer brute. An on-board and clothes-ripping Battle Of The Century is drug in by heels, L&H still guided by tropes reliable from a start of teaming. Paulette Goddard is said to be among train extras; has anyone made positive identification? I haven't so far. Mournful sounds of rail travel drone over Stan/Babe caught in their garment tangle, an effect maybe not intended, but a plus for those who like vibe of starter talkies. There's a silent version of Berth Marks out there that would make interesting comparison. Blackhawk used to sell it. I wonder how many collectors still have prints in 8 and 16mm.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Another UK Worthy Broken On US Shoals

Michael Redgrave in The Browning Version (1951)

I can't imagine a higher pedigree of British drama, nor one less likely to fetch US coin. Universal-International distributed Browning here, part of ongoing link with Uni partner and major stockholder J. Arthur Rank, who tied up with the firm mainly to get better distribution for his Brit pics on our shores. Trouble was habitual resistance on part of both showmen and even U-I sales staff, the latter's push on Abbott and Costello or Audie Murphy reluctantly shared with heavy fare off Rank shelves (and "rank" was a word some indelicately applied to much of this unwanted merchandise). U-I had earlier maintained a special "Prestige" unit to handle Rank releases, the idea being to target art houses, but thanks to sluggish result there, and Rank's pressure for a wider reach, they'd be sold right alongside U-I's own output, thus potential for double featuring The Browning Version with whatever sword-and-sashing Tony Curtis was up to. Outcome was as expected: The Browning Version earned rentals of $98,627 for Universal from a mere 460 bookings, this according to data in Sarah Street's fine survey of British films in the US, Transatlantic Crossings. The Browning Version is presently handled by Criterion and shows up in HD on Hulu Plus.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Surrender To Stroheim!

"Every Woman's Ideal" Takes The Wedding March

 Still A Teen When This Was Taken,
 and Twice In The Clutches Of Von!
It's none of my business and years past mattering, but did Fay Wray actually sleep with Erich von Stroheim? The notion seems impure; my suggesting it an affront to decency in the eyes of many, yet it lingers. "Every woman's ideal" may well have been the case in 1927 when the above ad for The Wedding March appeared. Fay wrote of dawning love for Von in her 1989 memoir, On The Other Hand. Seems she confessed all to him during the shoot, and "in a flash, he had me pinned against the corridor wall, his body pressing against mine." According to Wray, her "heartbeat" was asking What has happened? What have I done? This, I'd suppose, is what fifty years does for a memory. EvS withdrew because "perhaps he heard someone coming." Withdrawals are a commonplace among actress reminiscence. Those of Fay Wray's generation were always saved at last moments from fate worse than death (or loss of parts), just like in movies. There would be another narrow escape as the wedding marched: Fay in Von's office ... "again, he pressed himself against me, bending me backward over the desk" ... only this time she hears someone coming. Freeze-frame Stroheim a la Warners' cartoon coyote and he'd be Erich von Coitus Interruptus.

Her Love Sacred, His Profane, and We're Talking Off The Set

When Asked If He Was As Cruel To Women
Off-Camera As On, EvS Replied, "Much More So"
This Wedding's banquet offered selling choice to showmen. They could propose Von as the Great Lover, The Genius Director, or ongoing Man You Love To Hate, that last a drop-out thanks to EvS being sympathetic for once, his faded Prince a lecher and layabout, but not an altogether bad guy. The above Allen ad tried "Carelessly insolent" Stroheim on (female surrender) terms as a "dashing" romantic figure, which gives some idea of wider range 1927 had in matinee idols. "Smartly accounted" may have referred to Von's attention to detail with regards dress, right down to silken underthings on both cast and extras so everyone could breathe his authenticity. The Wedding March was tendered too in terms of Stroheim as meg wielder supreme, equal at least to Griffith for having given us The Merry Widow (a hit) and longer-ago Blind/Foolish/Husbands/Wives, boilermakers that patronage still whispered over. I could cry that The Honeymoon, part two of The Wedding March and another feature in itself, perished in a 50's Paris Cinémathèque fire (or was it nitrate decomp of the print? --- both fates have been floated).

Too Bad He Didn't Stick Around To Direct Hotel Imperial

The Honeymoon Is Over, But Did It Burn or Deteriorate?
What effort it once was to see rare silent classics! (still is for many titles), The Wedding March one I'd read about for eternity up to crowded view in 16mm on a hotel wall at an 80's Cinevent. Someone had snatched a print from who knows where and held room service screening for those dedicated enough to seat themselves for hours on the floor, either bed (with others squeezed on a la Three Stooges), or direct-under the chattering projector. In those days, there were more movies watched in attendee's private space than at con-arranged play. You could walk down a hall to accompany of five or six soundtracks seeping from under doors. There was no music for our Wedding March run, alas, but it did have color sequences long legendary and presumed missing, at least by enraptured me. The sit was an ordeal what with light-leak around curtains and doors slamming without, but what matter to us and a mute print? An aching back at conclusion of reels and reel changes was small price for seeing The Wedding March, as who knew if opportunity would ever come again? Rumor stays afoot that Criterion proposed a Blu-Ray Wedding and Paramount accepted. Is announcement in the offing? There are few silents I'd choose over The Wedding March. Surely in High-Def, this would be a most stunning of all pre-talk visual treats.

Stroheim is rife at Greenbriar Archive, with Five Graves To Cairo, The Crime Of Dr. Crespi, The Lady and The Monster, and much more.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Did Seeing This Inspire Any Young Folk To Seek Out Silent Movies?

Contemporary Look-In --- Hugo (2011)

Parisian orphan meets George Melies and they bond. Another of contempo pics where production design weighs like an elephant foot. Director Martin Scorsese does high-tech homage to lush filmmaking of Michael Powell extraction, Hugo a keyboard-enabled Peter Pan flying places no camera went before. Scorsese might be a modern magician after Melies' own example, but for fact so many helmsmen with big $ resource doing similar exotic dance. Hugo is typical of currents that tell an 80 minute story in two hours. Moments are magical and Hugo's shot through with Scorsese love for cinema at time of inception. If only he could use the hundred and fifty million to document same and leave off at times treacly narrative.

The boy that is Hugo is weepy, but determined. He'd like to communicate with his dead father through a robot they restored together (here called an automaton). Is this at all healthy pursuit for a youngster? Writer wish fulfillment gives Hugo a pretty girlfriend who shares his morbid obsession and loves him for 30's-era pioneering geekiness. This is (or ever was) happening in real life about like a cheerleader going with me in 1969 to see Destroy All Monsters, but H'wood scribes renew the fantasy in hopes of such Beauty and The Dork dreams somehow coming true.

Ben Kingley is the cranky (not camera-wise) Melies, forlorn at his toy kiosk as was real-life GM, Scorsese poising the discarded genius for a same sort of triumphal comeback Tim Burton gave his Ed Wood in 1992, outcast picture-makers of yore vindicated by modern counterparts who identify strongly with them, despite Scorsese/Burton being at no risk of decline and continuing to direct high-profile pics themselves. Sir Chris Lee is the wise old bookseller. I kept wishing he had played Melies instead of Kingsley, renewal of objection felt when Lee got the Mycroft part in Wilder's The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes rather than leading as he deserved. Sacha Baron Cohen is excellent as the cruel station inspector tossing children into a black hole of orphan asylums. He's obviously a gifted actor for having gone from Borat and Bruno to characterization like this.

The Hugo kids go see Harold Lloyd in a theatre and we get a glimpse of Safety Last in HD, which amounted to theatrical preview of Criterion's Blu-Ray which would follow within the year or two. Hugo is a Disneyland for those who thrive on birthing movies. Its re-creation of Melies-conjuring spares no expense and is lovingly rendered. "Selected" theatres got Hugo in 3-D, but my run was flat, which I'd have no other way in the face of 126 minutes and horrific prospect of sitting that long wearing depth specs. The best of Hugo is remarkable, though. Let go the mopey kid, focus on Melies, with more of Chris Lee, and I'd gladly watch again.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Dredging Up Another Forgotten Cartoon

Live Action and Animation Combine (Again) in Tail Of The Monk (1926)

What's fun at times is watching a really obscure cartoon, then digging up origin of same and possible others in a series. Few animated shorts were stand-alones, virtually all tied to a maker's hope that showmen would like their pilot and ask for more. The silent era was rife with try-and-mostly-fail cartoon groups. At times, it seemed a public was fed up altogether with drawings that moved, that the result of so many letting them down. J.R. Bray (called "Jay" by associates) had been hustling shorts since the teens and by the mid-20's was at output's peak. His newest brainstorm was the "Unnatural History" cartoons, an ongoing survey of how camels got humps, piggies grew curly tails, ostriches acquired plumes, and so on. In other words, a series with built-in expiration, good for a season or two at best. After all, you could account for only so many animals before they'd run out.

Live action bumpers were used to set up animation middles, that a labor and dollar saving device permitting Bray to sell Tail Of The Monk and other Unnatural Histories as both comedy and cartoon. Veteran shorts producer Joe Rock, lately off a group with Stan Laurel, shepherded live action inserts to precise script measurement of animating Walter Lantz, who, along with future Disney hire David Hand, got director credit. Rock later told interviewers that footage had to be measured to the frame so cartoony stuff could be overlaid. This was early combination of people with animation, a signature of the Fleischers (who were better at doing them), and stolen afterward by others. Tail Of The Monk has an organ grinder who explains to a weepy child (she's lost her lollypop to his monkey) how that animal learned to make practical use of his tail. The merge of live and cartoon is crude, but so was much of Walt Disney with his Alice series that was coming out at a same time. The Unnatural Histories rose and fell to little acclaim, though trade reviews for Tail Of The Monk were kind ("Great stuff for the young," said Moving Picture World). Don't know how many of them survive today, so we may never learn how the camel got his hump, or the piggy ... whatever ... but I'd guess Tail Of The Monk represents the group as well as any, and should satisfy cartoon curiosity seekers.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Greenbriar Back In The Hound's Grip

Sherlock Holmes The "Hip, Junkie Cop"

Here's a breath-taker ad from that classy decade that was the 70's. It was a best of times, but also a worst, in terms of oldies repositioned as relevant to then-fashion. With the drug culture in full swing, what was more natural than to propose Sherlock Holmes as its lead apostle? Hound Of The Baskervilles may have been in and out of circulation for a while, but "not seen legally in the US or Canada on TV or theatre for over 30 years"? In fact, Hound had been in tube syndication since 1956, with a few breaks as it bounced among distributors. Our Channel 8 in High Point unleashed Hound for its Shock Theatre on 4/27/68, which would have been the first time I saw it. "The highly censored motion picture struggled out of Hollywood" says ballyhoo at left, and who among bell-bottomed patronage would argue? I'd have likely, and happily, fallen for such ruse along with the rest.

A Comparatively Staid Ad From 1939, But Note
How It Also Centers The "Needle" Line
The idea that Hound Of The Baskervilles bore content "not good for public consumption" was icing on countercultural cake for trade these houses hoped to lure. Participating venues were located in the Baltimore vicinity, most having been built as multiplexes in the early 70's (the Rotunda opened in 1974). Anyway, that's four 35mm prints of Hound in play ... wonder how many were generated overall ... do readers recall seeing Hound theatrically around this time? I'd not call 1939's Hound "poignant," but it's enjoyable. Sherlock Holmes as "the first hip cop" is ripe fruit to contemplate, but was he so hip as then-TV's Baretta, or Starsky and Hutch? We can hope Baltimore attendance found him so. "Junkie cop" seems a severe appellation, but like Freaks at the wedding banquet, I can imagine crowds at those twin or more crackerboxes chanting One of us, One of us ... when Holmes called Quick! for his needle. Wonder who dreamed up this ad copy. Probably someone that had successfully programmed movies in college. There were all sorts of tricks to making relics seem new for kids looking to fill an evening. Curiosity was always there for antiquity that somehow spoke to contemporaries --- so what if Baltimore's engagement played loose with truth in advertising? Hound Of The Baskervilles was probably never such fun as with these audiences.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Vitaphone Introduces A Fresh Comic

Joe E. Brown in Twinkle-Twinkle (1927)

One of those earliest Vitaphone shorts where performers bow at the end and wait for your applause. For initial novelty months it was a habit, then audiences became self-conscious clapping for phantom figures and began jeering instead. A most promising of Vita-jesters was Joe E. Brown, who has what appears to be a screen debut here. He's certainly different, if not fall-down funny, with a strong voice that augured well for features to come. Warners must have looked close at this reel, for they'd make Brown a comic force and big money farceur right through to the mid-thirties. Twinkle-Twinkle has a studio setting, Joe as intruder seeking "Griff," that is, D.W. Griffith, who was still, but for not much longer, representing Hollywood hierarchy. Brown's satchel mouth is unpacked; it would take a public years to tire of that. He's good at comic rehearsal of clinches with a screen vamp, demonstrating himself as a next big thing in talking comedy. Overall a priceless reel, thank heaven extant in spite of minor nitrate decomp in an opening scene. It's part of another Vitaphone Varieties set (Volume Two) from Warner Archive.
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