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Saturday, May 31, 2014

John Wayne On Way-Back Machine

He's Singin' Sandy in Riders Of Destiny (1933)

Sinister Cinema has done John Wayne completists a service with its DVD transferred from excellent 35mm elements of this "Singin' Sandy" B done by Duke as he climbed up budget pic ladders. He'd disdain the cheapies later, but Wayne became very much a star doing them, and probably would have broken into A's even without Ford's Stagecoach assist. The opener scene is priceless, JW's desert traverse whilst warbling of "blood running in the street tonight." (sources say it was Bob Steele's twin brother, Bill, that voiced him). This was the first Wayne for Lone Star, where he'd stay till Republic rustled him. I caught a stunt man taking a leap for JW off desert rocks, but otherwise, the star does his own actioning. It's said Wayne was awkward with dialogue in these and "seems embarrassed." Was he truly? Maybe this actor waited to act until material suited him. Such was certainly done before and since by others. Anyone would have been embarrassed by Singin' Sandy, after all. There's a spike to enjoyment for 35mm sourcing: all of Lone Stars would benefit --- and bear in mind Sinister didn't monkey with the soundtrack as have others. Latter are pills impossible to sit through (I haven't got five minutes into any delivered that way). Trying to modernize Lone Stars defeats purpose of watching --- we want early Duke to date. Sinister has others of his derived from 35mm, all recommended.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Metro's Idea Of 1946 Comedy

Character Comics Support MGM Youth in Faithful In My Fashion (1946)

Metro's dose of silly, released the same season as Cinderella Jones, which just shows how pervasive such stuff was in a market where ticket buyers voted loudest for comedies, never mind the being funny part. Loving couple here is Donna Reed and Tom Drake, neither gifted at farce, but pretty to frame in close-up, and grace fan pages. Believe it or don't, but many kept scrapbooks devoted to Tom Drake, some going to Ebay after passing of admirer(s). There's pathos in that, especially considering Drake himself ended up selling used cars down the boulevard from Metro (note Tom's message on the poster at left: Thanks for the fan letters). More than looks was needed to sustain, even at glamour-vested Leo. Donna Reed lasted for improving with time. Pair-off comedies like Faithful In My Fashion make us realize value of old-timers in support: Edward Everett Horton, Spring Byington, Harry Davenport, and Margaret Hamilton must have known they were the whole show, no matter their down-list billing. Given time-travel back to work in movies, I'd prefer life of a character player, next to absolute studio monarch, of course.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Warners On The Up-Beat

WB and Berkeley Strike Up Cinderella Jones (1946)

William Prince takes soap for cheese and eats a sandwich of it. If that's any idea of funny, then Cinderella Jones may be your dish in addition to mine, dumber than dumb Warner comedies from the 40's always a Greenbriar pleasure so long as they're brassy and reflect how others were engaged while Flynn, Bogart, and Davis were doing shows we remember better. There's indication that Cinderella Jones was shot earlier with release delayed, a likelihood given cars stamped with ration stickers and background folk in uniform. The title song is catchy, but I found no recordings of it beyond what's in the movie (Petula Clark did a "Cinderella Jones" recording in 1960, but that's a different tune). Interest might attach for Busby Berkeley directing, his last at Warners, but swooping cameras and chorus patterns aren't in evidence. Why spend when Joan Leslie and largely untried Robert Alda are your headliners? Second-tier WB people get a look in, so there's welcome Julie Bishop, nee Jacqueline Wells --- she jitterbugs --- and William Prince is auditioned for romantic work to come (reward: his lead opposite Ida Lupino in not dissimilar Pillow To Post). "Cuddles" Sakall is called Cuddles by a second half, as if cast members gave up trying to recall his character's name. WB comedies like Cinderella Jones are window to years they were made, and that makes all worth treasuring.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Chaney Table Scraps Taste Just Fine

What's Left Of Lon Is Cinevent Highlight

Back from Columbus where I saw what survives of two Lon Chaney features, Triumph and The Road To Mandalay. They're frankly a mess, reels missing with steeple-jump narrative as result (explanatory titles fill potholes). Here's the thing, however: I don't care ... because it's Chaney ... and I'll take him hobbled as freaks and humpbacks he so-oft played. We should rejoice that any of this stuff made a ninety years' count, for how much of silent cinematics exist today, let alone so much of Chaney? Somehow it seems appropriate to view him through moldered nitrate. Getting through these is what separates hard-core from dilettante fan-ship. To seize on sterling LC moments is like grab of lightning bugs on a summer's eve: they go by fast and blink but briefly. He self-sacrifices yet again, in both pics, taking a murder rap in Triumph, then offing Mandalay villainy to save a daughter who stabs him for the effort (except she doesn't know he'd Dad, and thinks he's trying to kill her betrothed, and ... well, let it go). Lon has a white eye and decorative scar in the latter that I could and did draw to accuracy at age ten, thanks to frequent Famous Monsters placement (was there an issue that didn't feature Chaney?). LC is Mandalay-intro'ed as summit of badness, softened by clergyman brother Henry B. Walthall and aforesaid offspring Lois Moran. Was Chaney the first, if only, major star who could (so frequent) die at the end of his movies and still let us leave satisfied?

More of LC at Greenbriar Archives: Lon Chaney Shall Not Die!: Part One and Two, Phantom Of The Opera, Tell It To The Marines, and The Black Bird.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Another Something Special When It Was New

Suicide Fleet Floats Toledo's Boat

A few days ago, I coasted over Suicide Fleet in dismiss terms typical for one seeing cloudy remnant on TCM, my idea of an antique grounded since 1931 when viewership thought as little of the RKO programmer. It took images rescued from Toledo's Rivoli Theatre to realize (again) how even ordinary product could become an event with proper handling. A Naval Guard Of Honor at the Rivoli's entrance? Can be done. Is that a hundred there in uniform? Sure looks to be. Such bally was typical of the Rivoli. In fact, it was typical to venues all over the country. That's what made this a Golden Age we'll not tire of. The childish mob scene (below) I'll assume was a weekly thing. Whenever school was out, they'd be in. Must have been a giveaway happening on this occasion, because lots are holding up booty of some sort. Appears to be model airplanes, stuffed animals, what all? Check the boy in front with flight jacket and goggles on his head --- another junior Lindy kitted out after idol's example. And whoa --- look at the coming attraction indicated at right --- Frankenstein! They'll be back for that sure as sun shines, or sure as I would given youth spent in the 30's (Query: Would you endure a countrywide and ongoing Depression for access to great movies and theatres they had then?). Vaudeville was the gravy --- Emil Boreo, a performer of "speed and explosive manner" who oft-played a comic Frenchman and would later be seen in Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes.

Is That a Streetcar Track In The Foreground?

Monday, May 26, 2014

Hitchcock and Showmen Start With A Kiss

The Clinch That Filled 1,200 Seats

I guess we have an idea at least of why Notorious stays so popular among Hitchcock thrillers, but what jammed Chicago's RKO Grand for a record nine weeks in 1946? From September to late November, there came continuous lines to the 1,200 seat venue, "Open All Day and Night," as indicated on the marquee at left. Downtown day-timers and night-owls might turn up at any time, 1946 a biggest ever year for moviegoing, with industry profits well over a hundred million. Production was down from prewar levels thanks to top product sustaining longer runs. What got buzz going on Notorious, at least in Chicago and I'll bet many spots elsewhere, was "The Kiss," as touted in the above ad. Movies had been sold, and would be again, on express of passion to skirt the Code. There was Flesh and The Devil from silent days, and after Notorious came A Place In The Sun, From Here To Eternity, and even unto 60's The Thomas Crown Affair as builder blocks to kiss-centric campaigns. Word-of-mouth could heat auditoriums for ... well, nine weeks, as here. There's been too little writ of steam Hitchcock applied to love scenes. Here was where the director used every trick in his bag to elude censors. The end game for Notorious was simple. Rules stated no kiss could last past X number of seconds, so Hitchcock simply breaks the clinch with dialogue as Cary Grant/Ingrid Bergman move from patio start to exit door parting, love making continuous even as the two stay resolutely vertical. Trick to intimacy was Hitchcock pulling in close to make us feel a part of the action, a device he'd use in most of thrillers to come (I'm waiting for someone to do an AH book of frames capturing just his man/woman stuff --- such would make a thick volume). With "The (Notorious) Kiss," Hitchcock manipulated viewers into belief that the lip-press itself ran past forbidden zone, and that's what they'd carry to friends/family yet to warm seats at the Grand. Score another Bull's-Eye for the Master and his marketers.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Plight Of Ex-Cons at Warners

Must George Raft Go On Wearing Invisible Stripes? (1940)

Call this what might have happened if Paul Muni's fugitive had been set free in '33 to face slammed employer doors, except Warners had during interim backed off social crusading for action aspect of cons back in civie circulation. Society's intolerance gets a mention, but plays second to banks robbed, gats firing, and worst of thuggery plunged off window ledges. Kids could by 1939 look to gang subjects for as much mayhem as westerns delivered, no coincidence that crime yarns at WB often got remade in the saddle (High Sierra/Colorado Territory a best-known instance). George Raft is put-upon lead, wanting to go straight except society won't let him. Stir-mate Humphrey Bogart is less sanguine, thus it's him we find interesting, if not sympathetic. HB was getting more and more texture into hoods he played, career leap of High Sierra an inevitable one. William Holden is Raft's kid brother tempted toward wrong; and how this actor improved with age and experience. Could anyone on Invisible Stripes have imagined that Bill would be a biggest of lead man draws in the 50's? (well, for that matter, could they have pictured Bogart as WB's top romantic name within three short years?)

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Winning War On The Buddy System

Bill Boyd and Crew Sign On a Suicide Fleet (1931)

An RKO-Pathé product, being vehicle for two-fister Bill Boyd and sidekicks (both irritating) Robert Armstrong and James Gleason. They join the navy to please Ginger Rogers, for whom I'd not cross a street, let alone sign on for WWI (never a fan of hers). There's Coney Island stuff for opener reels and German U-boats to finish, these fillup of 87 minutes that pass like twice same. Picture the following: Frank Reicher, Captain Englehorn of King Kong, is a hynie ship's captain taken off board, his identity assumed by to-be Carl Denham (Armstrong). Seems many RKO streams fed into Kong. There is surprising lot of German-speak minus subtitles, some of it going on for minutes. Ship-and-sub stuff is bigger scale than expected --- was Suicide Fleet positioned to be a special at some point? Consider how many service pix there were with rival pals for whatever love interest --- try counting, let alone watching, them all. Suppose it was Flagg-Quirt that spread the contagion, which would last right through another World War and into the 50's. If a director hung on long enough, like Raoul Walsh with Marines, Let's Go, it could even drag unto the 60's.

Friday, May 23, 2014

You Want To Be A Football Hero?

Fort Dodge Football Celebrated with The Drop Kick (1927)

Somewhere in Fort Dodge, Iowa, there might be someone who still has a football autographed by Richard Barthelmess and presented to the high school football team of 1927. Sport was king in those years, college grid a way into local equivalent of movie stardom for young men that could lead the team. Some of those who college-played did make it to Hollywood, like John Mack Brown. Most male names with at least suggestion of youth carried the ball for cameras. Dick Barthelmess was 32 by time of The Drop Kick, assuming the role of college boy to kick winner goals. The Strand's ad promised "Co-Ed Romance --- Campus Scandal --- College Widows," that last intriguing because I've wondered since first seeing Horse Feathers what a college widow was. Here, then, are two definitions: (1) a young woman in a college town who dates students of successive classes, and (2) a girl whom new men meet from year to year but whom no one ever marries. OK, that settles that. The Strand "Wonder Organ" had been recently installed at cost of $3,395, according to a comment at Cinema Treasures (house seating: 572). Presentation of a signed football from Dick must have been crowning glory for the H.S. team and management. Someone at First National's Iowa exchange likely got a clap on the back for arranging this. Do you suppose that pigskin might still be displayed in the school's trophy case? Notable is sport theme carrying over to a short subject billed with The Drop Kick, funnyman Billy Bevan in The Golf Nut.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Columbia Crew Takes To The Air

Precode In Flight With Air Hostess (1933)

Desire to know what became of the guy from The Crowd can be satisfied here. James Murray was director King Vidor's discovery who came to sorry ends, according to KV's memoir which positioned Murray as cautionary fable of what too much Hollywood could do to a man. Otherwise, Air Hostess is Columbia pudding not too thick, or enriching, theirs mixed by gallon to fill lower bills or lead for smallest houses. There are rickety planes lined up and aloft. You wonder how any pilots survived for long, never mind if there were wars in progress. Air Hostess starts with sacrifice and promise made after dogfighting, flashes forward to '33 for what's posited as pay-off. Murray has bombast but little flair. I see Doug Jr. or the like playing it better at Warners. Evelyn Knapp stayed in B's, even a serial (as updated Pauline, as in Perils Of ...). She's fresh and appealing, but judging by career stall, not enough so? There's a train/plane rescue for the finish with lamentable miniatures, but such was fun of programmers like Air Hostess done on hope that crowds would forgive. The modest pic collected $172K in domestic rentals. It turns up on TCM in a beautiful Columbia transfer. Someone there needs a medal for inventory maintenance.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Was It The Martin and Lewis Story?

Dean and Jerry Being Themselves in The Stooge (1952)

A Martin and Lewis done almost two years before its release, a delay caused by --- what? There's been suggestion that producer Hal Wallis was discomfited by subject matter, Dean being a heel to doormat Jerry and far less laughs than had been case with initial M&L's. If The Stooge got under skin, it might have been Jerry's, his title character desperate throughout to please an indifferent Dean. Was this by most accounts, including Lewis' own, how things were offscreen? Dean plays parts of The Stooge like a noir anti-hero. I wonder if he ever passed Burt Lancaster or Charlton Heston in Wallis hallways and wondered why he couldn't do the straight and rugged stuff. Anything off-formula was figured to shake limbs, and Wallis had overseen enough series to know folly in that. What was difference to his mind between Dean/Jerry and Joe E. Browns turned out wholesale at Warner Bros. while Wallis ran production there in the 30's? Martin and Lewis would have looked to be a fad with four or maybe five years to maximize output, never mind merit, and harvest whatever there'd be of coin before novelty and interest flagged.

Jerry Lewis complained that Wallis had no head for comedy and I can imagine Hal wondering what point the performer was trying to make. Here was rush on a finite vein of gold, as Dean Martin might also have sensed. Could that be why he took money and ran to golf courses? Lewis had Chaplinesque designs and would eventually upset a golden apple cart. I wish an alternate history could tell us how much longer M&L might have lasted as a team had the 1956 break-up not occurred. The Stooge came at peak of a public's engagement. For young folk, especially boys, Martin and Lewis were a happier discovery than even Abbott and Costello had been. What is laborious in The Stooge are routines Jerry does sans Dean, like a lunch counter exchange or business with a  squirting sink in a train compartment. Lewis relied mostly on two expressions: manic and pouty. He's likeable with neither to my thinking. At least there's curiosity for Lewis pics with Martin; when Jerry became the whole show, it was every viewer for him/herself.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Future Star Starting Out

Speed (1936) Offers James Stewart First-Billing For A First Time

Good gracious, James Stewart's first starring part and he owns it. Even a dimmest Metro onlooker could see this was a star not of the future, but right now. He's a car designer who doubles at daredevil testing of fresh-off-line heaps. It looks like he's riding inside an elephant. Cars were big enough then to sustain rollovers without injury; their size plus a seatbelt would reassure me, but hold on, there weren't generally safety straps in '36 (read once where MGM director Clarence Brown had them installed in vehicles he drove --- smart man). There's near-documentary tour of assembly lines where behemoths were built; antiquity buffs would dig this mightily. Speed was off Metro's own B assembly (negative cost: $194K), so it's an economy model, but names and surplusage wasn't needed, this a 70 minutes behind wheels we'd not want to last longer. Stewart reads lines in natural, even off-hand, manner; he'd have been a refresher from chalk walking done by beginning others. At romance, he seemed diffident, but was really a wolf in sheep's clothing, and there I'd submit was a secret of his eventual success. Wasn't there an interview where someone asked Jim about Speed and he couldn't remember making it? Good thing it wasn't me posing questions, as first out of box would have been, What was it like working with the great Ted Healy?

Monday, May 19, 2014

Universal Mounts A Sure Thing

Francis Is Sure (Four) Footed For 1950 Grosses

Guess I'm mulish, or maybe an outright horse's ass, for not having ever watched a Francis comedy. So question to you all: Is the long-running series worthy? We had them on Charlotte's Channel 3 most Sundays, an afternoon wheel spun not only on the mule, but Ma/Pa Kettle and Abbott/Costello features. I confess further to never seeing a Kettle, then or lately. Should Greenbriar be permitted to stay open in light of such dereliction? Universal-International rode Francis hard through the 50's. There was the 1950 original and six offspring. Of course, I missed them in theatres, being too young, my age group's animal acts being Flipper, Rhino!, Clarence, The Cross-Eyed Lion, etc. These probably made Francis look like Citizen Kane by comparison. Universal used to haul their ass to theatres country-wide for live appearances. There was even a "wedding" ceremony for Francis and a femme mule conducted on stage. It is not known if consummation followed. Francis output played as singles in small houses like our Allen Theatre, which thanks to product split, got all that flowed from Universal. Bigger towns might find Francis as rear end to a newest Audie Murphy or Jeff Chandler. First of the Francis bunch, as ad-featured today, was depart from comedy gone before (unless there were previous talking mules I'm unaware of), so Universal treated the 1950 release like something very special. I'll have to assume these celebrity endorsements were on the level, names like Fred Allen, Bob Hope, Groucho, etc. not known to have been in bed with U-I at the time. I'd figure then, that each truly liked Francis, and wanted us to like him too. Universal in addition did a hard sell trailer, viewable at You Tube, with Don Wilson, assisted by Rock Hudson, interviewing preview patrons. It's an all-time classic among previews.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Independents Stake Hollywood Claim

Passing An Hour with Shadows Over Shanghai (1938)

This was a "B" out of Grand National Pictures, the industry's much heralded new arrival from 1936, now floundering and in midst of court-supervised reorganization when independent producer Franklyn Warner set to work on Shadows Over Shanghai for GN release. Warner's company was called Fine Arts Pictures, and like so many start-ups of the era, had grandiose plans. Warner pledged twenty-six features. He'd complete four, the first being Shadows Over Shanghai, warmly welcomed by a trade that could use all the support features it could get in a voracious 1938 market. Double-feature policy was ingrained by this time, so more the better was attitude among distribution and exhibitors. Fine Arts bit off perhaps more than it could digest, having announced a fantasy pic to top King Kong and The LostWorld called Wonder World. That wasn't made, but not for lack of good intention.

Shadows Over Shanghai had at least plenty of that, being cast nicely with known faces to support James Dunn, formerly a headliner at Fox whose party ways and grip by the grape had put a star career on tailspin. His was a line in Irish hoke that fitted Shanghai to sixty-five minute measure, "not long enough to keep the framework of the story from gawkily punching through the celluloid," said Variety. What said story amounted to was chase after an amulet that's key to collecting a cash fortune, varied villainy bent on getting same away from Dunn and femme interest Linda Gray. Background was the Sino-Japanese conflict in late-30's bloom, politics off the table in favor of simplest melodrama. Laughs are where you find them; Dunn's a wiseacre as ever, and one's own threshold for that will key enjoyment of Shadows Over Shanghai.

There is air raid stock footage to imply grandeur, some of it culled off newsreels. A good cast was thought worth repeating after the end title, and indeed it was, as players like Ralph Morgan and Robert Barrett, in addition to Dunn, were well known from big studio A's. Funny man of the silents Billy Bevan looks in from bartender's vantage, demonstrating again what a fine character player he'd become out of Sennett wardrobe. Grand National got Shadows Over Shanghai into release for December 1938. By then, Fine Arts and Franklyn Warner had fallen out with Grand National, made a takeover attempt, then buried hatchets toward hope of further teamwork. That wouldn't happen, unfortunately, as shortage of cash, that oldest of obstacles, put both on ice soon after. Fine Arts' feature output would cede after its initial quartet, and Grand National liquidated in 1940, noble effort having been made by both in cruel face of picture-making reality.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Harold Lloyd Goes Way Out West

When Comedy Was Highlight Of The Show: An Eastern Westerner (1920)

Harold Lloyd was up to $750 per week by this time. Did that make him a highest paid comedian next to, maybe Chaplin or Arbuckle? Possibly Mabel Normand earned more as well. There were young contract players in the early 60's getting less from major companies, so I'd say $750 in 1920 was serious money. An Eastern Westerner was released as a two-reel "special," label at the time for a short sold like a feature, or at least the program's lead attraction. There are many ads from the late teens putting two-reel comedies top and center over dramatic stuff offered in five and six parts. Comedies with Harold Lloyd had become many people's reason for attending a show. Extensive trade support would reflect booming popularity for Hal Roach's Number One fun-maker. An Eastern Westerner is structured not unlike longer shows Lloyd would soon make, being similar in concept to Doug Fairbanks' Wild and Wooly from 1917. Every comedian in town had by now done a western spoof, but none so adroitly as Harold here. An Eastern Westerner is fast and funny with a romance (Mildred Davis), that last eluding rival comics with less femme appeal than Harold Lloyd fast developed (and judging by distaff fan following to this day, he's still got).

Friday, May 16, 2014

Cost Of Making War At Metro

Casualties Mount in Command Decision (1949)

Based on a best-seller novel, serialized in Reader's Digest, adapted to Broadway, Command Decision got close as a property then-could to full market penetration. I don't wonder that Metro wanted it as a vehicle for their strong lineup of lead men, each joining an ensemble to take turns at bravura speeching. To that last, you could have spread Best Support Actor Awards among at least six cast members if not for fact they only hand out one per year. I ran Command Decision for a group and all were stunned by Walter Pidgeon's dynamo of a chalk talk about air combat losses and price Allies paid for sending so many to certain doom. Then Gable stands up to raise ante on aspects not then known about the war we'd just won. A lot of what came out here had to be a shock in 1949. No movie had so bluntly spelled sacrifice that was made, and there is acknowledgement of the petty role politics played. I'm surprised Command Decision isn't better known for bold postwar statements it makes.

The trailer focused on bombers taking off, implying air action that isn't part of Command Decision. In fact, there's not a shot fired. Suspense revolves around wall sized maps and impossibility of deep penetration into Germany without massive casualty. Did viewing family members come to fuller understanding of how brothers-fathers died after watching Command Decision? Telegrams from the War Department wouldn't have gone into such detail. CD had a Now It Can Be Told quality to draw line of demarcation from flag-wavers retired after Axis surrenders. Increasingly choosy postwar patronage wouldn't have stood for more of the same in any case. I read how Gable pushed MGM to buy this property, but I doubt if it took much persuasion. Trouble was expense in the getting, which swelled negative cost to $2.4 million. Word might have got round that Command Decision was a downer, and admittedly it is in final analysis, what with body count repeated over 112 humorless minutes. Worldwide rentals were $3.6 million, but there was still a loss ($122K). Battleground from later in the year was more a scrapbook of the war customers wanted to see, made much cheaper and taking a whopper $2.5 million in profits.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Fill Your Canteen For A Desert Crossing

Beau Ideal (1931) Gives Once Silent Legionnaires Something To Talk About

This appears to be another of RKO's from the 1930-31 season that fell into Public Domain. It was a sequel to Paramount's very successful Beau Geste from 1926, the latter being silent with bigger names than Radio brought to bear here. The same director, Herbert Brenon, was back aboard, but he'd accomplish less doing talkers. Foreign legion stories worked better on mute setting than gab terms, desert locale not conducive to sound repro'ing. Beau Ideal creaks like stuff done seasons earlier, acting of play-to-gallery melo-dramatizing, which for me incresed fun in the relic. Noble sacrifice goes to absurd extreme, stiff upper-lip-ness order of the day, but less credible than if a Ronald Colman had been aboard. Beau Ideal was big spending on RKO's part, among higher negative costs up to then ($707K). The loss of $330K might have resolved them to give up sandpiles for a while, but along came John Ford to lead another troop into dunes for The Lost Patrol in 1934, to far more fruitful outcome than Beau Ideal.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Gone On A Cinerama Holiday

Kansas City The Midwest Address For A Screen Miracle

Greenbriar's past Cinerama excursions have been to theatres of the imagination, not having seen any of the landmark three-panels. That last is still the case, but lately there's come simulation on Blu-ray to wrap Cinerama 'round wide expanse of a basement screen, and maybe dreamscape can fill in the rest of what swept over Kansas City beginning 3/12/57, Cinerama Holiday's opener date at the Missouri Theatre, just off a 39 week This Is Cinerama run. To hear ads tell it, Kansas City was exclusive site within radius of a thousand miles where you could see the engulfing miracle, "All Roads" leading to the Missouri for those who wanted to experience Cinerama. And here was Kansas City's primary selling point: One of the two couples featured in, and used as narrators for Cinerama Holiday, were natives of K.C. picked from random to canvass Europe as guests of Cinerama. Midwesterners crowding the Missouri could easily imagine themselves in place of "Kansas City's Own John and Betty Marsh."

For folks who knew flat lands with intermittent dropdown of tornadoes, Cinerama Holiday must have seemed like a journey beyond stars. As debased by our televisions, Cinerama may seem no more than a Super-Duper travelogue; there's really no knowing what the process was truly like unless you were there. I'm sure many in those Kansas City audiences never saw an ocean before, let alone Euro climes. Cinerama Holiday was in many ways a topper to This Is Cinerama, being second of features to showcase the process and improving by terms of pace and spectacle. All of what worked in Cinerama's debut is tried again: flight over mountain ranges, this time the Swiss alps, a bobsled "thrill" ride to top the roller coaster from before, and you-are-in-pilot-seat landings on an aircraft carrier. Cinerama Holiday stayed at the Missouri for 23 weeks, ceding its wide screen to Seven Wonders Of The World on 8/21/57. All told, the Missouri would play three-strip continuous till 12/63, when 70mm took its place. Cinerama Holiday is available on Blu-Ray from Flicker Alley. The feature looks/sounds marvelous, and there are abundant and fascinating extras.

More Cinerama at Greenbriar Archives: Stranger Than Fiction Showmanship, Cinerama Out-Of-Doors, Cinerama Road Trips, and Cinerama Holiday in Cleveland.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Warner Squirrels Gather Nuts For Columbia

Riotous Reunion For Blondell and Brent in The Corpse Came C.O.D. (1947)

A delightful hark back to the 30's when stars George Brent and Joan Blondell were doing comedies like this by bushel-barrel for Warners. He was 48 in 1947, she 41. You swear The Corpse Came C.O.D. was WB-derived but for Torch Lady ahead of credits. Blondell still looks marvelous, this on eve of character work she'd do more or less exclusive for the remainder of a career. Did JB realize this was last stand for her line in girl reporters? The story is Hollywood-set, another plus, with murders committed on the lot. Again, I blew guess of the killer, as maybe did others obtuse as me in '47. Columnist Jimmy Starr wrote the yarn. Possibly Columbia curried favor with him by adapting it. Favorable ink had been bought for less. How many other deals came down to such expedience? In the end, a "B" Columbia could be about anything, so long as it stayed under ninety minutes and didn't annoy people. This one's bright as a copper penny and a nice seeing out for Brent/Blondell in precode evocation. Do note the RKO Albee ad at left ... quite an assemblage of comic veterans, some of whom had been at it long as George and Joan. Wally Brown was prior teamed with Alan Carney, and Joe Besser would later support Abbott and Costello on their TV series as well as join the Three Stooges after Shemp Howard died. All this plus The Corpse Came C.O.D. onscreen added up to more than a ticket's worth.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Clearing Up A Classic On Blu-Ray

Scratching Below Sod Of The Quiet Man (1952)

The prayed-for Blu-Ray here at last, and yes, it's leagues improved over mud we swam previous, but interiors lack contrast at times, and darks could be darker. Still, this is a Quiet Man at last livable, suggestive of IB Tech prints TV stations used to run in syndication. Query: did John Wayne reach his widest ever audience with The Quiet Man? --- I mean mass of folk that didn't normally go for John Wayne movies? It certainly has a romantic element others lack, and I'll bet not being a western helped. The word was out through '52 that here was something special, The Quiet Man doing for Wayne what The African Queen did for Humphrey Bogart. Neither had thrown nets so far as these game and possibly image changers. Wayne, in fact, was softened onscreen as likely result of The Quiet Man, his Big Jim McLain to follow a genteel depart from tougher customers he'd previously been. Trouble Along The Way continued in a same vein, JW aware that a public liked his modern-dress heroes best when tempers were corked, image refine courtesy The Quiet Man. Ads for Trouble Along The Way positioned Wayne and placid Donna Reed as "scrapper" sweethearts after pattern of JW with Maureen O'Hara, but it was false advertising. Still, Wayne had his slow burn to last a decade before patriarch parts began dominating, as The Quiet Man made clear his ongoing suitability for romantic leads.

I came away from this view (a first in at least ten years) with mixed emotion. These Irishers Wayne must cope with are an extreme lot: loud, quick to temper, then violence, none more so than at times scary O'Hara, who I've read could be pretty aggressive offscreen toward getting her way. I frankly began to wonder if Sean Thornton made the right choice in Mary Kate Danaher. Would her anger subside just for resolving dowry question? She seems generally ill-disposed to me, as if a slight remark would set her off and renew donnybrook-ing. The Quiet Man takes these people seriously after all, despite the comedy, so I must too. Would Sean have been better off with a calmer Donna Reed type back in Pittsburgh? There was his own post-trauma from the ring experience to work out, though passage to far-off Ireland at least put distance between him and that issue.

Oh, and one more issue. Turns out, according to Scott Eyman's terrific new Wayne bio, that Duke waived his customary profit % to do Rio Grande and The Quiet Man for a flat $100K each, this an accommodation to "Coach" John Ford, who couldn't direct the films under Republic auspices lest JW take the cut (noteworthy is Wayne having earned $375K for previous Red River). That means John Wayne gave up at least a quarter million dollars (probably a good deal more) for the sake of a director who regularly took bows for making him a star. Shouldn't Ford have been a lot nicer to Wayne after such forfeit? --- as in washing his car, cutting his lawn, or at the least thanking JW every day for acting on discount so the Old Man could get his projects financed? Check too under names of Merian C. Cooper and C.V. Whitney. Half of Ford talkies wouldn't have been made without Cooper's assist with bank and family connections that raised $, and there would have been no Searchers short of Whitney opening his purse (Whitney being Cooper's friend and not Ford's). Read Ford bios of how he dismissed or disdained these men who gathered cash, shook investor hands, and maintained valuable social contacts that made possible many of JF films. Cooper, Whitney, and Wayne were economic facts behind the legend that is Ford, laying down sacrifice so he could rule roost on locations they made accessible. I'm for naming a few peaks at Monument Valley after these three godfathers.
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