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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

An Astaire That Was Everywhere In 70's TV/VHS Day

Public Domain Gives Second Chorus (1940) An Encore

Fred Astaire lamented that this was the movie of his that got shown the most often, thanks to its Public Domain status. He earlier noted, in a 1959 memoir (Steps In Time) that Second Chorus "has been seen by more millions of people in America than any other film of mine owing to its release on television." Astaire was right at the time, for indeed Second Chorus was a first opportunity for viewers to see one of his old features at home, "one of the first to be let loose," he added, and run "innumerable times during the past seven or eight years" (being an independent production, Second Chorus was TV-exposed from the early 50's on). I could add that it is far from Fred's best, even as Blu-Ray now tenders first-quality image off 35mm nitrate, an Astor reissue print with original Paramount titles replaced. Para merely distributed for producer Boris Morros, who was too busy (at international espionage?) to renew copyrights on this and The Flying Deuces with Laurel and Hardy, another project he'd put together in 1939. Astaire and swing music seem an uncomfortable fit, as does moody bandleader Artie Shaw, disengaged from silliness around him. Paulette Goddard tends more to plot points than dancing with Fred, a loss for us, as who cares about the story? Paramount's deal with Morris called for financing of Second Chorus (he had formerly been the studio's music director), with the negative to revert to him after general release.

Getting Astaire was a real spike that enabled doubling of budget, the original plan having been for George Murphy (borrowed from Metro) to play the lead. Artie Shaw was a substitute for Paul Whiteman and his orchestra. Adding to the independent's worry was Charlie Chaplin stepping in at an eleventh hour to withdraw Paulette Goddard, whose contract he owned. Was CC looking for more money? It's oft-forgot today that Chaplin reaped serious $ loaning his wife among the studios after she clicked in Modern Times. By 1940, Goddard was definitely a star well risen, and a profit center for the Chaplin outfit. Producer Morros took prints of Second Chorus around the country to entice holiday 1940 bookings. A number of these used swing bands as stage accompaniment for the pic, Artie Shaw's group for several key dates. Second Chorus was only the second film Fred Astaire made after leaving RKO. He and Burgess Meredith are double-crossing (each other) pals, a trope you'd think Astaire would have gotten beyond, especially heading into his forties. Vehicles for this artist would run hot/cold through a free-lance career with highs generally at Metro, and lows elsewhere, as with Second Chorus.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Private Eye Mark Stevens Walks 20th Fox Beat

The Dark Corner (1946) Helps Usher In Postwar Noir

To paraphrase Carl Denham, if this picture had Humphrey Bogart or Alan Ladd instead of Mark Stevens, it would gross twice as much. Still, he's an only soft spot (and by no means is Stevens inadequate as a lead, just untried). First-billed were Lucille Ball and Clifton Webb, the latter going again at lethal urbanity as with Laura. Webb was lucky to land comedy with Sitting Pretty two years later, as that's where his stardom was truly born. I always laugh when Cliff launches William Bendix out a window. Does that make my sense of humor cruel? The Dark Corner is a good one to show those who don't fully understand what film noir is, being a showcase for aural/visual bumps we associate with the brand (and not recognized as such until decades later). Fox was particularly good with these, and best among them had Henry Hathaway's directorial signature, but how conscious was he of style being introduced? Stevens is the gumshoe derived off Chandler/Hammett, wielding tough-guy dialogue that sounds almost like parody now, but mighty sweet words nonetheless, and I'd have taken a whole series like it had 20th been inclined to keep them going. Ouch though, The Dark Corner lost money, $68K in fact. Was $1.2 million too much to have spent on the negative? Patronage may have figured Corner for a B mystery with A trimmings, which frankly it was, but this is the sort of show we treasure lots more now than they did then. Fox's DVD from its Noir series is quite nice, but I'll look forward to The Dark Corner streaming in HD (a Blu-Ray being perhaps too much to hope for).

Monday, December 29, 2014

Precode Hits The Silk

Parachute Jumper (1933) and Living By Depression Wits

Snappy as young Doug's fedora, Parachute Jumper got known, unfairly, as one of lousy programmers Bette Davis had to muddle through on her climb to stardom. The actress had clearly not seen such precodes for years when she dismissed (in fact, "hated") the lot, excepting Cabin In The Cotton and a couple with George Arliss. She'd not object when Robert Aldrich used Parachute Jumper (and Ex-Lady) clips to illustrate what a terrible actress "Jane Hudson" had been in comparison with sister Blanche when both had fictional Hollywood careers in Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?. Pleasures of Parachute Jumper have little to do with Davis in any event. She's there, more/less throughout, as "Alabama," with an accent not likely heard in her namesake or any other state in the South. PJ is more a showcase for Doug Jr., sprung to stardom by The Dawn Patrol, a major hit in 1930 for which he got deserved credit with Dick Barthelmess and directing Howard Hawks.

Fairbanks the younger could look uncannily like newcomer Clark Gable at particular angle or light, but was cultivated where CG was brutish. In a close-fisted Depression where survival was for fittest, it was Gable who'd speak clearest of gentility put aside by men starved of necessities. What Fairbanks asked politely for, Gable seized. Example in Parachute Jumper: Fairbanks lets evictee Bette Davis share digs with he and pal Frank McHugh, she taking the couch. During night, Doug enters her sanctum on cat feet, his intent not altogether clear as Gable's most certainly would have been. Upon BD's startled reject, he backs sheepishly off, like the gentleman he, both on and off screen, assuredly was. This was a personality who, given added maturity during the silent era, might have been a leading man among better-behaved likes of Thomas Meighan, Milton Sills, Norman Kerry. As it was, Doug went too gentle into dark night that was 30's Depression.

There was something innately comic about the title itself --- "Parachute Jumper" --- a thing to be recalled as insubstantial, if not foolish. Fairbanks joined Davis in saying as much in his memoir, Salad Days, where Parachute Jumper ("the damned thing") was tabbed "a sub-average story," and part of "punishment" for Doug seeking better terms at WB. "Today I have no more idea of the story of Parachute Jumper than what anyone may guess from its title," said the actor, writing from fifty-six years' distance. Neither Fairbanks nor Bette Davis lived long enough to see Parachute Jumper become common currency on TCM and DVD (from Warner Archive), though I have to wonder if Doug Jr., who did attend a 90's-era Cinecon in Hollywood, might have been shown the tainted title there, or perhaps at a Film Forum precode festival among many that theatre staged in Gotham, where DF Jr. resided in later years.

Doug and buddy Frank McHugh are introduced as skylarks living off government grub while occupying Nicaragua, a US intervention forgotten today and viewed as a mistake by most in 1932, when Depression worries here made horning in there seem a waste of time and resource. Many a soldier of fortune got starts in Nicaragua, it being go-to for men at loose ends or ones with fight still in them from WWI. Once cut loose from that fray (America withdrew forces through 1932 and had troops out the following year), Fairbanks and McHugh are living by wits in NYC, stunt flying where air circuses permit, and, in one telling scene, seizing wrapped fish from a cat's grip as starvation grips them. That part shocks today more than it would have in 1933, food off the street or out of garbage cans an oft-recourse for those with empty cupboards at home, if they had homes. Cruelty of life and people living it is aired but not emphasized, Fairbanks hired to fly contraband based on understanding with gangster Leo Carrillo that prohibition is a "silly law" they need not recognize (the gov't would scrub Prohibition along with Nicaragua in 1933). Parachute Jumper is full-up on cynicism and selective observance of statutes. We can assume it reflects attitude of those who made movies, but how many in viewership shared their outlook? Strict adherence to the Code by mid-1934 may have come with Hollywood realization that a wide public didn't see things altogether their way.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Dana Andrews On Troubled Water

Mayhem Follows Search for Sealed Cargo (1951)

A little tired, but game, WWII adventure with Dana Andrews' fishing vessel running afoul of U-Boats headed for rendezvous to stock torpedoes. A show like this calls for big-scale action, which RKO couldn't necessarily supply, what with costs kept generally below a million, except on those projects to which Howard Hughes gave personal attention. There are spies among Andrews' crew, that taking time and dialogue to sort out before a blow-up finale. Cargo anticipates The Guns Of Navarone for structure and build toward last reel cataclysm, even if done on modest scale. One reason to stick for a second half is Claude Rains turning up as a skipper who's maybe part of the German push, he being understated and effective as always. Sealed Cargo played mostly duals, but did have a Broadway preem at the 3,664-seat Paramount Theatre with Peggy Lee, Red Buttons, and the Ray McKinley Orchestra on stage. Live acts were liveliest and a primary draw when they had chart-buster songs for lure, as was certainly case with Lee, whose Manana was being hummed nationwide. Sealed Cargo runs occasional on TCM and awaits placement among Warner Archive choices after a hopeful fresh transfer.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Deanna Makes More Misunderstandings

It's A Date (1940) The Durbin That Warner Owns

A Deanna Durbin from her lushest period, and maybe there's the rub. Universal couldn't spend its way out of a hole an awkward narrative dug, as here where simple misunderstandings drive a long and frustrating second act. Durbin is marginally less pushy than before; she'll even cede a play's lead in deference to actress mother Kay Francis, whose aging past stardom is an issue as it was for Francis herself. Durbin was almost old enough to romantic partner Walter Pidgeon rather than being a pest that slows him down. The story might actually have worked better if they'd waited a year to make it and let Durbin/Francis be love rivals for Pidgeon. Universal wanted Deanna's girl-adult transition to be slow as possible, that understandable for stretch of revenue, though by It's A Date, we're ready to graduate past kid stuff and let DD do a little onscreen of what accounts (like Jackie Cooper's) indicate went on offscreen. Another oddity here is withhold of song; for such a long sit (103 minutes), there's surprisingly little music. It's A Date was bought by MGM for a remake with Jane Powell and disappeared for a stretch till TCM revived it (WB being present-day owner). Now it's the only Durbin they reliably run, but elements look to need a refresher before Warner Archive DVD release.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Lee Tracy Upends Depression-Era Crooks

Precode On a Washington Merry-Go-Round (1932)

Fresh congressman Lee Tracy enlists the Bonus Army as vigilantes against corrupt capital operatives. Opening titles and afterward dialogue assures us that government isn't run so crookedly as by characters here, who'll commit murder to shore up weak links, but did anyone then or now believe Washington's tepid walk-back? Disclaimers in front were often tip-offs to hard-hitting within, like apologies that are plainly insincere. Where's point of telling us that most officialdom is on the level when we're shown the opposite? Only way off this Merry-Go-Round is suicide; it's hard to imagine patrons setting goal in civil service after seeing this. Alan Dinehart is the power behind power, his bootleg imports greased by US Army assist where needed. Washington Merry-Go-Round is deeply cynical even as it suggests that maybe lone reformer Tracy can straighten things out. With trust in government at low ebb circa 1932, I doubt many were convinced that one man could make a difference. Had we all resigned to reality of a rigged system? Merry-Go-Round sides with early-30's protest pics that eschew legal process in favor of direct people's action, a last stand for Wild West corrective before Hollywood was taught responsibility by Production Code authorities and a watchful Washington.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

2014 Ending With a Blu-Ray Bang

Cartoon Roots Finds Fun In Animation Past

A Blu-Ray first, cartoons from the beginning brought together by noted historian/collector Tom Stathes, and scored by music masters Robert Israel and Ben Model. Much of Cartoon Roots has been unseen since dawn of animating. Stathes has been tireless gatherer of rarities since childhood. He spreads the cartoon gospel through presentations on 16mm. Tom knows his audience and has limned Cartoon Roots to entertain as deftly as it informs. A phalanx of fun is here, fifteen shorts plus "archival" extras (horn of plenty for your purchase, believe me). There's Lightning Sketches (1907) as toured in vaudeville, wraiths of easel past Col. Heeza Liar, Bobby Bumps, "Jerry On The Job," Dinky Doodle, Toby The Pup ... all from drawing's senior class. Quality breaks fuzz barrier too many associate w/ pre-talk relics, much derived off 35mm nitrate rescued by Stathes. These Cartoon Roots were dug before rules were set and conventions observed. Things happen that you'll only believe by seeing. Watch and come away with diploma in Animahistory (have I invented a new term?), joy had that you'll want to repeat. Content leaps to life on High-Def, film restoration by Thunderbean's Steve Stanchfield, so we're assured tech work is aces. Tom Stathes pledges this to be but first in a Blu-Ray series. That for me is topper for whole of cartoon headlines for 2014. Animation has been focal of best disc releases this year, Greenbriar idea of heroes those like Stathes and Stanchfield that flush out buried treasure and get it out to fans who'll enjoy it best.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Clearing Up A Decades Old Mystery

A Touring Company Circa 1931, Which Cassara Covers Thoroughly

Nobody's Stooge Tells The Ted Healy Story

Ted Healy is a favorite at Greenbriar. A couple weeks ago saw him here in thought-lost Hello, Pop!, a resurface that sent Three Stooge fans into jubilee. But how many came to laud Healy? He died in 1937 and would be forgotten, but for bad impression that he had mistreated the Stooges, and a death myth netting Wallace Beery (his assassin?), Albert Broccoli (future James Bond producer with his own license to kill?), plus unnamed collegiates who'd off Healy for being a loud drunk. A real thicket this, but author Bill Cassara in his new Healy bio, Nobody's Stooge, has dug deep and found what I'm satisfied is truth. He sifts through rumor like a vacuum cleaner, addressing all of tall tales propogated by others. Among queries addressed: Was Beery barbarism a clean-up job for Metro fixers? Did Broccoli and mobster pals put Healy behind an eight ball? Cassara got quotes from many who remembered, each with opinion, accurate or no, on Ted's passing. Here was an incident biz insiders would not forget, even as most chose to keep silent on it. That mystery consumes a second half of page-turning, the first devoted to Healy career gone before. His vaudeville years are colorfully recounted, Ted performing among to-be legends like Milton Berle, Bob Hope, and, of course, those Three Stooges he'd create. Extensive research has been done, the author trained by police work and not one to leave stones unturned. Nobody's Stooge is show-world history that segues to detective non-fiction, and holds a grip from beginning to last. The book sets a lot straight, and I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

It's From The 40's For Sure

Have Yourself a Merry Christmas In Connecticut (1945)

Sirius radio broadcast a startling holiday greeting last week --- from Sydney Greenstreet. This is the Jolliest, Merriest, Christmas I Ever Spent, he declares just ahead of signature guffaw that by 1945 came with every Greenstreet performance. The line was part of Christmas In Connecticut's trailer, and I wonder how many 2014 listeners recognized the movie, or him. The picture wasn't built to last, being bound in 40's milieu, but somehow it has. Warners lately voted with a Blu-Ray release --- did their buyer research suggest eagerness for the title? Christmas In Connecticut never had a reissue, but like so many Yule-set oldies, was annual gift to viewers from initial syndication in 1956. Individual markets either had it regular, or not at all. We were among the not-at-alls, NC stations having backed off pre-49 WB's by the mid-60's and not shopping with them again until UHF burgeoned in the early 70's. Nowadays Christmas In Connecticut looks like a million. You can almost taste fake snow that fell upon sound stages posed as outdoor winter. Like so much of wartime Warners, this was shot entirely between walls, even as action called for trees, sleighs, the rest. Here is close as you'll get to a 40's Christmas card come to highly artificial, but endearing, life.

It's all less about Christmas than food. Everyone's got eating on their minds. Dennis Morgan dreams of a feast while on a lifeboat awaiting rescue, then affiances himself to a hospital nurse just so he can get steak and chops rather than gruel his stomach can stand. Barbara Stanwyck poses as a homemaker for sake of her magazine column where, among other things, she dispenses recipes. S.Z. Sakall is a chef who prepares meal after scrumptious meal. Ritual is observed for pancakes and how they're flipped. Menus are read like sacred text. Greenstreet is, of course, obsessed with eating, and will travel a distance to Christmas dine with strangers, so long as they set lavish table. So why this mulling over meals? Part of reason was ongoing shortage of ingredients. Sugar was still rationed in the US as of Christmas 1945. There wasn't enough butter in Wisconsin for the holidays, and bread was tough to come by in San Francisco, thanks to a bakery drivers strike. There was abundance of turkeys available (this not necessarily the case in other countries). Three million servicemen were home for the holidays who'd missed the year, or years, before. Christmas 1945 would be characterized as "The Greatest Celebration in American History," what with war over, most of boys back, and presumed plenty for everyone to eat.

Christmas In Connecticut fairly drowns in topical reference. Men are either in uniform or explaining why they're not. Neighbors work in war plants. A dance is held to sell victory bonds. Stanwyck "feels like Charlie McCarthy" when Greenstreet speaks for her. A player like S.K. Sakall, funny in the 40's, less so now, plants Connecticut roots deep in that era. "Cuddles" could earn laughs just for jiggling jowls, to sometime annoyance of fellow players (Cagney found Sakall a pain, Alan Hale couldn't stand sight of him). Christmas In Connecticut is based on 40's assumption that everyone read slick magazines, which at that time they nearly did. Sydney Greenstreet is high and mighty publisher of same, a benign forebear to Charles Laughton's Earl Janoth in three years later The Big Clock. Barbara Stanwyck is nationwide famous for her homemaker column, a concept utterly foreign to much-changed present day. Magazines did matter then, like newspapers. Now both seem quaint, as does notion that a whole country would read them.

Christmas In Connecticut has a lot of bawdy humor, the war having loosened censorship where sex jest was based on misunderstanding. In that circumstance, you could talk about the act, so long as no one was engaging it outside marriage vow. Housemaid Una O'Connor is ready to quit her post for thinking Stanwyck and fiancé Reginald Gardner have slept together. Greenstreet comes to towering rage in belief that Stanwyck has borne a bastard child. He'll come close to uttering the word, while O'Connor virtually does when misprouncing Sakall's character name, Felix Bassenak. Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan stand with a cow that he appreciates for having "a nice rump," Stanwyck assuming, of course, that he means hers. That's the sort of humor we're talking about, but I'll bet it raised ceilings at a crowded Strand and elsewhere. Christmas In Connecticut would have a first cousin in Pillow To Post, released but two months ahead, and remarkably similar in all suggestive, but ultimately innocent, ways.

Home came Christmas In Connecticut for holidays, decor after Early American example. This had been fashion since Williamsburg restoration in the late 30's and public embrace of things rustic/homey. Everyone, it seemed, wanted hearths warm and toasty as those sat before here. C In C star Dennis Morgan made request for set blueprints so he could duplicate the look in personal digs, and there was much mail to Warners with similar inquiry. Christmas In Connecticut wrapped on 8/1/44, but release was held a year to get out backlog of war-themed product before cessation of hostility rendered them moot. Nutty it seemed to release Christmas In Connecticut in depth of summer, but distribution knew a long autumn and run-up to holidays would see the pic in many of smaller situations likely to enjoy it most. Timing, as things turned out, could not have been more ideal. Christmas In Connecticut played like eggnog we'd come home for. It took no genius to figure the state of Connecticut for premiering, a stateside August 8 bow declared an early Xmas holiday by the governor, with Norwalk a focal point of twenty town/cities participating.

Well Along a Long Run in Chicago
Servicemen being transferred from European to Pacific theatres of war were honored, a parade led by radio's Colonel Stoopnagle, with opera fave Lawrence Tibbett in performance. Out-of-town press and magazine scribes "were met by beautiful young Santa Claus assistants dressed in short red skirts, trimmed with white fur; red bolero-style jackets, red caps, and white boots. Bare legs and bare midriffs added to their attractiveness." 20,000 participated in a jitterbug contest that would follow. All of war news was pushed off the front page of Norwalk's newspaper to record C In C's gala. A same week saw Warners pushing Pride Of The Marines at Philadelphia site of an equally large open. Such premieres needed teamwork the equal of effort in making the movies. Celebration of a Christmas In Connecticut or Pride Of The Marines would come and go as all such events do, but effect was felt for intense local interest and far-flung coverage (live radio always playing a part). Said Showmen's Trade Review: "Perhaps the most remarkable thing about these two Warner campaigns is the fact that enormous amounts of newspaper space was devoted to the events at a time when the most important news stories of the impending end of the war with Japan and of the atomic bomb were breaking."

Monday, December 22, 2014

Nice Show, But A Tough Sell

V.Johnson and P.Douglas Switch ID's For When In Rome (1952)

Another little Metro that couldn't (break even). Seems that by early 50's, none of theirs in black-and-white, sans vehicles for top names like Gable, Taylor, or Tracy, came back with profit. Didn't matter how good pics were: without color or marquee lure, they were snake-bit. When In Rome should have been a breakout, stoked as it was with humor and heart. Director Clarence Brown had lately done one similar, Angels In The Outfield, a cockles warmer that deserved applause, which it got ... along with red ink. Execs used to say that surest cure for H'wood blues was good pictures, but here they were and not selling. The bogeyman was television, and whatever recreation a public enjoyed other than theatres. It took king-sized worldwide hits like Quo Vadis and Scaramouche to truly fill nets. MGM released thirty-eight features in 1952, but they couldn't all be Quo Vadis. Continuing overhead and need for product to fill distribution channels made small projects essential to studio health, but when even these ran past one million in negative cost, where was chance to balance ledgers?

Director Brown took cameras and principal cast abroad for six weeks locationing in the Eternal City, economic sense lying in fact that impounded lire would otherwise sit idle. "Cold coin" was better spent making movies in countries refusing to allow cash earned within borders to be taken out. Italy wanted Yank dollars spent on native soil. When In Rome would employ locals for crew work and incidental casting, these a boon to troubled economy. Twenty-eight features had been shot by US companies overseas in 1950, and six more were in progress during a first half of 1951, including MGM's team which arrived in June. Others relied on second units to capture backgrounds for process insertion to shows filmed back home, but When In Rome put stars Van Johnson and Paul Douglas on streets and in historic buildings where action took place. Clarence Brown made accomplished use of settings just as he had for a winning hand of Metros made, at least in part, on US locations: Angels In The Outfield, To Please A Lady, Intruder In The Dust, The Yearling.

Metro merchandising knew When In Rome would be a hard sell, their "Promotion Prize" for exhibitors being tip-off to that. If you couldn't figure in-house how to sell problematic pics, then let showmen in the field take a whirl and use ideas they develop, cost being a drop-in-bucket thousand dollars to be split among winners ($500 as first prize, which went to Jack Sidney, manager of Loew's Century in Baltimore). The scheme was used also for Invitation and Just This Once, two others that defied marketers. These were tough nuts New York cursed Dore Schary for making on the coast. How do you let customers know what this product is? Ads ran a gamut at trying, Rome's first act laid out as hopeful lure for patronage to pay ways in and see the rest. "The Story Idea Of The Year!" and "You'll Have A Wonderful Time!" read like admissions of defeat. Variety caught a preview and said frankly that "chances for more than spotty boxoffice are doubtful." The reason? "Lack of star potency and a story not strong enough on its own to carry the film." Standards were exacting then, trades knowing a jaded public would need better reason to leave home for movie shows they could as easily pass up. Final blow-off was $900K lost from tepid domestic rentals of $503K and foreign $202K. For $1.3 million Metro spent on the negative, this worthy show never had a chance.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Is An Atom Brain Better Than None?

Home Lab Yields Undead in Creature With The Atom Brain (1955)

Some accounts would have us think that American-International pioneered the cheap sci-fi combo, but Columbia was ahead of them, and probably gave inspiration for double-features where a whole show could be watched inside of two and one half hours. Creature With The Atom Brain was back-stop for It Came From Beneath The Sea, posters lurid in accord with school's out expectation for summer 1955. The majors had spent money on sci-fi in the past, with diminishing returns, and would surrender the genre to budget-makers, then imitate the latter when it became clear what economy merchandise could earn. Creature With The Atom Brain was another from Sam Katzman's wing of Columbia, his Clover Productions an independent maker of whatever sold at given moments. Right now it was chillers, so he made them. Sam used the Columbia lot and had an office there, but tapped banks for much of financing so as to soften pressure of the distributor's thumb he was under. Creature With The Atom Brain earned an impressive $415,000 in domestic rentals, likely four times what Katzman spent to produce it. Overstuffed A's could hope to do half so well. The plot was something about dead bodies reanimated for use as remote control killers. Curt Siodmak wrote it and results aren't bad, provided you make plenty of allowance. Kids that spent theirs in 1955 were likely pleased, as I was with Columbia's entire Sam Katzman Collection on DVD.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Betty Boop's Nightgown Comes Off Again

Mysterious Mose (1930) Is Deep In Fleischer Bizarre

There's an intruder at Betty Boop's door! What could he have in mind? The Fleischer team knew we knew, or were at least aware of Max's bunch as purveyors of cartoon sauce and sex, their hanging about brothels during off-hours a creative stimulant peculiar to East Coast animating bad boys. Betty's alarm is signaled by her nightgown flying upward every time there's a noise. Glimpse of Boop nudity was a carrot always hanging in her shorts (did I say that?); she'd be a drawn figure as leered at as laughed with. This was early in Betty's reign; she still has distracting dog ears, but is otherwise human and curve-some. Bimbo is the title's menace lover and shape-shifter, issuing Bronx cheers and less bent on defiling Betty than dancing a merry tune till sudden finish of a less than six minute reel. Well, Paramount's release schedule had to be filled with something, and Fleischer cartoons, even if oft-better in parts than whole, had imagination enough then to stand up as well now. A bunch have surfaced on Blu-Ray, not chronological nor sensibly organized, but welcome withal after years floating in netherworld of discs dubbed off laser of long ago.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Radio Feuds Won't Rest!

Winchell vs. Bernie in Wake Up and Live (1937)

How to take a bandleader and news columnist and make them movie attractions, a cooked-up "feud" driving tissue narrative against backdrop of song. It works, and how, as barometer of what pleased in days when a public paid real attention to stuff press and radio fed them daily. There was no better demo of media power than Walter Winchell giving/taking licks from yowsah-man Ben Bernie, their contretemps profitable in a long run for both. To that slim frame add 20th Fox funmakers Jack Haley, Patsy Kelly, Ned Sparks ... well, the list goes on. Beyond these, Joan Davis just has to show up, and so does in specialty slapstick. Wake Up and Live is what we'd accurately call "escapism" in a best sense of old Hollywood. Being unfamiliar with pop culture of the day would make it seem like foreign language. When a thing like this surfaces on DVD, I'm amazed, but gratifyingly so. Wake woke 1937 trade to rave response, a "bulls-eye" and single day record holder for a past five years at Broadway's Roxy. It was understood that Jack Haley was a feature star born with this. Winchell and the cast guested on Ben Bernie's radio program to stir interest, the home box holding thrall over a wider public than even movies by '37. The only rub for such synergy was its failing to translate overseas. Wake Up and Live took a lofty $1.2 million in domestic rentals, but foreign was meager with $358K. Still, there was $190K profit at the end, and indication that a cycle of such musicals would click, which they did over a next several seasons until the real breakthrough that came with Fox's Betty Grable series. Wake Up from Fox DVD Archive looks fine.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Nice Brit Crime Thriller Lately Out

The Counterfeit Plan Is Warner Back-Up For 1957

Co-produced by Richard Gordon in England, before he'd concentrate on horror/sci-fi subjects. The Counterfeit Plan was good enough for Warners to pick up for distribution in the US, their only Brit buy for that year other than two Hammers that would play wide/gross big: The Curse Of Frankenstein and X --- The Unknown. The Counterfeit Plan was of a sort trades called good for duals and action housing, being crime-centered with faces familiar to Yank market. These were Zachary Scott and Peggie Castle, the former paid $25K for his trip across the pond, according to Tom Weaver's book survey of Richard Gordon's producing career (excellent and highly recommended). The Counterfeit Plan has Scott and cohorts printing funny money on an English estate, flooding London with fake fivers. Warners needed fare like this to support '57's Untamed Youth, Shoot-Out At Medicine Bend, others that couldn't hold up singly. For L.A. saturation of Jack Webb's The D.I., The Counterfeit Plan rode back seat and had probably a largest audience for the couple weeks it played in five theatres and seven drive-ins. Afterward, there'd be spotty television and belated release to DVD by Warner Archive, where The Counterfeit Plan can be enjoyed for a brisk and enjoyable thriller long obscure till now.
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