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Thursday, April 30, 2015

1960 Look-Back at a Last War

All The Young Men (1960) Under Fire In Korea

Alan Ladd was barely there as a career wound down to support work (The Carpetbaggers), or no work. Young Men was about just that, Ladd the old timer in margins for much of a dreary siege, his unit holed up in a Korean temple beset by Chinese troops. Sidney Poitier is the in-fact lead; was this contemplated from a start? The remaining cast is a potpourri that was customized to reach a widest public, James Darren singing in uniform as he would for The Guns Of Navarone a couple years later, champ boxer Ingemar Johansson as a sensitive Swede who extols democracy, and most bizarre, Mort Sahl, stopping action dead to do what amounts to a club routine about army life. The enemy swarms on cue every fifteen or so minutes to relieve utter tedium; by a fifth or so raid, you wish they'd finish off this tepid troop. A positive aspect was shooting in Glacier Park snow, but what misery for cast/crew. The location at times looks like an old German mountain film from the 20's. All The Young Men might have clicked ten years sooner, but race conflict in ranks had been wrung dry by '60, and the pic had nothing new to dramatize on the topic. Reviews lauded good intent rather than result, a not uncommon critic stance where social issues were H'wood-aired.

Monday, April 27, 2015

D.W. Griffith Keeps His Stars Busy

The Love Flower (1920) Has South Seas Aroma

Griffith inamorata Carol Dempster got her first starring part under the Master's direction in this South Sea melodrama, second of a pair DWG made on that exotic location. He puts over lovely enough effects to make us wistful for what a camera neg would yield, but alas, William K. Everson wrote of its demise many decades back. Stuff like The Love Flower laid bread-butter for more ambitious projects Griffith sought, his next being Way Down East. Maybe $438K worldwide rentals from The Love Flower made possible Lillian Gish's ice flow ride. An island hopping chase is Love Flower focus, Dempster's dad on the run for murder with Javert-like Anders Randolf in pursuit, this making for hoke spread thin across tropic water, but there's Dick Barthelmess in sailing cap and breeches to lend romantic assist. Dempster swims underwater as Griffith's camera looks appreciatively on, and there's startling evidence upon drenched emergence of what DWG saw in her. I like the transition from childish bird-kiss stuff CD does in a first reel to initiative, near-murderous at times, she demonstrates as the picture goes into an improved second half. The Love Flower is "minor" Griffith, to be sure, but without pretense, then or now, to be anything more. Someone slipped me a homemade DVD of this and I was surprised to see how clean it looked. Why isn't The Love Flower on a major DVD label?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Get Out Those Stereo Specs!

3-D Rarities Is This Summer's Santa Bag on Blu-Ray

Artist Supreme Stewart McKissick Designed 
the Above One-Sheet for 3-D Rarities 
A big wind is blowing from 3-D headquarters that is Bob Furmanek and associates. They've plunged to deepest depths of the stereo process and come back with Rarities beyond rare, most in fact unseen since they were new, not a few barely exhibited then. I call it a miracle such stuff survives, but leave it to Furmanek, restoration genius Greg Kintz, and Associate Producer Jack Theakston to do the impossible in bringing these treasures to collector doors. Greenbriar is on project fringe in "Executive Producer" capacity, which amounts to co-sponsorship from afar, and not creative or technical participation (I wouldn't begin to understand labyrinth that is 3-D/Blu-Ray mastering). There are stereo novelties in 3-D Rarities too numerous to recount, dating from the silent era, and forward to the 60's. Amazing subjects all, many snatched from edge of oblivion, each reborn to digital perfection. One thing we're assured whenever this team goes to work, and that's result second to none where presentation is concerned. They've Blue-Rayed several 3-D features, have more in the works (Gog and The Mask are coming!), research and progress documented at 3-D Archives, that trove of depth history that is updated often (just today, in fact, with "Silver Age 1966-1988" coverage). Blu-Ray lift-off for 3-D Rarities is June 23, discounted pre-orders now available at Flicker Alley. There are theatrical premieres in the meantime, one in L.A., another at New York's Museum Of Modern Art on June 13, the latter which GPS will attend. Should be a thrill, as they're showing the 3-D Hondo in addition to 3-D Rarities.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Radio Stars On The Job

North Carolina's Own (in retirement) Kate Smith Makes With the Music

Airwave Magic From Long Ago

A single reel slice of heaven that's included in the Warner box, Big Band, Jazz, and Swing: Short Subject Collection (six discs). Jerry Wald as a harried promoter in Rambling Round Radio Row #1 was the same Wald who'd tote up unbroken success with the studios as writer/producer until death took him in 1962 at age 50. But for that untimely event, Wald's name might tower among ones who could spot good properties and guide them to high dollar finish. You could argue he was a most valuable man Warners had next to Wallis. Wald began at radio reportage for a New York sheet and used contacts from that to take creative hold of broadcast-based shorts WB did from Gotham, the tyro playing himself and doing behind-scene work without credit. Rambling became a series to last several years, radio a warmest commodity thanks to viewer curiosity of what voices off the crystal set were like when not disembodied. Wald was chummy with talent and roped most before cameras, using a mock-up broadcast studio as backdrop.

Such footage is priceless from OTR standpoint. Where else could we see Colonel Stoopnagle and Bud (above) pulling air shift replete with sound FX and ad-libbery? How accurate this reflected their daily bit might be debated, but toward capture of radio personalities in action, these Rambling shorts couldn't be bettered. There's oddity of the Boswell Sisters (at right) harmonizing and kibitzer Abe Lyman stepping in to say they're lousy, him sans orchestra and us wondering why. Did Abe come too high with music accompany, or just pop in the Brooklyn studio that day for a walk-on? Further delight is Kate Smith in youthful blossom (her first screen appearance). She greets with trademark "Hello, Everybody!" and enters the room to sudden shift of the camera from head-on medium to shooting from below, emphasizing her girth in similar way John Huston would with Sydney Greenstreet in The Maltese Falcon. Jokes promptly revolve around Kate's weight --- guess that aspect came as revelation to viewers, unless they'd seen her at stage shows or read the fan mags. Based on energy she radiates here, KS looks like a safest bet for movie laurels, and indeed, she'd be starred by Paramount in a special-built vehicle called (what else?) Hello, Everybody, the following year.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Fox Drops A Bomb Below The Border

A Technicolor-ful Carnival In Costa Rica (1947)

This was yapping dog that cost an exorbitant $3.2 million to breed. Zanuck was unhappy with drafts from a beginning and said it was too much like routine musicals they'd done ten years before, which indeed it is. You could put "1937" beside this and few would be the wiser (outside of color's tip-off). A large second unit, headed by director Otto Brower, went to San Jose, Puerto Rico for two months of background shooting in late '46, after which he died sudden. Brower didn't get a posthumous credit on Carnival In Costa Rica, but should have, as his scenics do dominate, expertise in this area going back to Africa footage he secured for 1939's Stanley and Livingstone. Fox put post-war emphasis on musicals, four out of twenty-two productions for 1947 being cleffed and in Technicolor. This was policy that normally clicked, but Carnival In Costa Rica took a dreadful bath of $1.9 million lost: too much spent on the negative. That scuttled follow-up Christmas In Havana with Vera-Ellen. Now the fabled flop is available from Fox Archive, among nicer color renditions so far delivered. It's an OK enough musical with Latin flavor, the four-corner romance and customary misunderstandings fielded by Vera-Ellen, Dick Haymes, Caesar Romero, and Celeste Holm. I'd endorse Carnival to Fox musical completists and seekers after Technicolor as it glowed most brightly during the mid-to-late 40's.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Always Something New To Enjoy In This One

The Maltese Falcon (1941) As HD-Sharper Seen

What's left to say? Just two things gleaned from recent view (the Blu-Ray, plus true HD broadcasts on TCM): Sydney Greenstreet was 61 when he made this, playing a character presumably as old, here in obsessive pursuit of a collectable. Dialogue reflects that it's not as much the jewel-encrustedness and incalculable worth of the Falcon as the fact Casper Gutman simply must have it. In other words, he's one of us, and that Black Bird might as well be a rare one-sheet or 16mm print. Would a fanatic-enough film or poster collector commit murder to get what they want? I've met a few who might get round to it. Gutman, then, is an identification figure for some of extreme bent, less so me since dogged accumulation was relaxed some years back, but I knew SG/CG's pain when the third-act Falcon proved to be fake, and he has to start over again (like my promised 16mm original of The Maltese Falcon that turned out to be a dupe --- yes, that happened once). Gutman spent eighteen years in search of his, and in a final scene cheerfully declares he'll start afresh. At age 61? What purpose does collecting really serve when you've reached that point? A sage said that a first half of life was about accumulating, the second spent in disposal. How much can any object mean when you've got ever-lessening time to enjoy it?

The other this-time notice is Wilmer Cook's possible getaway (just realized --- he and enactor Elisha Cook, Jr. share the same last name). Here's the progression as I understood it: Wilmer is unconscious on the couch, the falcon arrives and confederates unwrap same amidst much dialogue. When they finish, Wilmer is gone. More dialogue, Gutman and Joel Cairo depart, but Wilmer has a head start, possibly a significant one. Would he have waited outside the building to join the others? Doubtful --- for fact they'd sold him out. Bogart finally alerts cops by phone to pick up the lot (warning them specifically about Wilmer), but I'm guessing Wilmer's halfway to the state line, and am not reassured by Ward Bond's "Got 'em" line when he and partner Barton MacLane enter. My guess is they nabbed Gutman and Cairo, but Wilmer got away clear. In fact, that may have been him a few years later in The Big Sleep, free as a breeze, and going about as "Harry Jones." He happens by as Bogie takes a beat-down, says he'll mind his own business rather than "kibitz." In such a confused narrative as The Big Sleep's, names and identities hardly matter, and I'd like to think this character is Wilmer Cook, a little older, certainly wiser, but still getting the grim pay-off he'd managed to duck in The Maltese Falcon.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

One More For Christy Cabanne Completists

Brian Donlevy Gets an RKO Tryout in Another Face (1935)

The gear-up of B units at major factories speeded writer assembly like Charlie tightening bolts in Modern Times; it was a pace that killed creativity, other than rote repeat of formulae others were at a same moment plying across town. RKO stole willy-nilly to construct Another Face, primarily from Warner's lately done Lady Killer, where gangster James Cagney heads west to give movies a try when rackets go bust. Here it's Brian Donlevy, starring for a first time after villainy for Goldwyn (Barbary Coast). To this porridge add getaway (for murder) aided by plastic surgery, a wheeze that crooks (and scribes) often utilized to juice a second act. Trouble is mood swaying between comedy (labored) and threat Donlevy poses; he's a killer after all, so laughs are tentative. B output had not luxury of getting things right; you'd ship on Friday ready or not. Christy Cabanne directs. Like colleague Bill Beaudine, he'd left promise of major silents to do talking B's where work was at least consistent, if not inspired. I'm waiting for someone to lionize Cabanne as neglected auteur like with peers (remember all-day TCM tribute to Nick Grinde?). So why watch Another Face today? Well, there's behind-scenes moviemaking, stuff shot on RKO's backlot (at night), and character folk nicely deployed. 69 minutes could be worse spent, and this turns up from time to time on TCM.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Another Doctor Visit

Columbia Back In Scrubs with The New Interns (1964)

Director John Rich said in his memoir that the script for this really barked and that he'd do plenty streamlining to make it play. Prognosis? Negative to start, but hang in because this Interns sequel gets better. New staffers include chip-on-shoulder George Segal, who gets an introductory credit and seems to have looked into his mirror and seen John Cassevetes. Some characters are back, Michael Callan's breakdown from the first pic apparently healed, and Dean Jones takes the place of James MacArthur to wed returning Stephanie Powers. More babies get born as previous (Variety called these sequences "gory"). Another wild party outdoes the one we'd seen in '62, a bigger and better blowout this time expected. While chatting w/ Dawn Wells at the Winston-Salem western con, I asked how long they spent shooting the party sequence. She said five days, and it was right when shots were fired in Dallas, so who'd ever forget that week? These New Interns talk of $40 a month salary and live in ratty digs; was this the true lot of medical trainees then, and does something like it persist to this day? Variety estimated domestic rentals of $2.670 million for The New Interns, distinctly down from the first one, but not bad for what shouldn't have been a costly follow-up.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

A Swiftian Take On Medicos

The Interns (1962) An Effective 60's Dosage

Are there doctors in the house? Columbia filled a dormitory with them, twice, in feature auditions for talented youth on career upswing. Several would be cast in TV that made them household names. That is to say I'll bet The Interns scored high when CBS network premiered it, and sure enough, inquiry reveals a 20.7 rating on 3/10/66, unusually stout for black-and-white broadcast in that color-besot season. The Interns was package wrapped by directing and co-writer David Swift, lately off one-two excellence for Disney (Pollyanna and The Parent Trap). His was a large talent underestimated due to comedies and family pics being career emphasis. The Interns is Grand Hotel among doctor/patients/staff, appealing starters (James MacArthur, Stephanie Powers, Michael Callan, more) at odds with crusty pros Telly Savalas and Buddy Ebsen.

Maybe it reveals my plebian taste, but I was sorry to see The Interns end, or was it the pin-sharp HD via Sony's Movie Channel? Of an engaging cast, Nick Adams seems the neediest of youth's lot. When rock-bottom beckoned with Frankenstein Conquers The World, I remember Nick telling a Modern Monsters interviewer that he preferred doing horror flix. Just as well, as he'd wrap the career in a brace of them. The Interns could enter wards off limit to TV med dramas, thus sex and ribald, if not coarse, humor, and you-are-there childbirth wheeling us close as Mom and Dad dared go back in the 40's. The "wild party" sequence was what trailers hawked hardest; it goes on for a reel and not a few nurses strip to undies before a wind-up. Kildare and Ben Casey never had it like this! The Interns dates by happy means of staff lighting up as they exit the OR, doors still swinging so the patient will get his/her secondary whiff. Variety said these Interns should be called "Hippocratic Oafs," but Columbia took a five million domestic rentals payday, and that wrote prescription for a two years-later sequel plus a TV series David Swift developed for 1970-71.

Check back Monday for The New Interns.
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