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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Forbidden Jungle Fruit

Gow The Headhunter Hides Among Blu-Ray Extras

An exploration feature from the late silent era later flushed down exploitation rat holes where it lingered to late 50's and beyond, all this showing, I guess, that cannibals and headhunters are timeless in appeal for a public willing to slum. Like any strong act, the flesh eaters are held till a second half, but are worth our wait because they do look ferocious. A first cannibal tribe, says narration, has minds of three year olds, from which cut to neighbor islanders, those who collect skulls, who are at level of six year olds. Visit enough atolls and you'd make graduation day. Certain ceremonies are "repulsive" and "disgusting," so much so that censors won't allow them shown, says the interlocutor. We leave a dance ritual between male natives and female pigs on that note, to which imagination may fill blanks. Gow The Headhunter became Cannibal Island for 1956 revival; I picture it playing behind a Gordon Scott Tarzan, or one of the Bombas booked for $10. Thing is, much of footage here is creepy; you'd not want to cast-away among these yum-yum-eat-'em-ups. Visuals are straightforward, it's narration that trashes things up. Flicker Alley offers Blu-Ray of Gow/Cannibal as companion to The Most Dangerous Game on High-Def, an irresistible package.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Monsters Turned Loose On 1959

They Will Blast the Flesh Off Humans!!

Warner Bros. had wise 50's policy of putting sci-fi on deck each summer, much of it bought cheap from the outside, then played off fast via regional saturation where money was hauled on heels of intense TV/radio saturation (accent on TV: that medium was assuming lead once enjoyed by newspapers and radio). The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms in 1953 had shown ways, a model of how to sell monsters to youth. Again it would work with Them! a following year, then The Black Scorpion in 1957. Cynicism, as in "They'll buy anything," may have been WB thought behind 1959's spew of Gigantis, The Fire Monster with Teenagers From Outer Space, a most arrogant offer of low-grade stuff by a major studio until 20th did WB one (actually two) better with 1964 combo of Horror Of Party Beach and Curse Of The Living Corpse. But wasn't 1959 a little late going to market with cheapjack B/W horrors? Jim Nicholson thought so, taking pledge re poverty pairings in favor of colorful Horrors Of The Black Museum and in-works House Of Usher. Was chilling on a verge of new greatness?

Warners could get away with Gigantis/Teenagers thanks to distribution/sales force dragging kids from front of home sets to paying windows downtown, a trick AIP had managed until a few of their 1958 parlays lost money. Nicholson admitted as much to Variety in a 5/19/59 inquiry headlined "Horror Quickies Over?" AIP's "cheap, run-of-the-mill exploitation pix" were no longer able to compete in a "flooded market," said the producer. AIP would drop from ten horror/sci-fi's in 1958 to four for '59, result of playdates being way down. Jim recalled five to seven thousand theatres that had booked with AIP in 1957, those numbers now dipped to three thousand. The reason was more swimmers in the pool and crabbing Nicholson/Arkoff's act. Warners among majors learned how to earn money by spending virtually none, except at ad/pub level. Their 1957 bet on The Curse Of Frankenstein yielded obscene profit for nickels paid to owners Hammer and Seven Arts. Gigantis would be had for change, the case also with Teenagers From Outer Space, made by a Midwest independent, Todd Graeff, who thought he had a better deal with Allied Artists (for $60,000) until the exec with whom he shook hands died sudden, leaving Graeff to fire-sell Teenagers to WB for $28,500. He'd sue AA for the difference, alleging "a market value greatly decreased" thanks to the firm's welsh. Graeff had a point; like Jim and Sam, he knew the sci-fi/shock engine was corroding.

Randy Sweetens Drive-In Monster Mix
Gigantis, The Fire Monster was screwy sort of product from word go. First off, as any (and as it turned out, plenty) of small boys knew, Gigantis was actually Godzilla. TV spots, if not posters, tipped that off. Enterprising showmen would confirm same, or at least assert a family link (ThenPlaying's Mike Cline recalls his Statesville, N.C. venue tendering Gigantis as "Godzilla's cousin," making him, I suppose, the Chill Wills of Japanese monsters). Gigantis otherwise got formula right by giving its title behemoth another beast to fight, latter named "Angurus," which satisfied me that he/it suffered anger issues, or is that too obvious a read? Anyway, the two do vigorous wrestle over toy structures toppled, albeit in black-and-white as opposed to color tendered two years previous by Rodan and MGM's competing-with-Gigantis, The Mysterians, also Nippon-made and head-to-head with WB in many situations. Did distributing copycats get in arguments at the golf course or card tables over alike stuff they were assigned to peddle, as in "Our monsters are bigger and badder than yours"?

I missed Gigantis in theatres, but heard older boys clucking about it, and a few years later saw reference in Famous Monsters to a Godzilla Raids Again, which was .. what? Certainly nothing I'd seen. Eventually it came to light that they were one and same, Gigantis limping onto Channel 2 Greensboro's weekday afternoon schedule, where I'd see it through snow endemic to that 83 mile-away station. You'll imagine faint impression Gigantis made. Recent revisit came courtesy DVD release, under proper label Godzilla Raids Again, and full-frame, which I cropped to 1.85 for OK result. There was the Japanese version as disc option, but I always prefer US re-jigger of these, wanting to experience what domestic attendance got. To our distributors, all of monsters from abroad were raw clay to be molded, as in overdub, fresh music (well, not fresh, usually old and recognizable library themes), and often whole sections shot anew or cast membership swelled by Yank players (Ray Burr in the first Godzilla most noted instance of this).

Gigantis isn't too well regarded, but I had fun. Godzilla roars different this time --- was there a reason, as in trying to blur his identity? He also doesn't spit fire until the final showdown ... or did he, and I was dozing? Godzilla/Gigantis's opponent looked turtle-ish with a porcupine shell, lacking gravitas that made his defeat both appropriate and welcome. Besides, "Angurus" for a name seems too on-the-nose, sort of like "Gigantis" for Godzilla, come to think of it. Here's a theory: Since Godzilla was utterly destroyed in the 1954 pic, was Gigantis actually his son, or close friend, or as Mike's local manager claimed, a cousin? I would accept that and live with it if so. Further reality my generation must face: the Godzillas, Rodans, etc. were the only Japanese films we'd see during the 50/60's. It's not like we'd exit a Mothra saying, "That was swell, but just wait till the new Kurosawa gets here next week." There was, however, exposure to Japanese culture in these monster rallies. A Gigantis wedding party segment illuminates as to Eastern way of celebration, even if dubbing dulls reality otherwise. Anyway, it's close as most of us got to other culture practices. Between Toho and Hammer, I'd get extent of a foreign film education, at least until spaghetti westerns came along to augment the curriculum.

For a second feature, Warners found it more efficient to again shop outside for a quickie than make their own. That had worked before, most notably with The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms. Collapse of the Allied Artists deal had indeed compromised producer Tom Graeff, allowing WB to again put lion's share of investment in merchandising and exploitation. Teenagers From Outer Space (the studio's idea for a title) wasn't half-bad for what amounted to Graeff's home movie with friends. The story as spun at chase pace: Aliens land, Good titular teen breaks with invasion plot and goes on run with Bad teen in pursuit. They cover much of unspoiled L.A. circa late 50's. Forbearing trades gave Teenagers more credit than Gigantis, encouragement for such pick-up deals and for Warners to buy American. Biz suggested there was pulse yet in B/W cheapie pairs, Gigantis clocking $467K in domestic rentals, Teenagers $215K. Maybe Warners was satisfied, or maybe not, as this would be a last such combo until mid-60's release of Brainstorm and The Woman Who Wouldn't Die, these remarkably sold monochrome despite near-overtake of movies by color.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Metro Says --- Keep Britain Busy

Action Of The Tiger (1957) Shoots On Fresh Sites

Action was keynote for Metro in summer 1957, trade ads trumpeting this, Tip On A Dead Jockey, House Of Numbers, and Gun Glory for fast-move laurels. Claridge Productions and Van Johnson Enterprises were collapsible corporations set up to produce, with England as home base, giving them access to Eady funds and Metro's Elstree shop for interiors. The lion had lately partial- financed indie projects, given right story with name performers. Seven million was spread among eleven such ventures, Action Of The Tiger thought a safe bet for international biz thanks to pairing of Van Johnson and Euro hotsy Martine Carole. It was a good way to keep distribution pipelines filled and MGM-British facilities busy. The Elstree lot was large, overhead rivaling back home Culver, so the company needed tenants to fill/use space.

Exteriors for Action Of The Tiger were shot becomingly on Spain and Greece location in Cinemascope and color, giving director Terence Young chance to bone up on violence and mass attacks before James Bond assignment clinched a future along similar line. To that topic, there is Sean Connery early in his career as first mate to Van Johnson, playing drunk scenes, attempting rape of Martine Carole, and emptying a saloon, Johnson a less credible tough guy selling his boat and gun skills to high bidder Carole. Lead men of aging category were 50's persistent at crossing into Commie strongholds on rescue mission. Gable had done it twice, though by 1957 and Johnson's venture, there'd be diminishing returns. For being made so cheap (negative cost: $863K), Action Of The Tiger did return welcome profit ($204K).

Monday, March 21, 2016

Musicals In Leo's Shadow

Three Sailors and A Girl (1953) Revamps Another Old Property

Stretch Those L.A. Screens!
Correct me if I'm wrong in assuming that Warner Bros. never compiled musical highlights. Metro and Fox did, MGM to best effect with 70's and later That's Entertainments. Industry and fans conceded to theirs being always ahead in terms of melody-making. 20th's effort was a copy, made for television, and hosted by Fred Astaire, whose only association with Fox had been Daddy Long Legs. WB could have assembled a feature on basis of Busby Berkeley's work alone (there were a few shorts), 60-70's cult for which put him top among "camp" names. Little such stardust attached to later WB musicals, however, the 40's weighed by series (Dennis Morgan-Jack Carson) mimicking elsewhere ongoers (Hope-Crosby) that registered better. On-lot talent lacked aptitude for musicals, this almost central joke of wartime revue Thank Your Lucky Stars, where stars that sang invited us to laugh at their breaking habit to do so.

Warners would get serious about song/dance with discovery/development of Doris Day. To her progress would come assist of Gordon McRae and Gene Nelson. Three Sailors and A Girl, minus Day, was strictly road company beside MGM's On The Town, which it emulated to a degree, as did Universal with sailor-suited Tony Curtis observing So This Is Paris (no it wasn't, being backlot lensed), plus All Ashore's (Columbia) cut-rate nautical trio, headed by Mickey Rooney. These were strictly ersatz beside Metro, at least comparatively so. By themselves, it was possible to get by, as did Three Sailors and A Girl, released in late 1953 and stretched for suddenly widened screens unbecoming to head-to-toe performance by a dancing cast. What thrill derived from Gene Nelson tapping where his feet were cropped? MGM had inarguable lead in the race for musical primacy, but a number of theirs lost money thanks to so much poured on (The Bandwagon for instance, a 1953 release). Three Sailors and A Girl, along with similar others, could profit more by spending less.

Likely largest tab for Three Sailors and A Girl, as least in cast terms, was borrow of Jane Powell from MGM. She's not flattered by the switch; makeup, hair, costuming all cruder applied than loving care dealt by Leo. Co-stars might have wished they could return with her to Culver, Gordon McRae not getting chance at a really top musical until Oklahoma, done independently a couple years later. Gene Nelson would languish as well at Warners, a third wheel, if that, or mere dancing specialty. He doesn't get the girl, any girl, in Three Sailors and A Girl, being little better served than comic support "Fat" Jack Leonard, third among titular gobs. What Warner did have was Ray Heindorf as Music Director, his credit a most meaningful in all musicals the company did after the war. Roy Del Ruth, megging book portions, might have been David Butler or Gordon Douglas for all of difference it made.

Basis yarn had whiskers, The Butter and Egg Man dating back to 20's and inherited by WB among properties that came with acquisition of First National, latter having announced Butter/Egg for Harry Langdon in long-ago silent era. The property, originating on Broadway, was adapted to movies at least thrice before Three Sailors and A Girl, each time shifted slightly to cloud sameness. 50's Warner went back in files for not a few of musicals ... No, No, Nanette redone for Doris Day, Brother Rat back as About Face. Formula thus weighs heavy on the lot, these coming to life only when participants sing/dance. Comedy is less well-served, Leonard left to trade on girth with no shading beyond. Same for Sam Levene as a producer who crooks the trio out of savings, a part made unsympathetic where it needn't be. Three Sailors and A Girl gives impression of being done on a stopwatch with all of corners cut, but offers window to Warners on 50's retrench setting. Big help is TCM running it HD, again a tip-over from no-watch to giving Three Sailors and A Girl a go.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

It's a Jerry Kind Of Week

You're Never Too Young (1955) A Best Of M&L?

Does anyone laugh at these boys anymore? Jerry Lewis, who just turned ninety, is being feted nationwide, mostly by those, I suspect, who remember his antics at a popular peak. In other words, old folks leading the claps. Jerry's last of the first momentum, that went an amazing twenty years, was Which Way To The Front? (1970), an agreed-upon dud. After that it was fitful comebacks, first old-style Hardly Working (1980), for those loyal still buying movie tickets, and then critic triumph King Of Comedy, title of which sounded like the ultimate Jerry Lewis vehicle, but was instead a grim takedown of celebrity obsessives, directed by Martin Scorsese. He was a Lewis-lover who adjudged The Nutty Professor a masterpiece, and I'm surprised JL didn't work again for Scorsese (he might have been great in Goodfellas, or more so, Casino). I remember Lewis lugging scrapbooks onto 80/90's talk shows to argue he'd once been the biggest and would be again. It didn't happen that way, but he was still fine at whatever guest-actor opportunity came knocking (especially in dramatic capacity of multi-part Wiseguy episodes).

Whatever you think of Jerry Lewis, he was never less than completely fascinating. He's like Mickey Rooney for always pushing at the gate, always ready to work. Unlike with Rooney however, it was not for the money. Jerry had his pile from early on, so persists for creative expression, admirable by anyone's measure. He recently donated the kit-caboodle of a personal archive to the Library Of Congress, which will surely keep their staff up late, for this is about the most extensive ongoing record of a career that anyone ever saved. There's even The Day The Clown Cried, for which a lot of folks will go on living just to finally see at post-dated time Jerry has stipulated, June 2024 according to Lou Lumenick of The New York Post. In the meantime, Lewis keeps blowing out candles, gives interviews, and does one-man shows where he says whatever heck he pleases to delight of those who attend for just that. I'd frankly be afraid to meet Jerry, for same reason I'd have shrunk from Groucho in an earlier day, but here's the question: Has JL mellowed in old age?

TCM is giving us the Jerry bounty this month, so many of his I can't keep up with, let alone watch. Seems like near-everything, save The Day The Clown Cried. Well, not really --- a number of Paramounts aren't included, there's but smattering from Columbia (I DVR'ed Three On A Couch from middle of last night --- dare I watch?), and what, no Way ... Way Out? (which I remember for Brian Keith using so many swear words, which shocked and delighted us in 1966). Best of benefits is fact most on TCM are playing HD, a first-time ever for many with enhanced format.  The one I was hottest for was You're Never Too Young, always a preferred of the Martin-Lewis group, and never part of what ran previous on the Retro-Plex HD channel. Like latter handful of M&L's for Paramount, it's a VistaVision paradise, a transport back to carpet in front of the 25-inch RCA for Saturday Night At The Movies on 60's NBC. I checked yesterday's recording for quality (great) and ended up watching the whole thing. And who was the funniest man in the show, at least for my money? That's right ... Raymond Burr.

Ray is fabulous in this. He might have found a whole new career as comic heavy if not for coming juggernaut that was Perry Mason (imagine Burr in any number of Disney live actions to come, for instance the Keenan Wynn flubber parts). You're Never Too Young doesn't linger long in backdrops, moving swift from hotel to train to girl's school where balance of action happens. I think it's loads better than Artists and Models, which tends to dawdle more and let routines linger past welcome (all of which puts Norman Taurog neatly on par with, if not ahead of, Tashlin). You're Never Too Young indulges Jerry as would-be choir director, march leader, the sort of stuff Lewis would glom onto as pantomime set-pieces and develop further in solo features. There is real menace here via Burr, and a degree of suspense maintained by the very best comedies. Some Like It Hot owes plenty to You're Never Too Young. I'd suggest Billy Wilder looked closely at this one, in part because it was a remake of his own The Major and The Minor, and also as partial inspiration for his 1959 set-up with Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon pursued by baddie George Raft. Some Like It Hot and You're Never Too Young are, in that sense at least, two peas in a pod.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Your Universal 50's Tour Awaits

Rock Minus Sirk = Never Say Goodbye (1956)

In a spirit of giving credit where due, here's praise for recent Universal Vault release Never Say Goodbye, a Rock Hudson melodrama not directed by Douglas Sirk. The DVD looks fine, widened to 2:0, with quality equal to any standard-def release from U. All of Never Say Goodbye was lot-shot, despite partial Vienna setting (for extensive flashbacks), but this isn't The Third Man, or anywhere close, for authenticity. Universal wasn't about spending, lush production a 50's rarity, which was how Sirks stood out (he made less go lots farther). Star Rock Hudson was glad to get away from things like this and into Giant of a same (release) year, and said so to press. Contract holder U served fans willing to lap whatever bore his image. Still, he's good and was improving each time out. Giant wouldn't have had half the result without Hudson.

DVD Frame Grab Shows Quality of Never Say Goodbye

Never Say Goodbye was remade off Universal's 1946 This Love Of Ours with Merle Oberon, Charles Korvin, and Claude Rains. Freedom for the screen was no wider an expanse ten years later when the yarn was done as Never Say Goodbye. 1956 posters referred to "Shame and A Child" between Rock Hudson and lead lady "Miss" Cornell Borchers (so billed during build-up by U-I), a tease, for implied illigit offspring isn't source of shame here, rather it's Rock's "insane" jealousy, which sets central disaster in motion. Narrative is silly, even foolish, without high-style exerted by Sirk, but like westerns good or bad, would audiences make distinction, or care once they did? Never Say Goodbye served what was left of frequent moviegoers that followed Modern Screen and whatever Sunday sections published about Hollywood and its gifts to culture.

26 Then, Near 86 Now, and Clint's Still Working

It wouldn't have been inapt to call Rock Hudson a last of manufactured stars, or Universal a final studio incubating them. U's contract list in the 50's was like MGM's in the 30's, as many stars as Heaven afforded, if not so bright. Never Say Goodbye hoped to launch, or re-launch, Cornell Borchers, an Ingrid Bergman  stood in for the real one exiled some seasons back. Borchers had worked in German films, been tried at Fox as co-star of The Big Lift in 1950, quit US work afterward. H'wood return was for Never Say Goodbye, and following year a partner to Errol Flynn for Istanbul, another backlot exotic. If U-I thought stars could be built on output like this, they'd have another thing coming. Borchers wasn't bad, but a Duse couldn't elevate Never Say Goodbye, a lesson Rock Hudson knew and had adjusted to. Up-and-comers at U-I might watch him and learn, six-month hire (and not renewed) Clint Eastwood among these, his two lines as a lab technician in Never Say Goodbye reflecting eagerness to make a most of them. Eastwood can laugh in reflection now, but such was breath of life for a struggling young player then. He'd tell of haunting phone booths just off the U lot in hope his agent might scare up more single-lines-or-less w/ names like Hudson, John Agar (see Star In The Dust), or even Francis the Mule.

Home Away From Patron Homes On Universal Backlot

I've dwelled before on value of 50's U-I being tour of their well-used backlot. Never Say Goodbye gives us better than if we rode a tram with Ed Muhl or shark-ish Wasserman himself as host. Goodbye's "Paris flashback" (only it's "Vienna") amounts to half a run-time and evokes setting like anyone's back patio. But therein lies joy, as monsters, Sherlock Holmes, Abbott and Costello, also dwelt here. I'm not so good for spotting locations as many, but hadn't Goodbye's central residence been recently occupied by Jane Wyman in All That Heaven Allows? --- and wasn't Lee Marvin shot down at least nearby in The Killers? For all I know, the edifice still stands, and used yet for TV. Never Say Goodbye is pleasant stroll over ground we know from Universal output strung to infinity. Why then, be distracted by compelling narrative, lush trappings, or gifted performers?, those less necessary where we've come mainly for the view. Never Say Goodbye being resolutely in-house and on-lot is its strength and ongoing pleasure, a welcome one more tick-off from U-I's scrapbook.

UPDATE: 3/17/16 --- Michael Hayde sent this very interesting photo with explanation: "Donald Benson and MikeD's comments about the Uni tour and its "Western Stunt Show" reminded me of this photo I took there in August 1970 when I was 10.  I used my mother's old Kodak Brownie camera (127 roll Kodachrome film).  My dad, who spent a couple hundred that summer on Nikon equipment, told me I'd never get this shot... but I did!  Bob Hastings was the host, and I believe that's Terry Wilson in the lower left corner.  The stunt man has just been shot off the boarding house." Great stuff, Michael. Thanks!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Passing Of The B's At Warner

Stock Footage Stampede in Cattle Town (1952)

Dennis Morgan going out from Warners with a whimper, Cattle Town a drop even from Raton Pass, neither tall in saddle beside westerns WB had done long ago (Cattle's neg cost a mere $594K). Now they merely pillaged off time when likes of Dodge City defined "Big" for outdoor stock (Maltin Reviews calls Cattle Town a "sad echo of a slick western," overlooking ones of us who answer to sad echoes). Had viewers by 1952 memorized Dodge City? --- because they sure got recycling from it. I wonder how many times the outsize barroom fight was used, or the race between wagon and train, or latter on fire set by baddies. And here was the thing: Dodge City itself was back in 1951, on a double with Virginia City, and in black-and-white rather than original Technicolor. Early 50's was disrespected time for oldies, a situation to worsen when Dodge City and whole of the pre-49 library went TV-way a few years later to be sandwich-sliced by local stations, for most part again in B/W. Even color prints of Dodge City would remain substandard for years. What I had in 16mm looked inconsistent, OK at times, faded or soft for most part. It's only recent put right thanks to Blu-Ray release. Best then, to view Cattle Town as an archeologist, and enjoy guess game of ID'ing old footage, a same joy found in Bob Shayne shorts WB did in early-to-mid 40's.

The pleasure in Cattle Town comes in seeing just where corners will be cut. It was virtually last among B's done by Warners as means of trimming overhead and increasing volume. 1952 saw twenty-six features from WB. Arriving as it did at the end of the year, Cattle Town saw out not only Dennis Morgan, but cheapie westerns that wouldn't be re-upped until Warners began doing them even cheaper, and en masse, for television. Being assigned to Cattle Town was surely letdown for most of cast, though Paul Picerni in memoirs said it was fun, even as he realized Cattle was a cheat. Notable is fact this may have been a dead last throwback to singing-plus-sidekicks of yore, Cattle Town braking often for Dennis Morgan to sing, oft to concertina accompany by George "Eight-Ball" O'Hanlon, beloved of the concurrent Joe McDoakes series. Does all this amuse? At times, yes, and there's only 71 minutes of it. Noel Smith directed, if that needs mention, though I was dumb to fact he'd done most of 30's "B" Dick Foran for WB, and dated back, in fact, to teens-era Larry Semon shorts at Vitagraph. If Cattle Town has a precursor, it would be the Forans, for placed side-to-side, I doubt we'd see much vary amongst them. Warner Archive has Cattle Town on DVD.

Monday, March 07, 2016

Tough Transition To Teens

Shirley Temple Is Miss Annie Rooney (1942)

I wonder if better pictures might have helped Shirley Temple jump fence to adult stardom. She had looks to equal Deanna Durbin, latter's transition greased by gloss Universal-applied. Was it Shirley's still childlike voice, I should say delivery, that seemed pouty when not cheerful? Or bald fact of her being not so effective with onset of puberty (columns by age 12 called Shirley a "has-been"). I don't see much progress through the 40's. That Hagen Girl, seen on TCM a few weeks ago, and then Miss Annie Rooney, played like a same character in a roughly-same movie, despite six year lapse between the two. Would Shirley have just as soon quit? --- but then parents needed cash, made clear in ST memoir that details their blowing the 30's wad. What lacked was a major studio being (more importantly, staying) behind her after Fox. The MGM contract had died on vines. Their music wing thought her talent limited, as in fall-short of Leo standard. They had Judy Garland among ranks, after all, with Kathryn Grayson, June Allyson, in development. Kathleen was a one and only there, ST coming away from glamour's summit with bitter taste (dressing rooms stank of a locker, she recalled).

A doting mother helped queer Metro relations (she turned down, on Shirley's behalf, Babes On Broadway and Panama Hattie). Dad got into beef with agent and admitted shark, if not outright criminal, Frank Orsatti, and accepted Miss Annie Rooney for ST in order to ease in a new rep. Independent-producing was Edward Small, him an ongoing asset to distributor United Artists. Being UA, access was had to Annie Rooney story/character via charter exec Mary Pickford, who latched onto Shirley as potential re-enactor of girl with curls silent work. That scheme got no further than Miss Annie Rooney, the remake nary a shade on Mary's version beyond the title. Producer Small belied his unfortunate (for Hollywood) name with solid and saleable product, never venturing more money than he'd calculate to get back. On the other hand, his output seldom rose past ordinary.

TCM ran Miss Annie Rooney, a license from Sony/Columbia (just how spread are these old UA's? --- everyone seems to own at least a few beyond flocks that are PD). The thing at least looked great, being HD. Such obscurity merits close eyeball of TCM, much of programming same old bearded transfers, but then --- surprise --- a favorite in first-time High-Def (like The Secret Six this past weekend). Miss Annie Rooney commands all of help it can get. Best of 82 minutes is jitterbugging plus swing-talk by jalopy-load. Did teens back then have more fun? Old movies suggest they did. When Shirley and pals dance, it's light on, but back home and coping with tiresome grandpa Guy Kibbee, let alone loser and loud-mouth pop William Gargan, well --- include me out. So much of "Classic Era" amounts to duty watch. I sat for HD sake and to cross off another I'd read about, but ... never again. Still, there is peculiar aspect of Miss Annie Rooney to startle still, like Dickie Moore in revamp of Peter Lorre and The Face Behind The Mask, not intended so, but every bit as creepy.

ST Dances With Masked Dickie
Moore could act, but not dance, was loathe, in fact, to try. Jitterbugging in prime was more like an athletic event. Those who couldn't pack gear did better to stay off the floor. Many kids watching were good as pros, so would laugh off the screen flat tire actors who thought they could swing. What it took was a dance double for Dickie Moore, but as cameras stood at least fairly close on action, a mere sub wouldn't cut rugs. They'd need a dancer wearing a Dickie Moore molded-rubber facemask. Deceit like this worked in 1942 when film grain was faking's friend, but HD is pitiless to reveal frozen features and untoward wrinkling suddenly visited on a sixteen-year-old face. Perhaps I wouldn't have noticed had I not just read about the subterfuge in Shirley Temple's book. Now and forevermore, she and faux-Dickie's jitterbug will play like a horror movie.

Miss Annie Rooney was sold on Shirley's emerging maturity, "First Love, First Kiss" referred non-stop by sellers. That last was bestowed by Dickie Moore, who in 1984 wrote of the big moment in tingling terms to make passage of forty years seem mere moments (his OOP memoir now goes for $50 at least on Amazon). "Queen Of The Teens" Shirley was keyed aggressively to what was hep in 1942, a peak year for kids hopped up on swing. The only thing Miss Annie Rooney lacked was a name band for specialty numbers (would that have helped? Broadway's Rivoli might have thought so: "poor notices and is doing poor business" being Variety's verdict, "(Rivoli) would seem entitled to better product." Overall biz was morose, $610K in domestic rentals. Shirley would be offscreen two years, then back for David Selznick, him using her name more than talent, especially where it came to publicity he'd rev for Temple-Agar wedding event. Work was focused during interim on radio's Junior Miss, of which apparently no ST episodes survive, a letdown because my elementary school band teacher Priscilla Lyons (known to us as Mrs. Priscilla Call) played Shirley's best friend "Fluffy Adams" through the series.
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