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Thursday, June 29, 2017

007 In Dotage

Will James Bond Smile Again?

James Bond makes a homecoming to Scotland only to see his ancestral site blown up, then burnt down. Skyfall is another mournful Bond. He's the now-clichéd "rogue agent" for much of a first act, staying humorless for what's left of the inevitable long sit. I don't mind Daniel Craig as 007, but is he going to remain so sullen forever? I'd hardly expect to long for winking era of Roger Moore, but a little levity wouldn't hurt. Skyfall is the best of the so-far Craig's list if one must choose, but as always with modern thrillers, I'd pick the first ending out of four (at least) we get. Don't even kids get tired of watching things blow up? There seemed a break in having Javier Bardem as principal villain, but then came the accent and tarted up camp this otherwise fine actor for some reason applied. Did Bardem figure this was the 60's and he was doing a Batman feature? James Bond always rises or falls on the strength of his opposition, so I'd regretfully call this a thud.

I didn't recognize the portly old man in the third act before recalling the credits and thinking, Oh no, it is Albert Finney. What made it worse was having watched Tom Jones just a few weeks before. Senior players still working make me feel old because I remember them first-run when both of us were young. Did 50's counterparts react the same when Francis X. Bushman showed up in cameo mode? I must say, at risk of seeming cruel, Good Riddance to Judi Dench's M. She was always a sour apple and too much time got spent on gender politics re she and Bond. A positive note was struck with Ralph Fiennes brought in to replace her. I also like the geek kid who's the new "Q," indication that sometimes new ideas can work. One good thing about Skyfall is a story that I was able to follow, it having been several Bonds ago that narratives made sense to me. The action is also less rabbit-cut than usual. Cyber-terrorism seems to be crisis of choice in all actioners today, for good reason I'm sure, but that puts characters to clacking at keyboards in lieu of cracking heads. Bond gets a drop --- twice --- on heavy Bardem and I'm yelling, Shoot him! Now!, but no, this baddest guy gets away to commit more cyber-chaos. In today's most dangerous of worlds, Bond can hardly afford to give villains a least quarter.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Vaude's Biggest Name Talks for Paramount

Getting A Ticket (1929) Is Comedy's Big Noise for 1929

Here was your bargain for small change it took to get into theatres during 1929: a Paramount feature, Street Of Chance, plus Eddie Cantor in the one-reel Getting A Ticket, with talking and song, the bill running five weeks at Broadway's Rialto for prices way less than vaudeville audiences were then paying to see Cantor. Part of what killed vaude was stars recording their acts on film. Eddie was in midst of "a whole Cantor series on Paramount's short program," their trade emphasis on fact that "capacity crowds" gave $5.50 per seat to see him on stage. A widest gulf between movies and big-time vaudeville was cost, and with talkies' grip tightening, there was no doubt left as to which would prevail. Eddie Cantor still commanded top money to play New York's Palace Theatre; in fact, his price for live performing went up as other media, radio in addition to film, utilized Eddie more ($7,700 per Palace week in 1930, $8,000 the following year). Getting A Ticket was eleven minute mix of what Motion Picture News called "old wheezes on the stock crash" and a song entitled My Wife Is On A Diet, the second half of which "might be objected to in family circles," said the trade, but anyone going in knew Cantor's stuff could be bawdy, and it was that in fact that brought a lot of them in. Getting A Ticket is part of Kino's DVD Cavalcade Of Comedy, the only disc so far extant of "Paramount Talking Acts," which just shows how deprived we home enthusiasts remain when it comes to early talkie comedies.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Another Lick At The 3-D Stick

Could Depth Make A 1960 Comeback?

John Wayne as Davy Crockett in 1960 referred to something or other being "dead as a beaver hat." Well, that's about where 3-D laid by that year. The process was chased off screens at least five years earlier. There had been attempts at revival, spotty and local-launched, but a wider public wanted none of it. 3-D had been branded a gimmick from beginning, carny appeal if that. Too many had trouble with the glasses, which even where projectors synched, met resistance of myopia patronage brought with them to seats. This got blamed on the process, management failing to warn that if you had any sort of vision limit, 3-D would exacerbate it. And why, they'd ask, was the picture so dark? We wonder the same with home projection where battery-powered goggles are necessary to watch. Flat screens work better, but manufacturers are dropping the 3-D option from newer models. Sometimes it seems stereo adherents can't win for losing.

September Storm came out recently on Blu-Ray. It is a remarkable job of preservation by the 3-D Archive team of Bob Furmanek, Jack Theakston, Greg Kintz, and Thad Komorowski. September Storm had not been seen in depth from 1960 theatrical dates till these wizards got hold of it, elements being in expected rough shape. Now September Storm look lustrous, par for course of whatever 3-D Archive turns hands to. I always wanted to see September Storm because it was the only 3-D feature I knew of that was also in Cinemascope. Further draw was fact it seemed utterly lost. These first-run ads for Chicago and Atlanta are a recent come-across. Note ones for Chicago (the Oriental Theatre) don't even mention 3-D, opting instead for "Stereo-Vision" and "special viewers ... scientifically designed by master craftsmen." It's as though they were hawking an all new process, quite beyond old and problematic 3-D. Whatever the appearance --- September Storm took a swift $25,000 in its first Oriental week, $18K the second. Atlanta's Buckhead Theatre emphasized "First Time" linkage of 3-D with "Living Presence of color Cinemascope." Came the seeming oblivion of post-'60, TV runs (few) in full-frame, sans depth, and black-and-white besides in most markets. We're fortunate then, to have September Storm back, thanks to 3-D Archive.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Equal Rights For Bandit Women

Belle Starr (1941) Takes Aim At Jesse James Grosses

20th's valentine to the defeated south, and a bid for more of money showered on Jesse James in 1939. Belle Starr was glamorize of outlawry to a point of silly, but what matter where it was Gene Tierney in embrace of Randolph Scott and Technicolor? Seemed to Fox that bandits had good and sympathetic reason to blow trains and loot banks. In this case, Tierney does neither on screen, even as scenes were shot of her at stealing, then excised as release drew nigh. Code precept demanded Belle die for a finish, as with history and punishment provision of the PCA, but she could look fetching for all of exertions, that the point of memorializing her in the first place. So why watch? For one, there is HD abroad in viewing land, Belle Starr at the moment among freebies to Dish Network subscribers (well, far from free, but part of the package). Even as three-strip elements were deep-sixed decades ago, there is still suggestion of what Belle looked like when new and glorious.

Echoes of Jesse James, and more so, Gone With The Wind, abound. Narrative bumps go strictly in JJ groove. Belle is benign, hates Yankees like Jesse did the railroad, has her plantation burned to the ground for display of attitude, plus hiding of wounded Rebs. Much lore came of earth-scorching the bluecoats did on marches to the sea and elsewhere, not a few still around in '41 who knew the infamous score from family telling or even first-hand. They were sorts who'd gone to see Jesse James because he too fought gov't overreach, if in singular ways, and who cared about means where Yanks were still regarded by many an oppressive force? Reconstruction may have been over on official ledgers, but not in hearts of those who took brunt, and plenty of them saw kindred spirit in Jess and now Belle. Look close at badman cycle of late 30's/early 40's and there are plenty who got a pass for fighting heavy hand of law, even where they faced scuttle at the wind-up. It took all of us united in a world war to finally break up the party. Another year, in fact, and I don't think Belle Starr would have gotten made.

Belle Would Rob Trains For Publicity, But Not In Final Prints Of The Film

Injustice As Inflicted By Yankees --- WWII Would Smooth Regional Differences

"Great New Screen Personality" Gene Tierney is the "relentless champion of right" title character. A part like this, played to hilt and laden with costume, was how stars got made just ahead of December 7 and need for women to carry heavier burden of filling seats for male stars called to duty. Tierney would see her height through these years, as did others who'd please distaff patronage buying most of tickets. Hailed by ads as fighter against injustice, a "new Joan of Arc" of old Missouri, this was no Belle Starr as history recorded her, but movies weren't for clouding such issues, takeaway from Jesse James showing for sure that audience affection was entirely with the outlaw. Still, Belle Starr did but apx. half the business JJ saw, and wouldn't sustain but for a 1948 reissue, being not evergreen as was case for the older pic. Belle Starr is also largely unknown for its so far non-appearance on digital, no DVD or even streaming could I find, other than a couple of Region Two releases, one of which (from France) got a scathing review on Amazon ("Stay Away!").

Thursday, June 15, 2017

How's For A Langdon Revisit ...

Fourth Of The Big Three in Two Shorts

Watched a pair of Harry Langdons from the Mack Sennett Blu-Ray, Saturday Afternoon and Fiddlesticks. It was impulse, not planned, so I came fresh to Langdon after a while of not thinking about him. Michael Hayde does audio on Saturday Afternoon, called it probably Langdon's best short. Blackhawk had several Langdons on 8 and 16mm, this about an only way to see them outside of glimpse in a Youngson parade. Every fan of sight comedy has an opinion on what made Langdon special, and even ones who don't like him will admit Langdon was something special, or at least singular. A 20's public agreed and said so in bought tickets. Langdon was a pet rock of clowns for a short time, worked long past that, was guilty at most of being overexposed, not his fault but more that of once-employer Mack Sennett, who held back shorts against calculation that Langdon was approaching a peak, so why not save bread to dip in richer gravy?

Many have estimated Langdon's impact on other comedians. He made them all slow down. Audiences found that refreshing. Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd had applied brakes to features they graduated to, common sense dictating you couldn't run pell-mell for an hour or more. What Langdon did was bring the concept to shorts, of which philosophy had always been faster is better, fastest is best. Harry would stand still or dither for precious minutes of a two-reeler and think nothing of it. Sennett had to be convinced of sense in that. Eventually he was. Comics as result aped Langdon outright, the rest incorporating at least bits of him into their act. Stan Laurel was reborn in Langdon's image. Had there been no Harry, there probably would have been no Laurel and Hardy, or at least not a Laurel-Hardy like two we know. Langdon takes getting used to ... he would have admitted as much, I'm sure ... but once aboard, you're fine. Are shorts a best start? Probably so, as in small quantity to develop taste for anything. To try Langdon is to experience something utterly new. There's not a comedian of a past century like him, unless I've missed a copy or inspiration somewhere. Did any rising star since Langdon's late-20's height call him a role model, or after the 30's, mention him at all? Saturday Afternoon has Harry and Vernon Dent trolling sun-kissed L.A. for dates. There's a wife in the Langdon household, as often was case, even as we can't imagine such a union being consummated. An effective scene at the start has her advised by a "grass widow" (husband having split) that men must be tight-controlled. Bad advise we know from the friend's own circumstance, which the short doesn't make a point of, but subtext is there, and explains why Mrs. Harry softens somewhat later on.

Fiddlesticks has Langdon turned out of a family to which he already seems alien. They don't like him or his bull fiddle, but a junk man knows how to make most of Harry's least talent, gagging from there inventive and not so indulgent of stood-still Langdon as features would be. Most of  current fans have waited lifetimes for lost comedians like Langdon and Charley Chase to be truly found and lionized like they deserve. That is, by a wider public. What we've had instead is a  public continuing to overlook not only Langdon and Chase, but forgetting even Our Gang, Laurel-Hardy, Bill Fields, the lot of those for whom we thought lamps were permanently lit. I'm glad (barely enough) discs can be sold for most all of Langdon's extant silents (Chase's too). It's fan-base, of course, that make this possible, labors being for love, never for profit, as how much cash could there be in comedy so old, wonderful as so much of it still is.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Flynn Finale In Costume

Flynn Pulls Himself Together For The Warriors (1955)

Producer Walter Mirisch says in his memoir that Errol Flynn showed up overweight on Euro location to do The Warriors. He was also pretty useless by twilight due to drink. Late Flynn films are generally more interesting for what went on behind scenes than what ended up on screens, The Warriors no exception. They are to be savored for heroism in the face of odds Errol himself had to meet and overcome. Finishing one, let alone several a year plus a TV series, was victory over dire prognosis Flynn got every time he visited a doctor (they'd given him six months more than once through hurly-burly of the 50's, when EF was in his 40's). The Warriors is a handsome show in many ways, the last costume feature Flynn was in (later Errol Flynn Theatre for teevee saw occasional sword and breastplate). TCM runs The Warriors and there is a DVD from Warner Archive. Broadcasts and disc are widescreen reflecting Cinemascope of 1955 release, but suffer from tepid color, this a regret because The Warriors played theatrical dates in prints by Technicolor. I saw a 35mm trailer that was a wow, and left impression that this could be an undiscovered pearl among misfires the lot of the star after he left Warners. Seeing it finally (The Warriors was unavailable for years) did not fulfill hope, but it’s nice, especially for we who feel Flynn could do no wrong, to see him sword in hand, and in scope, riding out of color castles to right late career wrongs.

The Warriors was an Allied Artists venture, that company eager to lay siege against the majors, their struggle for good bookings an endless one. AA at times felt badly used by exhibitors who they felt took path of least resistance by dealing with entrenched distributors instead of giving newcomers a chance. Not that Allied Artists was anything other than Monogram rebranded, but they were fresh to the “A” market, and to be successful they’d need support of theatres. The Warriors was no lavish picture, but there was majesty in its backgrounds, thanks to authentic sites where knights once were in flower. Metro had purpose-built ramparts left over from Ivanhoe, borrowed by AA, and big help toward putting The Warriors into league with period hits starring Robert Taylor or Stewart Granger. The film emphasizes historical basis, does not spoof up a basically serious story. Flynn won’t hew to Don Juan formula as had been case in several of costume ventures since his persona was redefined by the rape trial and acquittal. The Warriors, then, plays nicely for dodging rigid expectation of Flynn as satyr first, crusader for justice second. It is no embarrassment to the positive image of Flynn that has evolved since scandals of his lifetime and a scurrilous bio that was momentary threat to his legacy later on.

From mid-50’s to the end was clearly not peak-period for Flynn. There was by time of The Warriors a debacle of William Tell behind him. That one went unfinished, while Crossed Swords, which had a 1954 release, only seemed unfinished. Whatever Flynn did henceforth would suffer by comparison with polish of his Warner contract vehicles. Beside 1955 and The Warriors, two-years earlier The Master Of Ballantrae seems a near-masterpiece. WB had reissued previous Flynns to remind us of how vital he’d once been, but even these cooled once negotiations began for TV drop of the pre-49 library. Against such background, observers could be expected to dismiss Flynn as washed up. He had lost protection of a studio and contract, so no one’s interest, other than Flynn’s own, was enhanced for boosting him. And yet he’d stay busy, despite health plus financial woes that would have benched a lesser constitution. There were the features, plus Errol Flynn Theatre, popular in a number of markets to which it was syndicated. These may not have carried prestige of theatrical output, but plenty more tuned in than would have attended Flynn movies, even if he had been appearing in good ones.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

One-Stop Vacation For A Nation

Theatres Tout Disneyland USA

Walt did this Cinemascope featurette to further herd his public toward vacationing Mecca that was Disneyland, open one year as of 1956 and already a place everyone must see before they die. To pay admission for what amounted to promotion for something you'd pay admission for again was proof of Disney's grip on a family audience that rivals saw slipping as the picture habit became less of a habit. Success of the park would make movies at Disney less of a do-or-die proposition. His name alone made motorists load up offspring and drive up to 3000 miles for access to the Magic Kingdom. My family made that maximum haul in 1962 (NC to California being truest cross-country), drawn in part by drumbeat of magazines and WD's TV program. Disneyland was less miracle in itself than miracle of marketing to address everyone alive from day the park opened. That event, on ABC, is said to have had 90 million viewers. I wonder if any broadcast will get so large an audience again.

Westward Ho, The Wagons! led for Christmas 1956, but it was Disneyland USA where skill was greater applied. These forty-one minutes had to sell the place, make it worth traversing American frontier to get to. Yes, travel was easier than in old West days, but sections could be rugged, eight or even four lane highways certainly not a given except for approach to biggest towns. Disneyland seemed less amusement park than World's Fair, and folks had not minded long trek to those over a last century. Best of all, they'd settle in for days or even a week of spending once installed. You would need that to take it all in, as evidenced by Disneyland USA being but cursory glimpse of joys to be had. It was an Other World experience Disney offered, one to take us forward or back to times happier than what 1956 could offer. Now, of course, a lot would choose 1956 as retreat from present, but consider fact that Disneyland's "Main Street" was turn of 19th to 20th century, a gap many could close with memory and longed for security that past offered. Walt Disney himself was among these. Had he been born (much) later, would Walt have made Main Street an Eisenhower-era paradise with malt shops and early rock and roll played by roving bands? Probably so.

Disneyland USA was officially part of the "People and Places" series being released parallel to the True-Life nature shorts. One or the other came with most Disney features through the 50's, for audiences had built acceptance, if not embrace, for Walt's ongoing effort to enrich them. Winston Hibler's narrating voice of authority lets us know that Disneyland was more than mere pleasure stop with rides, being distinct place on a world map to equal stature of a National Park, with in fact, values of all these combined. Cinemascope conveys vastness of the place. You wouldn't know how confining Anaheim was from watching Disneyland USA. We don't get snarled approach to the town or parking ordeal, as this tour opens on tram arrival to the park's Hotel, where the pool looks like dream dips all of us took in youth when chlorine-tinted water seemed pure as what baptized believers at the River Jordan. There is no delay or inconvenience at this idealized Disneyland. Was the actual park so smooth a process then? I don't recall our having a problem in 1962, but time has a way of sifting out troubled memories to leave but happy ones, that being of course, the entire mission of Disneyland.

The Main Street was fashioned after small towns Disney knew growing up. Many a 20th century tycoon wished for lost innocence and simpler times. Henry Ford built his Greenfield Village to celebrate the country as it once was, and now Disney would answer a same impulse with this first sight to greet guests at Disneyland. It is what we see at a start of Disneyland USA, music underneath from a gay 90's-set Donald Duck called Crazy Over Daisy (1950). Horses haul streetcar-fulls to and fro, and Disney's beloved trains are omnipresent. He had one in the yard at home that guests could sit on and ride, and maybe elixir from rails was as strong for folks entering Disneyland in 1956, but ... what about now? Are there still trains there, or horses, or the old movie house where silent films show? If not, then I guess the fishing hole where you could sink a hook and keep the game you caught is gone too. Sixty years have changed a lot of things, nowhere I'd suspect, as much as at Disneyland. Among other likely casualties: a staged bank robbery and law catching up to miscreants with six guns at the ready. Gone too? Likely so.

Westward Ho, The Wagons! was a fairly punk feature. You can't see it now except in lousy pan-scan DVD or paid streaming. William Beaudine directed, so no one's time or money got wasted. There was at least Cinemascope to distinguish Wagons from stuff on TV. Fess Parker toplines, but he never really took off as a major star for Disney. He had hoped to be loaned to do The Searchers at Warners, but Walt nixed, and Jeffrey Hunter got the job. Fess did Wagons for his western instead. That had to hurt, considering hit The Searchers was in 1956 and status it attained later. Westward Ho, The Wagons! had campfire singing in search of a next "Ballad Of Davy Crockett," and there were Mouseketeers along for the trail ride. Indians on hand are much more good than bad, so excitement is lessened. Down-the-cast was George Reeves, who, as opined before, would have made a perfect and ongoing live action hero for Disney had he lived into the 60's, but then we'd have had less, or none, of Brian Keith. Disneyland USA was cut up and used for parts as later shorts and TV programs updated the Magic Kingdom pitch. The featurette was put right for inclusion in a Disneyland DVD box that is out of print and goes for blue fortune at Amazon. You can catch Disneyland USA, at least for the moment, on You Tube. It's a glorious time capsule and probably the best evocation of infant Disneyland that there is.

Monday, June 05, 2017

More From Boyhood Scrapbooks

Someone Should Have Warned Me In 1965 About Indiscriminate Scotch-Tape Application

North Carolina Drive-Ins Yum-Yum Eat Up Elvis

Plops Go Auction Hammer and One-Time Albemarle Rd. Drive-In
Spend the night with Elvis! Lots wished they could, here at least a partial fulfillment. So much of him had accumulated by the mid-60's, and all, it seemed, could still be had from busy film exchanges. Ours in Charlotte kept Presley in constant circulation, theatres and drive-ins always wanting him back, so long as terms were fair (as in cheap). That's how I got to see my favorite of his, Tickle Me, at least twice at the Liberty. The Albemarle Rd. Drive-In, just outside Charlotte, was site of feast above, and how they must have chowed on burgers, dogs, steak sandwiches, the lot as tendered at concession huts like full-blown cafeterias. Being "All In Color" meant something to then viewers --- it showed up better especially on outdoor screens. I like how Girls! Girls! Girls! is pushed harder as "Return To Sender." That was the pic's sole hit tune, but a whale of one that played non-stop on transistors every kid carried. I'll bet the Albemarle Rd. booked the whole show for less than $100, then took in --- who knows how much? Elvis really was a gold stash back then.

Further proof comes courtesy of Greensboro's long-ago ad for double-up of Kissin' Cousins with Your Cheatin' Heart, both our then-idea of classics that would live forever. I'll not forget Kissin' Cousins when new at the Liberty. We drove past from church on opening day and saw lines run the entire block to circle around our local bank for a 1:00 show. Many of these would be turned away, but back to try again at 3:00. Elvis was rural and so was this story setting, result biggest yokel biz for a Presley since his early ones. Kissin' Cousins was said to have been shot "in the Great Smokies," but Sam Katzman produced, so I'm not so sure about that. Your Cheatin' Heart was the sad but ultimately uplift story of Hank Williams as done by George Hamilton. It was pure socko around here. Theatres couldn't get prints after a first couple years, a complaint MGM loudly heard from NC showmen who wanted more like this and less like Ryan's Daughter. The South Drive-In for this event had a "New, Giant screen." Let's hope they expanded the lot too for this blockbuster meet of the "King Of Swing" with the "King Of Country."

Thursday, June 01, 2017

A Desert Painted With Blood?

1930 Relic Reveals New Star and Forgotten Disaster

Few would know or care about The Painted Desert were if not for bold entrance by screen-talking-for-a-first-time Clark Gable. Fact that two men were killed making the film is largely lost to time, but more of that anon. What's noteworthy today is Gable as burly mop sweeping players mere specks on desert floor, up to/including William, billed as "Bill," Boyd, who'd later get immortality as Hopalong Cassidy. Boyd's got no chance vs. Gable, which is interesting because both had rich voices and presence. Bill was still adjusting to talkies. He and others read lines, then wait politely for a partner to finish, reminiscent of courtesy that kept titles up long enough for folks to absorb during silent days. That was when Boyd made initial splash as clean-cut action man for DeMille. What he's up against with Gable is aggression as it couldn't be expressed in an era of screen quiet. CG is abrupt and growls his words. He'd be tamed somewhat later on, especially after the Code, and never again so feral as here. Entrance to The Painted Desert has him demanding water of about-to-evaporate Helen Twelvetrees and prairie rat dad J. Farrell MacDonald, otherwise capable players fossilized beside this future of picture stardom. Later when Boyd comes to confront Gable, it's like Bambi trying to subdue Godzilla. The voice was what commended Gable. It's deep to a seeming core of then-recorders, him an aural threat all new to an art now heard as well as seen. Chaney Sr. had that resonance, and danger that went with it, in The Unholy Three, but that first talkie would also be his last.

It wasn't just the voice pitched low, but how Gable used it. He'll break up a line and put emphasis where not expected. That's stage training, no doubt, plus what coach and first wife Josephine Dillon taught him. Accounts say Gable's voice was a good deal higher before she had him yell off cliffs to pull it down. Does a deep tone command respect in life as in movies? I'd guess so. There were a few lead men out of silents who crashed for sounding "like Minnie Mouse" (a derisive phrase to describe more than one). That saloon showdown from The Painted Desert was used in 1968's NBC special, Dear Mr. Gable, to illustrate how he commanded the screen from onset, and it was funny then to see Boyd shrink at the verbal onslaught. The Painted Desert ran recent as part of TCM's Gable month, a curio to give glimpse of a star hatching. Coming away question is this: How many to-be legends started out so fully formed? Bogart and John Wayne took time, years in fact, to find footing. I'd say James Cagney came closest to meteor risen like Gable. Any casting person that saw The Painted Desert had to know CG was potential boon in plain sight. He was at Metro before Desert got out, so a series of impacts happened more/less at once. Communication was less instant in those days, so it took time even for overnight stars to register.

The Painted Desert has long been understood as a B western, which it wasn't, being sold as a special per these first-run ads and trade reports of Arizona locations and initial intent (not fulfilled) to shoot in two-color Technicolor. It was a Pathé release, that company folded into RKO, The Painted Desert circulating after as latter's property. Prints were habitually soft, to sit far back of screens a necessity when watching on 16mm. An action chunk got taken out in the late 30's to insert in a George O'Brien western, and was never put back. Who knows or objects when Gable is all of reason to watch? But there is other, and darker, locus of interest in otherwise obscure The Painted Desert. It was final curtain for a pair of Pathé crew workers too near a mine blast staged on location, an incident not generally reported at the time, and pretty much lost to historical record since. Details of filming disasters aren't easy to come by. For obvious reasons, they got minimal, if at all, coverage. Explosion mishap on The Painted Desert was mentioned in Film Daily, but not elsewhere in trades that I could find. Variety seems to have overlooked, or stayed off, it. Young Tay Garnett was an associate director on the film (credited was Howard Higgin).

A check of Garnett's 1973 memoir finds no mention of what happened on The Painted Desert. Garnett only recalls the film in terms of Gable's participation --- fact they paid the actor $150 a week, Pathé foolishly failing to sign him long-term, etc. Even after so many years, Garnett wasn't going to dredge up the Arizona incident. Neither, I expect, did Gable, in subsequent interviews or conversation. Hollywood's truest Cone Of Silence was draped over loss of lives when filming. One source that gave account, if superficial, was Silver Screen, a fan mag in days before studios clamped tighter on monthlies. This was January 1930 and an article called The Price Of Realism --- Human Life, which told in blood-curdle terms of "grim, icy-fingered, relentless" death that stalked movie crews. It had struck at previous shoots like Hell's Angels (three killed), Such Men Are Dangerous (ten down, including director Kenneth Hawks), and those two men lost when The Painted Desert's dynamite proved lethal. Each of incidents happened within three months, said Silver Screen, and "there may have been --- and probably were --- other casualties," amidst filmmaking elsewhere. The article admittedly muck-rakes --- who knows what truth lies in it? Too many years are past now to get an accurate, if grim, accounting. Suffice to say a lot of what took place went to graves, both with those who died, and ones that kept quiet about how they did.
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