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Monday, October 30, 2017

Enough To Make You Think Vampires Are Real

Nominate Vampyr (1931) For All-Time Creep Out

Because of its spelling, I went around years pronouncing Vampyr as Vam-peer, a nod on my part to greater sophistication of Euros who'd made this odd and very acquired taste of a chiller. First familiarity came of Carlos Clarens' An Illustrated History Of The Horror Film, published in 1967, where creepy stills promised fear cold as a grave, burial alive among highlights. Problem, of course, was seeing the thing. Television had none of it, while further book reference (The Film Till Now) spoke of "a film much applauded by the intelligentsia," author Paul Rotha's seeming dismissal of  Vampyr as "very much of a museum piece." Was this as much result of awful prints in circulation? There were versions in varied language, that is what little could be made out from largely inaudible soundtracks. Directing Carl Dreyer had covered bases re English, German, French editions, but much of reception was cool, and I couldn't find indication that Vampyr got US release beyond a Film Daily mention on 10/30/33, wherein Arthur Ziehm of General Foreign Sales Corp. was said to have acquired rights.

Vampyr floated for decades at diminished capacity. Histories when they mentioned it did so in terms of compromised image. "Unfortunately the prints that are available in the United States are not made from the master negative and so their photographic quality is rather poor," said one 1960 reference. Ever the opportunist Raymond Rohaeur booked Euro-passage in October 1964 to acquire rights from Vampyr's producer/money man/star Baron Nicolas De Gunzburg (how many Barons got kicks making movies?), who'd almost forgot Vampyr. Rohauer did a customary slash-and-burn job of warning off "bootleg" copies of his new-obtained pic and combed archives to upgrade elements where possible. Subtitling whiz Herman Weinberg was hired to do a same for Vampyr. College and festival runs evolved once Weinberg finished his work in January 1968. Variety announced a Paris "first-run" in May, 1968, on a festival menu with Buster Keaton's The Cameraman. Fleetwood Films "will reissue (Vampyr) this (1968) winter in a more complete form than has ever been shown in the US," said Variety. Dreyer's would become known as a deepest-dish chiller and challenge for watchers to stay awake. There's nothing in horror's universe like it, but patience is required. Moments of Vampyr top any effect thrill-makers have achieved. Now that prints are decent, we can fuller appreciate promise put forth by Clarens' book images of fifty years ago.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Doors Open at Universal's Dark House

Broadway's Gala Open for The Old Dark House at Gotham's House Of Horror, the Rialto

Halloween Harvest 2017 --- The Gothic Masterpiece Back In A Fresh Frame

It would be remiss not to write about The Old Dark House after most of a lifetime spent waiting for it. There were several filmic Yetis during formative days, glimpsed by senior fans long before us (Ackerman, Everson, Carlos Clarens), but inaccessible beyond fotos sprinkled round books and monster mags. Maybe it was healthy to have grails past reach, for the quest sharpened instincts and made ultimate getting the sweeter once The Ghoul, The Man Who Changed His Mind (two others from the 30's with Karloff), and The Old Dark House saw rescue from seeming oblivion. House seemed most urgent for coming between Frankenstein and The Mummy, a Karloff stopover denied our hungry niche due to Universal rights expired, then sold subsequent for a remake, ownership to Raymond Rohauer and then his successors. The Old Dark House missing from television packages was like a record album that skipped over the very song you bought it for. Of course there was legend, abetted by stills, that this was most horrific of all horrors, an expectation applied also to Mystery Of The Wax Museum and the Fredric March Jekyll and Hyde before they came out of hiding. What are such dreams but harbinger to letdown when finally they come true?

Universal Announces a Dark House Reissue for 1939
Once-lost ones had happy ways of getting better with each viewing. We'd come away cool at first, try again with hope that this time things would improve, which indeed most did. Such was my experience with The Old Dark House, its potential to gain most considerable since all along we knew that poor prints did the film no justice. Most home releases fizzled, exception a 1996 laser disc that put best face on source material accessible for commercial release at the time. 16mm before these were like firecrackers that got wet. All of collectors I knew who duped The Old Dark House are gone now, those prints no worse than reception on TV where we tolerated the rest of Universal monsters, except to possess The Old Dark House needed $175 at the least, plus fact this was "hot" merchandise and Rohaeur was vigilant where his stuff was pinched. Just having The Old Dark House conferred status enough, but you'd hesitate showing it for complaints the print would arouse. Archives and revival sites had licensed play of a Library Of Congress clean-up (from saved Universal elements), but these were distant point from flyover and backwood a lot of us occupied. You might as well say The Old Dark House has been truly lost for lifetime of most. For me at least, it could as readily be London After Midnight, for I really don't count time served with poor/poorer renditions, which is why the new-arrived Blu-Ray is tall timber for this Uni fan.

To matter of chills subdued, and levity by director James Whale, elements disagreeable to fans expecting the moon, let it be said that The Old Dark House isn't about shocks any more than other horrors Universal did in 30's prime. What newcomers need to know is this: The Old Dark House has fabulous atmospherics, mood enough to spread over a dozen lesser chillers, and a house living full up to promise of the title. The Cat and The Canary worked a same magic and was silent. You can cut down the volume on The Old Dark House and get full value. I've always thought 30's horror scored on settings we saw, not how many fiends jumped out of cupboards. The Old Dark House does have humor, but not an undercutting kind. In fact, it is the cast's way with wit that make hearing as pleasurable as the looking (so do keep volume up). Since actors like Karloff, Charles Laughton, and Ernest Thesiger aren't born any more, let's cherish chance to see the three at full tilt, plus other eccentrics at Whale command. The Old Dark House is fresh this week from the Cohen Film Collection and quality is heaven-sent. You'll want to watch two or three times just to see wonders performed here. And note reading tip --- Classic Images is just out with the November issue and they have a fabulous fifteen-page overview on The Old Dark House by historian triad David Colton, Tom Weaver, and Dr. Robert J. Kiss. Everything is here, including an interview with disc producer Tim Lanza, who tells the story behind the Blu-Ray. All this is film scholarship of the highest order, and I was enthralled. Classic Images this month is a must companion for long-awaited joy that is The Old Dark House.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Lots Of Porkys On This Plate

Can Porky Get Warner Cartoons Back In Gear?

Warner Archive has released all of the Porky Pig cartoons in a single DVD set. There are 101 of them here. I suppose a person could go mad watching the dollop at once, or even within a week. But then there are those who "binge" on streaming television, and Porky is at least more benign than The Sopranos or Breaking Bad. As potted history of Warner Bros. animation, there is no better starting place than this set. You can get the whole education plotting Porky progress from his debut in 1935 to however far these things go (I've a long road ahead to a last of them). Older Porkys were always rare for being black-and-white and so shunted into offshoot packages for TV use. Original titles were replaced by ugly substitute of "Sunset" or "Guild Films" or who knows what else to disguise fact they were WB product, this to keep theatres from catching the Shield in bed with tube rivals during early 50's run-up to TV dumping, all irrelevant since Warners put back openings as were seen in cinemas, this warming heart of Porky purists.

The pig morphed, went forward, backward, as he came toward familiar face and squiggly tail we know. Porky might make a good argument for evolution as fact rather than theory, Darwinists using 101 for course syllabus. Porcines are supposed to be fat, but Porky began very much so. We liked him robust, but not too round. Up from mere support to "Beans," a WB character floated but ultimately let go, Porky seemed a supplicant to the billed-first star he'd ultimately supplant. You could say Porky was Eve Harrington to Beans' Margo Channing, latter not imagining a mere piglet (and yes, Porky started out young) could steal his lead. To topic of age, Porky progressed from schoolboy of I Haven't Got A Hat (debut) to domesticity of the 40's and ultimate stubble assist to Daffy as Dragnet pair they'd play in a 50's Chuck Jones spoof. But again --- did anyone imagine there were so many Porky cartoons? An interesting survey might determine which of all this is great, good, mere watchable, or affront to time and patience. I began with the first, am pulling plow in order of release, but have found none to discard, which gives hope for balance of the 101 and shows how fine a standard WB cartoons kept right from the go.

It's sobering to sit alone and watch half-dozen or more Porky Pig cartoons in a gulp. Has life really come to this? And yet --- show me who would share such meal (recipe to lose friends: make them watch an hour or more of cartoons). Anyone of normalcy, or leastwise sense of proportion, would bail after one or at most three. Porky was not meant to be consumed in such quantity, being like serials best seen a chapter at a time. How much sausage would you have with even a most bountiful breakfast? Porky cartoons are bacon strips you must limit. A same moderation might profitably apply to any cartoon group (I recently looked at six straight Road Runners and am still in recovery). Significant is fact I'm also going through twelve-chapter Mystery Mountain with Ken Maynard, back-forth between the serial and cartoons. Serious mind slippage can come of this, and never mind academic interest served. Porkys aren't all the same, though. They were tweaked from one t'other, no pair truly alike. Part of that was assign of directors with squiggly tails of their own, like Fred "Tex" Avery and Frank "Tish Tash" or "Frank Tash" Tashlin starting out and applying sensibility like no one else's, followed by maverick of them all, Robert Clampett. You always know an Avery when you see it --- no names necessary, while Tashlin we can spot because his cartoons look like features, with busy foreground, swooping camera, close and closer-ups. He clearly spent time watching other people's movies (and knew, got tips from, Michael Curtiz?).

Porky 101 is animation history as full as you'd get from any collection dedicated to that. More than just Porky are woven through the mass, for here came screen debuts of Daffy, embryonic Bugs, plus characters bound for obscurity and footnote status even for fans dedicated to the line. I had heard of "Beans," seen him in a few before, was reminded again of how quick-forgot such dud of a cartoon creation could be. Same for "Gabby," a horned goat who is that plus off-putting in each particular, yet billed beside Porky in a group meant to make a star of him. Put Gabby down beside poison-alities Warners couldn't make us love, notable his having name sake at Paramount, a Gabby off Gulliver's Travels to a series of his own, also failing utterly to make the grade. Was there ever a cartoon goat we embraced? Of human staff who didn't last with the Shield was wandering Ub Iwerks, WB presumed last stop before he'd light at Disney to finish up a career. There are several Porkys Ub-supervised among the 101, none to compete with what Avery, Tashlin, Clampett did for the series.

One of the cartoons, I think it's Porky's Romance, spoofs a radio program of the day that, according to audio commentary, lasted but a year. This otherwise obscure broadcast, nothing of which is otherwise recalled, survives thanks to briefest parody of it in this eighty-year-old cartoon. Warner staff were sponges for popular culture. They didn't so much invent funny phrases as crib them from elsewhere, mostly radio. We have little way of assigning credit for humor nuggets beyond what deep research is done by cartoon historians. Most of music, infectious as it is, came of merry melodies that WB owned. Songs for a feature would sooner turn up in cartoons, from there best remembered as back-lay for Bugs, Daffy, the rest. Thank Your Lucky Stars, It's A Great Feeling, others of time-lock sort, seem dated as dinosaurs, except for tunes kept in our heads from long-ago and repeat exposure to cartoons. Who knew Max Steiner's principal theme for Captains Of The Clouds would serve over and again whenever WB animated characters took flight?

Warners' warning label says, "Porky Pig 101 is intended for the Adult Collector and May Not Be Suitable For Children," this like something you'd read on a cigarette package. But would youngsters be tempted? The Porkys seem languid beside madhouse that is modern animation, and then there's dreaded black-and-whiteness. What happens when all us "Adult Collectors" die out? Warner cartoons may by then have a same appeal as piano rolls from the 19th century (dare we ask a ten-year-old if he/she is familiar with Daffy Duck or Road Runner?). Would anyone not watching in yawn of time that was 50-70's follow WB cartoons now? They say nostalgia runs in twenty to forty year cycles, depending on strength of sentiment. Hard to imagine anyone mooning over 90's pop culture, but sure as flow of sand through an hourglass, lots do. I'd submit pave of memory lane among emerging adults for WB cartoons began around the mid-70's with Bugs Bunny Superstar, then college and revival house fests that followed (but query: Did those who saw them brand new in theatres cling as much to memories?). Childhood from mid-50's onward was revisited because that's when bulk of the WB's went to television, as in hundreds loosed at once during banner year 1956. Tubes fed non-stop, network and syndicated, lasted almost to a new century. Video cassettes, then laser disc, enabled ownership of cartoons, with peak that was "Golden Collections" Volume One through Six on DVD. These went from 2003 to interest flag by 2008. Now it's near a decade later and we could hope Porky will stem tide going out, sales to determine a next set ... or curtains down.

It helped when animators from the old days were still around to stimulate fans born since cartooning heyday. Chuck Jones sat for a ninety-minute documentary done in 2000, and venerable Friz Freleng reminisced clear into bonus segments for the DVD's. These and others were reassuring last link to when cartoons played first-run, but we couldn't expect creators to stay forever. What intrigues me are home historians who take upon themselves an ongoing task of restoring original titles to cartoons that till now lack them, result of reissues that long-ago lopped off art-enhanced openers in favor of boilerplate "Blue Ribbon" credits. It's a yeoman task, but there are those on You Tube dedicated to the doing of it, and I much admire their handiwork. Within a seeming thousand channels on satellite or cable to choose from, do old cartoons have a platform? Does Porky show up anywhere, that is, on free, streaming, or subscription basis? Little of WB animation has surfaced for the over twenty years TCM has been around. There's reason for that, but I'm not apprised of what it is. Effort was applied to "new" Bugs and Daffy cartoons, but we may assume those went down to defeat. There's bound to be value in the franchise, but then ... it's a long, and getting longer, road back to these characters. Are Porky, Bugs, and Daffy too remote to revive? Reception to Porky 101 may well answer that question.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Robinson Reads Riot Act

I Am The Law (1938) Calls For Swift Justice

Edward G. Robinson is here at crossroad between tough customers and character leads (or strong support) he'd play in a 40's decade to come. I Am The Law pleases for being precisely the Eddie we like, an intellect handy with fists when needed. As a law professor drafted to clean up rackets, he begins naive, then picks up street smarts at pace sufficient to make a blistering second half of ninety minutes. Columbia had being doing yearly quota of racket busting B's, so I Am The Law was mere increase of budget and care on ground they'd trod well. "Mister Big" in these situations was always charming and civilized, with often as not Otto Kruger embodying same, a good thing here as elsewhere for Kruger's capacity at shading what would be a stock character in lesser hands. Civic rights are pleasingly trampled, Eddie telling thugs in custody that he'll "beat their heads off" then and there (his words), and does just that. Charles Starrett couldn't have managed so good a slugfest as Robinson (and his double) engage here. The star had seen a slump by the mid-30's  alleviated by the hit that was Bullets Or Ballots for home-lot Warners, thus renewal of contract there and loan-out to Columbia for I Am The Law. Robinson was not a little fed up with criminal work (both as participant and opponent of), but art collecting was a drug that had hooked him, so what vehicles were tendered, he took.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Germans Walk A US High Wire

Variety Vaults Ahead Of Euro Imports

As with many classics, awareness of Variety came for me via The Movies, epic, and sixth-grade acquired book by Richard Griffith and Arthur Mayer. They put a still from Variety on page 203. Every time I heard the title since, that image flashed up (it's at left, scanned from my fifty year old copy of The Movies). Problem was having no access. Variety never turned up on Region One DVD to my knowledge. Now it has, and on Blu-Ray, from Kino. Variety is heavy and very Germanic. People pay dear for wrong moves. Relationships unwisely entered into have dire consequence. Jannings would make a career playing no-fool-like-an-old-fool, but that came after Variety, where he's younger, but still foolish. Women used Jannings badly. He looked like someone to make a chump of. Fullest flowering of that would be The Blue Angel, his signature part. Eggs cracked over your head is surest signal you've hit bottom. Jannings did as much offscreen for going whole-hog w/ Germany's film industry after Hitler took over. He did starring roles aplenty for them until Allies marched in and closed the show. There's a story I read where G.I's coming down a Berlin street were confronted by a gibbering old man waving an Academy Award and claiming he was duped, or forced, or whatever, to work for the Nazis. It was Emil Jannings. He died a few years later, having been shut out of work and derided for his give-in to the Reich.

There's an excellent book by Budd Schulberg, Moving Pictures (1981), that tells the author's story growing up on the 20's-and-early-30's Paramount lot, where his father, B.P. Schulberg, ran production. Reading this memoir is like being there back when. Budd talks of Bow, Bancroft, all the Para people, including "rotund and unforgettable" Emil Jannings. B.P. had seen Variety and 1924's The Last Laugh. Like an industry in whole, he was dazzled. So how to bottle Jannings for US consumption? The scheme would be to go Euros one better for stark content, Schulberg arguing to Paramount grand chief Adolph Zukor that offshore grosses would cover whatever shortfall the pics had stateside. Zukor's reply was OK, but make them cheap. B.P. did so, five times, before Jannings played out with talkie arrival and chose not to combat microphones. Like with Clara Bow and Louise Brooks and W. C. Fields at Paramount, you sicken at all of work now lost. Of five that Jannings did there, only one, The Last Command, survives intact. EJ worked with Jo Sternberg, Lubitsch, the cream of émigré directors. I'd guess the missing quartet would rank from great to epic. Sometimes it's best just not to think about all that is gone.

At least Variety is here, and for that matter, much of Jannings' silent output prior to Atlantic cross. People figure all of German silents for downer content and endings, but Variety, for all of harrowing lead-up, has a hopeful if not altogether cheery finish. I say that not to spoil, but to reassure that Variety is no crush of your day for watching, and quality is beyond imagining of anything this old and presumably abused over years at PD wandering (lately asserted Euro copyrights have been salvation of a near-whole silent legacy). To upbeat fade, there is, of course, the most outlandish of all, The Last Laugh, where Jannings and director F.W. Murnau lay on a happy ending to end them all, as unexpected then, and still, as any final reel in movies ever was. Who says Germans had no sense of humor, because this was done very much in fun, a release of balloons to ridicule all distributors that demanded smiles as we left cinemas. The Last Laugh and Variety were worldwide hits, Jannings figured to have redefined dramatic performance in films. If Paramount hadn't hired him, someone else would have. He was antidote for too much froth as critics and sophisticated viewers saw it, even if not a leading man in stalwart sense. In fact, Jannings was a pioneering character star, an imported loser at love and eternal sufferer to help carry some of Lon Chaney's bags for US patronage.

Jannings was intense and sometimes scary in right circumstance. When not a shuffling old man, he could be a convincing brute lover. Variety puts him amidst seedy environ of circus sand. E.A. Dupont directed. He was one of those with a big future for which things went unaccountably wrong, or at least not up to snuff that Variety foresaw. Early appreciator of film art Robert Florey must have studied Variety with a close lens, because his Murders In The Rue Morgue for Universal in 1932 looks at the least like homage, if not frame-for-frame copy. But for Germans, where would our visuals have been outside of cactus ground Tom Mix rode? Their influence was just huge. Another way that Variety scored, at least for viewership with smarts, was sex content, which if understated, was still leagues ahead of timidity Hollywood still adhered with. Censorship played havoc with Variety when it was released over here, a near-whole deck of narrative cards reshuffled, but they couldn't dull edge of erotic knives in Dupont drawer. Variety was lauded by critics for telling at least partial truth of what went on between men and women. Jannings was, of course, the cuckold, but one who at least gets even, all of infidelity, suspicion, what not, giving rube watchers a glimpse of how sex politics was played among Euros free of inhibition that chained us. Kino's Blu-Ray is highly recommended, and there are good extras.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Don't Watch TCM Without It ...

Richard Barrios Does Musicals Proud

Atop Greenbriar pyramid of author/historians is Richard Barrios, who wrote hands-down best survey of All Talking/Singing/Dancing film, A Song In The Dark, which I've read twice and have consulted many more times than that. Barrios also gave us Dangerous Rhythms, where he deftly follows musicals past earliest sound era to the present. It's fitting this author address the genre for, besides being foremost authority re musicals, his is a voice distinctive and product of lifelong research. Big plus is Barrios wit and turn of phrasing, this common to whatever he writes. Being also a collector for many years lends knowledge of each film's afterlife, as none existed in mere bubble of years they were released. All is brought to bear on the author's newest, Must-See Musicals: 50 Show-Stopping Movies We Can't Forget. Barrios intro-confesses struggle to pick but fifty from such wealth of favorites, a commission I'd not envy him, but which choices I applaud. The book also bears TCM's logo, this apt for most of selections played often there. Regular viewing of the network will be much enhanced by handy access to this book. I certainly will be inclined to forge for all fifty now with the author's eloquent appreciations as guide.

Barrios answers so many of questions that I would ask, like what became of talent associated with these films, how/why certain musicals were altered, or off viewer radar for decades (the King Of Jazz and A Star Is Born sagas are told). He considers changed attitudes and impact this has on reaction to musicals. Barrios does not shrink from reality of classics that lost money when new. Who'd guess The Bandwagon sank in red ink? --- yet it did. He points out Singin' In The Rain as last musical to star Gene Kelly and turn profit. He cites Esther Williams own-up to spike of autobio (with untrue sensation) to boost sales. These are truths behind tunes and gaiety that make Must-See Musicals far more than recite of favorites with pics to illustrate. Latter, by the way, is dazzling array of stills, poster art, rare behind-scenes glimpse, with color imagery seasoned throughout. Must-See Musicals will satisfy both long term fans and newcomers to the genre. Strikes me too as an ideal holiday gift for those hooked on TCM or Blu-Ray/DVD's that are available on virtually all titles that Barrios covers.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Chucklesome Mating Of Eagles

My Little Chickadee Is 1940's Great Expectation

Seemed to many, before seeing it, that My Little Chickadee must be the funniest picture ever made. Certainly stills gave such impression, W.C. Fields and Mae West (reverse that --- she's billed first) in resplendent costume, both looking for all of world like caricatures from one-after-another 30's cartoon as career of each (in Fields' case, health too) passed peak. He was still the bigger noise, in for more Chickadee gravy than West, according to W.C. bio by James Curtis. Fields and West were truly stars that were bigger than life, evoking more a flamboyant, circus-bred notion of celebrity. Fitting they should be prolific to cartoons, as they were sort of cartoons themselves, or etchings from Victorian-era books (in Fields' case, a real-life Dickens illustration). Where West hit a wall was public knowing she'd not do an act so ribald as what got her going when films were looser, if not gamier. That put her at from-start disadvantage to Bill.

Here's my softer attitude on comedians slipping: accentuate the positive rather than obvious negatives. Yes, Mae had much to cope with re censorship, but it's how this monument adjusted that ennobled her, and there's no better evidence than uneven struggle West engages with wily Fields, billed second but ranking first for laffs earned off Chickadee. Each is accorded routines not involving the other, the pair kept separate for most of run-time. West fairly strangles at effort to hip-wriggle sizzle into dialogue where none is there, any/all of suggestion erased before cameras turned. It makes for me a more fascinating exercise to watch her wrest humor from a straight jacket Houdini could not loose. Mae didn't care for Chickadee in hindsight. Probably she knew it represented swans singing, plus fact she under-earned Fields (his higher up-front plus a percentage). Bill had also thrived on radio, with Bergen/McCarthy, while she'd been run off the medium following too blue tilt with the monocled dummy.

Might Chickadee have done for West what Destry Rides Again did for sister discard from Paramount, Marlene Dietrich? Both had been labeled past-use stock, but from such refuse were comebacks made, and Dietrich's had been remarkable. Universal would present Marlene as a modernized Mae, with Destry, Seven Sinners, The Spoilers, Pittsburgh, and The Flame Of New Orleans frames one might visualize West being fit into. Part of problem was Mae turning forty-seven the year Chickadee got out (1940), while Marlene swung into Destry when not yet forty. West in no way could, or would, have done brawling required of Destry, her all the more belonging to gas lit past where compared with even slightly younger personalities. Fields, on the other hand, could age, if not gracefully, then at least dissolutely to joy of many (especially a coterie of critics) who embraced him as last stand against milking down of comedy. Bill was a bastion against politeness the Code forced upon farcing; he'd point out the protest in Never Give A Sucker An Even Break direct address to viewers. Fields would be the greater outlaw against propriety than West, only he'd protest not with sex, but lifestyle unbecoming to moral uplift. What restraint was applied to his act was curb of on-screen imbibe, the PCA watchful where drinks were poured in movies.

Fields was cherished, I think, for freedoms that once were, and now taken away, by proprieties imposed by the Code and adjuncts like the Legion Of Decency, latter a body to beg demolish by Bill for its name alone. He was early incarnation for comics who'd dare to loosen collars around humor. The treasure in Fields was his not blowing with winds of change. I doubt many encouraged around-forever Bill to "update" his act. To believe press at the time, My Little Chickadee had more comedy coming off the set than ever got on film. Columnists led with whatever outlandish thing Bill said between takes, not to mention ad-libbing when he filmed. Fields was never a working comedian in the customary sense, being a man naturally funny in any circumstance. I doubt there was ever sense of Fields' comedy coming from anywhere outside himself. His pausing long enough to declaim gave scribes a next day's squib, as in Fieldsian observation unique to him. My Little Chickadee's pressbook is filled with these, all ready made for publication in where-ever towns the show ultimately played.

W.C. Fields and Mae West have been largely absent from television, satellite or otherwise. TCM leased samples from Universal, these narrow as playlists on oldies radio. The four that Fields did for Uni, prolific once on TV and indeed theatres during the 60/70's, are doled out stingily now. TCM ran The Bank Dick in lovely HD, but You Can't Cheat An Honest Man was a decrepit transfer, even as Universal has a High-Def master on hand. Retro-Plex HD, part of Starz menagerie, had My Little Chickadee. I held breath on opener night in hope theirs would be an uptick, and indeed it was HD and a best Chickadee since days it played revivals on 35mm. A trivial pursuit of mine is ID'ing broadcast premieres of classics in HD. Stations don't bally them, nor is there mention at web pages, so it comes down to set of the DVR, and hope for happy outcome. Recent Marion Davies day on TCM yielded Five and Ten for instance, one I had checked whenever it played over a last several years. Twenty-five year old standard-def graduated this time (August 29) to HD and new joy in this venerable precode. Lassoing ancients from TCM, or outliers like Retro-Plex for My Little Chickadee, seem sole way of having them in HD. Peruse of schedules and then recording is worth the effort for goodies often yielded, a revisit in ways to long-ago scour of newsprint and TV GUIDE in quest for rarities.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

A Missing One Few Have Missed

Rathbone Romances Negri in Vertical Mode ..

... Then Tries Horizontal.

Negri Pola-rizes Public In First Talkie

For those who care (how many do?), this was Pola Negri's first talkie. She waited till late, maybe too late, for Garbo and Dietrich were by then giving us all of accents we could use, and Negri's registered harsh besides. She sang what would become a standard, Paradise, though others benefited more by association with it. Negri clicked in silents for same reason Garbo later would: both made love European style, which we saw and took to be reckless abandon. Garbo had softer features even if dour much of the time, while Negri, closing on 40 when she did A Woman Commands, was past enslavement of men stage. Still, RKO Pathe spent heavy for her speech debut, $415K, and result, laden with tall sets and many extras, looks it. Males in support come off better, Roland Young making sly fun where lesser talent would have played it straight, Basil Rathbone giving intense all for sake of modern watchers seeking fun.

To that last comes precious little, for A Woman Commands is gone, as in utterly --- not lost, but may as well be, for non-appearance at TCM (the only outlet that would have it) and access only on boot-disc for most part barely watchable, this the risk of swapping ten spots for pig-in-poke DVD at dealer tables. There must be legal embargo on A Woman Commands --- story rights? --- though most who saw it say it smells (including then-reviews and patronage that kept clear, a $265K loss for RKO). I was fortunate (or not) to get a just-OK copy, and enjoyed A Woman Commands, my curiosity sated re Negri vs. dialogue (she lost) and ravage of time (whatever Pola swains Chaplin and Rudy saw eludes me, though she admittedly had more "It" earlier on). 'Twas largely Basil that lured me, him stiff-backed as piqued lover and still learning screen as opposed to stage craft. Fact is, Roland Young acts rings around both Baz and Pola, a performance hep to times that would be changing. If audiences laughed at A Woman Commands, which apparently some did, then it was with Young, as opposed to at Negri and Rathbone. I just checked You Tube. There's video of Negri singing "Paradise," but no feature, and the song looks/sounds like one of Edison's 1912 tries at talk. Guess we'll have to live largely without this one.
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