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Monday, November 25, 2019

1958's Sinbad Holiday

The Biggest Crowd Monsters Ever Drew

How many of us wish to have been born a few years sooner. I read of those who saw classics first-run and bleed with envy. Being there for Christmas open for The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad would have been Santa-sent. Missing that boat means I’ll not know impact Sinbad had. By most accounts, it was Kong-scale. Watch extras on the Blu-Ray and hear accounts, one after other, of lives changed, futures decided, as result of ’58 sail with Sinbad. Ray Harryhausen knew from walking out Grauman’s door in 1933 (King Kong) that new dawn had broken. His inspiration for model-making was Willis O’Brien, them brought together soon as Ray was old enough to work on a film set rather than garage tabletops he'd begun on. Sinbad spawned a larger flock to follow now-oracle Harryhausen; they sought him out as he had O’Brien. To state the obvious: There’d be nothing like the massive FX industry to support 70’s-forward film were it not for Harryhausen, and never mind lots fewer fantasy and sci-fi had he directed career energy elsewhere. Plug “I wouldn’t be doing this were it not for Ray Harryhausen” into any two dozen interviews with movie magicians of a past forty years. But hold … are they now supplanted by CGI as RH was by passing of stop-motion? Where is a latter-day Harryhausen for starter-outs to be guided by? Is there a god of keyboard maestros for fans to follow like Jason to a gold fleece? Could visual effects computer-spawned reflect the personality of an RH Cyclops, Ymir, cave dragon, others to reflect the man who built them? Given more exposure to modern genre stuff, I might hazard a guess. As it is, I must leave it for others to say if there is a latter-day Harryhausen to pied-pipe a fresh generation.

There were fewer, far fewer, fantasies, to inspire up-and-comers of the 30’s and before. Harryhausen and kindred friends (and how many do you suppose shared his interest so intensely, beyond well-known Bradbury and Ackerman?) clung to Kong and whatever O’Brien was hired to create, which we know was shameful little for such a massive talent. The Thief of Bagdad in 1940 put Harryhausen on the scent of Sinbad. He’d see Sinbad The Sailor (1947), and later Son of Sinbad (1955), knowing they were punk for not having monsters. Ray trucked his models, drawings, and test reels round town and was told they'd cost too much and not generate enough interest. I’m surprised he didn’t give up for bank work or to open a hardware store (ever wonder how many people in ordinary walks of life might have done something creative-great if only they’d persevered a little longer?). As it is, Harryhausen had strong parental support from a start, and right along, to hard-earned success. They set aside a garage, then a customized add-on room, for him to do projects. Ray’s father made armatures for a Sinbad skeleton and sent it to the Euro location so his son could finish the job and stop-animate their result. Surely Mom-Dad merit placement beside Ray Harryhausen in whatever Halls-Of-Fame he’s been inducted into.

A Latest Sinbad In Support
I’m told Sinbad got made for $650K, thrifty-done and hugely profitable for bringing back a Variety-estimated $3.2 million in domestic rentals, more than any fantasy earned to that point (The Wizard of Oz did two million in 1939, more later from reissues, but cost tons to make). Harryhausen puppets were proven to tune of million-plus rentals for a last several in league with Charles Schneer/Columbia, notable too was what The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms realized for Warners, $1.735 million in domestic rentals. These had been driven largely by TV saturation, taken steps further by Sinbad. A big advantage was fantasy driving this Voyage as opposed to horror or sci-fi, genres with built-in onus by 1958 (too much of both, and discredited for cheapness and tawdry ad/pub). Sinbad was magical, full color, with promise of sights never shown on screens. Any doubt Columbia had evaporated when sales staff got a look. Here was something they could get fully behind and dress up for Christmas. “Dynamation” was the sell, whatever heck that was, but let crowds pay to find out after seeing breath-take clips on TV and a creature-laden float Columbia built for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, plus touring later. Enthusiasm built as holidays approached. Columbia told Boxoffice (11-24-58) that “Only 48 of 350 Technicolor prints are available for Christmas play-dating,” but quickly upped a total to 400 and rushed processing when theatres made a rush for Noel bookings.

Rube Jackter was Columbia’s salesman in charge. He dated back to hustle on behalf of Lasky and Goldwyn, happiest when “I’m peddling film.” Columbia issued a full-page trade ad penned by Rube, as ringing an endorsement for new product as showmen saw in 1958. They’d take his word that Sinbad was something special, and commit accordingly. When does history accord a Rube Jackter credit so rich-deserved? A special “Dynamation” trailer was made as much for exhibitors as their public, and shown at confabs to which theatre-folk gathered. Jackter was sure enough of Sinbad to trade-screen it well ahead of openings, giving all the option to cancel their date if the film didn’t rise to his enthusiasm. All who bore witness encouraged others to do a same, word fast spread to book Sinbad toot sweet, an outcome Jackter figured on and placed further print orders to accommodate. So great was confidence, this well in advance of Sinbad’s open, that Columbia announced Dynamation features as an annual event (Motion Picture Daily, 11-21-58). A soundtrack album was pressed, plus singles, these to play for entrance and exit to Sinbad seating, radio stations supplied as well. A Dell comic gathered dimes, as did Sinbad slippers at clothiers (we could wonder how many were worn to school). Columbia announced that color TV spots would be available for Sinbad, these “as adjunct” to color broadcasts, a “first use” of advertising with tints for television, said Robert S. Ferguson, advertising/publicity chief.

Richard Eyer at the Helm of Macy's Sinbad Float

It's a Stout Oldie That Takes Billing Above The New Release 
The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad was Gotham-booked for the Roxy (6,214 seats), an open imperiled by a newspaper strike to upset Columbia cart re print promotion. This meant uptick for TV and radio to tune of $25K, more cash, the company said, than would have gone to local sheets (Motion Picture Daily, 12/17/58). Film Bulletin got stats in March 1959 to effect that “five out of every seven persons waiting in line to see “Sinbad” said the TV commercials fanned their desire to see the film.” Whatever a crisis getting word out, The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, according to Motion Picture Daily, gave the Roxy a best open since The Robe in 1953. Sinbad was big, but biggest while children were out from school for holidays. After that, it softened. The Film Bulletin, summing up Columbia output from distance of 4-13-59, said that Sinbad, “for which Columbia had high hopes, has proved disappointing in subsequent engagements.” They must have had high expectations, considering what Sinbad did earn. There were encores right through the 70’s as further Sinbads came out of Columbia, also supervised by Harryhausen. To think he did fx for these in a small studio and virtually by himself. The cycle started by Seventh Voyage lasted at least to the 80’s, initial fans having come of age and many doing FX of their own, Harryhausen’s last, Clash of The Titans, out in 1981. Were movies by then too corporatized to entrust a lone wolf like Harryhausen, or was he considered old-fashioned? I’d like to know what went down, as here was a man in his early 60’s, years presumed left to share gifts, but gone to seeming pasture. Was Ray's retirement altogether voluntary?

L.A. Saturation for First-Run Jason in 1963
The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad was a problem, at least for collectors. For some reason, 16mm IB Tech prints were mis-registered in parts, and initial DVD’s, even a Blu-Ray from Sony, were not what they might have been. Indicator/Powerhouse is more recently out with a best Sinbad I’ve seen. Jason and the Argonauts was another I revisited, and considered by many to be a best of Harryhausen. It took a Variety-estimated $2.1 million in domestic rentals, a lot less than Sinbad, but by 1963, stiff Toga rivalry prevailed, and who knew wheat from chaff? Where much-inferior Captain Sindbad, from MGM, scored up an estimated $2.5 million, you knew merit wasn’t being rewarded. Too many swords and sandals, it seemed. Still, the right people noticed, and would not forget Jason. It came back too for 70’s dates, years after surrender to television. Fans most precocious had long been aboard for Harryhausen, fanzines emerging as Jason and the Argonauts went into 1963 release. One such was The Candlelight Room, edited by estimable fan/historians Ray Cabana, Jr. and Donald Shay. They’d print an “exclusive” interview with Jason star Todd Armstrong, and there weren’t many of those, then or later, a scoop for Candlelight’s premiere issue. As to a best overview of Ray Harryhausen, I’d propose multi-part Cinefantastique coverage by Ted Newsom. It is detailed, insightful, richly illustrated, and not bettered since the 80’s when first published.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Comedy Skates On The Edge

Will June Allyson in Pigtails Fool Van Johnson?

Loew's Treat for 68 Thanksgivings Ago
June Allyson poses as a fourteen-year-old music prodigy to secure Van Johnson's patronage, him the busy impresario who moves her into bachelor digs. Could this be remade today? Not on our lives. Someone should list topics OK in a Classic Era that are taboo now. It would run longer than most imagine. Too Young To Kiss (1951) was sold with a same tag line as its partial inspiration, The Major and The Minor --- Is She A Kid Or Is She Kidding? We go nearly Too Young's length waiting for the forbidden clinch, June the vamp in pigtails and Van bemused over his attraction to an apparent kid. This was obviously a premise that needed special handling, so Metro treads lightly, and maybe that's why they put emphasis (welcome) on classical recital by June Allyson in remarkable keyboard faking of Chopin and Edward Grieg. The deception was enough to fool hostess of the film's trailer Kathryn Grayson, who picks up a phone to call Allyson and ask if it was really her performing compositions we hear. “Well, you saw me, didn’t you?” is June’s cryptic answer, a challenge for Grayson and us to prove she wasn’t actually playing.

Metro was putting nearly as much imagination into previews as finished pictures during the early 50's, and maybe this one greased wheels for Radio City to open Too Young To Kiss as Thanksgiving attraction for 1951. LA saw it in a first-run combo's front seat, The Red Badge of Courage at the rear, MGM having given up on Huston's film by then. There had been long and fruitful relation between Leo and serious composers, more so than with other studios. Too Young To Kiss would make a good pair with MGM’s Rhapsody from 1954, as each bring Great Music through a back door of comedy and romance. I expect both won converts to classical, even as Tom and Jerry served similar purpose on occasion in the cartoon department. Who were evangelicals on the Lion's lot? No company made symphonic medicine go down so smooth. Too Young To Kiss is available from Warner Archive.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Early Instance Of Blockbuster Mentality?

The Show That Would Be A Roadshow

‘Twas 1940 when a fever called Lust For Blockbusting gripped a show world, virus being Gone With The Wind, which from earliest weeks emptied pockets of all within subway or streetcar distance of houses where it played. The industry had seen nothing like this. Snow White was a same sort of smash, if less so, a one-off dress pattern not readily copied. Could there be another GWTW among 375 major studio releases for opener year of a new decade? Such a goal could be met with merit, or by means of smoke-mirror that was road-showing, better called "forced roadshows" by industry wags. Two-a-day was how GWTW played through 1940, a hare that far behind tortoises could not overtake. Some tried, absurdly so at times. Pete Harrison, of plain-spoke Harrison’s Reports, called out 20th Fox in January ’40 for palming off The Blue Bird as a Broadway roadshow attraction (the Hollywood Theatre), an 81 minute Shirley Temple feature audiences were expected to pay fifty-five cents to $1.10 to see in afternoons, or eighty-five cents to $1.65 during evenings. Harrison regarded this as pure ploy to spin stature from a kid’s picture that Fox overspent to make. How many would be “taken in,” as Pete put it, paying for a silk purse and getting a pig’s ear? Post-GWTW movie shoppers would need to stay vigilant.

Roadshows had lately carried bags for The Hurricane, In Old Chicago, Marie Antoinette, quality of which backed their play, as would Fantasia with novelty of content and juiced-up FantaSound. GWTW setting its pace loosed a stream of envy. Where’s our two-a-day?, each asked. Enter All This and Heaven Too, to be hopefully recognized as ATAHT, everyone (again hopefully) knowing what initials stood for. Would ATAHT trip off tongues so readily as GWTW? Book sales of All This and Heaven Too were huge, so here was a film pre-sold, the likeliest to meet Gone With The Wind on equal turf. Warners had Bette Davis and Charles Boyer for lure, plus, as of May 1940, 20,000 feet of movie, a numbing five hours that WB considered releasing in two parts, a plan scotched-but-quick by exhib opinion-maker Ed Kuykendall, who rightly said “such a plan … would find disapproval with audiences throughout the country” (Showman’s Trade Review, 5-18-40). Good sense restored, Warners clung yet to roadshow heft of 141 minutes for a final cut, costumes and décor to fairly scream prestige. East coast offices (an industry’s real nerve center) got behind the scheme and canvassed keys for two-a-day placement. Gradwell Sears was WB’s distribution chief. Now that All This was done, decisions would be his in league with Charles Einfeld, head of advertising and publicity. They knew well the endless chase toward profit end, and how best effort could go begging if a public sniffed cheese rather than caviar. So was All This and Heaven Too good enough to pack roadshow gear? They’d find out.

First came essentials of highest profile East and West premiering. Plan A for Gotham was Radio City Music Hall, if the Hall was game (movies did not choose them … they chose movies). If not, there was the Center (formerly the RKO Roxy), which also seated multitudes, or the Warners-owned Hollywood Theatre, where The Blue Bird achieved ignominy a few months before. The best was got, Radio City accepting the show, while L.A.’s Carthay Circle, site of Snow White and Marie Antoinette, took bit in teeth for a gala open they’d be proven adept at. Chicago, New Orleans, and St. Louis were also nailed down. Seeing as how he had set up a special roadshow department to handle All This and Heaven Too, Sears pondered also The Sea Hawk for two-a-day play (didn't happen). $300K was tabbed for ATAHT promotion at countrywide level, a gamble to be sure, for this kind of spending could eat up gain even from an otherwise hit. Still, there was shining example of Gone With The Wind, still racking up at Broadway’s Astor as of early June ’40 ($13.5K for its twenty-fifth week). “A same policy and basis” for ATAHT as GWTW, said Gradwell Sears, a maximum four runs per day and a minimum of three, more shows thanks to the Warner pic’s shorter duration (Wind a four hour haul w/ intermission). All This and Heaven Too was pulled from WB’s regular release schedule and set for roadshow play throughout the summer. This meant yanking 11,000 contracts already signed with theatres, a wound Sears would need to salve, but what was new about product promised, then withheld?

Bette Davis with Director Anatole Litvak

Did showmen resent such bait-switch? Ones who lacked skill to pick battles might, as greater wisdom understood how to play a sales force, give a little here, bargain for more there. It evened out where cool was kept and relationships maintained. Everyone knew powerful circuits got better terms, but canny enough small town men, experienced ones, stayed afloat thanks to everyday art-of-the-deal made with assist of glad hands and bottles in desk drawers. So let Warners try All This and Heaven Too as a roadshow and we will wait, possibly to get it for less if hard tickets wilt. "Hard" here was apt … $2.20 tops at the Carthay, advanced admissions elsewhere. Reserved policy was strict at some locales, fudged for others, as in the fat cat RKO circuit running All This and Heaven Too to open seating for matinees, assigned ones for evening. In case anyone thought ATAHT was oversold, Sears set trade screenings so that “every exhibitor would have an opportunity to see the picture before dating it,” local management invited to sit in on conferences and be part of the sales process, a smart means of checking disgruntlement among those at rear of a line to run All This and Heaven Too. Meanwhile, Carthay was sold out, excitement was building! Bette Davis would even be there, her first in-person at a premiere since Seed in 1930. Reviews too, were rave-heavy. Could ATAHT snatch the purse from GWTW?

All This and Heaven Too opened June 13 at the Carthay Circle. 200 police were needed to harness a crowd of 15,000. Film Daily reported the “Smash” a following day, their same front page announcing MGM intent to withdraw Gone With The Wind after seven plus months of roadshow play at 70% terms, the picture to rest until November when test screenings would determine policy for a January 1941 general release. Warners had meanwhile set 100 dates for All This and Heaven Too to roadshow, theatres in play having “cashed in handsomely,” said Film Daily’s Along The Rialto column, which had a distinct bootlick flavor, Warners congratulated for its “wholly unselfish nature” and “only mild” urging for key theatres to play ATAHT on hard ticket basis. Language like this often tipped off discontent among troops, and maybe dawning of knowledge that, after strong starts, All This and Heaven Too was slowing to a canter. July 5 report from the field told the story, Cincinnati cancelling ATAHT’s roadshow run at the 2,000 seat Capital in favor of grind play at popular prices. By July 10, The Exhibitor was helping Warners save face: “ … the company has now benefited through the trial and error method … What ATAHT lacked for the higher priced admission field must be apparent to Warners and other distributors.” The picture “deserved a good try,” but “perhaps ATAHT was not the proper show, nor was this the proper time.” In simpler terms, which a seasoned trade understood, “People will pay for quality, but they must be assured that they will get their money’s worth.”

There was complaint that All Heaven suffered for “freakish” length. Pete Harrison felt for management at Radio City having to open doors at 9:45 AM so they could squeeze in four runs a day, Harrison maintaining that, with GWTW exception, no feature should last over two hours. Patronage was besides having to wait in street lines for three hours to get in, the columnist observing crowds “pretty irritable” by belated escort to seats. Theatres wanting two shows a night had it worse, starting so early that customers would have to skip dinner or “gulp their food down … such a condition does not go for good will.” Harrison’s solution for Gradwell Sears: Cut All This and Heaven Too to two hours tops, “it would entertain even better.” Diminishing receipts for All This and Heaven Too were tied to whipping post that was trade annoyance at “greatly over-written and over-shot” features, and what was worse, “the evil is now getting contagious,” this from W.R. Wilkerson of The Hollywood Reporter. Warners took its medicine, dropped All This as a roadshow, but clung to advanced admission as means toward increased revenue. “20 Percentage Pix” were announced for a 1940-41 season (Film Daily), four at 40%, eight at 35%, and eight at 30%. The split was set however theatres bumped ticket prices, which meant extra for all except customers who’d balk at paying more for one film than another. This problem would not abate as movies got bigger and more expensive. All This and Heaven Too finished in the black, but was not the bonanza Warners counted on. From $1.2 million spent on the negative, $2.4 million came back in worldwide rentals. There was profit, but not as much thanks to considerable outlay for promotion, and recognition on a public’s part that ATAHT, however pleasing, was no GWTW.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Where Dangerous Things Came In Small Packages

Audie Murphy Draws Down in Column South (1953)

Audie Murphy wails tar out of guys bigger than him, and we believe it because of real-life war record that seemed the stuff of Hollywood fiction. Murphy was ideally timed and suited to graduate from decorated uniform onto sound stages. He was the killer behind a baby's face. Peers at Universal were a little afraid of him, as well they should be, Audie given to moods and not trusting easily. Neither did he like joshing or wise-acreage among peers. Heard a story once, not certain if it’s true, hope it is, where Hugh O'Brien thought to have sport with Audie by challenging him to a quick-draw contest outside the U-I commissary. Audie politely said no, that guns, even prop ones, were not to be toyed with. Hugh persisted, however, and kept pestering Audie at daily lunch. Wiser heads saw what was coming and warned Hugh to lay off. Came the day when Audie had enough. Sure, I’ll gun fight you, Hugh, but it will be with live ammunition. O'Brien and diners looked into cold blue eyes and knew Murphy was dead serious, accent on the dead.  Bet Hugh lunched off U-I’s lot for the next six months.

Audie Murphy never thought he could act, and so gave performances that were natural and underplayed. Universal's commissary were filled in those days with men in chaps or cavalry uniform, women in prairie dress. Take away this studio's westerns and you'd have mostly dark stages. We tend toward blurring them as one, but standards, if somewhat minimal, were met. Most had Technicolor, casts competent up-and-comers overlapped with reliable vets, Column South a frontier host to Russell Johnson, Joan Evans, and Dennis Weaver among U-I youth, with Ray Collins, Bob Steele, and Robert Sterling to lend seasoned authority. Audie Murphy by 1953 was somewhat in the middle, figuring beginners could put better foot forward, sadly not realizing how effective he was. Direction of Column South was Frederick DeCordova's; in later years producing The Tonight Show, he'd be reminded by Johnny Carson of having helmed Bedtime For Bonzo and others collared as dogs by funny folk on NBC's stage. Too bad Carson or anyone never engaged DeCordova for a serious interview about his early career not only with Universal, but starting at late-40's Warner Bros.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Another Full Meal That Is Precode

The Crash and Crime and Dance, Fools, Dance (1931)

Another of precodes to splendidly capture the era, Dance, Fools, Dance is rich in ways they ought to teach, not just as film history, but history all-round. Pre-crash, post-crash, and all round the town (Chicago), this one put me conversant with the news game (more so even than The Finger Points), rugs yanked from under the rich (familiar Depression theme), and gangs loose and lethal (being Chicago, after all). Add to these Joan Crawford at hot dance, willing surrender of virtue in a first reel, bug-eye dramatics to surpass even herself, and groped by gorilla Gable who’s in to make deep early impression, and does. I don’t glance away from shows this good even to check a clock, because frankly, I don't want a Dance, Fools, Dance to end. Much is woven from aftermath of a certain garage massacre on 2/14/29, a best early 30’s exploit of shock off headlines. Did law abiders get vicariously off on close quarters to crime product like this supplied? What strikes me is how near they put us to carnage, even where only talked about (vividly) rather than shown.

JC and Lester Vail Agree To Try Out Love "On Approval"

Normal folks sucked into vice is again an emphasis, slumming to speakeasies a danger route for a privileged class gangland knows how to victimize. Joan Crawford and brother William Bakewell, born to wealth, lose it all when Dad drops dead on the exchange floor, an event we see coming from an opener yacht party where latter observes a tottering market and warns fellow card-players that their flush can’t last, all this while Joan puts out to playboy-ish, but ultimately straight arrow, Lester Vail. We’re made to know Joan and sibling Bill are lost lambs once money is gone, but are reassured that screen Joan, even where poor, won't let it stall her long. Bill, less so, is lured into bootlegging, kills benign scribe Cliff Edwards on gang head Clark Gable orders, then is wheel man for the St. Valentine killers. Buying bathtub liquor was like 60’s reefer use for leading always to hard stuff of felonies, maybe death, as movies plus other authority figures told us. I like least the going blind part of drinking hootch, but look how many took such risk in the 20/early 30’s. Would we drink more today if someone told us all of a sudden that we couldn’t?

The yacht party open sees Joan and guests stripping to skivvies and diving off, this relief to boredom of dance and drinks. The gag works as sop to precode, stills and footage a commonplace in books and highlight reels since. ABC used it for a wide-viewed, in 1972 and since, celebration of MGM past called Hollywood: The Dream Factory, which was first exposure for many to abandon that was 30’s before a crackdown. What with lights out (at Lester Vail command), why leave any clothes on, and if the issue was not enough bathing suits, according to Joan, what then do they change into once out of saltwater, and dripping wet? Trips home would be sticky at the least (did early 30’s boats have showers?). Yet more reason to not examine such stuff closely, much less to emulate it. We could wonder if real-life revelers tried, and hope that if they did, there were fresh underthings handy. To further and worse example, there is JC at final rich girl breakfast lighting up before servants serve. Dad objects, but she explains, straight-faced, that smoking is a necessary way to keep thin. I’ve heard this before, been told that indeed cigarettes retard appetite, and that’s why so many women used. The scene gives shudders re those who watched in 1931 and were guided by movie star oracle that was Crawford. Most of them, virtually all, aren’t around now to catalog regret, as even a 1931 start at smoking would see lucky survivors aged 100 now, but how many with the habit made it to two thirds that?

A Bootlegger Invited In Among Polite Company, a Commonplace During Prohibition Years 

Joan as moral arbiter tells the boyfriend that she believes in “trying love out,” to which he replies, “On approval?” Therewith is go-ahead and checkmate to their entering a happy marriage and saving Crawford grief, penury, and her brother’s ultimate death. Precode titillated, but often carried a harsh stick for moral misstep. To this, add admission of a criminal element onto home and hearth, as brother Bakewell welcomes a bootlegger so that he can order cases on the cuff. This is all to show how easy it was for criminals to consort with decent folk indifferent to illegality of strong beverage. A montage of youth on frenzied spree tips to a stock market hitting bottom, a warn we saw not for a first time here, variants on the excess=doom dating to Noah’s Ark (modern section), and more. Caution lights were lit if only an audience would heed them, but how to get past distraction of glamour figures doing wrong things and by all evidence enjoying it?

Behind-Scenes Action of Crawford as a Chicago Cub Reporter

Dance, Fools, Dance personalizes the Crash via family retainer telling Joan-Bill they are “wiped out completely,” then to tactless capper, “You’re quite penniless.” I’ll assume this was for benefit of those also penniless, but with a dime at least to get in and see Dance, Fools, Dance. Financial ruin was payback plutocrats had coming, them and their yacht party. Viewers enjoyed screen ostentation plus deflation of the rich. Real life meanwhile did its own leveling, leaps out Wall Street windows reminding us that money was no bet for contentment. What kept rooting interest for “Bonnie Jordan” (Crawford’s character) was JC past-playing rich and poor, her never-say-quit a guarantor of crowd support. A short four years at stardom gave Crawford not one, but several, templates she and writers could mix-match in service to Metro output. Showmen was alert to things she’d do in Dance, Fools, Dance that had worked before. Ad art evoked Our Dancing Daughters, not forgotten even though it was out of circulation for being silent. To that add Paid, a departure when new in 1930, but since absorbed by the Crawford persona, it understood that she’d play all-out melodrama where needed and excel at it. Dance, Fools, Dance thus saw her rich in a first reel, diminished in a second, gone to work at entry level news reporting, then put to root-out of bootlegging killers, all fresh to Crawford following yet comfortably familiar. This was brilliant marketing of a personality built from scratch who had risen to heights in a remarkably short time.

There’s notion, mistaken I think, that we are better educated than folks who saw Dance, Fools, Dance, plus others like it, first run. Seems to me there is corrective for that in every old movie I see. A couple of for instances, not at all emphasized, but there, and noteworthy: Bonnie/Joan turns aside a marriage proposal from “Bob Townsend” (Lester Vail) she attributes to his feeling sorry for her lost fortune. “Noble Barkis,” she says, by way of rejecting what she considers a charity offer. I recognized Barkis as the character from David Copperfield, him of the familiar line, “Barkis is willing,” Bob/Lester’s gesture evoking latter because Barkis too was “willing” to marry the novel's “Clara Peggotty,” who otherwise had few prospects. This line of Bonnie’s comes and is gone with no explanation of its literary antecedent, then-audiences figured to know who Barkis was, and how appropriate mention of him at this moment will be. If the line had been adjudged too obscure, would someone at script, shoot, or edit stages have taken it out? No … I suspect most of them had read, or at least knew, their Dickens, and figured we would, or should, as well. How many today could divine as much?

"Jake Luva" (Gable) Provides Scoring to His and Gang's Review of St. Valentine Garage Rub-Outs

Where It's Gable Making The Play, No Seldom Means No 

JC Declares Independence: "I'm Hitting The Pace Now, and I Like It"
Real-life crime wasn’t long for entering folklore, and becoming basis for films, The Finger Points inspired by a Chicago reporter’s murder, then there was sneak photography of Ruth Snyder getting death house juice for killing her husband in concert with lover Judd Gray, this a springboard for Cagney comedy at Warners in 1933 (the Snyder/Gray event is referred to as late as 1951 by Douglas Spencer’s newshound character in The Thing). Most crime-centered precodes had basis in truth, lurid news an always source for screen stories. Feral gang chief Clark Gable engineers the St. Valentine killings in Dance, Fools, Dance, but who’d figure his “Jake Luva” for playing soft melody on a crime lair piano while reviewing the hit with henchmen? It’s a remind of how cultivated folks were for being raised in households where music, to be heard, had to be made. I’m always pleased, then abashed, when Classic Era characters sit casually at keyboards and begin to play (this came up before in discussion of Hold Your Man). It’s a sign for me that, whatever depredations otherwise, they were way ahead of later generations for whom home essential was a TV set, or later, video games and palm pilots. Wherever I imagine we’ve “progressed” past bygone folk, it takes but dialogue and situations from rich resource of a Dance, Fools, Dance or related others to get quick corrective, that readily had at a next TCM run or on DVD from Warner Archive.
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