Classic movie site with rare images, original ads, and behind-the-scenes photos, with informative and insightful commentary. We like to have fun with movies!
Archive and Links
Search Index Here

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Footnotes To Recent Posts ...

Not Quite Done With These Topics

LEON ERROL: This follows up on Leon Errol shorts I mentioned for the Technicolor post a few weeks ago, where he was more noticeable than the color. What any of us find funny is obviously going to differ, as in one man’s meat, so on, and yes, certain comics are poison for some if not many who view. Rather than cite those who repel, here are ones, usually playing in support, that I treasure: Bert Lahr, Ted Healy, Cliff Edwards, Jack Oakie (especially Jack Oakie), plus one more lately realized for a favorite … Leon Errol. That was years coming, partly cause we never had his RKO shorts on television (nearly a hundred!), and 16mm seldom coughed them up. Ever run across a lifelong familiar face that suddenly becomes a heart’s delight? That’s me and Leon. Like with Preston Sturges, I think I’ve grown into him. One night saw three of his shorts along with Mexican Spitfire Out West. Earlier in the week came What A Blonde (from Warner Archive). I laughed at these till I cried, with nary audience to encourage it. Loving Leon may be a personal bent, which would apply to any comedian we’d choose for companion, so let's ignore fightin’ words Esquire published in a 1947 profile: “As comics go, Leon Errol was never really one of the greats. If you were ranking the funnymen of his time, you would put him toward the middle, perhaps a shade this side of mediocrity … he is a man making his living trying to be funny, the way some men make their living behind a counter in a bank or counting oranges in a grocery store.” Now how is that for snideness? I only regret Leon having to read this for himself at the time (he died in 1951).

Leon Errol and Bill Fields --- Friends Since Shared Days Of Vaudeville

Found an interview from The American Magazine dated January 1922. This was height of Leon Errol’s Broadway career, him co-starring with Marilyn Miller in Sally. He was forty at the time, and recalled childhood perhaps clearer than might be the case in two-reel era decades later. Little Leon and his friends enjoyed swimming on native Australian shores. One of the boys jumped off a rock and into the mouth of a shark, which ate him. Errol told the story to 1922 reportage almost in his stride, said he and pals would continue their swims, only further down the beach. Another time Leon was in the water and was pulled down by what turned out to be an octopus. A passer-by beat it off and saved him. The offhand way Errol told these anecdotes satisfies me that they were true. Like many an entertainer from that past century, he had a Mark Twain boyhood, even if it happened halfway around the world, and with sharks/octopi. As the star he’d become in vaudeville and legit, Errol knew every device for clocking reaction and would each night spot an audience member and use that person as barometer for how the whole crowd would jump. By the time he did comedies for RKO, Leon Errol was beyond seasoned. You see consummate skill in all of his two-reelers, response honed to maximum laugh effect. The plots are plywood, hauled up, knocked down for a next, all an essential same, as in Leon the erring husband snuck off to a stag convention, or hiding blondes under his bed. He was never really innocent; we could wonder what his characters are up to offscreen, considering jams they’re already heir to when the shorts begin. Titles are fun in themselves: Too Many Wives, Sweet Cheat, He Forgot To Remember, It Shouldn’t Happen To A Dog, a peck of these and most unseen for years. VCI has a DVD of some. Alpha, of course, offers multiple volumes, should you venture into that cave. Suffice to say, I am a total Leon Errol convert.

The recent James Bond discussion led me to a local friend who did not see Goldfinger when it came to the Liberty in March, 1965. In fact, he never saw 007 on a theatre screen until Diamonds Are Forever in 1971-72, reason being that Tony lived in my immediate neighboring small town (Wilkesboro as opposed to North Wilkesboro), borders of which abut, are identical in many ways, except that Wilkesboro had no theatre and North Wilkesboro had the Liberty (our Allen Theatre having burned in 1962). I could foot it to the Liberty where necessary, home being a mile from its door, but Tony lived further, in fact, too far, to get there other than a parent or friend’s parent hauling him (no driving age sibling, which I did have, thus further advantage of getting to the Starlight Drive-In where essential). Had our positions been reversed, it is doubtful you’d be reading Greenbriar now, as I would probably be moonshining, growing hemp, whatever else folks from my section are popularly assumed to do. I inquired of Tony how Wilkesboro peers bore non-access to James Bond at a peak of pop-cultural domination, his answer that they seemed barely aware of 007 one way or the other, parents not likely to let them go even if someone volunteered to drive them. James Bond was off-bounds to nine-eleven year olds. Tony surprised me, however, by mention of one secret agent that did capture a following of Wilkesboro boys, him accessible each week, and for free besides. Where Bond could not be had, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. would more than do.

For Wilkesboro, U.N.C.L.E. was talk of the school, not Bond. Maybe isolation from the Liberty explains it. There were a couple of 007 specials broadcast on NBC during the 60’s, lots on LIFE covers and media otherwise (the Goldfinger theme via radio Hit Parades), but for outliers like Wilkesboro, Bond stayed an unknown quantity. U.N.C.L.E., and later Batman, were heroes to a rescue of those too young or immobilized by distance from theatres. I’ve no doubt the problem existed elsewhere than small towns in North Carolina. If U.N.C.L.E. was all you had, where was basis to compare?, which was why Napoleon Solo and Illya laid siege to at least Wilkesboro’s Elementary class, while more fortunate of us waited for Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, and reissue double features with 007. We knew U.N.C.L.E. was no match for Bond, but watched anyway, because it was convenient, and free. Some of us went for the Aurora models, one of Napoleon, a next of Illya, each for a dollar. I’ve tried watching U.N.C.L.E.’s from half-century hindsight, and boy, do they drag, usually ten or so minutes for curiosity to be satisfied, then the off switch. What I don’t overlook are people, many people, to whom television meant far more than features ever would. They connected readily, and forever, with personalities and programs discovered early, and beloved since. For these, a Man From U.N.C.L.E. stands tall over whatever the Bond series achieved, loyalties formed at home being for them the strongest.

To further Hammer ramblings, spun off recent X--- The Unknown and Quatermass musings, I’ll add meditation on why theirs was the most successful ongoing series of British films distributed in the United States. Who had cracked that code before? British films in the 50's struggled outside art houses, and even in these, you needed Alec Guinness being drolly humorous to pull in patrons who’d forgive accents otherwise. And yes, those accents were a deal-breaker for most US patrons, and further yes, I've found them occasionally tough to penetrate, despite Anglo-sympathy since youth. Last week’s view of Storm In A Teacup (1937) was seeming proof such things were made purely for a home market. Provided they speak slow, you might get by, but sped up, it’s a race I lose, especially where barmen or chimney sweeps horn in. An interview with Vivien Leigh from 1960 made clear what she and others of British origin recognized as a problem: “I think, on the whole, one has to speak much more slowly for an American audience. Of course, it’s because of our English accent. That again --- that you have to speak more slowly and make it much clearer for them than you do for an English audience --- that is a very good thing, a very good challenge.” Leigh qualifies her position somewhat as she didn’t want to seem a snob, or patronizing toward us, but fact was fact, we did require proper English spoon-fed. I’d add that Hammer was perhaps a first UK concern that consistently, and successfully, did just that.

Proof of pudding is any Hammer screened, at least those square-aimed at US markets. X---The Unknown is as good an exhibit as any. American lead Dean Jagger carries bulk of narrative, but support cast is native, all understandable for applying lessons learned by staff eager to be understood by Yank patronage. I’ve read how Hammer was sensitive to communication gaps from their start at scaling export walls, the firm intent on not repeating mistakes of others. I think a lot of us benefited from exposure to Brit idiom from early age. Thank Hammer horrors for adjusting several generations to a culture other than our own, making their approach to language a familiar, and eventually, welcome, one. British players had been popular before, all the way to talkie beginnings, but here was entire output of a UK shop that we never questioned as to speech and manner. I clearly recall Hammers as intelligent in all aspects because, let’s face it, theirs seemed a more civilized culture. I surely envied the crisp diction that Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee displayed. Market barriers Hammer overcame have not to this day been properly recognized. Theirs should rank high among achievement of British filmmakers.


Blogger Dave said...

To me, Errol was a curiosity in the Vitaphone shorts, but once I binge watched the Mexican Spitfire pictures, which all have the identical plot, I became a convert. I'm just a sucker for Uncle Matty and Lord Epping and have enjoyed Errol in everything I've seen him in since.

3:02 AM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Are any of the Alpha discs of Errol any good? I've got the VCI Errol disc, which is mostly excellent, but Alphas of other short subjects have been bitter disappointments. The RKO "variety" movies, a triple feature disc from Warner Archive, each include a shortened version of a Leon Errol short.

Imagine Leon Errol shorts being featured in the kind of show that ran the Stooges and Rascals ("And now kids, let's see if Leon can get that drunk blond past his wife!"). Imagine the questions young viewers would have for their parents. Perhaps Leon's antics, even with Production Code approval, were too sprightly for any early television time slot.

A big thing about "Man From UNCLE" is that the production values are just barely ahead of "Get Smart", the sitcom sendup. Also, the scripts are almost as deliberately tongue-in-cheek. I splurged on the set of UNCLE "movies" and found entertainment in the giddy cheapness, which I totally missed at the time. "The Avengers" was likewise thrifty and comedic, but on that I got the joke even as a kid -- and you usually had the option of taking it fairly straight. I remember loving the first season or so of "Batman", because it was over the top but just straight enough -- like "Man From UNCLE" at times. But it declined from knowing wink to elbow in the ribs.

5:58 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

Actually, WBTV in Charlotte DID incorporate Leon Errol shorts in it's FRED KIRBY's LITTLE RASCALS CLUB program during the late 1950s.

Local TV cowboy host Kirby referred to Leon as a "big little rascal."

7:00 AM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

I suspect that the inexpensive production values of those old 1960s TV shows wasn't as much of an issue on 23-inch TV sets, especially in B&W, especially with antenna-based reception - it may be that our much larger HD displays have revealed more than our fond memories would prefer about the quality of the sets, costumes, make-ups and staging.
As to the TV shows of the sixties being "tongue-in-cheek", I recall that the "Wild Wild West" TV show was also somewhat so; but "Star Trek", by contrast, always played their fantasy straight. That may have given the latter more "staying power" over time and repeated viewings.

8:01 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Had not recalled Leon Errol on Fred Kirby's Charlotte show, being at most five years old in the late-50's. Doubt if I would have been as much disposed toward Leon even if I was exposed to him, which come to think of it, I was probably WAS, but just didn't retain it.

8:40 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

An as-always welcome visit from Vance Durgin:

Hello John,

Enjoyed your comments on Leon Errol. When I was a wee lad living in Bethlehem, PA, with my folks I recall that one of the Philly stations (WFIL?) started showing the Errol shorts in late 1958, the same year the Stooges were becoming wildly popular on local TV. Maybe some syndicator thought they could find similar TV gold by dusting off the old Errol two-reelers, but alas they never caught on. At the time I actually preferred the Errols to the Stooges and I really liked the Stooges. I had never heard of RKO Radio Pictures before and deciphering the Roman numeral copyright dates (a skill developed from watching WB cartoons) showed how "vintage" the Errols were, but that didn't make them any less appealing -- the Rascals and the Stooges were vintage as well.

Sometime around then I recall seeing a feature in Life or Look about Lucy and Desi and their new Hollywood studio. The story mentioned the "defunct" RKO Radio Pictures and I had to look that word up to find out what it meant (I was 9). In early '59 we moved to the Kansas City area and I never saw an Errol short again until finding some on YouTube in recent years.

Speaking of those on YouTube, one of them ("The Wrong Room," 1940) features a pre-stardom Veronica Lake (as Connie Keane). Picture quality is terrible, though.


Vance Durgin
North Tustin, CA

8:14 PM  
Blogger antoniod said...

A handful of TV stations in the early 70s showed the Leon Errol and Edgar Kennedy shorts, including WSBK-38 in Boston. I became a big fan right then, and was delighted to also see Errol in the Universal 40s B comedies that 38 leased at the same time.

8:48 PM  
Blogger brickadoodle said...

Poor Tony, but at least Napoleon Solo was some consolation to those budding secret agents living on the other side of the Yadkin River.

10:29 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

I watched the run of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. when it was on one of the "nostalgia" channels a couple of years ago and was surprised how wildly the tone varied from season to season, mostly deteriorating as it went on.

I was much more impressed in retrospect with The Avengers which, in the Mrs. Peel years, almost always hit the mark. Even the David Keel and Cathy Gale years weren't bad. By the time Tara King came along, though, the game was up.

2:22 AM  
Blogger Michael J. Hayde said...

THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. started out in 1964 as a genuine spy thriller, just as LOST IN SPACE began as genuine science fiction. But by the middle of 1966, BATMAN had captured the nation's fancy, network execs saw dollar signs and turned both shows into parodies of themselves.

Success is the enemy of creativity.

1:12 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

The black & white episodes of U.N.C.L.E. are the best. At least one, the pilot, was shot in color, though, because that's how it was released theatrically in an expanded version. A friend of mine who saw both said it looked cheaper in color. By the final season, they tried to get back to a more serious tone rather than the parody it had become, but it was too late.

One of the tv stations I grew up watching in the early '60s would alternate the Stooges with Andy Clyde's Columbia shorts, which I never got into. I remember those Errol and Kennedy shorts that ran on WSBK, but, as with Clyde, they left me cold. I prefer Kennedy in aggressive supporting roles rather than playing the poor sap at RKO.

3:07 PM  
Blogger James Abbott said...

When I was growing up in the 70s, WNEW in New York (channel 5) had a late-night program called Reel Camp, which was mostly Leon Errol shorts. Even when I was a boy, I howled at these. They were quite wonderful.

Before I actually saw UNCLE, I saw an episode of Please Don't Eat the Daisies, where the boys were convinced that their dad worked for UNCLE. (They had seen him pass matches or some such to Napoleon Solo.) I was always eager to see it, but when I did finally catch it, the show was something of a letdown.

And, here again ('cause I can't help myself) is the unpopular opinion of the moviedom -- damn, Roger Moore is still the best James Bond!

5:59 PM  
Blogger Beowulf said...


Well, sure. You grew up in the '70s. If, like me, you had been a Boomer, you would know that Sean Connery is the only Bond (though George did a fine job for his one outing).

1:31 PM  
Blogger Lionel Braithwaite said...

There's no denying it: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was better in Season One, than in Season Two or Season Three (Season Four was as good as Season One, but by then, the spy craze was waning, with only Mission: Impossible and It Takes A Thief commanding people's attention along with any James Bond movies that were out (I believe that Mission: Impossible should've ended in 1970 rather than continue on to 1973 as a standard police procedural-the Syndicate [the Mafia] was already being beat by the FBI in real life, and without the aid of an organization like the IMF; better for them to fight an organization similar to SPECTRE, HYDRA, or THRUSH.)

Sean Connery the only Bond? If all you went by was Moore's tenure, then yes, but Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig would like a word with you.😎

4:49 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home
  • December 2005
  • January 2006
  • February 2006
  • March 2006
  • April 2006
  • May 2006
  • June 2006
  • July 2006
  • August 2006
  • September 2006
  • October 2006
  • November 2006
  • December 2006
  • January 2007
  • February 2007
  • March 2007
  • April 2007
  • May 2007
  • June 2007
  • July 2007
  • August 2007
  • September 2007
  • October 2007
  • November 2007
  • December 2007
  • January 2008
  • February 2008
  • March 2008
  • April 2008
  • May 2008
  • June 2008
  • July 2008
  • August 2008
  • September 2008
  • October 2008
  • November 2008
  • December 2008
  • January 2009
  • February 2009
  • March 2009
  • April 2009
  • May 2009
  • June 2009
  • July 2009
  • August 2009
  • September 2009
  • October 2009
  • November 2009
  • December 2009
  • January 2010
  • February 2010
  • March 2010
  • April 2010
  • May 2010
  • June 2010
  • July 2010
  • August 2010
  • September 2010
  • October 2010
  • November 2010
  • December 2010
  • January 2011
  • February 2011
  • March 2011
  • April 2011
  • May 2011
  • June 2011
  • July 2011
  • August 2011
  • September 2011
  • October 2011
  • November 2011
  • December 2011
  • January 2012
  • February 2012
  • March 2012
  • April 2012
  • May 2012
  • June 2012
  • July 2012
  • August 2012
  • September 2012
  • October 2012
  • November 2012
  • December 2012
  • January 2013
  • February 2013
  • March 2013
  • April 2013
  • May 2013
  • June 2013
  • July 2013
  • August 2013
  • September 2013
  • October 2013
  • November 2013
  • December 2013
  • January 2014
  • February 2014
  • March 2014
  • April 2014
  • May 2014
  • June 2014
  • July 2014
  • August 2014
  • September 2014
  • October 2014
  • November 2014
  • December 2014
  • January 2015
  • February 2015
  • March 2015
  • April 2015
  • May 2015
  • June 2015
  • July 2015
  • August 2015
  • September 2015
  • October 2015
  • November 2015
  • December 2015
  • January 2016
  • February 2016
  • March 2016
  • April 2016
  • May 2016
  • June 2016
  • July 2016
  • August 2016
  • September 2016
  • October 2016
  • November 2016
  • December 2016
  • January 2017
  • February 2017
  • March 2017
  • April 2017
  • May 2017
  • June 2017
  • July 2017
  • August 2017
  • September 2017
  • October 2017
  • November 2017
  • December 2017
  • January 2018
  • February 2018
  • March 2018
  • April 2018
  • May 2018
  • June 2018
  • July 2018
  • August 2018
  • September 2018
  • October 2018
  • November 2018
  • December 2018
  • January 2019
  • February 2019
  • March 2019
  • April 2019
  • May 2019
  • June 2019
  • July 2019
  • August 2019
  • September 2019
  • October 2019
  • November 2019
  • December 2019
  • January 2020
  • February 2020
  • March 2020
  • April 2020
  • May 2020
  • June 2020
  • July 2020
  • August 2020
  • September 2020
  • October 2020
  • November 2020
  • December 2020
  • January 2021
  • February 2021
  • March 2021
  • April 2021
  • May 2021
  • June 2021
  • July 2021
  • August 2021
  • September 2021
  • October 2021
  • November 2021
  • December 2021
  • January 2022
  • February 2022
  • March 2022
  • April 2022
  • May 2022
  • June 2022
  • July 2022
  • August 2022
  • September 2022
  • October 2022
  • November 2022
  • December 2022
  • January 2023
  • February 2023
  • March 2023
  • April 2023
  • May 2023
  • June 2023
  • July 2023
  • August 2023
  • September 2023
  • October 2023
  • November 2023
  • December 2023
  • January 2024
  • February 2024
  • March 2024
  • April 2024
  • May 2024
  • June 2024
  • July 2024