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Monday, September 28, 2020

Wrote It, Then Realized I Had Already Written It

 


The Black Camel Rides ... Again


Decided on a whim to watch this, and awfully glad I did. What with fresh Blu-Rays pouring forth (more now than ever, it seems), do we even recall forlorn discs released years ago that sit locatable, or not, on shelf or stacks? Oh, for days when a single 16mm print, or bounty of three or four features in that format, was stuff of unbounded joy. The Black Camel was released among what Fox made with Charlie Chan, save the lost ones (will these be screened in Heaven? If it is indeed heaven, then yes). Watching a Chan leads always to resolve that I must see them all again, that swept way as focus is diverted elsewhere. These are like cartoons, serial chapters, B west, as in a few will do, thank you. I address The Black Camel for guessing there was no Chan like it, being shot in the altogether on Hawaii islands (and don’t disillusion me by saying that wasn’t the case). This surely wowed viewers in 1931. And they got murders besides. I don’t know how well woven Earl Derr Biggers’ stories were, but this one is a honey … kept me guessing, with a resolution that not only made sense, but enriched characters otherwise a red herring or plain props to fatten a suspect list.



Surfers are there under credits, looking for all a tropical world like opener titles for Hawaiian Eye. A first scene is shot on the beach. Fox Film Corporation wants us to know we are someplace other than same places. How many folks in 1931 had even seen postcards of Hawaii? There is as much outdoor shooting as traffic will bear. I felt like Cinemascope location policy was being put in motion twenty years ahead of schedule. They should have made this in “Grandeur” instead of The Big Trail and spared that crew hardship. The Black Camel has plentiful reward without a shot fired or dagger thrown. A tracking camera guides us round lush lobby that was the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. Does present management realize they are focus of such a precious time capsule? Cast and crew got the free trip, plus presumed pay. From jaws of a Depression to this … must have felt like dreaming. Night scenes are done amidst palms, flashlight chasing after a killer in flight, more creep-about bamboo huts. I might have left a first run demanding all films have so authentic a background. And this was “only” a Charlie Chan mystery.



Chans were not B product then. Any more than George O’Brien westerns made by Fox. Support for Oland is out of top drawers, no one playing down to content. Bela Lugosi is a fake swami, and it’s like, here we go again, but how he shades the part, and what we learn of his “Tarneverro” lends depth beyond that expected of a most obvious suspect who, in time-honored fashion, does not turn out to be the killer. I was pleased to see Bela amidst luxury trappings of the Royal Hawaiian, nattily dressed in full “belong” status with swells he appears to graze upon. He and Oland talk lots, as if director Hamilton McFadden observed how effective they were together, and said Let’s Have More. Watch this and tell me again about “Poor Bela.” Oland’s stooge assist from the precinct, “Kashimo,” is such an idiot, I wonder why keep him on the job? Less attractive aspect of Chan is him treating underlings like underfoot pets, a facet smoothed once Number One or Two sons filled the comic slot, Charlie’s annoyance more an expression of filial affection much put upon. The Black Camel’s Chan clan shares a dinner scene with dad that is very funny, each too young for him to seize verbal advantage, them in fact sassing back with Occidental slang enough to all but chase befuddled Charlie away from his meal.



I like mysteries where a solution harks back to distant events, and more so where the killer had some revenge motive paying off on that past. If all Chans are clever as this, maybe I do need to screen the lot again, save Roland Winters and some of later Tolers. I did not mention Dwight Frye being in The Black Camel, as if we need another reason to watch, having forgot myself that he was here, so there was a midway spike, and yes, Frye is most important to the outcome, another plus. He even grapples briefly with Bela, having no better luck than he did on the steps at Carfax Abbey. Imagine if The Black Camel were one of the lost Chans. We would have gone our lives dreaming of what it was like … Oland, Lugosi, Frye, the Big One with the Big Three. Somehow it was saved, useful for an early TV release. Purely random rescue.
 The DVD looks better than such distressed remains ought to. Leap/bounds over a boot I once had that froze before killers could be sorted out, which maybe was what I deserved for going rogue after my movie wants. 

HOLD THE WIRE: Senility, it seems, is upon me. Remember The Black Camel at Greenbriar back on July 24, 2006? Well, I did not, thus the above revisit with barely enough fresh wordage not to get tossed for stale bread. Overlook the incident then, for being a first such stumble, and credit The Black Camel as fun enough to inspire two columns, fourteen years apart or not. But beware this happening again, for what if I forget of having drawn from Vertigo and Horror of Dracula wells multiple times before, going back to worn-sole subjects with increasingly addled prose. Be glad I caught the muff rather than one of you having to alert me. Readers would next be asking if I’m sure where the car keys are, or for that matter, the car. For ones who would compare, The Black Camel as first appreciated is HERE. 






Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Two That Are Treasured


Honk If You Love Lost Horizon or Raintree County


Certain pictures have champions, the word “cult” not inapt to describe relationship between devoted enough fans and a particular show that moves them so profoundly. It is a marker beyond favorites, being an experience profound that will occupy thoughts of a devotee from there on. To admit an all-immersion might reveal one as obsessive, a kook of a sort, depending on the movie you chose. I might be uneasy meeting someone who lives life in service to Dawn of the Dead, many, perhaps wisely, keeping fervent picks to themselves. Others wave their banner high, have spoke to skies of what film, or films, fill a dedicated life. Books may result, or decades spent at research. A historian named Seymour Stern did sheaves on The Birth of a Nation, so much as to defy completion, a volume based on what Stern left brought to us by Ira Gallen, an archivist of considerable note. So where is dividing line between picking one’s favorites, we all have those, and total engagement which far fewer of us experience? Two I watched in a past couple weeks have had hypnotic effect upon many. Lost Horizon and Raintree County may be mixed bags to some, worth a look and then move on, but for those all-in (lots, as I’ve learned), these are divine objects, no detail of content or production to go unexamined.



The fact both were amended prior to, and after, release, qualifies them all a more to savor and protect. What masterpieces might emerge if only so-far lost footage could be found and put properly back? I’m not worthy to discuss either, certainly not after observing inquiry and effort others have invested. Mine may not be unqualified praise, but I enjoy Lost Horizon and Raintree County very much, and yes, any “news” about them will snap me to attention. Latest headline, the word used lightly because said event went unheralded, was Raintree County showing up for a first time on TCM in High-Definition. After years seeing it cloudy and wan, this for me was news. Stumbling upon the milestone midway, it was too late to capture, so I would wait for a repeat with DVR poised. Revelation is a strong term, but there it be for seeing Raintree County a first really time. Scratch previous issues, as there never was a DVD, the cassettes were cropped, and a laser disc, even at roadshow length (apx. fourteen more minutes), could not meet modern standards. I broke mine down to two sittings, as though I were there for holiday season 1958 when Raintree County first broke (that story Greenbriar-told HERE). A lot of people went to see this film, many cherishing memory for there on. They gather yet on forums to discuss infinite detail re roadshow, edits, what might /should have been, and why doesn’t Warners put back footage and do a deluxe Blu-ray this classic so richly deserves?



Lost Horizon was sliced/diced ever which way from its start. First from previews at three hours, soon gone … Frank Capra said he threw his opener two reels into a furnace and watched nitrate flash and burn. Who needs an anecdote to be entirely true where it’s this good? Capra could put Peter Cottontail in his book and I would buy every word. He knew value of imagination and showmanship in writing … silly boy, says nit-pick modern scholars … but Capra found solace in fortunes he earned, so who, really, are the silly boys? There is a marvelous extra on the Blu-Ray, by historian Jeremy Arnold, that explains how Lost Horizon got made, big chunks shot in a below freezing L.A. icehouse, with ninety and up degrees outdoors. Stills show Capra directing like the Field Marshal he was, hundreds of cast and crew, thousands of details for the man to master. Next time I am of mind to criticize Capra, or artists like him in any way, I need but to consult these images. Lost Horizon was ambitious beyond 1936-37 imaginings, upwards of two million at stake, and this was Columbia money, not MGM’s. James Hilton source novel was a natural for movies --- no one could say making it was a bad idea. Another instance this was of spending more money than could be got back, Lost Horizon earning $1.6 million in domestic rentals, so yes, it was attended and enjoyed, but crepe got hung on anything that didn’t do big profits, so flop tick clings to Lost Horizon like flypaper. Still though, I’d say it won more fans than any Capra save It’s A Wonderful Life, but does Life inspire yet a level of devotion it had twenty-thirty years ago? Times change and so does preference.

Can Anyone Identify What It Is They Are Eating?


Raintree Country
was liked, popular, and remembered. There were soundtrack albums that came, went, were sought after fiercely once gone (a fine double CD since available). The film saw profit despite colossal costs that should have sunk it. The adapted-from novel was revered in 1948, a “Book of the Month” selection that kept selling for years after. I’m told, lately by several, that Raintree County is among the best novels they ever read. I might try but for daunt of 1000 pages, cut from close-to-double the length by insistent editors before first copies of Ross Lockridge’s book went out. His story is tragic, told at a detailed website kept by son Larry Lockridge. Raintree County was picked too for an MGM “Annual Novel Award,” a contest begun in 1944, and a biggest payout any writer could hope for, as here was cash plus inside track to movie adaptation. Raintree County got the Metro nod in 1947, Ross Lockridge and his publisher left to fight over who would get lion share of the Lion’s money. All this plus fact MGM demanded Lockridge cut 50,000 more words from his manuscript made the author feel he had sold out before a first copy of Raintree County went on shelves. Severe depression that resulted is thought to have led to Lockridge’s death two months after the novel was published in January 1948.



I asked myself through Lost Horizon, who but Colman could play this? Ideal he was, even as others on further consideration might come at least close. Brian Aherne was tabbed when it briefly looked like they could not have Colman. I thought no initially, then remembered Juarez, and how fine Aherne was in a part not unlike Lost Horizon in respects (a gentle dreamer for peace faced by hard realities). Occurs to me too that Leslie Howard could have delivered, did in fact on previous occasions. Who is Robert Conway but Alan Squier from The Petrified Forest, or Ashley Wilkes for that matter? Not identical, but similar, parts, and Howard brought distinction to them. Another nominee, were it 1936 and me casting for Capra and Columbia … Charles Boyer. Hollywood was blessed with types, established personas, able to step confidently into however demanding a star part might be. Of course, once he was set, there came simple matter of further customizing Lost Horizon to Colman’s fit, crowds coming reliably out to say, Yes, he was born to play Robert Conway. Director Capra cleaved to distinct personalities; I read one co-worker who said the director especial relied upon comic relief, but there may be too deep a well where it’s Edward Everett Horton on an airplane in genuine peril and he will not shut up. Where a situation is genuinely perilous, the last thing I want is strident humor trying too hard to level it. Must also admit bristles on other passengers apart from Colman --- Thomas Mitchell, too long till telling us what he is running from, Isabel Jewell hostile to a point where I cease to care, and John Howard who I’d like to forgive for playing Colman’s truculent brother “as it was written,” but that doesn’t make him easier to take. He stays too agitated for an already agitating situation. And something else I realized here … a purely personal thing … I don’t like Ronald Colman being yelled at, ever. Words of a protective fan? So be it.

Checking Out Glories of 70mm


Raintree County
was a fifties generation’s Gone With The Wind, a same sprawl, stars then at a peak of public interest, with a Civil War for backdrop. To tame the book was known hopeless from a moment anyone tried, so why pretend to “adapt” same? Enough to write a more-less original and call it Raintree County. The tie-in paperback would be shortened even more from Lockridge’s text being reprinted. MGM shot in “Camera 65,” a bigger-than-big frame to promise clarity not experienced since early 30’s tries, a benefit even to 35mm prints ultimately the format of choice after roadshow dates broke down. There is a Facebook group devoted to Raintree County, emphasis on quest to have it on Blu-Ray, and having seen the HD upgrade on TCM, I understand their passion, because yes, it is vast and often quite grand (note the monster script at upper right that Monty and Liz had to lug around). For all of length, I did not weary, partly being impressed by sheer size and how varied incident plus a game cast dealt its audience more than fair. There is as much drama in backstage circumstance as onscreen conflict, specific being Montgomery Clift’s car smash that forever put his beauty to rout, though to my estimate, Clift the actor got better for the mishap, and maybe he was as pleased to be done with the fan idol weight borne since forties’ start. Clift acknowledged viewer sport of ID’ing scenes as pre-or-post wreck. By finish of Raintree County, he cared less because this for him was an ill-judged movie hobbled further by his own "bad" performance. Clift went hardest on himself. I say he was great just for walking in a room. Montgomery Clift for me is everything Brando was cracked up to be.



I wonder if MGM’s Land of Oz was inspired, at least in part, by Lost Horizon. Or ultra-modern theatres where both pictures would be shown. For scenes of H. B. Warner showing Colman around cavernous digs, I wanted a cleaning lady in the far background to plug in a vacuum cleaner and go to work. Settings cannot be too lush for me, as nothing of reality intrudes here. Colman interviewing with the High Lama leaves me cool, however. Being petty as never to deserve such an audience myself, I kept wondering what happened to the Lama’s front teeth, and wasn’t there someone in Shangri-La who could fix that? Sam Jaffe seems more weird than wonderful. Food for might-have-been thought: Suppose he turned out to be a Hocus-Pocus like Frank Morgan as the Wizard, Colman left to pick up the pieces. Had I been latter in either case, the Shangri-La rose would have lost its bloom here, John Howard’s vote for a powder an increasingly sane one. Who to be chief Lama if not Jaffe? I’ll go off rails and say Boris Karloff. Yes, seriously … he would have been marvelous. The voice, strength, authority, even hint of menace, that Jaffe could never have for me. A great character part to send BK career in a whole new direction. Roads not taken. Spoke to Conrad Lane as to when he first saw Lost Horizon. It was 1948, Shangri-La by then a serving of chopped liver at around an hour and forty minutes. We are lucky to have it in roughly roadshow form, even if six or so minutes are told by sound, but no picture, stills the substitute like used for A Star Is Born. They do not disturb as with the 1954 musical, and certainly the Blu-Ray is leap-bound ahead of discs released previous.






Wednesday, September 16, 2020

When Even Biggest Names Get Forgot

 


Latter-Day Dig for Norma Talmadge

Among pioneer film historians, Richard Griffith stood tall. He co-wrote seminal The Movies (w/Arthur Mayer) and a 1950 edition of The Film Till Now, with Paul Rotha. He also did The Movie Stars, published in 1970, the year after Griffith died. In it, he surveyed players up to then that achieved fame in films. Griffith was born in 1912, so was exposed to them either in prime, getting there, or lately coming off it. One that got a chapter was Norma Talmadge, who Griffith admitted was past and forgot by the sixties (Talmadge herself gone since 1957 at age 63). We’ve pondered stars once big that few think of anymore, Norma Talmadge a deepest sixed, known perhaps as Buster Keaton’s sister-in-law, but what more? Trouble for me is having too little context in which to place her, despite lifelong troll for old pictures. Fact in stone: Norma Talmadge was about the biggest female name in 20’s film, nipping always at Mary Pickford or whoever else had a rung up. Everyone who loved Talmadge, their number in millions, have gone to reward. I miss living in a world where there was always somebody who remembered anybody that worked in movies. Think how once there were fans among us for first-run Broncho Billy or John Bunny. No more!



Griffith recalled and spoke well of a Talmadge vehicle called The Lady. In it, she ages from girl to old woman, a sort of act Norma did best. The Lady is lost, or was when Griffith spoke of it in the late 60’s. We miss a lot for not having access to so much of what pleased in the silent era. How can anyone reach reliable conclusions as to what or who was best back then? There seems only enough of Norma Talmadge to get hints, and for what home view affords, a fraction of that. Kino released a two-fer of Kiki and Within The Law in 2010, possibly as response to burning question of who heck Norma Talmadge was... and let’s finally see some of her movies. The pair is typical and atypical … latter because Talmadge did mostly melodrama, which Kiki is not … typical for Within The Law being melodrama as purest distilled, that being Norma’s strength. We imagine melodrama was what folks endured before a next Chaplin or Lloyd flashed up. Fact is, I think given choice of but one, they’d have given up fun stuff to keep the sawmill and railroad tracks (as in tied to ...). Melodrama had been a way of performance life for length of everyone’s lifetime. I’m told emotional hair-raising was an only way to take audience minds off hardship of their lives. The higher pitched, the more effective. Judging by trauma dished in melodrama, in movies and certainly on nineteenth-century stages, there must have been a lot of hardship to rinse away. Being chief laundress for her public’s emotional tension made Norma Talmadge a least disposable of any 20’s star, so how then was it so easy to dispose of her before the 20’s even ended?



There must be a limit on how many times one can play a same essential part. Richard Griffith said Norma’s essential role was Norma, each time a variation on what she had done before, this expected, nay insisted upon, by her fans, known procedure for screen folk, to remain so with talkies, persisting unto today, but Norma Talmadge was not one to oversell travails, which is to say she underplayed much of stock situations handed her, making all the more a shame there isn’t Talmadge in quantity to evaluate and maybe cheer for ahead-of-time technique. I watched Within The Law, based on a play by Bayard Veiller, rousing for its day, being of a department store drudge at $5 per week, accused of stealing and innocent of that, but sent up river for three years and swearing to square account with the got-rocks owner who wouldn’t let a judge show mercy. She pulls the time, learns how to do rackets just cautious enough to keep cops off her, “love balm,” as in breach-of-promise suits, made legit by having lawyers always present and no taking payoffs direct from elder millionaires being fleeced. I recite the yarn because yes, it compels even now, was good enough to remake with Joan Crawford in 1930, then again as a 1939 B with Ruth Hussey. Within The Law is all-Caps melodrama, but Norma Talmadge plays the situation like Ibsen and Eugene O’Neill got together on it, her uplifting ordinary stuff into something believable, if not sublime.



Kiki
was flip side to Within The Law, an easier modern sell because it is comedy, has Ronald Colman for a male lead, and was directed by Clarence Brown, who was resourceful from start with a megaphone. Must say, and unexpectedly, that I prefer Norma the dramatist over a pushy would-be chorus singer who all but overtakes Colman household and opens his mail before burning letters she wants him not to see, this all meant to be cumulatively endearing, but isn’t. Kiki was 1926, Talmadge having reached early thirties, so a tad late for untamed gamin stuff, plus on her thirty looked at times severe thirty, due possibly to lifestyle excess Richard Griffith mentions. Kiki, like a lot of other Talmadge ventures, was remade for talk, Mary Pickford giving it a go just a few years later. Talmadge meantime saw decline before screens spoke. 1928’s The Woman Disputed dipped, a fact plain enough to make her spend a year off girding for sound. There was Brooklynese to be ridded of, said some, and even if Norma seemed not to care about staying a star, her dedication to speech culture suggested a desire to stay in the arena. Sister and also-luminary Constance had bailed, no talkies for her, and Natalie, the Talmadge who did not make good in movies (tried, but given up), was unloading a consolation prize no longer prized, which was husband Buster Keaton. Could any Talmadge believe, were they still around, that Buster would be a sole one from the clan remembered, still revered, us obliged to travel leagues to find anyone who know, or care, what any Talmadge was.



There is a Connie Collection, also Kino, which I haven’t investigated, partly because I never found her that attractive, Natalie in fact my choice between the two were it necessary to choose, yet the family, including a dragon mother who evidently ran the roost, saw Nat as the Ugly Duck. Just my reaction, or changed standard since the 20’s? Sole image of Mrs. Keaton is her spending Buster’s money fast as he could earn it, a sop for clothes, luxury, other sillies, and goaded on, I suspect, by sissies and Mom. Also never liked the two Keaton boys name-change to Talmadge, but maybe they were better with that label in a Hollywood still status conscious even after Norma-Constance had quit and Ma was gone. Norma’s initial talkie try was a wash. There didn’t seem to be even curiosity, translate to B.O. spike, for New York Nights, which had a good director (Lewis Milestone), designer (William Cameron Menzies), other pluses as arranged by Norma-husband Joseph Schenck, him devoted still to her career if eased out of the bed chamber (Gilbert Roland his successor there). NY Nights got but $621K against $712K spent on the negative … so much for what Norma sounded like.



How quick they forget, it seems, though others of silent emote were as unlucky. She would try once more, Dubarry --- Woman Of Passion, a disaster by all account --- certainly so by UA account books, $753K out the door, only $437K coming back, time indeed for Norma Talmadge to chuck the career, which didn't much matter because there was money as invested by the mother. Story got round of a fan who approached Norma, her saying, “Get away, I don’t need you anymore,” an amusing blow-off, one she maybe made up to discourage others who might intrude. Norma married George Jessel in the 30’s, an idea good for him and vaude marquees where he could exploit her. Jessel used the faded name but good, Norma said to have been a stood-still stooge for his act. If this wasn’t for the cash, then why did she do it? Love of Georgie? She’d get over him in any case, marry a doctor next, and that stuck to the ‘57 end. There are other Norma Talmadge titles that stream … Amazon has several plus discs of dubious source. My curiosity was satisfied with the Kino DVD, so am not likely to rattle this skeleton further. Still it’s a pity to see (or rather, not see) an actress be so neglected. Are we the poorer for being Norma-less?





Thursday, September 10, 2020

Good Citizenship Rides West

 


Bend Of The River (1952) To Bring Out the Civilized in All Of Us



Sensed for the first time a mushy center to this second Stewart-Mann western, as though jagged edge of Winchester ’73 had been smoothed, U-I not forgetting there was a family audience to be catered to with big-scale, star-lit outdoors. Universal liked aroma of much mass-as-possible attendance to biggest commitment shows, toward which they applied major, plus hopeful, names (James Stewart the scout leader to Julia Adams, Rock Hudson, Lori Nelson, more), glory of nature shooting to grease premieres where action was shot or took place, a blueprint applied a following year to The Mississippi Gambler. All this made necessary a safer approach to genre conventions than edgy Winchester '73, which was black-and-white and presented Stewart as meaner at times than villainy he thwarted. Jim was still dogged by Jimmy no matter PTSD undercurrent. Watchers were put off balance, thrillingly so, by a star who “lost it” now and then to fear or rage, and this being stuff moderns cling to, we wonder if the war upended Stewart enough to serrate his folksy bearing for good. Trouble was him not wanting to give that up, not for keeps anyway, agent and exec voices bidding him to lighten up as, after all, there were children watching.



There is nothing so tedious in movies than the reformed outlaw, and that is the part James Stewart has here. He is one-time “border raider” Glyn McLyntock, stood around a punch bowl and four-layer cake trying to be worthy of benign influence Jay C. Flippen, whose wife is “Aunt Bee” of later and insufferable TV presence, theirs a wagon train I’d gladly forfeit to Shoshones early on, rather than brief raiding, and disposal, quick as an arrow is shot into Julie Adams. We imagine the pioneer bunch setting up Rotary Clubs all through the West, 1952 gone back to make better citizenry of 1852. Stewart “running away” from his past and in thrall to such righteous lot is less disagreeable than fact we are meant to see things their way, Glyn having to earn membership by defeating cheerful outlaw Arthur Kennedy, latter more likeable and primary interest for me. Stewart might, should, have played Kennedy’s part were he not bound up by responsibility conferred by mixed blessing of industry standing, price of which is a part less colorful, JS the killjoy too for blunting violence we expect of westerns. A telling scene has “Emerson Cole” (Kennedy) shooting to death a crook gambler after sensitive “Trey Wilson” (Rock Hudson) merely wings him, Cole pointing out that Wilson is fast, but “too soft.” We like the moment, at least till Stewart as McLyntock denounces Cole for his initiative. The two characters are uneasy allies for a first two-thirds of the film, each saving the other’s life repeatedly, so that at the very least, both should give a pass whatever comes up. Cole even spares McLyntock after going “bad” via theft of supply wagons en route to Rotarians, a more than generous gesture, especially what with McLyntock swearing he’ll one day get even. Why not let pragmatic Cole reply, “Oh, if that’s how it is, goodbye …,” and BANG. Movies do have certain obligations to common sense, Bend of the River bending a few to hold advantage for the civic minded.




Glyn arranges a turkey shoot to thin the herd of do-badders. At this, he is successful, ground littered with dead and dying. Survivor heavies flee, Trey/Hudson shooting still, his action met with Glyn/Stewart disapproval. When Trey asks why not finish them off, Glyn gives with the deathless and forever obnoxious movie line, “Well, if you don’t know, I’m not going to tell you,” words meant to cool not only Trey’s bloodlust, but ours as well. Upright Jay C. Flippen says a same later to Kennedy/Cole and gets slapped silly for the affront, Cole speaking for those of us who don’t like our savage breasts soothed. That’s enough, viewers, we are civilized after all, says voice of reason that is Universal overseeing. Stewart characters had a habit of preaching at those who went past bounds he set. Audie Murphy got much dosage in Night Passage. Even Dean Martin, years later in Bandolero, took a tut-tut from big brother Jim, this well after spaghetti servers washed moral rectitude off western plates, leaving it to television where standard/practices still prevailed. Not that I altogether blame Stewart for hewing to personal notions of right/wrong, but it would date him. Contempo-vet John Wayne could stay fresh a little longer by not pretending to fight fair once pushed, his longer stay in westerns the reward.




When Bend of the River is good, it is splendid. Borden Chase screen-wrote, he of past Red River and Winchester ’73. I envision Bend as lots tougher before Universal applied gentler hands. Director Anthony Mann had less sugar in oatmeal that was his RKO and even MGM thrill/actioners. River captain Chubby Johnson repeats ... and repeats “I should have stayed on the Mississippi,” and we wish he had. There also is Stepin Fetchit, yes Stepin Fetchit, and remember this is 1952. I expected Will Rogers to walk in and reclaim him on behalf of the 30’s. Still, there is a nice walkaway Chubby and Step share that reminded me of Bogey/Bogie and Claude Rains in Casablanca. Interesting depart from norm takes Stewart/Glyn out of running for either of femmes present, Julie Adams because she beds down early with Kennedy/Cole, Lori Nelson because she finds Jim “elderly” and prefers newer-minted Trey/Hudson. Harry Morgan, Jack Lambert, and Royal Dano are slimy back-shooters along for the River ride, them for vinegar to keep the show in overall plus category. I knock aspects of Bend of the River, but adore it just the same. Compromises too can become endearing. Was it P. Kael who said great movies are never perfect movies?



The January 1952 premiere was in Portland, situated near sites where filming took place and story was set. Such events, lasting days, were barely-working vacations for media invited from nationwide, representing papers small town and large, plus magazine, TV, radio scribes. A paradise for freeloaders, and all they need do is praise Bend of the River for print/broadcast, not a sell-out as most going in knew it was a pro job based on dollars spent and Stewart being there. He’d be committed for the whole … banquets, square-dance, and hands shook from arrival to depart, all because Jim was in for half of all profit Universal realized, his gamble being up-front fees left on tables in exchange for far greater payoff should Bend break big, as safe a bet as could be made if Winchester '73’s three-quarter million enrich to Jim was any hint. Big-time regional premieres were organizational equal to state fairs, burden of that fallen to Portland host the Broadway Theatre, a venue part of the J.J. Parker circuit, them with exhibition muscle to which industry overall seldom said no. Jack Matlack was their man in front, a multiple “Quigley Award” winner (as in always doing big-scale promoting right). There was a steamboat race for opening day, then it rained on thousands as they waited for Broadway doors to open. Whatever principals from the film who could be there were there. The real work in films was done away from cameras, a best training to act being how you handled local VIP’s and plain folk thrilled to meet anybody who hailed from Hollywood.




Local good will was a best kind to spread, it widely known that Universal left $6,000 per day with hotels hosting Bend’s company as they shot on and around Mt. Hood, a tourist mecca at all times, but never so plumped as this. Cost was worth it, in fact essential, as a public more and more insisted on natural locations for any western positing itself as something more. To break beyond the genre’s expected turnout took more, a star participant like Stewart and real snowcaps necessary to cinch crowds who would otherwise leave cowboys to indiscriminate matinee-going. A March of Civilization theme lent stature to outdoor action done big scale, one like Bend of the River not only getting into better theatres for longer runs, but helping Universal up-and-comers be better known toward future-larger parts, Rock Hudson and Julia Adams top-lining The Lawless Breed right after Bend of the River very much a calculated thing. Also helpful was behind-scenes segments shared with enemy that was once television, U-I making footage available to Art Baker for his You Asked For It broadcast. Trips such as that to Portland were figured to generate good will not just for Bend of the River, but for an industry that could use all of assist it could get.





William Goetz, Universal-International chief, sounded off to a gathered junket in Portland: “The motion picture industry is the only industry which consistently contributes its talent, money, and facilities to every worthwhile cause without any profit whatsoever to itself. In fact, Hollywood has become so generous to all deserving causes that these contributions have come to be taken for granted and are completely overlooked by those who seek to condemn Hollywood and its workers …” I’m guessing Goetz was referring, at least in part, to continuing HUAC hearings, these at a more-less peak in January 1952 when he gave his speech. Solidly in Goetz corner was Pete Harrison, of fiery Harrison’s Reports, who added that “Mr. Goetz’s statement should have been told, not only to the people of Portland, but to those of the entire United States. And there should be added the fact that every time the United States government wants to convey to the people of this country some educational message, the first medium whose help it seeks is the motion picture industry, which invariably puts its best forward to be of service. And what does the industry get in return? Villification.”




grbrpix@aol.com
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