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Friday, October 30, 2020

Hope Springs 60's Eternal


Bachelor In Paradise (1961) Seems Centuries Ago

Bob Hope the Bachelor, give-or-take sixty (more give) when he made this, heats up suburbia and frustrated wives as writer turned counselor at love. Bob was supposed fifty-eight, but a friend who worked for him told me that years had been shaved here/there over course of a long career. Bob himself was always a bachelor in paradise (Hollywood and environs) for overlook of marital vow amidst bask in fleshpots layed before-and-by this funmaker who was hot for most of a 20th century. Hope would like to have thought of himself as ageless (wouldn't we all?), but the 60's was turning point (downward) for his kind of comedy, vehicles getting worse from only-by-comparison high point of Bachelor In Paradise.

Bob's persona had from youth been a would-be, but mostly thwarted, lover, till someone (himself?) whispered he should morph into swinger after Hugh Hefner example, a late-in-day misjudge and could-be affront to family audiences that had supported him. There was smarmy aroma to Hope as satyr in clutch of lovelies a fraction his age, even if this was the role he’d largely play offscreen. Bachelor In Paradise opens thus, Bob as book author who writes of love practices around the world, sampling Euro and elsewhere babes. Bachelor sees him nibbling on one at a start, sans irony or opt-out as a dream sequence. No, this was the Bob Hope we’d have, that or harried husband, a role he may not have favored so much, as did it remind him of home and disapproving Dolores?

Of course, he is catnip to women here, Janis Paige forceful in attempts to seduce a reluctant Hope, who balks because she is married (now there's irony), and it's only Lana Turner who turns ice when he approaches. Bachelor In Paradise was meant to "satirize" suburbia, using a model neighborhood to comment comically on lives revolved around carpools, pesky kids, and balky washer machines. That last makes for slapstick of a sort, Bob adding too much soap powder with foamy result. Did all this have to be staged so tepidly? Jack Arnold directs Bachelor In Paradise. I'd guess he was picked for willingness to accommodate Hope in all things, as I don't associate Arnold with this line of work. Henry Mancini tenders a sprightly score that was Bachelor's one concession to attractive aspect of the 60's (there's a soundtrack CD available). Crosby had used Mancini for his recent High Time, so maybe it was he that put a bug in Bob's ear to hire the composer.

Bob Signs Autographs for Youthful Admirers on Bachelor Location

Nowadays Bachelor In Paradise is valued, if at all, as a time capsule, suburbia as paradise for those who'd study the film like a bug under post-modern microscope. So it celebrates phony and superficial values --- wasn't/isn't that the point? Here is one occasion when being woefully dated is a good thing. Bob and bevy bask at up-to-minute super markets and atom-age drive-ins, both places you'd give anything to visit now. Again, there is graceless slapstick: Bob knocks over egg displays, pulls out the tin can that supports a hundred others, the sort of stuff we'd anticipate Larry/Moe/Curly Joe doing should they venture into such a place. Were super-markets really so gloriously lit as here? Such Bachelor moments really take you back, and that's what makes it a must.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Fox's Whale of a Biblical Blockbuster


David and Bathsheba (1951) Spells Out Sin

When any picture's a smash, there is question of why. Especially when you check in seventy years later and see nothing remarkable about it. David and Bathsheba is talky and long. Even Zanuck remarked at the time that it gabbed too much. There are no big battles other than one between David and Goliath, and that lasts scarcely a minute, just long enough for D to load up his slingshot and bring down G. And yet --- David and Bathsheba was biblically popular, bringing home $7.9 million in worldwide rentals, the best money a 20th Fox release had earned since Leave Her To Heaven. Brilliant selling had a lot to do with success. How David and Bathsheba was marketed merits its own post, maybe two. Of all bible stories, D&B had a biggest so-far unexplored sock for movies, and selling had for a model the brilliant forerunner that was Samson and Delilah, DeMille's definitive statement that a best Biblical resource was man-woman conflict properly heated.

Like S&D from rival Paramount, this had sex and shame and redemption, dealing as it does with the "Law Of Moses," which precludes adultery and fornication, just like Hollywood's still-in-effect Production Code. What could be more congenial than this ancient creed and Fox's modern interpretation? The picture tabs sex from a first reel when Gregory Peck as David spies Susan Hayward as Bathsheba in her bath. Their afterward discussion is almost clinical in setting up the illicit bed-down, dialogue oblique enough to evade kids watching, but clear as bell tone for titillated grown-ups. Bathsheba is later on knocked up, with David the careless party. They discuss ins-outs of that to gratifying detail. Voyeurs as of 1952 never had it so good. David even suggests that Bathsheba lie down with her home-from-wars husband for a night so they can tag him with the kid. For non-stop toga talk of sex, David and Bathsheba was like a Kinsey Report that came with admission, topic even a restless Zanuck could love.

You could get away with lots in a biblical context. So long as sin was punished, there was always that first two thirds to roll in hay with the miscreants. David and Bathsheba, like Quo Vadis of a year before (another incredible hit), avoided a bummer ending. Yes, David did a wrong thing, but he's really, really sorry for it, prays a lot (endlessly in fact ... Zanuck's issue), and prostrates himself before the Ark Of The Covenant, established as a Holy Relic that kills people who touch it. In the end, David/Greg's amends clear way for him to not only get the girl, but make it start raining again after months of drought. Even desert prophet Raymond Massey, channeling his John Brown persona, is mollified. A happy ending all around, back to bed for the sinners, and happy customers homeward-bound to do the same.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Where It Comes Down To Three Frames

 The Incredible Shrinking Man Just Kept On Shrinking

Movie moments that linger a lifetime can swell up with memory so that what you thought you saw goes way past what was actually there. Remember fourth grade classmate Tony Gentry who told me a lion in Black Zoo bit a man’s head off on camera, or the Lowe boys next door who swore Natalie Wood danced stark naked in Gypsy? Maybe they were joshing, or likelier trusted their recall, plus what imaginations implanted, because that’s how powerful a film impression can be. These boys saw back on a sensation the way they wanted to, and isn’t that how fond memory works across the board, not just from movies but all of life? Gloried experience is enhanced each time we glory in it, reality having parted and gone its useless way. Cue then The Incredible Shrinking Man, which I knew first on a Liberty combo with Jack the Giant Killer in July 1964. This may have been where movie madness was truly baked in, nothing to take priority over screens again. Especially chiller or fantastic stuff. I babbled over Shrinking Man in 2006, focus in part on a contest between Scott Carey (Grant Williams) and a tarantula, from which but one could walk away. Dollops of blood were spilled, or were they? I said emphatic yes to pint-size peers who would listen, and believed myself it was so. The Incredible Shrinking Man from 1957 being back for but one day in 1964 was cushion against my being doubted, so recount could get as gory as I chose.

My Blood-Soaked Recall of Shrinking Man Helped In Part By Scott's Dripping Clothes

Still, one must come to terms with truth. Do I want to die deluded as to spillage Scott drew from the belly of the beast? Readers responded to the ’06 reflection, several specific as to what they saw in 1957 or after. Was there a way to determine if The Incredible Shrinking Man was trimmed at some point? An obvious freeze-frame occurs at the moment of tarantula truth that was not there before, this a Shrinking Man status since home video first made it available. Fans have noted the anomaly, some inquiring to Universal, but getting no response. Question to burn within me was how much? --- as in footage removed. Findings indicate mere frames, three in fact as I calculate it. Am I nuts for caring? Why don’t I just rake leaves, or help out at the animal shelter? Long as we’re here however, might as well detail the Shrinking saga as lately lived, with valued and considerable input from lifelong collector/historian Todd Feiertag, with whom the topic came up quite by chance during e-mail ping pong regarding a couple of Harold Lloyd lobby cards. Todd and I are acquainted since halcyon days of paper pursuit and shows attendant. He has been in the game for 57 years, a record setter on several occasions for price realized on posters. Turns out he also has film, as in 35mm, as in two 35mm prints of The Incredible Shrinking Man, both generated in 1956 for early 1957 release. Todd volunteered to examine the relevant reel and determine what might be presently missing from the spider scrap, tarantula tilt, however we choose to designate it.

Here and Below from the DVD and HD Stream Are Freeze-Frames Just Before a Last Spider Close-Up

Re the Shrinking Man reissue in 1964 that I saw, could new prints have been generated at that time? Todd thought not. He suspects those still usable from 1957 were put back in service. I wondered how the Liberty could ’64-score not only The Incredible Shrinking Man, but Tarantula, The Deadly Mantis, and The Mole People, all of which I saw within a month’s enclosure. Trades from the period reference a company called Ultra Film Distributors, Inc., which was set up by Budd Rogers, a longtime Universal employee, who by the early 60's was an independent distributor. His partner was Sherman Krellberg, who had handled, among many properties, a brought-back White Zombie during the 40's and 50's. The partners formed Ultra in 1962, and sub-licensed from Universal a number of titles, ones I saw, as well as This Island Earth, Monster On The Campus, others. Ultra also handled exploitable imports Two Nights With Cleopatra, Fatal Desire, Rice Girl, etc. Don’t know how long it was before Ultra folded. The Incredible Shrinking Man made its way to television in 2-65. Prints for that purpose on 16mm were complete based on two I had over collector years. It was only with coming of home video that critical frames went missing.

From the Complete Universal 8mm Scene of Scott Screwing In The Nail To Do In The Spider

So how critical, really? And as to a mere three frames, so what?, being but the wink of an eye. Truth is, that’s a long wink. Any print where I had to clip off three frames to make a splice was walking wounded from there. I would dread the jump forever after, and feel my audience distract each time that reel unspooled. Digital has of course ridded us of such incubus. So why did Universal freeze action at its most decisive point? Todd Feiertag sent the capture at right of frames from his 1956 35mm print that are missing from circulating versions of The Incredible Shrinking Man. I examined these, compared them with what we presently have available, and it appears that Universal froze just prior to Scott’s gesture in turning the nail he thrusts into the spider, in effect screwing it in further to assure the kill. Maybe for home video purposes, Universal felt the moment was too explicit. A pity, for here was a kicker to weld action deep in our heads. So far as I can determine, a last time we got it intact was when “Universal 8” (as in 8mm) issued a seventeen-minute abridgement of The Incredible Shrinking Man for home collectors. This was during the seventies. After that, the footage went truant. Universal has not so far released The Incredible Shrinking Man on Blu-Ray, although there have been Region Two discs. I understand from buyers that these are also incomplete re the spider scene. Kino, Shout, Scream, or whoever, could license The Incredible Shrinking Man from Universal, put the missing frames back in, and promote a “first time in forty plus years” complete version. We'd then know finally and for sure what we really saw through a child mind’s eye back when The Incredible Shrinking Man had its most vivid impact.

Many Thanks to Todd Feiertag for making this column possible.

Monday, October 12, 2020

A Screen Idol Takes It To His Audience


The Eagle (1925) Lets Rudy Get Everything Right

Rudy speaks!, except he never did, at least into microphones (wireless transmissions, yes, but who has them?). He sang, and not badly, albeit for primitive recording. He barely missed sound for exit on 8/23/26 at age thirty-one. Don Juan and Vitaphone had opened but weeks before (suppose he got a glimpse?). Long wish of mine was to hear Valentino, knowing chance of that to be same as most any nineteenth century notable leaving behind a voice (and yet, surprising numbers did, including names you’d not imagine … check You Tube for samples). More than one interviewer asked silent era survivors what Rudy sounded like, figuring his foreignness might mean an impenetrable accent. Not so, said one, Carmel Myers, “his voice was just beautiful.” Everything about Valentino seemed beautiful over years after he left, a halo hung by those who treasured an era he so strongly defined. Couple of movies were made about his life that were really some fictional guy’s story who had little to do with Rudy. There would never be a star like him again (would-be’s, yes, none to approach him), but what if Rudy had stayed, stayed long enough for talkies to reject him for any number of “sound” reasons. We know the casualty list of silent favorites far exceeds those who made the grade. Suppose John Gilbert had died that August day instead of Valentino. Would their endgames be simply reversed, history telling the sad decline of a once supreme Latin Lover, while lionizing a greatest of voiceless heartthrobs that was premature passed Gilbert? None of rivals along Latin line prospered on that basis with talk, most bent toward character work (and excelling at it --- Gilbert Roland, Antonio Moreno, Ramon Novarro). Valentino was most luckless for not living longer, something he obviously would have preferred even if the career had tailed off.

Indications are that Rudy was slipping as his close neared. A final two features, arguably the best of work he left, did less than hoped. The Eagle, a bolt off Fairbanks cloth, had dash, humor, Valentino less torrid, more sincere, in short putting over tops of his line, but was his a product near expiration? I compared figures for The Eagle beside other United Artists output of the time, was surprised it did not do better than $841K in domestic rentals (Little Annie Rooney took $1.1 million, The Black Pirate $1.5 million). Son of the Sheik would be an improvement with $1.3 million, some, if not much, of that attributable to morbid interest following Valentino’s unexpected death. For a vehicle so calibrated to public taste, The Eagle should have been the spike Rudy needed, or was he done in by a string of clucks Paramount earlier handed him? Very self-aware were remarks Valentino made when he appeared on stage for the Mark Strand premiere of The Eagle on Broadway. Part of what myself and doubtless much of his public liked about Valentino was that he did not kid himself as to who he was and what he had to sell. Even serrated-edge H.L. Mencken wrote a sympathetic profile when Rudy came to him for advice in managing press criticism gone lately to personal attacks. Valentino understood the value of a high-profile supporter in Mencken and so flattered him by seeking the help. Was this a calculated move? If so, it was a clever one, for Mencken was solidly in Rudy’s corner, a rare thing for rude indifference the columnist generally showed to screen personalities.

Original Caption Says Rudy Studies Hungarian and Vilma Banky English So They Can Talk to One Another

It was known by trade and public that Valentino was done with Paramount, fault shared by both quarreling sides. Interloping independent Joseph Schenck advanced Rudy what it took to complete dream home that was Falcon Lair, paying him $10K per week besides. Money for Valentino was like water through a sieve. You could give twice as much and he’d find ways to squander it. His union with Natascha Rambova was also in collapse. They posed kissy-bye as she entrained East, both aware the marital deal was done, but not realizing they were seeing a last of one another here. A nasty scribe called Rudy a sissy and bad influence on men as a whole, to which Italian hot-blood demanded a duel, at least a punch-up should RV come across the loudmouth. Here was what primarily led to the Mencken summit. Most saw The Eagle as needed tonic to virilize Valentino. Director Clarence Brown (seen above introducing his daughter to Valentino on the set) and once-writer-for Lubitsch Hans Kraly were assets Paramount had not, would not, expend on talent they took for granted. Rudy said frankly to trade press, “I have no desire to try to change public taste, even if that were possible.” He knew and said that Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and The Sheik were so-far highlights of a brief starring career. “The fans seem to want to see me in colorful, romantic roles and situations,” exotic costumes a necessary component to that. Valentino had sense enough to recognize what worked best for him after taking some frankly bad and contrary advise. He would listen now to those with ears closest to turnstiles. Rudy crossed country for New York’s Strand premiere to watch and hear for himself how a public would react to The Eagle.

Jack Dempsey Schools Valentino On How To Handle Those Who Would Impugn His Manhood

November 8, 1925 was the rainy day, 3000 jamming streets to fill 2,989 available seats inside. Word got out that Valentino was there, but he wanted to see The Eagle and gauge response, so did not alight the stage until a finish. Meantime there was a live prologue, the 1812 Overture, followed by “festive singing and dancing, to Russian melodies.” Trades would review live portions from B’way presentation houses in often hair-split detail, down to lighting effects, where spots landed, color of gels applied, these a most critical aspect of programs, for here is how theatres were truly judged. The full-up Strand, plus standing room close-in, heard Rudolph Valentino speak, a first time for virtually all listeners. Hordes stood vigil at the stage door Rudy would later exit, nothing left to chance for this unique occasion. Wonder what letters, diaries, or scrapbooks survive to give us their impressions. Fortunately, there is Mordaunt Hall’s New York Times review to quote Rudy’s words from the stage: “Mr. Valentino … thanked the audience for its reception of the picture, adding that he felt sure that by it he would regain that popularity that he had enjoyed a few years ago.” Rudy admitted to the audience “that his preceding photoplay, The Sainted Devil, was a poor picture.” Clearly he had washed his hands of Paramount. How often did any star stand before thousands and acknowledge his/her last effort as unworthy? I’m betting the crowd took Valentino very much to bosoms for his candor. And to think many of these would overflow streets less than a year later to view the actor’s funeral cortege. Trades was meanwhile watchful: “It is no secret that much of Rudolph’s future hinges on this picture. A smashing success right now would doubtless bring him back with a bang --- which explains why he wants to be right on the ground when it (The Eagle) opens in New York.”

Clarence Brown Directs Bears That Will Menace Rudy at High Points of The Eagle

The Eagle
had a terrific opener week, near $50K in receipts, and was held for a second. What with disguises he assumes, you could say the star has three roles here, none played heavy, all laced for laughs a fresh direction for Valentino, intent on giving his public fun for their money. A next, and fated to be last, Son of the Sheik, kept levity with the mix. These final two play best of the actor’s output. Of silent stars, Valentino had a largest post-sound surge thanks to nationwide bookings of The Sheik, with an added score, that proved an unexpected hit for Paramount in 1938, a year well into audience impulse to jeer, or be mystified, by mute performing, ten years a lifetime or close for youth in attendance. And yes, they rollicked at The Sheik as it answered yes to all they guessed about old time movies better left to old times, save for chuckles an odd specimen might supply. Emil Jensen of independent Artcinema Associates was versed in retread of tires flat or with air enough to earn at least small house dates. He leased Son of the Sheik, and some months later, The Eagle, to eventual play singly, or as a pair. Whereas 1938-39 viewers could laugh at The Sheik, chances were better they would laugh with these. Critics noted polish few expected. Turns out Valentino delivered entertainment goods as efficiently as modern Hollywood. How different was The Eagle, after all, from present-day melodramas cast from same essential mold? To be more frank, what modern releases were so handsome as what The Eagle put on display? Here were audiences confronted by a silent movie they could not ridicule. Was there disappointment for that?

The Eagle
was early to television. ABC saw ratings success with it in 1948, a novelty, and free besides. The Eagle and Son of the Sheik went into the Public Domain, prints sold to those with 8 and 16mm projectors to home-show them. Blackhawk Films had The Eagle in an abridged version. What remained of it came largely from Paul Killiam material. Raymond Rohauer was said to have elements used for a laser disc release of some years back. Neither did The Eagle full justice. Silent films truly rise or fall on print quality. Without it, you’ve got no show, or a substandard one. Kino lately put out a Blu-Ray to best-we’re-likely-to-get response. It will do because it will have to do. Older I get, the easier it is to adjust to such reality, maybe for finally knowing perfection is never attainable (but look at The Big Parade, The General, Wings, a few others that come close). The Eagle pleases withal, brief enough not to tire at 73 minutes, the film designed from a start for dawdle-free pace. 1938-39 observers were right to note how modern The Eagle played. To a large extent, it still does, and that is thanks to Valentino, who understood by this point what was needed to freshen his persona and hold a changing audience. Problem was times changing out from under him, which he could barely see coming thanks to departure at eve of an industry’s biggest so-far convulsion. Do Valentino’s admirers like him best for such ideal, if not deliberate, timing?
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