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Thursday, March 04, 2021

Two Not Of A Kind


Random Picks Of Late

THE PEOPLE AGAINST O' HARA (1951) --- O'Hara is young Jim Arness, accused of murder and defended by Spencer Tracy, a dipso lawyer all the more dippy for taking a capital case cuffo (as in no fee), something no lawyer in real life would do. Neither would one with sense brag to clients that he's tried eighteen murders in a row and "didn't lose one." And would any sane person, let alone trained in law and evidence, bribe a witness with a personal check? This is a same kind of hogwash that made Anatomy Of A Murder such a joke in the end. The list of absurdity goes on, and it needs all of Tracy to swat flies this yarn attracts. Legal eagles flew lower altitudes by up-tight 50's juncture, all the fun of shystering having gone with Powell, Warren William, and others of fly-by-seat-of-pant practice. There also went fun of lawyer movies. Excess of rectitude and moral chalk-walking won't let Tracy put in the easy fix as he readily would at Fox Film Corp in starter days, and for stepping out of line just once in The People Against O'Hara, we know he'll make the requisite supreme sacrifice.

There are old Tracy friends aboard (Pat O'Brien) and youth serving contract terms for Metro (Richard Anderson, William Campbell). Tracy was sent east for NY locations and strolls against majesty of waterfront and skyscrapers, a plus. O'Brien had played broken mouthpiece in a same year's Criminal Lawyer for Columbia, penny candy beside this Metro special where he'd be strictly sidekick. Parallels with elsewhere work don't stop there, another Tracy pal, James Cagney, battling the bottle as journalist in Warners' Come Fill The Cup (seen this one lately? You won’t, as it is tied up rights-wise, and Warners seems not of a mind to clear title). Unless it was comedy, Tracy/Cagney got a fillip being flawed characters by 50's recognition that gloriest days were behind them. Still, I'll take each on these terms and even in diminished vehicles, so long as magic like Tracy's gets applied as here. He was actually at a career peak as of '51, having triumphed in Father of the Bride plus a sequel, so yes, The People Against O'Hara showed profit against a mere million spent on the negative. Dore Schary had wisely sliced costs since assuming VP in charge of production duties, teaching grizzled Leo and fat cubs that you could only get gains by spending less.

VARSITY SHOW (1937) --- Alumni Dick Powell is campus-bound to speed up drag imposed by party-pooping prof Walter Catlett and staid administrators. Jivin' student bodies include two of the Lane sisters (Priscilla and Rosemary), plus music-making Fred Waring as cool faculty, and funning Johnnie (Scat) Davis, Mabel Todd, and Sterling Holloway to suggest this school has no entry standards whatever. Warner enrollments gave better fun than Paramount's, Varsity Show more fleet than elsewhere that ran too long (VS a mere 79 minutes, but whoa, sources say the thing originally went over two hours, so what happened?). This "Cheer Leader Of All Screen Musicals" was also host to Busby Berkeley for a wrap-up extravaganza, him having segued to specialty numbers and direction of non-musicals. Guest performing is in for a penny or pound: Buck and Bubbles dance twice and are janitor background otherwise, comic supreme Ted Healy practically (and thankfully) co-leads with Dick Powell. Who says Healy slipped after his Stooges skipped? The man was doing rich parts right to the end, Varsity Show followed by even better Hollywood Hotel. 1937 was looking like a banner Healy year until fate intervened. Incidentally, were WB musicals running out of steam by '37?, because both Varsity Show and Hollywood Hotel lost money that year.


Blogger Kevin K. said...

Speaking of Ted Healy, I just saw him in Metro's "The Longest Night", where he plays a dimwitted cop. What's remarkable is that you can see how Moe Howard took Ted's entire shtick, right down to his delivery and physical moves. You can almost close your eyes at times and think it's Moe.

By the way, "The Longest Night" runs only 51 minutes, and was remade five years later as "The Big Store" with the Marx Brothers.

12:12 PM  
Blogger William Ferry said...

I've been dying to know what was cut from VARSITY SHOW since I bought the Busby Berkeley Volume Two set. For me, it's hard to tell. "Love is on the Air" turns up literally at the last minute, so I'm not sure if that was just a reprise. Considering how much use WB got out of "Have You Got Any Castles?", the quick rendition by Buck and Bubbles in the finale seems anticlimactic.

2:09 PM  
Blogger Randy said...

I can't remember the source for this, so take it for what it's worth, but I read somewhere, once upon a time, that "Varsity Show" was abridged when it was reissued for service audiences during World War II. Reviews of the film at the time of its release are all consistent in giving the running time as approximately 120 minutes, not the 80 minutes we have now. The film's length was sometimes noted in exhibitor reviews in trade magazines. (And one theater owner complained that after sitting through "Varsity Show" he didn't care if he never saw Johnny "Scat" Davis in anything ever again.)

2:10 PM  
Blogger antoniod said...

Edward G. Robinson brought the "Shyster" back by remaking THE MOUTHPIECE as ILLEGAL in 1955.

9:39 PM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

Johnnie (Scat) Davis, Mabel Todd, and Sterling Holloway to suggest this school has no entry standards whatever.

Thanks for the big laugh, John! When you're right, you're right!

Randy is correct, VARSITY SHOW was cut to 81 minutes for the 1943 reissue. Some of the exhibitors complained about how dated the reissue looked, so the trimming may have reflected some of the more obvious period references. (And the film was then only six years old!)

Warners got its money's worth out of VARSITY SHOW by reusing the campus sets for the Technicolor two-reeler CAMPUS CINDERELLA, with Penny Singleton on the verge of starring in features, and Johnnie (Scat) Davis in one of his only three leads at Warners.

8:50 AM  
Blogger William Ferry said...

Thanks to Randy and Scott for the info on VARSITY SHOW! I guess The Unholy Three were the beneficiaries of the 1937 equivalent of EEO funds! I confess to a certain fondness for Johnny "Scat" Davis. I like to say he always looks like he's having a great time.

8:35 PM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

Is RC Cola still a thing?

9:53 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Beowulf: Wondered that myself. Yep.

2:49 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

2:51 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

More RC COLA: Pretty good. , .

2:54 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Yet more: Which is best?

2:57 PM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

RC Cola is still very much a thing -- part of the Dr. Pepper/Seven-Up company -- but it's very much a regional product now and no longer a national franchise. Big in the South, popular in the Midwest, but long gone in Boston. (I get it shipped in from out of town, as they say in Prohibition-era movies.)

11:18 PM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

What, no El Brendel as a teacher of those three at that school? A missed opportunity...

So many questions...
Have movies themselves become more of a "regional product" like RC Cola has?
If so, did that happen primarily because of the introduction of spoken dialogue, and our many languages?
I once heard it argued that silent films are by nature more "international" than sound pictures for just this reason. Do film preferences really change that much when you simply cross a border? This way of looking at it answers that they don't.
No doubt differing regions responded differently to silent films, when those were all that was available - but if so, how different in fact were their varied local responses to silent films, and more interesting, why the difference at all? Diet? Climate? Previously available local live entertainment? Some other local factor - government censors, preachers and/or teachers, perhaps - conditioning the audience's response? Or at least those responses people were willing to share with a wider public?
Have movies, rather than becoming more of a "regional product", in fact always been so? Have people always preferred seeing films which somehow can be seen to reflect their own lives, rather than those of people differing greatly from themselves, and living far away from where the audience is in space and/or time? It's clear that after the coming of spoken dialogue in films most didn't - and don't - much like watching people who speak a language they don't understand, even with adequate subtitles. But it's equally clear that at least some portion of the film-going public wants, and has always wanted, to see presented purely escapist fantasy, and nothing but that, with all of the action taking place "a long long time ago in a place far far away".
Or have movies in general, especially talking movies, instead helped to "level out" those local differences between and among the regions where they were distributed? I once read somewhere that regional accents in the US declined in both number and their "intensity" during the 20th Century as coast-to-coast radio and TV became widely available down on the farm and out in the sticks and deserts( but I suppose the necessary mass travel associated with the wars of the 20th Century must have been as great a factor in this trend for the US as well). The dialogue heard at the movies must have contributed to that, if such a reduction in accents did in fact happen.
Speaking of North American sticks and deserts, will the arrival of widespread affordable high speed broadband internet in the rural areas of North America (whenever that may happen, and it shall happen someday - I think) accentuate or tamp down those regional differences in taste and style as to filmed entertainment that still do exist? I guess only time will tell - but going by past form, I personally have no doubt it will speak out of both sides of its mouth when it finally does so.

9:05 AM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

You may be on to something, Filmfanman. I'm from Dead Center PA and hence I am aware that we're on a line separating Pittsburgh from Philly. Here, and west, it is "pop." Just to the east and elsewhere it is "soda." I fought that conflict for many, many years, but now even I say "soda." We have a "keller tv" and a "worshing machine" and root for "the Stillers."
When it gets too messy, I redd up my room.

10:22 AM  

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