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Monday, May 17, 2021

Sad Dogs Need Love Too

 


Who Needs Them All To Be Classics?




A late-in-life interview saw writer/wit Anita Loos high for old movies she had been watching over sleepless hours on NY television. “Even the bad ones have great vitality,” she said. Started me to thinking that, yes, they do. Sometimes especially the “bad” ones. It no longer must be just-classics to please in these quarters. Aspect of those can almost intimidate. I watched Cult of the Cobra last night and was charmed, it being of snake woman Faith Domergue questioning her commitment to a kill-spree on behalf of an Eastern sect intruded upon by Yank servicemen out for kicks. She falls for dumbest of the bunch Marshall Thompson and we’re supposed to approve, except I did not because here's a sap better left to fate a beauty-turned-serpent would deign for him. I called out “Don’t! She’s a cobra!” each time MT eased forward to clinch FD, but being late night alone in darkness saw my warnings unheeded. I began wondering if I'd still want to kiss Faith Domergue even knowing she might revert to scaled skin, this a question any man might ask himself. So you see, Cult of the Cobra does address vital issues even as it falls short of what convention would call a classic. To follow then, are selections not arrived at other than arbitrarily, being mere-what-turned-up while foraging for perhaps better things. They remind me of a story told by Sarah Karloff of occasion when Dad took her to adopt a dog from the pound. She chose a cute one rather than three-legged, or one-eyed, or maybe just scruffy, alternatives. Boris complied, being sorry she left sad dogs, for “they needed love most of all.” Here then, is selection of sad dogs for us to love …



PRIVATE NUMBER (1936) --- Photoplay said of Private Number, It's a paean to love, unsaid being fact it was also a sop to readers of Photoplay, who lived for dreamy close-upping of stars Loretta Young and Robert Taylor. She was lately back from desert "rest cure" for an alleged nervous breakdown (actually a pregnancy leave w/Clark Gable's child), and it was said the actress would marry Eddie Sutherland, bon vivant director late of Louise Brooks' bed, such perks largely reason for guys like Eddie pursuing movie work in the first place (Brooks recalled he cared more for party life than making good pictures). Private Number did please, and was reissued a mere two years later. Stills could be had from 20th Fox at Box 900 in Beverly Hills, one dime, please, for each. Other companies sold photos from New York home offices, mags like Picture Play supplying addresses and price lists. I had heard of star portraits available, was less aware that scene stills also circulated among fanbase, till-now assuming they went only to poster exchanges or print outlets, this under head of learning something new every day.

Who's For Traveling Back Ninety Years To Trade Places with Eddie Sutherland?


"When They Smile, You'll Hold Your Breath," was tagline used for Private Number ads, referring to Young/Taylor in promised embrace. These were quintessence of H'wood's Beautiful People, Taylor to such a degree that it was years before anyone recognized him as any kind of actor (and in fact, Taylor had a tough time reaching such level of confidence himself). Young had bought into the machinery and her performances would become as mechanical, sort of a Maria the Robot of Rotwang design. Private Number then, was a picture with everything, and nothing. Glamour parts being interchangeable, you could as easily stall production a few months and let newly arrived (to stardom) Tyrone Power do Taylor's part, with anyone from Janet Gaynor to Constance Bennett filling for Young. In fact, Bennett had done a near identical turn in precode's Common Clay, which at least had surface honesty denied censor-clamped Private Number.

Roy Del Ruth Directs Loretta Young


The only ones approaching human behavior as we might experience it are Basil Rathbone and comic support Patsy Kelly. In fact, this is Rathbone's show from opening to last, him the frustrated coveter of Loretta favors and doing dreadful things to win them. We feel Basil's pain for identifiable emotions the starrier types would not engage lest they lose our sympathy and diminish a public's worship. He reveals darker aspect of us all as contra to Taylor/Young, their chat and endless clinches an ideal none could realistically aspire to, Rathbone's a reserve of smited love, class resentment, and bent sexual obsession. He is in short too good for fluff that is Private Number, but here's the thing, Basil makes it good enough. To ignore Private Number is to miss joy of star vehicular assault upon matinee goers who dropped what they could spare of coin on fan magazines (or those mail-order stills) after purchase of tickets. Private Number was a movie for people who used movies like a drug. To them, it was news that Robert Taylor was teamed here for a first time with Loretta Young, him borrowed from Metro, its executives having pecuniary interest in a healthy 20th Century Fox. Private Number has turned up on the latter's satellite channel, then as an On-Demand DVD, quality OK and worth a dip in event price drops below fifteen or less dollars, a level it finds at Amazon from time to time.



A RAGE IN HEAVEN (1941) --- Mad as a hatter Robert Montgomery oppresses wife Ingrid Bergman, who stays and stays despite every indication she should get hell out. George Sanders is for once more sinned against than sinning, and ends up in a murder frame. For a possibly one and only time, we see George weep on camera, which in itself might make A Rage In Heaven essential viewing, though I for one do not enjoy seeing George cry, preferring that he reduce others to tears. Bergman began here a cycle wherein she'd be victimized by unbalanced husband/lovers, Gaslight and Spellbound to more successfully follow A Rage In Heaven. This actress was husky enough to stave off most any attacker, save Mike Mazurki or Bull Montana, so you wonder why she so meekly plays doormat. Selznick owned Bergman and loaned her for projects like this one for MGM. Montgomery had gone psycho before in Night Must Fall, so someone at least saw rot below surface charm.



Ingrid Bergman would years later recall strife with speed-director W.S. Van Dyke, who she said gave no guidance and was always in a rush. That generally was a plus to Van Dyke output, even as he was overcome by lugubrious yarns such as spun here. Bergman might have relaxed and let Van quick-finish what he or anyone could see was movie equivalent of paperback books. A Rage In Heaven is one where folks dress even where eating at home sans guests. There is barely a scene with Montgomery or Sanders out of black tie. Metro figured we'd all like to live thus and so poured away, A Rage In Heaven among plush chairs brought back when Leo initiated a postwar series of "Masterpiece Reprints" in 1946. What wiser than to encore Bergman now that she was a hottest of lead ladies? Success of A Rage In Heaven was dazzling for a reissue, or, for that matter, first-run. Weak as it was, $1.7 million in worldwide rentals was realized, this for but five-year-old product. 1941's release had yielded mere $920K from ditto marketplace. MGM's reissue program was off to a roaring lion's start.



NOBODY LIVES FOREVER (1946) --- John Garfield confidence gaming in a yarn by crime specialist W.R. Burnett of Little Caesar/High Sierra fame, links emphasized by WB for the trailer and elsewhere. The Code still frowned on gangster exploit, but this was more along lines of flimflamming with minimum of gunplay, so dialogue dominates. Garfield was tough to cast, auds nagged by a feeling that whatever he did, Cagney or Bogart could do better. He's positioned well here, being huckster with a heart who can't bring himself to fleece rich widow Geraldine Fitzgerald, herself guileless this time as straightforward lead lady. Jean Negulesco directs at efficient Warner tempo, being heir to style of Curtiz and Walsh if not altogether their equal. Interesting to watch how quickly beginners like Negulesco, Don Siegel, and Gordon Douglas adapted to house pattern, or was it editors responsible for WB signature? Talk is tough throughout and we do get what seems authentic whiff of scams this crew pulls, Garfield in league with Walter Brennan, George Tobias, others less savory. Nice touch too is a war still going on as these guys operate, JG having been mustered out following injury on the Italian front (Nobody Lives Forever, like several high-profile WB's, was held from release for over a year). We're a little doubtful how things will work out for Garfield's sympathetic con man what with dead bodies scattered for a finish and Code edicts that must hold sway, but Nobody Lives Forever spares anxiety by fade to its end title before messy matters are addressed. Shown in HD on TCM.




TWO TICKETS TO BROADWAY (1951) --- Howard Hughes "Presents" a musical. His name was prominent in credits and ads, so HH must have been proud. He hired best talent to beat MGM at a genre they were acknowledged to own, borrowing Leo talent (Janet Leigh, Ann Miller, Marge/Gower Champion as dance coaches) and splurging $2.3 million on the negative. This was extravagant even by Metro standards, let alone RKO where fists were tighter, except where Hughes took personal interest, in which case costs ballooned. The largely unseen chief had a yen for Leigh that could be but satisfied between sheets, and toward that end, he would delay punch of Two Tickets, then dither once production was underway. Outcome that should be dire is instead okay, agreeable surprise for being done by unaccustomed-to-song RKO.



Added sugar was Hughes hiring Busby Berkeley to stage numbers; you know him by sudden departure from workmanlike James V. Kern direction to swooping camera that was Buzz's. Janet Leigh was taught to dance, while Ann Miller, of course, came prepared, her wisely given tap solos, being most accomplished of the girl quartet that also numbers Gloria DeHaven and Barbara Lawrence. These, plus Tony Martin, were pleasing talents, and it's good seeing them shine in a lush vehicle all their own. There's also Bob Crosby as himself, singing to a wax figure of Bing, odd depart by a performer you'd have thought was out from under brother's shadow by 1951. Action happens on staging of Bob's TV program, a welcome glimpse at Hollywood concept of what went on behind vid scenes.



There is also New York as seen from roof of walk-ups, a soothing bath of neon colors that must have been a trial to sleep among for those living in Gotham at the time. Best of guests are Smith and Dale of vaude fame, these two together longer than anyone performing anywhere, most agreeing their act still worked. We could regret that originally slated Laurel and Hardy couldn't fill these parts, but Smith/Dale do fine by material ancient as they were by '51. Forget where I saw/read it, but Janet Leigh recalled L&H at a script reading, indicating they were along for at least part of the ride. Too bad effort of Two Tickets would not pay, the show losing $1.1 million. Problem was not a public's rejection; worldwide rentals a not bad $2.7 million ... it's just that Hughes sunk way more than could be recovered. Two Tickets To Broadway plays TCM in gorgeous HD color.


18 Comments:

Blogger John McElwee said...

Griff wonders about a certain Sears/monster movie tie-in:


Dear John:

Fine post*, but we're stopped dead at the top by that REVENGE OF THE CREATURE/CULT OF THE COBRA double-bill ad, and its reference to a "special prize announcement" in a Sears and Roebuck ad elsewhere in the paper. What sort of tie-in could Sears have had with these two Universal horror pix? [Did Sears ever market live snakes?]

Regards,
-- Griff
_____________________________
* Your point about how Basil Rathbone is too good for PRIVATE NUMBER, but he makes it good enough... is very astute.

1:10 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Some of my favorite old movies are unsung B-releases that have never gotten any love from anybody, so I understand this post.

Michael J Weldon, the author of "Psychotronic Video Guide" said once you see Robert Montgomery in "Night Must Fall", he starts to look crazy in all his movies. He's right.

1:20 PM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

Very thoughtful point about how Basil Rathbone "makes it good enough." Got me wondering about movies I now watch only for one performer among many.

Just last night I was debating whether to look at UP IN SMOKE, the penultimate Bowery Boys movie and in my opinion the weakest of the lot. Huntz Hall is noticeably unenthusiastic, and understandably so. He was given his notice just before shooting, abruptly ending his 16 years at the same studio. Anyway, for me the silver lining in this dark cloud is Byron Foulger, the mild-mannered worrywart of a hundred films. UP IN SMOKE is one of Foulger's very few leads -- he plays the Devil! I've always enjoyed this underrated character actor and it's nice to see him in more than an incidental role.

But as much as I like Byron Foulger, I like the whole movie less, so I passed. I must be getting old. These days it's the time spent with a movie that counts. Would I rather spend an hour with UP IN SMOKE or do something else with the time?

1:47 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

I remember being less than awed by CULT OF THE COBRA. I was somehow expecting COBRA WOMAN, having seen enticing stills in a book, and instead of Technicolor exotica getting noirish doings around bowling alleys and such. Will revisit with a more open mind; have it in an old Universal five-movie pack. For a while Best Buy would have such items as exclusives, and I'd learned to scurry down on release dates.

I was all growed up when DVDs arrived, but I look back at the glory days as a slightly older bracket might recall the genuine Saturday matinees. Abbott and Costello in batches of eight; horrors grouped by star or monster; Hopalong Cassidy in bulk; and ... Yes! ... all the Rathbone-Bruce Sherlock Holmes movies. Plus whole serials and high-quality cartoon packages.

Programmers from major studios are rarely unwatchable. The craftsmanship is there, if arguably wasted, and vibe is usually different from drive-in fodder or television. Recently viewed a half dozen "Jungle Jim" programmers from Columbia. They're silly and loaded with stock footage, but somehow feel like real movies. Decidedly inferior, but real.

4:56 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9:34 PM  
Blogger William Ferry said...

Jean Negulesco was Warner's workhorse in the mid 40's. He's in the director's chair on seemingly every short! (Musical or otherwise). One and two reeleers made for good training, it's plain to see.

10:06 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

I'd rather watch a good "bad" movie than a bad "good" movie any old day.

10:27 AM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

Yes, I rented the Cobra movie just for Faith Domergue. She is one of the great beauties of yesteryear who never became a star (maybe she wasn't the greatest actress, but when did that stop anyone?). I've looked up several of my youthful (and adult) favs on IMDB to try to catch as many of their movies as I could. I've reluctantly given up learning about their lives and careers because they're often so so sad. Oh, Faith (and Hayley Mills and others of their ilk)--what could have been!

10:43 AM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

The very presence of Laurel and Hardy would have unbalanced 'Two Tickets To Broadway', distracting too much from the main plot (such as it is) and the musical numbers. They would have simply been too recognizable, too well-known to the audience as compared to the rest of the youthful, then-unknown, cast members. As it is, the old pair who did end up playing the parts L&H were slated to play cannot - and thus do not - overpower the rest of the cast by simply being more recognizable. L&H were too big to play in the background.
As it is, I found this film a pleasant way to pass some time.

12:09 PM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

A random thought that is not especially original to me: Lots of "B" pictures are so good because if the director could make it on time and on budget, he was left alone by the studio head(s). If no one was watching over your shoulder and second-guessing each decision, then you pretty much had free rein.

12:23 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

When I see Janet Leigh in those stills all I can think about is her discussion of Howard Hughes in the BBC "Hollywood: The Golden Years (will there ever be a better documentary about the studio era? No.) Interviewer: "Were you at all concerned when Howard Hughes bought your contract?" Leigh, immediately, wide-eyed, holding up her index finger:| "Oh, no--no no no! He didn't buy my contract! It was just three pictures!" Huge sigh of relief, clearly still alarmed by the thought of being under contract to Hughes: "Just three pictures..."

- Jeff M

12:43 PM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

Janet Leigh was no "sad dog".
According to Ms. Leigh's IMDB bio "Trivia" sub-page, she is in four films selected for listing in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress : The Naked Spur, Psycho, The Manchurian Candidate and Touch of Evil.
But I rather like her more in Holiday Affair, Two Tickets To Broadway, My Sister Eileen and The Vikings, and am rather more likely to re-watch those than the "heavy-duty" stuff listed in the Registry.
I think that maybe the Registry should take light entertainment more seriously.

9:57 AM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

Who is that with Eddie Sutherland? I have a pretty good idea but would be afraid to guess wrong.

10:45 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Louise Brooks.

2:34 PM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

Gee...I sorta guessed that but I never saw her looking so "cherce."

By the way, just finished George Sanders's semi-fictional, semi-nonfictional "Confessions of a Professional Cad," and have to say he was a much more likeable guy than he often pretended to be. He discusses Tyrone Power's heart attack on the set of SOLOMON AND SHEBA and it's as sad as you might expect. A buddy and I always go back to the reference books when we hear Power was only 44 years old. It seems impossible, given all his famous roles.

10:57 AM  
Blogger William Ferry said...

It's ironic that Power's career took off with LLOYD'S OF LONDON, and ended with SOLOMON AND SHEBA, and BOTH films featured duels with... George Sanders.

9:09 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer considers Louise Brooks:


Barry Paris, in his biography of Louise Brooks, identifies that picture of Louise and Eddie Sutherland as, “Eddie Sutherland and his slinky bride at the Famous Players-Lasky studio offices in Astoria, Long Island. 1926.”

Louise was making a picture with Dorothy Mackaill and Jack Mulhall at the Astoria Studios, “Just Another Blonde,” when she went up to Alfred Santell, the director, and said, “I’d like a little time off today. I want to get married. Sutherland, the young director and bon vivant, looks happy and relieved in the picture. He had just come back from the west coast, afraid that he was losing her. About that, he was correct. Louise was in the midst of a sudden and passionate affair with Buster Collier, Jr. on the “Just Another Blonde” production. Marriage, however, only postponed the inevitable. Much later, she acknowledged that she could never have been faithful to anyone.

The expression on her face is rather provocative, no less so than her arm dangling between Sutherland’s legs. You might describe her appearance as, “naughty…up to no good.” She has always fascinated me, though I’m sure that I have only the vaguest idea of what drove her. She was beautiful and a talented dancer, and if she wasn’t much as an actress, she brought a hot immediacy to her performances that transcended any technical limitations. All she seemed to want at any particular moment, however, was something fun or exciting or different; and she didn’t seem particularly concerned with what might happen the moment after. Her life until quite late was a series of improvisations.

That life seems to parallel Barbara Payton’s, also a beautiful actress with a similar appetite for excitement and maybe a little more for the drink and drugs that could enhance it. The essential difference, though, was that Barbara was all in for the moment, with intelligence and talent focused on squeezing as much fun from it as possible. With Louise, there was a part of herself that held back, an observer taking in the scene and reflecting upon what it could possibly mean. She also valued words for the way they could fix those observations in place or reveal layers of meaning that had eluded her in those hectic moments.

Barbara used herself up until there was only a pile of cooling ashes left. With Louise, there was a glowing coal that flared into a brighter flame. Her health was wrecked and her life would be short, but her essays and stories are magnificent. No history of Hollywood can be written without them, and if they sometimes reflect a perspective too idiosyncratic as to be entirely trusted, such also provides insights that reveal the real tinsel and, often, the flesh and blood of the people she worked with or saw amidst the flash.

As for the question about going back ninety years and trading places with Eddie Sutherland, I wouldn’t do it just for that—she already had enough moths circling about her bright, double-tongued flame—but to be there to watch her—to observe her as she observed this brave new world—yes, that would be reason enough.

10:57 AM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

That picture may be the hottest ever posted on this wonderful site.

I must reluctantly agree with D. Mercer that Miss Brooks' flame is best viewed from a safe distance. But one can fantasize can't one? That's what movie stars are for.

(Boy, am I NOT a robot!)

10:47 AM  

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