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

Monday, October 25, 2021

Office Boy-Toy in Kay Clutches

Kay Francis Precode-Declares Man Wanted (1932)

Kay Francis teed off her Warners contract with this, but new addressing came with a price, uproar a result of WB hiring her away from Paramount, along with fellow stalwart William Powell. Studios publicly called star raids bad cricket, slave trading best handled in orderly fashion, said moguls among themselves. The Warners being industry bad boys made their actions all the more an affront. Hadn't they disrupted routine enough by jump-starting talkies and forcing a whole town to retrofit? Accusation flew in the trades as others got in the game. Darryl Zanuck of start-up Twentieth-Century Pictures gave Warners a taste of their own medicine by grabbing off George Arliss after WB carelessly let his contract expire without renewal terms in place. Such was grim game of star wrangling, and occasional rustling. 

Man Wanted
was an improvement on Kay Francis merchandise sold by Paramount, being quicker-to-points than recent ones fueled on molasses. 62 minutes was time enough to reach foregone conclusion of editorix (is there such a word?) Kay hiring David Manners for a secretary, then getting "that way" about him amidst deco backdrop and cocktails shaking. Precode was noteworthy for letting adults behave like adults, thus Francis here in more-or-less open marriage with likeable layabout Kenneth Thomson, who's happily not tendered as the heavy just for finding someone he likes better, doing us and Kay a favor by easing way for her to hook with Manners. A decades-later pair of Francis bios assured immortality with confirm of offscreen habits surpassing loose life she led in precodes (those diaries!). Man Wanted looks luminous on TCM in HD, and there is a DVD.

Monday, October 18, 2021

A Mystery That Doesn't Cheat and Pays Off


Green For Danger (1947) is Who Done It For The Ages

Yank trades sure kept UK pics on the grill over what reads like hostile environment for imports, showmen outside art housing egging on discontent with outsider product flopping within our walls. Even most gracious Brit visitors got the ice, as here when Variety damned Green For Danger with faintest praise: "Very acceptable mystery film but hardly one that warrants giving Hollywood back to the Indians," cute at expense of what I'd call a masterpiece of whodunits, foreign or domestic. You know a mystery works when you're immersed enough in the set-up to forget there's going to be (has to be) murder within a next reel, this by way of saying the thing works well outside genre convention. Here is occasion where we really can defy guest viewers to guess the killer. Credit for that goes to writing/directing (and co-producer) Sidney Gilliat, whose name on UK credits make any a must to watch, his wit having enhanced The Lady Vanishes, Night Train To Munich, numerous others.

I've seen Green For Danger numerous times and still am surprised by the reveal. Follow closely and rewards are great, most memorably the great Alastair Sim as oddball Inspector Cockrell, a fabulous creation you could wish upon a series of thrillers over decades to follow, but regrettably this was a one and only case for Cockrell, though Sim would approximate him elsewhere. The actor, his performance, and Green For Danger itself were of such unconventional type as to put columnists to search of fresh accolades. Highest praise for the film would come from outside trade establishment like Variety protecting borders. Rave reviewing compared Green For Danger to The Thin Man and the best of Sherlock Holmes. Syndicated Billy Rose wrote that "it makes Hollywood's latest shoot-'em-ups look like pillow fights in a girl's dormitory," and called Alastair Sim a "civilized funnyman."

In fact, Sim's acerbic Cockrell was funny to extent of one's appetite for blackest of humor and character capacity to switch suddenly from apparent buffoon to sly and efficient investigator. Cockrell would see modern tribute in the person of Columbo and other sleuths habitually underestimated. Green For Danger was US-handled by Eagle-Lion, which got J. Arthur Rank leavings after Universal creamed best of his for distribution (E-L dealt twelve from Rank during 1948). Initial dates were LA saturated as second feature to E-L's Repeat Performance, while New York play at the Winter Garden yielded $16K over a first four days, unusually good for an import minus marquee lure.

What lit Gotham was rave notices from critics previewed by Eagle-Lion, the latter knowing it had strong merchandise to ride reviewer wave toward further word-of-mouth from satisfied patrons. A good enough picture could catch on thus where newspapers and radio guided movie choices, "smart" shows like Green For Danger a hook for those seeking something out of the ordinary. Airwave support was a big help, WOR running week-long contests tied to Green For Danger and conducting interviews with visiting star Leo Genn. Eagle-Lion had itself an urban hit if not one that would click in the heartland. As distribution rights reverted back to J. Arthur Rank, Green For Danger and others of his would be handled by Allied Films, Inc. for 1951 reissue. TV soon got the leavings, Green For Danger, like others of Rank origin, an early arrival to home consumption. Criterion offers a splendid DVD, and TCM has played Green For Danger occasionally in HD.

Monday, October 11, 2021

The Happy Years Are Here Again

The Happy Years Are Here Again

Greenbriar today revisits a column from way back in 2007 that celebrated a time even further back from early in the twentieth century when boy's schooling was something it never would be again. 2007 text is updated with yellow-highlighted comments in part result of seeing The Happy Years again recently, a wedding of GPS old and new to also appreciate reader input from '07 that, as always, enhanced whatever I had to say with fresh info and insights. Thanks much to you readers for that.  Sometimes a good picture can be jinxed by a campaign that refuses to jell --- then there are those left at the starting post as sales personnel devote themselves to more promising stock. Everything fell apart for The Happy Years from the moment it was trade-shown on May 24, 1950. MGM had unveiled Annie Get Your Gun to showmen the day before, excitement building too for Father Of The Bride. These were leviathans that would roll over The Happy Years, and all these years later, it’s still on the canvas. We can only guess what went wrong, though trade scribes hinted at the problem. Ads covered with type and cluttered posters, said The Manager’s Round Table section of The Motion Picture Herald --- very little illustration, so you have to read to get the point. One-sheets were uninspired, as shown here, and limited to headshots of an unpresupposing cast. What exactly was Metro selling? No one seemed to get a handle on how to exploit The Happy Years. It was based on "beloved" stories that had run in The Saturday Evening Post over the last eleven years, but was Post reader familiarity enough to get back $1.3 million spent on a Technicolor period piece? These were hard enough to merchandise with stars aboard (witness The Tall Target), so how to excite patrons over a boy’s prep school at the turn of the century? The Happy Years headed double bills with another MGM forfeit, Mystery Street (loss --- $277,000). This is a grand picture and deserved better results, said one manager concluding his dispirited run of The Happy Years. Worthy shows had been dumped before and would be again, east coast Leow's sales having shrunk from a job too challenging for customary comfort. A Father Of The Bride or Annie Get Your Gun, let alone King Solomon's Mines, virtually sold themselves and saw considerable grosses, while The Happy Years withered in the heat of summer playoff to finish with an egregious $680,000 in domestic rentals, plus $179,000 foreign. Fact to face was a public indifferent to mirror upon days past that was The Happy Years, for though it dealt in exploits of adolescence, these were not adolescents to reflect experience of teens attending movies in 1950, latter by then, and by far, the dominant age group buying tickets. Let their needs be met by A Date With Judy, or something of like, current-set, time. A million-dollar loss was recorded for The Happy Years, and there would be no re-issues, other than a few bookings among MGM's Children’s Matinee series of the early seventies where it was re-titled The Adventures Of Young Dink Stover. Those who cared might have seen The Happy Years previously on television, as it had gone into syndication for Fall 1964 with 39 other post-48 Metros. The (very) few prints in circulation among collectors were either heisted from Films, Inc. or some TV station. I’ve not yet met anyone who didn’t like this picture. Occasionally there are sightings on TCM, but otherwise The Happy Years is orphaned. There’s never been a video release. Warner Archive adopted The Happy Years in 2010, a nice transfer. Amazon has it for $9.99, half what I gladly paid eleven years ago. I’ve watched interviews with Dean Stockwell in hopes it would be mentioned, more lately a sit-down he did with TCM accessible on You Tube, a good interview despite The Happy Years not coming up over its forty minute length.  

My father attended a boy’s school very much like Lawrenceville, the setting of The Happy Years. He particularly enjoyed the picture when we saw it on the old SFM Holiday Network presentation around 1981, but is there anyone left who would understand, even remotely, the student’s life he identified with? This was truly a movie for men who’d come of age near the turn of the (past) century. No one born since could comprehend, nor dramatize, that world so well. Producer Carey Wilson, born 1889, was enamoured of the project, having been a faithful reader of the Lawrenceville stories. Chances are he attended a place very much like it. Director William Wellman had been an outstanding athlete in high school, though it’s been suggested he never finished. He was born in 1896. These men brought old-world sensibility to The Happy Years. Both were fascinated by the culture of a boy’s academy. I’ve not experienced a place such as Lawrenceville, but details seem authentic. I’d like to think my father’s sojourn at the McCallie School in Chattanooga, Tennessee was similar. He boarded there in the late 1910's. The night we watched The Happy Years, he surprised me by turning to say at the end, and meaningfully, "Now that was a good picture," a reaction no show had gotten from him in my memory. Maybe his own experience in The Happy Years milieu roused memory of its larger truths. It took men of a certain age to appreciate crucial distinction between gerunds and gerundives. I have been reading a compilation of letters that Raymond Chandler sent to various publishers, fellow authors, readers, etc. "Hard-boiled" Chandler spent formative school years in England, where he received classical instruction in Greek and Latin. He took great pride later for having had what he regarded as proper education, crediting this for skills doing fiction. I took Latin in high school, made a muck of it, a fact regretted the more as traditional education seems increasingly imperiled. Is Latin taught anymore ... anywhere ... let alone Greek? Distinction between gerunds and gerundives seemed odd to a point of being comical in the late 60's when I first saw The Happy Years and was failing Latin. More and more I realize, however, that the joke was on me, Raymond Chandler a useful reminder of that fact. Ever wish you could go back and re-do school the right way? I dare say my second chance might well begin with a Latin course, one taken for serious this time.  

Youthful roles for Dean Stockwell, Darryl Hickman, and Scotty Beckett were nearly exhausted when they did The Happy Years. No longer boys in a cute sense, they were deep into adolescence and complications that implied. Scotty had been arrested the year before for driving drunk. By the time The Happy Years went into production, he was twenty years old and married. The easy charm he projects in the movie was something he had plenty of in real life. It got him (barely) out of tough scrapes over a tumultuous adulthood until his luck ran out with a probable suicide (his third attempt) in 1968. Dean Stockwell was younger --- thirteen at the time The Happy Years was shot. This was his peak period, but late in the post-war day for child players to enter the game. He had the distinction of appearing in two classics released within weeks of each other --- Stars In My Crown and The Happy Years, but kid pictures of the kind MGM routinely turned out during the thirties and forties were disappearing fast, and Stockwell would only have a couple left before withdrawing for several years to wait out puberty. Darryl Hickman was gangly and well past boy parts at eighteen, had been in movies since If I Were King in 1938. He was on a TCM child star panel some years back and gave a good account of himself. I found it hard to believe someone so youthful in appearance and attitude could be seventy-five as of 2006, and is ninety today. He wrote a book that has received praise. 

Variety suggested trims. The Happy Years was leisurely and, some said, overlong. It is relaxed as to pacing, but wasn’t life itself so in vanished days depicted? I’d not vote to remove a moment of these 110 minutes. Life as idyllic in a final decade of the nineteenth century had great currency among those who wrote from point of view of a twentieth. Not many authors who latterly made names for themselves failed to unpack precious memories accumulated during youth. Even a caustic observer like H.L. Mencken let guard down to bask in joy that was his boyhood past in Baltimore. Books written in a first half of the twentieth century to meander in spent days of the nineteenth could make up a genre in themselves. Patriarch of Happy Years choice Leon Ames is on hand, his a comforting presence as is the familiar Meet Me In St. Louis house (even against a beach set matte painting). These link The Happy Years with nostalgia exercises done previous by Metro. The St. Louis house itself became a touchstone for memories kept from movies held close, a reflection of family life idealized, if not fancifully beyond what most of artists knew, or could ever know. Not a few found comfort that was missing from their lives otherwise, "escape" a best and sometimes most urgent reason for attending. Films from the Classic Era understood this need, and ministered to it. Red Skelton’s Excuse My Dust of the following year would utilize the same standing sets, much of furniture seen in The Happy Years used again here.  Celebration of times past prevailed also at Fox with Cheaper By The Dozen, and Warner’s Booth Tarkington stories accommodated Doris Day’s formula for On Moonlight Bay and By The Light Of The Silvery Moon. These revolved around similar period of American history. There must have been a fifties consensus that life in the nineties was simpler (if not preferable). Will we look back on any decade of the twentieth century with as much nostalgia? For a while, it seemed the sixties would reclaim us. American Graffiti ushered in 70's longing for drive-ins and sock hops, but that era seems now like ancient history. Why would movies embrace the nineteenth century again? Might as well revisit lives of the pharaohs , and that is all a more reason to treasure The Happy Years. We are not going to get pictures the likes of this again. People who could mount them are gone and they did not leave instructions behind.

Monday, October 04, 2021

Another Crowded 30's Bill

Where The Screen Becomes A Mirror For Kansas City Watchers

How dependent were Silly Symphonies on Mickey Mouse? The latter "presented" each in main titles, as if he'd turn up in the cartoon itself. Father Noah's Ark had Technicolor plus Disney progress brought to bear (each Symphony advanced from the one before), but there was no Mickey in these. The mouse was insurance Disney took up for all of product branding. Mickey was the face on whatever bore Disney tag through years the mouse was America's most popular cartoon character. Betty Boop was a challenger, Popeye in fact unseated him, then in-house Donald Duck took a lead. For mid-1933, however, a Mickey image on ads was close as showmen got to guaranteed attendance. The Loew's Midland was a four million dollar palace built in Kansas City that seated over 3500 patrons. They got something more on this occasion than a feature with shorts. Many in fact saw themselves and neighbors in Paseo High Scholl graduation footage which was part of the theatre's customized newsreel (Paseo still thrives as an Academy Of Fine and Performing Arts). There were also highlights of the "Riverside Races," Riverside a community located just north of Kansas City. Newsreels at a venue like the Loew's Midland were very much about serving local interests. Who wouldn't attend a program where you might be the star on screen, even if glimpsed but briefly? The "Dempsey-Schmeling-Baer" triad refers to a June 8, 1933 event where Jack Dempsey promoted the heavyweight showdown between Max Schmeling and Max Baer. Add to this a Pete Smith and one of the better Todd-Pitts comedies, The Bargain Of The Century, a title which would as aptly apply to the Loew's Midland overall program that June 1933 day.
  • 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