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Monday, November 29, 2021

Warner Cracks Whip ... Audience Lashed


Whiplash (1948) Is Postwar Treading of Warner Water

Boxer who also paints (as in art) Dane Clark is caught in net of tempting Alexis Smith and crook promoter Zachery Scott. This might have been serviceable melodrama ten or even five years before. Now it would suffer beside the better Body and Soul, an independent John Garfield did in order to get away from things like Whiplash at former address Warners, his bust-out thanks to the DeHavilland decision. Dane Clark served hash of what Garfield and Bogart cooked fresher before such yarns got tired blood. Still, it's WB with stock folk always welcome and customary tempo to relieve over-familiarity of situations. Variety called Whiplash "vintage prizefight fare," which wasn't complementary, reviewers for the trade having sat through endless reprise of bouts since Warner fighters were first gloved. Whiplash had been completed in June 1947, held from release as were others, "a huge backlog" the result. Such was accumulation that the studio shut down altogether for the month of December 1949 as distribution began working through stored-up titles.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Family Saga Gone Sour

Sweepings (1933) Teaches Tired Lesson That The Rich Don't Have It So Good

Lionel Barrymore builds a department store empire, but has nothing other than worthless kids to leave it to.  Depressioners understood that spawn of the rich was good for nothing, this a price the rich must pay for being rich. Robber barons losing out on life essentials was balm to have-nots. Wives, particularly second and trophy ones, were invariably faithless, steadfast mates from the climb up having been discarded once the tycoon made his pile. Precode could lay blame on the system, capitalism itself a breeder of decay within families. Spencer Tracy, Paul Muni, and Edward G. Robinson reaped bitter harvest of accumulating too much, while those who had excess fun at it, like a Warren William, got final reel death for a pay-off. All this was by way of telling viewers that they were better off with the little they had. Just enough dimes for movie tickets should be enough to fulfill most of life’s hope. To grab for more was to invite disaster, the American dream of wealth often as not a nightmare.

Sweepings was part of RKO’s 1932-33 season supervised by David Selznick. He’d been forthright in condemning RKO product, most of it flung out in bulk and indiscriminate as to quality. These had been overseen by William LeBaron, his policies an escort to receivership for the company. Motion pictures were as much piece goods to LeBaron, whose greater responsibility as he saw it was to service RKO's many affiliated theatres. Selznick thought of film in terms of individual achievement and felt that fewer, and better, would rescue the company. He was right to extent of ones he personally oversaw: Little Women, What Price Hollywood?, Topaze. Then there was King Kong, which Selznick enabled and supported through internal challenges to its concept and budget. His most valued relationships with co-workers were born at RKO; George Cukor became an oft-associate after the two he directed under DOS auspices, and John Cromwell would report often to the later and independent Selznick shop thanks to work done on Sweepings. The film can be had on Warner Archive DVD.

Monday, November 15, 2021

Paramount-Wallis Update An Oldie

Peking Express (1951) Is Shanghai Express Done Over

Very obscure among Hal Wallis productions for Paramount release, this did not have a 60's network TV run as did most of his others, and I couldn't find listings for it among syndication packages. Did Peking Express go missing until Amazon began streaming it? New to me on seeing PK was fact that Wallis had merely remade Shanghai Express and used footage from the 1932 release directed by Josef Von Sternberg. A variety of trains turn up in Peking Express, which would be alright except that they're supposed to be the same train. This was a sort of melodrama folks could stay home and watch free on their tubes. Did Wallis do Peking Express mainly to economize and keep overhead-generating staff busy?

There is updating of the yarn to reflect political change since 1932 but bumps otherwise play out the same. Sold as "The First American Feature Set Inside Communist China," publicity ignored mention of
Peking's 1932 origin, and seized what opportunity there was to air democracy vs. totalitarian debate, a coat of varnish to obscure long beard of narrative. Corinne Calvet has the Marlene Dietrich part and Joseph Cotten does Clive Brook. Distinctly Anglo Marvin Miller attempts the Warner Oland warlord with paste-on slant to eyes, all mighty tired. I was surprised at class producer Wallis relying so on stock footage and reheated dialogue. There's attempt at action to buttress Calvet/Cotten romance, if limited to climactic chasing where cast membership fires away at process screens. William Dieterle directs after surface style of Sternberg, and there's a dynamic Dimitri Tiomkin score. Worth seeing for curiosity's satisfaction and strike-off of a rarity. 

Monday, November 08, 2021

Dear Ruth Graduates to Dear Wife


A Paramount Idea of Family Comedy

Push that panic button, here comes another irrepressible 40's teen! Households seemed overrun with them, Edward Arnold often a beleaguered Dad undergoing embarrassment brought on by precocious offspring. He'd spawn Virginia Weidler in The Youngest Profession (1944), Joyce Reynolds in Janie, and later Joan Leslie in the sequel Janie Gets Married, then, and most repeatedly, Mona Freeman for a series of domestic comedies utterly forgotten today, Dear Ruth (1947), Dear Wife (1950), and Dear Brat (1951). Two thirds of the latters are, at least were, accessible on Amazon streaming, Dear Wife and Dear Brat, both owned by Paramount. Dear Ruth went with the 1958 dump of pre-49 Paras to MCA, and has been out of circulation for years.

Joan Caulfield and William Holden were centered in the first two, but did not participate in the third. Edward Arnold and Mary Philips (a former Bogart wife) appeared as parents in all three, Mona Freeman the ongoing cause of misunderstanding and family disaster. She's in fact worse than a "brat"… today you'd be advised to put her on Ritalin and have done with the problem. Holden did these at point of gun that was his Paramount contract, Dear Wife bringing down curtain on his "Smiling Jim" ordeal for the studio, his next a salvation that was Sunset Boulevard. Fun comes of swipes at local politics, obnoxious radio programming, and what'll kids think of next before they took up rock and roll and became a real problem for grown-ups. The Wilkins family isn't rich, but they have a live-in maid, and they always dress for dinner. Pain in the rear that daughter is, she's never insolent or surly with Mom or Dad, movies maintaining as of 1950 that parents and child could reason together. That would end with a thud before long.

Monday, November 01, 2021

Economy Size Crosby

 Mr. Music (1950) To Keep a Star Franchise Going

Paramount was economizing, and how. The war boom was past, and time had come to tighten belts. Para prexy Barney Balaban sent commandments from New York: $1.5 million the limit for feature budgets. 1948 initiated the policy, enforced by production head, and known penny-pincher, Henry Ginsberg. Notable directors Frank Capra, William Wyler, and Leo McCarey had lately signed on and were incensed. How could you make passable pics with so little money? Cecil B. DeMille was exempt for fronting his spectaculars over and above the $1.5 Paramount kicked in, loaning banks good for balance and assuring C.B.'s half-ownership of negatives. Samson and Delilah was done on these terms and stood out like a rose among release schedule thorns for a 1949-50 season.

Paramount hosted sales delegates at a 3/49 gather to cheerlead upcoming product, of which Mr. Music was inked for September start. Bing Crosby addressed the crowd via phone hookup from Frisco and made "an eloquent (twenty-minute) plea for all-out cooperation between studio workers, production execs, and sales representatives," most of whom were en masse to lend eye and ear. A studio party followed at the commissary to which 350 attended, including whatever Paramount stars were within town limits. Such conclaves were crucial and attendance was compulsory. It was understood that Crosby was Number One among Para personalities, but that wouldn't loosen the purse for Mr. Music, ultimately finished at negative cost of $1.7 million, an overage, but no worse than those for Copper Canyon ($1.7) and Let's Dance ($2.10 and being done concurrently). Balaban's $1.5 ceiling was more hope than realization, and would be raised in accordance with realities to $1.75 million by December 1949, optimism maintained thanks to lowering of studio overhead from 32% of a year before to 27% in 1949.

Mr. Music
had nearly a year's wait before release. In ahead for April 1950 was Riding High, starring Bing Crosby and directed by Frank Capra. Then there was a major reissue of Going My Way set for July 4 launch, with new advertising accessories and circulation through late summer and fall. Paramount had to guard against overexposure of Crosby just as later was case with Elvis Presley. Still, Bing's twentieth anniversary "as a star" was just ahead, said Variety, and toward celebration of that, Paramount teamed with CBS and Decca, "Crosby's home base network and waxery," with bally keyed to Mr. Music, the star's forty-second picture and set to open 12/20/49 in New York. "Bingsday" was recognized via radio specials, disc promotions, and covering of Mr. Music tunes by other artists including Frank Sinatra, Vic Damone, and Perry Como.

reviewed Mr. Music well ahead of release in August 1950. "Cliché elements" were noted, but might have been expected. It was the songs that drew closer evaluation, ones by Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen getting an appreciative nod though lacking "at-first catchy quality." Crosby's relaxed style had over time cornered him into playing idlers, thus first halves spent just waking his characters up, in this case a songwriter who'd rather play golf than compose. There's edge to Crosby here when others get too close. Charles Coburn and love interest Nancy Olson try getting him off the duff to at-times hostile response, Bing's Broadwayite an almost forerunner to his Frank Elgin in The Country Girl. Mr. Music was reprise of Accent On Youth, which was May-December themed but now less an issue between Crosby and Nancy Olson. He was 46 to her 21 when Mr. Music was made, and maybe age difference registers not so much thanks to Olson seeming older than ingénues she'd play, thus congenial with comparative old-timers like Bing.
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