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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. 


Blogger Randy said...

Well, that's interesting. Old newspaper listings online don't show PEKING EXPRESS as playing on US television, though it did turn up on TV in Australia and Canada in 1965 and again in 1969. Some underlying legal issues, perhaps.

1:05 PM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

Or maybe they took a look at it.

2:39 PM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

Remaking old properties and reusing stock footage from the older films was a staple at Paramount. It reminds me of the Zane Grey series of westerns that were remade in the 30s reusing clips from the original films, most of them lost today. In the 40s and early 50s they did it with films from the 30s.

It's like they had to have a moviola on the set in order to film the new scenes in order to see the footage live in order to match the action.

11:08 AM  
Blogger rnigma said...

"Riding High," Capra's remake of his own "Broadway Bill," had plenty of stock footage from the earlier film, even reusing dialogue sequences.

I recall the original "Fugitive" TV series used stock shots of a train crash in its pilot and prologue; it was a French train with a "Chemin de Fer" sign on the carriage.

9:15 PM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

I've been watching Wallis-produced movies of late, and am impressed by the range of his output. This guy could put a package together, and even his commercial/artistic failures could be of interest - but it seems that only his better and best stuff is easily available.
But on the other hand, what of it? A producer doesn't leave quite the same fingerprints - at least, not ones so obvious - on the works that the creative hands fashioning the individual works do, so an "auteur" theory is usually difficult to put together when it comes to the producers of Wallis' era, at least for those who didn't wear two hats, like Hitchcock or Chaplin did. It also makes seeing the producer's "lesser works" less necessary for an aesthetic appreciation of the works.
On the other hand, viewing those "lesser works" of long-time film producers could well be instructive when it comes to appreciating the history of the commercial side of the movie business.

5:59 AM  
Blogger DBenson said...

I was starting a list of notable recycling of footage, sets, props, music, gags, scripts, etc., and it got out of hand. Suffice it to say that it reminds us how Hollywood was convinced its product was largely disposable and destined to be forgotten, and therefore nobody would notice.

Heck, serials would cheat on cliffhangers with the assumption kids wouldn't even remember last week.

Television changed that. Boomer kids had daily hours of old theatrical cartoons and Stooges shorts, plus weekly exposure to countless B flicks. We soon wised up to the concept of Cheap, although I was still flummoxed when the Stooges would mix familiar stuff with unfamiliar stuff. Was my preteen memory already going?

Lately some animation fans have expressed shock and disillusionment that Disney recycled animation in features. It comes as a shock because Disney never dumped its vault into syndication, so it's only fairly recently that one could watch "Snow White" and "Robin Hood" close enough together to notice Snow's dance with the dwarfs repurposed for Maid Marian and company.

2:46 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

"Don't draw what you can trace. Don't trace what you can paste."-comic artist Wally Wood.

Keeps the costs of money and time down. Essential in all industry.

4:07 PM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

Having watched "Sailor Beware", a Wallis-produced Martin & Lewis vehicle, just a few weeks ago, I just now noticed that "Peking Express" also stars Corinne Calvert, who in the M&L film plays herself. I recall wondering "Who is this woman?" as the M & L film played, as the script treats her as being already famous amongst M & L's Navy buddies for being a hot, sexy and yet frigid nightclub performer - and yet I had never heard of her before.
Seeing that she also starred in "Peking Express" I can't help but think Wallis had her under some contractual obligation and so was using her as I imagine producers must deal with the many actors they have under contract: as elements to be used in appropriate roles, as another "tool" in the producers' "tool kit of talent" that he can put to work in or on an appropriate project, with the hope that perhaps the performer(s) in front of the camera will "click" with the public and so create career momentum and some public demand to see more of those performers.

One of the great things about the internet is that one can with a few keystrokes and a little time find out more info on obscure performers than was ever possible to gain access to prior to the internet; it turns out Ms. Calvert though never becoming a "big star" has an interesting biography, even though she's been dead for forty years - this is truly a golden age for trivia.

7:07 AM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

As no George Clooney myself, I feel okay about saying that I never found Ms. Calvert to be either beautiful or sexy.

3:47 PM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

Last evening I pulled the next randomly-selected Hal Wallis-produced flick out of the bin for viewing: "Rope of Sand" - which turned out once again to feature Corinne Calvert, in a larger role than the one she had in "Sailor Beware"! That film itself was like a strange disguised remake of "Casablanca", so Ms. Calvert in this film reminded me of Ingrid Bergman from that much better movie.

It's odd though for me to see so much of a previously-unknown (to me, that is) actor in such a short period of time without intending to, especially as the actor in question has now been dead for decades.
So I now feel like I'm being haunted by somebody I never knew, which is an entirely unanticipated outcome of my quest to view those Hal Wallis movies which have come into my possession.

7:22 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

Calvert was cut from the same cloth as Denise Darcel.

7:44 AM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

Sorry...that should be CALVET.

We robots can't spell.

10:22 AM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

Hey you're right; but I trust there's been no confusion as to whom we are discussing. "Calvert" sounds better to my ear if it's pronounced as the French would do - I simply don't know how French people would pronounce "Calvet". I rather prefer her original surname "Dibos" - though again that sounds better in French, too.

11:57 AM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

Reflecting on Ms. Calvet's early career, I think that the post-WW2 American audience was not in the mood for a new Eurobabe along the lines of a Garbo, or Dietrich or even a Bergman - servicemen recently back from the war and overseas military service would have felt odd (especially if they had been unfaithful while overseas) watching a sexy foreign women while at the movies with their American girlfriend or wife in the next seat; and I can't help but think that insecure American girlfriends and wives wouldn't want to be reminded of what may have happened while their boyfriends and husbands were overseas, as seeing a sexy foreign woman up on the screen would have done.
I've heard it said that women have a veto over what they will go to see with their husbands and boyfriends, and have myself experienced such; going to watch a sexy French woman on the big screen while their guy was just back from service overseas in France without them having been along might not have been their idea of a good evening's entertainment.
It wasn't until ten or fifteen years after that war that sexy Eurobabes - like Bardot or Loren - were able to make a "big splash", while during the 1950s the sexy actresses in the movies were Americans - like Monroe or Wyman, or actors who seemed American, like Audrey Hepburn.

2:07 AM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

Thought I'd continue my viewing of Wallis-produced features by screening "My Friend Irma Goes West", partly because Ms. Calvet's name was listed in the credits, and partly because of its poster art, which emphasized the female members of the cast in a way the other posters the box set of Martin-Lewis features displayed didn't - the presence of attractive females can sometimes serve to make even the lowest of these low-brow comedies somewhat bearable, at least for me.
Once the film started, I was very happy to realize that this wasn't the "old-time Western spoof" that I had thought it would be, and was in fact little surprised to find that it's a movie partly set in Las Vegas, thus joining the ranks of "Casino", "Leaving Las Vegas", "Showgirls" and all those other features set in that desert city. This must have been one of the earlier depictions of post-WW 2 Vegas in features, although I really don't know enough to be able to say that with any certainty. One of the earliest I've seen, anyway.
I also became more impressed by Ms. Calvet's abilities as a performer, not least because of the relaxed way she held and otherwise interacted with the chimpanzee especially as those things have been known to bite people's faces off; in fact, her performance of her role in this film now almost plays like a weird bit of self-parody, almost like a self-parody of a public image that had not yet even developed considering that this was her first appearance.
From this performance, I deduce that Ms. Calvet was a performer with some self-insight and intelligence about what she was doing.

11:48 AM  
Blogger Lou Lumenick said...

"Peking Express'' was part of a batch of '50s black and white Paramounts like MY SON JOHN and THAT'S MY BOY, that premiered on ABC in 1974. Listings show US TV debut on July 1 of that year on "The ABC Sunday Night Movie.'' Unlike the others, it does not appear to have been repeated, and there are no listings for syndicated showings or on cable.

3:59 PM  

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