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Saturday, April 29, 2023

Herewith a New Series ...

Ads and Oddities #1

Ads and Oddities
proposes to be a gather place for what comes of closet cleans, peruse through stacks of kept images, dig among ancient advertising, whatever might fascinate and delight. Expect much unexpected in this and future entries.

KING SOLOMON’S MINES (1950) --- Pleasing announcement from Warner Archive is King Solomon’s Mines coming on Blu-Ray, sourced we are told from three-strip camera elements of Technicolor as rendered on African location in 1950. Like Ivanhoe of last year’s disc release, Solomon has gone long as less than what it could ideally be, news of Blu among most exciting to come so far in 2023. Above pen-ink rendering of the Liberty’s front is handiwork of noted artist Bradley F. Davis, who here surpassed himself for depicting North Wilkesboro “Showplace of Hits” on Christmas Day, 1950, King Solomon’s Mines fruit of owner Ivan Anderson’s close and ongoing relationship with Metro and oft-early recipient of their best output. In fact, we got King Solomon’s Mines as part of holiday rollout after New York November play which was exclusive as on “pre-release" terms. Davis art went out in 1985 as my Christmas card, first response from a friend who reported being at the Liberty on 12/25/50 opening day, at age ten. Screen spectacle sometimes spread outward to streets where all knew specialness of an attraction and viewed same as holiday happening equal to Santa touching down. Re Liberty and what made it ideal small town showcase, observe what artist Davis did with that same front in 1956 when Blackboard Jungle showed up, an attraction to prove even bigger than King Solomon’s Mines, if produced at a fraction of Solomon’s cost. Davis spent childhood at the Liberty, jumps ahead of me for seeing House on Haunted Hill there on first-run, him telling it in guise of “Brickadoodle” at Greenbriar circa 2019. He and I spent many a Saturday at the Liberty seeing likes of Rasputin, the Mad Monk, For a Few Dollars More, The Devil's Bride, too many to count. Bravo to Brick as great visual recorder of the Liberty in its showgoing prime.

HOLLYWOOD CAVALCADE (1939) --- Hollywood tells its own history, a first as others kept filmland fables within time perimeters to serve A,B, then C, narrative. Hollywood Cavalcade goes from teens to invention of talk via fictional Don Ameche, pioneer after Sennett with dash of Griffith, and Alice Faye, Keystonish girl who'll season via suffer for love and dramatic art. Books told how movies came to be and eventually prosper, Terry Ramsaye’s most readable of them. Hollywood Cavalcade hews to model that was Alexander’s Ragtime Band, major Fox success of a previous year. Having seen latter could save effort watching this, for bumps are same, along with cast, Alexander’s Faye marrying Ameche because she can’t have Tyrone Power, then for Cavalcade wed to Alan Curtis because Ameche won’t be bothered. Thus slags a second half, fun of Hollywood Cavalcade spent by perky leads living epoch when slapstick was king, latter simulated so 1939 could see what joy they had been missing. Selling of Hollywood Cavalcade was built round knockabout, as who wasn’t game for chases and pie fighting done again, even if by comics with no past relation to custard like Buster Keaton, him around eternity enough to make pies a likelihood from his past. Hollywood Cavalcade runs gamut neither fish nor fowl, promise of comedy nulled by rise then fall for Ameche, Faye not invited to sing as most then would expect. One of “1001 Yesterdays” is evoked by Al Jolson, playing himself in The Jazz Singer, not Fox’s property so Al is obliged to fake it. What sustains is the slapstick, lovingly applied by highlights director Malcolm St. Clair, still around from silent days and enjoying we hope, along with Keystone veterans, this late stroll down Memory Lane. Ad shown was back cover of LIFE magazine for October 9, 1939. You could frame it and fool lookers to think it a fine art print, so good was reproduction in lavish LIFE at a circulation peak.

THE BLACKHAWK LIBRARY IN OUR LIBRARY --- Were there such thing as a Blackhawk collectible, this bookmark would surely be it. By some miracle, our public library purchased a collection of the company's 8mm reels for circulation among North Wilkesboro populace. Year was 1970, point by which but a handful of Blackhawk subjects had come into my hands, nothing like dazzling variety suddenly within walk distance of home. Most Chaplins were here, also Laurel/Hardy, Langdon, Keaton, what little of Lloyd BH offered. Given no notice such windfall might come, these were like miracles raining from sky. Imagine turning corner from Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed at the Liberty to then borrow 1914’s Caught in a Cabaret … heady stuff of dreams. Brick Davis of above art immortality could tell you plenty of seismic effect our library acquisition had, being opportunity as well to see Griffith Biographs, Doug Fairbanks in an abbreviated Mr. Robinson Crusoe, so much more I had not yet worked up to as a private collector. The library’s inventory did not sit on shelves. You had to ask to see the selection. How did such Nirvana come to be? I envisioned a Blackhawk rep walking in one day with his sample case to close the earth-shaking sale. Had I but been there to greet him! Found out later that other North Carolina libraries had a similar Blackhawk arrangement. In fact, the deal was done in Raleigh and partner branches were told to expect shipment of the narrow celluloid. Imagine initial befuddlement at Ben Turpin comedies coming through otherwise staid doors. For myself it was like an instant collection with easy access and far better than what I could ever hope to accumulate. So what finally became of our local archive? A young collector I knew in the early nineties fell heir to a by-now tattered lot, the library having long since gone over to video cassettes and happy to dispose of a now bewhiskered format.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Canon Fire #4

Among the One-Hundred: Now, Voyager (1942)

Knew a spinster secretary during the seventies who treasured her copy of Now, Voyager by Olive Higgins Prouty, a writer who understood women beat-down and unfulfilled. Did Bette Davis too? She got closest to her public with Now, Voyager, living their lives it seemed, slaying a dragon mother not few of fans had to cope with at home. Mary read Now, Voyager numerous times between 1941 (its publication date) and years I knew her, lived alone, met a tragic end. She and I got along because we both liked the movie, her since it was new, me from watching Channel 36 out of Charlotte. The seventies was glorious share of earthly time with not only classic films but those who knew first-hand an era I sought closeness to, Now, Voyager still a live entity and not yet quaint artifact it later became. Frank Deal was Channel 8/High Point’s host for prime time “Superstars Movie,” his weatherman duty shared with Sunday night unspool of pre-49 Warners that WGHP had lately bought. Frank was forty-eight, old enough in 1974 to remember how fine these features were. He showed Now, Voyager, and though there were necessary cuts, spoke voluble to values yet intact. There was a 1973 record album from RCA to celebrate Now, Voyager and others of Max Steiner lineage. Safe to say I was the only sophomore on my dorm hall playing it. There was bond had with women instructors over Now, Voyager, as several saw and cherished it from long before (long? It had only been thirty years, a period that to me seemed several lifetimes). Nice to grow up surrounded by living links with movies I came to love.

What of now? Following for Now, Voyager is less, but fervent, proof at You Tube where latter-day love persists, if of fan rather than analytic sort. Which to prefer? Give me fans where enthused to degree of “Fave Film Fashion,” moderator Amanda Hallay high on Voyager wardrobe and dedicating her segment “to my friend Norman and his Mum.” Most exuberant of Web appreciators is Steve Hayes, calling himself “The Tired Old Queen at the Movies,” though there’s nothing tired about Steve’s enthusiasm for Now, Voyager and others of classic bent he chooses to review. He’s funny, outlandish, and insightful, plus does neat voice impressions. Folk like Steve are a gift to You Tube. So do modern watchers tend toward mocking Now, Voyager? Not from what I see. Many wish modern films could follow its example. First to performance style … does Bette sustain? She said to Dick Cavett that stars should be bigger than life, that a “little” acting is what we pay to see, Davis herself registering first, then Voyager’s Charlotte Vale, but would audiences have wanted her consumed by the characterization? It need not come to choice between an actress and her part, for Davis like most of greats tendered both, a style largely gone now, but does loss of strong personas spell progress? I admire players who go full immersive, late examples Daniel Day-Lewis or Christian Bale, latter of this-week-seen Ford vs. Ferrari. Bale shed weight to wraith-point for another role, some thinking he doomed himself, but maybe this was figured of Bette Davis when she death marched for Of Human Bondage in 1934. Day-Lewis and Bale, plus others, see acting in terms of complete transform, a generation of Lon Chaney Seniors. Who knows but that BD lost herself 100% in Bunny O’Hare?

Look to You Tube for interviews w/ Bette Davis and/or Paul Henried as they reminisce about Now, Voyager. There’s bittersweetness looking back at wretched quality clips little sharper than 8mm. Davis/Henried were still game, latter doing his cigarette gag for youth amused by its application to love scenes in Now, Voyager, hosts and voiceovers referring to “the old tearjerker” as if yes, we’ve come far from there. Now, Voyager was from mid-fifties the stuff of late, late shows, a somnambulist’s retreat. It is but faint exaggeration to call it and others of similar age lost from date of initial release (Voyager never had a major reissue), 117-minutes ripe for abuse from TV edits till digital and uninterrupted broadcast came to belated rescue and brought us closer to values Now, Voyager always had. Essence was never romance Charlotte has with “Jerry Durrance” (Henried), but intense conflict engaged with Mother Vale as essayed by Gladys Cooper. Here was where Now, Voyager hit closest to homes of distaff patronage who felt unloved by parents that, as Charlotte accuses, “didn’t want me to be born.” Such corrosive truths had barely if ever been explored by mainstream film. Fan-mail to Davis revealed family scabs Now, Voyager picked, women by hundreds beset by varied Mrs. Vales. Now, Voyager was and remains property of women who identified intensely with Charlotte, and by extension, Bette Davis. It would be called a biggest grosser for her. A Stolen Life was actually that, though Now, Voyager did take biggest profits of any Davis at WB.

Charlotte’s case is one we are assured can be “fixed.” She has a nervous breakdown as opposed to a chemical problem that would require medication. A month to find herself, gain confidence, and Charlotte is good to go. Davis plays it uncertain however, so even after glamour treatment, Charlotte still must confront myriad of insecurities, including a mother formidable as ever and not readily overcome. Cooper as Mrs. Vale never softens, won’t compromise with the daughter she seems outwardly to despise, in fact saves worst vitriol for a final showdown, this to acknowledge that lifelong family conflict never resolves in a hurry, if ever. Mother-daughter scenes have tension and vitality that romantic asides cannot approach. The main of what we take from Now, Voyager are aching-real combat between fault-finding parent and damaged child. What happens by compare between Charlotte and Jerry Durrance, him married, walks wire between censor poles unyielding; we’re given to conclude the two sleep together based on a clinch that fades upon a hotel balcony where separate rooms beckon, both tactfully accessible, shorthand for love that will be consummated but not to awareness of children, even adolescents among the audience. Did precocious patrons figure meaning of a kiss gone to black followed by morning after conduct to indicate much-increased closeness? Charlotte/Jerry’s airport farewell, yearning as to suggest, no confirm, prior intimacy, is played specific to that effect by Davis and Henried. He ardently kisses Charlotte through a spider web veil she wears, less obviously in a 16mm print I had, dismayingly clear on Blu-Ray from Criterion.

Charlotte afterward cuts Jerry off. He’ll have to make do with stars rather than a moon she once (hope it was at least twice) yielded. Might another Pan-American trip loosen her up? Not to be however, for Charlotte will raise Jerry’s unloved child with whom there is intense bond and no evident input from Social Services. Jerry accepts the plan and says, “Shall we just have a cigarette on it?,” this as I expect (or frankly hope) he plans a next assignation, maybe on another solo cruise. Understanding such reality was/is why men might not buy Now, Voyager’s concept, let alone resolution. They’d sit and wonder if Jerry gets on with healing via pick-up of a Dolores Moran or something as accessible once off Vale premises. What hope has Jerry with Charlotte, however noble their gestures for the moment? His wife must die to clear a way, us not supposed to wish for that, but of course anyone sufficiently invested does, characters having set up offscreen “Isobel Durrance” as clingy, an anchor, loveless mom, the works. Even during wait for her demise, Dr. Jaquith (Claude Rains) will beat Jerry’s time (BD said in later interviews that Charlotte most likely married Jaquith). Movies ask a lot of our credulity. Jerry can accept the arrangement for daughter “Tina’s” sake, as Charlotte seems an only one that can effectively help the troubled child. Maybe he and D. Moran can send sacrificing Charlotte a holiday fruitcake in appreciation. Lord love the Classic Era, but solutions here have as much to do with reality as W. Woodpecker, so why do I get weepy watching them? Maybe it’s sheer craftsmanship, earnest performances, that Steiner score. All knew how unreal Now, Voyager was. Davis complained loud about censorial limits each time she got a new picture out, not just privately, but to mainstream press. What sustained her and the vehicles was an audience sophisticated enough to read between Code lines, as I said, even youngsters hep enough. Remember Conrad Lane decrypting King’s Row at age eleven in 1941?

Mentioned scrapbooks before that I found on Bette Davis, a fan’s reverie that lasted from the late thirties into wartime. These are labors of intense love, nothing Bette did eluding enthusiasm and scissors of this hunter/gatherer. It was “good for Bette,” said fawning press, to spend days “relaxing” at Lake Arrowhead where scenes for Now, Voyager were location-shot. Fans took proprietary interest in objects of devotion. They knew less of struggle Davis and colleagues engaged daily with Warner brass, data revealed but decades later when memoirs, unauthorized bios, and studio memos dealt truth, or at least perceptions by some, w/regard career and lives of the screen-adored. Davis oversaw direction vehicles took and how she’d be presented in them. Insistent, “bitchy” said some, but right enough most of the time to make suggestions useful toward quality end. Truth be known, Davis was co-director at least on Now, Voyager, hands off her growing authority so long as grosses also grew. She was obstreperous at times, not uselessly so as some who went before and saw slide as result. Stardom plus ideas were OK where ideas proved constructive, as Davis’ generally were. Her equivalent on elsewhere lots: Katharine Hepburn at MGM … what others in actress category? Many (most?) did the jobs and hoped for best, like Joan Crawford taking guidance, wanting it from strong directors, these best judge of her gifts and getting most out of them. There was too Claudette Colbert mostly freelance with a mind much of her own. Barbara Stanwyck frankly figured she was lucky to get one/two good pictures from any random six, doing her best but always mindful of odds. Did any of these have lioness impulse to approach Davis?

Monday, April 17, 2023

Film Noir #23


Noir: Christmas Holiday, City of Fear, and City of Industry

CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY (1944) --- Deanna Durbin was drawn to Christmas Holiday like Tyrone Power was later to Nightmare Alley, both wanting to escape starry if superficial images and give themselves space to act in a same way real actors act. This being 1944 and Hollywood still by way of persona building made their stand seem worthy, though hopeless was hopeless where solidly paved personalities sought to soften, or in these cases harden, cement. Universal put Durbin dramatics on a front burner, Christmas Holiday ads rife with her registering all emotions save glee, which we presumably had surfeit of since 1936 and Three Smart Girls, but how smart was it to thrust Deanna into surrounding so bleak as this, down-and-outness seeming more a stunt than honest effort toward expanding her range. Christmas Holiday is less noir than woman's gothic, a genre offshoot popular for a while during the forties. There are songs, there had to be else why come see Durbin, but mostly it was tears, pop-eyed reactions to go B. Davis one better, and malaise wrought by serial liar, thief, and murderer lent surface charm by Gene Kelly, who won't dance as expected, displaying instead what made him least attractive as a screen personality (some thought, still do, of Kelly on and off screen in these terms). Imagine entering blind to Deanna Durbin and Gene Kelly in Christmas Holiday … talk about expectations blown to H. There’s even Deanna slapped silly by spider woman Sondergaard, more a highlight today than it would have been in 1944, tastes debased since betters who attended Durbin with open hearts and minds.

Our girl did more relaxed performing in vehicles she disdained, to care less making for more honesty perhaps. Christmas Holiday was said to be Deanna’s favorite in hindsight, but did she have trouble in later years getting anyone to watch it with her? I sped-scrolled through much of Kelly being mean and DD on weep setting, seeing Christmas Holiday my duty to do, so after years putting off, I dood it. It's a rarest of Durbins next to Spring Parade, latter still truant, though I understand the LoC is using it for a weekend festival come June. Worth a six-hour drive up? Could be. Story rights (Somerset Maugham) tied up Christmas Holiday long ago, knot tight since. Did Showtime network use it once thirty or so years back or did I dream that? Anyway, 
Christmas Holiday is nowhere now except a Region Two disc England got out in early days of DVD. Seems there are UK pockets of love still for Deanna. Are Brits more cultivated than us? Christmas Holiday was directed by Robert Siodmak, rendering noir in all caps, and that alone will attract interest, but so do road accidents where encountered. By all means let noir be enjoyed, just let’s leave dear Deanna out of them, though I concede light noir, as in murder mystery with song, dark house, and jumping cats, serves DD well in Lady On a Train, cheerier Yule antidote to Christmas Holiday.

CITY OF FEAR (1959) --- Unknowing escaped con Vincent Edwards has a tiger by the tail, his stole cannister of what he thinks is heroin being instead Cobalt-60, which sounds dangerous and sure enough is, potential in a grain to wipe out populations. That won’t happen of course, not in noir so budget as City of Fear, but tension is plenty for 81 minutes, and Vince invokes hardest bark lowlife as with Murder by Contract and The Killing of previous seasons. He would be Ben Casey later, rare bird of a hit for lowly ABC, plus Vince sang for record albums well received. I wondered then why he didn’t have a bigger career, unless he perversely wanted to follow Casey with things like Hammerhead. Stopping a plague lends suspense even where common sense tells us it won’t happen, an issue Hitchcock nimbly fixed by leaving his birds still for ’63 fade, but making it clear the problem wasn’t licked and they would fly, we'd all die, etc., in post-end title reckoning. Cities done in by a microbe was hard for most to conceive, but believable for few pretending to understand how such things could happen, which is why handy doctors and scientists are there to assure that oh yes, it's coming, and soon. Cheapest ventures gain stature for thinking the unthinkable, City of Fear hinting apocalypse in best sense of fifties unease. Noir pushing hot buttons was more frightful than speculation sci-fi indulged, threats down streets or alleys more immediate, and who knew but that criminals could get hold of germs to do us in? Mike Hammer tickled oblivion just by opening a box, so what if somehow Vince managed to crack his cannister? Goodness knows, he tries, these most chilling moments in City of Fear. Indicator out of Region Two has a nice Blu-Ray with extras. Columbia distributed mostly to lower berths in 1959. Who would have dreamed then that City of Fear would command such interest now?

CITY OF INDUSTRY (1997) --- Heist-gone-wrong followed by track down and retribution all done in 97 minutes, same as Out of the Past lasted, and there’s good example to follow. Double-cross comes early and shockingly. Cast members we figured around for the length are suddenly out, Harvey Keitel all of rooting interest left, and yes, he thirsts for blood of the betrayer. A British director, John Irvin, gets values from American backdrop Yanks may miss or ignore. Near-everything is bleak and blanched, even a trendy jewel store the crew knocks over. Keitel is a compact bundle of aggression, a gangster you could figure for real after so many occasions playing them. Funny how DeNiro can swap around gang subjects and yet be dirty grandpas, while Keitel could no way play characters so frivolous. Does that make him less of an actor for apparent lack of range? Best of modern noir is the most relentless, mood less a priority now than shooting your way in first and fastest. I said rooting interest a moment ago and yes, we have arrived at want for thieves and killers to come away clean from crimes. What sort of viewer have moderns become? Surely I wouldn’t want Harvey Keitel to thrive for robbing my jewelry store. Looks like moral compasses askew throughout the land, but don’t let that block watching City of Industry, a small noir hardly known it seems, but plenty fine. There was a Blu-Ray from Kino that went quick out of print, so this one's sort of rare now.

Monday, April 10, 2023

Recent Days' Plod Through Discs and Ads


Watching From What Could and Should Be More Paramounts

My idea of rare remains the pre-49 Paramount library, eclipsed only by Fox now that they've been subsumed by Disney. Are we to see the latter again apart from licensing of mainstreamiest titles like Planet of the Apes and Wall Street? (two lately arrived on Amazon Prime). You can rent or own The Mark of Zorro to stream, buy the Blu-ray from Kino, but where it’s Chan or Moto, let alone early thirties Fox Film Corp, seek on. The Paramounts exist to extent of key titles or whatever Kino has so far leased (from owning Universal). I just got two, basked in both, am here aglow over Love Letters and Lucky Jordan, till now known if at all as “On-Demand” DVDs which meant transfers old as what TV broadcast when we came first to know these titles. I ponder less subject than how first-runs got them, specifically in Chicago as ads here attest, days when crowds spilled onto streets and months-long stay was norm. Love Letters saw five weeks at least at the State-Lake, appeal of gothic-flavored romance evident from day-before-open ad where Jennifer Jones regards her carving knife and blood-spattered blouse. You’d think from this that Love Letters was more about murder than JJ and Joseph Cotten getting together, and it’s but final reel flashback to put us wise as what/why happened and who wielded the blade. Cotten was male face of forties dreamy romantic, being that way about Claudette Colbert in Since You Went Away, Love Letters pursuit of ideal that is Jones, him again her escort in Portrait of Jennie, where painting becomes expression of ardor. Did as many men identify with Joseph Cotten’s kind of longing as with a Gable, Flynn, or Bogart? If so, I bet few acknowledged it.

Third Week Ad, Then the Fifth, for State Lake's Crowded Run

Love Letters
is very much of 1945 moment. Even a year later, such milk might have curdled. Why do certain films “date”? Well, maybe because they calibrate precisely moods of a moment, that in many instances lasted but a moment, reason why we must project ourselves near as possible to what and who attended when a theatre like the State-Lake ran them, and patrons stood patient by thousands for seating within. Ads come closest to telling what worked, or better what would work if viewers surrendered themselves to spell a Love Letters wove. We feel it yet via isolated moments where magic of then affects emotions of now. Exposure to enough of the old makes palatable a Jennifer Jones and whether her amnesia was caused by bloody deed she, or someone else, committed. Were there such women as this during the forties? If so --- or not --- who is left? --- or future born --- to bind with them? Riddle that Jones and others represent is answered by advertising their films inspired. Love Letters was a variety of things to infinity of people, which State-Lake management catered by appeal to all potential comers, those who’d take “Intimate” and “Intriguing,” plus stars, as enough, or ones who wanted romance “Sealed with the madness of Murder.” Something for seeming everyone. To modern-meet Love Letters needs acceptance of amnesia as thing that could happen to anybody. We assume forties folk had at least one if not multiple amnesiacs among acquaintance, like a friend with eyeglasses or a hearing aid. Dream state might be best to accompany Love Letters, which ideally means home alone watching, for few films belong so resolutely to distant time they were made.

Still of Paramount wont, I next chose Suddenly It’s Spring, sprung off TCM storage, a lone broadcast from years back of a comedy unavailable otherwise. This was of 1947 vintage, Fred MacMurray and Paulette Goddard law-and-marriage partners who decide pre-war to get a divorce, only now she changes her mind from which merriment ensues. Fred kept doing comedy despite Double Indemnity. Maybe he felt safer with the genre. I'm challenged to take him serious/straight anyway. Something about Fred’s face and expression seems goofy to me. Excess exposure, and from earliest on, to his work for Disney? Mitchell Leisen directed Suddenly It’s Spring. Book on him by David Chierichetti has co-worker quotes as to how impossible it was to get good takes out of Paulette Goddard. Seems she had no gift for timing and could not be taught. What we see seems OK, but those in know said initial-cast Claudette Colbert would have been better, a little unfair as Colbert would probably have better than most any actress in any film. Suddenly It’s Spring spars verbal plus physical. Fred falls lots. Somewhere he must have learned to do that without wrecking joints and bones. Regard please the Chicago Theatre’s more than lush opening day ad for Suddenly It’s Spring, a sure place for us to “get” what was there to offer. “Five-alarm charm” Goddard was settled-upon truth through the forties, her offscreen a known man-tamer. Note she’s billed above MacMurray, and imagery suggests her public will care less over Paulette’s timing, or lack of it. Among bonus treats is Georgie Price, “foremost singing comimic” who went back to vaude and Vitaphone. The forties was enchanted meld of old biz with new, room always for either.

Break for further ad oddities, and this being stream-of-consciousness day at Greenbriar, do observe ad I found for The Uninvited and note policy re “malignance of the undead.” Weak of heart are warned against attending, a gag used endless up to and after 1944, but here’s clause for concern: “So ethereal in theme --- suggest no attendance by unaccompanied children.” Thinking maybe I’ve been wrong about that word all these years, I looked up ethereal: “Extremely delicate and light in a way that seems too perfect for this world.” Shouldn’t youngsters be getting more of that? For myself, I’ll take all of ethereal they’ve got. Is The Uninvited’s theme ethereal? Seems so after repeated viewings and more surely to come. Note too Denham Theatre policy of admitting no one during the last fifteen minutes. I can see a family of four or more showing up at the boxoffice, Dad with toll for all, plus more to buy concessions. Will management bar entry? As once we said sarcastic in the thirties, Yes he will. Along further ad line, pipe the above for Metro feature (Design for Scandal), a latest March of Time (“How the USA will hit back at Japan”), and capper for strangeness, Melville the Famous Venetian Glass Blower demonstrating his ancient art daily in the lobby. Speaking from mere memory mind, but I’d state with certainty we never had Venetian Glass Blowers at the Liberty. Did any of you? The 1942 ad for Keith’s vaudeville, plus screen show (Girl from Alaska) suggests again that vaude did not die. It merely relocated, much as it would later to TV.

Loew’s Grand and Jean Harlow had a New Year’s gift for 1936 customers, Riffraff her latest for MGM release. Stuff like this is why I’ve chased theatre ads for all so far of life. We wonder why stars posed for silly holiday-theme publicity. Here is how it served practical function. Suppose this was explained to Harlow and others who beefed over such obligation? Loew’s was a Metro house just coming off A Tale of Two Cities, looking down the road to Ah Wilderness and Rose Marie. Midnight premiere of Riffraff rings in with '36 arrival, but policy at the bottom reads “New Year’s Eve at 12 P.M.,” boner for which someone I'm sure got an upbraid. Shadow over gaiety is 1936 being final year Jean Harlow would live through, fact no one saw coming, least of all I suppose her, but hold … Harlow had scarlet fever as a child, kidney disease an adult companion. She surely recognized seriousness of that. Did Harlow know early on she was not long for this world? From sublime to that which was outrageous, here is “Rocking the World” Ingagi at the Pantages, “100% Sound and Talk,” which was the least they could do. Make no mistake, Ingagi was a smash. There really aren’t records to show how much it made, for this was an outlaw attraction few wished to be seen coming in or out of. “The Monarch of All Adventure Pictures” they called Ingagi, and who knows but what King Kong was dubbed “Mighty Monarch of Melodrama” as bid for Ingagi comparison. I’ve a hunch
 Ingagi outgrossed King Kong. Just a guess, mind, not a hope. Ingagi is bitter fruit of You Tube play. Find it and be appalled. “Infuriated” lions and “maddened” rhinos are here, which begs question as to whether lions and rhinos are any less dangerous when they are not infuriated or maddened.

Above Ads: Lucky Jordan First and Later Run at Chicago Sites

Lastly and back to Blu-Ray, there is Lucky Jordan, another Paramount fewer saw till recent, Alan Ladd’s first starring role and brisk at just over eighty minutes. He runs horse parlors and is shady overall, icy cold to dames rightly not to trust, an unwilling draftee who deserts but catches spies toward last reel redemption. Hope I haven’t spoiled suspense for anyone. I like Ladd and have spoke it plain here, pleased then to have this and Saigon in offing, plus R-2 of The Great Gatsby due soon. Ladd’s persona was a done deal early on, his popularity immense, especially among women. He was a “sigma male,” lone wolf, possibly, in fact hopefully, dangerous, because that’s how fans liked him. Sigma males are hot again thanks to John Wick, who if you go on a hundred or so places at You Tube, is celebrated as an ultimate sigma male. Every man likes to think of himself a little bit sigma, if not altogether so. Takes less energy or commitment than being an alpha male, which seems to me burdensome, having to order so many people around and getting less time to watch movies like Lucky Jordan and then write about them. Point being everything new is more-less recycled old. John Wick is Alan Ladd with darker outfits and inclination to kill scores more than Ladd even on his moodiest day. Maybe it's hearting Ladd that makes me also enjoy John Wick. Having seen the first three Wicks, I am even tempted to walk in a theater for recently released JW --- Chapter Four, a first such admission-paying venture since Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

Monday, April 03, 2023

Quakes and Quagmires To Vitaphone Accompany

Old San Francisco (1927) Is Earth-Shaking Melodrama

Two impressions this one made years before I saw it: A photo on p. 108 of The Movies (above), by Richard Griffith and Arthur Mayer, seminal and first history of film for me. Under heading of "The Mysterious East," there was a still from Old San Francisco (referred to in the caption as In Old San Francisco) that featured female nudity, a presumed no-no for that era, but here it was and my curiosity was duly piqued. Decades later amidst 16mm pursuit came a reel prepared by Robert Youngson for 1954 Warners release called Thrills From The Past. This was ten minutes culled from the earthquake highlight of Old San Francisco, a wow that Youngson knew would wow them again. Old San Francisco was by 1954 out of circulation long enough to be fresh for most, certainly younger patronage that made up bulk of showgoing. The original feature was among other things a display of Vitaphone newly arrived, music/effects laid over silent narrative with result a product locked into era wherein it was new, and grist for memory of those who'd recall the quake as height of spectacle. Balance of the show had to be as compelling, but how could we judge with Old San Francisco so buried by changed times?

Old San Francisco was never lost. Non-theatrical distributor UA/16 had it available for rental during the 70's at $75 per day, but prints were silent, so no Vitaphone track. Viability of pre-talk features for TV was pondered, a few broadcast here/there, but the concept never got hold. Too bad, for that's how we'd lose much of silent output. Syndication would have saved much, but if home viewers weren't interested, why preserve the stuff? Fascination for transition-to-talk and Vitaphone led to rescue of what survived by late 80's and into 90's, the search for sound discs intensified so these could be wedded to picture elements found at far-flung sites. Old San Francisco was hauled up and run to startled onlookers at rep houses and archive pits, then on "Silent Sundays" for TCM. Equal to jolt of the quake for modern watchers was florid overlay of Yellow Peril as threat to virtue of Dolores Costello, dewy daughter of grandees that once ruled the California coast, now displaced by evil that is half-caste Warner Oland, whose show this was to steal. Melodrama was, like old Frisco itself, doomed to demise ushered in by talkies and shambles sound would make of high-flying theatrics clung to since barnstorm days of a past century. Who's to say we progressed?, as lots of fun was lost when Old San Francisco and like kind got banished off bills. Sampling of this and other Vitaphones can he had on DVD from Warner Archive. The tracks alone merit a buy.
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