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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 it up: “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 having 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.


Blogger DBenson said...

Remember seeing "Love Letters" on TCM. It's really a noir version of "Cyrano de Bergerac". Ayn Rand wrote the screenplay, very loosely adapting what seems to have been a hash of a book. Somebody says something about not being responsible for other people's happiness, but otherwise little or no obvious Randian preaching.

(Mr. McElwee: If you're too polite to mention your book "The Art of Selling Movies", allow me.)

READERS: If you enjoy the advertisements prominently featured today, you'll certainly enjoy "The Art of Selling Movies". It's a hefty collection of newspaper movie ads, with annotative text, illustrating how local showmen ballyhooed everything from silent epics to drive-in horrors, from prestige special engagements to ... "Ingagi".

4:00 AM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

I second Mr. Benson. "Showmen, Sell It Hot!" and "The Art of Selling Movies" are both terrific.

6:23 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer explores old newspapers from the New Jersey wilds and finds some interesting programs (Part One):

John ---

I was in the Burlington County Library the other day, idly looking about, when I came across their collection of New Jersey periodicals. “Weird New Jersey” was there, which you’ll remember from Christmases past, the title redundant to someone of a certain sensibility, also some weekly newspapers going way back.

One was the Burlington County Times-Advertiser, which was published from 1935 to 1976. The first year they had was 1938. I took the file over to a desk and began looking through the issues. Printed on newsprint some eighty-five ago, the pages were brown and brittle. Careful though I was, there were minute shards of paper on the desktop when I left. The banner said that the newspaper covered Pemberton, Brown’s Mills, Camp Dix, Wrightstown, and Chatworth. Except for Camp Dix, the U.S. Army training base established during World War I and still in existence today as Fort Dix, these were all small farm towns to the west of the Pine Barrens and to the northeast of Mount Holly, the county seat.

Most of the issues that year were four pages in length. The first page would have articles on town council and zoning board meetings, municipal buildings being constructed, cars running into trees or ditches or other cars, and the occasional crime. Inside would be cards from plumbers and handymen and larger ads from a car dealer and a grocery store listing its seasonal specials. On the back would be “Cacklings from the Starling,” detailing the social comings and goings of town folk, out of towners who were visiting, those getting married or having babies, and who was the joker and who didn’t get the joke. The Sidney Falco touch was missing.

Farmers would come into these towns for feed and seed and for groceries. They might also come in for entertainment. Along with the ads for hotels and clubs which offered bands and dancing, there were two theaters which advertised consistently during this time, the Fox Theatre in Mount Holly and the Davis & Davis Theatre in New Egypt.

Unlike the showmen you’ve covered, there was little effort to lend an individual touch to merchandising the pictures being run. The logos of the theaters were stylized—the Fox Theatre billed itself as the “Theater of Hits” and “The Show Place of Burlington County”—but mostly there was just a listing of what was playing. Occasionally the Fox Theatre would run a press book picture to accompany a featured attraction, but such emphasis as was placed on an attraction was in the listing of the stars who were in in it.

5:09 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Two from Dan Mercer:

There were only two playdates for the Davis & Davis Theatre in an ad run in the March 2nd issue, so they went the safe, inexpensive route by offering a beloved star from years before and a popular radio comedian:

Wednesday, March 2nd Will Rogers in “Judge Priest,” also the short subjects, “Smart Way” and “Sawmill Mystery”

Saturday, March 5th: Joe Penner in “The Life of the Party,” also Edgar Kennedy in “Morning Judge” and “Big Lake.”

“Judge Priest” was first released in 1934 and Rogers died the following year in the crash of the airplane piloted by his friend, Wily Post. By 1938, the rental would have been attractively low for a small theater like the Davis & Davis, and with a star a rural audience might want to see again. Joe Penner was a former vaudevillian whose “Wanna Buy a Duck” routine caught on when offered to a radio audience. “The Life of the Party,” an attempt by RKO to cash in on the popularity, had been released the year before. I can only imagine what the quality of the prints was like, with one a very popular release that had been played relentlessly four years previously and the other, less popular, but at the tail end of a run in which fewer prints had to take care of business.

The short subject, “Morning Judge,” was silent star Agnes Ayres’ last film. She had appeared opposite Rudolph Valentino in “The Sheik” and “Son of the Sheik.” Here she was with Edgar Kennedy as “Mrs. Kennedy.”

The program for the Fox Theatre was much more aggressive:

Tuesday, March 1st Joe E. Brown in “Riding on Air”

Wednesday, March 2nd Leslie Howard and Joan Blondell in “Stand-In”

Thursday, March 3 “City Girl” with Phyllis Brooks and Ricardo Cortez and “Night Club Scandal” with John Barrymore

Friday & Saturday, March 4 – 5 “Hollywood Hotel,” with Dick Powell and Rosemary Lane, Benny Goodman and His Swing Band, Hugh Herbert, Ted Healy, Lola Lane, Johnny Davis, Louella Parsons and 5 Big Swing Hits. Added Friday only: “Radio Patrol.”

Sunday & Monday, March 6 – 7 “Every Day’s a Holiday,” with Mae West, Edmund Lowe, Charles Butterworth, Charles Winninger, Chester Conklin. Added: Jimmy Fiddler’s “Personality Parade.”

All the feature films were released in 1937 except for “Hollywood Hotel,” which came out in 1938. The relative prestige, not to say the theater’s expectations, is shown in “Hollywood Hotel” and “Every Day’s a Holiday” getting two-day runs and a press book portrait of Mae West appearing on another page.

A theater running four features in one week, however, gives you an idea of the tremendous velocity of film circulation in those days. Nearly every day a truck from the film exchange would be pulling up to the theater to unload cannisters of 35 mm film and pick up others that would be taken to yet another theater miles away for their showings. When would there be time to inspect, clean, and repair a print? Probably not by the exchange until it finished its circuit, scratched and tattered, and with only the most perfunctory attention given it by the theaters. It’s no wonder a print of “The Maltese Falcon” I saw at a downtown theater in Philadelphia in the early seventies seemed to consist only of alternate frames for seconds at a time.

5:13 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Three from Dan Mercer:

The April 13th issue of the Times-Advertiser offered a tour-de-force program at the Fox Theatre:

Wednesday, April 13th Buck Jones in “Headin’ West,” also “Bulldog Drummond’s Revenge,” with John Barrymore

Thursday, April 14th “Arsene Lupin Returns,” with Melvyn Douglas and Virginia Bruce

Friday, April 15th – By Request – Bing Crosby, W. C. Fields, and Joan Bennett in “Mississippi.” Added, Chapter 2 of “Tom Tyler’s Luck”

Saturday, April 16th Mickey Rooney in “Hoosier Schoolboy.” Extra added: Cartoonland, featuring Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Popeye, and Merrie Melodies in Color. Extra added feature at Saturday matinee: “Hotel Haywire.”

Sunday/Monday, April 17 – 18th “Street Cleaning” with Jimmy Durante and The Three Stooges, Hal Le Roy, 12 Big Stars, and Professor Quiz. Added, Laurel & Hardy in “The Perfect Day.”

April 20 – 21st Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant in “Bringing Up Baby.”

I don’t know what was playing on April 19th, as it wasn’t listed. Maybe they were catching their breath or just wanted the public to know in advance the extra special picture that was going to be shown the following Wednesday.

The Davis & Davis Theatre hung in there with these flicks:

Wednesday, April 13th Will Rogers in “The County Chairman,” also “Who’s Who” and “Barnyard Boss.”

Saturday, April 16th “Tarzan’s Revenge,” with Glenn Morris and Eleanor Holm, also “Hooray for Hooligan” and “Calling all Crooners.”

In the August 21st issue, the Fox Theatre offered the following:

Friday, August 23rd All Laugh Komedy Karnival – 2 Hrs of Selected Shorts

Saturday, August 24th “Men Without Names,” with Fred MacMurray and Madge Evans

Sunday, August 25th “The Virginian,” with Gary Cooper, Walter Huston, Richard Arlen, and Mary Brian

Monday, August 26th “The Informer,” with Victor MacLaglen and Heather Angel

Tuesday, August 27th “Don’t Bet on Blondes,” with Warren William, Claire Dodd, and Guy Kibbee.

5:17 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Four from Dan Mercer:

You sense the breathlessness of the theater in trying to offer variety and something passing for quality entertainment on such a schedule. “The Informer” was originally released in 1935, while “The Virginian” was an antique from 1929, though I’m sure it had its champions among the audience, walking out into the night assuring the others that “they sure knew how to make pictures in those days.”

Very occasionally there would be an ad in the Times-Advertiser for a showing in Brown’s Mills at the Auditorium, always one night only. This one used a press book cut for Kay Francis in “Living on Velvet,” also with Warren William and George Brent, and directed by Frank Borzage. A First National Pictures release.

In the meantime, the Davis & Davis Theater carried on with this card:

Wednesday, August 21st “Orchids to You,” with John Boles and Jean Muir; also “Candy All for You” and a cartoon, “King Looney.”

Saturday, August 27th Bob Steele in “Western Justice,” also “Bill Board Girl” and “Touring the North.”

So, there is a sampling for what was being shown in rural South Jersey, with movies at the end of their runs and a smattering of shorts and cartoons. For those not living in major metropolitan areas, however, it was all new for the folks there, except maybe for the Will Rogers movies and "The Virginian," but they might have appreciated an opportunity to sit down with old friends.

The Fox Theater was still open when the last of my birthdays, the thirteenth, was celebrated with an outing for me and my friends. As the Mount Holly Theatre, it showed a matinee double feature of “Five Weeks in a Balloon” and “The Head.” Once again, my friend, Andy DePalma, was inconvenienced by the Legion of Decency and could not come, since “The Head” appeared on their “condemned” list. The plot basically had a scientist trying to replace the crippled body of his fiancée with that of a stripper, which was, of course, a substantial upgrade and a plot point not dissimilar from that in “The Brain that Wouldn’t Die.” Movies like that likely took my burgeoning sexuality down a rocky detour.


5:22 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer follows up from yesterday to report an interesting double feature circa 1942:

I went a little further into the 1942 issues, which were photocopied because, evidently, the originals had deteriorated.

There were no more ads from the Davis & Davis Theatre, but there were from the Towne Theatre in Wrightstown, another small farm town in Burlington County.

For Saturday and Sunday, January 26th and 27th, they offered the rather adventuresome combination of "Love Crazy" and "King of the Zombies."

I imagine the audience was pretty much laughed-out after those two.

10:38 AM  

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