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Monday, June 26, 2023

Canon Fire #6


Among the One-Hundred: The Maltese Falcon (1941)

Should it matter when The Maltese Falcon first flew my way? Those who repeat-screen regularly will understand, so here and now may be time to affirm while generations who yet call it a seminal show still can give testimony.  When did The Maltese Falcon enter your consciousness? That's important where movies represent landmarks of life. Let others be baffled as we relive first sight of the Falcon. Mine was March 1971 after years waiting and thinking the day (rather a late night) would never come. Imagine pining to see the Falcon or most anything today. Thanks to round-clock access, much of what was once rare plays our sleep as well as wake. Precious seeing of what still is scarce requires journey to festivals. Mine for the Falcon went down old Highway 421, still there and thankfully four-lane though not so in 1971 when it crisscrossed every cow path between home and Winston-Salem, my main mission to there for Carolina Theatre rendezvous with King Kong, the Janus reissue with “censored scenes” back after forty years, two days to engage Kong three times (who knew if I would see it again in a theatre, and so far since, indeed have not). The Maltese Falcon was televised cherry atop a first late night, courtesy Channel 2-Greensboro, distant enough from home for signal to sometimes cloud, mere thirty miles however from W-S. Here then were two elephants bagged over a single weekend, luck to beggar belief at the time. What matter if I barely comprehended Falcon’s narrative? (still sort of don’t, which may be essence of its charm). Do or die was seeing The Maltese Falcon lest precious chance never coming back. Futility of requesting movies from local channels was known. I’d wait till college and Channel 36 out of Charlotte for the Falcon to land again.




How often does seeking exceed fulfillment, a wish realized, then knowing you were better off with just the wish? Recent for me was seeing uncommon noir Repeat Performance, of Eagle-Lion 1948 origin with offbeat premise of a murderess reliving year that led up to her crime. Surprise was disappointment with belated surfacing of Repeat Performance (the movie, certainly not the splendid restoration). Was I better off longing for what a pressbook’s cover promised, sparing myself what the film failed to deliver? There is risk for achieving any goal. The list of seek-and-you-shall-finds yield some better unsought, Repeat Performance mine of late. For boyish bafflement with The Maltese Falcon, I did recognize that here was a classic to grow into, a way most of the best ultimately have with watchers. Time improves them while in fact it is us being improved. I cried at the Liberty watching a farewell scene in The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao during 1964, was challenged lately to even get through it (frankly sort of expected Lao languor). Not everything stays precious, some hind sights best left behind. The Maltese Falcon gains upon encore, in fact to point where it is my favorite Bogart, favorite Huston, favorite perhaps of all those connected with it. Rank among the hundred brought Dashiell Hammett’s source novel to surface with pledge to self that whole of the novel at last be read. The Maltese Falcon was initially serialized in mystery mag Black Mask over a five-month period, followers obliged to purchase each issue between September 1929 and January 1930. Must have been popular, because Warners bought the property and released a film version in May 1931.


 

The Maltese Falcon’s literary reputation was bound by lowly genre placement. Hard-boiled mystery got respect like movies got respect, as in little or none. Fiction serialized on twenty cent pulp was not literature, though it helped when The Maltese Falcon was published hardbound soon after and prior to the 1931 movie. A latter-day Black Mask anthology includes Hammett’s story as initially published, noting “thousands” of differences between the magazine version and what emerged between stiff covers. Mine was chance to read it whole, figuring changes meant expurgations, but nothing hot or bothered here, fact is I gave up halfway in. Was The Maltese Falcon bad, dull, overrated? No … but I got restless … kept seeing Bogart et al in my head and wondering, why not just watch them? Any novel amounts to a commitment unless you speed read which I cannot. Many swear by The Maltese Falcon as Hammett-written and call it best ever detective fiction. Writer for The New Yorker Edmund Wilson demolished the book in a 10-14-44 column. “Why Do People Read Detective Stories” was what Wilson titled his screed, saying he outgrew this sort of literature by the time he was twelve. As to The Maltese Falcon, Hammett “lacked the ability to bring the story to imaginative life.” From Wilson’s 1944 vantage, “The Maltese Falcon … seems not so much above those newspaper picture-strips in which you follow from day to day the ups and downs of a strong-jawed hero and a hardboiled but beautiful adventuress.” One could call Edmund Wilson an elite and a snob and be largely right. As for inferring worthlessness of newspaper picture-strips, I’d refer him to life’s mission of late and great Bill Blackbeard.




Maybe Richard J. Anobile saw Wilson’s remark and got ideas, because in 1974 he came out with a first ever “complete reconstruction of a film in book form, over 1,400 frame blow-up photos shown sequentially and coupled with complete dialogue from the original soundtrack.” In short, an updated newspaper picture-strip. A lot of collectors bought Anobile’s book because it was the only way they could relive The Maltese Falcon whenever it pleased them to do so. Reading essence of Hammett (and adapting J. Huston) plus imagery of Bogey/Bogie throughout was next best thing to television furnishing the Falcon by request. Anobile served useful purpose with this and other volumes in his series until video cassette made them superfluous. I have his group and sometimes pull them down for nostalgia’s sake. The Maltese Falcon, minty upon opening, cracked neatly down its center spine despite my careful handling … a silent commentary on folly for having taken it off the shelf? The film could be had by myriad if expensive ways through the seventies/eighties, a rental at $125 per day from United Artists’ 16mm arm ---trouble was you had to give it back after using. Those less scrupulous could own a print via Gutman-like agency. My supplier had “lab connections” who in 1977 fixed me up with a brand new “original” for $250. Seems shady techs were in possession, if briefly, of UA elements from which order for legit television and rental prints was filled, plus whatever could be backdoored for delectation of no-questions-asking collectors. Here again be forbidden gets of old, satisfaction greater than even 4K honestly come by.




Is it fair to say favorites have a power source to stand unique from the rest? Best of them feed off multiple transformers. One I’d pick off Falcon tree has not been credited enough, Adolph Deutsch’s score. How much has he to do with revisits? A whole Warner sub-genre came of music distinct to style initiated by The Maltese Falcon, carried into follow-ups for which Deutsch composed The Mask of Dimitrios, All Through the Night, Northern Pursuit … tingling sources from which collectible CD’s came (issued in 1996 and 2005, OOP since). Was Maltese Falcon the most influential film released by Warners during the forties, at least insofar as their own product? Casablanca might not have worked out as it did were it not for the Falcon. A rogue’s gallery of players emerged from it, power source themselves for variants to recur the rest of a decade. Such ensemble, brilliantly combined first for the Falcon, clearly knew from start that theirs was singular reinvent of melodrama and screen suspense. We look at gag posing of Bogart, Astor, and Lorre cuddled around massive Greenstreet and sense the quartet saw change coming. Separately these were ones of a kind, together they'd be ideal group casting for future seasons. Consult Across the Pacific for further dose of Bogart, Astor, and Greenstreet, first with the trailer, wherein Greenstreet shows us the Falcon team has not scattered, would not so long as a public paid, which it did, and gladly, for each shuffle these players could deal.



I was made to feel dumb by a caption appearing neath a still from The Maltese Falcon in a 1964 Castle of Frankenstein magazine, age ten and having discovered monsters firstly, thus limited room to absorb film culture beyond CoF specialty. Pic showed the Falcon cast with John Huston, an image which by the way I have not seen elsewise since, the director and players identified, with caption concluding, “The picture, if you haven’t already guessed, is The Maltese Falcon,” editor Calvin T. Beck’s inference that of course we can guess, in fact we should know. Any idiot will recognize The Maltese Falcon, for hadn’t it run on a hundred late shows? No doubt it had in places other than North Carolina foothills where nobody was then televising the Falcon, late or in daytime, my failure to ID understandable if not excusable. Here came realizing there was much to learn about movies beyond what vampires and werewolves were up to. The seven years before I saw The Maltese Falcon would have seemed an impossible reach had I known it would take so long, for seven years was seven tenths of a life I had lived to then. Wait for the Falcon might as readily take a century. Surfacing later were costume tests for Lee Patrick and Mary Astor. I’d say “Effie” was more Patrick being her offscreen self, doing what was necessary to check fitness of her outfit. Astor on the other hand seems to have channeled “Brigid” for purpose of posing “in character” as she would if this were occasion to stand (or sit) for stills and perform in accordance with dramatic situation being illustrated. As proposed before, actors had to apply themselves to acting as seriously for publicity as for emoting per direction and dialogue.


 


Observe Euro poster art above. Anything went from far flung creatives; in fact, I favor these over what/who designed posters on US soil. Falcon's tableau is undated … looks from at least the mid-fifties if not later. Likenesses of Lorre, Bogart, and Greenstreet do them honor, but who’s this standing in for Mary Astor? Artisans concocting here had a laugh in service to hirers who set exploitation policy for what was old merchandise needing latter-day punch. The Maltese Falcon around a same time became lead pearl midst oyster that was the Bogart cult, along with Casablanca. Minus these, would there have been such a cult? Would Dashiell Hammett’s novel be so valued if not for Warners’ film? Much literature depends upon movie adapts for immortality they achieve. The other way around might also apply. The Maltese Falcon was ripe by the seventies for spoofing, The Black Bird a wretchedness I attended in 1975 only because Falcon vets were aboard to share in would-be japery of George Segal as “Sam Spade, Jr.” Posters misleadingly called The Black Bird a “Falcon Funny Movie,” vulgar play upon words to reflect taste and quality of the film. Lee Patrick and Elisha Cook were back as Effie and Wilmer, admirers of The Maltese Falcon wishing both had stayed home to preserve integrity for themselves and what was by then a beloved classic. Lastly, a parting poll. Who believes it was Humphrey Bogart that came up with “The stuff that dreams are made of”? With apology to Shakespeare, this was inspired capper anyone could go proud contributing. It wasn’t in Hammett’s book, and I’m not sure John Huston ever spoke to origin of the foolproof finish. Notwithstanding Shakespeare using it for The Tempest, I’d say stuff/dreams would be contested inspiration if Falcon participants were still around to jockey for credit. For the record, I will nominate Bogart as visionary, if for no reason other than Huston having writ enough great dialogue over his storied career to permit this one line to go a deserving colleague’s way.

Go HERE for Greenbriar previous look (2015) at The Maltese Falcon as "collector's" item. Plus HERE (6/20/14) for what a Falcon prop might bring. Then 3/24/17 on the 1931 Maltese Falcon in Broadway first-run. Finally a comparison between Falcon versions (11/9/2006).





Monday, June 19, 2023

Ads and Oddities #2

 


Ad/Odds: Cornered, The Paradine Case, and Chained


CORNERED (1946) --- “New” being watchword here as Dick Powell new was less accomplished fact than lately implemented one. Murder, My Sweet was first opportunity to see him hard-boiled, a screen switch that didn’t necessarily translate to stage appearances made on behalf of Murder, My Sweet. Ads in oversized magazines were close as then-enthusiasts got to owning posters for their favorite films, a lavish enough weekly good for keepsakes nearly large as a lobby card outside theatres. Very often ads were full color, depending on willingness of distributors to spend for the splash. Timing was trick for placing ads where/when they would do the most good, Cornered either at a local venue or coming soon to one. Films were sold upon pledge by companies to spend big with large circulation magazines. Print promos in newspapers, reader attention less with ads necessarily smaller, muddier than in mags, often lost amidst crowd on a daily's page, these a thicket and tax upon reader focus amidst bally for what competing venues offered. Cornered getting a LIFE or LOOK page all its own lent importance to that or any attraction, readers knowing space did not come cheap in zines reaching millions per week. Suffice to say films I saw first-run seldom got push unless it was something like Thunderball with its LIFE cover plus pages within. Color stills appeared as well in the slicks, which fans cut out and put in scrapbooks. More ads survive from weeklies than any other format, it seems. We could wonder how many of pages, film related or not, were scissored from issues and kept for someone’s posterity. I’ve seen albums dedicated just to soup ads, these at their best aesthetic worthies and who knows but what we’ve all missed a bet for not collecting them.



STARS OF THE PARADINE CASE FOR CHESTERFIELD
--- Did all six stars smoke Chesterfield, or smoke at all? Was Charles Laughton approached? I wonder what pressure was applied to make them pose for ads, not just for cigarettes, but any product. Presumably they were paid beyond studio contract terms. I’m told this came often in “swag” from the advertiser, as in Gregory Peck going out to his mailbox to find three dozen cases of Chesterfield waiting. Might he take up smoking just to avoid waste of such freebies? I’m guessing a lot got re-gifted for Christmas and birthdays. Did any star refuse cigarette ads on principle they were unsafe? That undoubtedly happened by the sixties, but 1948? Ads were exposure for celebrities, whatever dubious value of products they hawked. Earliest Hollywood color images we have derive from advertising cast members posed for. Everybody won as not only faces, but films in which they appeared, got boosted. It may be assumed that The Paradine Case needed all of help it could get. I’d like to know what “Cooler Smoking” amounts to … an admission that smoking is too often hot? We coped for years with belching clouds and smells from the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in Winston-Salem. Any trip down was worse for stench from pollutants. Reynolds was obliged to spare the air eventually, but surely damage was done to generations living in/around Winston. Could even Kiddie Shows at the Carolina Theatre on Saturdays (non-stop Hammer and AIP horrors) have persuaded me to live amidst such contamination, Horror of Dracula, Pit and the Pendulum, and Tarantula on a virtual loop maybe worth trading a few years of life to see (but how many?).



CHAINED (1934) --- Ads once upon a Classic Era could proclaim a “Glorious Hit!” prior even to release, being confidence of a system which indeed had genius behind it. Chained like most out of Metro, in fact any studio during 1934, was calibrated precisely to audience tastes. This is something we might marvel at in modern circumstance of almost willful failure to meet expectation, movies often seeming out to alienate viewership. Chained is said in this ad to be fruit of 62,000 fans seeking encore for paired-up Clark Gable and Joan Crawford (oops, reverse that billing, as her name came first in advertising). You could let the story take care of itself, studio histories informing us that star vehicles were every bit the product of committees as anything corporately so today. Difference may be panel members in 1934 boasting the sort of talent we're less blessed with. A Hunt Stromberg producing or Clarence Brown directing was assurance that standard would be met, formula varied just enough but not so as to upset comfort level with result. Guarantee, at least hope, was that Chained would equal if not surpass Dancing Lady, a Selznick wrapped package that he called gilt-edged for crowd pleasing, this essential goal for anyone entrusted with stars and properties, or better put, stars as properties. Chained is best looked upon like a watch never a second off, featuring a cast with demonstrable appeal plus ongoing aptitude to reassert dominance of a brand proven to please, Chained factory product yes, but seeming not so for satisfaction given, still rewarding despite ninety years passed since newness.

More of Chained here.





Monday, June 12, 2023

Something Technicolorful from Warner Archive


King Solomon's Mines Never Looked So Spectacular


King Solomon’s Mines
showed up this week from Warner Archive, a Blu-Ray I call an event. There have been a number of those … Ivanhoe, The Three Musketeers, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, The Adventures of Don Juan, mission accomplished for seeing the lot born again as when Technicolor was poured first from respective buckets. Thing with Archive releases is coming in with high expectation and having them always surpassed. I knew King Solomon’s Mines would be a reclaimed glory, but to such extent? --- well let’s just say life can still delight as in youth where films embed among happiest memories. Safe to say I felt among Liberty crowd that saw King Solomon’s Mines open on Christmas Day 1950, moment captured by artist B. Davis years later. One would like to have been there, but here truly is a next best thing, the Blu-Ray akin to emeralds Richard Carlson dips hand in at third act payoff. Solomon’s sidelight: Couple of us years ago explored a relic shop in High Point, ancient environ with a ceiling thirty feet, or seeming so. Upon high wall hung three from MGM's set of eight 20X60 door panels issued to first runs of King Solomon’s Mines. 1950 was where the Lion kicked promotion into highest gear, a policy to last six or so years until television bathed the whole in red ink from which once-mighty Metro would not resurface, golden days done and out. Tri-panels were assembled once down from musty placement and properly framed to form a mural good as art at the Metropolitan, or seeming so for me.



Could any but MGM have made King Solomon’s Mines? They were still the spectacle company when occasion called for it. Paramount had DeMille but his was a one-man unit that none other of Para staff approached. Warner cinched belts and would spend no more at high levels. Universal, RKO, Columbia … never mind. It was Metro or nobody for Solomon sort of splurge. They had gone jungly on large scale before, Trader Horn recalled by many if lately seen by none, being miracle of not only Africa exploration but sound technique still aborning. King Solomon’s Mines was everything anybody could hope for in 1950, a declaration of what movies could now render. “Hardship” shows are a treat not only for what characters endure, but trial upon filmmakers gone way off-grid. Being a movie star sounds like fun until they hand you a job like this. Seven months on the Dark Continent was price of completion, that plus $2.2 million records say was Solomon’s negative cost. (Co) director Andrew Marton recalled $1.8 million, and we guess he was right for studio overhead tacked on all releases, Metro’s and elsewhere. Want background of King Solomon’s Mines in fascinating detail? Get a copy of Scarecrow’s Andrew Marton: A Directors Guild of America Oral History, published in 1991 and tough as a nut to find since. Last one I saw at eBay went for $85. Marton did lots besides King Solomon’s Mines, but it was by far his most famous, so naturally he spills plenty to interviewer Jeanne D’Antonio. This is one of the great behind-camera chronicles of a classic film.



MGM crew and cast flew over to do King Solomon’s Mines. Compare this with odyssey that was Trader Horn, all shipboard and taking forever to cross. Getting there was achievement enough in 1929. Like Admiral Byrd, these were brave souls to so venture. Step off airplanes and then to work in 1950 was mere modern efficiency any might receive upon price of a ticket, going to Africa or anywhere took for granted in new era of world access. Andrew Marton's task was similar if less severe than for W.S. Van Dyke and Trader company, but add convenience of twenty years progress, like for instance Coca-Cola on ice always at hand. Two directors were assigned, Marton and Compton Bennett, separate units often working hundreds of miles apart. Rivalry was inevitable, one waiting, perhaps hoping, the other would falter, a single credit the unspoken goal. Marton said in look-back that Bennett drank, enough in excess to bungle some of work. Africa ended up not being big enough for both of them, so Marton “took over” and came home with most of gravy, his a “rescue” of King Solomon’s Mines amounting to “sixty-one percent of the film” he directed, footage by his reckoning most effective of all. I don’t doubt Andrew Marton was savior of King Solomon’s Mines, him known salvage man for projects both past and to come, but like with many an argument, it’s the guy living longest who wins, Compton Bennett not in this instance that guy, having died in 1974. To my knowledge, he was never interviewed in detail regarding King Solomon’s Mines.



Just as much of Trader Horn had to be sweetened, so too did King Solomon’s Mines. What was shot in Africa was by no means the finish of it. Plenty got done in Hollywood and nearby environs. Nighttime camp scenes neatly composed and perfectly lit are a tipoff, as would be case with three years later Mogambo. A desert trek was shot back home in Death Valley over ground Von Stroheim used for 1924's Greed, this amounting to trip out of Hollywood but not so long a one. Action amidst dunes was captured also “next to the El Segundo sewage disposal plant,” a detail MGM surely left out of publicity. Stewart Granger got sick during this and so was extensively doubled, as was also case in Africa. We noted less of that in old transfers of King Solomon’s Mines, but now, with visuals plainer, it’s detectable. Andrew Marton was for emphasizing the love story between Granger and Deborah Kerr, a sensible and showman-like preference. Must say I also focused on that, as did audiences in 1950 and into 1951. Source novel by H. Rider Haggard, published 1880, was “a very popular British book which every child reads,” Marton’s memory as of the 1980’s, but he was born in 1904, and we could wonder who among youngsters, UK or US-based, had read King Solomon’s Mines as of 1950, let alone today when H. Rider Haggard is less than obscure. Marton credited screen scribe Helen Deutsch with commercial instinct to make a venerable tale live again, romance as nearly always the essential element. King Solomon’s Mines is to be admired the more for jigsaw it was, adroit fakery neatly combined with real things of Africa, us then or now not suspecting switches throughout (at least I didn’t).



King Solomon’s Mines
has a stampede still heart-stopping, pillaged afterward whenever MGM needed grabber for cheap jungle ventures, stock footage the curse upon backlot Africa where explorers were Frankie Avalon rather than Stewart Granger. King Solomon’s Mines had devices to spice even a stampede shot where and as it happened. Marton wanted authenticity of actors interacting with animals, got two hundred zebras which actually were painted jackasses leaping over the cast in a best remembered shot. I said painted jackasses, all of which performed within confine of Metro’s backlot. Rather than be disillusioned, let’s by all means applaud ingenuity of such trick stuff. Downing an elephant for Solomon’s first scene was all too real, not planned as Marton had no desire to kill the noble beasts, but one of them charged and had to be shot for safety of cast and crew. What happened in aftermath, pachyderm companions hoisting up the dead and carrying same off, was unplanned and made large impression on audiences. Larger still was the boxoffice, King Solomon’s Mines clocking five million in domestic rentals and $6.9 million foreign, all toward final profit of $4.8 million, a fantastic sum bettering everything since Mrs. Miniver. The record would be surpassed a following year by Quo Vadis. Success of King Solomon’s Mines brought Trader Horn out of tombs for a 1953 revival, but as told previous, Trader was an encore too old, too late, for current crowds to embrace. Better liked were antique Tarzans back to thrill anew, plus Mogambo rolling up grosses impressive for themselves, except this time negative costs crept higher and so left less gain at final accounting.



There was frisson for me when Solomon’s treasure revealed itself, as in speak to collector past when we sought the lost, reveled in what was “found” after years sitting pristine in storage none but single eccentric owners knew about. I’ve supped on a book of late called The Library: A Fragile History, where the authors talk among other things about “sanctuaries” kept centuries ago by European monasteries, these to preserve ancient manuscripts otherwise lost as civilizations that generated them. Such monastic complexes were “like fortresses,” which they had to be to keep interlopers out. Collectors breached such walls as have counterparts since. It is mindset of some to hunt what is rarest, most desirable. To know where treasure is and to flush it out is a thrill but few know. A seeker named Ralph Heyward Isham followed his instincts to the greatest literary find of the twentieth century, private papers of James Boswell, him the biographer of Samuel Johnson which is still read and revered today. This was two-hundred-year-old stuff, strewn about barns, cabinets, whatever space baronial estates had to fill. Richness doesn’t jump out of drawers to say hello. Solomon strivers find that out at peril to lives, modern collectors often feeling they’ve gone to as perilous places.



To deal with owners, occasionally ones who hardly know what they own, is tightrope enthusiasts walk. Sellers quickly guess a value, often to extent of overvaluing what they have, whenever someone knocks at the door wanting it. Few owners are so oblivious to worth as native tribes in King Solomon’s Mines. Hordes are guarded well and must be rooted out like emeralds deep in Solomon cave. Often there was myth as to what holders had. You’d hear of a glorious possession, then discover there was no such thing. Search on the other hand could reveal wealth beyond what you came for, items not known to be there … but there they were. Case in memorable point: The Don Juan trip, account Greenbriar-tendered in 2006. We were there for an IB Technicolor print of The Adventures of Don Juan but found unexpectedly a cache of 16mm Warner cartoons untouched since minting years before, still on cores with lab stickers, which meant they were never projected before, in our hands briefly but not available to buy. Same with Enemy from Space (Quatermass II), a feature then thought virtually lost, at least eluding collectors I knew. Again no dice, negotiation for Don Juan only, nothing more to be had. How often do seekers enter whole rooms of bounty? King Solomon’s Mines evokes several such experiences, more that were barely misses, as in “Oh yes, some man came just last week and carted off the whole lot in his pickup.” Appropriate that Technicolor should be a link between celluloid then and Blu-Ray now, except film frankly pales beside what digital delivers, heresy my saying so perhaps, but what eyes reveal must be truth at least for me when watching what Warners has wrought.





Monday, June 05, 2023

Up From Depths to Please Anew

 


Ghost World That is Paramount on Parade



From You Tube confine comes one not expected, let alone in quality we can at last tolerate. Paramount on Parade was of a cycle studios pedaled through 1929 and into 1930, being revues less like film than stage, chance to watch talent as though from seats facing footlights. Practical value of such as The Show of Shows, The Hollywood Revue of 1929, and Fox Movietone Follies of 1929 might be imagined, as after initial play came quick spoilage with portions if not close to whole of intended content gone missing since. Each had among other things Technicolor sequences. Scraps surfaced, in fact continue to, bare suggestion of what full auditoria regaled in. Paramount on Parade amounts to dive deep midst antiquity. Mitzi Green impersonating George Moran of black faced Moran and Mack begs question of who was Mitzi Green and who was George Moran? I emerged like from Mayan digs at finish of Paramount on Parade, itself but seventy-five or so minutes that was once a hundred and two. Entirety of it is gone forever, I fear. Loss of the color dispirits, little even in black-and-white of it survives, though rumor speaks of a Kay Francis-Harry Green skit glimpsed once in Gotham revival. I hear also of Yetis sighted here/there, but can't prove them. What must suffice is sift via YT means, hope that Paramount on Parade stays accessible there until folk vitally interested can watch. To seek beyond would be to ask more than chance or caring (by archives) will accommodate, but what of 2026, when this and other revues will have gone PD? Full speed ahead, Kickstarters!



Three men shown here are tendered as funny, and you may yet find them so. From left to right is Jack Oakie, Leon Errol, and Skeets Gallagher. Mastering-of-ceremony falls to Oakie and Gallagher, Errol left to his starring skit later and who knows what vanished footage could include him. Oakie is my notion of best-all-round comedy support in whatever used him during the thirties and after. Errol of course is master of mirth as testified previous, Gallagher obscure here and for work afterward. He is droll, an efficient host who reminds me of Criswell to come. Would that flatter Skeets? First of singing sweethearts (several pair through P on P) are Charles “Buddy” Rogers and Lillian Roth. Buddy on disc can be had given gray market source, legit limited to Wings which thrives on Blu-Ray. Lillian is cute and dimply, appeals modernly at least to me, had a hard second act with redemption that followed if you believe Susan Hayward in 1955’s I’ll Cry Tomorrow. Notice how many late twenties songs are suggestive as to lyrics? Had I been around then, and a parent, I’m not sure offspring would have permission to bring such shellac in the house.



What may be a most arresting section of Paramount on Parade is triad of mystery solvers that are Warner Oland as Fu Manchu, Clive Brook being Sherlock Holmes, and William Powell as Philo Vance. This resonated for years because it was all we had of those characters and essayers of same, their Paramount features gone from circulation and unlikely then to come back. Now by Kino grace we have Blu-Ray of two of three Olands as Fu, Powell upcoming in three Vance features, still nothing yet of Brook Holmes. The sketch is … sketchy … less amusing than curious. Fun is seeing them spoofy, but another few minutes and things would get labored. First among outstanding aboard Paramount on Parade is Maurice Chevalier, him ideal to variety format, a biggest “new” star the hodgepodge boasts, much the real thing along talkie finds. He is saucy and combative toward Evelyn Brent, undressing her to a slip, Brent herself on slip-slide from stardom, their parlay supervised by Lubitsch. Any rival company would have wanted Chevalier. Remember MGM and “More Stars Than There Are in Heaven”? Paramount was like “More Stars Than There Are at RKO or Columbia.” Revues such as Paramount on Parade were sheerest factory work, talent less pressed to act than be “themselves,” whatever that amounted to, which in several cruel instance was not a lot. Limitations were known among assets protected, Paramount loathe to see property ridiculed as growers would be to let peach trees wilt, but rush to sound was on, and everyone was pretty much on his/her own. The studio like others operational and earning profits felt they understood talent better than the talent themselves. Were performers invited to frame spots and stay within confine of what they did best? I’d like to know, for instance, how much latitude Maurice Chevalier had, or for that matter, Evelyn Brent.


Revue films amounted to advertising for entity that were  studios and Eastern industry that controlled them. “A Greater New Show World” was what Paramount boasted, greater that is, than any other firm’s show world, in fact, a world Paramount dominated to extent of owning the largest number of affiliated theatres. So many such edifices in 1929 seemed Greatest what with talk magnetizing movies as never before. Revues then were proof of solvency, an assertion that conditions were better than good and would continue improving. Paramount position thought impregnable that lush year became an anchor to drag them into receivership within short future, theatres no longer horn of plenty but empty caverns through which fewer paid customers passed. Depression was the door slammed against prosperity, not just Paramount’s but everyone’s. MGM ironically stayed in profit for owning less exhibiting venues, brick and mortar a menace now that panic was on. How Paramount fell broke in the early thirties gives useful instruction for anyone who thinks good times, no matter how good they appear, can last forever. I can’t imagine Paramount on Parade being made in 1931.



Re topic of combat, Jack Oakie and Zelma O’Neal knock each other around a gymnatorium. Tough to tell Zelma from a hundred other flappers plying trade for talkers, though she seems good as any. Zelma’s also in Follow Thru,’ early apply of two-color seen most at museums. Will future PD status loose it among rural dwellers? Next comes Ruth Chatterton dramatizing to Fredric March and other doughboys, played apparently straight, or maybe subtle-humorous over my head. Chatterton was early sound’s gift to high histriona. She did Madame X to acclaim for Metro and Skeets Gallagher refers to it. Ruth got more energy after Warners stole her from Paramount, then did what she’ll be best remembered for, Dodsworth, in 1936. Middle-age, and looking it, forced Chatterton into mature parts before retreat to the stage and years more successful work. Paramount on Parade is valuable for prodding us to ponder such matters. It is a curiosity piece in the best sense, and we are fortunate to have it finally on watchable terms. Participants fascinate where we recall them in other contexts and can make comparison. Even unknowns click for novelty sake, if not as familiars, then as objects for Google search. Paramount on Parade so far as I know has not broadcast anyplace since AMC back in the eighties. My VHS tape went to dogs long ago, so resurrect via You Tube came more than welcome.



Mitzi Green was a big little girl noise, age nine when Paramount on Parade was made, among other gifts hers for obscure impressions. In addition to George Moran here, she became George Arliss and Edna May Oliver for a Girl Crazy skit at RKO. Mitzi like moppets from stage transitioning to movies had brute assertiveness I freeze still for, waiting for the hook that won’t come, not wanting it once caught up in her weirdish spell. Helen Kane sings "Boop-Oop-a-Doop" before a classroom of kids. I wondered if even one of them might still be alive today. How long did Helen, or anyone, stay on the road trilling that? Reminds me of persistent Joe Penner asking endlessly if anyone wanna buy his duck. Nancy Carroll sings and “hoofs” to Abe Lyman and his Band. I know her primarily from Hot Saturday. Carroll was vaguely like Clara Bow, as were others at Paramount figured to be Bow successors. Said to be temperamental to tantrum level, and maybe that’s how she ended up far down marquees within a few years of leaving Para nest. Carroll shows up barely in a 1937 Deanna Durbin, That Certain Age, in but a couple minutes toward the end and hardly noticed for that. I’d like to know more of what went wrong for Nancy Carroll.




Clara Bow, the real Bow, is expectedly the spice of Para’s program, her navy number with male chorus boding well for talkie laurels, so why not the happy outcome? Read David Stenn’s Bow book and learn. George Bancroft was bull in anyone’s china shop but here plays polite, an untypical stance, then rough/ready where the skit speculates upon what happens where house guests show true colors rather than manners they’d ordinarily display, a clever jape and Bancroft gives it flair. He was tough to float for long thanks to few tricks in his kit, but Bancroft in reasonable dose is fine, got better as support once sun set upon starring parts in the later thirties. Largest gap in Paramount on Parade appears to be a Technicolor all-star go at Gary Cooper, Mary Brian, Richard Arlen, Jack Oakie, Jean Arthur, and Fay Wray under Edmund Goulding direction, which survives as a black-and-white prelude only, making little sense as left in present version of Paramount on Parade. Why do personalities of Paramount ownership seem remote to us now --- Nancy Carroll, Bancroft, Harry Green, Mary Brian, Dick Arlen? It comes to withdrawal of Para's pre-49 library lot once syndication and then landlord Universal lost interest many years ago. Early Paramounts, late twenties through much of thirties certainly, was rat poison after initial sales of the full package tendered in 1959. A big deal then, it quick became matter of buyers wanting only Hope/Crosby, DeMille specials, whatever else was at least recognizable to 1960’s and after viewership. What we get today via streaming or Kino Blu-Ray dole is but fraction of what there voluminously is. One could watch Star-Spangled Rhythm on out-of-print DVD and draw near as many blanks as with Paramount on Parade, both march for the forgotten. No point to carp and ask why, ours but to do or don’t with what little is available and rely upon You Tube or obscure sources elsewhere.

grbrpix@aol.com
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