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Monday, July 31, 2023

What Works with Whiskey


Sandwich and Drink and Movies Besides

Some pictures play best by way of whiskey. I discovered this awhile back where doubling Virginia Gentleman with sour mix and the Blu-Ray of Vanishing Point, hot car chase that pleased back in 1971. Here was sort our small town was incorporated to host. To watch Vanishing Point dry is no fit option. One must fortify to ride with Kowalski, not via effluence that is TCM wine, even if they offered a Barry Newman Signature bottle after fashion of Orson Welles Merlot. My being plebian sees need met by one shot and a half of bourbon, “Splenda” the phony added sugar doubtless killing me as I type, lemon and lime juice, plus two drops of yellow food color to resemble a drink ordered in upscale dining-out circumstance. Voila and it's done, no precious cocktail recipe nor olive accompany. Meal to accompany drink is a sub roll substantial as can be located and stout enough to bear weight of low sodium, thin-sliced ham (five ounces), pimento cheese slapped between layers of the meat, best-anywhere coleslaw from a close-by soul food dispenser. Down-market screen accompany is the must, a movie tawdry as potion to wash it down, seventies entertainment most consulted, it being dusk for gloves off filmmaking we are not likely to enjoy again. Marshmallow centers taint much/most of what followed, alcohol severest lie detector for scared rabbitism bred into all we see, or choose not to see, today. Yes, there was greatness to come later … 48 Hrs. in 1982, Road House (1989), The Last Boy Scout (1991), others I’ll drink to, each echo of what by then was lost. Tippling proceeds midst Age of Enlightenment that remains the 70’s, from which I lately poured the following:

THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971) --- Here's current object of controversy after a cut version surfaced on streaming platforms, evident act of owner Disney which supplied content to Amazon, Vudu, Apple, the rest, each and all incomplete by seconds snipped, dialogue including a racial epithet, hell paying when fans noticed and word spread through social media like brush fire. I saw smoke and right away ordered a Blu-Ray ($10), these to “sell out” said late arrivers seeking to buy. Having skipped The French Connection in 1971 (my mistake), it was years before the trend-setter came my way, and longer still before I realized how fine it was. Police had not played so raw before --- French and Dirty Harry changing rules if not abandoning them. Bullitt, Coogan’s Bluff, The Detective, and Madigan from 1968, stern stuff then, were nursery residents by compare with French and Harry. The French Connection shocks more now than was case in 1971 (hence the cuts), yet stately is tempo where today action seems the more frenzied. A biggest chase to then still works … at least for me … but what do I know of reaction should The French Connection turn up again before a crowd, which then ask, how likely is that to happen? Disney owns it, could withdraw the whole in event they see fit, or find The French Connection un-fit. Fans say grab physical media while ye may, and yes, I’m glad for having secured the Blu-Ray. French accompany to stiff beverage achieves state of grace as only alcohol and 70’s hard tack can supply. Duck the denuded stream, find that Blu plus a bottle, and get your kick.

PRIME CUT (1972) --- Mangy crime story even for movies loosed from Code stricture and flying high-wide as they were by early-70's. Prime Cut being of “problematic” category makes it ideal for stiff partnering and ham sliced thin as underworld rivals ground into literal frankfurters and served by crime kingpin Gene Hackman. To render rough justice comes Lee Marvin, loyal friend to all that imbibe especially in shows scorned when sober. “Not Safe for Work” is content spattered along Prime Cut’s 88-minute route, sex enslaved girls sold by a corrupt orphanage to Hackman and from there abused by Gregory Walcott, then rescued by unlikely knight Lee. Another one I let alone in ’72, having been burnt by Straw Dogs the previous year and sworn off R-rated roughies as result. Even gave The Godfather and Frenzy a miss on respective first runs. Truth is, films overall left me cold but for vintage ones I collected, an attitude not markedly changed since. Passage of years has rendered some palatable, in fact relishable, my threshold for vileness lowered. Hard liquor finds filmic equivalent in Prime Cut. Does Sissy Spacek hold her nose at mere mention of it? Action gets an urban start (Chicago), moves to heartland where balance takes place. Yarn sustains short length, one ending enough as opposed to modern convention. Maybe it took a Lee Marvin to make Prime Cut edible. Pity there are no more like him to topline this sort of product, but wait, could H'wood or anyone dare such again? Kino has a Blu-Ray, gritty and not bred for pictorial beauty.

SORCEROR (1977) --- Wrote about Sorcerer in 2014 mostly from standpoint of what our College Park Cinderblocks did to it. Come now toast to this true great among shows best had with stimulant. I found Sorcerer that summer when movies fell before scythe that was Star Wars. Did directors like William Friedkin who put lifeblood into ambitious projects resent robots taking so completely over? Here was Dickensian Best Times/Worse Times, but I had hard time sifting even Good Times from much of what 1977 tendered. Sorcerer disappointed wickets wise and Friedkin was said to have given up Hollywood for some period after. There should be reward for quality --- why not here? Ordeal this looks to have been for cast/crew makes me glad not to have been a movie director during the seventies, or since. A recliner with refreshment is ideal pulpit from which to thank my Creator for sparing me a megaphone and puttees. Did Roy Scheider sacrifice some of health getting through Sorcerer and All That Jazz? Sorcerer boasts epic sprawl --- it takes reels just to set up born losers who haul nitro in South American jungles. Fact of living: The more one tipples, the more one identifies with fugitives and/or soldiers of fortune doing what they do. They say New York’s famed Rialto Theatre was hip deep with dipsos during exploitation prime. They knew palliative benefit of head-on action. Was 1977 mindset intent on Star Wars to exclusion of grown-up action content? The Deep and The Spy Who Loved Me were cotton candy beside Sorcerer, a job too intense for its own boxoffice good, Rialto descendants perhaps too soft to take likes of Sorcerer straight. A blockbuster era was blooming, fed upon thrills not so unnerving or endings so bleak. 2023 isn’t 1977, so maybe I would not be alone in calling Sorcerer that vintage year’s best.

TWO-LANE BLACKTOP (1971) --- Knew I would love this, and did. Car people seem to me like monumental hobbyists. Auto culture is what they live for. Each among film folk could identify with them. The county where I live is filled with autophiles, or at least was, there being “cruise nights” for nostalgia’s sake, downtown dedicated to drivers and their vintage wheels. We still have collector Saturdays for all to display chassis. A local man earned plenty in business and poured it all into old cars. Jay Leno was a regular buyer from him for elusive parts. All this was then, though of now I can’t reliably say. Did era for classic cars pass with those who came up before, say, the eighties, or does interest burgeon yet in the south and points west? Could we cross this wide country like “The Driver” and “The Mechanic” (James Taylor/Dennis Wilson) and find car mavens to achieve instant rapport with? If not for chasing film, I might have chased cars. A same obsessive spirit drove these people (see? I said “drove”). Two-Lane Blacktop captures it vividly. Taylor and Wilson show up at drive-in diners and are immediately among friends, rivals at least, all immersed in the culture of cars. One of souped-ups is “a 1932” ready to tear out at eighty-five MPH. What I know of cars is that they have a motor and four wheels, yet Two-Lane Blacktop, Vanishing Point, The Driver, Baby Driver, others such, fascinate me. Again, it is an identification thing. Two-Lane Blacktop did not do much business … for failing to be “protest” enough? Maybe it was too existential for our southern market.

As R. Scott said, a man needs a reason to ride that country. Hauling liquor was a reason, and a good one, Thunder Road a practical application of speed and where it could get you. Race for sake of racing would seem pointless to men who made ways carrying contraband. Two-Lane Blacktop was enabled by Easy Rider’s success, part of a Universal group to tap what was understood all of a sudden to be a massive youth market. Done cheaply, distributed carelessly, director Monte Hellman saw studio interest flag early on, Wasserman himself said to have sunk the boat for Two-Lane Blacktop. Some of filming was in North Carolina, but I don’t recall anyone mentioning it then, Blacktop being not quite our kind of movie, despite a trailer frontloaded with race and chase highlights. These as basis for action might have fed repeat playdates to make Two-Lane Blacktop a hit in NC/SC/Tennessee, enriching Universal beyond the less than one million invested, a policy got spectacularly right six years later with Smoky and the Bandit. Could a problem have been fact the race set-up did not really pay off? Two-Lane Blacktop delves deeper I know, but patrons there for premise promise may have felt rooked enough to spread the bad word. Wish I had gone to Two-Lane Blacktop. There were two classmates I did not particularly like who referred to it as “cool,” but I never had a sense either went to the Liberty and saw it. Few of peers went to the Liberty at all. What did they do after school and on Saturday? In our town, getting to the show was no easy cake. Fortunately, the Liberty was within a mile of me, so walks were doable and (almost) always worth it. Those in next-to-us Wilkesboro almost never saw theatre movies. Had I grown up benighted there, I would not be writing this stuff now. Criterion has a lovely Blu-Ray of Two-Lane Blacktop, at presently reduced price. There are fine extras, and one of the best sleeve essays I’ve come across by Kent Jones, also explore of effort by collectors to track three 1955 Chevrolets used during filming, two of the vehicles eventually found and now restored. What cars featured in movies over the last sixty years have not been tracked down and fixed up?

Monday, July 24, 2023

Film Noir #25


Noir: Appointment With a Shadow, The AssassinBad Blonde, and The Big Bluff

Still struggling to get out of A and B titles, quicksand too thick to loose me forward in Noir's murky alphabet. Would I have started this project knowing there would be so many?

APPOINTMENT WITH A SHADOW (1957) --- Recent-issued 72 minutes in black-and-white scope from Universal-International, not seen properly for many years until Kino took a flyer on Blu-Ray release for a latest Noir box, proof again how something buried can be happily exhumed to show what we’ve missed for way too long. Appointment With a Shadow is no rediscovered classic, but for those who enjoy 50’s U-I and all its works (me!), there is much to appreciate and enjoy. Did this cost even $100K to finish? --- because from look of things, a Playhouse 90 might have took more to get on the air, but audiences by now used to cramped environs of TV drama kept Appointment on terms of second feature with whatever was expected to excite more. George Nader is an alcoholic reporter getting his chance at redemption via witnessing a murder not the murder police think they’ve solved, Nader knowing the victim is a plant and that the killer remains at large. I checked to see if this yarn had paperback origins or was found in Cornell Woolrich’s overcoat pocket, but no, it was handiwork of three Universal staffers who did shared best within limit of time they undoubtedly had. Effective first third has Nader white knuckling a long day without drink to keep his date with destiny, and from there comes chase and being chased by bad man Frank deKova. I cheer-led for Nader throughout, his character close to real-life eight balled near-star who’d be sacrificed to wolves bred by 50’s era scandal mongering, a story told other places, and possibly to go into when time comes to talk of Man Afraid, another Nader U-I from good offices of Kino. Rousing cheer to that distributor for giving us so much Uni treasure, and long may they continue doing so.

THE ASSASSIN --- aka The Venetian Bird (1952) --- Search is on for a war hero who’s maybe a heel plus potential killer, Richard Todd the Brit private eye in Naples to sort mystery out. Again as with Euro-set noirs, The Third Man is evoked, past deeds and misdeeds dredged toward normalizing postwar lives. Sleuths in habit of asking irksome questions saw targets painted on back by continentals with much to hide, motivations murkier than what drove whodunits past. Todd begins cheerful, nattily turned out, his a seeming Cook’s tour of canals and perhaps romance for chaser, but suspects here are all suspicious, being allied toward liquidation of a visiting dignitary, Todd well over his head in attempt to stop it. Location is a help and nothing looks set-built, The Venetian Bird (I prefer calling it that) reminiscent also of in-fashion filmmakers who shunned phony backdrops, many of these operating in Italy (did some assist on The Venetian Bird?). Here is as much inspiration to book a next vacation as to solve the riddle and clear killings, Venice a lovely spot whatever depredations done by villainy. Another of efforts by the Rank Organization to crack worldwide markets, The Venetian Bird flew US ways in 1953 under blunter title of The Assassin, meaning of which doesn’t come clear until final third of the story, but how else to scratch exploitation itch of audiences to whom The Venetian Bird would seem too obscure a label? An interesting book could come of efforts to sell Brit product in a domestic market, let alone foreign language output even tougher to earn acceptance from Yanks. In fact, there has been coverage, of academic bent it's true, but with solid info and sad realization that too few imports saw success on American soil. The Venetian Bird is part of a Kino “British Noir” DVD collection. Quality is fine.

BAD BLONDE (1952) --- Barbara Payton judged as having little left to offer in American films was something else entirely for Brit watchers to whom she was uninhibited alternative to home based players observing rules of decorum. Did Bad Blonde make a UK splash not felt on US shores? Payton in tawdry headlines expelled her from major makers at home, so Robert Lippert sent a now soiled dove across for two, Bad Blonde and Four-Sided Triangle, latter a first sci-fi from Hammer, doing then-business as Exclusive Films. Her as spent US novelty might be novel anew for England. Who were sex lures for Britain filmgoers prior to 1952, let alone a specifically blonde sex lure? Diana Dors reinvented herself thus for same year’s Man Bait, and that would transform a former jobbing actress doing variety of parts large and small to a most-of-time vamp. Did Dors wish she could stay a utility player rather than caricature that success obliged her to become? “The first and only British blonde bombshell” was how Dors described herself … interesting that a same season saw she and Barbara Payton chasing similar carrot. Difference was Payton’s career and circumstance being less stable, in fact far more chaotic. She would not again have opportunity as Bad Blonde afforded, in England or Hollywood. Capable Brits support her, but Payton was what lent star quality to Bad Blonde, being flamboyant where colleagues were subdued. Were Yanks encouraged to give it the gas when guesting in UK features? That had to be a principal reason they were sent over, to lend H’wood dynamism to what was thought dour product otherwise. Barbara Payton makes the case for her brief prominence in Bad Blonde. Too bad she couldn’t sustain it longer, overseas, or back home. VCI has Bad Blonde in a Hammer Noir box set.

THE BIG BLUFF (1955) --- An ultra-cheapie to make AIP at the time look lavish, The Big Bluff directed by H. Lee Wilder, Billy’s brother oft-disparaged by the more famed sibling who I assume struck Lee from his Christmas card list well before either made US landfall. What was so distasteful about hapless Lee? As a director, he couldn’t punch ways out of a wet bag, yet “signed” his on-screen credit like Mitchell Leisen, and Billy didn’t like Mitch either. Let’s face it … some folks simply rub us wrong ways and often that’s more our problem than theirs. Was humble helmsman of The Snow Creature and Killers from Space really a “dull son of a b---h”? Billy thought so, often said so. Not sure I would have enjoyed being latter’s writing partner, whatever Oscars and renumeration might have come my way. Enough of personalities however – what about The Big Bluff? United Artists distributed, or rather let it loose … what I saw on You Tube looked like TV shot on dreary days, and yet there are points of interest. Always engaging is theme of a gigolo in pursuit of rich widows, in this case John Bromfield after wilting quarry that is Martha Vickers. She’s doing Dark Victory dance and John hasn’t much time to seal the deal, ironies laid in wait provided we last seventy-one minutes. Robert Hutton is along as treating physician. Did he and Martha ruminate upon past days when both were briefly floated as potential stars at Warners? The cast moves about cramped sets like inside of shipping crates … makes one want to step outdoors to breathe open air. Writers have said the fifties spelled an end to B pictures. The heck it did. There were more of them that decade than I or anyone can calculate, thanks to drive-ins and continued proliferation of double bills answering need of more, and still more, product. There are numerous PD iterations on The Big Bluff, so see it on You Tube or pick poison disc-wise.

Monday, July 17, 2023

Watch (and Read) List for 7/17/2023


Watched/Read The Mummy's Hand, The War Lord, Bombardier, and Dakota Incident

THE MUMMY’S HAND (1940) --- Alert to fun-seekers --- Tom Weaver and crew have a new “Script from the Crypt,” this one for The Mummy’s Hand, fandom favorite among those raised at knee of Universal late-nights and cassette-discs-streams subsequent. “It still was a lousy picture,” warns Peggy Moran in an opening page dedication to the actress/lead, but what’s that to ones raised on tana fluid that was U-frighteners? Generations older than us never understood why monsters mattered. I told Sara Karloff of lately watching Die, Monster, Die! when we met (Johnson City, TN. Circa 2008), to which she merely asked “Why?” … as short an expression of incredulity as need be spoke. Not wanting to emphasize our age difference (fifteen years), I suggested meekly that my growing up experience, Boris Karloff between the old on television and the new in theatres, was privilege no group of youngsters had before, or since. Such perfect storm left us dedicated for life, a concept I wasn’t sure she could fully grasp, nor was it fair expecting her to. Who outside monsterdom can comprehend those for whom The Mummy’s Hand is lifelong sustenance? A book celebrating such? --- certainly we want it! Here’s the thing however, Weaver and company are at no time reverential in simple sense of shrine guarding. Theirs is a book I sat guffawing with on the screen porch, our postman noting no one else present and confirming for himself long-stood suspicion that here was a homeowner altogether cracked. Weaver writes his “Filmbook” for The Mummy’s Hand after fashion of Ackerman’s Famous Monsters mag, same approximate format with narrative told in words and picture, except unlike FJA, Weaver really can compose, humorous as if Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, and Robert Benchley got together after mutual-watch of Shock Theatre. This is happy way of all Script/Crypts (The Mummy’s Hand is #13), Weaver prose having no peer. To features of the book besides, there are cast bios, rare images, the shooting script, interviews … yes, I am very much one who wants to know more about Tom Tyler, and Peggy, and Dick Foran, all old friends since I saw The Mummy’s Hand first in 1964. That’s nearly sixty years being precious (not me, the Mummy, specifically Tom Tyler's Mummy). So is this book a gift? I could swear they wrote it just for me.

THE WAR LORD (1965) --- Unusually good to come from Universal in the mid-sixties, The War Lord has had a devoted following since, despite absence on airwaves and quality DVD. That last was cured by Kino’s Blu-Ray putting best foot forward on an El Cid minus overlength, The War Lord a pocket edition for any number of top-heavy C. Heston loads, fun happily not on hard ticket terms. Universal could push it heavy to kids, despite a theme distinctly adult (titular character demanding right to claim bride Rosemary Forsyth on her wedding night). Elements are recognizably Universal, like support from contract lists (Guy Stockwell especially good as Heston's resentful brother) and amusing sound fx lifted off Hitchcock soundtrack for The Birds. Heston had stoked the project over years, trying for set-up at Columbia but seeing them and others chicken out because he wouldn't give them a "happy" ending. The War Lord saga is told by Heston in his splendid book, An Actor's Life, a collection of journal entries supplemented by CH, outlay of $3.8 million indicated by him, serious money for Universal, though shooting closer to home (Northern California and at Uni) helped dollars go a long way. The War Lord is one instance of a backlot standing in adequately for Euro period setting, the siege on its Norman tower an especial highlight. Still The War Lord ran over budget and a two hour time limit as called for in Heston and his Fraser Productions' contract with Universal (director Franklin Schaffner submitted 174 minutes), which meant the studio took over final editing (their length: 123 minutes). What emerged for autumn 1965 release was not to Heston's liking, and less than what parties hoped for in terms of boxoffice. The War Lord plays better at least for me being shorter, the 123 minutes not a difficult sit, though longer may well have been.

BOMBARDIER (1943) --- RKO gets even for early-in-war defeats with rousing recap of the Doolittle raid, cheers a certainty when Pat O'Brien, Randolph Scott, and company drop payload on Tokyo targets. Pat begins as lone voice for precision bombing, that is, use of bombsights rather than instinct targeting as practiced by air ace Randy. We see the top-secret device placed in and taken out daily from arm-guarded safes, a US public knowing strategic value of bombsights from Sherlock Holmes' recent effort to safeguard them against Axis spies led by Lionel Atwill. In both Bombardier and Sherlock Holmes and The Secret Weapon, we see the instrument tested and know it will hit the dime from however many feet above. So how long was it before enemies broke the riddle of our bombsight? No movie to my knowing addressed that, but it would make an interesting tell today. Focus of Bombardier is pilot training, the Tokyo raid held for sock finish. We're shown what can qualify or wash a man out of using the device. Hot dog pilot Scott doesn't like notion of junior officers taking aim in rear of the craft and telling him where to fly it. O'Brien explains that sophisticated weaponry will require ego set aside. Here was beginning of computerized warfare with combat depersonalized, a pilot not seeing what would be hit even as he knew the drop was dead-on. O'Brien has to be the martinet for everyone's own good, this going harsh on youngsters Russell Wade, Richard ("Chito") Martin, Robert Ryan, and Eddie Albert, each getting benefit of career enhancement at RKO. Special-fx hit a high note by RKO standard, no shame in MGM surpassing them the following year in way-more lavish Doolittle doing that was Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo. Bombardier plays TCM in HD, and looks fine.

DAKOTA INCIDENT (1956) --- Talent agencies were by 1955 power-entrenched and in charge of much that got made by Hollywood studios. MCA was long eating Universal's lunch. A company wanting free-lance stars had to kiss Lew Wasserman's ring. Big names plus crew represented by MCA could fill call sheets to near exclusion of ones less wired to Wasserman and minions. Others at flesh-peddling did deals with what was left. The William Shiffrin agency supplied for Republic a roster less lustrous but enough to load marquees to measure of a western made economically, not on "B" terms but near enough. Dakota Incident was a Shiffrin-built package with Sterling Hayden and Linda Darnell to topline, both in for a percentage plus dollars up front. The only hiccup from 11/2/55 announcement was Hayden dropping out with Dale Robertson to sub, likely on same terms, as he and Hayden had apx.-equal B.O. lure. Indication of how cards shuffled among independents during the 50's was Dakota Incident begun as a United Artists venture to star Anne Baxter, the story a strongest element as developed by director Lewis Foster, a veteran going back to association with Pine/Thomas and helm of short comedies before that. Dakota Incident scores with fine as always Darnell ... Dale Robertson, who I always got confused for some reason with Rory Calhoun ... John Lund, quiet and effective presence in westerns long after star bid for Paramount played out ... Ward Bond, so capable that is hard to reconcile with an offscreen buffoon as cast by chief tormentor John Ford ... others welcome in westerns as elsewhere: Regis Toomey, Whit Bissell, Skip Homier, John Doucette. Dakota Incident where it plays is full-frame, but crops nicely to proper 1.85.

Monday, July 10, 2023

Category Called Comedy #2


CCC: Radio Revels and Reginald Denny

BREAKFAST IN HOLLYWOOD (1946) --- What’s more gone than radio? And yet we have more of it online than a lifetime’s listening could absorb, at least what survives, which I’d ask how much OTR does survive? Must be a sliver, as look how little of Breakfast in Hollywood floats freely, and this was so popular a program as to inspire a feature movie in 1946, a more-less recital of Tom Breneman’s daily show, thus precious opportunity to watch him interact with listeners turned participants. This then was fan service of most craven kind, a film less film than radio with pictures. Breneman had a restaurant from which broadcasts were heard, ham and eggs at constant fry, so a large entrance marquee promised. He would move among diners daily and engage them re lives, joking mildly at expense of eccentrics exposing themselves to Breneman scrutiny on nationwide radio. United Artists distributed the 1946 feature, for which actors were added to supply narrative where Breneman was not doing his radio thing. Comedy and heart-tug came courtesy ZaSu Pitts, Billie Burke, Beulah Bondi, Hedda Hopper as herself. Music guests were Spike Jones and City Slickers, plus the King Cole Trio. Radio got respect else these would not participate, and like with Phil Baker, we must assume there was ready viewership where on-air personalities consented to be themselves for our looking benefit. Tom Breneman struck me like TV's Art Linkletter, bandy with sweet old ladies rather than emphasis on kids as with Art. He died sudden in 1948 (“Tom Breneman, Famous Radio Star, Drops Dead” said one tactless headline). I don’t know who ended up with the eatery, which was lavish and must have cost plenty to dress up. Did Brenaman wife and two surviving kids see benefits from that?

TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT (1944) --- You wouldn’t think a class outfit like Twentieth Century Fox had brass enough to put their logo on such a cheater, yet here it was for 1944, an extended (beyond interest) capture of radio’s Take It or Leave It, a game show which later became The $64 Question. Latter title as popular expression comes down yet to moderns who know not meaning of it, but then how many care re origin of slang so far passed? Height of arrogance is recycled Fox footage, basis for “The Screen’s Greatest Radio Show” to include Alice Faye, Betty Grable, Al Jolson, plenty more … except none appear fresh, and some of relic clips go back ten years, an affront to anyone paying ’44 way in. Loew’s Warfield compensates with eight acts of vaudeville, plus small print promise of Scarface (1932) to bolster Take It or Leave It after 11 PM once live talent went home (imagine their exhaustion). Many war run theatres were a three-shift circus for harried staff and artists performing on stage. Asset, if a small one, of Take It or Leave It is to see radio being staged, a process invisible at home, listeners no doubt thrilled to see what made broadcasts tick. Phil Baker, a voice familiar, and face too, thanks to previous The Gang’s All Here, again was Himself for banter with contestants, Take It or Leave It a popular airwave ritual, but how does that excuse padding that is clips from Tin Pan Alley, Baby Take a Bow, Sonja Henie skating in who-knows-what interchangeable vehicle, all proposed as “Guests” in ads at the least misleading. My bootleg of Take It or Leave It showed up with twenty minutes shorn and enough splices/cue marks to relive ordeal of syndication and 16mm collecting. Thankfully gone are those days, but fun being reminded of reality that was hazard watching.

REGINALD DENNY ON BLU-RAY --- Welcome to bright horizon that is four of Reginald Denny’s silent feature comedies available on Blu-Ray, restoration for each underwritten by Universal, the company that used him most and produced the quartet now before us from Kino. Denny guested on a Batman episode during the last year of his life and that may be where I first noticed the by-then veteran player, known to me also as misleading member of Britain’s “inner counsel” in Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror, where Denny’s climactic switch of sides sent/still sends chills at least up my spine. Re the war, airplane hobbyist Denny, who built models expertly and had a shop, more factory, dedicated to mass manufacture, turned expertise toward defense projects and designed early incarnation of what we call drones, a male Hedy Lamarr it would seem. Between Denny drones and Lamarr’s frequency hopping, we’d see the Axis out sure. Kevin Brownlow’s The Parade’s Gone By with its intoxicating interior page scent which carries me always to 1968 publication date, tells of the author’s visit with Reginald Denny circa 1964 to which Parade devotes a chapter. Denny had not seen one of his silent comedies (and he made lots) “in twenty years” and was afraid they’d not click when Brownlow arranged for the actor and his family to screen Skinner's Dress Suit. What vivid account this is of a silent luminary who lived to know how still enjoyable his long past work was even unto the mid-sixties. To my reckon, Denny was the great romantic leading man of silent era modern comedy. He practically invented a style to flower fully with thirties screwball. What Happened to Jones? (1926) could easily and profitably have been remade with Cary Grant starring and Leo McCarey directing, being blue chip mirthful through all its 71 minutes.

Jones events lead to wedding ceremony payoff that reminded me much of Four Weddings and a Funeral in its final act, being plenty funny as was that 1994 success. I ask on one hand, where has What Happened to Jones? been all my life? --- simple answer being nowhere, as who could access it before now and Kino’s Blu-Ray? This one is a real discovery. If all Denny comedies are good as What Happened to Jones? and Skinner’s Dress Suit, we’ve got pleasures yet to unearth. 1964 and the Denny screening with Brownlow is now several generations back of us, the films more remote, so question rises as to how Denny plays now, answer via foursome spread across two Blu-Rays from Kino. I’m discovering one feature at apportioned time … rich vintage humor should never be binged. Any Denny is at best a delight, at the least fascinating, being twenties tell of youth at work, domesticity, and eager play. Denny races roadsters here, moves up in business there, all and more of what we expect men of purpose to have done in era one hundred years passed. Reginald Denny was surely salve to those missing Wallace Reid. Both were athletic, engaging at comedy but falling in mud less than slapstick we associate with the period. Denny preferred a light approach and became popular enough to enforce the policy. Fun arose from situations, a young husband out of his debt depth in Skinner’s Dress Suit, the bachelor assuming false guise to salvage his engagement (What Happened to Jones?). More Denny vehicles are extant, so further releases could and should happen. In the meantime, there are these from Kino and all should please.

Monday, July 03, 2023

Stills That Speak #1


STS: Beauty for Sale, The Alamo's Front, Stars Play at Eating, and AIP in Bunches

The best stills have their stories to tell. Here are a few. More will follow as Stills That Speak recurs from time to time at Greenbriar. BEAUTY FOR SALE (1933) --- Here is MGM precode seldom seen if barely known, but worth the watch for cast and director, Richard Boleslawski the latter, refugeed from Russia after fighting for the Czar and ending up a target for Soviets. We see him guiding Una Merkel and Alice Brady as camera master James Wong Howe looks on. Boleslawski is obscure for exiting young, a death in his thirties somewhat fishy, though attributed to heart attack. He is known for importing Stanislavski’s method to US shore, having learned technique from the man himself. Boleslawski taught in New York during the early thirties and helped start the Group Theatre and what eventually became the Method. Colleague from Russian past Maria Ouspenskaya gave instruction also. They both ended up in Hollywood. I don’t know how much Boleslawski influenced screen actors. There probably wasn’t time for him to full press converts to Stanislavski style. Tough enough getting that done in the fifties after the Method became fashionable. Did Maria Ouspenskaya feed tips to Lon Chaney Jr. or Evelyn Ankers when they did The Wolf Man together? Imagine Lon calling up childhood traumas to enrich his Larry Talbot or Count Alucard. Beauty for Sale is had from Warner Archive. A funny and familiar clip appeared in an MGM special ABC did in 1972 that Dick Cavett narrated, though back then, you couldn’t have found the feature with a Geiger counter. Boleslawski directed several good thirties features. He appears to have been capable and liked, soft sold acting ideas (if at all) for not wanting to discomfit stars finding it hard enough just to recall lines.

THE ALAMO THEATRE IN 1937 --- Had a recurring dream through childhood of walking through woods at the end of our street that opened to a clearing where sat a theatre no one had told me of, never in fact was known to exist. Posters of every size garlanded the front, crowds present, but from where? No streets led here, tall trees alone surrounded the place, yet inside were shows the stuff of hope unfilled so far by reality I knew, Hammer’s The Mummy, Corman/AIP Poes I craved, none of wants withheld. The projection booth beckoned and there sat every wish title in labelled cannisters. “Which would you like for next time?” said the kind operator, to which I replied, “How about a combo of The Curse of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula that the Liberty has so far declined to play?” Not a problem, for upon orderly shelves both sat as if awaiting my request. Spooky thing is I know the place … could enter those woods today, as no structure has been added over intervening years, so might there be a theatre of my imagination deep in brush, like the Raintree Montgomery Clift sought? Chance could lie in finding such paradise and never being able to return from it, but who’d want to? This but be preamble to image above which surely is a Texas venue, or might there be “Alamo” theatres in other states? The Alamo, circa 1937, appears very much like my dream site. “Always a Good Show” brags the front, and for all we know, The Outer Gate and Law of the Ranger add up to just that, though I’ve seen neither, personal acquaintance only with Shadows of Chinatown, which Moon Mullins had a 35mm print of back in seventies day. Come to think of it, Moon’s backyard cinema was rainbow’s end in itself.

SHORT BREAK TO SORT OF EAT --- Actors must eat, so scribes say, fewer mention how much. I’ll guess not enough, considering ideal weight they must maintain, action physiques for women now as much as men, a pressure I’d not bear whatever the reward in terms of fame. Habit most pernicious in Gold Era was stars smoking to quell appetite, like Errol Flynn with his cigarette instead of steak or a plate of ribs I would opt for. Commissary captures are predictable for lettuce upon saucer surface, maybe cottage cheese on indulging occasion. There are stories of snoopy overbosses paused to inspect actress meals and commenting upon poor sparrows' nibble at crust. Flynn with lunch companions Margaret Lindsay and Melville Cooper stayed trim at considerable sacrifice. It probably never occurred to them to feast hearty. Errol as Robin going at deer legs was purest fantasy both in terms of Sherwood Forest legend and the actor’s own limit for eating. Here might have been EF's best acting instance. If only, he must have thought. Lunch was presumed occasion to relax, unless you sat for interviews with fan press, which there was less time for during work hours. Some preferred to dine alone, like Olivia DeHavilland here. I should put dine in “” due to frugal spread that is her white bread/bland sandwich, a few chips and crackers plus milk, studying a dog-eared script, off to stage corner or wherever this pose was made. Set stills proposed to be candid, but all were rehearsed, as “acted” as anything done for directors and with other performers. Either way, eat quick, less the better, and get back to work.

AIP ONCE UPON PAST TIME --- Names that had heft at 1957 box offices included Frankenstein and Dracula, known from television where much older features played late nights, plus theatres in which characters thrived still or would soon, and in multiple iterations. How could the crowd above know how punk a show they were waiting to see? Bar was higher at least for Frankenstein after the summer success of The Curse of Frankenstein from England, in color and with gore unprecedented. Teenage Frank came months later in November, and I wonder if adolescents, figured to be undiscriminating, looked at Teen-F and said we want our money back. I knew by February 20, 1965, that I Was a Teenage Frankenstein was a cluck, but stayed up that night w/o parental interference because being my birthday, where’s harm in one night’s sleep lost? Did the ‘57 crowd feel cheated upon exit, Blood of Dracula poor consolation even in “bonus” capacity? I saw BoD in later ’65, approved of it as little as others likely had, so what sense lies in us wanting the pair on Blu-Ray? Fervent hope of many is for Susan Hart to let Teenage Frankenstein be released (she owns the neg, along with ten or so other AIP’s), but so far, nothing toward that, it alleged she wants too much money, but could problem be dissipated market for sci-fi dead or dying along with percentage of those who stood outside cinemas in November 1957? Did they have as much fun watching Teenage/Blood as I would if the pair were available for home viewing?

AIP AGAIN WITH DUMP TRUCKS --- Found this mélange of marathon ads American-International assembled for drive-ins during the early seventies, still peddling antiques like Day the World Ended, Cat Girl, and A Bucket of Blood among fresher stock, none less than several if not more years past, though for four at price of one who’d complain? Few could care either, for one out of AI seemed same as another, blurs against horizon as sun sank low. What intrigues is shape prints likely were in … rugged at the least, pink at best where it was Horrors of the Black Museum or earlier Poes. Still a joy being there no doubt, relishing each ninety-minute or less cascade as if it were 1963 when such as The Terror or The Haunted Palace were new. Were we ready by 1972 to get all nostalgic for like of these? I certainly was. These and much of AIP seemed nowhere by that time. On TV they looked depleted, scope narrowed to squares, or black-white where color was expected. The Poes went largely missing till CBS began using them for weeknight late shows, no fit way to watch, but what were alternatives? Let’s guess how much an AIP foursome would have cost to rent. I’d venture one hundred for each quartet, maybe a jump more for the Bloody Mama, Boxcar Bertha lot. Let’s say you somehow made it through Night of the Blood Beast and Scream and Scream Again … could Burn Witch Burn be endured, or would home --- anyplace --- be preferred? For management, especially those with stocked canteens and a grill, such overnight ordeals would be opportunity banging upon cash registers, none of which was shared with AIP or anyone save what it took to keep soda pop and hot dogs in supply.

More of Beauty for Sale HERE. Also AIP Marathons in detail HERE.
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