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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.


Blogger William Ferry said...

Another great cornucopia post! The commissary shots reminded me of the filmmaker (I forget who) who told tales that they got an hour for lunch. If they were behind schedule, they got thirty minutes. If they were REALLY behind, they'd write a lunch scene into the script!

3:37 PM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

As a drive-in exhibitor in the early seventies, I played BLOODY MAMA and BOXCAR BERTHA from AIP.

Each cost me 25% of the gross.

7:06 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

A great burgoo of fascinating items. I certainly would sit a couple of lesser AIP items to catch BURN WITCH BURN on a big screen, no matter how tattered the print. Flashing back to a column you posted a few weeks ago on THE THREE GODFATHERS, I hold the 1936 version directed by unsung Richard Boleslawski to be, perhaps, the best of many.

2:16 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

The spiritual descendants of those AIP marathons are the brand-name DVDs that lump together two to four comparatively recent features. Sometimes there's a theme, like "Date Night", "Family Favorites", "Midnight Movies", etc. Rule of thumb is that for each film you really want, there's one you really don't. My suspicion is they do this to divert some money from a hit to the guys who own stakes in the turkeys.

I remember when double features were still fairly common. As opposed to those drive-in shovelfests the pairings were often random and sometimes inexplicable: "The Seven Percent Solution" ran with the R-rated cut of "Flesh Gordon" at a suburban twoplex. "Blazing Saddles" was paired with "The Klansman", a vile mess of rape and murder. And Paramount officially promoted "Rosemary's Baby" and "The Odd Couple" as a double header. Granted, both were respectable hit movies. But serious horror and Neil Simon together?

7:07 PM  
Blogger Michael Johnson said...

Your photograph of Errol Flynn in the WB commissary holds special significance to me. My great aunt, Kathleen Higgins, ran the commissary from 1937 through the 1950's. I own many of those portraits hanging on the wall, given to me by her. One is signed by James Cagney and all of them have the original signatures of each of the photographers.

1:54 PM  
Blogger DokG said...

I can actually see pairing "Rosemary's Baby" with "The Odd Couple". Both are about New York apartment dwellers. In a weird way, I can imagine all the characters inhabiting the same universe. Love thinking of Mia Farrow as the third "lost" Pigeon sister.

7:35 PM  

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