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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.

5 Comments:

Blogger Dave K said...

"Dale Robertson, who I always got confused for some reason with Rory Calhoun"

Boy, did you climb into my brain box! Have always, ALWAYS had to stop and unscramble those two when reflecting one on one of either star's appearances! Trying to think of similar confusion with other actor pairs... maybe Arlene Dahl and Rhonda Fleming?

4:20 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Surprised that "The War Lord" was shot at Universal. On a long-ago Studio Tour the tower was planted in a walk-around "prop plaza", locked up and with a sign identifying the movie. I'd seen it -- don't remember if it was in a theater or on TV -- and assumed it was done in England; consequently I suspected I was looking at an imposter.

Old horror stars weren't the only ones to ride their own coattails when TV acquired their early flicks. The Three Stooges, denied a share of television sale, turned out a series of kid-friendly cheapies. Various matinee cowboys eased from last-gasp Bs into television episodes. Shirley Temple's Storybook had the grown-up star dramatizing children's books and stories. Not everybody was able to personally monetize studio vault sales, to be sure. But were any careers actually damaged by competition from youthful selves?

11:38 PM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

My father was stationed at the military base when BOMBARDIER was shot there. Somewhere I have photos...somewhere.

7:43 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Arlene Dahl and Ruta Lee!

9:59 AM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

Never confused those actors. I DID too often hear "starring John Wayne" when the late movie (remember those?) announcer said "starring John Payne." The disappointment was palpable.

The Old Ranger

1:17 PM  

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