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Monday, March 25, 2024

Ads and Oddities #5

 


Ad/Odds: Dick's Doughnut Party, Unholy Love, All-RKO Show, and Dream Girl


WHY NOT A DOUGHNUT PARTY? --- Merit badge to all who toss such event after fashion of Olivia DeHavilland and Dick Powell in 1938. What goes ideally with doughnuts? They may not have proposed marijuana then, but I’ll attest to pastry and cannabis as irresistible combo for potheads during a seventies usage peak, this not from personal experience (never took weed --- really). What I did hear of, and often, was classmates toking up on weekend nights, then hitting Hwy. 421 for Winston-Salem (apx. an hour’s distance) to Krispy-Kreme Doughnuts where fresh treats were served twenty-four hours daily (fun fact, Winston as site of the very first KK in 1937). Odyssey came of “munchies,” hunger said to result from using plant with roots in hell. I knew boys who’d boast of a dozen doughnuts per midnight sitting. My choice, being a good scout, was “Sweet Sixteen” as in white sugared snacks. I think there were 16 of them in each bag. One night in college, we were in a card game which I exited, forgetting my Sweet Sixteens. Realizing the error not two minutes later, I returned to find table occupants, each in munchies grip, with white powder on their mouths, not cocaine, but what was left of my doughnuts. Fury ensued (mine), which got me nowhere. What we needed was leaf from Olivia and Dick’s book, milk served with Sweet Sixteens rather than marijuana. Yet I wonder if doughnuts were sufficient stimulus for Olivia/Dick's merry group. Alcohol as default guest to adult parties make orange juice or milk (even “cool, fresh cider” --- unless spiked) seem tepid alternatives. Note Joan Fontaine serving Pabst Blue-Ribbon at her more grounded in reality pool gathering. I don’t think doughnuts would be compatible with beer, let alone with mixed drinks. Stars were obliged to push product of all sorts, most of which they never personally used, although I can well imagine if D. Powell or Hard To Get lead lady DeHavilland arrived early morning to the set with a big box of doughnuts, they would surely go fast, probably with coffee to energize a sleep-deprived cast and crew.


MYRNA LOY in UNHOLY LOVE? --- An “Art Cinema” might be many things, base exploitation, sex themes promised though not delivered, certainly not where Myrna Loy is the featured star. Patronage could smell rats from distance of print ads, some possibly guessing that Unholy Love was actually the 1932 Vanity Fair rebranded for mid-forties play. I was able to ID the program thanks to key art of Loy which figured into old stills from ‘32 source, Vanity Fair sold on tawdry terms by independent producer M.H. Hoffman, who presumably made the feature available on state’s rights basis, best sell figured a time-honored sex sell. Vanity Fair was based on a nineteenth-century novel somewhat saucy, updating to lend fresh possibility enhanced by risen star Myrna Loy prior to her break into major celebrity. Second feature Reckless Girls could be anything, no use guessing what. Note respectable Colonel Blimp closing out a run. Maybe receipts were low enough from that to need harder tack for recovery. “Little theatres” really found their métier in Euro imports where art and sex coalesced and made titillation seekers feel righteous paying ways in, since foreign stuff, especially Italos, got rave reviews from respectable critics and no one need be embarrassed for attending. Ads for these could be as misleading as Vanity Fair’s reincarnation as Unholy Love. A problem all major stars had was early and possibly embarrassing work returning to haunt them, especially where sold on terms like here. Nothing they could do about it of course. Reassurance for Loy came of knowing content of Vanity Fair would confer no shame, but how could she know Vanity Fair was what was hid behind Unholy Love?


RKO TRIPLE HEADER --- Got a feeling All That Money Can Buy got a same bum’s rush in-out of 1941 theatres as Citizen Kane, and later The Magnificent Ambersons. What to do, said RKO, but jam bills with stuff an audience might actually enjoy and keep Daniel Webster and his Devil in back seats. All That Money Can Buy saw eventual title change for being so obscure --- what were we selling, asked exhibitors, and no one apart from those who paid ways in could answer. Hardly a best way to peddle product understood only in exchange for admission bought, a risk fewer were willing to take. Has a public changed in that respect? All That Money Can Buy was economically made, a negative cost of $463K, took domestic rentals of $527K, foreign at $184K (being Americana a drug upon that market). Loss amounted to $53K, so RKO must have thanked fact it was cheaply produced (for an A). Fact they’d treat All That Money Can Buy largely as a B was response more to public apathy and exhibitor disinterest. Being based on “The Devil and Daniel Webster,” it would ultimately be called that, schools a fitter venue from the forties on. 16mm prints while visually good enough were incomplete, so collectors and TV watchers made do with ninety or so minutes which at least told the story, fleshed-out less though classrooms no doubt preferred it. To pair All That Money Can Buy with belated Flagg and Quirt (with songs!) made commercial sense, as comedy plus three cartoons from Disney helped make medicine go down, blood-stained hands reaching from Hell good enough ad copy for what Money could buy, even as mission of theatres was primarily to leave them laughing, as this program likely did. All That Money Can Buy is lately out from Criterion, restored and looking a best ever.


DREAM GIRL (1948) --- Another starring Betty Hutton, which means forgotten, never shown, near-inaccessible. Betty will be revived when I find dinosaur eggs in the back yard, not primary point for today however, as who's here to state the obvious? Object of interest instead is the Chicago Theatre hosting the “Hutton Hurricane” with much to make fifty, even sixty-five, cents seem a bargain, at least to us who would Dream to go back and see this Girl as seasoning upon stage lures familiar then, but like Betty Hutton, gone with shifting winds. Consider hours these entertainers pulled … start time 9AM, a last show at 10PM. From there I’d be for a sanitarium stay, but these troupers were bound for however long Dream Girl drew crowds, this ad indicating a Hold Over, so how long did artists endure upon this bill? Toni Harper was a “Girl Jazz Singer” and Chicago native who was eleven when she appeared here, later did Ed Sullivan spots seen at You Tube, retired from performing at twenty-nine, and died in 2023. Two-Ton Baker had, among other hits, “I Like Stinky Cheese,” which I will leave for others to resurrect via You Tube or ancient vinyl. Disc jockeys on stage merit mention as Dave Garroway was among them. He obviously went places. DJ’s were welcome at presentation houses for often broadcasting live from jamborees they’d narrate like a ball game, listeners encouraged to come on down and join the fun. Against so much here-and-now excitement few features could compete, the Chicago Theatre wise in loading up live acts where a movie was soft, as probably was Dream Girl, to some extent a chaser to clear seats so watchers wouldn’t camp all day for a single admission. Of course if the stage attraction was hot enough, like a hit crooner or band, there might be endurance sitters there for a twelve-hour haul. Some among these would have been plenty sick of Dream Girl after a long, long day.





Monday, March 18, 2024

More Batjacs ...

 


Produced by John Wayne --- Part Two


Of the Batjacs, Seven Men from Now may be an only one called canonical. Of westerns, it is close to a top of fifties heap. Extras for Seven Men from Now are lush with profiling of Budd Boeticcher, Kennedy, Gail Russell, more from the 1956 project. 2010 and thereabouts was when DVD buyers really got a money’s fillup. “Sparkhill” made these pocket documentaries. I don’t know if they are still in business, but they did a crackerjack job. Where your 78-minute feature comes with as much length again of bonuses, there is $5.99 well spent (Amazon’s current price, used discs low as $2.50). How much visual difference does Blu-Ray, let alone 4K make, unless you intend projecting your image on a coliseum wall? Between online bargains and what flea markets turn up, one could build a more than imposing DVD collection for as many dimes, though there is argument too for streaming option, where Seven Men from Now is had in HD for $3.99. Seven Men from Now once nowhere is accessible now as a commonest object. “Collectible” is quaint term by modern parlance. I thought to have hung the moon with my turned-red 16mm print of Seven Men from Now, like revealing treasure to ones my age or less I knew would not have seen it elsewhere. Where/how could they? Here was artifact exclusive to whoever had luck of discovery and pride of ownership. Open access to come was more democratic, so of course to be preferred, but what was having a Faberge egg when anyone might get cartons of them? I could exit the house today and fairly trip over Seven Men from Now.


Coming out of late seventies televised cloud courtesy CBS (a single run), The High and the Mighty seemed less high despite fond memories from 1954, not so mighty as hit status from earlier time implied. Were watchers easier to please in the fifties, or had airplane disaster films become too much more sophisticated, like air travel itself? A damaged reputation can seep into bones of anyone’s revisit, even those making any/all allowance for things vintage. The High and the Mighty, twenty-five years old when the network booked 1979 flight, seemed older and was cramped besides by square-tube the bane of post-53 product. I had focused on what was weak about High/Mighty until recent visit to discover instead fine aspects of it, easy at last to grasp what made this a historic hit for John Wayne and distributing Warner Bros. Here was first-time spectacle of modern air travel on Cinemascope/color terms, suspense of near-doom for star ensemble as seasoning. If ever there was can’t miss feeling among trade watchers and WB sales force, The High and the Mighty had it. Peril plays for me because aspects of then-aeronautics raise concern of how resource of seventy-years back can save this planeload of humanity. DVD extra said flights from Honolulu to US west coast were a longest in the world over ocean and with no landing available in case of emergency, twelve hours aboard unless you come down sudden into water like a mountain you’d slam into. Shivers me to think on it … imagine same in 1954. Did The High and the Mighty discourage commercial air travel? Can’t imagine major lines being happy, despite repeated mantra that one is safer on planes than driving an automobile. Some reassurance when you’re going down …


Spencer Tracy was supposed to do the Wayne pilot part. I’m glad he didn’t. Like name actresses who turned down spots among crowded cast, Tracy may have balked at High/Mighty not revolving around him, as John Wayne might were this not his company producing. Wayne was chief pilot aboard whatever craft he sat, let alone one flying under his own colors, off-casting his compromised “Dan Roman,” perceived failure and now underling who saw passengers, including wife and son, perish years before in a crash impliedly his fault. Roman is humble/humbled to near finish where Wayne dynamic force comes to final act rescue of his imperiled flock. Dan Roman is among Wayne’s best and quietist leads, his authority the greater for being withheld so long. Flashback of him stumbling off a doomed craft to find his child’s burning teddy bear packs expected wallop, moment reminiscent for me of Wayne as Sean Thornton in the boxing ring just after killing his opponent, or Ethan finding torn clothes of victims in The Searchers. It works splendidly in context of full-out melodrama that is The High and the Mighty. Success of latter and previous Hondo were career peaks for Wayne, both done on his terms and without crutch that was Ford or Hawks. I don’t wonder that impetus for The Alamo increased the more around this time. If Wayne could ramrod High/Mighty/Hondo, where was limit to energy/ability? Suppose anyone suggested to Wayne a reissue for The High and the Mighty after success of Airport in 1970? Guess he would have felt it too spent by then.


Some picture DVD as a dead format, but discs like these Paramount Batjacs should be cherished. We need Blu-Ray to fill properly a jumbo screen, but for television large in themselves, plain discs work fine. The High and the Mighty has a second DVD devoted to extras, one about passenger flying in the fifties with survivors of the era, many of whom had flown during the war. I was captivated. You’ll not duplicate this today for such veterans being gone. Track of the Cat was next of watches, scope and strange and largely bereft even of color by director William Wellman on experimental tour. Never mistake him for conventional. And yet coming from Wayne meant money, Robert Mitchum the star, Track of the Cat good for two million in worldwide rentals against negative cost of $1.1 million. Wayne/Fellows and later Batjac had keen commercial instinct. Track of the Cat was bleak, dark, radical almost, yet profited. William Wellman wished in hindsight he had never done it, but could late interviews really reflect his views?, the director acknowledging upheaval that had come with age, his seventies memoir which he referred to as necessary therapy entitled A Short Time for Insanity. Wellman was in fact house director for Wayne/Fellows, having signed to do six features, overall prosperity of the firm result in part of his being there and ready to pitch in not only to projects where credited, but ones needing eleventh hour help.


One limping was Ring of Fear, a circus cloak of many colors (plus Cinemascope) adjudged unreleasable until Wellman did repairs. Ring of Fear gave 1954 three rings of precisely what it wanted  … a wide screen, circus-based thrills, and of all incongruous things, Mickey Spillane, as himself, cracking a midway mystery at behest of lion wrangler Clyde Beatty, something for every-single-one it seemed. Wellman did miracles at his forge, Ring of Fear entertaining well as any such hodgepodge, and again, it was a hit, a sizeable one (finished for less than a million, and $1.8 million in profit). Besides being valued record of Beatty taming cats, not a thing to be underestimated, there is Spillane as actor, and a pleasing one. Sean McClory as a psycho killer applies acid-to-aerial ropes the bane of performing under movie big tops it seems. Wayne had grown a stock company of players, all good and seemingly liked by viewership. A number of support folk are profiled within Paramount/Batjac DVD’s. Others recommended but not here in depth are Island in the Sky, another by Wellman, and some say best of his for the company, Hondo directed by John Farrow, an outstanding Wayne western with or without 3-D. With Man in the Vault there is opportunity to observe Batjac’s second string showing what they could do with leads, a 73 minute B by definition but good at the time to absorb overhead for what had become a major-minor operation, Wayne-Fellows/Batjac being how-to for making star independence work.





Monday, March 11, 2024

A Feature Group Up from Depths

 


When Paramount Played with Batjac --- Part One


Call this “When DVD Was King,” or Gold Age for Discs. Guess all formats have such apex, be they laser, even cassettes of long past. CD’s still come out, though I’m not certain who buys them. DVD stunned for quality when initially arrived. First toe-in I recall was 1999 and Teenagers from Outer Space. Suddenly we knew 16mm was kaput. Now it is discs that are dinosaurs, for why buy when streaming will do? Except streaming is them deciding what you watch, and when, “physical media” the retreat we make to possession that is true. Must be merit there, for Teenagers from Outer Space still lies upon home shelf, but watch it again? There might be the rub. Old enough DVD’s breed nostalgia all their own. Folk in younger category treasure first spin of a favorite on shiny disc. To show age now is to recall VHS you once collected, hoarding laser discs plain eccentric. I dusted off a DVD from Paramount's group of John Wayne estate assets, Track of the Cat seen for a first time in a long time. Starting with voluminous extras rather than the 1954 feature, I came out of hour’s instruct with a Track/Cat masters, ready to school the world on a feature out of circulation since I was childish as in seven or eight, Track of the Cat but one of a bunch Paramount unveiled in 2010 along with others of lost lot owned by Batjac and Wayne heirs. These belonging to the star’s estate assumed myth place for being gone amidst rumor negatives rotted on inadequate storage vine, and maybe we’d not see the movies again. Remember relief when the lot came back in bulk?


John Wayne formed his independent company with a producer named Robert Fellows. Wayne-Fellows teamed with Warner Bros. for financing and distribution. Negatives after eight years would revert to Wayne, as in they’d be his and nobody else’s (Fellows bought out and gone by then). This was arrangement similar to Alfred Hitchcock’s with Paramount, eight years opportunity for partner firms to realize return from reissues and perhaps television play. Trouble with both Wayne, Hitchcock, others like them, was ill-equip to protect fragile elements once Warner, Paramount, whoever, relinquished interest. It was a same situation with Alan Ladd and his “Jaguar” group. Movie stars, directors, are folk much gifted, but not necessarily at archiving. Did John Wayne take casual attitude toward oldies the stuff of warehouse expense and limited prospect for return? Like keeping one-eye or three-legged cats you’re too kind to put down. Remember panting for return of Hondo and The High and the Mighty and nobody showing them? Both limped finally onto CBS during 1979 for new-got VHS recording. My cassettes may still be around … but here’s oddity, to this day we don’t have The High and the Mighty on Blu-Ray, or Hondo on home 3-D. It’s as though they’ve retreated again. Both stream in high-def, privilege that could be withdrawn by flick of a Paramount/Batjac pen. What age of uncertainty this still is for collectors, owners preferring we not possess for keeps, objective to charge on each occasion watched, televisions a toll booth like what I drive through in West Virginia on ways to Columbus each year. Enjoy at choice and leisure? Even if you “own” a streaming film, it can be dammed up a next day. Gather ye nuts while you may but know curtains can lower anytime.


Paramount leased whole of the Batjac properties for home release, “all or none” from what I understand, no cherry pick of Wayne ones with stray pups left in the pound. It is one thing to have Hondo with generous extras, quite another where it’s Plunder of the Sun, an average if that Glenn Ford melodrama that never had legacy so good. Being friend to underdogs, I began much as Glenn did for Mayan treasure, Plunder of the Sun him soldier-of-fortuning over Mexico locations for gold from ancient time. Almost a total was done on location, among disc bonuses a letter Ford sent from there to his beloved mother, nice human interest as narrated by Ford son Peter. There is also background explained by an archeologist who has dug ruins which was Sun backdrop for action, explaining facts they got right, or sweetened for sake of narrative. This all almost makes Plunder of the Sun a pleasure watching, one I won’t call dull, as Glenn Ford in action mode and exotic settings will sustain 81 minutes. Directing is John Farrow, minus celebrated long and traveling takes, but doing imaginative stalk through what was left of pyramids, these open to cast/crew in such way to make me wonder if Wayne himself went down to grease authorities for freest access to sacred spots. Pity plot wasn’t tighter wound, Ford and Sean McClory beating each other up to fatigue effect. There once were movies like Plunder of the Sun by the peck, and Glenn Ford seems to have been in most of them.


Trouble is, I fall asleep during one like this or another Batjac, Man in the Vault, even in close to a straight-back chair, best revive a small square of Lindt Dark Chocolate, eighty-five percent cocoa, like what comes from way south of border, this not product placement, just proposal of chocolate as safe alternative for outright speed one might otherwise take to get through sluggish shows. A Glenn Ford actioner was as safe a bet as Wayne-Fellows (precursor to Batjac) could make on formula product. To later application of same (1956) came a western, Seven Men from Now, which then seemed not markedly different from a host of like-others starring Randolph Scott, assurance against loss as what of his ever failed with paying crowds?, especially now with drive-ins at peak of playing any/all to eager parkers and eaters of meal-size concessions. In brief, Seven Men from Now and like were best in all-outdoors, being shot open air and pledged to please. What by-now Batjac did not see was classic status Seven Men from Now would achieve once auteur status adhered to director Budd Boetticher and writer Burt Kennedy. Turns out this was arguably the best of whole lot Batjac licensed to Paramount, and more than worth effort to restore far-gone, but not irretrievable, elements. Seven Men from Now got most fest exposure for Boetticher and Kennedy being present to hear fresh huzzahs for long-past effort.


Herewith for the record are titles within Batjac group Paramount issued, though none save Hondo and McLintock have so far surfaced on Blu-Ray (most can be streamed in HD): Plunder of the Sun, Hondo, Ring of Fear, The High and the Mighty, Track of the Cat, Island in the Sky, Man in the Vault, Seven Men from Now, and McLintock. There were other Batjacs, some having stayed with Warners since initial release (like Blood Alley), or housed with United Artists (Escort West, China Doll). What made the Paramount group unique was rarity once they finished first-runs and retreated back to Wayne possession. Warners tried using ones they had distributed for television in the early sixties, putting Hondo, The High and the Mighty, others, into a syndicated package offered first in 1960. That did not last long, John Wayne suing to stop tube release, denied court relief, then biding time till Warner distribution deal ran out, at which point titles disappeared from local stations. Said sour experience may have resolved Wayne not to share inventory with other distributors who surely came calling afterward. Fans would not have access to most of these pictures until the CBS runs, although McLintock saw endless network play to become a most familiar of Wayne titles on TV. Others became stuff of legend and object(s) of collector quest. Seven Men from Now began showing up on dealer tables at cowboy cons, ten dollars for as wretched a transfer as man could render, but what was Seven Men from Now by the seventies-eighties but obscure object of cult interest, a “must-see” among Danny Peary selections in his Guide for the Film Fanatic, a connoisseur’s western few else were familiar with.





Monday, March 04, 2024

Parkland Picks with Popcorn #3

 


PPP: The Scarlet Claw and 1975 Homecoming Parade, and The Lodger (1944)


A right combination of setting and selection makes memorable time spent with shows. Mine of late was The Scarlet Claw with The Lodger (both 1944), seen in pocket of paradise that is the Parkland, this third of recorded visits there, and so far a most stimulating for favorites ideally suited to a small corner of home sweet childhood home. We’ve all found tenderest view spot from which to recline back and let the rest of a world turn as will. Does private theatre work best in jewel box proportion, just room for you in the chair, one more alongside, and walls close as those confining Irene Ware and Lester Matthews in The Raven? Add concessions and wonder how afterlife at peak could surpass it. What charms particular about The Scarlet Claw and The Lodger? Just everything. With age comes winnowing, cream risen truest to the top and firmer embrace of what meant most over watching lifetime. Greenbriar explored The Scarlet Claw and The Lodger before, notably in 2016 and 2009. There is, as with any that’s best, fresh discovery to be had, but are those as visible to others? That would be for readership to address, nominate other titles perhaps, advise me to put these finally at rest. Cling denotes senior status, but what is the Parkland if not site to reflect upon past impressions, it after all host to 8mm in begin and benign times. In fact, Big Business from Blackhawk premiered there, as had Castle’s Dracula and The Lost World in digest format. To call this a “mancave” is to trivialize via term trendy and like others long hackneyed (might “fever dream,” “dumpster fire,” and “Sound familiar?” be also retired?).

Everybody's Friend Dr. Watson Smooths Path for Less Socially Gifted Holmes

Holmes Puts Two and Two Together to Identify Former Actress Now Murder Victim



Did Holmes need Watson more than Watson needed Holmes? Watson makes it easier for Holmes to merge with society, this because despite his “bumbling,” Watson puts folks at ease, and they like him for it. He is a buffer for Holmes, who alone is less adept negotiating subtleties of human interaction. I’ll take Nigel Bruce over Watsons more cerebral, latter combined with Holmes often two guys essentially the same guy, one superfluous for so little contrast from the other. Watson as grease to communal wheel in The Scarlet Claw allows Holmes to investigate upon his own, suspects disarmed by the good and garrulous doctor thus less likely to interfere with master detective moves. Query this time: Why do Holmes and Watson sail, or fly (?) across the Atlantic, risk German aircraft or subs, to attend a gathering of the Canadian Occult Society when Holmes is so disdainful of their findings? He is tactless when Lord Penrose (Paul Cavanaugh) proposes supernatural cause for dire events in home village La Mort Rouge. Here is where Watson can leaven moods and perhaps get between serious arguments that might otherwise develop. Repairing to La Mort Rouge with remainder of action set there, The Scarlet Claw becomes the horror film posters promise, much so for character faces that populate central-based tavern where dread is nightly hashed out. Here was where actors were cast for ugly alone, in fact making a career of it. Ted Billings for one need not speak, merely have his close-up and be Ted Billings for discomfit that implies, such fraternity for which Rondo Hatton could serve as sergeant-at-arms. When Nigel Bruce first sees Ted’s face and blanches, he might be any one of us, except we know Ted and comfort at his being there. Whole of the Sherlock Holmes series was asylum to such near-freak men (sometimes women) whose visages good as signed paychecks for long as they had capacity to work.

Gerald Hamer as Alastair Ramson nee Postman Potts Menaces Kay Harding

A 1975 Alastair Ramson Crashes the Homecoming Parade in Clown Guise 


The Scarlet Claw
teaches value of disguise, its killer several identities in rotation and each eluding Holmes. “Alastair Ramson” (Gerald Hamer) is a once actor of many faces whose intended victims live in La Mort Rouge. We are reminded that stage artists of a past century could, often did, vanish from public sphere to private obscurity, nothing to bespeak their career but faded portraits and torn playbills. Think of real-life stock personnel and travelling mummers of that era who made the switch to screen work. We’d not know of them save surviving film from early on. Those who solely populated stages are if anything faces from the Daniel Blum book, or other long-ago histories of legit life, forgotten but by few. Consider names that would be unknown today had they stayed on boards or quit same once careers were done: Buster Keaton, Boris Karloff, Marie Dressler, so many others --- their permanence bought by film, not for years spent entertaining live. Alastair Ramson enjoys privileged access to victims and unknowing authorities by simply switching from one character to another however it/they suit him. I once borrowed Ramson’s device to create, utilize, then discard an identity so as to march in a homecoming parade during college, an event for which the school community was invited to build floats and spend much of the morning canvassing streets to amusement of onlookers. I let no one see me gather getup that was a clown suit, fright mask, flame-red wig, and lace-up knee boots. The masquerade so far as I know fooled everyone. How could they detect? I was covered from head to toe. What fun to approach people who knew me, but never like this. I was not exposed for whole of the day, nor did I cop to staging the stunt, even from years’ hindsight. There was a photograph, taken quite by chance, which appeared in the school’s 1976 annual as shown above. For one day at least I was Alastair Ramson, minus homicidal impulse. Did The Scarlet Claw inspire my charade? Possibly, for by then I had seen it innumerable times. However the notion was planted, it made for a unique and pleasurable deception.



How honest are we in picking our identification figures? More would choose Victor Mature than Laird Cregar, but having looked at The Lodger, then Hangover Square and I Wake Up Screaming, I’d submit that many more are like Laird Cregar than Victor Mature. Cregar was the actual as opposed to the ideal, an isolated image many know from mirrors where they’d prefer to see Mature. Latter is “Frankie Christopher” in I Wake Up Screaming, a breezy operator who attracts sisters Carole Landis and Betty Grable. Both could readily love him, in fact one does, Frankie a sort of man other men would emulate, especially “Ed Cornell” (Cregar), who is obsessed by Landis and bitterly resentful that she will be attracted by sort who’d score on approach to any mound, his hitting the ball a foregone conclusion. Victor Mature was who we were expected to bond with --- what’s he got besides looks, physique and ready charm that we haven’t got? Truth was (and is), there was more to identify with in Cregar’s Cornell, or “Mr. Slade” in The Lodger, or “George Harvey Bone” in Hangover Square. Laird Cregar delved places private to viewership, his a persona movies did not need, let alone want, too many of. Ease of shorthand would call him a villain, or more descriptive “heavy,” as yes, he was by definition both these things, but Cregar touched nerves lots did not know they had, took his being to places we all dwelled, result reflection that said: He’s me, not Victor Mature. I suspect Cregar had fans less comfortable being fans, him the dark side of stardom’s moon. Ed Cornell is among Cregar outsiders, a lone cop but uncool as loner cops would later be, wanting and dreaming of a woman he’ll never have, in movies or outside them. No man in the audience could honestly imagine he’d get Carole Landis, or something like her, so they might just as well be Ed Cornell. 

Image Restoration Courtesy Mark Vieira/Starlight Studios


Cregar as The Lodger’s “Mr. Slade” is polite, keeps to himself, minds his own business … might rigorous therapy have ridded him of impulse to rip? Cregar worked at making his bent characters relatable. He may have underestimated how relatable they’d end up being. Mr. Slade slays because his brother was corrupted by a woman of the stage. He reveres the gone sibling in ways near creepy as the murders, none shown though George Sanders describes each lovingly and that was queasy enough for most in 1944. For better or likelier worse, The Lodger made Cregar a star. His Oscar Wilde on an L.A. stage had been calling card to a film industry so far unconscious of him, result a local triumph with a Fox contract secured. What tragedy and waste to lose Laird so early. Gregory Mank wrote a well-received biography, talked to many who knew or worked with the ill-fated character lead. Mank tells how Cregar was set to be Waldo Lydecker in Laura till pulled out and replaced by Clifton Webb. Occurs to me that had Laird lived, he might have gone on and played many if not most of roles Webb eventually had, though I concede that as Waldo he might have overpowered the ensemble, for sheer size if not personality, not so much a matter of weight as presence, like if Orson Welles were Waldo (did TCF brass discuss such possibility?). What-ifs are pointless if not annoying, and besides, had Cregar gone on, he would have somehow had to overcome a horror niche his lot thanks to The Lodger and Hangover Square, not easy considering high profile of both features.



A single scene in The Lodger turned a lock for which there was likely no key out, even had the actor lived, that being where he corners Merle Oberon near the end and she’s trying to reason him out of killing, an exchange between assailant and would-be victim that movies had not ventured so near to that time, Oberon’s “Kitty Langley” effort to soothe a maniac stuff of terror not even Hitchcock would go near for years to come (Frenzy a rough parallel, too rough in fact). Oberon does controlled panic beautifully while Cregar embodies the menace. Did audiences wonder if this was who the actor really was? Would Cregar have gotten out from under the Ripper role or ended up like Anthony Perkins after Psycho? He resented Hangover Square for being little more than a remake of The Lodger, as was acknowledged by credited writers. Peter Lorre had same trouble being cast as creeps over a long career … M had done that to him, while Lon Chaney, Jr. could thank the "Lennie" part for typing him forever more. Both would ultimately circle a drain that was casting to type with results easily predictable. Laird Cregar may well have seen such fate awaiting him. Was it any wonder he took such desperate measures to amend his physical self and become, if not Victor Mature, at least a countenance more presentable?

grbrpix@aol.com
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