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Monday, May 13, 2024

Watch List for 5/13/2024

 


Watched: The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing, The Impossible Years, One of Our Spies is Missing, and The Private War of Major Benson


THE GIRL IN THE RED VELVET SWING (1955) --- I learned from IMDB that Marilyn Monroe turned down this opportunity to play Evelyn Nesbit, object of early century scandal when her husband shot and killed Evelyn's former lover in a crowded restaurant. We’ll never know excitement all this caused (happened in 1906), but plenty oldsters who attended The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing did recall the event and subsequent trial. So how many among youth cared? Not enough apparently, because Fox’s Cinemascope outlay ($1.7 million spent) lost them a million once beans were counted. Maybe it was figured the sex would sell, but in floor length dresses that were Code contained besides? Monroe likely sensed this and reasonably said no. Joan Collins plays Nesbit as a good girl steered wrong, Ray Milland the rake who deflowers her, plus Farley Granger spurned and unbalanced with a gun. The trial can’t help but play anti-climactic, and we don’t get what ultimately became of Nesbit. She copped a credit for consultation, and maybe that’s why the character skirts are so clean.


Nesbit was dynamite looking in her teenage prime, frankly more so than Collins, and radiated steam sufficient to fill a thousand headlines. Red Velvet indicates fall of grace for the fade, Nesbit reduced to degrading variety work, though fact in real-life was her having a profitable run at vaudeville, then sing/songs for clubs far flung as Havana. There is You Tube footage of her performing there in the early thirties, a spoof of torchy tunes Evelyn knew too well from life if not art. Creepy in unplugged way, here is evidence of what happens when celebrity is too long clung to. Evelyn stayed around however, excelled at ceramics, taught them successfully, died in 1967. Book and movie Ragtime dredged her up yet again, but by then, there was no more memory of Nesbit or the killing than lore from the Boer War. So long as there are Google images however, we’ll not lose sight of passions such an extraordinary looker as Evelyn Nesbit roused in Edwardian men. Just too bad Fox didn’t have an actress on hand that could rise to her level (closest? I say Debra Paget). The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing plays HD at Vudu, also at Amazon Prime. Disney will allow it on Blu-Ray when I win the Irish Sweepstakes.



THE IMPOSSIBLE YEARS (1968) --- So far as parents were concerned, the ratings system arrived not a moment too soon, but what began with promise came a cropper when likes of The Impossible Years went out "G" labeled. That stink rose from cavern of Radio City's Music Hall, where families mistook Metro's sex farce for a Christmas package with Disney-like whimsy inside. Came the complaints from mortified Moms and Dads --- if anything merited an "M" at minimum rating, it was this smutty send-up of teen groping habits and lost virginity. The adapted-from play had been a hit, written by middle-age men (one of them Groucho's son Arthur Marx) and yes, the concept was leering and smarmy as after dinner speeching at the Friar's Club. The Impossible Years wasn't alone for getting an unlikely "G": there was Dracula Has Risen From The Grave similarly rated, eyebrows aloft as well when the Monkees' Head passed for all audiences. This would suggest liberal lean on MPAA part, and that indeed was case for these first titles submitted, but outcry would tighten screws, final outcome being nanny standard applied today, where smoking a cigarette onscreen might buy you a hard "R." To that last, Christina Farrare as teen cause of travail in The Impossible Years is seen lighting up to no objection from David Niven and Lola Albright, their problems with her about to get a lot worse as story thickens.



Niven had sure hand for comedy --- who better to fall off bridge between the generations? He's a college prof here, campus setting a retro reprise of what Jerry Lewis concocted for The Nutty Professor. It surprises us, then, to see "protesters" hauling signs after comic opera fashion, The Impossible Years safely ahead of Kent State and events that make such demonstration a scary prospect. Here it's all for laughs and kids will be kids, no more serious than Elvis and pals being hauled to hoosegow for over-exuberance in Girl Happy. There's nary mention of Vietnam or social injustice or whatever occupied real-life activists at the time. The Impossible Years would tread cautiously over establishment eggshells, this after all a bid for entire family attendance, even as individual elements alarm in hindsight --- but who knew the "Bartholomew Smuts" character, a bearded party crasher with artistic pretensions, would later remind us so of Charles Manson? It took only months for The Impossible Years to hopelessly date ... in fact, it was so before cameras began rolling. Critic duty obliged me in 1968 to pen a review for our local sheet, which to my look-back surprise gave The Impossible Years a “Grade A,” noting also that the Liberty “held it over, and pricked off a day from The Pink Jungle.” I did return that week to review The Pink Jungle, but how could it hope to surpass The Impossible Years?



ONE OF OUR SPIES IS MISSING (1966) --- Time again to cry U.N.C.L.E for paying admission to a feature cobbled from TV episodes of the spy series, a deceptive art perfected by Metro after discovery that paste-ups could gross ahead of bombs they were dropping into theatres during very bad seasons that were the mid-60's. One of Our Spies is Missing was actually a fourth fake of eight the U.N.C.L.E. team spat forth, and a first to be restricted to overseas release. An initial three had grossed well, astonishingly so in foreign playdates, so that's where effort would be concentrated. One of Our Spies is Missing had been built for $108K, which was TV's two-part episode cost plus expense of added footage and reshoots for Euro theatrical. What came back was $1.7 million in offshore rentals, better money than Metro realized on any number of clucks they had in circulation. Spies is sold on DVD by Warner Archive along with the seven other U.N.C.L.E.'s, and noteworthy is fact it crops nicely to 1.85, clear being fact they framed the show for eventual theatrical use. Challenge comes of 100 minutes doggedly done on dull MGM backlot as dressed for London or Paris. Leave them face it in 1966: One of Our Spies is Missing was a cheat in any man's language. There's an outstanding article by Craig Henderson on production/release of the film in Issue # 12 of Cinema Retro.



THE PRIVATE WAR OF MAJOR BENSON (1955) --- Released mere months before Rebel Without a Cause, but what era-book-ends these make. Youth as potential adult with maturity and discipline that implies was a dream to fast vanish once JD’s and rock-roll defined teens figured now to stir trouble. The Private War of Major Benson is set at a military academy, Charlton Heston the martinet assigned there for his own bad attitude, focus on boys of varied age from whom he’ll learn patience and humanity, stock stuff as Universal-International was so gifted at dispersing. Heston found the property, was eager to do comedy to relieve severity of ten commanding. Principal tyke is Tim Hovey, cherub star of this and other U-I’s and fated to future horrors like child stars as unfortunate. Same for Sal Mineo, here where Benson and Rebel intersected, Sal in Benson as model boy any Dad or Mom would embrace, us to wonder if any of Mineo was like this or was he altogether sad Plato of Rebel placement. So why go see The Private War of Major Benson … for Heston? He is romance-teamed with Julie Adams, as in why feature two big names to whom you must bestow percentage when contract staff does as well. Youth in addition to Hovey and Mineo amounts to faceless plus Tim Considine, a survivor and smart for being so, his future with Disney (was he “Spin” or “Marty,” or neither?), much other TV, getting smacked by George Scott as Patton, and finishing up as dispenser of fifteen-dollar autographs at Hollywood Collector Shows. No martyr to decaying culture he. The Private War of Major Benson fascinates on levels not imagined in summer 1955, a celebration at twilight of "good" boys that only Buena Vista or Pat Boone would eventually stand up for. Of movies invisible since syndication day, Benson stands tall. I’d seen it nowhere since Channel 9-Charlotte 60’s day, TCM the digger-up for a Heston night, transfer stale, not 1.85 and HD as hoped, but as with much that is vintage/obscure, let’s not ask for the moon.

9 Comments:

Blogger John McElwee said...

Griff shares some U.N.C.L.E. and IMPOSSIBLE YEARS thoughts:


Dear John:

I really liked your post this morning -- particularly your clear-eyed take on the positively smutty 'G-rated' IMPOSSIBLE YEARS, with a relatively rare glimpse of that wild Jack Davis-illustrated alternate one-sheet. What did they think at the Music Hall about this thing?

It's still difficult to believe how much mileage Metro got out of theatrical exploitation of U.N.C.L.E. TV episodes both abroad and even here. I mean, this was a television show -- and it looked like it.

Mark Evanier wrote something perceptive about memory and reality about the program back in 2002 (I have lightly edited it here):

"I have a theory that many old TV shows have been secretly refilmed to make them cheap-looking and less entertaining. I formulated this notion a few years ago when I caught a couple of vintage reruns of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.. I just know this series didn't look that chintzy and wasn't as silly when it first aired. Using doubles of Robert Vaughn and David McCallum — or perhaps employing sophisticated computer imagery — someone has managed to drain the entertainment value of them."

The U.N.C.L.E. shows did look fairly impressive on NBC back in the day, particularly to youthful audiences -- it was practically like a Bond movie on TV! Then I made the mistake of seeing one of the features MGM fashioned from an U.N.C.L.E. two-parter in a theatre. It just didn't carry any weight to speak of; it was wan and charmless, and the Metro lot looked like the Metro lot. That was hard to witness at a fairly young age. I liked Vaughn and McCallum, but this was basically swill. It made me better appreciate the efforts of Broccoli and Saltzman to spend a fortune and go the extra mile in their Bond films -- they didn't want their pictures to look or sound like this!

Regards,
Griff

11:10 AM  
Blogger Jorge Finkielman said...

The U.N.C.L.E. films wen to movie theaters abroad for a very simple reason: most people outside the United States either didn't have television sets or, if they had them, they were able to see the images in color. There were many TV shows and telefilms that were released to theaters in Argentina and I remember many up until 1990 when I saw the last one in a movie house: TREASURY ISLAND with Charlton Heston. Many of the telefilms and the TV episodes that turned into theaters were actually filmed in the 1:85.1 format. The pilot for THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO fit that format perfectly even though I have never knew about any theatrical presentation. The other issue is that in the sixties it could take up to two years or more for a TV show to reach other countries, while theatrical exhibition would just take a few months instead.

THE GIRL IN THE RED VELVET SWING is a very unremarkable film. Despite the investment and CinemaScope, the film and its story is not exciting even when it appeared again years later in RAGTIME. After Ray Milland's character is murdered any kind of suspense vanishes.

THE IMPOSSIBLE YEARS was among the films that was very frequently rotated in the Latin American version of TNT in its early years. I read that it was the last film of the MGM old guard, being a Lawrence Weingarten production. Films from the forties are old, but they still work fine for the most part; this one in 1992, when I saw it for the first time, in a dubbed version from the seventies did feel obsolete considering how sex issues were already treated on TV, felt annoying because they didn't speak about the issues openly in the dialogue.

I remember seeing THE PRIVATE WAR OF MAJOR BENSON also in frequent rotation in the old TNT Latin American channel. The film has resisted the passage of time and it is an amusing comedy and I never considered any kind of association with the cotemporary films from its actors nor their fate in the eventual future. I did like the fact that the kids learned how to be disciplined, even if they actually didn't end up enjoying it, and they finally apply it themselves for the ending climax. Also importantly, Charlton Heston's martinet attitude changes in the film and he reflects it in a very believable and human way that is very engaging. In fact, I preferred him in these kind of films than in his usual epics.

1:52 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

My high school drama class went to see "The Impossible Years" onstage. It was touring with Ozzie and Harriet Nelson as the parents, playing between San Jose and San Francisco at the Circle Star Theater. I suspect the tickets were pretty deeply discounted for the weekday student matinee. Ozzie was in the movie as the doctor who lived next door; always wondered if that was somehow connected to his doing the stage tour. Anyway, it had a smallish cast and everything transpired in an upscale living room set, like countless other comedies. The movie was "opened up" with more settings and forced slapstick, including speeded-up-films gags.

Half-watched "Girl in the Red Velvet Swing" and as you note, sexy Collins just wrong as the breathlessly pretty Nesbit. Also, it comes off as a dullish romance between two fairly sympathetic characters. Did White's heirs have a say in how he was presented? Or perhaps Milland balked at playing a philandering old lech unless he was less explicitly awful?

The UNCLE movies now look like warm-ups for the "Batman" series, with hints of the same meta humor about its silly plots and mock lavishness. The show supposedly was more serious in its first season, but even then you had UNCLE's global headquarters tucked behind a cheap tailor shop's changing room. It has a certain kinship with the Steed & Peel years of "The Avengers", although the British show cheerfully leaned into camp and mild social satire.

7:02 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

I was in New York with a school group and saw THE IMPOSSIBLE YEARS during that misbegotten Radio City run. I guess I noticed that it was kind of smutty, but, at the time, I mainly noticed how lousy it was. That big beautiful theater, the high octane Christmas show onstage, and a singularly crummy movie. It struck me as very odd.

1:25 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

A friend of mine saw the first UNCLE movie. He was disappointed to discover it was just an expanded version of the pilot episode, with the extra footage having nothing to do with the story. But what really bugged him was that it was in color, which made it look even less realistic than its black & white broadcast. (He noted that the b & w episodes of every 1960s TV series were better than when they switched to color. He wasn't wrong.)

8:47 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Interesting that the movie THE IMPOSSIBLE YEARS was, indeed, dated before it even hit the screen, but as DBenson suggests, the play became a perennial on the road show, straw hat and dinner theater circuits. Like Neil Simon's ODD COUPLE, the damn thing was indestructible! Years ago illustrator Drew Friedman had a fun post with playbills and ads showing the many different aging TV and movie stars who toured with it. Check it out.
http://drewfriedman.blogspot.com/2015/09/they-all-starred-in-impossibe-years.html

10:31 AM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Thanks to Dave K for that link! Ozzie and Harriet came to the Circle Star before the movie -- at least, before I was aware there was a movie. I wouldn't have been in Live Oak Drama Club until '69 at the earliest; and it wasn't unheard of for "A" pictures to take a year or more to reach Morgan Hill's Granada as half of a double feature. Sure, we'd go to nearby San Jose for event pictures, but "Impossible Years" wouldn't have qualified.

Note that Ted Knight was playing it in 1973, so the movie didn't hurt its shelf life. How long before it reached the school and community theater level?

5:05 PM  
Blogger Mike T. said...

Also of note is that Paul Lynde's costar in the Kenley Players' 1978 version of TIY was none other than Elizabeth Allen, who had played his wife on the short-lived THE PAUL LYNDE SHOW (1972-73).

9:08 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer considers Evelyn Nesbit:


The young Evelyn Nesbit was disturbingly pretty and extraordinarily popular. The slender figure, the face with its large, wide-set eyes, long, straight nose, piquant mouth, the alabaster skin with a faint rosy tincture about the cheeks, and the mass of dark brown, wavy hair, were captivating. When she came to New York with her mother at the age of 16, she quickly became an artist’s model, then began appearing in shows in small parts or the chorus or being exhibited in vaudeville or trendy cafes and restaurants, sometimes swinging over the heads of the patrons on a red velvet swing. Her image obtained wide circulation, in paintings or illustrations, advertisements or calendars, the tabloids, candy box and cigarette cards, or the carte-de-visites circulated by photography studios to promote their artistry. They would show a laughing Evelyn Nesbit or a pouting one, a playful or dancing one, but the pictures most typical were of her gazing from some secret place of the heart known to her alone, for which she could not experience contentment, let alone joy, in that loneliness. The effect on American men of the time was profound and varied, whether of love or lust, protectiveness or possessiveness, or some combination of these. It was the stuff of the tragedy which would overwhelm her life.

There were others on both sides of the Atlantic whose wan images personified those sometimes conflicting ideals of beauty and virtue--Maude Fealy, Cleo de Merode, Phyllis Dare, Gladys Cooper, Evelyn Edmonds, Ina Bright, Marie Doro—perhaps most especially Maude Adams, who would give life to J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan—for the most part forgotten now, just as their images no longer evoke the same feelings, save for those whose sensibilities still resonate with those of another time. They did not suggest perfection, neither of beauty nor womanhood, unless it was to bear out Poe’s observation that there is no beauty which has not some oddness of proportion, not merely in appearance but of a certain yearning which reached out towards a completeness which could be found only with another. Their appeal, which was so apparent to those who sought such a conjoining, where two become one, will be increasingly elusive as human identity becomes fragmented and afforded only a carnal expression.

4:12 PM  

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