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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Gold-Digging In Paramount Penthouses

Kay Francis and Lilyan Tashman Show How In Girls About Town (1931)

Serious question: Did gold-digging in movies inspire same conduct by viewers? They sure make it look easy, Kay Francis and Lilyan Tashman coming away from dates with sables, furs, jewelry. The easiest way was often as not proposed as the smartest way, precode less laden with moral potholes that took fun out of gals-on-the-make as timidly practiced after mid-1934 (look how PCA enforcement seeped juice from Francis, Jean Harlow, Mae West, so many others). Kay and Lilyan live like Farouk, spend as if prosperity had met them way ahead of the corner everyone else waited vainly for. What was sense of being virtuous where roads of sin were gold-paved? Francis falls for Joel McCrea (in Young Apollo mode) and so gives up the penthouse to cook and scrub, a decision I'll bet most women thought sappy even if it was McCrea. Tashman, on the other hand, goes right back to predatory work in a fade tuned more to reality of hard times. Who of the sisterhood wouldn't see it her way, and maybe apply some of technique to scoop loose gravy themselves? Movie actresses often bowed out by marrying rich producers, too few Joel McCreas among that lot. Girls About Town is fun now, maybe a teaching moment then. I can see teen girl packing in 1931 and boarding a New York train, not a few finishing in gold-digger chips, just as Hollywood instructed.

Outside of Francis/McCrea, characters don't take the expected route. Pre-coding at Paramount was also less hard-bitten, so heart creeps in where not expected, Girls About Town the better for it. I've sometimes wondered why yacht parties were so popular then. Possible answer: Revelers stayed cooler on the ocean, especially where they could strip down and dive in, oft-occurrence at least on seagoing playgrounds we saw in precode. Carefree lives of the rich stayed popular through all of the Depression. McCrea stands for simple values, and so flatters patrons who'd identify with him. Cinching the deal is his being loaded too, so Francis can have cake and eat it. Golddiggers were generally allowed to get what they went after, no harsh moral compensation as later dictated, which is why early 30's pics play well today. Tarty dialogue is quality they virtually all have in common, Francis at one point saying she's sick of going out with "all these Babbitts," reference to the 1922 novel by Sinclair Lewis. Would dialogue today call up literature outside of Harry Potter?

Golddiggers could come across as funny ... or like prostitutes. Movies preferred the comedy. That's how escorts got to be old goats like a Guy Kibbee, or in this instance, Eugene Pallette, with whom the stoutest rent girl could not be expected to bed down with, no matter how harsh a Depression. When we tote up actual sex in golddigger precodes, there's actually not much. It's given that Kay Francis has slept with Joel McCrea, their hook-up sanctified by mutual love on first sight and our knowledge they'll marry by the fade. Golddiggers would continue operating on bland side of enforcement, but who can enjoy The Girl From Missouri, Belle Of The Nineties, any number of Joan Blondell/Glenda Farrell pairings, where we know sex was bled out of scripts long before a frame was shot, or excised on completion and close peruse by censors. It had to be sad affair to go to movies by the mid-30's and have still fresh memory of joy that went before. No wonder audiences booed the Production Code seal where it showed up in front of credits.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Another Lethal Dose Of Wald

The Story On Page One Pushes 1959 Envelopes

Jerry Wald's 1959 sizzler for 20th Fox release. He was a genius producer-writer-idea man who died too young (50) and early (1963) to be noted by emerging film study. Just as well, Wald would probably laugh it off anyhow. He was 100% get-it-done minus refinements, other than turnstiles and how to make them twirl. Go to best Warner releases from the late 30/40's and chances you'll find Jerry's name, either in writer or producing capacity. Wald belongs but short tier down from Selznick, Wallis, Goldwyn, but no one's dug deep on him yet (do papers survive, and in what archive?). Wald was full-out always, had so many brainstorms to threaten short-circuit. Maybe that's what killed him. He was the sort studios kept round when they wanted big profits, which made him welcome everywhere (at height addresses: WB, RKO, Columbia). The town could have used two dozen Jerry Walds. Dancers on his grave said Jerry was the model for Sammy Glick in Budd Schulberg's acidic What Makes Sammy Run?, but that could as easily be any number of Hollywood go-getters, or composite of plenty, which I suspect was case.

Groucho might have put Wald among those vaccinated with a phonograph needle, because he never stopped talking. One occasion of shooting his mouth off nearly started fistic brawl with AIP's Jim Nicholson, Wald crashing an exhib luncheon during a Theatre Owners Of America confab in October 1958. Jim and Sam had paid for the feed, did a major burn when Jerry hopped up and said AIP pics were "injurious to the industry." Arkoff replied that was funny coming from the guy who'd just made Peyton Place. Nicholson was ready to take the discussion outside. Toastmaster Sidney Markely "calmed down the trio" (Boxoffice), and dining resumed. Wald never saw the least hypocrisy in his remarks. For that matter, he'd have probably done Hot Rod Gang and High School Hellcats had notion been his rather than Jim/Sam's. TOA meets were like rugby fields in those days, booze flowing, hot words exchanged, jackets doffed at boiling points. As stated before, I'd have gladly been bellboy for Nicholson/Arkoff, or Jerry Wald, as they entered such frays. I went to a Florida exhib con some years back that was fun, but a pink tea (much too civilized) beside bacchanals these once were.

The Story On Page One is half-speed Wald, a junior varsity Anatomy Of A Murder, but engaging and up-front with sex theme that got gears grinding. Wald knew pushing boundaries was what sold through industry's fight to a finish with television --- give them what tubes did not dare. In this case, it is Rita Hayworth as adulteress in Gig Young arms, the two implicated when her husband falls during struggle for a gun. Anthony Franciosa as reluctant defense lawyer (again as with Jim Stewart in Anatomy --- no pay!) who doubles down on explicit Q&A re hotels, "intimacy," what not, that we'd only recently begun hearing in courtroom drama (one courtroom gladiator makes tactless reference to "fornication"). It all dates, sure, but everyone's game for the showdown, Hayworth a glamour-gone standout, as is Gig Young, sans humor and effective, Franciosa demonstrating high-octane method acting when this was still a new and exciting thing. There's no DVD or streaming that I've come across. FXM runs The Story On Page One, but it's an old transfer, letterboxed but not anamorphic, a hark-back to 80/90's way of broadcasting movies. It deserves an upgrade.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Old-Fashioned Westerns On Last Round-Up

Hathaway All-Outdoors For Nevada Smith (1966)

L.A. Saturation Run
Probably a biggest western Henry Hathaway directed during the 60's, outside of How The West Was Won (and not forgetting True Grit), this is strangely ignored in surveys of both his output and outdoor shows of the time. Location stuff looks stringent. Did actors realize what they were letting selves in for? Arthur Kennedy, then in 50's, had to wade through swamp water, then sink face-up below muck. Others, in fact all others, suffer as much. I don't know when I've seen so many name players put to such physical discomfort. Hathaway was a known martinet, would not abide sissies or fraidy cats, so imagine him cussing a cast reluctant to go head first in mud. This may have been the last Truly Hard Man directing movies. That he wouldn't stand misbehavior from any star stood Hathaway in unique stead. He would literally fight an actor rather than give in to him. I might have assumed Hathaway would clash with Steve McQueen, but Marshall Terrill's McQueen bio says they got along, but only after HH read the "riot act" to his star. Nevada Smith would come at breakout point for McQueen as a truly giant star. From here, he'd be offered every worthwhile part for a lead man, virtually all others a second or less choice.

Nevada Smith is long, episodic, studded with character faces in and out as McQueen seeks revenge on a trio that killed his parents. Parts not shot in swamps were done at Lone Pine, by far a lion's share of the film set outdoors. Hathaway was one veteran who'd speed up rather than slow down with age. I doubt there was any elder helmsman that so consistently chose tough way of shooting, for which Nevada Smith, whatever its narrative burps, profits nicely. Story was prequel to The Carpetbaggers, being back story of Alan Ladd's character from the 1964 hit, also produced by Joseph E. Levine for Paramount release. This time with less emphasis on sex, Nevada Smith came among last of establishment westerns done in the face of Italo-game changers, men like Hathaway and Hal Wallis (frequent partners) standing tall for cowboys as traditional-known by US filmmakers. It took Sam Peckinpah and The Wild Bunch to truly break  stateside mold.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Check Those Wheelchair Brakes

Wicked Widmark Served Double For Revival Booking

Kiss Of Death (1947) Shoves Sadism Down Stairs

Darryl Zanuck regretted the title he'd given this crime thriller after receipts that barely showed profit. He said Kiss Of Death sounded like a horror movie. First marquee or ad impression could indeed be a kiss of death if they misled patronage. Was KoD a turn-off? How many left this excellent docu-noir alone because they thought content was something else entirely? Again as with successful House On 92nd Street, Call Northside 777, and 13 Rue Madeleine, there was adherence to realism, both in setting and theme. Henry Hathaway took crew and principals to New York and shot at Sing Sing for prison portions. Getting authentic flavor mattered much to patronage lately done with the war, moviegoers having been made more worldly by conflict fought worldwide. The one-sheet promised something stark --- Victor Mature's anguished face against deep black background.

Vic Lightens Up Between Takes

A bigger noise was Richard Widmark in screen debut. His giggling killer upset complacency where screen heavies were concerned. I'm still surprised the Code allowed his pushing an old lady down stairs in a wheelchair. Certainly it was the scene everyone came away talking about. Widmark's character was so maniacal, in fact, as to give Fox headaches for follow-up. He could repeat Tommy Udo to point of saturation that would come quick. Time was needed to make a palatable leading man of him, that mission accomplished within a couple years and lead man casting along conventional lines. Still, people remembered him as Udo, Widmark and that wheelchair as close-associated as Jim Cagney with his grapefruit. RW would even recall his first meeting with John Wayne getting off to a bad start because Wayne identified him so strongly with the killer part. Kiss Of Death comes from Fox's Film Noir Collection in a first-rate DVD transfer.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

A Screenful Of Knuckleheads!

Stop! Look! and Laugh! A 1960! Must! See!

Some names that meant much fifty years ago could not be more forgotten now: Paul Winchell, Officer Joe Bolton, The Marquis Chimps, but not, of course, The Three Stooges, who remain, whatever the argument over merit, a best known comic team of all. Moe, Larry, and Joe De Rita sought a restraining order to block Columbia release of Stop! Look!, and Laugh! on basis it would queer their planned feature for 20th Fox, Snow White and The Three Stooges. The order was granted in July, 1960, then dissolved weeks later after further hearing, issue largely moot as Stop! Look!, and Laugh! opened on twenty Los Angeles screens during the interim. Variety referred to the team's "lolli-popularity" among tricycle trade and "thriftily spliced together ... old shorts," none of this a knock on Columbia, as trades encouraged family fare to take onus off adult-theme The Apartment, Elmer Gantry and such that made parents wonder if theatres were still safe haven for youngsters.

The "Original" Stooges are touted large, kids aware from TV views that Curly-featured shorts were funniest of the lot. Nice to see Charley Chase and other past vets receive fresh onscreen credit, Chase having directed several of the old excerpts. Someone clearly took care to minimize eye-pokes and slapping among the boys, rougher stuff left off as it had been in a fresh feature, Have Rocket --- Will Travel, with latter-day Stooges. Music is added to the truncated oldies, a distraction not welcome. Winchell and the TV gang were to some extent regional lures, a cameo from "Officer Joe Bolton" meaningless outside New York markets where he hosted WPIX Stooge runs (unless Joe was syndicated and I missed him). Winchell had at least some network exposure here/there, so his tiltings with Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smiff, even if filched off Edgar Bergen's act, came welcome to moppetry in attendance. Winchell assumes parental role vis a vis the dummies; he even burps Jerry at one point. The Marquis Chimps have one skit, a too long one based on Cinderella. Their act was strictly a snooze, but one of them merits Stop, Look's fade by taking a pie in the face. Would the ASPCA sit still for that today?

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Another 3-D Leap Into Living Rooms

3-D Archive's Latest Avalanche Is It Came From Outer Space (1953)

I'll bet majority of folks in 1953 at least wanted to believe flying saucers were real. No doubt all kids felt that way. One of them shows up in It Came From Outer Space with a helmet and ray gun, as if ready to repel invaders, or join their cause. Early science-fiction had a degree of plausibility thanks to sightings taken seriously by media. The genre got turned over to scrap merchants after novelty flagged and grown-ups satisfied selves that such was pretty silly after all. It Came From Outer Space rode an interest wave at its peak, not only for sci-fi, but new-arrived 3-D to features, and satisfaction of curiosity for Hollywood's latest freak attraction. What percentage of ticket-buyers took single gander at 3-D and said, enough of this? I suspect lots, especially adults put off by the glasses and screw-ups endemic to the gimmick. How many synchronized projections do you suppose came off 100% in 1953? The fad was short-lived, for good reason, this I suspect most aggrivating of them. Quick query: Name unspoolings, of any sort, that you attended where everything came off perfect. Drat that human factor for being 3-D's worst enemy.

Digital has overcome all that. Bob Furmanek and Greg Kintz's It Came From Outer Space (and yes, they deserve possessory credit) looks, by their own estimation, better than what crowds in 1953 saw. Kinks inherent in prior runs are smoothed out. Furmanek and Kintz have also put back stereo sound not heard properly in sixty-three years. Separation effects fairly bounce off walls. If 3-D had been as good back then as what these fellows deliver, it would have lasted longer. I was never nuts for the process after sitting through botched 70's revives and coming out most of times with blinding headache. No more of those thanks to Furmanek/Kintz. Their stamp on a 3-D box is guarantor of quality. Universal was wise to trust them with It Came From Outer Space. Release date is today, but mine arrived from Best Buy with yester-mail, and word is the disc sells for under $10 at member stores (a BB exclusive). I call this a Blu-Ray bargain of the year.

Maybe there were saucers visiting back in the 50's that stopped coming because we quit making good sci-fi movies like It Came From Outer Space. Ours was a Viewmaster world back then. I regret being unborn or too young to enjoy bounty of it, cause by the 60's, SF like 3-D was either gone or buried on TV. All my exposure to It Came From Outer Space and ones of once-depth came via the tube, where we wondered why objects kept being thrown toward the camera. Furmanek/Kintz now illustrate that, and vividly. Even quiet scenes of It Came From Outer Space carry a jolt. Richard Carlson's telescope --- watch your head! That desert mildly mysterious before is overwhelmingly sinister now. We really get the punch of 3-D composition as designed by makers who knew their depth. It Came From Outer Space as taken for granted before may be safely celebrated now, thanks to 3-D Archive's creative team. If you've put off rigging a den for depth, here is incentive for making the plunge. Added to good news is much more 3-D on Furmanek/Kintz's plate for 2017. Read all about that and more at their Archive site, and HERE'S where to order It Came From Outer Space.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Wherein Jack Mopes

Redemption (1930) Won't Redeem Gilbert's Boxoffice

I pushed myself through Redemption last night and tried to figure again what went so disastrously wrong for Jack Gilbert. Everyone (now) wants to insist that it wasn't the voice, which we buffs lean toward liking, but that doesn't mean 1930 audiences had to. A problem at the time was fact this was not what they expected Gilbert to sound like. His dark appearance and smoldering appeal suggested something deeper to silent pic-goers. Were they prepared for the pleasant tenor that emerged with His Glorious Night, and then this? Redemption was the first of star-era Gilberts to lose money, and word got round fast. Photoplay magazine had begun counting him out even before Redemption was released. If there's evidence of studio ploy to wreck JG, it surely comes of such articles and the way out of left field Variety review of His Glorious Night, which I have long considered the smoking gun in conspiracy's arsenal.

The obvious problem with Redemption is the utterly downer story it tells. Why in heaven tender Jack as a layabout loser at need's height for an upbeat vehicle, or even a change of pace toward precode newness? Tragic too was Metro's refusal to loan Gilbert when Howard Hawks wanted him for The Dawn Patrol. That, I think, would have secured Jack's talking career, judging by rentals the show took when Warners released it in 1930. A cruel aspect of Redemption was putting Gilbert one-on-one with pitch-perfect Conrad Nagel, then regarded a best of voices so far recorded for nascent talkies. Their call and response in scenes running long, and between them only, tend to emphasize Nagel's rich and deeper cadence as contrast to Gilbert, a comparison that would have gone Nagel's way in lately-wired '30 venues. Redemption got scathing reviews --- you can't help thinking Metro sort of let that happen --- but watch again today, especially beside truly rotten product Leo was pitching, and Redemption doesn't seem quite so bad. TCM plays it infrequently, that understandable for one so limited to "archival" interest.
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