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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Turning Clocks Back In 1975

Mitchum Is Marlowe in Farewell, My Lovely (1975)

I went and saw this at least four times in 1975. It was like they'd gone out and made a brand new old movie. The thing was retro to a fault. You could almost forget in hindsight that it was done in color. Robert Mitchum would finally play Philip Marlowe ... in fact, it may have been a first time he'd been a detective ... but wait, there was Out Of The Past, nearly thirty years before. Mitch had stiff competition through the 60's from younger blood like Steve McQueen and Paul Newman, who scarved up parts he might have done, and better. They were just younger enough to knock Bob out of games, which was perhaps why he spoke dismissively of McQueen in at least one interview. Well, Mitchum had thirteen years on Steve, and all of them showed. And he'd done a lot of bad pictures. Mister Moses and Anzio wasn't going to knock The Cincinnati Kid and Bullitt off charts. Mitchum was being embraced by hipsters during the 70's. They knew he smoked weed and had once been convicted for it, so he was one old man that was OK. Some of his relic movies held up fine too. Mitchum had an attitude that wore well, and he still looked presentable, as in rugged and up to romantic parts if offered. Farewell, My Lovely had some of both. He'd knock guys around and bed Charlotte Rampling, who was of our generation. She was a ringer in some ways to Lauren Bacall, maybe or maybe not a good thing. To me, her cat eyes were a little scary. But she melted into arms of this elder man, 58 at the time, which was seriously old to mine eyes in 1975. Now, of course, I'm much reassured by Bob's prowess at such venerable age.

Partial reward to Mitch was invite to host Saturday Night Live, but they didn't know what to do with him beyond weirdly satirizing Out Of The Past. I think RM did more private-eyeing in the 70/80's than he had in accumulation of work up to then. These would eventually peter to TV "movies" and dreadful cheapies gone direct to video, but if you watched HBO or Showtime closely, you could catch Mitch in all sorts of degraded circumstance. The nadir came with an NBC sitcom opposite bratty kids. Surely this wasn't for anything other than money. Features seemed done with Bob, other than supporting eccentrics like Bill Murray or Johnny Depp. Farewell, My Lovely may have been his last real roar, and I'm not forgetting a second Marlowe go, which was The Big Sleep remade in modern dress, and in England, but those were two strikes that put Mitch largely out. Who wanted to see him in ugly wide ties like they wore in the 70's? TV did confer a biggest latter comeback with Winds Of War and Remembrance or whatever, and those were like trips back too, only long and sorta dull as doled over sweeps weeks. By this time (early 80's), Mitchum was about the only guy left who looked like he could actually win a war, with or without help from puny players in support.

Farewell, My Lovely could make you forget all those years since they'd made good movies. At least that's how I felt at age 21, but then I had considerable growing up to do. 1974 found me buying a corduroy trench coat that was a ringer for something Mitch or Bogart would wear. Chances are I was clad in it to one/more of the Farewell screenings. A couple of sizes too big at the time, I was ten more years growing into it. Fits fine now. Thank heaven old stars didn't start me smoking cigarettes. I had tried it after screen examples, but one inhale settled hash. These really were tough guys for being able to draw smoke clear down to lungs. Well, they ruined theirs and I've still got mine, so there was at least that advantage to lacking man-up for cigs. Farewell, My Lovely cast other vets besides Mitchum. There was John Ireland as a police detective, always talking about "heat from upstairs." Here was a show determined to be old-fashioned, which was exactly what I wanted then and still enjoy now. David Shire did a score keyed to jazzy and mournful, saluting a past we'd not get back in spite of game tries like Farewell, My Lovely. There was a CD that's now out of print, much like the movie on DVD, which I now note sells for $75 and upward on Amazon. FML does stream in HD at Apple-I Tunes.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Precode Comes On Loud

Jean Harlow Besieged in Bombshell (1933)

Adjust your ears first to the sound level, as it's a din throughout. Was director Victor Fleming deaf to such overreaching noise? Bombshell was to Hollywood what The Front Page was for newspapers, opportunity for insiders to turn laser on industry they toiled in but knew too well truth of. Talent sure had love-hate relationship with this biz judging by acerbic treatment given it here, the picture racket being just that and nothing more. Anybody buying into glamour of movies would henceforth need their head examined. Metro was surprisingly permissive for letting their setup be so lacerated. Were fan mag readers put wise by Bombshell, or were they already hep to corrosive phoniness of H'wood? For old pic buffs, Bombshell is like being let in the gate, its "Monarch" studio being Metro in all but name. "Lola Burns" as played by Jean Harlow does retakes on Red Dust and MGM stars are referenced throughout. There is everything here but cameos. Bombshell and Buster Keaton's Free and Easy would make ideal tandem touring of the Culver lot as it stood in the early thirties.

Harlow is much, as in too much, a case as well with Red-Headed Woman she'd (over)done before. Calming influence was needed that wasn't applied, but she wasn't alone of players turned loose at Metro to raise volume rather than laughs. I actually dreaded watching Bombshell again for disappointment I'd had with it before, HD at Warner Instant being the clincher, plus prior adjustment to now known quantity. What registers over the noise is touring Leo-land and going up stairs to dressing dorm of talent, a closest peek at such environs a public had been afforded so far in talkies. We could imagine such digs to be like Harlow's Dinner At Eight boudoir, but reality was rooms simpler and certainly smaller. I'd venture "star" accommodations got little past decent space at a Holiday Inn. Studios, including MGM, kept luxuries before the camera where they'd pay best.

Part of reason I laugh less at Bombshell is my wanting "Lola Burns" shed of parasites taking such gross advantage, a comic situation too close to Harlow's own circumstance for viewing comfort (project begun as take-off on the Clara Bow madhouse). It was noted by Metro staff at the time that Bombshell was miseries of "Baby" writ broad, the actress worse off than put-upon star she played. Read any Harlow bio (David Stenn and Mark Vieira's the outstanding two) and you'll say throughout, Throw The Bums Out!, including worst-of-all Mama Jean, whom many could wish not to have survived childbirth. Part of what commends Harlow's story is the tragic offscreen life, really good films of hers coming down to half-or-so-dozen. Best of Bombshell is Lee Tracy's demon press agent, and watch for Ted Healy as indolent brother to Harlow. Wish Tracy and Ted could have done more as a team in Bombshell, but that might have been like pairing method actors in the 50's, though I would like once to hear Healy say, What are you, a wise guy?, his signature line, to Tracy.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Take Your Pick: Live Again or Change Your Mind

A Karloff Serving of UK Mad Science

If only Boris Karloff's American mad science thrillers had been half so good as this! The Man Who Changed His Mind was a title cleverly spun off the movie's theme, maybe too clever for marquees here, as US-distributors re-named it The Man Who Lived Again, this more compatible with Karloff expectation. After all, who'd care about a man who merely changes his mind, no further data on the plot being available? Movies then as now had to put over sale on titles first, star/situation second. The Man Who Lived Again was one of six tendered by Gaumont-British during fourth-quarter 1936. The company had a US distribution arm and were serious about cracking the domestic marketplace. A Broadway booking was had via Arthur Mayer's Rialto Theatre, known venue for shock stuff and a Main Stem address where Karloff was King ("Karloff is perfect for that house!", said The Independent Film Bulletin). Trades reported a best-in-months playoff there, but Lived Again wouldn't do so in subsequents, where report indicated below-average biz.

40's reissuing saw The Man Who Changed His Mind/Lived Again bearing cruder labels still: Doctor Maniac and The Brain Snatcher for two (the latter shown in an early 50's combo ad with The Evil Mind, which was re-titled The Clairvoyant from 1935), and who knows but from others more exploitative. It was for years the rarest of Karloffs, outside of The Ghoul. I came across a banged-up 16mm print in 1977 and thought I'd hung the moon: Just think, a major Karloff never-before-seen! For years, that continued to be case for much of fandom, until Shanachie Records released a really nice DVD from original elements. Both Lived Again and The Ghoul were done in home port of Britain by BK, site of not a little work he'd return to throughout, and up to a near-end (The Sorcerers and Crimson Cult), of a long career. The Man Who Changed His Mind was inventive and funny as in dialogue (Sydney Gilliat one of the writers). Transference of souls wasn't the worst idea a Karloff scientist ever had, and might have come to good barring scoffer interference. I'd like to have seen just one of his experiments work out, with a Dr. or Prof. Boris basking at a finish in world accolades, but that would defeat a successful formula's purpose, and chillers weren't made, after all, to satisfy BK fans born a generation later.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

A Silly Symphony Of Rats In Revue

Disney Tells The Pied Piper (1933) in Technicolor

A Disney Silly Symphony with human characters and rats, rats, rats. The latter are abundant as to reflect over-hours animators spent getting them drawn, crowd scenes, be they rodent or whatever, evidence of production value in cartoons, and no one delivered in that respect like Disney. Animals were a bulwark for those who drew, people another matter. Mastering the human form was tough even unto Snow White, a four-years-later sticking point at which Disney had reached artistry's summit otherwise. I've never quite understood what makes a person so much tougher to animate than a dog or a duck, that just showing how little I know. Are our features so much more complex than that of animals? I know cats who are lots more expressive than some people I know. Nice how Disney didn't flinch from grim aspects of fairy tales: In this instance, the Piper makes off with village children and doesn't bring them back. The Symphonies must have startled then-audiences with bursts of three-color preceding B/W features. Disney was exclusive using improved Technicolor for cartoons at this point and we can but imagine impact it had.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Noir Climbs In The Ring

80 Savage Minutes That Is The Set-Up (1949)

Boxing as the grim game movies would disdain until Humphrey Bogart finally called for the sport's outlawing in The Harder They Fall. Was this partly one industry wanting to get rid of competition that was the other? After all, small arenas in "tank towns" and elsewhere drew crowds that weren't attending theatres, so why not relieve them of a less healthy choice? Boxing being a grubby business, a lot of people saw bouts on screen who wouldn't dream of attending an actual match (myself included), that gulf widened as filmmakers increasingly associated the "sport" with both organized and petty crime. For purposes of The Set-Up, director Robert Wise extended criticism to watchers as well, his camera scanning over blood thirst among men and women in the stands. The idea apparently was to make any of us ashamed to look at fights, let alone support human suffering, and the underworld, by paid attendance to matches. Critics hailing The Set-Up noted parallel with gladiatorial combat where merciless crowds gave thumbs-down to fallen warriors.

Things got to a point where boxing itself was an affront to civilized conduct, reason I suppose why we have less nightly bouts in those tank towns that are presumably still on the map (but what about brutal bare-knuck matches held nightly in gather spots nationwide, and broadcast as often to TV viewing?). The Set-Up got into a grudge match of its own when UA's Champion was set to open and RKO boss Howard Hughes sniffed infringement on part of creative crew of that ring drama. There was basis to the flap, Champion director Mark Robson having been at RKO till recent, and with access to The Set-Up's script in development. Court decision was for RKO, and UA had to trim offending portions from Champion. On-canvas UA would call Hughes a big bully, which he probably was (remember the kibosh HH put on Red River's original ending), and a bad sport besides for rushing out The Set-Up just ahead of Champion's bow. All of that is forgot now, and we're left with apple-orange that is these two, both with considerable merit, and available to HD-viewing (The Set-Up via Warner Instant, Champion on Blu-Ray).

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Keaton On Kampus

College (1927) Sharpens Up For Blu-Ray

Among Buster Keaton features for United Artists release, this fell into public domain and was sold to collectors during the Blackhawk era, one of few Keatons legit-available in 8/16mm. Later it was judged a weak sister once the whole of his silents reemerged on home format, lesser quality of College prints factored into that. Much is resolved by Kino's Blu-Ray, which upgrade should raise regard for the show (significant was College being last of BK features to be issued by Kino in HD). There's been speculation that Keaton made it as surer thing retreat from commercial disappoint of The General, and as coattail hanger to Harold Lloyd's very successful The Freshman. Everyone was doing college-set comedies then, higher education a fad with youth lured to four years of necking and pep rallies as promised by pic-makers. Buster as brilliant scholar/class valedictorian is welcome and believable, a part he'd again enact on Speak Easily's talkie occasion. Keaton must have been amused playing academic despite not having gone a day to school, though time would properly recognize instinctive genius for comic creation, a thing no institution could teach.

A Short Feature Allows For Multiple Acts of Vaudeville In Ads Shown Above 

Buster's goal is to conquer sports, not to seek popularity as was Harold Lloyd mission (BK too inner-directed for that in any case), and to win fickle heart of Anne Cornwall. Amusing in itself is prime athlete Keaton obliged to bungle at games he could offscreen best anyone at; there's no better evidence of BK the actor than muddling a try at baseball, this a game he played nearly every day of prime years and excelled in. College's race to a rescue makes us wonder if Buster should have tried out for Olympics as sideline to moviemaking. Wonder how many times he tried a pole vault into that upper-floor window before ceding the stunt to a pro. Keaton's coda to College is icy splash to maybe reflect downturn at home with Natalie. Would she have got his last grim jest? (assuming Nat still bothered seeing current Keatons) College used campus and field backgrounds that are located for then-now analysis by expert John Bengston in a disc extra.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Collegiate Comedy Circa 1949

Higher Education When Mother Is A Freshman

Loretta Young wangles way into college at late date (age 35, so her character claims, although LY herself was but 36 in '49) for the sake of bratty daughter Betty Lynn, who's gaga over English prof Van Johnson. No surprise that he'll flip for Loretta, even as years of movie stardom had calcified this actress to appearance older than her actual age. For being at the job so long by 1949, Young must have seemed anything but youthful to an emerging second generation of viewership. She plays comedy not unlike melodrama, both an essential same to a performing mechanism whose focus seemed more on coif and costuming. Collegiate setting is what pleases, the whole of campus exteriors shot at the University Of Nevada at Reno. This was Loretta Young's return to Fox after eight years, having been queen there, but tiring of statue parts they'd assigned her (maybe they understood appropriate casting better than she). There's a sophomore dance, music borrowed from previous Fox pix, and to-be stars among student body (Debra Paget, Barbara Lawrence). Professor Van explains to Loretta at one point that there's nothing inappropriate about faculty dating students, the college having progressed to a point where such is OK. He also has a live-in, uniformed maid at his gingerbread teacher's residence and is fully equipped to support Loretta, plus daughter's tuition, should they wed. Struggling educators of the day must have gotten a yok out of that.
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