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Thursday, December 31, 2015

First Ford Talking Feature


The Black Watch (1929) Comes Out Of Its Cave

This was John Ford's first feature-length talkie. It opened in May, 1929 as sound rolled like tanks over a silent era headed for extinction. The Black Watch used Fox's "Movietone" process, which recorded dialogue on film rather than disc, a system more reliable for synching up voice with picture, but harsh pill otherwise due to hissy playback and noise on tracks. Delivery side of Movietone was often worse, theatres reporting inaudible words and surplus racket to make watching a chore. Audiences were patient, though, as novelty outweighed annoyance, and progress could be seen (make that heard) with each fresh engagement. The Black Watch would play off, be recognized as brief mile along a learning curve, and then forgot by its owner and creative participants. John Ford had little to say of it that was good, The Black Watch amounting to initiation more embarrassment than success. Based on years of non-access, most would have agreed with him.


All I had seen of The Black Watch was in a Kevin Brownlow profile of early sound that used clips to demonstrate stone age of initial talkers. Sample of a tribesman pushing another off a precipice while chanting "Allah, forgive me" put The Black Watch on a short list to watch for, but who'd play it? (not television as I could find) Now, however, comes happy surprise of The Black Watch streaming at I-Tunes, what's more in high-definition, part of Fox's initiative to put backlog at disposal of fans who'd given up seeing these outside archives and far-flung revival. Quality is as good as surviving elements permit, which is to say variable, but for a most part, OK. I was thrilled to have the thing at all, a best attitude to keep where dealing with any rescue from the mostly-lost library of Fox Film Corporation.


The Black Watch was novel-based with a compelling, if familiar premise, officer Victor McLaglen thought a coward when he goes undercover in India rather than joining his regiment in Europe's Great War. There is much of command ritual and mess protocol, McLaglen at one point taking (much) time to load and light his pipe as bagpipers accompany mealtime for comrades-at-arms. Some have complained at preponderance of the bagpipes, and yes, they play aplenty throughout The Black Watch, at meals and in battle, but consider novelty of these in 5/29 when The Black Watch was new (and trade-sold as "a masterpiece of melody and dialog"). I'd venture this was a first time such instrument was heard on film, unless a Movietone newsreel or Vitaphone short got there first. Then there was fact of bagpipes registering loud and clear on a soundtrack, unlike dialogue subject to hiss and distortion. Who knows but that pipers were a most memorable aspect of seeing The Black Watch in first runs.


The film was completed by John Ford as a part-talkie, then re-shot in part per studio dictate so as to sell result as all-talk. Revisions were "Staged" by character actor Lumsden Hare rather than Ford, a circumstance decried later by the director, who said he "wanted to vomit" after look and listen to what Hare had wrought. These dialogue portions are an ordeal, lines slow-recited with pauses to induce sleep, but problems with Movietone were understood by Fox brass, likely result an order to ease tempo so each word would register. Better to field complaints over pace of talk than talk not comprehended at all. Whatever the effort, some of it was at least done right, as The Black Watch took a million in worldwide rentals against $490K negative cost. Broadway's Gaiety Theatre was host at $2 for best seating, The Black Watch playing tandem with Movietone appearance of Sherlock Holmes-creator Arthur Conan Doyle (Gaiety ad at top), a reel lately included as extra with Flicker Alley's Blu-Ray release of Sherlock Holmes starring William Gillette.


UPDATE: 1/7/16 --- An ad plus announcement I came across for Cleveland's opening of The Black Watch, "Now A Sensation In New York At $2.00 Prices." Here was residual benefit of two-a-day Gotham runs at advanced rate. They created impression of a biggest attraction for patronage down the line. Clevelanders would figure it a bargain to pay popular prices for what commanded $2 on Broadway. Further evidence then, of The Black Watch as highlight of Fox's spring-summer 1929 schedule. Note also Cleveland's Plain-Dealer amusement page (left) featuring The Black Watch, accent on the Scots theme. I had to look up a few of these terms: "Brae," as in Brae Highlander here, means "a steep bank of hillside," while "Hoot, Mon" translates generally to "Hey, man," or words to that effect. Anyhow, I'd assume there were transplanted Scots to Cleveland who understood then, even as I need Google search to translate now.




Tuesday, December 29, 2015

From 2005 To Eternity ...


Greenbriar Is Ten Years Old Today: Updated 1/3/16

As of 12/29/15, Greenbriar has been here a decade. There have been 1660 posts. A separate site indexes them all by dates, film titles, and names involved. When Greenbriar started in 2005, there were vintage movies on DVD, but nothing like now. You could store a collection on a single shelf then. Now it would take a house, and then some. I watch a disc and wonder if I'll live long enough to see it again. With dozens or even hundreds still unwrapped, could I justify re-watch of The Flesh Eaters?


Ambrosia pours forth constant: books, movies, engaging things on the Internet. Each week comes Blu-rays to set a new bar. Something good from one label is often bettered by the same title from another, like Olive's The Quiet Man toppling to Region Two re-do by Masters Of Cinema. Disappointments can be redeemed by change in direction, like Fox gone streamer route at I-Tunes with HD vaulties (The Black Watch, Captain From Castile, a hundred others) after On-Demand cropped and ancient transferred titles on DVD. Now is to await Universal doing same or similar with their own and pre-49 Paramounts the company owns. I'm confident that will come in good time.

What more marvels since Greenbriar started? I submit higher-definition as peak of them. Pictures I liked all along have whole new impact now. Just in a past couple days: Remember The Night, Lady On A Train, Brides Of Dracula done right on Blu and proper framing at 1.85 (from France). TCM has blossomed during 2015 with HD broadcast of many titles, Warner Archive continues to release rarities, and Warner Instant mines much from the 20's forward. TCM really is the model for freshening oldies and luring a modern (and young) audience for them. I haven't been to their L.A. festival or taken any of cruises, but reports from these are positive. Making old movies a social occasion ripens with TCM's lately introduced Wine Club, marketing on par with showmanship of yore as I see it. Yes, the picture life overall have never been better, at least in these quarters. Given further flow of viewing riches, Greenbriar should be around another ten years.




Thursday, December 24, 2015

When Walt Took Us Way Back


So Dear To My Heart (1948) Celebrates Days Past


'64 Reissue Sweetened By a Disneyland Short
Middle-age (at least) men on line for Star Wars know from aching nostalgia. They'll freeze on sidewalks to reclaim 1977 just as So Dear To My Heart's narrator longs to be back in boyhood where "fishhooks, jackknives, and candy" were an only concern. Walt Disney grew up in this kind of world. He'd spend a lifetime trying to duplicate it. Many of Walt's generation grew up rural. For them, life's sole purity was had on a farm. Most would be yanked from bucolia to WWI trenches or Depression worry, then face another war in the 40's. Nothing for them could seem so gone as lost innocence that was dawn of a 20th century. So Dear To My Heart is as perfect a title as could applied to content like this. Maybe Disney should have used it again this month: Star Wars: So Dear To My Heart, instead of The Force Awakens.


Walt Conveys Personal Sentiment for SDTMH
Every generation's nostalgia is the next generation's quaint, or laughable. Old time collectors who'd first mentor me would talk longingly of Fred Thomson or Tom Mix and I'd think how much more sophisticated I was for growing up on James Bond and Hammer films. More-so objects of my condescension was a next group that sat at altars of Roy, Gene, or Lash. Movie memories I had gathered surely had more heft and lasting value than these. Immaturity can bring you to such wrong conclusion. Most of those raised in the real good old days would be gone before I'd wake up to how fortunate they'd been. So Dear To My Heart coming out in 1948-49 might have been too late for capturing its ideal audience (domestic rentals were $2.2 million as opposed to Song Of The South's $3.5 million of two years before). So Dear's story being set in 1903 placed it far back of most ticket-buyers in '49, fewer of whom had grown up on farms so as to know joy of cow-fresh milk or new-born livestock.

A Soundtrack Album To Hypo 1964 Dates

There'd be further remove by the time So Dear To My Heart had its first and only reissue in 1964. To by-then increased number of city-bred viewers, rural backdrop was more hardship and place to get away from than vanished utopia. These farm folk didn't even have television, after all. Not that Disney had ignored the theme since 1948. There had been Old Yeller and its more dramatic telling of a boy's attachment to his pet. So Dear's animal focus was a black sheep getting early start on household wreckage that would later occupy Great Danes, darn cats, and way-out seals of Disney 60's menagerie. You could, in fact, credit So Dear To My Heart with giving that formula birth. Slapstick in Disney live action saw first flowering here. Maurice Rapf, who co-wrote So Dear To My Heart, recalled in his 1999 memoir (Back Lot, from Scarecrow Press) that 20's comedies were often shown during lunch hour to animators and story men, there being "much to learn" from Mack Sennett, Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd, and Charley Chase.


Sight humor would temper So Dear's lament for a past beyond reach. There would also be life lessons spoon-fed by animated critters in short segments throughout, these a hook perhaps over-emphasized by Disney-RKO sales. Not a few ticket-buyers figured cartooning to be bulk of footage, where in fact opposite was true: this time live action would dominate. So Dear To My Heart first went before cameras in 1946, had scenes added through early 1947, Disney spending much of 1948 at further delay and tinkering. So Dear was a very personal project and a closest Walt came to faithful recreation of boyhood he'd known. For having made scant impression when new, the film saw next service on Disneyland, the ABC-TV series (in 1954). Considering WD's affection for So Dear To My Heart, it would be most interesting to see/hear his intro from that broadcast. There is currently an out-of-print and high-priced DVD, but So Dear To My Heart streams at Amazon and elsewhere in HD. Leonard Maltin also hosted it recently as part of his ongoing Disney series on TCM.




Monday, December 21, 2015

The Musical Frank Despised Most


Metro and Sinatra Bomb Big with The Kissing Bandit (1949)

Long ago, when Frank Sinatra was guesting all over radio and television in addition to host duties of his own, there was a joke he or others could reliably pull called The Kissing Bandit. This was an old movie Frank had done for MGM before a slump and then major resurgence to make bullet-proof his stardom and allow the Voice to kid himself and past stumbles. Such was common touch even biggest names needed. We liked ... still do ... entertainers who will admit having once laid an egg. Jack Benny benefited best of all through varied flogging of The Horn Blows At Midnight, having made success in other medium to allow admission that his film career was less stellar. Sinatra after From Here To Eternity and subsequent one hit after another was similarly free to pet dog that was The Kissing Bandit and invite an audience to laugh with him and not at him.


The gag was good so long as there was at least faint memory of The Kissing Bandit. By 1974 and Sinatra co-hosting That's Entertainment, it was stale, and MGM had to face challenge of then-patronage caring about any of their old musicals. Besides, Frank was there to celebrate classic ones, including those he'd been involved with, so why mention a stain on Leo's and his own record? The Kissing Bandit meanwhile played, if at all, on fewer TV stations than had bought "Pre-48 Greats" when the MGM backlog first came available in 1956. We certainly had no access to it on NC channels after the early 60's, broadcasters opting instead for movie groups with more color. The Kissing Bandit had that, but was lumped with others mostly black-and-white. With so many more viewers buying color TV's, there would come lean times for sales folk trying to unload pre-48, "Great" or not. The Kissing Bandit was avoidable for me through a first twenty years of TCM, but I knew reckoning would come, as indeed it did recently when the mocked musical ran for a first time in HD. The Kissing Bandit looking so good might at least reduce the smell it emitted otherwise.


The idea wasn't bad, even if Zorro-derived. Frank is the apparent pansy son of a notorious road agent who comes home to assume mantle of his elder and kiss maidens fair, including Kathryn Grayson in trill-mode. I could see this being remade later with Elvis. Was it considered, or thought by the 60's to be too old-fashioned? (if so, then someone explain Harum Scarum) Sinatra flies off his horse and through a window in a first scene. This and other slapstick looks to be handiwork of Buster Keaton as gag consultant, him called in where MGM had physical comedy to perform. Sinatra seems suspect when in action, us taking for granted he'll be doubled when not standing still or taking flight with song. This star would need to bulk up before credibly swinging a fist or holding off armies. That being central joke of The Kissing Bandit is well and good, but how was it help to romantic, if not dashing, Sinatra image MGM was hoping to sell?


The Kissing Bandit was produced by Joe Pasternak's unit, his a tier below Arthur Freed, but decided A's, and object of MGM largess re production values and Technicolor. Even on said generous terms, however, The Kissing Bandit went way beyond pale, its $3.2 million negative cost a most spent by Leo during the period but for The Three Musketeers and a Freed that flopped, The Pirate. Postwar hemorrhage was felt keener at Metro for too many years they'd lived fat, with more producers it seemed than blades of grass at Culver, each drawing crazed salary for movies a public increasingly didn't want to see. It was ones like The Kissing Bandit that made New York ring the crisis bell and force Louis Mayer to look outside for someone who'd curb spending. Kissing would be, in fact, a kiss to empower Dore Schary at MGM and his policy to stop further waste of Leo dollars, embedded staff having shown no willingness to cut back.


The Kissing Bandit took a horrific loss of $2.6 million, a same amount that The Three Musketeers had earned in profit. Bandit's would be the worst catastrophe on Leo ledgers until 60's blood-let of Cimarron, The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse, and sunk ship Mutiny On The Bounty. Frank wasn't altogether to blame, but he'd not be a lead-man for Metro again, ones left with him putting Gene Kelly ahead on marquees. Sinatra was soon enough out and away until career comeback enabled return for The Tender Trap, which did go into profit. What turned audiences off of The Kissing Bandit? Receipts were dismal beyond telling ... $969K for all of US rentals, with foreign less than half that. A look at publicity is telling, Sinatra in poofy costumes and strumming a guitar. He must have gagged on photo sits, or maybe Bandit was one that seemed like a good idea at the time (K. Grayson thought not, and didn't like FS in the bargain). I'm betting the sales department turned up collective nose when The Kissing Bandit landed on desks, their despair no less acute that that felt by exhibitors who'd play the thing. Warners put The Kissing Bandit on a Frank Sinatra "Early Years" DVD collection. Like other legendary stinkers, it's not so bad as repute would claim, though I'd advise wait until TCM runs it again as High-Def, where you'll have at least a visual advantage.




Thursday, December 17, 2015

A Look-In To Darkest Times


A Metro Cast Faces Depression Woes in Looking Forward (1933)

Old men (Lionel Barrymore, Lewis Stone) making a last stand against Old Man Depression. There's a forward that boosts Roosevelt, despite a story set in England (he had a same-title book out, so there was connection). Content is harsh as to reality of lay-offs and bankruptcy --- maybe that's why it's UK based. Direction by Clarence Brown is his customary fine. There's an elevator ride-up that opens to multiple floors with no cuts. Did John Farrow talk with Brown before doing the same trick in The Big Clock? I'm still stumped as to how they managed it. Barrymore was recently off an Academy win, but plays his milquetoast low-key. Stone is the shop owner, shop as in department store that employs hundreds, with conscience enough to put jobs ahead of profit a sell-off to corporate interests would give him. You expect tycoons to come off unsympathetic in darkest days of the Crash, but not so here. A leveler is Stone's trouble at home, grown children spoiled and second wife Benita Hume off with a gigolo. Capitalist offspring tend to be no damn good in early 30's rise-and-fall sagas, though Looking Forward refreshes with a twist on that device for a third act. "We need the courage of the young" is quoted from FDR, and there's dialogue to effect that it was youth that pulled the country through WWI, and now they must rescue us again. There was flailing about for solutions in 1933, that year perhaps Depression's nadir. Homilies helped (Be Not Afraid) when backed by writing and performances this good; quarters spent to see Looking Forward might have bought real encouragement for 1933 patronage.




Monday, December 14, 2015

Mann On The Mat As Jim Sings


Stewart Makes Changes For Night Passage (1957)


Back When They Were Buds -- JS and AM, Both Seated
Night Passage has long been jinxed because Anthony Mann did not direct it, initial idea being he and star James Stewart together again after unbroke string of hits that were theirs for Universal release (plus one each at Paramount and Columbia). Mann did pre-production work on Night Passage (may even have megged portions), then split with Stewart. Creative rupture bled toward personal: They'd not team again, nor, by most accounts, speak, for the rest of Mann's lifetime. Cultists have posited Night Passage as a flop thanks to Mann pull-out, but Variety reports $2.6 million in domestic rentals, which along with presumed good foreign receipts, would pull weight of any "A" western kept within reasonable cost. So who is due cheer for Night Passage success and sustaining interest? Not Stewart this time, what with "damned" (say modern critics) accordion, but to my reckoning, Audie Murphy, whose picture this was to steal, and steal it he does.


Murphy was liked better in Southland wilds than any cowboy save perhaps Randy Scott, so his being along made Night Passage a must-see at Audie-centric Dixie drive-ins where two to four of his was norm for dusk--dawn bookings. The baby-face coiled spring said he couldn't act and so underplayed, that to  yield current dividend where Murphy comes off best of a Night Passage cast. He was said to dislike the script and insisted on rewrites. Anthony Mann took his hike for a same objection. Stewart seems an only one to have liked Night Passage as was, his the big noise that would assure a go, ready or not. Clear too was him seeking image modification here. Scaled back would be his strung-out westerner with bad past, Night Passage looking more toward gentler Jim of 60's output.


Vast-screen process Technirama was introduced by Night Passage, it being more-less squeezed VistaVision with advantage of width to accompany sharpness of VV. Initial dates would leave previous westerns in the shade, at least visually. That advantage fell away as Night Passage went humble and cropped to TV broadcast for decades after 1957, and it's but now we're able to see semblance of the show thanks to Universal's transfer to DVD, a nice job for 2004 when the disc came out, but begging now for Blu-ray revisit (rumor says Germany will yield that in 2016). Whatever Night Passage lacked in script, it more than made up with sweep. Locations still impress on wide projection, plus there's thunder of Dimitri Tiomkin's score that was major adjunct to selling when Night Passage was new. Tiomkin was at career peak in 1957. His music bespoke an important project, the composer in sufficient demand to pick/choose canvas to enhance with sound. The songs we think slow the action, "Follow The River" and "You Can't Get Far Without A Railroad," were valued aspects of bally, issued as 45 singles and sheet music. Rock and roll had dug roads deep by '57, but there was still room for novelty songs culled from widely-seen films, especially ones cleffed by Tiomkin and lyricist Ned Washington, a team that had made theme songs 50's sensational with High Noon.

Youthful Jim Finds a Friend In The Accordion

As noted, James Stewart went for normalcy this time re character, so we're spared neurotic ticks that dotted his western parts before. "Spared" is maybe not a right term, as moderns who fancy themselves dark dwellers tend to prefer Jim doing same, a wider and less specialized public clinging to him as stammering gramps of Johnny Carson shows and bad later pics. It was on a Carson couch, in fact, where Stewart told of giving up his accordion way back in youth when told how lousy he played, Johnny tactful as not to spoil fun by reminding his guest of Night Passage. Bitterest cultist criticism of Stewart beyond letting Mann get away was his insistence on singing in addition to squeezing the box in Night Passage, a cold stop to movement in a first half that drags as result. Again, was this a wrong idea in 1957? Cowboys had vocalized, of course, and not just in B's. Kirk Douglas sort of spoof-sung in Man Without A Star, plucked a banjo as well, and that worked (for some anyway, and he did have a successful single), so Stewart could cite precedent where doubted. Besides, it was talent honed since childhood (Dad brought home an accordion when Jim was a boy), and there'd been 20's entertaining with chum and future magician/spook show immortal Bill Neff long before Stewart decamped to stage/films.


Credited director for Night Passage was James Neilson. He had worked with Stewart on a television drama, Neilson getting Night Passage attributed to compliant nature that let JS run the shoot. I'd suppose there's truth in that. Big enough stars liked relief of pliable directors in wake of submission to unyielding ones. Stewart had lately dealt with Hitchcock, then Billy Wilder, neither of whom were pushovers, so why not a Night Passage break where he could have his way? Anthony Mann spoke to their split in a 1965 Sight and Sound interview: "The story was so incoherent that I said the audience wouldn't understand any of it, but Jimmy was very set on that film. He had to play the accordion and do a bunch of stunts that actors adore. He didn't care about the script whatever, and I abandoned the production. The picture was a total failure, and Jimmy has always held it against me." Pretty damning, and I wonder if someone forwarded a copy of the magazine to Stewart. If so, we may assume his resolve not to speak with Mann again was at the least renewed, if not redoubled. But what a shame they couldn't mend fences and get together on Shenandoah and The Rare Breed, a pair of blighted Universals that could sure have used a Mann in charge.


As indicated, Night Passage was no "total failure" as Mann alleged. With its cast and promise of action with color and Technirama, how could Universal miss? To assurance of a hit, they'd assign promotional whiz A-Mike Vogel (sometimes called "Amike") to ramrod the campaign, he of selling success from 1910. Vogel got at essence of product value and knew at a glance what would pull for Night Passage. He cited the songs, Tiomkin/Washington "magic names in DJ circles," and assured there'd be "No fancy, schmency acting" from "all-wool" James Stewart --- "just the big boy playing himself." Further points for promoting was Stewart and Audie Murphy's war records, good for lending conviction to he-man parts they'd have in Night Passage. Vogel's credo: "If a press agent on assignment admits he has had a good night's sleep, he's not working for the picture. That goes too, if he hasn't been arrested in the last month" (Vogel did many nutty stunts that bought him jug time). What a shame men like this weren't subjects of later oral history, A-Mike with a lot more to tell than yet another old director or actor repeating canards or outright lies.

IN THE WORKS: Author Robert Matzen is busy at completing his definitive account of James Stewart's wartime service, Mission: Jimmy Stewart and The Eight Air Force, progress of which can be followed HERE. Matzen's extensive research and interviews with veterans who flew with Stewart are basis for what promises to be a major publishing event in 2016.




Thursday, December 10, 2015

Hollywood Travels Without Traveling


March Chases Bennett in Trade Winds (1938)

Detective Fredric March tracks accused murderess Joan Bennett across process-shot land and sea, Trade Winds celebrating state-of-art fakery circa 1938. I didn't note an inch of real location here, but as Trade Winds trades in Hollywood at phoniest, who's to kick? March was freelance and evidently liked comedies, or maybe they were what paid best. Walter Wanger produced, but according to Matthew Bernstein bio coverage, left director Tay Garnett alone to package fun. Wanger wife Joan Bennett gets image transform a simple matter of blonde hair turned dark, this the charm, she'd later say, and escape from "simp" parts the bane of a so-far career. Trade Winds is another of "double-cross" comedies where someone forever does a run-out to leave others with the bag, none of it much funny, but they act a good enough time, contagious for us after while. I read that Ann Sothern got Maisie work for impression made here. Is any of that series good? I've never watched one. Something holds me back. Maybe it's Sothern, who I never really warmed to. Ralph Bellamy is broader here than customary, to good effect. Tay Garnett was good at movies done Hollywood way, as in superficial, aspiring to little beyond 90 minutes of forgettable fun. You'd not suspect from Trade Winds that he started in talkies as quite the bold experimenter (see his earlier RKO's).




Monday, December 07, 2015

More Scripts From The Crypt


Weaver/Rhodes Celebrate Lugosi and Bride Of The Monster (1955)

Another wow from Tom Weaver's Scripts From The Crypt series, this one written/compiled by him and Lugosi historian Gary Don Rhodes. Not only is there exhaustive coverage for Bride Of The Monster, but countdown through Bela's final couple of years as Bride was made, released, and run over period up to the horror legend's 8/56 death. I see Bride Of The Monster not at all in "bad movie" terms, and would tip readers to ideal format for next time watching: Crop your image to 1.85, Bride better in that intended ratio (Image's DVD is full-frame, otherwise excellent from Wade Williams source). Also recommended is fast-forward through dreary talk among those other than Lugosi, save bits like Loretta King exchange with Dolores Fuller, which back story should be read prior to pic view. Great thing about Weaver-Crypts (more are forthcoming) is easy access to subject films, disc and/or streaming, and chance to watch, read, watch again. Never has Bride Of The Monster been so rewarding than in company of this just-out book.


Bride Lands in Cleveland with Big G
I've known guys who lived for Lugosi. Not a few have plied trade as writers. So why?, you ask. Answers vary from aesthetic to personal. Many including myself admire Bela for not giving up, never lying down. He'd bear decline and insult with nobility. Where life dealt adverse dose, BL soldiered on. I go on record as follows: The man is great in Bride Of The Monster --- no, let's cap the G --- Great. He's not camp or decrepit or pathetic. Never was, to my thinking. Lugosi takes full command of a mad lab not dissimilar to ones he'd known at Monogram, but what false walls really evoke are stages trod over hundreds of tank-town spook shows BL did through the 40's and into the 50's. Bride Of The Monster is, in fact, as accurate a record as we could want of Lugosi's shock act to live rows of sugar-high youth. His man-to-atomic superman device may not have worked in Bride, but experiments like it fired up many a crowded house where Bela bedeviled bound-up women (part of his troupe?, local volunteers?, Lillian?), sidekick ape or hunchback, maybe a Frankenstein's monster (Glenn Strange himself on occasion). Lugosi would have had that act down to (mad) science by late 1954 when Bride Of The Monster went before cameras.


I'd submit that Bride Of The Monster was the only Lugosi film written by fans who grew up watching him, Ed Wood and Alex Gordon being young men in 1954 (Gordon thirty-two, Wood lately turned thirty as Bride rolled). They were children when Lugosi made his Dracula splash. Such circumstance would not be unlike me growing up to pen a chiller for Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee. Shot-full-of-holes as Lugosi's career was, it had to be all-time high doing dialogue spoke ultimately by an actor you'd spent all of life idolizing. Can we blame Alex or Ed for latter-day wrangling over credit? (each said he was primary author) Whoever led gave Bela terrific stuff --- better than that, it was respectful of him, keyed to the actor's strength. This is the late-term Lugosi we want to see, in control and not having to cope with Berle/Skelton silliness by writers stuck deep in bowels of formula gagging (honed for most part since vaudeville). TV comics wouldn't go gentle with Lugosi, humor smacking more of disparagement than parody, but then Milton Berle was born 1908, Red Skelton 1913 (though he'd admit privately it was 1906). What did they know, or care, of Bela's art?


Scenes Like Are Cue to Fast-Forward
I don't buy notion that Lugosi never caught on properly to the English language. No one said that about Paul Lukas, a BL countryman whose accent seems to me more pronounced. Lugosi was a master at emphasis on precisely the right words, at all times through Bride Of The Monster. I think he understood English, at least dramatic use of it, better than lots who'd been born to the language. And I don't sense a learning curve either, for he's as practiced with our words in 1929's The Thirteenth Chair as he would be in Bride Of The Monster. All of Dracula lines are immortal because of force Lugosi lends them. He'll pick a word or two from a sentence to emphasize, and make a blockbuster of every speech. No actor was better at showmanlike recital of dialogue. I'd love to have been present for one of Bela's spook shows or doing Dracula, or maybe Arsenic and Old Lace, on stage. Lugosi was larger than life right to the finish. Consider this: he was past seventy for Bride Of The Monster, and still the scare element in a lead part. Bride was for Lugosi what those 60's AIP's would be for Karloff, old men who'd lost none of menace they had sold from beginnings. If only Bela could have hung on for the horror boom that was coming with sale of Universal oldies to TV and gothic revival in theatres.


But hold on --- Lugosi was already all over television. Most of his chillers had been for independents or poverty row, and so were sold early to tube-cast. BL and his fans had ready access to oldies on L.A. stations (recall the scene where he watches White Zombie with Johnny Depp's Ed Wood). Vintage Universals were still playing theatres too, under Realart auspice, all over town ... throughout the country ... right up to TV release after Lugosi died. Bride Of The Monster meanwhile came and went, hobbled thanks to small-change distribution. What if a major had handled it, say United Artists as with The Black Sleep of the following year? If Bride had done half of Sleep's eventual business, it would have been a major hit in terms of low-budget horror. But that wasn't to be. Lugosi's last starring part, final speaking role, ran second billed behind mainstream Hollywood stuff, or other cheapies. By 1958, Bride joined what was by now virtually all of Lugosi backlog being televised. But it wasn't altogether done in theatres. I would have startling rendezvous with Bride Of The Monster at our Liberty Theatre in 1972, as late show bonus after a reissued 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. And the 35mm Bride print was brand new. Our newspaper ad read "Bela Lagosi in Bride Of The Monster." I thought about sending correction to the editor, but who'd care?


There's another Tom Weaver "Script From The Crypt" I want to mention. This one is for The Indestructible Man, a 1956 nerve-jangler with Lon Chaney as a heist thug raised from death thanks to ill-advised science practiced by Robert Shayne and later McHale's Navier Joe Flynn. I liked The Indestructible Man from seeing it as charm on Channel 8 bracelet that was weekly Sat morning play of Allied Artists sci-fi. They'd pad the movies with a "teaser" scene before credits and s-l-o-w crawls explaining action (or lack) we're about to see. Unlike too much of his 50's work, Lon is Main Man in addition to being Indestructible, this among precious few star parts I recall from him post-war. Weaver tells the whole background, his patented "Fun Facts" a delight carried forward from previous Script/Crypts and ones to come. There is so much humor to Weaver's work, but never at the expense of our horror heroes. He's respectful, but never stuffy, nor smug like too much of spoofing crowd that paint the genre with camp because they understand too little about it. I only wish Chaney had post-resurrection dialogue, but he does have a lulu of a swear-revenge speech from behind bars that gets The Indestructible Man off to compelling start. There's also virtual tour of L.A.'s Bunker Hill of later deconstruction, plus Lon on the loose in noir cradle that was/still is The Bradbury Building. The Indestructible Man and Bride Of The Monster are available on DVD and streaming. Get both, and the books, for sure-thing watch, and read, parlay. Like previous Bride Of The Gorilla from Weaver, they sure gave me hours of fun.
grbrpix@aol.com
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