Classic movie site with rare images (no web grabs!), original ads, and behind-the-scenes photos, with informative and insightful commentary. We like to have fun with movies!
Archive and Links
Search Index Here

Saturday, March 17, 2018

RKO Sets The Price For Love

Ann Harding Claims The Right To Romance (1933)

Ann Harding was most grounded of precode women, hers a line in reasoned calm. Being thirty, then past it, lent characters sobriety welcome to the genre. Censorship choked life out of sex topic that was focal to Harding, Kay Francis, Chatterton, others who knew life's score, but could no longer express it on truth terms. Harding as most subdued of the lot meant she'd be early forgot. That plus lack of a signature role (The Animal Kingdom the closest, but out of circulation till long after her 1981 death). Harding underplayed and so seems modern today. When she beds down, it's less illicit than application of common sense. Convey of intelligence put Harding to enact of professional women, on this occasion a plastic surgeon who "smells of ether" and knows to get a man means playing the "giddy female." Shore vacation puts her in crosshair of idler rich Robert Young, whom she marries in haste to despair of medico Nils Asther, him loving from afar. This may crash on formula shoals but for brief spend (67 minutes) that most any precode can sustain (backdrops and fashion to look at if nothing else).

Search for beauty angle is well observed, women hoping facelifts will pave path to romance. Harding's surgeon can evidently fix any mishap or mutilation --- were real-life docs as proficient in 1933? Certainly there were stars of the era who sought cosmetic cure for age, few of them getting result so satisfactory as Dr. Harding delivers here. I'm wondering just when face work became panacea it's considered today. Based on horrors we still see emerge from operation tables (check any week's Enquirer), true success at such effort may still be in offing. The Right To Romance was made during Merian C. Cooper watch, his notion to increase RKO volume as offset for losses, modern-set stories done cheap and by bundles. Industry joke was same bundles out of RKO being product of unwed motherhood in one after another sex mellers spat out by the company. Primary risk to contract stars like Harding or Constance Bennett was overexposure or sameness of vehicles. Their party had to end whatever disposition of the Code. Among six RKO titles owned by Merian C. Cooper and tied up for years, The Right To Romance was revived in 2006 by TCM (another with Ann Harding in that group: Double Harness).

Friday, March 16, 2018

Lesson For Aspiring Exhibs

Let's Laud Louie Charninsky

We're all too free with that B movie tag. I've even seen King Kong and all of Ronald Reagan's films referred to as B's. A damning label in most quarters, it certainly should not be. Many think B means bad, so pardon my lifetime in thrall to Sherlock Holmes, Val Lewton, and westerns enough to thread a hemisphere. A "B" by accurate definition was what played in support of A's and rented at flat rate. Sometimes a pair of B's could fill a program, as here where Smashing The Money Ring (1939) plays with Gene Autry's In Old Monterey (15 to 20 cents til 6!). A creative enough showman could elevate a B to whatever heights he chose, Louie Charninsky not a name known to annals of marketing, but it should be for the whale of a selling job he did on behalf of Smashing The Money Ring at his Capitol Theatre in Dallas. That's Louie out front holding the blow-up of counterfeit currency which was Money Ring thrust. Magnet at the door was enlarged real dollars as opposed to funny money, passer-bys invited to compare the two as will Treasury Agent "Brass Bancroft," as played by Reagan in Warners' 57 minute sock-and-solve thriller. Spike to attendance was twenty-seven stills from the film on a center display, plus posters clearly handiwork of the Capitol's art shop. Think how long this preparation took for a show that ran two-three days, if that. Lesson to glean: B's were only B's when you sold them that way. Louie Charninsky followed his star (in this case, lack of them) and dressed an entrance anyone could be tempted toward. I hope Louie ate well that week for making thick steak of hamburger product. Men like him were what defined great showmanship.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

A Welcome Western In 3-D

Gun Fury (1953) Promised Much, But Did It Deliver?

This By Far The Dominant Art Even On Euro Posters
A western was a western was a western by 1953, unless advertising could somehow set one apart from the rest. Often that was done with sex-specific ads, and promises of content that the film would not deliver. Why would Code policies be suspended for the likes of Gun Fury? --- yet exploitation as here gave hope that this time maybe things would be different, that we'd see a woman made victim of an "act of violence" while her man is bound up and made to watch. There was a scene in Gun Fury with a man tied and a woman carried off, but it was nowhere approximate to what lurid ads suggested. "If It Was Your Woman This Happened To ..." meant one thing, and movies were years away from license to depict that onscreen. Notion of "her man" riding south to "avenge" the act was also not fulfilled, short of motive painted very broad and having nothing to do with an assault that does not take place. This sort of art and graphics, however, was what sucked patronage into theatres for Gun Fury, a western few would mistake for anything other than ordinary. What stood it out, then and more so now, was application of 3-D, a process more than rehabilitated by what digital can now do.

Lately-out Gun Fury on Blu-Ray is at least as good as most 3-D of the era. Raoul Walsh directed, him with one functioning eye since 1929, of which some express wonder how he could perceive depth, but where was need of that for a man forty years in film by 1953? Instinct alone made seeing of result superfluous. Busy foreground and known tricks were familiar to the recipe, guns fired at the camera like in The Great Train Robbery (which RW probably saw first-run), plus jolt of a rattler leaping for the lens, a best shock effect I've so far seen in depth (we wonder who dreams up 3-D gags --- the director, camera crew, a brought-in consultant?). Distinction of Gun Fury is in story and dialogue, so 3-D could lie back as it has for sixty-five years and we'd still have an adequate show (Inferno a same sort of treat, flat or deep). Up and comer writers were at work, one of them Roy Huggins, who'd pen more westerns, then run the table once cowpokes took over television (Maverick was his). To Gun Fury depth, add that of heavies Phil Carey and Leo Gordon, both shaded well for interact with convention-serving Rock Hudson and Donna Reed.

High Noon made outdoor action a lure to grown-ups who liked nuance beyond black hat-white hat. So-called "adult" westerns, done both cheap and expensive, waited in wings as Saturday saddles were put permanent in 50's bunkhouse, Republic, then Columbia, even biggest names like Autry and Rogers, giving up spurs to thirty-minute TV or rodeo appearing. Seems kids did a lot of growing up during and after the war and wanted cowboys to speak plainer, result a lot of theatres doffing short-pants action in favor of leather slapped harder. I had a friend whose parents took him to a presumed kid appeal show that had The Law and Jake Wade for a second feature, that one tough as most came in postwar reboot of westerns. The boy was eight when exposed to what for him may have been a first theatrical western, but die was cast, and nothing older time cowpokes did after this could win him. The 50's were possibly a peak decade for westerns, which like crime thrillers or what's loosely called noir, were prolific as sand on a beach. How much of it have we still not accounted for? (I keep coming across good ones that are new to me)

Comin' At Ya In Promotional Stills

3-D features can look better on our TV's than they ever did in theatres. Snafu-ing was rife during fad peak. Much of what made ships sink was presentation foul-up. Never mind what could go wrong ... better to ask what went right. In wake of digital takeover, would there be anyone left who could sync up 35mm dual prints today? Talk about gone --- show me a booth that even has side by side 35mm projectors (outside collector cribs that won't give film up). Imagine if they had digital in 1953-54. 3-D in that event might have stayed for keeps. What always soured me was dimness of depth images, at least where projected (memory of botched 70's revivals hard to shake). Best result nowaday comes of flat screen television where you don simple specs rather than battery-operated goggles required for projection TV. Success of Twilight Time 3-D discs bode well for more of same, and Kino has announced The Maze, plus Sangaree, for 2018 release. Find out more about those at 3-D Archive.

Monday, March 12, 2018

When Movie Fights Spill Over Into Life

Manpower (1941) Breaks Loose For Real

Humphrey Bogart Visits The Set To Promote Peace Between The Quarrelsome Boys

This Is No Joke --- Robinson's On A Rampage!
There was a fight between Edward G. Robinson and George Raft on the set of Manpower and it was real. The incident happened on April 26, 1941 and was caught by a photographer for LIFE magazine, where it adorned a full page and made national headlines ("they," referring to Robinson and Raft, "profoundly dislike each other off set location"). It was one thing for a fan mag to note on-set tensions, but when a major and mainstream publication reported trouble (LIFE's headline cited an "Impromptu Fight"), you knew there was truth being told. Some may still have figured the dust-up for a publicity gag, something staged to hypo Manpower's eventual release. The truth would reveal itself years later when author Rudy Behlmer dug into studio files and found memos detailing the imbroglio, these appearing in his 1985 book, Inside Warner Brothers (1935-1951), a great insider history. Seems the Manpower mess was all too genuine, and a real concern for both WB and the players involved. It did no one good to be seen as unprofessional or running a chaotic shop. To get loud publicity was one thing, but to be laughing stock of a press and industry was something else. This then, was an incident Warners could not let be repeated.

Warner's One-Sheet Exploits The Real-Life Fight
Manpower was a property no player at Warners would reject, being another whirlwind from writers Richard Macaulay and Jerry Wald, who had lately made They Drive By Night and Torrid Zone such fun. Mark Hellinger had also prepped Manpower as associate producer but fell out so severely with Hal Wallis that he left the studio. Anyone who could read (at least the script) knew that Manpower would be popular. Humphrey Bogart had been assigned and very much wanted to do it, but proposed co-star George Raft loudly said he would not appear in another film with Humphrey Bogart. Animosity seemed to be all on Raft's side, as Bogart tried to approach him and got rebuffed. Gossip about this got into the Independent Film Exhibitor's Bulletin on 4-5-41, so strife on Manpower was known well before the bigger blow to come. Bogart's part was recast with Edward G. Robinson, but Raft didn't care for that either. He was hateful toward Robinson and cursed him in front of cast and crew. Robinson tried to be reasonable, but Raft wanted none of it. His was a thuggish nature, no surprise considering his background (organized crime back East), and Robinson had reason to be afraid of him. It all came to boil during a scene where Raft had to pull Robinson off a guy and he instead roughed up Eddie G. and got a fist swung in return. The two had to be separated, and not for a last time.

Offscreen Playmates Dietrich and Raft Bat 'Er Up

The shutterbug who caught the moment got a dream of a candid capture, two major stars going at each other like mad dogs. Warners might have stopped him and took the negative, but evidently chose not to. Surely they had juice to ice the story and photo, but maybe here was a calculated risk worth taking. The studio could not have bought publicity this good. The problem was serious, however, and WB prepared a letter to the Screen Actor's Guild. Robinson, being the first to calm down, made a suggestion that they let the thing drop and not get others involved. A half-day's money had been lost, but filming resumed, hands shook and all promising to behave. Robinson and Raft made up thoroughly and even did another picture together (A Bullet For Joey in 1954), but the Manpower event entered H'wood folklore and the two were still being asked about it toward their respective ends. By then, of course, it was dust of history. Manpower had been playing late shows on a loop, and few viewers knew what had happened on a set so many years before. What we presently enjoy from Warner Archive and regularly at TCM is spent fuse of a then-TNT combination of Robinson and Raft with Marlene Dietrich, and incidentally as good a dose of Raoul Walsh as any of his actioners for WB. All Manpower presently lacks is an upgrade to High-Definition.

I watched the Archive disc last night. Quality was okay, that is if this were 1985.  There was noise on the track and I don't think it was my television. The better movies, of course, can overcome viewing conditions like this. Manpower has scenes that are exhilarating, others to remind you this was way back and standards of funny were different then. From latter category is Alan Hale sliding down a stair banister in his union suit. Hale and Frank McHugh are all over Manpower. If you can't abide them, don't watch. Action is plentiful, as in any guy stepping slightly out of line gets knocked silly, generally by hair trigger Robinson, who is a power pole worker with best pal Raft. Eddie had played the man who cured syphilis just a year before. To arguments he had no range, I say present these two performances. Manpower was largely filched from an oldie, also with Robinson, called Tiger Shark. Too many E.G.'s had him as a frog no woman with eyes would want. Bette Davis unkindly said it made her ill to have to kiss him in Kid Galahad. Eddie's own wife seems to have treated him like some of the women in his films, but ... name a better or more dynamic actor.

George Raft kept barrels of apples all through his house because they gave it a nice smell. He also had five or six different women a day, according to reliable-or-not sources. Raft probably didn't care that he blew so much opportunity in the movies. He died broke, but that may not have bothered him either. Say what you will about Raft being a dud actor, but I enjoy him anytime. He's really the best thing about Manpower. Dietrich at forty is a little past believable as an ex-con clip-joint hostess, especially as colleagues beef about being in their mid-twenties and almost played out. There's a scene where Raft slaps Dietrich down a flight of stairs and yes, it's actually her who takes the spill. I've read MD got an injury because George failed to pull the blow. All was apparently forgiven because Marlene moved in with him toward an end of production. Manpower was shot all-indoors and uses toy trucks, poles, and even toy men. It is charming for fakery that films wouldn't (couldn't) use much longer. I thought how this really isn't so different from celebration of unreal that is present day CGI, only Manpower was built by hand and so at least earns a sentimental regard.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

America's Boy Friend On A High Wire

Half Way To Heaven (1929) Among Early Paramount Talkie Tries

Carny folk among small-town rubes, from which love inevitably springs, this time between aerialist Jean Arthur and aspiring Charles "Buddy" Rogers, who'd like to be her wire partner but for lethally jealous Paul Lukas, his a troublesome habit of dropping would-be suitors from fifty feet up. There's the plot for this 66 minute dose of early talking Paramount, better than you'd expect for resourceful direction by George Abbott (he gets clever angles on trapeze performing) and relaxed job by Rogers, who was America's Boyfriend thanks to relentless promotion along said simple line. Thesping heat is province of Lukas here, who looks, acts at times like countryman Bela Lugosi as he plots demise of Jean Arthur swains, including Buddy. Latter is unfailingly polite --- after he whoops tar out of Lukas, he apologizes for "hurting your feelings," a great line dropped into crowded back and forth that I suspect was ad-libbed by Rogers. If that was case, America's Boyfriend had a ready wit. Half Way To Heaven is another long-gone amidst Universal holdings --- watch a dub or don't see it at all --- but worth a trackdown if you know a good bootlegger.

Friday, March 09, 2018

A Star Glimpsed at Start

Stage To Screen For Future Warner Stars

Robert Youngson compiled in 1955 a startling mélange of footage showing top stars at career beginning, all culled from early talkies done by Warner Bros. Among these was Clark Gable In Night Nurse, Spencer Tracy in 20,000 Years In Sing Sing, and James Cagney from Sinner's Holiday. The films excerpted had not been seen in decades, none having been released to television as yet, and all serving as eye-opener to how raw and vital these players were when starting out. The Cagney moment is particularly strong: menacing, sniveling, cowering, all at once. JC by the 50's seemed prosaic beside this. Crowds had seen Public Enemy the year before in wide reissue with Little Caesar, so maybe shock wasn't too great, but Sinner's Holiday? That had been largely off screens since 1930 when it finished initial release.

In fact, we went years without access to Sinner's Holiday, thanks to problems with the soundtrack and consequence of the film not being included with pre-49 Warner pics syndicated to TV in 1956 and afterward. William K. Everson ran Sinner's Holiday for his New School class in 11/75 and wrote that the film had only recently been made available via recovery of discs that could be wedded with existing visual ("recently" in this case was May 1962, when Sinner's Holiday was made available to syndication in a package with 33 other titles from TV distributor United Artists). TCM has shown the film since, not often, and I like to think the sound will be further cleaned up before upgrade to HD. Sinner's Holiday is a curiosity for reasons well beyond Cagney, even as his presence alone makes it worth seeking out. The story was based on a Broadway play (Penny Arcade) that Al Jolson allegedly saw and recommended to Warners. He also touted Jim, plus Joan Blondell, for soundstage rendering of their parts, neither of which was a lead, but as things developed, more interesting than if they had done principal roles filled by Grant Withers and Evelyn Knapp.

Sinner's Holiday was, then, a shared screen debut for Cagney and Blondell. You'd think the two had been doing movies for years. All of assurance they'd display over a long future is here. When either come on, other cast members shrink. Jim presages Public Enemy as a mama's boy delinquent lured by easy money and a gun. He cries convulsively and all but hides under beds when the law comes calling. Cagney was never afraid to strip away man surface when characterization called for it. He can still shock viewership for depth of sissy panic roused by stress. Cagney undoubtedly knew this sort from growing up, and so enacted them here. His more noted Rocky Sullivan wasn't the only character JC would recreate from past acquaintances. Warners put skids on nuerotic aspect of Cagney's persona that would have made selling tougher once he became a major name, though glimpses did persist, and full-flower on occasion of a White Heat. Sinner's Holiday has value too in glimpse it gives of fairway attractions long since gone, including mutoscopes always in need of repair. These peep devices, whether hand or electric-power cranked, were familiar to arcades for generations. I remember watching "The Electrocution Of An Elephant" on one at a Myrtle Beach, SC arcade in the late 60's.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Go South To Bury A Past

Mexico Madness With Mitchum and Mel

A Title Appended When They Thought Get The Gringo Would Play In Theatres

A Hot Mitchum Show For Hot Summer Dates
Is Mexico preferred place for disgraced leading men to book apology tours? Two seemed to have thought so, or had others think so for them. I drew parallels between crossroads of both Robert Mitchum and Mel Gibson after parlay of The Big Steal and Get The Gringo, flip sides of a same coin made years apart, but reflecting troubled if similar circumstance for both stars. Mitchum headed south after pulling county time the consequence of his presence at a reefer party. Gibson did a same after driving drunk, then mouthing off, to Pacific Highway cops, capping that unwise deed with dire phone threats recorded by a fed-up mistress who had borne his child. What to do for either but penance of chase or jailbird yarns where Mitchum and Gibson serve all of run times square behind eight balls. Parallels are rife: Get The Gringo begins with authority in fast pursuit of Mel, while a same device makes up whole of The Big Steal for Bob. These two should have made a film together, their stars having been in align at least for a while. Enough though, to enjoy fruits of respective public embarrassment, pips that were The Big Steal and Get The Gringo less likely to be ours were it not for hard roads Mitchum/Gibson traveled getting there. Here then is a double bill I recommend heartily.

Get The Gringo skipped US theatres, but tens of millions saw it on elephant's graveyard that is Netflix, then at berth called Amazon Prime. In other words, free to membership, and there are many more members at these addresses than could possibly have been inveigled into buying a ticket to such a squalid vehicle. Get The Gringo was no mea culpa for Gibson misdeeds --- that may have been more the mission of that strange post-scandal thing where he spoke via a sock puppet (as in finally learning to keep his big mouth shut?). Get The Gringo was back to tawdry basics, only more so. It is Gibson in lowdown, because stripped of stardom and status, he can afford to be. If there is a better picture from 2012, I haven't seen it, this from a casual consumer of new-made movies who prefers them actionful and bereft of high-mindedness that seems a mission of most picture makers these days apart from the super hero crowd (and even they take their comics way too serious). Get The Gringo is Quentin Tarantino minus over-length and endless chit-chat. Most of movies I've enjoyed over a last forty years have been trash or at best "popcorn" driven, so spare me please "Best Picture" winners and various "You Better Like Its" that come out with numbing frequency. To my simple reckoning, the 80's was bookended by two masterworks: 48 Hours in 1982 and Die Hard in 1988. The rest from that decade can go fish (but wait, let's keep Road House with Patrick Swayze from 1989).

The Big Steal is Gringo's bad Dad or disreputable uncle from a time when noir spun more/less serious narrative, which Steal does not. Idea was to rush Mitchum through a starring part before jail bars went clink, but as nothing could be achieved so quick, he'd have to wrap the pic after time served on an "honor farm." The story behind The Big Steal is at least as entertaining as the movie, and the movie is mighty entertaining, being one you could revisit often as holidays. Howard Hughes had lately bought RKO, and this was an early project he applied gifts to. HH even visited Mitchum in stir, then loaned him money to pay off mouthpiece Jerry Giesler and have purchase price of a house besides. This would certainly have put Bob under obligation to Hughes, a ticket the billionaire  punched later when Mitch did oft-smarmy vehicles for RKO. The Big Steal was directed by Don Siegel, who Mitchum later said had "Thrifty drug store taste," but who could bring more energy to hurry job this was? Siegel talked in his book of Mitchum arriving drunk to the Mexican location (tequila). So much, then, for mended ways, though this may have been just blowing off of jail dust. Most of The Big Steal is chase, Mitch doubled where possible so they could shoot while awaiting his release. There is enough process work with the cars to make The Big Steal look at times like Laurel and Hardy toward the end of County Hospital.

How serious was the Mitchum drug bust? He had hoped for probation, which he got for most part, but the judge added stinger of months to be served active. That well could have finished his career, for who knew how a public might react? There was example of Errol Flynn surviving his statutory rape trial, but Flynn was acquitted, so did no time. And what of Ingrid Bergman, a star who could not have fallen farther and faster from grace. Mitchum too had a wife and two children at home. The situation needed help from wherever help could be got. Jane Greer wrote a piece for Modern Screen where she assured that Mitchum was taking his problem to heart. Columnist Jim Bacon did a jailhouse interview and recalled Bob crying real tears over fate of his family and career. He'd have been a fool to laugh this off, and Mitchum was no fool. Photos of his mopping county floors were by all accounts taken without his approval, as the star didn't want his sons seeing result in newspapers. Later years made it OK, even desirable, to mock the thing and be a drug culture icon, partly what made Mitch an essence of cool for youth not otherwise disposed to aging film names. By then, of course, the 40's verdict had been set aside and Mitchum's record expunged. All of what happened deepens interest in The Big Steal, which is besides a very good movie, and highly recommended on Warner DVD (part of a noir collection where it is doubled with Edward G. Robinson in Illegal). As for Get The Gringo, you can turn on any streaming service and fairly trip over it.
  • December 2005
  • January 2006
  • February 2006
  • March 2006
  • April 2006
  • May 2006
  • June 2006
  • July 2006
  • August 2006
  • September 2006
  • October 2006
  • November 2006
  • December 2006
  • January 2007
  • February 2007
  • March 2007
  • April 2007
  • May 2007
  • June 2007
  • July 2007
  • August 2007
  • September 2007
  • October 2007
  • November 2007
  • December 2007
  • January 2008
  • February 2008
  • March 2008
  • April 2008
  • May 2008
  • June 2008
  • July 2008
  • August 2008
  • September 2008
  • October 2008
  • November 2008
  • December 2008
  • January 2009
  • February 2009
  • March 2009
  • April 2009
  • May 2009
  • June 2009
  • July 2009
  • August 2009
  • September 2009
  • October 2009
  • November 2009
  • December 2009
  • January 2010
  • February 2010
  • March 2010
  • April 2010
  • May 2010
  • June 2010
  • July 2010
  • August 2010
  • September 2010
  • October 2010
  • November 2010
  • December 2010
  • January 2011
  • February 2011
  • March 2011
  • April 2011
  • May 2011
  • June 2011
  • July 2011
  • August 2011
  • September 2011
  • October 2011
  • November 2011
  • December 2011
  • January 2012
  • February 2012
  • March 2012
  • April 2012
  • May 2012
  • June 2012
  • July 2012
  • August 2012
  • September 2012
  • October 2012
  • November 2012
  • December 2012
  • January 2013
  • February 2013
  • March 2013
  • April 2013
  • May 2013
  • June 2013
  • July 2013
  • August 2013
  • September 2013
  • October 2013
  • November 2013
  • December 2013
  • January 2014
  • February 2014
  • March 2014
  • April 2014
  • May 2014
  • June 2014
  • July 2014
  • August 2014
  • September 2014
  • October 2014
  • November 2014
  • December 2014
  • January 2015
  • February 2015
  • March 2015
  • April 2015
  • May 2015
  • June 2015
  • July 2015
  • August 2015
  • September 2015
  • October 2015
  • November 2015
  • December 2015
  • January 2016
  • February 2016
  • March 2016
  • April 2016
  • May 2016
  • June 2016
  • July 2016
  • August 2016
  • September 2016
  • October 2016
  • November 2016
  • December 2016
  • January 2017
  • February 2017
  • March 2017
  • April 2017
  • May 2017
  • June 2017
  • July 2017
  • August 2017
  • September 2017
  • October 2017
  • November 2017
  • December 2017
  • January 2018
  • February 2018
  • March 2018